Joanna Acevedo received her BA in Literary Studies from the New School in 2019. She currently studies Fiction at New York University, where she is working on her MFA. Her work has been seen in Seventh Wave Magazine, Flying Island Literary Journal, Bridge: The Bluffton University Literary Journal, and others. She is a Hospitalfield 2020 Interdisciplinary Resident, Goldwater Fellow, Prose Editor at Inklette Magazine and teaches creative writing at NYU.
What Would Happen
Late May, gritty sunset over the East River. Modest Mouse playing in her headphones, “All Night Diner.” She had a bottle of bourbon in her backpack, in case of emergencies. Also, for old time’s sake. She believed in old time’s sake. Amanda was sentimental by nature, likely to dwell on the past, rather than look forward. Although she was an obsessive planner, and a list-maker, with a five-year plan, and a ten-year plan, which always made Jay laugh when she told him. “You can’t predict the future,” he had told her, over drinks a few weeks prior. “So don’t even try.” “I can plan ahead,” she had replied, and taken a long drag from her beer can. She had been drinking Tecates, leaving the limes untouched on the napkins in front of her. They piled up; three, four, five limes, as she got progressively more drunk. “Let me have this, okay?” He had laughed again. His glasses were dark; she couldn’t see his eyes, but she knew what they looked like when he laughed. They crinkled at the edges. He was drinking white wine. Every forty minutes or so, he rolled a cigarette, and they went outside to smoke. She sucked on Marlboro Lights. They had fallen into a sickly rhythm, that night. So when the topic came up: a rampage, a true honest-to-God hedonistic burn-down-the-city rampage, they had both jumped at the idea. They had known each other four years. They were only just becoming drinking buddies, but it had happened naturally, as if it had always been there, dwelling under the surface. He was her old writing professor; she a student turned graduate student turned professor herself. She was twenty-three. They had always gotten along. Now they rehashed the past, but made plans for the future. “We’d have to make a contract, of course, to protect ourselves,” she had said, when the topic came up. And so they had written it up, on napkins: Jay and Amanda’s Rampage Contract.
This contract (“Contract”) is entered into by Jay Gaines and Amanda Gonzalez (“Parties”) in the event of a rampage in which they burn down New York City or otherwise cause unspecified mayhem. The terms and conditions stated below are created to maintain the relative health and well-being of both parties during aforementioned rampage, as well as minimize far-reaching consequences that may extend beyond the reach of the rampage.
Terms and Conditions
Parties will always maintain respect for one another, and will not engage in activity that would cause them to lose respect for the other.
There should not be any far-reaching consequences from the rampage. If there are, they should be addressed by both parties to make equal the burden placed on both parties, as both are likely partially responsible.
Parties will remain friends both before and after the rampage. Parties will not engage in activity that would ruin their friendship.
The official drink of choice of the rampage is tequila. Limes are acceptable.
“Tequila,” Jay had said. “Why tequila?” “It has been decreed,” Amanda trilled, slamming her beer can down on the bar. She was laughing. She was still dressed for teaching, in a blazer and low heeled boots. Jay had been stunned when he had seen her. “What happened to the punk rock nineteen-year-old in my Intro Fiction class?” he had asked her. “Last time I checked, you wouldn’t be caught dead in a blazer.” “I have to dress the part,” she told him. “My students can’t know I’m twenty-three and out drinking on a Tuesday night.” “I guess you’re right,” he had said, but he seemed disappointed, as if she had somehow failed him, by growing up. Stomping down Houston Street, Modest Mouse turned into Hockey Dad, “I Wanna Be Everybody.” Amanda felt her heart leap into her stomach. They were meeting at the Double Down Saloon, her pick. If she was going to burn down New York City, this was where she thought it should begin. They would zig-zag across the city, she figured, ending up somewhere in Brooklyn. Or not. Who knew? She couldn’t stop thinking about the conversation they had had, when they were first writing up the contract. “If we were to go on a rampage,” Jay had said, taking serious sips from his wine glass, “you know what would happen.” A chill had run up Amanda’s spine. She had never thought of Jay that way. He was in his late forties, and her professor besides. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said. “Well, you know,” he said, making meaningful eye contact with her. “You know what would happen. But I don’t want that to happen,” he said. “Because I respect you too much. We’re friends, and I want us to stay friends. If something were to happen, we wouldn’t be able to stay friends.” “We’re friends?” Amanda had said. “Yes,” Jay said. “ Of course we are. Look, now I’ve upset you. You won’t even look at me.” “I’m not upset,” she said. “I’m sorry.” She didn’t know why she was apologizing. She hadn’t done anything wrong. “I’m sorry, too,” he said. They were both silent for a while. She was slightly worried, she had to admit. They had had fun that night, drinking beer and wine at some bar in Crown Heights, his pick. It was near his home, he had made time for her in between his packed schedule of teaching and writing and taking care of his two children, ages two and six. They had been trying to see each other for months, but it had never worked out. She had had so much to tell him. About teaching, about graduate school, which he had pushed her to apply for and even written her a recommendation for, about writing, about life. “I got broken up with this week,” she had told him, when he sat down on the barstool at the end of the bar. “Are you grading papers?” he had said. “Is that what you’re doing right now?” “Yes,” she had said, sweeping her student’s work into a folder and sticking it into her backpack. “I do most of my grading in bars. I expect you can relate.” “Hey, something about the lighting, it really helps,” he had said. She knew he would never judge her. So she told him about her breakup, about her graduate school classes, about the way her new professors were pushing her to do the best writing of her life. “I don’t want to be pushed,” she had laughed. “I want to be told I’m perfect.” “I never even told you that,” he said. “I pushed you, didn’t I?” “Of course you did,” she said. “But you also always told me I was great. I’m great, aren’t I?” “You are,” he said. And he smiled. But then things had taken that turn. She hadn’t been expecting it; never in a million years had she ever thought that he could potentially be attracted to her. There was the gap in their ages; twenty years, at least, and the fact that he had been her professor, besides. She had never been attracted to him. Their relationship had never had a whiff of that, even though they had always been close. She told him about the petty disturbances in her life: the breakups, the professors who slighted her, the academic advisor who bullied her, the parents who were having a hard time grappling with her ambition. He had shared some things with her as well: a difficult moment in his career, a problem with his editor, issues with his tenure. But there had always been a professional distance, or so she had thought. Now that she thought back, they had always been closer than a typical student-teacher relationship, but that was what the mentor-student relationship was all about, wasn’t it? Especially in writing, where the subject matter was so personal, so intimate? He had been there for her during some of the most difficult times in her life. Some crippling depressions, some stunning manias. He was the first one to say, “you seem a little off today, are you okay? Are you taking your meds?” He was the one who had made her pinky-promise that she would stay alive to see her first book come out. However long it takes, he had said. And he had always pushed her to do her best work. She felt safe with him. Or she had. Now, walking down Houston Street, she didn’t know what to expect. It had started off as a joke: “Let’s burn down the city.” He had always had a streak of anarchism in him, maybe more than a streak. They had always had fun, drinking together, the few times they had done it. Maybe that’s all it would be, she thought hopefully to herself, as she turned on Avenue A. The double doors of Double Down Saloon loomed in front of her.
Jay was sitting at the bar in the front, drinking a whiskey. “I said tequila,” Amanda said, already glad that they had something to talk about. “Why aren’t you listening to me? It’s literally written into the rules. If we break one rule we’ll end up breaking them all.” “This rule we’re going to bend,” he said. As usual, her old professor had his sunglasses on inside. He wore the kind of lenses that transitioned from dark to light when you came inside, but his evidently had not transitioned back to regular glasses yet. “I submit to the committee that we can change this one rule.” Amanda pretended to think about it. She had a copy of the rules in her backpack, and she took them out, along with a pen, and made an addendum. “Fine,” she said. “But everything else stays. “Okay,” he said. They stuck out their hands and shook on it. Then they signed the contract. Jay’s signature had a flourish to it that Amanda wasn’t expecting. Double Down was a large bar, with a backyard that was closed even though it was almost summer. The front was cavernous, with a pool table and a collection of booths, and in the back it was tighter, closer, with tables and chairs for large groups to cluster. The walls were covered in graffiti, and pornographic movies played on the various screens mounted on the walls. Signs advertising $4 “Ass Juice” hung over the bar itself, a mystery liquor Amanda herself had never tried. She ordered a tequila shot and a Miller High Life and drank the shot and bit down into the lime, letting the juice fill her mouth. “So what were you thinking?” Jay said. “Did you have a plan, or were you just going to see how things went?” “Well, I had a few ideas,” Amanda said. “But really, I was just going to see how the night went.” “Night?” Jay said. “I’ve cleared my whole weekend.” Amanda laughed nervously. She remembered the night they had made this plan, several weeks ago. “We’ll have to plan it for May, when I’m crazy again,” she had said. But she didn’t feel crazy at all. She felt frighteningly sane. The craziness came in waves, weeks where she didn’t sleep and drank like a fish and smoked like a chimney. Her doctor had a word for it. And he had meds for it, too, which she didn’t always take. But lately she had been taking them, and she didn’t feel quite unhinged enough for this particular excursion. Jay seemed on edge, nervy, paranoid, too excited. “I have to tell you,” he said conspiratorially, “I started before you got here.” “What do you mean?” “I mean,” he said, and tapped the side of his nose, knowingly. It took Amanda a moment to catch on. “Oh. Oh. Oh.” “If I seem a little edgy, that’s why. Do you want some?” He reached into a pocket, palmed something. “Sure. I mean, why not?” Amanda found herself in the tiny Double Down bathroom a few minutes later, pulling key bumps from Jay’s baggie of cocaine. This was not how she imagined her life to be going, when she had walked into Jay Gaines’ Intro to Fiction class four years ago. God, had it been four years? It seemed like so long ago. She had walked in, thinking herself a big shot, and he had knocked her down a few pegs. But first, they had bonded. Over what? She couldn’t remember. What she remembered was him asking her to stay after class. “I need to speak to you about your first assignment,” he had said. “Was there something wrong?” she had said. She knew she wasn’t a bad writer. She hadn’t been serious about writing, back then. She was a political science major. Wanted to go to law school. “Nothing’s wrong. Hang on a second.” He was waiting for the classroom to clear out, until it was just the two of them, and the TA, who was hanging back, presumably to meet with him, too. She had liked the TA, they had become friends later. “Nothing’s wrong. It’s just—you’re exceptional.” “Excuse me?” “Your work. It’s exceptional.” “What?” She had been so flustered she had left the room, without saying thank you, or goodbye. She had called her mother and told her what he had said. She had been elated—someone, and not just anyone, but a professor, thought her writing was good. She carried the feeling around with her all week, buoyant. She had apologized, the next week. Stayed after class again, hung back. “I’m sorry,” she had said. For being rude, she had said. “Thank you.” “Of course,” he said. “You said you’re a politics major? Well, you should be a writer. Fuck politics.” “What?” “Be a writer,” he said. And four years later, she was in an MFA program, teaching her own creative writing class. She didn’t know how it had happened. She had put her nose to the grindstone. With his support, with the support of her parents and her peers, but mostly with that voice in her head: “you’re exceptional,” to motivate her. Their relationship had expanded. To talks after class and during breaks. He had asked her to be his TA. She had, the next year, been his TA. She had ended up taking a lot of responsibility in the class, teaching mini-lessons, making rules for the students. He told her she was the best TA he ever had. They had ended up getting close. He had told her about some things from his past, about his mother. She had told him, well, everything. About her ups and downs. About the bad thoughts, the ones that came at night. About the panics and manias. About what the doctor said. About the diagnosis. He had been there for her. Through everything. He had been steady, unwavering. He had known what to say, what to do. She could never repay him for his kindness. “You don’t get less crazy as you get older,” he had warned her. “I’m just as crazy as you are.” Now, she felt, as she did his cocaine in the bathroom of the Double Down saloon at five pm on a Friday afternoon, she was taking him up on his challenge.
The world was alive. Abuzz. She drank some of the bourbon from her water bottle and winced as it went down. They smashed their beer cans together. They had been drinking steadily at Double Down for the last hour, three beers down the hatch, vodka shots for Jay, tequila for Amanda, lime clinchers. She had been drinking water. They had both made several trips to the bathroom with that plastic baggie and Amanda’s house keys. Amanda felt strong, invincible. She wouldn’t let her mind drift. Jay was rambling about something, and she focused on his words: the sound of his words, not what he was actually saying. He was lecturing, falling into teacher-speak the way he always did if you left him alone for too long, and Amanda could feel him slipping away from her. “Do you see what I mean?” he was saying. “No,” she said, and burst out laughing. “I don’t.” They had been making a list of writers with mental health issues. Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace, Ernest Hemingway. She had an idea that she wanted to only teach bipolar writers in her next class, and he was helping her come up with more material. They were laughing. She felt refreshingly normal, even though she was high, on her way to drunk. It felt good to be sitting here, with someone she most certainly adored, talking about her favorite subject. She felt some of the old mania welling up again, the old excitement. She had had some startling experiences, and Jay had seen her at her best and also at her worst, he had seen her flying and falling, hungover on a Friday morning and puking in the single-user bathroom on the third floor outside of their classroom, but also elated and writing pages and pages of nonsense, which she would email him for corrections. She had written some incredible stories for him, which she now read in wonder, late at night when she had writer’s block, astounded that such stories had come out of her nineteen and twenty-year old self. “A student like you only comes along every four or five years,” Jay was saying. “But I’m your favorite, right?” “You’re my favorite of this generation,” he said. “There have been others.” Amanda wondered suddenly if their relationship would be any different if she was a man. “I’ll accept that,” she said, and took a long drink from her High Life. “You basically pushed yourself on me,” Jay said, laughing. “You sat down next to me on the last day of classes and made sure that we would keep in touch.” “I didn’t want to lose you,” Amanda said. “I knew you were important to me. And look. Here we are.” “I’m glad you did,” he said. “So you’re officially claiming me, as a protege?” “I am,” he said, and laughed again. Then he made a dismissive gesture. “Do you want to get out of here?” he asked. “Where do you want to go?” “Anywhere. The movies. The circus. I don’t know. Let’s walk up to Tompkins Square Park.” She could tell he was itching for a cigarette. She had a full pack in her backpack, and she took one out. “Let’s go.” They walked out into the darkness. It had gotten dark while they had been inside; Amanda blinked in the light of the street lamps. They walked up Avenue A, dodging masses of summer people swarming in and out of bars on the Avenue; the Library, Berlin, Niagara, Sidewalk. Jay lit his cigarette, Amanda followed suit. They talked about nothing, about Amanda’s classes at NYU, about Jay’s students at Columbia. They were just scratching the surface, Amanda could feel it. There was more that bubbled underneath, unsaid. “I have something,” Amanda said, when they sat down on a bench in the park. “For us. If you want.” “What do you mean, you have something?” They were passing her bottle of bourbon back and forth. Quickly, the bottle was getting lighter and lighter. The city was simmering, the May heat of the day dissipating. It was getting cool. Amanda pulled the sleeves of her hoodie closer around her. She had dressed down for this, a t-shirt and old jeans, given the reaction that Jay had had to her in her teaching clothes. She hadn’t wanted to scare him again. She had seen the look on his face when he had seen her, dressed up like an adult: disappointment. “People change,” she had told him. “I know, but don’t change too much,” he had said. She was trying not to change too much. She wanted to hold his image of her in her head and stay that girl, that nineteen year old with wide eyes and so much promise, forever. Already she felt washed out, and she was only twenty-three. She felt like she wasn’t living up to her potential. She didn’t have a book deal yet. She hadn’t published enough. She wasn’t doing interviews or editing magazines or any of the other things that other people in her cohort were doing. She wasn’t good enough. “I’m so proud of you,” Jay said suddenly. “Right now?” she said. “Right now, you’re proud of me?” “Yes,” he said, and didn’t explain himself further. “What do you have?” She rummaged around in her backpack for a while and eventually pulled out the bag. Mushrooms, in a plastic sandwich baggie. “Shrooms. Have you done these?” “Jesus,” he said. “Not since—well. Not for a while.” “I thought it might be fun. Just take one, you won’t really trip that hard. And the alcohol will counteract the effects.” His face flickered—a series of emotions she didn’t recognize. “Give me one.” She reached into the bag, pulled a mushroom out, and handed it to him. His fingers closed around hers. “You have to really chew it, otherwise they don’t work. And they taste terrible.” They sat on the park bench, chewing furiously, for a few moments. Then they both swallowed. “How long?” “About an hour.” “What do we do, for the next hour?” “I say we find another bar.” They found themselves at a hole-in-the-wall, drinking tequila(for her) and vodka(for him), limes for both, talking to the bartender. He was interested to hear that they were both writers. “We’re on a trip right now,” Amanda informed the bartender. “We’re doing a trip, and we’re going to write about it.” “What are you going to write about?” “Well, we’re going to burn down the city of New York, and write from the ashes.” The bartender laughed. “Don’t start at this bar,” he said. “I really need this job.”
When they had agreed to go on this rampage, this trip, whatever it was, whatever it was turning into, all those weeks ago, Jay had told Amanda he was proud of her. “You do know how proud I am of you, right?” he said. “Yes, I know,” she said. “Of course I know that. And you know what you mean to me, don’t you?” “Oh, don’t say that,” he had said. “I just did what any decent person would have done.” “No, you didn’t,” she said. “You checked up on me. You told me to stay alive, to keep fighting, when I was tired of fighting. You saved my life. I owe you everything.” “I just did what anyone would have done,” he said again, looking down into his glass of wine. “I saw promise in you. And I’m so proud of what you’ve become. Even if you do look ridiculous right now.” “What can I say?” she said. “I grew up. I’m sorry.” “Don’t be sorry,” he said. “You had to, at some point. Just promise me you won’t sell out.” “I promise you,” she said, holding out her pinky, for a pinky promise, “that I will never, ever, sell out.” “Good.” Jay nodded his head like he was making a proclamation. “Now let’s go for another cigarette.”
In about an hour, colors started to look brighter. Then they started to shift and change. “Are you seeing this?” Amanda said. Her pupils were like disks. She couldn’t see Jay’s eyes, behind his sunglasses. The neon signs behind the bar were moving and changing. The music was alive. “Look at this.” “I see it,” Jay said. He looked slightly green, like he might throw up, but he also looked astounded. “I see everything.” Amanda sat back in her chair. Her whole body was vibrating. She could feel everything acutely; the wood grain of the bar was moving underneath her hands, and the stool underneath her legs was wobbling. Sounds were louder, but also softer. They had a quality to them that she couldn’t quite describe, a kind of newness, a kind of being that seemed more real than anything she had ever heard before. Her whole body flooded with endorphins. In the center of the bar, there were a few scattered people, dancing. “Dance with me,” she said. “Oh, definitely not,” Jay was saying, but she was already up and out of her chair, marveling at how everything glowed. Her hips swayed and moved to the music. Jay stayed awkwardly on the sidelines, quieter now, out of lecture mode. Amanda could feel him watching her. She wondered how lucid he was, and how the mushrooms and music were affecting him. She gestured to the bartender for two more shots and slammed her shot, the taste of which was now marvelous and complex and almost overwhelming. The lime exploded on her tongue. Magenta and cyan offshoots pingponged from the edges of objects. Neon looked magical. Wood grain swirled and flowed. Her pack of cigarettes looked friendly. The walls were breathing, but it was a gentle kind of breath, and she wasn’t worried about it. She wasn’t worried about anything at all. Tears came to her eyes, and she found herself crying, although she didn’t know why. “Why are you crying?” Jay asked. “I’m just so happy,” she said. “I am, too,” he said. And took her hand. And they danced together, for what could have been three minutes, but could have been three hours, moving close together and then further apart, because distance didn’t seem to be something that mattered anymore. They became one being, with arms and legs that found each other and then moved apart again, and his hands were on her waist and then not, and his hands were in her hair and then not, and floods of what must have been euphoria(for there was not another word for it) went through her body, and she thought of everything that had ever happened to her, she thought of walking into his class for the first time when she was nineteen years old, she thought of teaching her own class on Monday morning, she thought of sitting in that bar with him as he said, “Well, you know what would happen,” and thought to herself, is this it? They would not kiss, not until much later. But she reveled in the knowledge that it would happen, that everything that would happen after was an inevitability, that it was bound to happen, that there was nothing she could do but lie back and let it go forth. She reveled in the power that she now held over him, and he reveled in the power that he now held over her, and they knew that they had broken the rules of the contract but they didn’t care, and they went to the bathroom together and did the last of the cocaine together, and then everything was clear, and then everything went black.
They wandered the city for a long time, or at least it felt like a long time, stopping in at bars and then leaving again, drinking and at some point, Jay bought more cocaine from someone they met somewhere, and Amanda was taking Adderall she had found in an inside pocket of her backpack, and everything had taken on a strange and blurry edge to it, things were not as they appeared, but he did not let go of her hand. Their fingers grew sweaty and slipped around, but neither of them let go. This was the part of the night in which everything seemed sayable, in which Amanda could tell Jay how much he meant to her and he was open like an oyster to receive it, and he told her how much she meant to him and she finally heard him, and they held each other in one of what felt like a hundred bars and told each other every secret that they had ever known. The streets seemed endless and the streetlights blurred and changed into blood and water and smoke. They smoked a thousand cigarettes, out in front of these bars that they stumbled in and out of, and Amanda felt that she was becoming the smoke, that she was floating in and out and away, out into space. At some point she was sick in the gutter, but even that felt somehow hilarious, and they laughed and bought a bottle of water at a convenience store, and she gargled with it, and then they kept going, the chemical taste of the cocaine at the back of her throat, the smoke making her voice throaty and hoarse but also more serious and vague, and when Jay coughed it sounded like trumpets. She was not, anymore, a person who had a job and a life and bills to pay and classes to teach and stories to write, someone who cared about things like narrative structure and sentences and objective reality. She was simply a body, floating through time and space, holding onto Jay for dear life. All of the drugs in her system were counteracting each other and eventually it became clear that they would have to crash somewhere. They had wandered up from the East Village up into Midtown. “I’ll get a hotel room,” Jay said, holding her hand once again, and that answered that question.
The last thing Amanda remembered was stumbling drunk and high on mushrooms and cocaine into the hotel room, which Jay had put on his credit card, laughing that his wife never checked the statements anyhow. And it was a sobering thought, his wife and his two children, ages two and six, but she pushed them out of her mind, and tried to keep from laughing as the hotel clerk(slicked back hair, maroon blazer) asked them questions about how long they would be staying and if they had any baggage, which of course they didn’t except for the backpack and the half empty bottle of bourbon. Jay broke into the hotel minibar as soon as they were in the room, and made them both a drink, which Amanda drank greedily, sucking down the tequila and ice as if it were her last meal, which perhaps it was. She was suddenly awkward, suddenly shy as she sat on the bed. “Should I turn off the lights?” she said, stupidly. Of course not. “Leave them,” Jay said. “We’re just drinking.” It was a non-smoking room, but Jay lit a cigarette anyway, dropping ash into a paper cup. Amanda lit one too, but the taste of it made her sick; she had smoked too many already, they clogged her lungs. She put it out in her empty drink cup. Jay came over and sat next to her on the bed. Then, everything else is a blur. She remembered that he put his hand on her thigh. “You’re my mentor,” she remembered saying, later. “I know,” he said. “You have to say you want it, or else I won’t do anything at all.” Later, she couldn’t remember what she said.
She dreamed that she was back in Jay’s Intro Fiction class. She had been slow to warm up to him, the way she was always slow to warm up to teachers. They had to earn her respect. Nothing was a given. She hadn’t taken a writing class since high school, and worked hard on the assignments, which was exactly why Jay had told her, “you’re exceptional.” But in those first few weeks, she had been mystified by this man, who seemed so sure of himself, so confident, so secure of his place in the world. Later she would find out it was all an act, and Jay was a mess of insecurities, paranoias, and needs just like she was. He could never sit in a room with his back to the door, for example. His mother was a paranoid schizophrenic, and he had certain tics, certain tendencies, that made her think that he had inherited some of that disorder as well. But this gave him a complete and total sympathy to mental health issues. Jay was an obsessive, just like she was. He was an empath, too. He cared about each and every one of his students, and tried to reach each one on their own terms. Amanda had been resistant to this technique. She talked back in class, made jokes, but also flexed her academic brain, answered questions in her loudmouthed way, making sure that he knew she was the smartest person in the room. But he had broken her down, slowly but surely. She remembered the moment when she had realized, he was someone worth knowing. He had been teaching a lesson about character. They had talked about what makes a well-rounded character, what makes a strong character, details, everything. They had built their own character on the board. As usual, she was hungover, barely taking notes. But then he had asked a question to the class. “What do people talk about?” he asked. Everyone had been stumped. What do people talk about? She had thought about it. She didn’t know. “People talk about themselves,” he crowed. He seemed very pleased with himself. She laughed out loud. Yes, they do. He was right. This professor might know something, she remembered thinking to herself. He was breaking down the barriers she had worked so hard to build between herself and other people. In the dream, though, the classroom was melted and twisted. He was speaking about narrative structure. Jay was larger than life, in full lecture-mode, saying, “do you see what I’m saying?” the way he always did. She didn’t catch his meaning. His words were garbled and strange. She kept trying to tell him, “No, I don’t understand what you’re saying.” Then she was running through a hallway, or a set of hallways. He was ahead of her. “You have to keep going,” he was saying. “Don’t stop.” “I’m not going to stop,” she was saying back. “I promise I won’t ever stop.” “You have to stay alive,” he said. “That’s the only way you can keep writing.” “I promise,” she said. “I promise.” Suddenly he was in front of her, in all of his awful glory. His pinky was out, pinky promise style. “Promise me,” he said. “That you’ll stay alive.” “I promise,” she said again. “I promise.” He was the only thing that had kept her alive for so long. She owed him everything. How do you thank a person for that? You don’t. You can’t. She realized that immediately. He had said something to her, that night when they had decided to go on their rampage. They had been sloppy drunk, falling over each other, laughing at jokes that no longer made sense, “Kill your heroes,” he had said. “I’m trying,” she told him in the dream, tossing and turning. “I’m trying.”
She awoke to Jay cutting up lines of coke with her student ID, which he had taken from her wallet when she was asleep. “I bought more last night,” he said, when she asked where it had come from. “Don’t you remember?” “No, I don’t,” she said. “I don’t remember anything.” She was half-dressed, wearing her t-shirt and bra and underwear, but no pants. “Did we?” she asked. “You were too drunk,” he told her. “Way too drunk. I might be crazy, but I’m not a degenerate.” “Well, thanks. What are you doing?” “Keeping the party going. Didn’t I tell you? I have the whole weekend.” “I’m tired,” she said. “You just slept for like, four hours.” “Jay.” He bent down, did two of the lines, snapped his head back. “If you can’t deal with it, then you can’t. I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want to do.” “No, it’s fine,” she said. “Here, let me have at that.” The cocaine made her feel instantly better, more awake. Her head was bleary from the alcohol, and there were still strange shimmers around certain objects, like the light fixture—from the mushrooms, she guessed. Her body felt strange and stretched out. Jay was drinking from one of the paper cups that the hotel left for people to make coffee, but she could smell from where she was standing that he was drinking whiskey, whiskey mixed with something, ginger ale maybe. She went to the coffee maker and started making herself a cup. “Make me some of that, would you?” She got another cup of water from the bathroom and made two cups, and they sat in silence, drinking the black coffee. It seemed as if everything that had needed to be said had already been said, and she wondered if they could find a bar that was open this early, to keep the party going, as he said, or if they would just sit and get wasted in this hotel room, which seemed to her to be sort of sad. Suddenly she wanted to be moving, walking, and she put on her jeans and shoes and told Jay she was going out for a cigarette. “Let’s talk a walk. It’s beautiful out.” She was coked out of her mind, she knew it. And still a little drunk, maybe. Jay hadn’t slept, she realized; he had been up all night doing lines, and his face looked drawn and tired, older than he was. He was awkward around her, unsure, and she felt odd around him as well, because something had almost happened, but it hadn’t. And now she didn’t want it to happen at all. He was her professor. Well, not anymore, but he had been, and she respected him in that way, respected him immensely. She had looked up to him for years. It was a disappointment, that he looked at her just as another body, another thing to be had. Had he always seen her that way? Had everything he had ever said to her been a lie, just to get her into this hotel room? Had he been planning this? She didn’t think he was devious enough. But the thought was planted in her head, and now she couldn’t stop thinking about it. She had changed her whole life, for this man. She had gone to graduate school at his urging. She had become a writer, because of him. She had changed her major in college, worked on her writing for hours and hours, spent time obsessing about sentence structure and a hundred other things that didn’t matter, all because this one man had told her she was “exceptional.” What if she wasn’t? They walked in silence to the elevators. She remembered something from when they had agreed that they were going to go on this adventure together. It had been her idea. “Let’s go on a rampage and burn down the city,” she had said. He had laughed. “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea,” he had said. He had been right. His reluctance, though—had it been calculated? “I need to go home,” she said suddenly. They were standing in the hotel lobby. “Oh, Amanda,” Jay said. “Come on. We still have two more days.” “This is stupid. We’re just getting wasted and yelling at each other. We’re acting like children. For me, maybe, but you’re an adult. You’re forty-seven fucking years old. You told me that no one gets wiser with age, but I should hope that you have learned by now that maybe, this wasn’t such a good idea.” “Look,” Jay said. “We’re just two people, having fun. That’s all.” “I’m not having fun anymore,” she said. She could feel the cocaine buzzing in her veins, making her words come out harsher than she meant them to. “I’m not having fun anymore.” He grabbed her roughly by the upper arm, pulled her out into the street. Around them, people surged. The sun shone brightly. They were somewhere in Midtown, Amanda couldn’t remember where, or how they had even ended up there. “You don’t want to sleep with me,” Jay said slowly. “That’s fine. I’m not asking you to.” he looked confused, tired, old. Amanda thought back to the night before—flashes of color, euphoria, love. She didn’t know what she had been thinking. She loved him, of course she did. But she didn’t want to do this. She had never wanted to do this. She had thought that love was enough, that it was the answer, but it wasn’t. There are different kinds of love, she realized sharply. This isn’t what I need. “It’s not about that,” Amanda said, although it was. “It’s about everything. You’re my mentor. You’re supposed to be taking care of me.” “I never agreed to that,” he said cruelly. “You’re an adult. You take care of yourself. We all do.” “You took care of me when I needed to be taken care of!” Amanda said, practically shouting. “When I was losing it. When I needed you. Well, I need you, now. Why can’t you just be there for me?” “Because I’m not—” he broke off. “I”m not whatever it is you think I am. I’m not a hero. I’m just a person. You understand that, don’t you?” “Yes, I understand, I just thought—” “You thought, what? That I was going to save you from something? That I was going to take you away from whatever if it you’re running from?” “I don’t know.” Amanda looked at her shoes. “Yes.” “I’ve told you this before,” he said. “It doesn’t get easier as you get older. I don’t know any more than you do. I’m just a man, and yes, I want things, and that doesn’t make anything that I’ve ever told you any less true. I’m still proud of you, and I still care about you. We’re two people who care about each other.” “It makes everything different,” Amanda said, and all the air deflated out of her like a balloon. “Don’t you see that?” “I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “I’m sorry.” “Can we still be friends?” Amanda said, even though she wanted nothing less. The words came out of her mouth before she could stop them. She didn’t want to lose Jay. She wanted things to go back to the way they were, before they had ever gotten drinks together, before they had decided to go on this adventure together, before anything. She wanted to go back to being nineteen and take a different Intro to Fiction class. Jay opened his arms. “What do you think?” Amanda fitted herself into his arms. They hugged for a long time, as people ducked and dodged around them.
They sat in the coffee shop. Amanda felt like it was a first date; they were nervous around each other, awkward. They had emailed a few times, it was impossible not to talk to Jay. She always had things she needed to tell him. Stories from teaching, triumphs and trials from her graduate school workshops, advice she needed to solicit. He had been a part of her writing life, of her life, for so long, it was impossible to cut him out. But she didn’t forgive him. And she needed to tell him that. “I wanted to get together,” she said, once they had settled in, “because I thought we should talk.” “I know,” he said. He looked tired. Amanda could see in the slump of his shoulders, the way his skin sagged around his eyes, that whatever it was that he was fighting, it was wearing on him. She had once wanted to know what his individual demons were, but now she found herself strangely cold. “I know that,” he said. “Look.” “No,” she said. “Let me talk.” He looked surprised. “Okay,” he said, sitting back in his chair. “You told me once,” she began, “that we don’t get less crazy as we get older. That we don’t learn from our mistakes. That we don’t get any wiser.” “Yes,” he said. “I think that’s true. I don’t know any more than you do.” “Well, I don’t agree with that,” she said. “You’re the adult here. You were supposed to be taking care of me, and you didn’t. You broke that trust.” “Amanda,” Jay said. “I’m sorry.” “I know you’re sorry,” she said. “I know that. But that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t forgive you.” “We can’t forgive each other,” he said slowly. “Or ourselves.” “That’s not what I said.” “What?” “I said that I don’t forgive you,” she said. “I don’t care if you forgive yourself.” She took a sip from her coffee, trying to steady her hands. “I don’t forgive you. You broke my trust.” “I can see how you would feel that way,” he said, speaking slowly again. His hands were clenched into fists. “But I want you to know, that I do care about you, very much.” “I know you do,” she said. “That doesn’t change anything. What’s done is done. And I can admit my part in it, but this happened. And now it’s over.” “You’re saying—what? What are you saying?” “It’s over,” she said, and got up, and walked out of the coffee shop.
On the street, she felt shaky. Her legs wobbled underneath her. She took a deep breath, trying to make her legs and lungs and limbs work in unison. She could hear Jay behind her, calling her name, but she ignored him. She kept walking. She walked for a long time. She wasn’t sure how long she walked for. The streets blurred around her into a paroxysm of lights, wind, and rain. The street names stopped making sense to her. She walked and walked, making turns when it felt right, letting her hair get soaked by the water. When she stopped she was in a part of the city she didn’t recognize. That was alright, though. She knew that she could find her way back on her own.