Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 118 in June, 2009.
I am no longer in this scene I am melting into the plush banquette that I look ridiculous sitting on because it’s so low to the ground and I’m tall, three extra inches, thanks Marshall Fields, and this whole thing is just an attempt to look trendy to some strangers. It almost works except that no one here is even a little bit sure of how to act and it looks like a sixth grade dance, an aerial view would verify that a group of people are dressed to the nines yet segregated and eyeing each other suspiciously and no one is dancing except for a few who feign movement in their heads. The techno music from the Motorola commercial keeps pounding which seems to disagree with the fact that the occupants of this open space look more like mourners at a funeral than happy young people at a club. I am aware of the sound my shoes are making on the expensive wood floors as I float past dozens of unfamiliar faces glaring at me and my height until Angela shows me where she met R Kelly in the VIP area and I am not even a little bit impressed by the sanctioned-off space. Then off to the powder room even though we just got here and I pretend to use the bathroom and fix my makeup while she breaks up a bump for herself and all the while the Latina towel lady who is at least a foot shorter than me does not seem a little bit phased by the amount of time that Angela is spending in the stall and her inhalations, all she wants are the tips scraped from the bottom of these bourgeois suburbanites turned yuppies’ Dior bags. I feel fraudulent and bored except that I am wearing my skinny jeans from Italy and a vest that is meant to be worn over something, not as just a shirt and this outfit seems to please the palates of so many of the pre-balding men around me as I observe the feeling of being raped by their eyes. Why am I here? This was supposed to be my birthday celebration, the reason I came home this weekend. No one has even bought me a drink, I just shelled out nine dollars for a weak vodka cranberry in a microscopic high-ball glass. The girls have started dancing and Athina has found a platform sufficient enough to ensure she soaks up all the attention while still being able to carry out her strange brand of juking and belly dancing. I think it might be a table because it previously supported my drink, the one I currently nurse just to occupy one of my hands from the boredom the rest of me feels. I feel weak and shaky; I should have eaten more before I left the house I knew this whole thing was a horrible idea. The guys are sitting on the midget couch in a lethargic haze from the bowl they smoked on the car ride over here. Everyone is waiting, waiting to feel something. I’m not so sure anymore that I want to feel the same things as them because even as I am coerced into dancing by Athina I feel like I don’t belong in this place. I feel like I owe it to myself to get out as soon as possible. I feel sick. I sit back down and Tom introduces me to his friend. His friend is very good looking and sitting a little too close to me. Usually I might care about this but I am indifferent to his attention and his small talk. He lived in Florence a semester before I did and just moved to the city from some no-name farm community in Michigan or Indiana. Who can say I wasn’t listening. Anyone who looked on might have observed me whispering in his ear and smiling coyly at the things he was saying about Florence but that was merely me acting the part of the newly 21-year-old girl at the club who is having a really good time. I decide to go to the bathroom again to seek solace in the quiet, cool stall seeing as I have lost Angela and chances of this night ending any time soon are bleak at best. It hasn't even started. My threshold for small talk has been reached and my tolerance for pretentious assholes is quickly approaching as well. I hate this scene. My friends clearly don't know me at all or seem a little focused about the celebration at hand. As I walk towards a stall I run into Angela on the way out, subconsciously rubbing her nose with the inside of her index finger. Did you do it? I shake my head and begin the descent into her disapproving eyes. She thinks I’m a pussy. She thinks I should just take the whole thing, have a good time and think nothing of anything else going on. She doesn't see the bored eyes of the towel lady and if she did she wouldn't care. I look at that lady and it makes me sad that she has to stand here all night watching drunk girls parade in and out in heels, attempting to salvage their MAC-lined eyes and teased hair. It makes me want to take her job and tell her to go home, or better yet, go have fun like these people are supposed to be doing. Angela shrugs and keeps walking to the sink where she pantomimes a clown applying make-up before she returns to the bright lights of the big top. I enter the stall and sit, watching the granite covered door and wondering why I cannot just have fun like all the other people here. I reappear on the dance floor, shoes clicking, heart beating, still weak. I see Tom and he tries to dance with me but instead I mumble that I don't feel good. Do you want a drink? No you imbecile I want to get the fuck out of here. Instead I say I want a water. He comes back with some absurd water in a glass bottle that resembles a shampoo container. What the hell is this? He looks at me strangely as my quivering hand conforms to the long, oval container. I approach the opening of this bottle with much trepidation, as if this new form of holding water is nothing short of a bomb that I must deactivate before the entire club implodes. So this is how the other half drinks water. He watches me with a face of slight disgust and amusement, a face that I have seen Tom make before when he got his new Mustang and I asked if I could drive it. He thinks I am trash. He only likes me because I am Angela's friend. Oh that poor girl who can't fathom that someone's parents would buy them a new Mustang. I don't need this scorn, not from Tom and not from anyone in this place. I finally manage to take a sip of the water, and it does nothing to make me feel any better. I continue to sit and my new friend whose name is still a mystery comes and sits next to me thinking my sitting is an invitation for more conversation since he doesn't seem to want to try to dance to these random sounds either. Someone comes over and takes a picture. Tom asks if I feel better. No. I don't feel anything, just shaky. Everyone else is feeling pretty good at this point and their faces are starting to glisten from all the fun. Just finish it, Tom insists. Do you still have it? I nod. I go back into the bathroom with my fancy water. I dig deep into the pocket of my jeans and find that birthday present, the one I already half consumed. It is strong, I was told. This means nothing to me anymore because I will do anything to feel happy in this situation. I swallow it, the strange acrid taste lingers. I have never liked swallowing pills. I take a long sip of water to make sure that all of this magic will enter my bloodstream as efficiently as possible. The placebo effect follows, I feel a sense of calm knowing that the deed has been done, whatever happens now on this crazy ride, I might actually enjoy myself, start liking the strategically recessed lighting and steel plated decor, an attempt at contemporary design that falls dangerously close to looking just plain ridiculous, except that people are buying into it. I resume my seat again after dancing briefly with Tom, his face too close to mine, asking if I feel better. A little bit I venture, explaining that I had taken the rest of the pill. He is happy with this answer as I dance briefly with him to verify that I am happy here and then resume my seat on the grey lounge. My new friend is talking to me again, explaining how different Chicago is and where he goes to school and asking me questions which I probably answered but I do not remember. I do not remember because there is a force inside of me that is pushing itself out slowly. I feel like my torso is on fire spreading quickly to the rest of my limbs rendering me near catatonic from this internal combustion. I suddenly want to throw up everywhere and am no longer aware of the words coming from his mouth, or that he is even sitting next to me or that I am in a club where I wanted to be. I look around at all the strangers, terrified that they all know I've done something that I can't undo. I look at them and no one is paying attention and I start to fidget and rub my thighs back and forth methodically and shake. I feel like I can't stop moving and that any position I sit in is the most uncomfortable one possible. I am aware of the location of my bones and the friction that it is causing them when I switch positions. I look at the dope next to me and let my head fall into my hands. I cut him off mid-sentence by stating that I don't feel good. He thinks that I am going to throw up and I think that I am too and I am no longer concerned with impressing him, just getting outside as soon as possible. Angela comes over to see how I am doing and notices the sheer terror in my dilated eyes. I grab her arm, but it doesn't feel like an arm, it doesn't feel like anything. My heart is beating so fast that I can feel it is on the verge of collapsing into itself. I whisper into her ear, Gel, I need to get the fuck out of here now. She looks at me impatiently and says, okay girl chill out. Let's go outside, I want to smoke a square anyway. She grabs my hand and leads me through the crowd, who I am certain are all staring at me, the skinny girl who is probably anorexic and doesn't belong here. She leads me past the bouncers who try to talk to her but I keep walking, convinced I will fall over at any time if I don't. I turn back to her, I need her to save me from this. I need to know what is going on. She makes up some excuse for taking a walk with me and scurries over to me. What’s wrong love? Gel, I think I am dying. I don't feel good at all. I want this to stop. Make it stop. Baby, what are you talking about? She keeps calling me pet names meaning she isn't taking me seriously at all. And then just like that I am gone. I am rocking back and forth as if that will make this all stop but I would never know that I was doing this because the beat of my heart and the dark stone surfaces all around me are no longer just my landscape but myself. I am the sidewalk, the night sky stripped of color, the streetlight, the truck with the meat packing logo. I am all that and none of it at the same time. I don’t know who I am. I am just a shell of myself and within seconds these realizations hit me. What is my name? Where am I? Who is this girl touching my arm and urging me to calm down? The seconds turn into hours as I wonder if this is the end of me or whoever I have just become. This is my life ending in the meat packing district of Chicago on a sidewalk due to coronary arrest. Or just unrest. I am having a heart attack. I am dying. Sweat seeps out of every orifice of my body and onto my lovely ensemble that had so many fooled before. They should see me now. Why did I do this? Is it normal to feel this way? What is going on, this was supposed to be fun. My parents. My fucking parents. What will they think of this. We thought she got it out of her system a while ago. It will kill them. It will kill all of them. And Sarah. I am remembering these people as if they were from a previous life as I ignore the nudging of my arm. I speak finally, the voice of a small child. Gelly I don’t like this, make it stop. Make it stop. She doesn’t understand what could be happening and at the same time she is rolling successfully so all of her words and gestures are filled with the concern and love of a person who has a high dose of MDMA fucking with their serotonin. She is concerned but it stems from the fact that I am ruining her good time and not that I am about to meet my maker. I am whimpering and shaking as I rock back and forth even more frantically. Why are you doing that sweetie? Tell me what you feel like. I already told her. I repeat, I feel like I am dying. She stubs out her cigarette with the sole of her stiletto, such a cliché. I would ordinarily note that but instead I keep shaking. My whole body and my heart are experiencing an earthquake and it’s off the charts. No Richter scale can account for this movement. Is this a seizure? Is this a heart attack? Do you wanna go back inside sweetie, her voice drips like artificial coffee sweetener and floats through the air. She tries to make it sound enticing but I am not convinced. Does she know that I cannot move? Does she not know that I am dying? The rest of the group finds us and looks confused. There is a sense of urgency to their conversation that I can sense even though I am just staring at the ground as it moves back and forth, back and forth. My eyes twitch to reveal peripheral glimpses of all the streetlights illuminating this desolate scene. They move side to side quickly then stop. I am but a mere puppet to the ill effects of my decision. They are scared. At first they too try to convince that this is normal, that I should try to enjoy it, that I am just peaking. I am not enjoying it and I have done this before. But it is stronger this time, remember? When I talk my voice doesn’t make sense and I have a hard time putting a sentence together. I just want this to stop. I don’t like it. I want it to be over. Oh honey, you’re just high, this is how all of us feel. Just relax and enjoy it. I can’t relax though because all of their movements and voices are moving so fast that focusing on just one seems impossible. Some leave and go back to the club. A while later, they return. Nothing has changed except that my imminent death is becoming more imminent and Angela just keeps talking, saying all the wrong things. She doesn’t understand. I look up to see their eyes exchanging quick perturbed glances. I am never like this. NEVER. I am always the composed one, the one who can hold her liquor despite drinking most under the table. The one who has done more drugs than almost anyone here and lived to tell about it. The one who doesn’t throw up, tweak or lose all inhibitions. That was me before now. Now is just a bleak box in which I can’t find the secret exit. You don’t think you need to go to the hospital do you? I love how this is phrased. How persuasive of them. I don’t know I say honestly. I feel like I am dying. Feel my heart. They do. They also feel my forehead which is apparently burning. They assign Angela to stay outside with me and she bitches about how her night is ruined. I feel sick to my stomach. How many times have I held her hair back for her when she’s vomited her guts out? How many times did I sacrifice my nights to babysit her, or drive her home and save her from getting in trouble with her crazy parents or the cops? And now here I am, if I could control my arms I would slap her, the anger rising. This is a good sign but I do not know it at the time. I am becoming lucid. Or just loose. Then the guy comes out, the one I have been talking to about Florence. He is confused but has been briefed on the fact that we were all trying to secretly roll. I guess the cat’s out of the bag. The other girl with us, the one from Vegas, has also found out and is pissed. I am ruining everyone’s night. The poor guy looks at me like he’s never seen someone on drugs before. So naïve and this is his first night out on the town. The big city where one second you’re talking to a cute girl and the next she’s laying on a sidewalk mumbling she is about to die. Later on in the night when the group decides to continue on without me after leaving me on a mattress with no sheets in Tom’s new apartment, they go to a club in Greektown where a man stabs another man for dancing with his wife. Poor kid. Bet he didn’t see that one coming either.