Home > The Lost Night(10)

The Lost Night(10)
Author: Andrea Bartz

“I was out one night and started talking to this guy,” I began, “and we had a bunch of drinks together, and then I think I invited him over, but he was like, ‘Ehh, I just want to stay here with my friends.’ Which, god knows what was actually going on, but I was pissed. So I went outside to hail a cab—this was when you had to actually look for them on the street—and some girls who, in retrospect, must have also been wasted saw me looking all furious and were like, ‘Fuck him, come hang out with us!’ and we went into the bar next door. I don’t remember anything after that, but the next morning, when I finally woke up and went to check my purse for my wallet and phone, I reached in and pulled out”—I mimed it, the slow vertical reveal—“someone else’s purse. Like a clutch? The entire thing was in there. And full of this poor girl’s stuff—wallet, phone, lipstick, keys. I remember shuffling out to the living room where my roommate was watching TV and going, ‘Hannah, I did something really, really bad…’ ”

“So you turned into a pickpocket?!” Michael was laughing now. I giggled, too, but I could still feel it, that balloon of shame, the feeling of fumbling into the past and finding nothing but air.

“That’s the thing, I don’t even know! Did I take it by accident? Did she ask me to hold it and I got lazy keeping it in my hands, so I dumped it into my purse? I have no idea! I didn’t recognize her at all.”

“God. What’d you do?”

“The phone was dead, but I had her name from her driver’s license. I tried to find her on Facebook but didn’t have any luck—for all I know, the ID might have been a fake. So I put on clothes and walked in a hungover stupor to the bar the random girl had brought me into and left it there—I said it looked like mine so I’d taken it by mistake. And then I just avoided that bar for the rest of time. I still have no idea how that bag ended up in my purse. I hope I didn’t mug anyone.”

He squirmed a bit, gently shook me off his shoulder, and rolled onto his side. “Are you a mean drunk? Is that why you stopped drinking?”

He said it teasingly, but I felt myself blush. “I guess. Back then I was, at least. My friends used to joke about having to keep me ‘on-leash.’ ”

He snorted. “What’s funny is that normally when you’ve had too much to drink, you wake up feeling like you’ve done something bad even though you haven’t. But I woke up with a busted-up face. And you woke up with someone else’s bag. So the guilt response was correct.”

“I know, right?” I giggled again. “I looked into that, too. Your serotonin receptors are all messed up; basically gives you depression for the day.” I fitted my elbow over his waist and sighed. “I don’t miss that.”

“Why did you stop drinking?”

Impressive that he’d made it this many months without asking, really. “I had this disastrous thirtieth birthday when I had way too much to drink,” I said into his neck. “I finally put two and two together that…I mean, you’ve probably seen my pill bottles around, I’ve been on a few different things for depression and other stuff and yeah, I finally decided that alcohol wasn’t really a helpful chemical to combine with my fucked-up brain.” I normally avoided this entire topic—the stimulants as a kid, the benzos in college, the antidepressants now. That I don’t remember life without mood-stabilizing drugs, that I’m not entirely sure who I’d be without them monkeying around with my neurotransmitters. But I was feeling so open, vulnerable.

“What happened on your birthday?” he asked.

“Well, I’d invited people over, and there was a huge snowstorm that day, so nobody came. The only ones who made it were my friend Tessa and her husband. He left early because he had to be in court the next day, and when it was just Tessa and me…” My face burned. “I blacked out and got kinda mean. About how all my friends sucked and she’d turned into a Smug Married and stuff. I said some terrible things; she didn’t speak to me for days. They weren’t even true, I don’t know what I was talking about. After that I was like, ‘Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.’ It hasn’t actually been that hard. My life doesn’t revolve around drinking like it did when I was younger.”

He was quiet for a second. “Well, I don’t think your brain’s fucked up.” He lifted my knuckles to his mouth and kissed them.

I laughed. “I mean, thanks. Obviously I’m…fine. But I miss it every now and then.”

“If it’s not an actual addiction, maybe you could just have one? I always figured you were in AA or something.”

And in all these months, he’d never asked. Which probably said something about the seriousness of our relationship. “No, it’s nothing like that. So maybe. I don’t know. I don’t really wanna keep talking about my…shriveled and blackened brain.” I added a little bravado to show I was joking, but it fell flat. After a moment, I slid my limbs back and got up to make us coffee.

* * *

At my desk, blinking at a story about radicalized Algerian immigrants, I fantasized about whether anyone would notice if I just stopped doing my job. I’d still show up, of course, moseying into meetings and making small talk in the break room; I just wouldn’t produce anything. The thought experiment left me feeling pretty unmotivated, so I convinced Damien to venture out for lunch with me. He gossiped about the junior editors as we walked; I think it bothers him that there’s a younger, hipper clique of gay men on staff now. I figured we’d bring our food back to the air-conditioning, but he insisted we eat outside even though it was 100 degrees, so we plodded to the Elevated Acre, a bizarre rectangle of Astroturf tucked between office buildings. Businessmen in suits were splayed on the fake grass like well-dressed starfish. We chose a spot along the edge and I fanned myself, wishing I had a sun hat.

“This is what…the sixth summer in a row that’s the hottest on record?” I eased the lid off my salad.

“I know. You feel especially bad when you’re here, surrounded by, like, hundreds of floors of energy consumption.”

“Oh, the buildings around here are probably mostly LEED-certified by now.” We looked around, chewing thoughtfully. “My dad’s a civil engineer and he says the reason he retired is that everyone was making him build, quote, buildings for fearmongering, tree-hugging hippies, unquote.”

“Yikes. I always forget you’re the product of gun-toting right-wingers.”

“That’s me.” Why had I brought them up? Picturing them, I felt an arrow of unease.

He leaned back against a step. “I love the idea of you as a teeny six-year-old pointing a loaded shotgun.”

“Rifle,” I corrected. “A twenty-two-caliber rimfire rifle. Single shot.”

“And you were actually six? I was being cute.”

“Sixth birthday present. Every little girl’s dream.” I’d wanted the Totally Hair Barbie, but eventually I came to like shooting with my dad. He was calm at the shooting range, predictable. Unlike at home.

“Remember when I met them and they kept asking me where my accent’s from?” Damien said. “Took me forever to realize they just couldn’t detect gayness.”

“Oh god, that was awful. And hopefully that was the only time they’ll ever come to New York.” Damien was likely one of the first black men they’d encountered socially, and they’d said plenty of unintentionally racist things—“That’s really great that you’re educated, that you got your degree!” I couldn’t imagine how awkward things would’ve gotten if they’d picked up on his sexual orientation as well.

He kept laughing. “They were sweet. You’re still not talking?”

“I mean, we get further and further apart on our political stances with each passing year. To the point where it’s hard to have a conversation. We’re basically down to obligatory phone calls on birthdays and major holidays.”

He shrugged and sucked on his straw. “It’s family. You only get the one.”

“Yeah, and my family voted directly against my well-being and safety. And yours.” It was a convenient excuse, though not the real reason. It’d been a little easier avoiding them the last few years—so many fellow New Yorkers were outraged with their own red-leaning folks and I could just follow suit.

“But they raised you!”

“And I didn’t…I didn’t have the greatest childhood with them. I don’t want to talk about it.”

Damien shrugged easily and I envied his mellowness, how he could always make me feel like the hysterical woman by contrast. We gazed out at the grass. A pigeon was plodding closer and closer to the head of one of the supine businessmen. He had his eyes closed, unaware.

I tried a joke. “My dad’s an amazing shooter,” I said. “When he’d go to retrieve his target, with all the holes in the bull’s-eye, he’d always say he was gonna put it on the front door for any guy taking me on a date to see.”

“Did you go on a lot of dates?”

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