Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Fine Mess

This is a true story. Some names have been changed to protect the guilty.

The sun streaming in through the window wakes me from a deep sleep. I open my eyes. This isn’t my bed. That’s not unusual. It is that special time in life when friends - male and female - just pile together and sleep wherever they happen to be when they fall. College. There is Simon next to me. This isn’t unusual, either. We are best friends, he and I. I live on the first floor, he on the second, and we share everything. A typewriter. Jackets. Socks. Coffee mugs. I draw the line, one day not too far in the future, when he asks if I have any idea where “our” toothbrush is. We often share a bed, though. Having grown up in a house full of other girls, he is like the little brother I’ve always wanted, never mind that he is older than I am, and that we are technically adults when we meet. No, we are children, still: children playing at being grown-ups.

I make a move to get up and feel a stiffness in my bones. My shoulders hurt. One of my hands is sore. I look down at the sore hand and see my that knuckles are red, and a little swollen. My neck, too, feels funny. My head, of course, is pounding. That’s to be expected. We’ve been drinking. We always drink, but last night we drank long and hard. So hard, I realize, that I don’t even remember leaving the bar, let alone getting home and climbing the stairs to fall into bed without bothering to take off my jeans. I must groan from the aches as I swing out of bed, because Simon is suddenly awake, too.

“Jesus,” he says, sitting up and reaching for the pitcher of water on the floor by his side of the bed. He always fills a pitcher of water and puts it by the bed when he’s been drinking. I’m not sure if it’s an endearing trait, or a sign that we both drink way too much - enough that he plans for hangovers. And then he lets out a sharp cry. “Jesus Christ, I think I have a broken rib!”

I am standing, now, and realize that, in addition to the headache, the stiff shoulders, and the sore, swollen knuckles, both of my arms hurt. I pull up one sleeve and find a purple bruise that covers the entire upper part of my arm.

“Wow,” Simon says, “How’d you get that? It’s ugly as shit.”

I look up at him. He is sitting up in bed, now, wearing that grouchy face he wears after a night of drinking. No wonder he thinks he’s got a broken rib. The bruise on his side is even bigger and an even deeper shade of purple than the one on my arm. I point to it. Pointing hurts. Doing anything with either arm hurts, right now.

“Probably the same place you got that,” I say.

His eyes follow my finger and look down.

“Holy shit, what the hell happened to us?”

I try and remember the events of the night before. We were drinking at the redneck bar about half a mile down the road. We’re not rednecks. More like hippies. But the owner likes us. So do the townies. Simon and I can match any one of those hard-drinking Vermonters drink-for-drink. It’s made us some friends among the local rednecks, who are mostly very nice guys. (One day, a year or so after this, I will be taking a walk down the road with a beautiful girl with whom I am smitten, and every few minutes a redneck will stop his pickup truck or Land Cruiser, call out my name, and offer us a ride. I smile and wave and say “no, thanks” to each and every one of them. The beautiful girl will ask me how it is that so many locals know me by name. I will ashamedly tell her it’s probably a sign that I drink too much. I will fall a little bit more in love with her her when she takes my arm and says, “Well, making friends is good.”) Yes, the night before was a night of especially hard drinking. One of us - I forget which - had a lot of money, and we were determined to spend it all. These are the late 80s. Draft beer is only 75 cents and shots of rum (our favorite) are 1.50 each. We drank, and played darts. We listened to ZZ Top and Hank Williams and Elvis on the juke box. And we drank some more. And then everything stops. My memory of the night before, I mean. It stops there.

Simon gets out of bed, holding on to his side and wincing in pain.

“Go change into something less stinky. We have to walk down and get my car.” he says.

“Your car?” I ask, “What are you talking about?”

“Don’t you remember? Julia snatched my keys because she was afraid I was going to drive home,” he explains, “My car is still parked behind the bar. I’m not walking there alone, so go get dressed. We need to track Julia down and get my keys.”

“I have to shower, first, though. And take some Tylenol.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

As I’m showering, I find other, smaller bruises. Little red and pale pink bruises on my legs. One on my side. I try to remember the night before in greater detail. It comes back to me: the two of us playing darts and missing the board, entirely, and our friend, Julia, snatching the car keys off the edge of the pool table. “I’m doing you guys a favor,” she says in her raspy voice, “You’re completely shitfaced. Find another ride home.” After that - nothing. Certainly nothing to explain why I’m in so much pain,  let alone why Simon looks as if someone has had a go at him with a baseball bat.

When I’m clean and dressed and have taken something for the pain I meet Simon in the lounge, where there is a cup of hot coffee waiting for me. He is clean and dressed, too, and nursing his own cup of coffee with one hand. With the other, he is holding a bag of frozen french fries against his side. We sit side-by-side on the couch, facing the plate glass window that looks out at ‘the bowl’ - a field that takes a sharp dip, forming a big, deep, earthy bowl.

“If Julia has your keys and you didn’t drive, how did we get home last night?” I ask.

The question has clearly not occurred to him. He puts down his coffee mug.


This is the sound Simon makes when he’s really thinking.

“Mmmmmmm. I...I don’t fucking know. Did we walk home?”

I roll my eyes.

“I hope you’re kidding. Neither one of us was in any shape to walk home. Last I remember, I was barely standing.”

“True,” he says, “Someone must have given us a ride. Who else was there?”

“I dunno. Some other kids. A bunch of townies. Maybe we rode in the back of someone’s pickup and got jostled around.”

Simon laughs, and then winces. Laughing is clearly painful.

“I didn’t get this,” he says, pointing his chin down towards his sore, bruised ribs, “from jostling around in a pickup truck for the few minutes it takes to get to campus. There are bruises on my legs, too. And look at this-”

He puts down his coffee cup, hikes up his left cuff and shows me his calf, which has a clear set of bite marks.

I’m both fascinated and repulsed.

“What the hell? Do you need rabies shots?”

He returns to his cup of coffee, “Nah...whatever it was, it didn’t break skin.”

“A dog,” I say, “It must have been a dog. I mean - anything else would have really hurt us.”

“Yeah, well, I’m hurt badly enough, thank you.”

“You know what I mean. What else is there to run into in Vermont? A moose? We’d be road kill. Even a raccoon would have at least broken skin. We must have gotten into a tussle with some old mutt.”

Simon gets up and goes to the kitchen. He comes back with two glasses of water and hands me one.

“Drink that,” he says, “You’ll thank me later.”

I thank him right now and gulp the water down in one go. Just as I’m putting my glass down and getting back to my coffee, I notice something out of the corner of my eye - something moving down in the bowl. There’s a sound, too. Faint, but getting louder.

Simon stands up and walks right over to the window, to get a better view. He chuckles, and I can hear the pain it causes him. Still, he laughs.

“It’s Bri,” he says, “It’s that lunatic, Brian, trying to drive that stupid van of his up the side of the bowl. That guy is such a complete mess. I love him.”

I join Simon at the window.

“How can you not?” I ask, “He’s a mess, alright. He’s never going to get that van out of the bowl. They’re going to need to tow him.”

Brian is a student, although no one is quite sure what he studies. He’s a wild man. He drinks too much and does crazy things. Even sober, he’s a menace in that van of his. He refers to it as his “rig” and keeps hoping against hope that he will wake up one day, and discover it’s turned into an all-terrain vehicle. Brian is always driving recklessly and too fast, always getting into accidents, hitting a skunk, or getting stuck in the mud. Deciding to drive down into the bowl, and then realizing he can’t drive back up and out of the bowl? Classic Brian. It’s impossible not to love this mess of a guy.

After a few minutes of revving his engine and trying to get his “rig” out, Brian gives up, gets out, and starts leaving the bowl on foot. He immediately spots us watching him from the picture window, waves his arms in the air, and howls like a wolf. Simon and I smile.

“That guy is such a mess,” Simon says again, smiling and waving with the arm that isn’t holding on to the bag of frozen french fries. He opens the door and calls out, “What fresh hell are you up to, this morning, Bri?”

Brian approaches, still waving his arms in the air, still howling. He keeps howling until he is just 10 or 15 feet away from us. When he stops howling, his face breaks into a wide, evil grin.

“Well, well, well,” he says, eyeing the bag of fries, which Simon clutches to his side, “You actually look better than I expected,” and then, nodding to me, “Both of you.”

Simon and I exchange puzzled looks.

“What are you talking about?” I ask.

Brian pulls a loose cigarette out of his pocket, lights it, and takes a drag before answering. When he does get around to answering me, it’s with a question.

“You saying you don’t remember what happened last night?”

“We both had a lot to drink,” Simon answers.

“Oh, I’ll say you had a lot to drink,” Brian replies, giggling, “You really don’t have a clue do you?”

My arms hurt, my head is pounding, and this is getting old.

“Spit it out, Bri,” I say, making sure he can hear just how irritated I am. Brian has always been a little afraid of my temper, “If you know how we got home last night, and what went down, then out with it. If not, then stop with the games. I’m hung over as all hell and not in any mood.”

“Whoa, down, girl” he says, “If I knew were going to be such an ingrate, I never would have given you guys a ride home.”

For a moment, Simon and I say nothing. We just look at each other, and then at Brian, not wanting to believe him. Simon is the first to speak.

“So, you’re saying we got into your van -”

Rig, dude,” Brian corrects him, “Yeah. I’m saying you guys were left high and dry without a ride home, and I brought you here in the rig. And that was some fucked up scene. You two really should seek professional help.” And he giggles, again, like a little girl.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask. Brian is not exactly the person who should be warning anyone else about the dangers of overconsumption of alcohol.

“What I mean,” he says, taking a drag from his cigarette, and placing an emphasis on the “mean,” probably thinking it sounds clever or witty, when it just sounds silly, “is that I was driving along, happy as could be, with the two of you in the back of the rig, when you got into some bullshit argument, and the next thing I knew, it was the Thrilla in Manilla, all over again, baby.”

“Meaning?” Simon asked. He was starting to get as irritated as I was.

“Meaning,” again with the silly inflection, “That you two alcoholics had a knock-down drag-out right there in the back of the rig.”

“Bullshit.” I say.

“Oh, you think I’m lying?” he asks, “I stopped driving and tried to break you up, but you were wailing on each other so bad, I didn’t want any part of it. It was brutal, man.”

“Nah...I don’t believe it,” Simon said, but he didn’t sound very certain of himself, “I’ve never hit a girl in my life.”

Brian threw his cigarette, only halfway smoked, on the ground, and stomped on it with his foot.

“You hit that girl last night,” he said, “And she hit you, too. She bit you, man. I’m telling you, because I saw the whole thing. You’re not hugging that bag of curly fries for nothing, am I right?”

“So,” I ask, beginning to think there might be something to this story, “what were we fighting about?”

“Fucked if I know. One minute you two are just drunk and quiet in the back of the rig, next thing I know, you’re rolling around, wailing on each other. You really mixed it up.”

“And then what?” Simon asks, “Did you break us up?”

“No fucking way. Like I said, I wanted no part of it. I just let you wear yourselves out. And then you were back to your old selves. Best friends and all that shit. You weirdos.”

I feel funny about asking, but I’m from Brooklyn, and there’s honor at stake, so I have to: “Ok, if this thing really happened, who would you say won?”

Simon shoots a look at me, as if to ask, “What the fuck are you even thinking?”

Brian doesn’t miss a beat.

“You did,” he says, “Hands down. I mean, you both looked like shit but, when I dropped you off at the gate, you were walking fine, but this guy was hobbling behind you, whining about his ribs.”

I don’t say anything but, as crazy as it may seem, I’m a little bit proud of myself.

Brian shakes his head and giggles.

“You two have a serious problem, you know. Anyhow, I can’t stay and talk all morning - I have to go find someone to tow me out of the bowl.” As he walks away, he howls, again, and then turns around and says, “There’s a regular AA meeting at the Town Hall, you know.”

Simon and I watch him as he walks away, giggling. When Brian is out of sight, we sit back down on the couch and say nothing for what seems like a long time. After a few minutes, I decide the silence is unbearable.

“Those fries must be thawed by now. You want me to get you some fresh ice? I think there’s a carton of Ben and Jerry’s you can use.”

“Nah, but thanks.”

“No problem,” I say, not knowing what else to say.

“You know, maybe we should take it easy with the drinking. What happened last night...that’s pretty bad, don’t you think?”

I sigh.

“Yeah, I guess it is.”

“The fact that we got into that van and let fucking Brian drive us home,” Simon says, not a hint of sarcasm in his voice, “it’s a worry. We should be more careful.”

“Absolutely,” I say, “That guy is a mess.”

Copyright © 2015 by Lana M. Nieves

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