I catch my foot on the first step outside of my dorm and fall unceremoniously onto the concrete. I stay where I am for a moment, thinking that the set of keys digging into my hand should probably hurt more. Not to mention my knees, since they just endured a direct blow. “Awesome,” I mumble as I push to a wobbly stand and careen toward the door. I giggle slightly while struggling to fit the key into the lock. The good news here is that if I banged the shit out of myself like I think I just did, I might just feel something tomorrow. It has to be better than feeling nothing, right? How’s that for a goddamn silver lining? I brace myself against the giant door, steadying myself. Wait, what’s less than silver? Iron? Zinc? Could there be a zinc lining?
It takes a few failed attempts at working the lock for me to realize that the key to the house I grew up in near Boston will not, understandably, unlock a dorm in Wisconsin. I finally shove the proper key in the hole and turn the lock. “I’ve opened the door!” I whisper triumphantly to no one. The thick metal door is unbearably heavy and resists opening fully, so I slam my shoulder hard against the door frame as I try to slither through the narrow opening. Yet another victory! I think hazily. The hangover I’m sure to have tomorrow, plus the injuries from smashing into objects, is definitely going to hurt. So continues my endless search for physical feeling, sensation. Anything. Still, even in my decidedly inebriated state, I know that the bruises from a drunken night can hardly be equated with any sort of positive emotional step forward. At least it will be something, though. Something other than numbness. It will be a distraction, and distractions are always welcome.
The stairwell is flooded with hideous fluorescent light. It’s empty, although at this time of night, I realize one of my drunken peers might stagger past me with a one-night stand in tow at any minute. I really don’t understand how people ever get laid on campus. Anyone who looks even vaguely attractive in a normal setting becomes drastically less appealing on the way back to a dorm room. Beer goggles are no match for atrocious lighting. I lean against the wall on the second-story landing and yank my phone from my pocket. My reflection in the small black screen confirms my suspicion. My already messy curls have popped out of my ponytail so there’s a frizzy halo around my head, and even on my dark phone I can see the puffiness under my eyes. I look bananas.
“I look bananas!” I holler, noting the echo of my slurred words. Maybe I always look like this? Not that I care. I don’t spend a lot of time in front of the mirror or concerning myself with my appearance in any way, really. I look however I look, and that is that. In the scheme of things, it just doesn’t matter. And no one is paying attention. However, I do indeed look bananas.
When I get to my room, I practically fall through the unlocked door. Luckily, I don’t have a roommate who might complain about my noisy entrance. She moved out a few days before—presumably to go live with someone less catatonic—so the double is now all mine. I don’t blame the poor girl. If you’re going to be trapped on a relatively small campus outside of Madison, Wisconsin, it’s best to surround yourself with cheerful people.
I walk through the dark room, stub my toe on what I’m pretty sure is an anthropology textbook, and collapse onto the futon. Oh, the irony of my having replaced the dorm-provided single bed with a full-size futon. Anyone seeing it might imagine I was the type to bring home boys.
But I am a failure in that area. Add it to the fucking list, I tell myself. I’ve lost track of the guys on campus that I’ve drunkenly led on and then pushed away before anything could happen. The thought of anyone else’s hands on my body makes me want to retch. This is not normal; I understand that. Which is why I always have that moment when I’m drunk and the idea of fun, no-strings sex seems like a bright idea. For God’s sake, if I could ever go through with it, I’d be in good company. Plenty of other twenty-one-year-olds were making walks of shame home in the wee hours of the morning. I’ve heard those supposedly shameful nights retold with plenty of laughs and sordid details.
I can lure a guy in when I want to. Alcohol gives me that. And boys respond, although I have no idea why. It’s natural to want to connect with other people, I guess. Except I don’t want to. Not really. Which must be why I don’t have any real friends. But I drink and play the role, holding out hope that self-fulfilling prophecies exist, and that I might make a connection and feel whole again if I pretend long enough. The act is fun for me initially, yet it leaves me even worse off by the end of the night, when reality hits and my intolerable loneliness engulfs me.
I know it’s not especially smart to lead guys on and then bolt the minute they try to touch me. But I have my strategies. I often mumble something about being a virgin, a revelation that effectively puts a damper on most guys’ interest. Discovering this did sort of amuse me. I’d have thought guys would like the idea of being a girl’s first. No pressure to perform acrobatic-style maneuvers and whatnot since I wouldn’t know any better. But it seems that the generally smart, decent guys at this small liberal college in the middle of Wisconsin’s snow tundra don’t want the responsibility of deflowering a drunken coed. Go figure. Either way, I make sure nothing physical ever happens, despite my fervent desire to find an escape, however temporary. God knows it wouldn’t be fun for me anyway, considering I have the arousal level of a rock.
So I add frigid to the list. To that stupid mental inventory I try so hard not to keep. An increasingly large list of all of my flaws. My inadequacies. My failures.
There has to be a list of my successes, too, doesn’t there? Or at least my. . . adequacies? I try to focus. All the fucking liquor makes it hard, but I try. This is important.
I’m a not-terrible student.
I shower regularly.
I know a lot about tides.
I will eat nearly anything, except for raisins.
Christ. I refocus. I may be drunk, but I can do better.
I have mastered the art of melancholy.
I have my doubts about whether this can even vaguely be considered a “success.” I think again, determined to find something I’ve done that is worth recognition.
The laugh that escapes my lips is awful. The bitter sound echoes throughout my sparse room. “I’m a regular fucking Harry Potter!” I shriek. “Fuck!”
I sit up and kick off my shoes. My phone is still in my hand, and I look dizzily at it.
I never give up on my brother. That at least should go on the “success” list. Without thinking about or planning what to say, I grab my phone and call him.
“Jesus Christ, Blythe. What do you want?” James grumbles.
“Sorry. I woke you, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you woke me up. It’s three in the morning.”
“Is it that late? Well, you’re in college, too. Thought you’d just be getting home.” I wait, but he says nothing. “How’s school? How’s the leg? I bet you’re getting stronger every day still.”
“School is fine, and knock it off with the leg questions, all right? You bring it up every time I talk to you. Enough. It’s as good as it’s going to get, which is shitty. Stop asking.” My brother yawns. “Seriously, just go to bed.” The clear irritation, the disgust, in his voice sears through me.
“James, please. I’m sorry.” Damn it. I can’t disguise the drunken edge to my voice. “We never talk. I wanted to hear your voice. See if you’re okay.”
He sighs. “Yes. I’m as fine as I can be. You sound like a disaster, though.”
“Gee, that’s nice.”
“Well, you do.” James pauses. “Mom and Dad wouldn’t like this crap. You know that. Can you just… Can we do this another time?”
“I’m so sorry for everything. I need you to know that. To really know that. Things can be better for you. I want—”
“Don’t. Not now. Not again. We’re not having this fucking conversation again.”
“Okay.” I stare out the window into the dark. It’s late September in the wee hours, and I know what is coming. Nothing good. The same as it is every year. “Sure thing, James.” The ridiculous attempt at conveying a cheerful, nonchalant tone makes my voice crack. “We’ll talk soon. Take care, James.”
So that went well. Not that I should have expected better. Inebriated middle-of-the-night calls are sort of destined to fail. I know because I’ve made them before. What’s tragic is that after each dumb call to my brother, I resolve that the next one will go more smoothly. What sucks is that sober calls during the day aren’t any better; they always result in exchanges that are stilted and uncomfortable.
I sigh heavily, then turn on the flashlight app on my phone. I love that not only does it make normal white light, but it lets me select whatever damn color I want. I set the phone down on my bed, and it illuminates part of the room with haunting blue electronic light.
As I stand and shuffle to the small sink, my body feels drained of all its alcohol-fueled energy. It takes a few tries, but I eventually shove my long, messy hair into a knot on the top of my head. A few curls fall from the tie and hang by my face. I can’t look at myself because I cannot stomach looking at a girl who has so little hope left, who is inexcusably weak. I am humiliated by my own inability to do better. I vow to spend at least the next twenty-four hours booze-free.
The water that comes from the tap is ice cold. Minute after minute goes by as I collect handfuls of water and toss them over my face. I don’t stop until there are no more hot tears to wash away.