growing pains

I awoke from a dull pain in my backside, and could see nothing. It was almost as if I hadn’t opened my eyes. I felt around me in the dark, my hands making contact with some thin quilts and fluffy pillows. I rubbed my legs and felt the familiar denim; I had indeed slept in my clothes. I couldn’t find Sonia in the darkness, and suddenly my stomach filled with a foggy, familiar dread.

I didn’t remember much about the evening. I won a little money playing blackjack; we were doing shots of Jack. Billy was wearing sunglasses even though it had been night.

Other than that, my mind was pretty much blank, which didn’t happen often. I thought hard, deciding if I was the one that passed out, imagining Sonia and Billy carrying on in the living room, smoking bowl after bowl, listening to records she would pretend to be impressed with; Patti Smith and Frank Zappa. Perhaps he had become attracted to her strangeness the same way I had, maybe he kissed her, and then they had ended up in his room. My throat barely contained the capacity to groan.

The room smelled odd. It reminded me of being a child at my grandmother’s house, the room I was forced to sleep in bringing this same kind of strange, intense darkness due to the heavy drapes. When the lights were on, it was worse however. There were two uncomfortable couches that turned into cot-like beds, covered in ugly orange striping that scraped at bare legs when not careful. In between the two couches, in the corner, there was a large end table which may have been lovely on its own, but its contents, about twelve urns with small framed photos of dogs, mostly Great Danes, in front of each, was enough to make the entire room much less than charming.

I was convinced that the ghosts of the dogs only inhabited that room and would surely devour me in my sleep. Somehow, I always survived. But the musky smell, probably from the heavy drapes or the ancient couches, I blamed on the ashes. I remembered crying to my mother that I didn’t want to sleep in the dead dog room. But there had been no other place for me.

I felt trapped in this room, like I had felt trapped in the dead dog room, and I finally found the strength to sit up and eventually stand, arms outstretched, trying to find a light switch or a door or anything that would explain anything about my whereabouts.

Not four steps later, my knee made loud (and painful) contact with the hollow metal of a futon frame, and Sonia apparently awoke. “What the fuck!?”

I burst into laughter and collapsed onto the futon, right on top of her legs. “Jesus!”

The sound of her voice made me exponentially happier, and the laughter became mutual and continued. “You crazy bitch,” she said, moving over, allowing me to join her.

I realized I still may have been drunk at that point.

The door swung open, releasing a formidable light that filled the room, blinding us. “What the hell are you girls doing?”

We laughed again. “I couldn’t see?” I offered.

“What the hell time is it, anyway?”

Sonia glanced at her watch. “8:16.”

He rubbed his head. “That’s unearthly.” We nodded in agreement. “Alright,” he continued, “come on girls.”

We looked at each other, confused, but we abandoned the futon and followed him into his room. It was much bigger than I had expected, a bit on the messy side but cool nonetheless. A desk with a bong and sheet music, a mural covering the entire far wall of what seemed to be some kind of face, the two coinciding windows conveniently placed as eyes. My eyes grazed over a decent-sized bookcase that my mind was very interested in, but my eyes were too fuzzy too make book titles out. A queen-sized bed with a massive forest green comforter lay against the other wall, a 27-inch television sitting very matter-of-factly at the end of it. He wiped his eyes, grabbed a disc off of a shelf of the bookcase and crouched down at the front of the TV.

“What’s up?” I queried. He turned around and motioned for us to lie down. Sonia turned to me, eyes filled with incredulousness first, intimidation second.

He chuckled. “Oh god, come on, we’re all adults here. Jolie, you can be in the middle.” He waved his hand.

Sonia went first, lying against the wall, the covers up to her neck. I followed. Billy turned the light off, joined us and the movie soon started. Army of Darkness. There was a warm feeling fighting my hangover, which was flushing through my body, starting from my stomach, out to my fingers and toes.

I don’t think we got through twenty minutes of it. And although unconventional, it was certainly a more pleasant sleeping arrangement.

We woke up almost forgetting what had happened. Sonia awoke, seemingly very surprised to be in Billy’s bed rather than the futon she had originated in. Billy finally sat up, scratched his head, looked over at us and smiled in a vile way. “Good morning, ladies.”

I whacked him in the arm. “Oh so you don’t remember being the gentleman do you?”

He chuckled. “Gentleman?” He looked around the room. “Where?”

I didn’t feel like myself again until I was in the shower. The pale green bathroom was calming and surprising; a little cluttered but nowhere near as messy as I had anticipated for a bachelor in Vegas. It made me wonder if there was a lady that stayed over often, who wiped the mirror and cleaned the sink. I imagined small pale hands scooping the litter into a plastic bag, cooing at the kitten that was present somewhere in the house, but had still eluded us.

As the hot water penetrated my skin, I thought of the woman who might prove worthy of Billy. I imagined a slender woman with fiery auburn hair and horn-rimmed glasses. Minimal makeup, but bright, adventurous nail polish, like silver or blue. Maybe she would be a singer in some nightclub downtown, or on the strip somewhere.

My stomach was growling. I needed a cup of strong coffee and something fattening to keep my hangover busy. Soon enough, I was dressed and ready, my hair wet on the back of my neck, sitting on the couch, making eyes with Billy and his phantom kitten, at last.

“Jolie, this is Syphilis.” The cat was tiny, white fuzz emanating all over the place, round blue eyes blinking.

“Syphilis?” I couldn’t even bring myself to laugh. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

He nodded, not surprised at all by my reaction, but looking a little disappointed. “It’s a pretty name.”

I was at a loss for words. The cat looked up from the floor and meowed at me. I pet her, and she began purring violently. She seemed sweet, and I found myself feeling bad for questioning her name at all. I remembered when Man Ray was just a kitten, how small he felt in my hands, and I lifted her up into my lap, where she seemed content.

I looked at Billy. He was picking dirt out from under his fingernails. Finally, his eyes met mine again. “You ready for some breakfast?”

“Amen, brother.”

Sonia took her sweet time getting ready, and I felt my stomach shapeshifting within me, bellowing at me. The weak coffee Billy had offered had merely stifled my nerves, and then I became this wired, desperate mess, petting the cat, staring off into space while the records played, and they all sounded the same, starving, starving, starving.

By the time we reached the Peppermill, it was 1 pm. I ordered more coffee and ice water. It was better than Billy’s coffee, hot and familiar, fulfilling my soul in a way that made me remember James and his beautiful black bean soup that had rescued me, once, long time ago. I wondered if this was growing, if I had started to learn how to rescue myself.

The biscuits and gravy were overflowing my plate and the taste overwhelmed me with milky, rich goodness. And although I was at a table with one nearly perfect stranger and a close friend from days gone by, I still felt like I was at my family’s table.

It had been a long time since I sat there. My father never sat at the table, always preferring the soft indented cushions of the couch to enjoy his meals, far from the rest of us and any bother of conversation. And my mother, she never seemed to really sit down either; her hands were always too busy, refilling my milk glass, flipping the pancakes, checking the eggs, serving my father. I was always alone at such a large table, so as time went by, more things began to be placed there, because only one or two people would sit there at any given time. I remembered candles, fruit baskets, birthday presents, mail, eventually even a computer sat where my father would be sitting if he were to participate in a family meal.

Then my mind traveled over to the present; my father, hunched over, sickly, alone in a dingy apartment, watching old westerns, not knowing, not even forgetting, just never knowing, just quite how to use the phone or the DVD player. The walker that rested against the door. How he used to be able to lift me on his shoulders, even just a few years ago. A laugh that came from someplace unworldly, a blazing cacophony; irreverent and infectious, and no longer in existence. I didn’t remember the last time I heard him genuinely laugh.

I discreetly caught the eye of our waitress. “Need something honey?”

I swallowed quickly, wiped my eye and nodded. “I’ll take a Mimosa. Please.”

Funny what champagne and orange juice can multiply into. I barely remembered seeing the lights of the strip in the background, hearing the tinkling of the ice, or feeling the warmth in my chest. I don’t even remember what I was drinking. What I do remember was watching the mascara and eyeliner bleed down the sides of my face in a bright bathroom mirror of some dark bar, the young women in expensive, revealing dresses checking their overdone makeup and staring, staring, staring, with their big empty eyes, not yet knowing what pain felt like, only knowing the feel of their long island iced teas and black lace underwear. After that, the only thing I remember is that on that epic walk coming back to Billy’s, he was holding my hand. Maybe it was just to keep me from falling over, maybe it was because he was feeling sorry for me. Maybe it was because he knew my plight, because he was stuck somewhere, just as I was, in between nothing and nothing else, stuck on the drink, stuck on himself.

Before I knew it, it was there, like a mythical beast one only reads about. The pink serpent was loose and I was its prey. Given our circumstances, I was almost amazed to find that he had anything there at all. I imagined the smooth skin of Ken doll plastic, the childhood intentions I had been familiar with. The sight of it was quick; he spit on his hand, tweaked away and worked it in, and it hurt like a holy drill. And I knew he wasn’t picturing me hanging ornaments, watching Alf on syndicated cable, having an overbite I didn’t know what to do with. I wasn’t young and innocent, like how we started. I wondered if he remembered my middle name or my birthday. I wondered if I would regret this decision as soon as it all was over. It was becoming more normal for me.

But it was in and out, and vigorously so, like in the movies. It was over soon enough and I laid there, naked, my lips cracked over in thirst and in desperation. I didn’t know if I should slither off to the next room, join the drunken comatose Sonia who I had already abandoned in spirit, or close my eyes and drift off. In silence, I waited for words I hoped I would not hear.

But instead, he rolled me over on my side, his slim pale wrist closing around my waist. “You’re a pain in the ass.”

I cried then, too. But I was sort of smiling.


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