“Hold on guys, Grant’s calling.” Esther turns the music down and answers the call right away.
We all sit there, eyes gleaming towards one another as her ear sits pressed tight to the phone.
“Ok sounds like a plan. We’ll be there soon.”
Esther throws her phone back into her purse and turns the volume back up. We all look to her for a response, but she swings her body up out of the sunroof instead. The Hispanic hip hop thumping through the speakers barely drowns out her roaring screams. She’s got her hands up over her head and long blonde hair flying free. As free as I’m feeling sitting in the back seat of the Honda cooper with my sister right beside. She’s smiling at my failing attempts at rolling an ‘R’ as I smile back because hers is contagious. Marta belts out lyrics from the drivers seat, one hand stretched out through the window above us.
A boy of around five foot nine with red hair greets us outside the house. His eyes appear quite glassy when he moves his glare in our direction.
“The party’s here,” he runs over to Esther, twirling her around once in the air.
“Sure is,” she laughs looking back over at us.
We all laugh back.
The house smells like the picture I had in my head- one with beer and cigarettes. The banter of young adults and clinking of cans seems too familiar. There’s a case of beers in the corner of the kitchen kind of like that one house I was at years ago. I look down at Marta pouring me beer into a cup. She slides it in my direction. I could feel my face getting hot as the drink bubbles down my throat. Mali’s on her second and Marta just chased tequila with some salt and lime. The room shifts around just a smidge as a group of guys walk over to us. They seem about our age and have that aura of cologne that used to hold my attention. They’re all tall and lanky with a white complexion. My eyes move up to their youthful faces. I’m keeping up with the second round of drinks.
We’ve all moved to the living room where Grant’s friend begins to set up a game of “King’s cup.” I’ve never played this one before so I turn to Marta and Esther.
“Quick, how does this game go?”
“Everyone goes around in a circle, drawing a card from the middle. Every card has an action to it. If you fail to do the action you have to drink. You can’t break the circle when removing a card. If you break the circle you have to chug the beer in the middle of the table and the games over.”
Marta was on my right and one of the boys on my left. I watched carefully as Esther’s friend, Grant, started off the game. It played out in front of me like a movie reel- all these actors picking up cards and folding them under the cap of the can in the middle. Music was playing in the background but I can’t recall what kind.
There was a boy sitting right by Grant- almost directly across from me. I didn’t get his name. But he was tall, lanky and white like the rest of them. His eyes were dilated- pupils large enough to match the gauges in his ears. They were tunnel gauges just like the ones I had. He kept looking over at me. I caught him every time I’d laugh or smile.
I moved through the game. with surprising ease. Even still, I ended up breaking the circle of cards and had to chug the beer in the middle. Once I delivered, the crowd went wild. After my moment of fame, the boy with the dilated eyes came over to me.
“What size are those?” he pointed at my ears.
I was alarmed at his attempt at conversation.
I hesitated- I didn’t know what size my gauges were.
“Mine are a double 00,” he continued.
“I don’t remember my size. But I want to go up to the ones you have,” I tapped at his ear lightly.
I don’t recall who ended the conversation, but I was now back at the corner of the kitchen with my friends where the beer had been. He was at the ping pong table with his.
Stepping foot into that college house felt like walking into an abandoned building. I had recognized its walls but everything inside seemed empty. I hadn’t been to a house full of college students since the February of last year. Let alone a party. This gathering tonight wasn’t a big one- maybe 15 kids in total. But walking up the stairs to two girls in heels and cocktail dresses was a gut-wrenching wave of discomfort. Roaming by groups of frat boys holding beers was a sight that had me feeling like a ghost.
Marta was pouring my beer into a cup. I could see its frothy bubbles creeping off the edges. I had almost hoped it would flow out of the cup and onto the floor. But it didn’t. It was full as it slid in my direction. I could instantly sense the sadness in my head clouding over me like a coastal front.
Not a sip had entered my throat when I already began to taste those nights of last February. My feet unsteady, I held the cup to my lips and took a swig. I was waiting for the sensation to hit- for that familiar desire to run. I was waiting for the feeling to commence- the one I had right before slitting my wrists in that L.A hotel bathroom.
I was a stranger standing by my best friends. Forcing conversation physically pained and escaping only seemed like running into closed arms. I was now sitting around a table of King’s Cup. Everyone knew how to play this game but me. I should have just taken that middle beer and chugged because I was already the loser. But no, I had to wait until after the game.
One of the boys sitting across the table kept looking at me. This was the first time since my ex that I recognized someone else. I had forgotten what it felt like- for a boy to eye me from up close. I looked back at him for a second and then right back to my feet. It made me think of Jimmie and my heart dropped.
I was slowly reverting back to my old intoxicated self. I was remembering my body sitting there on the toilet with bloody arms stretched out in front. The complimentary hotel razor laying on the floor.
Mali, Marta, and Esther were having the best time. They were laughing and talking to all the boys. I was along for the ride, smiling through the conversation. I fit right in. They’d have no idea.
Morgan is sitting on the carpet beside me, wads of toilet paper on her lap. Her hands are moving quickly. The trash had overflowed, and the pieces are now scattered across the floor. She is crying with me. 911 is pulled up on her phone. She wants to protect my privacy but also knows she has to do what’s right to keep me safe. Morgan leaves the phone untouched as she holds me. She held me for a long time that night. For hours.
My laughing hadn’t disappeared as we all continued to play the game. My smile showed up in every photo. The night was long. I’m not sure what part of me stayed sitting there at the table. What I was sure of was that another part of me had ran away at the first sight of life in that house. The girls with the heels and cocktail dresses.