I. Shame Shaker
I'd like to say that waking up on a boat in the middle of an unknown harbor was the day that I decided to quit drinking, but it wasn't. Aside from being a bit seasick, nothing adverse happened on the boat. I considered the situation to be a funny coincidence rather than a consequence of my precarious hedonism. I had nothing in my life to deter me from being free in an almost dizzying manner. The feeling of waking in an addled sense of mind was nothing new to me. The circumstances changed, but the taste of dirt in my mouth and clouds in my brain were as routine as my morning coffee.
The boat was a brilliant shock. Granite floors and marble counter tops glistened from the window sun. I was underneath what appeared to be a table, and something on top of it moved in a slow scratch with the aqueous motion.
I could smell the man who brought me here. The pungent stale sleep and flavored vodka moved from the height of his gold bed spread and radiated the room. The aroma pasted the air and a dream-like pattern of events was formed.
I remembered multi-colored lights painting a dark ceiling red and green and blue. I could see the man's sly and strange mouth moving, but the words were shadowed behind pangs of music. I recalled drinking a glowing blue beverage in a heavy martini glass. The blue carbonation had now moved from my stomach to my brain, and it pounded now in rhythmic stings. I could taste the blue pain in my mouth, and imagined my brain blue and swollen and bursting at the seams towards my ear holes. The smell oozed out of every pore in my body.
Sunlight from the open window felt as though it burnt off the skin on my cheek. I crawled out from beneath the table and quietly stood in the narrow vessel. The man laid in the bed, snoring in cadence with his arms spread out forming a 'T'. He was above average looking, with a strong square face and light brown hair that seemed to be dyed by the summer.
The intensity of the sun and the lingering unpredictability of booze made me feel an urgency to leave. I swallowed the dry stale air and gagged, nearly throwing up. I picked up a plastic cup from beside me and threw it at the man. He struggled out of his snore and sat straight up.
He looked at me wide-eyed.
"Whoa! Forgot you were here."
He made fluid chomps with his mouth, like he was eating paste, and brushed his sandy hair from his forehead. "Did you throw a cup at me?"
"Yeah. Sorry about that." My profuse sweating was making me nauseous and dizzy. I felt like I'd been buried alive. I breathed in bits of lingering dust from the arid cabin and coughed as though I'd smoked for the very first time.
"How did I end up on the floor?"
"You passed out there. We were up top drinking, and you came down here to use the bathroom. You yelled and asked me where the light was. I told you it was on the wall and you must have gotten tired of looking. I came down here and you were in a ball on the floor," he put his fingers through his hair and yawned. His voice sounded harsh from the morning, and he cleared his throat repeatedly to break the stress.
"Did you pee yourself?"
"No, no I didn't."
"Good deal." He stretched his arms and yawned. He picked up a bottled water from the bedside and drank it in one breath.
"Here," he tossed me a bottle too.
Silence ensued. He belted out a series of tired sounding gargles, shuffled between bed sides three or four times, then stood.
"So...do you want me to drive you home or something?"
"Yeah. If you could?"
He looked at me everywhere for a few lengthy moments which made me slightly uncomfortable. We sat looking around for a few minutes, unsure of what to say.
"You want to, maybe...give me a blow job first?" He furrowed his mouth in an exaggerated frown and raised his brows inquisitively.
"No, Not right now," I said. I surprised myself with the sound of my own boredom.
"Okay, okay just a thought, juuuust a thought. No harm done."
I said nothing.
"Ready?" He asked rhetorically while grabbing his keys and a shirt.
Outside the wind was warm and heavy and the sun reflected in specs on the steady blue waves. It occurred to me suddenly I was emerging from a boat in Navy Pier. The pier Ferris Wheel moved slowly in the distance. Walkers, runners, tourists, families, and bikers made the shoreline sidewalks and grass alive with movement. The yacht was amongst dozens of others, whose various owners relaxed on the docks or polished the sides of their glorious boats.
A man stood with bags of groceries and beer by "The Slippery Willy," and nodded at us coolly. A woman in cargo shorts and a Cubs hat watched my feet as my heels clanked passed her. I felt momentarily apart of this exclusive boat world. The elite recreation was something I had only observed from a passing cab. As we ascended from the dock I imagined myself truly belonging here. The ease and whimsicality of the yacht world seemed greatly divided from life that I knew. How nice it would be to have no drive home from this harbor. How delightful it would be to float away.
We crossed the underpass at Lake Shore Drive to the Navy Pier parking lot. If I'd known or cared about cars, I could have appreciated the moment, but the man's car, as far as my knowledge allotted, was 'nice'. Any car was nice to me with leather interior and clean empty floors.
We drove in palpable silence. The man played with the radio, scanning for an ease in our strange tension.
"Man I love this song," said man, turning up the dial. It was a horrible song. A radio requiem that I notably changed anytime it played.
"Me too," I said.
"So remember you broke that bottle of Grey Goose in the VIP section? You were dancing on that short table and it shattered!" said man.
The image was groggy to me, but sounded likely.
"That shit was hilarious."
I laughed forcefully.
"So this is fucked up, but I can't remember your name.. I feel like I remember most everything else besides that though, if it's any consolation," he said.
"What else is there?"
"I know you live off of Belmont. You're in law school at Marshall. You're a huge Black Hawks fan, and you're from Michigan, right?" He rolled down the windows, and the air was warm and loud while he switched lanes, exiting Lake Shore Drive at Belmont.
"Good Memory. Oh just take a right here and stop at the next light," I said. He pulled up next to a tall apartment building with a black gate and colored flowers in a small green courtyard. The car stopped abruptly, making my brain feel paddled against my skull.
"Too many shots last night."
"Thanks for the ride."
I stepped out onto the shaded walk.
"No problem. So what's your name?"
"It's Scarlet." I closed the door.
"I'll call you." He smiled. "Oh, and sorry about that whole, blow job thing," he said, laughing and rolling up the window.
He wouldn't be calling me though, because I hadn't given him my number. And also my name wasn't Scarlet. And this wasn't my apartment.
I'd used Scarlet as an alias since I first saw "Gone With the Wind". Vivien Leigh was like a moving porcelain doll to me. It wasn't until I was older that I realized what a real live brat she was in the film, but I loved her regardless and used the name to strangers in bars who I was certain cared little about my name.
I watched man drive out of view and I walked to the corner and hailed a cab. My real apartment was a few miles north.
On my treeless block the sun was unforgiving, and heat palpably lingered above the metal cars and business awnings. Pothole stews of garbage and dirt, fried food, and cigarette smells tangled with the hot wind, making me both nauseous and hungry at once. The door to my downstairs apartment, right passed "El Ranchero Taco," was propped open with a brick. I'd been propping it since I lost my keys...every week.
I walked into "El Ranchero Taco," my heels loud on the tiled floor. It was hot in the square room, and a large white fan blew in the street heat.
"Hola vesina," said Javier. He stood behind the counter, his arms folded across his chest, and his leg propped on the cooler.
"Hola vesino. Tienes un taco libre for me?" I said.
"Not when you speak spanglish," he smiled.
"Por favor? Javier, I'm sick." I laid my head and arms on the counter.
"I'll give you a free taco... if you give me your roommates' number." He laughed and it echoed across the room.
"Kidding! Aqui vesina. Go sleep off your hangover," he handed me a taco.
"Ah. Te amo. See how good my Spanish is getting?"
Downstairs in my apartment the lights were all on, and the red windowless walls were illuminated from high lamps. I could hear Caitlin cooking in the kitchen. The couch was disheveled with upheaved cushions and tousled blankets. A condom wrapper sat on the floor by the coffee table. "The Lion King" was blaring from the television.
"Well hello my little shame shaker," said Caitlin, standing in the kitchen doorway. She held a spatula in her hand and wore an American flag swimsuit top, a headband with protruding multi-colored stars, and a diaper. Her dark brown hair was wild and curling about the headband. She had a growing belly, from late night bars and daily trips to "El Ranchero Taco", and she was unapologetic about it.
"Don't you look nice. What's the occasion?"
"I'm going to a Flag Day barbecue."
"Ah ha. What's with the diaper?"
"Two reasons. One, flags aren't funny, and neither are these friends of mine hosting the party. I needed a humor boost. Two, I'm already buzzed and its 10:30. I figure by 4 I may need it."
"I baked cupcakes, if you want one," she said, placing the finished cakes into Tupperware.
"What do they say?" I leaned over her shoulder, reading the red frosted lettering. "Susan B. Anthony. You clever cookie," I said.
"Want one? They're drug free!"
"I'm all set with my taco. Oh, Javier says 'hi'," I took the last bite.
"He wants me."
"I'm going, but call me if you want to come. I'll be there all day. Lots of free food and beer." She sat at the table, pulling up high white socks and slipping on white sneakers with drawn on blue stars.
"I'll call you."
She left. 'Hakuna Matata' blared in the living room.
In my bedroom, heaps of clothes covered my floor and bed. Books and notebooks, some open, some ripped, piled atop my desk. A dozen dead roses bent sadly on my dresser. Four empty coffee cups lined my nightstand. I changed my clothes. I braided my hair. My skin smelled like sand carpet, but there was no time to worry.
I was already late, even in advance, because leaving early could not defy the fate of my perpetual tardiness. A gust of the wind could set me back an hour. I'd forget pants. I would get lost in my own neighborhood. It didn't matter if I left an hour early or four hours early. I would be late, inevitably.
Being late perpetually hadn't gotten me fired yet, and rushing to be prompt was just another effort I had retired months ago. I tied my shoes and left, looking as 'I-didn't-wake-up-on-a-boat' as could be. I grabbed The Lion King on the way out, propping the brick in the door behind me.