It was sophomore year, and Lissa’s next-door neighbor Albert, a senior, was having a party. Lissa’s parents were out of town, and we were all sleeping over, sneaking into their liquor cabinet and mixing anything we found together, then chasing it with Diet Coke: rum, vodka, peppermint schnapps. To this day I couldn’t stomach cherry brandy, not even in the torts my mother loved from Milton’s Market. The smell of it alone made me gag.
We never would have been invited to Albert’s, being sophomores, and weren’t bold enough to even consider crashing. But we did go out on Lissa’s back porch with our spiked Diet Cokes and sneaked cigarettes we’d stolen from Chloe’s grandmother, who smoked menthols. (Which also, to this day, made me gag.) Some guy, who was already drunk and slurring, waved us over. After a bit of whispered conferring, which consisted of Lissa saying we couldn’t and me and Chloe overruling her, we went.
That was the first night I ever got really drunk. It was a bad start with the cherry brandy, and an hour later I found myself making my way across Albert’s living room, clutching an easy chair for support. Everything was spinning, and I could see Lissa and Chloe and Jess sitting on a couch in the living room, where some girl was teaching them how to play quarters. The music was really loud, and someone had broken a vase in the foyer. It was blue, and the pieces were still scattered everywhere, strewn across the lime carpet. I remember thinking, in my blurry state, that it looked like sea glass.
It was one of Albert’s friends, a really popular senior guy, who I bumped into on the stairs. He’d been flirting with me all night, pulling me into his lap while we played Asshole, and I’d liked it, felt vindicated, like it proved I wasn’t just some stupid sophomore. When he said we should hang out and talk, alone, I knew where we were going and why. Even then, I wasn’t new to this.
We went into Albert’s bedroom and started kissing, there in the dark, as he fumbled for a light switch. Once he found it I could make out a Pink Floyd poster, stacks of CDs, Elle McPher son on the wall with December beneath her. He was easing me back, toward the bed, and then we were lying down, all so quick.
I’d always prided myself on having the upper hand. I had my patented moves, the push offs and casual squirm, easily utilized to slow things down. But this time, they weren’t working. Every time I moved one of his hands another seemed to be on me, and it seemed like all my strength had seeped down to my toes. It didn’t help that I was so drunk that my balance was off, my equilibrium shot. And it had felt so good, for a while.
God. The rest comes in bursts when I do reach that far back, always these crazy sharp details: how fast it was all happening, the way I kept coming in and out of it, one second vivid, the next lost. He was on me and everything was spinning and all I could feel was this weight, heavy, pushing me backward until I feel like Alice, being sucked into the rabbit hole. It was not how I wanted my first time to be.
When it was over, I told him I felt sick and ran for the bathroom, locking the door with my hands shaking, unable at first to perform even that easiest of operations. Then I gripped the sink, gasping hard into it, my own breath coming back at me, amplified, rattling my ears. When I lifted my head up and looked in the mirror, it was her face I saw then. Drunk. Pale. Easy. And scared, unsteady, still gasping as she looked back at me, wondering what she had done.
“Nope.” The bartender shook his head, plunking a cup of coffee in front of me. “She’s cut off.”
I wiped my face with my hand and looked at the guy beside me, shrugging. “I’m fine,” I said. Or slurred. Maybe. “I only had a couple.”
“I know. They don’t know anything.” We’d been talking for about an hour now, and this was what I knew: his name was Sherman, he was a junior at some college I’d never heard of in Minnesota, and in the last ten minutes he’d progressively slid his leg closer and closer to mine while trying to pass it off as just the crowd jostling him. Now he shook a cigarette out of the pack in his hand, then offered it to me. I shook my head and he lit it, sucking down smoke and then blowing it straight up in the air. “So,” he said, “a girl like you must have a boyfriend.”
“Nope,” I said, poking at my coffee with the spoon.
“I don’t believe you,” he said, picking up his drink. “Are you lying to me?”
I sighed. This entire scenario was like the default talk-to-a-girl-at-a-bar script, and I was only playing along because I wasn’t entirely sure I could get off my bar stool without stumbling. At least Jess was coming. I’d called her. Hadn’t I?
“It’s the truth,” I told him. “I’m really just such a bitch.”
He looked surprised at this, but not necessarily in a bad way. In fact, he looked kind of intrigued, as if I’d just admitted I wore leather panties or was double-jointed. “Now, who told you that?”
“Everyone,” I said.
“I’ve got something that’ll cheer you up,” he said.
“I bet you do.”
“No, really.” He raised his eyebrows at me, then pantomimed holding a joint between two fingers. “Out in the car. Come with me and I’ll show you.”
I shook my head. Like I was that stupid. Anymore. “Nope. I’m waiting for a ride.”
He leaned closer to me: he smelled like aftershave, something strong. “I’ll make sure you get home. Come on.” And then he put his hand on my arm, curling his fingers around my elbow.
“Let go,” I said, trying to tug my arm back.
“Don’t be like that,” he said, almost affectionately.
“I’m serious,” I told him, jerking my elbow. He held on. “Let go.”
“Oh come on, Emmy,” he said, finishing his drink. He couldn’t even get my stupid name right. “I don’t bite.”
Then he started to tug me off my stool, which normally I would have made more difficult, but again, my balance wasn’t exactly right on just then. Before I knew it I was on my feet, then getting yanked through the crowd.
“I said let go, you fucking asshole!” I pulled my arm loose, hard, and it flew up, smacking him in the face and sending him stumbling, just slightly, backward. Now people were looking at us, in that mildly-interesting-at-least-until-the-music-starts-again kind of way. How had I let this happen? One nasty remark from Chris and I’m bar trash, fighting in public with some guy named Sherman? I could feel the shame rising up in me, flushing my face. Everyone was looking at me.