WRITING MY WRONGS: 02 — Hello, Whiskey.
It only took the first drink for the old devils to creep back in through the dead cells on my tongue. I could feel the ghosts of youthful flowers blossom in the warming of my stomach, a kind of twisted photosynthesis or something, when one shot turned into the second which became the third, and the fourth. It was around then that I lost count.
It felt good. I was at peace with myself for the first time in weeks and it only took an hour or so to polish off the first fifth of whiskey. The two of us made circles in the carpet listening to the kind of music that my grandparents listened to. I had finally lost my inhibitions and I had no intention to ever rediscover them. I liked myself better this way, always did, and perhaps I’d spent the previous several years lying to myself about that fact. I suppose that this kind of thing ran deep in my bloodline, the same way that I’m prone to cavities and stomach problems. Alcoholism was always going to become my destiny one way or the other.
At the time, I didn’t think about any of that. None of it mattered (which is the precise thing I have always enjoyed about booze). The edge hadn’t just been taken off that evening, it had been riddled by bullets in the form of swift and large gulps passed between friends.
I didn’t think this would become routine, but I didn’t particularly care if it did either.
“Let’s go to the strip club.” My friend told me.
“We have a strip club?” I replied, surprised as all hell.
“God, you’re really out of the fucking loop, brother. Come on.”
And so I did.
The club wasn’t as much a club as it was a makeshift shed converted to a bar with these crudely cut out window slots and tinted plexiglass wedged loosely within their crevices. I could hear the things rattle against themselves from the outside and everything inside was inasmuch the same as the out.
To my left was a clearly pregnant woman bouncing up and down on an old man’s lap. He seemed completely unbothered by the life growing against his own belly (and it rivaled both in scope and shape). To my right was a young girl wearing bright yellow pasties, doodling in a notebook and waiting for the pregnant woman’s song to finish. There was a bar full of people without a full set of teeth between them and the whole place smelled of raw oysters and beer farts.
“Hey, man. I don’t think this is really my scene.” I told my friend.
“Don’t be such a pussy, dude. Give it a chance. It’s really a fun time if you’re not a judgmental prick.” He told me, then grabbed my shoulder and walked me to the dance area. The problem was, of course, that I was a judgmental prick. And I sure as hell wasn’t drunk enough for this.
“Do you want a lap dance? I’ll pay for it.” He asked.
“Fuck no, I don’t. I don’t even want to be here at all.”
“Fine, more for me then. Pussy.” He grabbed a stack of one, five, ten, and a few stray twenty dollar bills from his pocket and waved his hand to get drinks. He ordered the two of us double shots of whiskey and we promptly slammed them. Then he ordered two more.
“Want a dance yet?” He asked.
My friend told me that his favorite dancer was this girl named Amber and his eyes darted all over the place in an attempt to find her. He said that her body looked like it belonged on a magazine (but didn’t specify which one exactly) and said that she was violent in the best way when she danced, like some kind of feral cat pushed to the corner of a room by a child that still doesn’t know any better. I silently wondered if he did either.
That’s when she walked in.
“There she is!” My friend said, pulling more money he didn’t have from pockets too tight to grab without notice.
He wasn’t lying. This girl was pretty. I couldn’t tell if that fact was just in virtue of itself or if she seemed prettier than she was due to the location that she was in, like a dandelion in between two slabs of cement. On it’s own, those things are just another weed in a field of grass littered by them. But in all that gray? Well, you just notice that kind of thing.
In retrospect, I still can’t tell, to be honest.
Amber’s face was cherubic as if it had been frozen sometime in her early twenties (though those sad, hazel eyes gave her true age away: somewhere between thirty two and forty four). Young people don’t look that sad. I wondered how sad I looked.
“Who’s your friend?” Amber asked.
“That’s my friend, Cody…but don’t bother with him. He’s being a fucking buzzkill tonight. Newly single, you know.”
“Oh. Well, that’s a shame. He’s cute.” Amber winked at me, smiled, then disappeared behind a black curtain some eight or nine feet away. I could still hear her laughing from back there. Her voice pierced the house music that played over those broken, cracked speakers and, in my newfound sense of drunkenness, I couldn’t help but find that fact at least somewhat remarkable.
“You’re an idiot if you don’t get a dance from her.” My friend said to me, but I still didn’t want one. Just wasn’t my kind of thing (and still isn’t all these years later).
He must have bought dances from every stripper in the house that night. The rotund ones, the drug addicts that could disappear behind the poles if they so chose, the pregnant lady, the immigrants that spoke in broken English, and, of course…he bought several from Amber.
I wandered to the bar and sat at the available chair. The Celtics were playing the Bulls on TV (score locked late in the fourth quarter at 93–93) and I found that a lot more interesting than anything happening in my own Truman show. I hadn’t been to a strip club in almost nine years. Where do I look? What’s acceptable? Do I keep eye contact or is it acceptable to stare at a woman’s chest or sneak a peak at her backside as she turned to someone that actually had money to pay for her services? I didn’t fucking know and the whole thing felt more than just a little fake to me. So I didn’t mess with it, at all, and I kept my eyes where I knew they were acceptable.
The Celtics won 101–98. Everybody booed. My friend bought another dance. Everything felt so…stagnant. And it still smelled like oysters in there.
“You don’t want to be here, do you?” I heard from behind me, then turned around. It was Amber. She took the seat next to me and rested her palm against her face.
“It’s not that.” I lied, but also couldn’t help but notice that she looked even better than she did before (or maybe I was just more drunk. Maybe both.)
“No, it is. I know your type. Quiet. Shy. Reserved? Am I right? This ain’t your scene.” Consider me transparent, I thought.
“Look your friend is a cool dude, but he gets a little handsy after he’s had a few.” She said.
“Oh yeah? I haven’t hung out with him in a long time. And never once in a strip club.”
“Well, for future reference, he does. And he usually gets tossed out or punched or something. Say…would you want to come over to my place for a while and avoid all that? I got some beer.”
“Sure.” I said.
Amber’s house was remarkably clean from top to bottom. The countertops gleamed and glowed from an overhanging chandelier above them. Her couches looked as if they had never been used. The carpet was untouched by feet. It looked a lot like I imagined heaven would look like, if I believed in that sort of thing.
Amber handed me a beer and we talked for several hours. It didn’t seem like that long, of course, but it was beyond bar close by the time I realized and I knew my friend was likely long gone.
“He is definitely gone by now.” Amber told me.
“Looks like you’re stuck with me for a while, doesn’t it?”
She led me down a narrow hallway, in through a door, then through another one before we finally reached the bedroom. My head was aflame, though my intuition remained in tact, and I knew exactly what was about to happen.
And it did.
Amber did everything that one would expect from a seasoned veteran. She disrobed, slowly, piece by piece, as if every article commanded a very specific sense of attention. Her eyes never broke from mine, not for the entire thirty or forty minutes of our interaction, and she demanded that I do absolutely nothing in return. If I fucking moved, she told me, then there would be consequences. Amber’s body was backlit from the open doors through the hallway, and it resonated from a chandelier that was now but a vague glow in the distance. I couldn’t see much beyond her silhouette, but it didn’t really matter much to me. There were three of her now, after all, in my advanced state of intoxication, and they danced around the invisible moonlight like snakes from Medusa’s scalp. I enjoyed their flow.
Then there was the slamming of a car door from outside. And then the sound of a key bumbling around a lock, and finally the voice of what sounded like a very large man (or at least, a man much larger than myself.)
“Where the fuck you at, Amber?!” It bellowed.
“Fuck.” Amber whispered.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. We got to get you the hell out of here. Now.” She threw me a suddenly important pair of jeans, grabbed her robe, and rushed toward the source of the voice; all the while with a head pointed toward the only available window in the room that I was unintentionally homewrecking.
“God damnit, Amber.” The voice echoed.
“Somebody is back there again, isn’t there? Why do you keep doing this to me?” The voice softened, quivered, and I heard this girl lie right through her teeth as I stumbled around trying to find a latch to the screen.
It was to no solution. Within moments, the lights flipped on and there I was, face to face with this monster of a man. His arms seemed intent to break through his work shirt, veins throbbing at the creases of his neck and in the center of his forehead. But he didn’t seem angry. He didn’t seem mad at all, in fact. He just looked sad. His eyes were the absolute antithesis of his otherwise massive frame.
I was indeed looking a broken man.
“I didn’t know.” I uttered.
“I bet you didn’t. Look. Just get the fuck out of here. You aren’t the first and you’re not going to be the last. But don’t fucking come back. You hear me?”
He pointed to the open window, then to me, and I shut the thing before walking around him. This omitted information seemed at least relatively pertinent, but I also suppose that it wouldn’t have been relevant to somebody that I myself was compelled to sleep with. For the first time, I could feel the judgment wash from my skin, at least a little bit, as I shut the front door behind me wondering if I was about to leave the scene of a crime.
I paid attention to the paper for several days after that but never saw anything about the incident.
Years later, I saw that guy at a bar in town. He was alone and didn’t have a wedding ring on, though he looked considerably happier, and I felt compelled to buy him a drink. And then he bought me one, waved his at me, and walked in my direction to say hello.
“You’re not going to punch me in the face, are you?” I asked.
“I’d have to fight half the fucking people here, dude.” He laughed.
“Say, I’m going to the strip club. Want to go with me? For shits and giggles?” I didn’t, of course, but I’ve always had a real inability to say no to an adventure.
And so I went with him.
Amber was, thankfully, not there.