Sunday, January 31, 2010
I've got a story for you. This one could have been part of the College Stories series, but I wasn't sure about it. You'll see why. Besides, the College Stories were mainly about Mary, and to explain about her, I didn't need to tell you this story. Well, all right, I know I put other things in there that I didn't need to tell you either, but they were different.
Then I thought of including this story in Demon Alcohol, but that ran a little long, and once again I decided this was the story to drop.
But it's a cracking good story. Let's go for it.
This happened back in the summer when I lived on 102d St. By that time I was trying to dial down the Mary thing, but she was still pushing the buttons without even trying, and since we worked together and lived in the same apartment, I could hardly avoid her.
A whole group of us student workers from the library got together one evening after work. I think someone's birthday was the excuse. Whatever the deal was, it was an evening when we didn't have to work the next morning.
I teased you in Demon Alcohol with the idea that there might have been a third time when I'd had too much but was not sure I could remember it, and that was where I was going to lead into this story.
There was a girl working with us called Jane. Jane Doe. I admitted in Dinosaur that I had changed some of the names, among other things, but the names I used are similar in some ways to the real ones. In Jane's case I don't even want to get close.
I had been getting the impression that Jane liked me. You know. Liked me. This situation always took me by surprise. Despite what you might think this does not happen to me all the time. To have a girl unexpectedly like me placed an obligation on my shoulders. I felt that I had to live up to the position I was being placed in.
My reaction was always, "Oh no! What do I do now?" Oh what an inconvenience, you idiot. This is evidence of insanity. Isn't it nice to have someone like you? I wasn't sure.
I went to the West End along with Mary and Jane and quite a few others. We occupied a large table in a dark corner. But what am I saying? It was the West End. It had many corners, and all of them were dark. Where else could we have found a large table in that cavern?
Pitchers were brought and glasses were distributed. We partook of American beer and some kind of food and had a few laughs.
Mary sat next to me. She nursed one half-full glass for a while. She was even less into crowds and drink than I was.
"Do you want to go home now?" She was done.
"Not yet. Are you OK walking down by yourself?" Broadway's pretty full of people, and it wasn't that late. She'd be OK, I figured. I wanted to check though, and ask.
"Sure. See you later." And she got up and slipped out. Mary's not really in this story.
Now what do you think? Does "do you want to go home now" really mean "please walk home with me"? I take questions like that literally. It gets me in trouble. I answer the question and say whether I want to do it. Mary may have a blog where she writes stories about this clueless boy she knew long ago. But she's not in this story.
The Road Not Taken would have led to a peaceful normal evening. As far as I know.
Mary and I were sitting in chairs on the outer side of the table, so it was easy a minute after she left for Jane come over and sit where Mary had been. She leaned over to my ear so I could hear her speak just to me.
"Why didn't you want to walk home with your girlfriend?"
"She's not my girlfriend!"
"She's not?" Jane was surprised.
Look what had happened. Jane had seen Mary and me coming and going together each workday, and saying shorthand things to each other that seemed to reference previous conversations, and being annoying to each other. What else could she conclude?
As a result of this great revelation Jane attached herself to my side for the rest of the party. She had not realized I was available. It wasn't so bad though. I have trouble lasting at these things if I don't have a friend next to me to talk to, and Jane was all right. Really. I was getting happy that she was there with me and took an interest in what I said.
I am not sure how many times we filled our glasses, but Jane had some combination of more beer than me or less tolerance for it. She had begun leaning against me, and then straightening up, and leaning again. She looked tired. When I went off to the men's I leaned her the other way against someone else.
Then several people started to get up to leave. It was like a flock of birds changing direction. I don't know who started it. It just seemed to be time. We all got up. And then the trouble began.
Jane was definitely not steady on her feet.
One of the other girls offered to walk her back to her apartment.
"Nooo. I want Joe to walk me home."
"Where do you live?" I hoped desperately that it was close.
"Around the corner."
"You know, the, the building, with the thing."
This was not helpful. The girl who offered to walk Jane back now took Jane's bag and fished out her wallet. I would never have done that. I don't like going into Helen's bag even after being married to her for umpty years. It just seems invasive. Maybe it's a girl thing, going into each other's bags.
The girl showed me Jane's address and apartment number on some card that was in the wallet. It was only a block and a half up Broadway. I decided I could do it. I put the card in my pocket for reference. I was not that clearheaded myself. I thought I might forget the address and apartment during the walk. Especially because I have trouble with things like that even when I'm sober.
I stood alongside Jane, put an arm around her waist, and directed her toward the door. Her balance was off but her legs were still strong. It looked like this was going to work. All I had to do was walk her into her apartment and let her collapse on her bed. I would be doing a good deed.
We made it to the building. But we had to get in. Tricky. I stopped at the door, and then I had to balance Jane against me, invade her bag by feeling around in it for keys, and try them. But there was no lock on the door. Strange. Oh wait, this was the outside door. It just pulled open. The inside door had the lock. See how well I was thinking.
With some effort on my part we passed through the inside door, and got up the elevator, and went into the apartment. It was dark. Whoever she lived with was not home. That was too bad. I could have got out of there if there was a roommate friend. Jane headed me toward one of the bedrooms. She even slipped off her sandals by herself. Done! I got her home! And safely onto her bed.
No. As soon as I leaned her down on the bed Jane spoke.
"I'm gonna throw up."
Oh great. I was pretty sure she could not reach the bathroom alone, so I had to help her down the hall. We made it. She kneeled at the porcelain throne and dumped her stomach contents neatly into it.
It's nasty watching someone vomit. I found myself going into some kind of panic. Adrenaline rush. My thoughts got a little clearer.
And suddenly I felt very protective of her. She had chosen me to get her back safe, and damn it, I was going to do it. This is what I later recognized as Parent Mode. I didn't fully get what it was until I had a kid of my own. It has to do with knowing someone is helpless and really needs you. You just have to respond to it, no matter what.
When she stopped heaving, I patted her on the back and told her softly that it was good she got that out, she was doing good, now she'd be able to sleep better. I wanted to be soothing. She gave the ghost of a smile.
I ripped off a piece of toilet paper and wiped around her mouth. There was a plastic cup on the edge of the sink. I didn't know whether it was hers but I poured water in it and held it to her mouth so she could drink from it. I flushed the vomit away and helped her up.
Now I was done. All I had to do was get her back onto the bed.
No. Jane spoke again. She was able to describe bodily functions.
"I have to pee."
And she pulled her pants down. Just like that. As if I wasn't there. But not only that. She started to let loose before she sat down, and the start of the stream hit her pants that were down around her ankles. At least most of it went into the bowl.
I went farther into panic. How bad can this get? I am standing in a strange bathroom, looking at myself vaguely in a mirror, feeling dizzy, and listening to a girl pee. I was not used to seeing parts of the female body at all. But I still wanted to come through for her. She had picked me for this mission.
She managed to wipe herself. Thank God. I wasn't ready to do that. It's amazing how something you learn by age 2 sticks with you no matter how drunk you get. She was about to pull up the soaked pants when I realized I had to stop her.
I pulled them off over her bare feet. I approached over her shoulder, so I could look at the floor as I did it. A delicate operation.
Jane seemed slightly puzzled, but only slightly, like she was trying very hard to make sense of things and this was not much stranger to her than anything else that was happening. I carefully told her the pants were wet so she shouldn't wear them. "Oh. OK." I guess it made sense to her not to put on wet pants.
I got her up and wrapped a towel around her waist. Somehow I held that on with one hand and used the other arm to steady her, and we got her back to her bedroom wearing shirt and towel. I felt bad for her. What would she do without me?
I rolled her down onto the bed, and covered her up to the shoulders with the sheet. There, at least she was decent. She deserved that.
She rolled on her side, and she was lying there moaning. "I don't feel good. I don't feel good."
I'm sure she didn't feel good. But I had got her down, and she was probably done emitting fluids and was ready to sleep. Done. My adrenaline rush was spent. I felt exhausted. I got my shoes off and lay down on my back next to her, on top of the sheets, just for a minute. It was a warm night. I listened to her moan. She was facing away from me, so I was almost alone with my thoughts.
I still felt like I shouldn't just leave her there. I also started wondering whether I could make it the ten blocks to my apartment. While I was thinking about these things I fell asleep.
Look, kids. There is a time when you should call 911 and let a fully conscious health care professional tell you whether the drunken person is going to recover. All too often when you are in this situation, you are not capable of thinking things through. Such was my state. I am not sure I did the right thing. I thought I was being so helpful. Maybe I did not do enough. I got away with it, but maybe you won't, if this happens to you.
The next thing I knew, daylight was coming in through the window. I was lying on a bed in a room I had never seen before. Next to me was the back of a girl's head, most of her under the sheet. My muscles all tensed. Then I remembered.
The light must have hit her face right after it hit mine.
"Uhhhh", she said slowly, starting to move. Then she realized I was right next to her. Then she realized she had only a shirt on.
"What did you do to me? You bleeping bleep! I thought you were nice!" She dropped into a loud whisper as she said it, as if the sound of her voice made her head hurt. She wasn't really saying bleep either.
I just lay there looking at the ceiling with my head near hers. When she stopped I quietly told her what I remembered. All of it. "No!" she sighed, a few times, especially for that last thing she did.
"And if you think you're all right now, I'd like to go home." I thought this would be a gracious exit. Before she threw me out.
"Yes, I'm going to be all right. You can go. I have to get up..." and she laughed just slightly. I knew what she needed to do. "You don't need to be there this time."
I glanced at her and we shared just that awkward moment of twisted humor.
"Actually I need to go too. But you can go first."
"Then would you please take my pajama pants off the floor and give them to me, and turn around."
What? She was right. They were right there next to the bed. I must have been pretty out of it myself. I hadn't seen them.
Once we had both micturated, separately, I took my leave.
"Uhhhh... yeah." She seemed pretty uncertain about the idea.
I walked down Broadway still in my clothes from the day before, acting as if I was just walking down Broadway. I don't think anyone noticed anything.
When I got back to our apartment, Mary was sitting in the little kitchen sipping tea.
"What is this? Are you OK? You didn't call or anything."
"Sorry. I was a little out of it. I slept in somebody's apartment." That's all I told her.
I don't know what Mary thought happened. Our weird relationship was in its last weeks anyway.
I discovered I still had Jane's address card in my pocket. Jane seemed to be avoiding me the next day we worked, but I found her and handed it back to her.
"It's a secret." I figured that's what was bothering her.
"Oh. Yeah, OK." There was something half-hearted about it, as if she had something to add, but that was all she said.
Other than this, Jane and I only nodded to each other at work for the next few days. No talking. Then I didn't see her for a couple of days, and then someone told me the reason she wasn't there was that she'd taken a job in one of the other libraries. I guessed it was too weird acting like nothing happened.
The next time I saw Jane was months later, at the library Christmas party. I wasn't sure what to say, but as I moved across the room to her, she nodded toward the door, and we went out and down the hallway. She wanted to talk now.
"I don't think I ever said thank you. I'm glad you helped me out. I sure was in a state, wasn't I?"
"You could say that. It was pretty weird. Anyway, I kept it to myself, OK?"
"Oh, don't worry about it. Look, a while ago, with my friends, we were talking about crazy things we've done, and I had the best story. They thought it was hilarious, what happened."
"Yeah. Come on. It's a good story for you too. I bet nobody believes you."
And that was it. It didn't need to be a secret. What a different kind of person she was than me. And she must have thought the same in reverse.
I saw Jane around a few times after that, but we never went out for a drink.
Next time: Doune.