The first time I met her she was chasing a boy up a mountain, barefoot, with a ripped tanktop showing the sort of b-cup bra that doesn’t scream “sex” so much as “my mom still shops with me.” She was wild-eyed and tangled-hair, sixteen years old, with a bloody knee and the scent of the everclear she’d pounded like water on a hot day coming from her laugh, her pores. The boy was blonde, blue eyed, with a wide smile and a bandana. The five year age difference didn’t stop her persistent pursuit of his affection. He was the type of boy who kept tally marks of his sexual conquests next to his bed. In that moment, she was the kind of girl who didn’t mind.
Later on, a year or two, I’d recognize that boy’s face in Cosmopolitan Magazine, as I read from my claw foot tub in the soon-to-be-condemned apartment I’d rented north of Minneapolis. He was South Dakota’s “Hottest Hottie.” My brain registered that this was likely the same as getting 50th place out of 50. I was the kind of girl who didn’t mind.
I saw her again. Again barefoot. A year older. Not necessarily a year wiser. She was wandering outside a frat house party in Wisconsin, beer can in her hand. The boy on her arm was named Dante or Dominic or something exotic that began with a D and she told me, sincerely, that she’d had the best night of her life but she couldn’t remember it, wasn’t sure what had happened. Her friends had disappeared into the dark night, her car was parked blocks away, she just wanted a toothbrush and another morning beer. She made no mention of the bruises on her arms as she blinked affectionately at that dark-haired boy she’d never see again and sat on the pavement, picking shards of glass out of her bleeding feet.
At a friend’s apartment, age 18, another year later. Tears are rolling down her cheeks and splashing into a wine glass she holds, open palmed, the first cd of the first boy she’d ever actually loved and lost is spinning on the stereo system that features prominently on the wall next to the open patio door. I want to ask why she’s sad, but before I have a chance, a light haired boy with strong cheekbones and an air of importance removes the glass from her hand and whispers something into her ear. When she leaves the party I get a heavy realization that she’ll marry that boy. Years later, he’ll be named one of Redbook Magazine’s Hottest Husbands. It turns out, she’s the type of girl who keeps tally marks next to her bed.
There are years where I do not see her at all. I hear, during this time, that she is pregnant three times. That she delivers three sons. That she has a laughing agreement with the hottest husband that he can name boys and she will name girls. Her sons bear names she did not choose but which fit them, when you meet them later, impeccably. By reputation I find that she’s successful, if distant. I think of the sparkle in her eyes when she is lit up by a night of spontaneous decisions and the combustion of chemistry with strangers. I hope she isn’t fully lost to structure and safety. The risk with which she threw every inch of herself is what made her compelling and interesting. I wonder if she even writes anymore, no longer fueled by the madness of drink and desire.
She surfaces on a roadtrip between here and Detroit. Between Detroit and Nashville. Between Nashville and Houston. The long drive home. She’s cracking craft beers on roadside stations, wiping resolution from her chin. She’s running, I can tell, but I’m not sure where to or what from. I couldn’t catch her if I tried.
I see her, once more, unsurprisingly, in the gothic district of Barcelona, on a cobblestone street outside an ancient bar. There’s a puppy inside, and a single bartender, no patrons. She is waiting for a friend to run his backpack to his flat. Her girlfriend, a redheaded beauty, a cover girl for a magazine (tally mark, see?) is whining to move on. “Let’s go to another bar,” she pleads. And this girl stands resolute. For whatever reason she picks now to make a stand. “I’m staying. I’m waiting. I don’t want to move.” A ridiculous argument, the type you cannot stop once it begins or before it begins or after it ends, breaks out. This fight only happens in gross inebriation, of course. Resentment is vollied, tallies of service and sacrifice are tossed back and forth. The girlfriend screams angry only-child tears and storms off. Our girl collapses on those ancient brick roads and tries to pull a broken life out of the soles of her feet, the cuts on her hands, the puncture in her lungs.
It is here I feel compelled to accost her. I want to confront her. I open my mouth to tell her I’ve been watching all along but she cannot hear me.
I want to tell her she’ll come back stronger. That she’ll be better for it. But the truth is I’ll never see her again.
I don’t identify as an alcoholic. I don’t identify as sober, now. I’m somewhere in the middle I suppose, glimmering in the shallows or standing bravely every morning in the mirror reading my own face like a mantra
The truth is the narrator is always unreliable. Even when it’s self. That girl in my story? I don’t even know her name.