I was having one of those periods where I felt like everything was slipping through my fingersâ€”that I couldnâ€™t get a hold on anything. I was working constantly, doing evictions and digging trenches. It was ungodly hot, even for Illinois in July, which was scrambling my brain further. I was living in my first apartment, which was cheap, and clean, but a hole, with neighbors who did not enjoy hearing KMFDM through the walls at midnight, oddly. My family wasnâ€™t speaking to me and I was on shaky ground with my remaining friends, who were sort of horrified at what I seemed to be transforming into.
Itâ€™s funny how periods like that get burned into your mind. Some things are lost from then, thank god. But I can remember the exact layout of that apartment down to the fixtures and the pattern of the tiles. Makes sense, really, as I spent enough time on the tiles. Rice for breakfast, beer for dinner, sometimes the other way around. On payday there was sweet and sour chicken, Booneâ€™s Farm, and a pack of Marlboro menthols, and for a few months this was all I wanted out of life.
This was the summer I was horribly, fatally afflicted with poison ivy, which I deservedly got fooling around on my live-in boyfriend in some unfamiliar woods. I think I have mentioned this before, but it is worth saying again, when I get poison ivy, it does not go away. EVER. Steroids will knock it out, as it turned out, but when you are scraping so hard it is a daunting thing to even think about seeing a doctor.
So I was vaguely out of it, covered in a rash and various swellings, and working in the sun every day. Finally I ponied up to see a doctor who took pity on me and cut his fee once I told him I had been afflicted for six weeks. He prescribed me some generic steroids and I was on the road to recovery. I slept without a fever for the first time in two weeks, which was heavenly in our 90-degree non-air conditioned apartment.
I had been spending a lot of time with one of my oldest friends, who was letting me couch surf at her house that winter once my parents kicked my useless ass out. I finished high school and got the apartment, and we still hung out a lot. She, my boyfriend, and I were a tight threesome, and often our other roommate would hang with us too, which was somewhat awkward because the two of them had dated and he had moved on and was entertaining female guests with power tools and vegetables.
I went out of town, abruptly, and when I returned the predictable happened, considering how sloppily and drunkenly we were leading our lives at the time. I put my things down in the room I shared with my boyfriend and found a womanâ€™s ring on my bedside table. I picked it up; it was bits of shell set into a silver band and recognized it as one of the rings my old friend had been wearing in the past couple of weeks.
I slipped it onto my finger and it was tiny like she was; she had small bones, delicate tapering fingers, long limbs. I had spent my whole life feeling awkward and large around her. When we played, she always made me be the boy, which I didnâ€™t mind. She was always the boss and got shirty if I tried to decide what we were going to do, play, eat. I have always been happiest as a follower.
The ring gave me a strange feeling as it sat on my pinky. I wasnâ€™t angry or surprised. I just had a cold, sinking feeling at the pit of my stomach. All I could think was that I had known her since I was five and the sheets hadnâ€™t even been changed. I saw her little freckled face in my mind with her braids, tan, eating ice cream and us running away from her annoying little sisters. Now her face was hard, angular, and her hair was short after her motherâ€™s sudden aneurisms and death our senior year. She was sleeping with everyone and it never lasted longer than a couple of weeks, and my roommate told me why.
I knew this situation was coming to an end. I wasnâ€™t getting anywhere and had to find another way. I left the ring on and it amused me somehow to wear it throughout the week as I threw peopleâ€™s shit into garbage bags and got blisters on top of my blisters.
Friday was coming around again and payday was coinciding with yet another party. Sometimes it was one group of friends or another, but this time it was to be a mix. People I knew from high school came, my boyfriendâ€™s friends came, and our roommateâ€™s as well.
The party was in full swing and I was working on polishing off my second bottle of Booneâ€™s Farm Sangria (sophisticated), had a stomach full of fluorescent sauce, and was sucking down cigarettes like there was no tomorrow. This was after my rapid fire series of unfortunate head injuries and I was often feeling a little off, especially while drinking. Did this stop me from drinking? It did not.
Finally my old friend had drifted over to the couch, next to me. It was a fine couch from our roommateâ€™s parentsâ€™ basement and had scratchy upholstery that dusty rumpus room smell to it. He had drilled holes in the back of it and we had stuck the lawn decorations I had stolen from the neighborhood when I had gotten bored during a party we had thrown a few weeks ago. Plastic spinny daisies and flamingoes looked down on me where I was slumped, exhaling cloud after cloud of smoke.
As I was wondering if she had noticed her ring was missing, I was also noticing the corners were starting to bend. The spins were coming on and I knew I had about five minutes before I blew my stack, ten before I was face down somewhere.
â€œSo,â€ I said, turning to her and slurring through the malt liquor to be heard over Lords of Acid. â€œHave you been looking for your missing ring?â€
â€œWhat?â€ she said in a genuinely confused way. No one was paying attention to us; people were shouting or laughing or dancing.
I put my cigarette in my mouth and held up my right hand. Her eyes widened. She knew the look on my face and that I was serious. My mouth started watering and the time to get up and hit the bathroom or the bushes would have been right then. I saw the window close in my mind.
â€œOh,â€ she said, trying to emulate the expression of the remorseful. â€œSorry.â€
â€œItâ€™s okay, I know it wonâ€™t happen again.â€ I said, putting out my cigarette.
â€œWhyâ€™s that?â€ she said.
â€œEveryone knows youâ€™re a lousy fuck.â€
I moved as if to get up and leaned over her lap, letting go two bottles of Booneâ€™s farm and a takeout container of sweet and sour swimming in pink sauce into her lap. I was a horrible vomit waterfall. I could actually see the pineapple in her lap, on her skirt. I got up and staggered to the bedroom and closed the door. My sleep was uninterrupted and untroubled.