“My blood alcohol level is dangerously low,”– Dry, Augusten Burroughs
(Another enlightening story from my past. ~Fall 1999)
“Let’s take your sister out and show her a good time,” my Pakistani Prince commanded from the seat next to me.
“A good time…hmm…I think that’s how she ended up in this predicament in the first place.” Giving Dee a night out seemed like a philanthropic mission I needed to fulfill. We had just thrown her son his first birthday party and this single mother hadn’t been out since her egg was introduced to Mr. Squiggly Worm. At this place in time, she was primarily a lactation station.
“I’ll show her where to go. I know all the places.” The Prince had spouted this phrase numerous times and was usually followed by another that sounded exactly like, “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” I was unsure how his brain began, but suspected that his mother had worked at a coffee/crack plant throughout her pregnancy. His mind, and consequently his mouth, never ceased to overflow.
My usual response, when I could fit it in, “Um, okay.”
Mohamed’s approximated itinerary: take Dee out for drinks and wings at his friend Noel’s restaurant, hit his Temple buddies’ party, pick up Ernie (no relation to Bert), start the bar/club hopping, show her the cool unisex bathrooms in Paradigm (my pronunciation: Para-dig-um), pin a Pakistani dollar on the walls of The Bayou, squeeze ourselves into Live Bait, stay clear of Shampoo, purchase a Geno’s cheese steak, enter his home around dawn, miraculously recover from alcohol consumption, and have us travel homeward. Simple.
My sister, the fashionista, required a new wardrobe selection for this night of scheduled never-ending fun. Off we went to Fashion Bug and abducted a blue silk-esk ankle length dress covered in miniature paisley, sandals, and earrings, for a fee.
That night I, having slightly more expensive tastes, put on my costume: a black dress with spaghetti straps, slit up both legs, and covered in giant golden paisley from Old Navy, sandals, and earrings David had given me. The only real gift from my ex-boyfriend for over two years other than a bag of rice cakes, a pair of Sesame Street slippers, and pain. I had joked about every attractive male being my future husband, but was thankful about all of the guy fun I had in the past (the prank phone calls, the drive-bys, the spray paint, and mailbox gifts), because I had truly believed he was the one. But alas, he was not the one. Only one of many.
My costume. All of my clothes had become disguises. My soul’s fingerprint was lost. “Do I really exist? Or am I just an idea?” My skin, foreign. My soul, a cavern. My life, the masquerade.
From our hole within in the trenches South Jersey, we escaped across the Delaware River to where I worked, a suburb of Philadelphia, an hour away. I completed this route on a daily basis with intentions of eventually moving North, when I became debt-free, engaged to a yet-to-be-found Mr. Wonderful, felt confident with my career, figured out what was wrong with me, and fixed the problem.
The Prince insisted that Noel’s wings were the hottest on the planet. My sister had ingested a truck load of the Pizza Hut variety during her pregnancy and was interested in branching out, but had underestimated the Prince’s taste buds. He said these wings were the hottest, therefore irreparable bodily damage was possible. Nearly losing brain activity, and the left side of my tongue, had taught me a valuable lesson.
Noel was a chef that the Prince had known personally. Not an uncommon phenomenon. Mohamed was infamous for being every place’s MVP. I recall the narcotic feeling I experienced the first time he walked me hand in hand past the people waiting hopelessly for entrance into Live Bait. Judging by the size of the line, a spectator might think the Pope was inside. That night he said, “Hello” to the bouncers, one of which then escorted us inside through the sardines to a back booth to sit with the owner. A scene straight out of The Godfather, except he wasn’t Italian–but I wouldn’t tell him that. He had nicknamed himself Vitale.
At Noel’s restaurant. “DAMN!!!!” My sister summoned for a beverage. I offered microscopic sips of my third martini. Mohamed handed over his strawberry daiquiri. Instead, she grabbed her glass filled with mock anti-freeze– Midori Sour.
What bothered me was that while I restricted my alcohol consumption, in type not in quantity, exclusively to manly drinks, he usually ordered something equipped with a stupid paper umbrella and/or a micro-straw. That phenomenon, added with the fact that he spent more time in the mirror that I did, made me question.
“Would you let her breathe?” My sister was not only annoyed by the Prince’s domination of the conversation, but also by his dictatorship over my air space. This dissatisfaction increased along with her desire to overthrow the current regime.
“I love this girl. Dee, I love your sister. I really love her.”
“I heard you the first twenty times Moh….”
“But I love..”
“Will you let me speak?” Dee’s volume elevated, without the desired effect.
“I love her! And this place, isn’t it awesome? The best! Aren’t they the hottest wings you’ve ever had?” Once again, his social GPS activates. “I’ll show you the places to go. After we’re done here…” And on, and on, and on.
He loved me? Had we ever had a two-sided heartfelt discussion that lasted more than two minutes? Once. He loved the person his mind had created, but I was unsure of exactly who I was. Maybe his version was the true me.
Did I love him? No. The part of me capable of loving anyone (myself included) died seven months before, but the Prince was gorgeous. He had dark eyes, curls, butter pecan skin, and dual citizenship. I wouldn’t have to drink store brand mouthwash in the privacy of my own room, or pay a bar tab. And he had Manson eyes. An irresistible trait.
I desperately tried to recall how many poisoned glasses I had used to inoculate myself. I had begun the night making a mental count and the exact time of each one, but at some point that changed. Instead, I tallied up the olives at the bottom of my glass before swallowing them in one swift gulf. Because of my accounting failure, I made a pact with myself. The next time each drink will be recorded on a notepad. I would buy one as soon as possible. An intravenous hook-up was the next option.
We entered his car to go to his friends’ party and the fuzz began to spread. Control, if I had any to begin with, resigned. I think I may have even asked for a beer. A beer! An obvious call for help.
Mohamed momentarily left us in the custody of his Temple buddies so he could pick up Ernie. After he grabbed his friend, we were supposed to recommence our eternal tour of Philly. My sister and I had other plans. When our assigned babysitters left us unattended, we made our way into the kitchen and discovered life everlasting within the refrigerator. No locks. No guards.
“Look Lonna Jelloshots! In Dixie cups!”
Dee had used the word Jello, and we were in Temple, so I put on my best Bill Cosby accent and said, “AND THEY’RE BLUE!”
I hiked up my shroud and became one with the chipped linoleum floor–an area never introduced to a mop. Twenty-six years old, in basically a frat house, equipped with a Britney Spears poster on the living room ceiling, stealing alcohol from minors which we considered a public service. And because I wasn’t wasteful, I ate each paper cup.
That was my last memory.
When I opened my lids, my mother’s smoke-stained wall paper came into focus. My dress, still on, but painfully wrinkled. One missing sandal. The “Oh my God, what did I do?” gut feeling. I’ve experienced many black outs, but this was the first that crossed state lines and sixty miles. An ominous foreboding. A Roschach pattern of bruising across my right thigh. I asked myself, “Had I been gang raped? Did I murder anyone? Had my life become an After School Special?” I scraped my face off the pillow case and began investigating.
Mohamed refused to answer my first call. And my second, third, and fourth.
“Dee. What happened? What did I do? The Prince won’t talk to me. Did I sleep with one of his friends or something? How did we get home?” Surely she didn’t drive…drunk and without directions.
“You were able to speak, barely, and kept telling me that you knew the way to get home. Take a left. I did. The next road you said take a left, so I did. And the next road, again you told me to take a left. That’s all you said. Take a left. I had no choice. I stopped at a gas station.”
Take a left.
She continued, “I was pretty lit up and clearly had no business behind the wheel. Walking was tough. I asked this guy inside if he knew the way to New Jersey and he asked me, ‘Where in New Jersey? Like Dorchester?’” Her conclusion unveiled itself. “I was speaking directly to Satan. He had to be.” Our town barely existed. Population: 283. Two street lights and a convenient store. No one ever knows of a Dorchester, let alone its location.
Mohamed cared so deeply about me that he let my legally intoxicated sister drive…with me in the car…over an hour away. In fact, he tossed us out of his Ford Probe, into hers, and drove off.
Myself. Abominable. A cesspool of ineptitude. The mirror’s reflection begged me to STOP! Whoever I was, this was not me. The highways and tributaries in the pinks of my eyes pointed me in the correct direction, tried to show me the way. For the reconstruction to begin, I would have to cease making primarily lefts, and every once in a while, turn right.