But I Was There Too . . .
But I Was There Too . . .
A Short Story by Rose McDonald
I never thought I would be so enamored with the word “fuck.” I drove down the 75 throwing profanities to the wind. The words seeped out of the cracks in my windows and flew down the interstate as fast and as frequently as the cigarette ashes of my American Spirits. I always found myself doing this before arriving at a party. I’d sing along to rap music and yell at the top of my lungs, while simultaneously killing them. It felt good to be loud. It felt good to be confident and cocky as I drove to a place where I wanted to be confident. Who knows...maybe I even wanted to be cocky. God knows everyone else there would be.
Most girls who were going to be there probably had spent several days before mapping out an outfit in their heads. They’d spent several hours before preparing their perfect curls and winged eyeliner to match their generic “trendy” outfits they all found at the mall together several weeks prior. Who were they kidding? We all knew they were going to show up wearing practically the same thing. Everyone at these things always seemed the same. Their white converse and black vans would thud up the stairs of the party as they drunkenly tumbled in hoping to get a second glance from Tommy, or Jake, or Cameron, or whatever other random guy they thought might actually call them back after fucking them.
When I pulled into the driveway of the house, you’d never know there were people inside. Most of the front lights were off, and I didn’t hear any music until I got out of my car. You could hear the bass of a speaker beating softly in the distance. I finished my cigarette on the front steps before I went in. The slightly chilly, autumn air made my skin cold and my insides warm as I took a deep drag. As I finished off the remnants, I flicked my cigarette butt into the street. It landed with a satisfaction that made me feel entirely cooler than I actually was.
When I walked into the basement of Teddy Schindler’s father’s house, the scene was that of our typical Saturday nights. Beer cans were strewn across the tile floor and a haze lingered just across the surface of the colorful, dimly lit, lights that surrounded the pulsing mass of drunk and sloppy teens. Every other week Teddy’s dad would leave town for “business”, giving him unprecedented access to his father’s liquor cabinet and the ability to have as many people over as he’d like. One night, Lily Bettermen was delivering a pizza to the Hilton downtown and she said she saw Teddy’s dad there with a much more exotic and younger looking lady than Teddy’s mother. Teddy knew that about his dad, but he never seemed to care. He always acted like he thought it was cool because he’d have the house to himself and time to get drunk with all of his “friends.” He’d mostly say a dumb line like, “I hope I’m still bagging ladies like he is at his age.” We let him be obnoxious. We knew he didn’t mean it. We knew he didn’t just get drunk on Saturday nights so he could tell people he was, like some of the other kids who were there.
Jennifer Madison sat in the corner with Greg Harrison. She kept downing her drink and slurring her words, but mostly only when Greg was around. Earlier, I had seen her go to the bathroom with a couple girls and she seemed completely normal. Her speech had been fine and she was standing perfectly upright, even in the six inch heels she loved to wear to “small gatherings.” But now, as she sat next to Greg Harrison, she couldn’t seem to stand on her own. She was hanging from him like a monkey on a vine. As she twirled on her heels, stumbling around, her legs shone in the stupid, colorful lights swirling around Teddy’s basement. She always glowed in the right light. You could tell she shaved her legs just before the party, like most girls there had done.
I’m sure her mother had yelled at her for using all the hot water that afternoon when she spent all of an hour shaving every little piece of body hair she had. She wanted to look sexy and feel sexy and for someone to tell her she was fuckable. She walked around all night with those eyes. Those “fuck-me eyes”, where she’d slowly look up from the floor, bite her lower lip just slightly, and toss her hair in front of her shoulder as she met someone's gaze just long enough to become the object of their desire.
That was always the hardest part of parties for me. The part where everyone acted more plastered, wealthy, and attractive than they actually were. The part where everyone created an excuse to do and say the things they would never do and say when they were sober. They wanted to dress up and play make-believe for the night, and in some ways I did too. We wanted to kiss each other and not have to know what we meant by it because truthfully, we never fucking did. We wanted to feel like someone wanted us or could claim us as attractive. That maybe someone wouldn’t just talk about us that night, but would wonder about us the next morning.
Teddy’s house was always packed wall-to-wall with those types of people. People who acted like everything was perfect and beautiful and life was a movie scene. The bastards have probably watched “Project X” a thousand times over, hoping one Saturday night we’d be those insane kids who made party history. That maybe one day, we’d almost burn down the entire suburbia that suffocated us and pushed us into Teddy’s house every Saturday night. We never burnt down the neighborhood, but there was always a fire. Everyone’s drunken hearts blazed and oozed with an intoxicating rebellion against the small town life we were forced into. So many of us wanted to be important. So many of us wanted to feel like we had a path or a plan, but all too often we didn’t know what we wanted to be and we never knew how to be it.
Zack Atkins talked about Portland every time he got high. He was probably the biggest pot head in our county, maybe even city. I’d join him and several other guys out on Teddy’s back patio every time they went to smoke. I never contributed to conversation much. I mostly liked to listen to what all of the guys would say when they felt like no one else was around. Zack worked at a car repair shop, and his uncle owned an old white school bus the local prison used to use in the 80’s. He would always talk about how, as soon as he got enough money, he was going to fix the bus and take it straight up to Portland. He wanted to live in it in the forest or on the shore. Sometimes, when he was too high, he’d talk about ditching the bus all together, and building a little house at the very top of one of the massive rocks that lined Portland’s many beaches. The other boys just laughed at him. Most people laughed at him. Although, at times, I felt like he could be the only other person in this fucked-up city that actually had enough ambition to leave. I always admired him for that.
Most other boys there talked about which girls they wanted to fuck that night. When we passed the joint around and they sucked in hard, the end would burn strongly enough for me to see their face for a moment. In that light, they all looked like little boys. The warm light would wrap around their cheeks making them look full, and their eyes would have a small reflection that looked like an innocent glimmer. That’s all they really were…. boys. Young boys who wanted to be men, but never really knew what that meant. They thought it meant talking about money, and work, and calling women “cunts”; and telling everyone who they were screwing, and making up stories about immensely attractive fictional women when they weren’t.
As the night got older and our alcohol supply got lower, everyone became increasingly outlandish. Most people were reaching for their phone cameras by that point in a desperate attempt to show all the other social media obsessed, half-wits how Billy Jansen was singing Bohemian Rhapsody in a drunkenly emotional fit. He had scaled Teddy’s stone fireplace in his skinny jeans and ripped T-shirt, and was hanging out over all of us like some sort of rock star. Bet that jackass really did dream of being someone like Freddie Mercury. But then again, his overbearingly religious parents taught him AIDS was only for fags, so I was surprised he was pretending to be someone life Freddie Mercury in the first place. No one cared about Queen though. Most of them just wanted to show everyone they had the capacity and social status to be plastered on a Saturday night. Don’t get me wrong, I was drunk too. I hardly felt my face anymore and I didn’t know whether it was from the booze, or the pot, or the numbing effect these type of events always seemed to have on me.
Alexa Roderick interjected loudly for a moment. She was crying her eyes out like a baby who needed it’s bottle. It’s too bad she already drank the whole thing, and it was full of vodka instead of milk. She was hysterical over how “sweet” it was that several beef heads were carrying Robert Malkovich in his wheelchair down the steps. He broke both of his legs earlier that school year after getting pushed down a flight of steps when he got into a fist fight with one of his brothers. Most kids were surprised his parents even took him to the hospital. Their whole family dynamic was centered around what they called “tough love,” but what most social workers would call abuse. They had a whole litter of kids, and whenever I’d see the family, it seemed like they had a new kid with them, or one of their old ones had a new injury.
It didn’t surprise me to see Alexa crying at such a simple act of kindness. She came from money, and she wouldn’t know hardship if it walked up and kicked her so hard in the ass that she flew all the way up to her father’s penthouse office. Sometimes I think she’d look for reasons to be upset like a lot of rich kids do. She’d be sad at times, but not have any real reason to be, so she’d handle it by placing her emotions on the simplest of problems, or by claiming she had depression. She wanted to see a therapist and have them tell her something was wrong with her. She wanted to be a little fucked up, so she could feel more complex and interesting than she actually was. She wanted someone to tell her parents that they shouldn’t leave her by herself, so they wouldn’t go out of town every weekend and come home late every night with a slice of pizza to give her for dinner. I felt bad for her. I really did. But in her sudden fit of emotional rage, I couldn’t help but be annoyed with her.
Slowly, and with nearly every drink in the house consumed, couples, friends, and hook-ups alike started creeping upstairs to claim a bed or couch for the night. I stayed downstairs for awhile and waited on our local, shitty pizzeria to deliver us some form of sustenance so we would feel less hung over in the morning. I hated that feeling. I hated waking up in a bed that wasn’t my own, with the early morning light hitting my eyes, with a thud that made my whole body hurt. Truthfully, these nights always made me kind of hurt. The fake laughter and yelling always filled up the room with a static energy which fell flat when we stopped laughing, and didn’t know what to say for the next couple moments.
Late at night, when a silence fell upon the room, you could hear the ancient bedframes of Teddy’s relatives, passed and present, squeaking loudly. Fake moans of sophomore girls who’ve never had a real orgasm echoed through the vents. They screwed guys who still thought dick-size was relative to the amount of pleasure they could give a girl, so of course they faked it. Everyone there was faking it. Even worse, I think most of them didn’t even realize they were faking it. They didn’t know who they were or what they wanted, so they simply did the next best thing; they did what they thought they should do. I don’t blame them in some ways. It always scared them when someone did something the world told them they shouldn’t do.
Tim Pines sat in Teddy’s Dad’s big, leather chair by the fireplace with a bottle of wine. He crossed his legs for a moment, and I could see he was wearing tall socks covered in succulents. I could always tell Tim was an outsider. When the night dwindled into it’s last glowing ember, he never looked for someone to hook up with. He never called girls mean names, and he never broke any of Teddy’s shit because he thought it might be funny, or because the rest of the guys thought it was cool in some way. Most kids thought he might be gay, but in a place like this, that was never allowed. I could tell he had loved when I looked at him from across the room. He had sweet hands and a kind smile. He had the type of heart that was big, and he radiated an energy that was lovely and sad at the same time. I could tell he had loved, but had also longed for a connection....for a greater understanding of himself. I couldn’t ever tell him those things. I could never tell him the way his eyes looked when he was drunk, and how because of that, I felt I knew a deeper part of him. Tim was always the someone who was being and doing the something our small town told us we shouldn’t be or do. That always scared them...the other kids. It really did.
Before I went to sleep, I had to piss real bad, so I made my way up Teddy’s beer-stained and ash-covered, shag carpet stairs to go relieve myself. I think I visited the bathroom five...no maybe six times that night. I got roped into multiple games of flip-cup, and downed somewhere close to four or five beers. Not to mention the other shots Raven Sanders had forced down by throat, in a desperate attempt to make me, and everyone else, as fucked up as she was. She didn’t want to feel bad about the fact that she had already knocked back an entire half fifth of Absolute. She didn’t want to feel like she drank more than the rest of the girls. She did though. She always had.
When I opened the bathroom door, I found her kneeling down at the edge of the toilet. Her arm was resting on the toilet seat to support her head. She hadn’t puked yet, but she was rocking back and forth just slightly. She smiled when she saw me. She looked so relieved. I never took things like that personally...I didn’t think she was happy because I was there. I thought she might have worried no one was going to come to check on her. Maybe she was even more worried that no one had even realized she was gone in the first place.
I stumbled in, shut the door behind me, and took a seat next to her, pulling her hair back. It was so thin and soft. She leaned in close to me and slid her hand down my face with an appreciative, “thank you.” I told her it was no problem, and reached for a pack of crackers sitting on the bathroom counter top. I bit into one of them, and they were stale as all hell. They’d probably been placed there weekends ago, when some other sad kid drank themselves right down the toilet. They made my dry mouth worse than it already was, but I gave them to Raven anyway...unsure of what to do in order to truly help her.
I sat there for a while...thirty minutes...maybe even an hour. I was forced into conversation with her, and there wasn’t any getting out of it. There wasn’t anywhere else for me to go. Driving home wasn’t an option, and all the beds and couches were taken hours ago. Although, I have to admit, for a while it was actually pleasant. She started telling me about the music she made and the stories she wrote. She said she liked to write, because she felt like she lost and gained new parts of herself in the characters she had created. She liked to write stories about faraway places. She liked people who were completely bazaar. Everything about her was quite beautiful….until she threw up on me.
When I went to rip my shirt off, it smelled like vomit and I gagged so hard I nearly puked myself. I didn’t have other clothes, which meant that, for the night, in addition to not having a place to sleep, I would also have to remain topless. I wanted to cuss her out or tell her to get her shit together, but I didn’t want to see her cry. She kept saying, “I’m so sorry” over and over. I told her it was okay. I gave her mouthwash. I got paper towels and cleaned up the mess for her. When I stood up and threw the last piece of paper towel away, her face looked shiny and damp. She started to whimper. She felt bad for making a mess. She felt bad for getting so drunk that night. She felt bad about herself for getting so drunk most nights. I didn’t say much. I shushed her and wiped a tear away from under her eye. She stopped crying after that. She leaned in quickly and all at once...pushing me into the wall and kissing me hard. When she exhaled, I could feel her letting go of everything...every fiber of hate, sadness, distress...all of the emotional turmoil. I could feel she was burning. She had fire.
She ran her fingers down my skin. She was bone-chilling in the best way a woman possibly could be. I pulled away though. I always pull away. I started to hear the voices of all those kids who told me I was too ugly, or too weird, or too fucked up. It made me feel silly for wanting to act sexy. I always did that. I’d go too deep in my own head. She didn’t mind though. She just looked back at me for a second, and moved her hands down my arm, and played with my finger tips for a moment.
We slept in the bathtub that night. Well actually...I suppose it was early morning. For all of four hours, we were smashed together in the cold, pink tub of Teddy’s outdated bathroom. Her skin kept me warm, and she slept so peacefully. I woke up early, and tiptoed out of the house trying not to wake anyone. The sun was low, and it shone through the blinds ever so slightly. The whole house smelled like beer and everything was sticky, making my shoes click against the ground as I walked.
Mike Grainger was lying by the front door with an arsenal of sharpie-drawn dicks on his back, and a big fat “BITCH” drawn across his forehead. He was drooling all over the floor, and was curled up without any sort of blanket. Frankly, he looked like some sort of weird house pet. I moved his legs slightly out of the way and cracked the door open. When the light and a gust of wind hit his face, he woke up for a moment. He asked where I was going. I told him home. He said, “see you next Saturday.” I knew he was right. I knew I’d come back to Teddy’s next Saturday. Just like the previous Saturday, I had known I’d be back that Saturday…..and sure enough...I was.
My mom used to tell me that I liked things that made me mad. That in some weird, fucked-up way, I liked the strangely depressing observations that I made about all the people around me...because it took me out of reality. It took me out of my bedroom and out of my town. It took me beyond Kettler Road, and the city lines that felt as though they shrank inches inward every time I left...pushing me into a smaller and smaller box known as “home.” It took me farther than Alexa Roderick or Zach Atkins or Jennifer Madison.
I sat in church that Sunday morning with my father, mother, and sister. I thought about kissing Raven Sanders. I thought about pink bathtubs, Absolute, American Spirits, screwing, shitty pizza, paper towels, Portland, and all of the kids that I would undoubtedly see the next morning in class. I would always wonder why any of those kids were at Teddy’s in the first place. Why they all did the stupid things they always did, and said the stupid things they always said...but I was there too.
Most mornings I had to remind myself of that. I’m sure they all thought plenty of things about me. That I was pretentious, or stand-offish, or unattractive...or a know-it-all. Maybe they didn’t think about me at all, and I’d have to say...that would bother me too. We’re all here in the same town, with problems we wish we didn’t have, and people we wish we had never met.
I didn’t like so many people here, and I didn’t understand so many others. Every Sunday morning, when I’d think of cursing all the kids in our town, casting a spell on them, or driving along the coast...pushing the gas so hard that my foot bled, I’d have to remind myself that this is where I came from too.
These curved roads, back-woods, back-thinking toxic teens...they all are from here. They all came from Teddy’s Saturday night parties and drunk dancing mornings..from fucked -up families and beds they were fucked in. I had to remind myself...I was there too.