An Essay by Catherine Hernandez
I tried so hard that summer, to have fun, to say yes to every drink, and clinch my index finger and thumb to every blunt passed, to avoid going home until it got dark, until it was dangerous for a girl to take an uber home alone. I don’t know why, all I knew was that year I grew tired of cancelling plans because I was afraid of small talk and having to socialize. There were months I spent dreading being asked to hangout, it wasn’t Brenda’s fault she was the extrovert of the group. She didn’t need to recharge at home after only a couple of hours of interacting with others. It helped that she had a car of her own, a car she basically lived in when she wasn’t in school, at work or at a club. She was one of those latino kids that didn’t have such strict parents, she was the type that wanted to make every night memorable and every day last.
She was the friend that screamed, “let’s take another shot” and the look she gave you convinced you. Her painted lips forming a smile showing off her white straight teeth she took so much pride in, convinced you. She woo’d in the blurry snapchat videos, and wasn’t afraid who saw her dancing ridiculously on top of a reserved table. But I wondered if she cried, I mean of course she did, but I wondered what about? What memory and what scent made her feel gloomy whenever she encountered it? For me black ice makes me calm yet evokes a feeling of melancholy. Did she curl up in her favorite blanket and wear her pajamas on rough days? Because if she did, I’d gift her a blanket similar to my zebra one next time I got her for secret santa. What song made her think of her ex-boyfriend that got shot a year ago? She missed his funeral, and I should have pushed her to go more.
I wondered a lot that summer but mostly I wondered if my friends were okay, and how long we would stay friends. Brenda and I were going on 7 years, Patty and I 8 years of friendship. Nights always seemed to end with us walking aimlessly under street lights and dodging crowds of people. Trying to make the night last, we pretended we didn’t want to go home either while checking the time on our phones. It often felt like I was holding my black heels in one hand, and walking barefoot on the dirty long sidewalks downtown Chicago, walking home ashamed, like those girls do in the movies.
The year of trying new things, trying every drink offered, “what do you drink?” “um, I don't know what do you recommend?” loudly over bar music, and loud drunk girls. The year of going to bars alone and ordering what I knew I liked, “vodka cranberry please.” The year I completely lost all contact with someone who had been in my life for 12 months. The birthday we spent together, the Christmas we exchanged gifts, the feet of snow we walked on while wearing converse, the ubers we waited for, those ordinary moments made me so happy and seemed so valuable at the time. Afterwards, the hurt only lasted for a month, “oh well” I shrugged. The year I learned a person can really pop out of nowhere into your life, be quite significant and then walk right out just as suddenly. The year I tried to find the perfect remedy for a hangover. The year I realized not every place needs to be made significant.
The year I finally learned to be careful with what you wish for, because sometimes the thing you want is not the thing you need. But I think this is what being in your 20’s is like, I can see why movies are made, books and pages and pages are written about this particular decade in one’s life.
This is why when the person I was wishing for asked me to drink, or to smoke I said yes to everything and didn’t know how to say no anymore. That is why I got home at 3AM one Saturday, and at 2AM one Friday. And this is not what I need. But maybe it’s what he needs, and that’s what keeps me wanting more. Now I find myself wondering the same things about Mario, when he’s feeling blue does he watch The Office under his heavy warm blanket? What made him put so many stickers on his car? What other movies does he watch in his car besides the one I let him borrow that he never gave back? I know Cuco’s music makes him sad, just like it does for me. I know he loves smelling candles in the aisles of Target, and we order the same smoothies from Mariano’s.
What else will he let me ask before the movie starts? We sit on the couches, staring at the people below walking by while we sip the beer we sneaked in in our heavy winter coats. All I watch is him in that movie theatre, and I wonder where his mind wanders to because sometimes he surprises me with his ideas and beliefs and the stuff he asks me before the movie starts. The tone of his voice shifts and becomes quieter,
“What makes you angry?”
“Where do you think we go when we die?”
He doesn't move a muscle, or even blink when the words climb out of his mouth, and I find comfort in knowing he's wondering the same things I am. Of course I don’t know how to answer,
I try to think of something profound and meaningful to say, but the beer has made my thoughts fuzzy. Instead I say,
“I’m not sure, what do you think?” because the truth is I’d rather listen to him talk right now.
I wonder, and I keep wondering, I go home and my thoughts seem to form questions and my friends seem to unknowingly answer them.
Brenda texts the group chat, trying to make plans every week, and every weekend. Patty sends me voice clips. I can hear how tired she is in her voice. I know she’s laying in bed with some junk food surrounded by her 3 cats. I can even see how disconnected she is in her messages, she says she can’t hangout this week again. She opens messages, but doesn’t reply. She’s dating someone new, she’s excited, they break-up, she says she’s heartbroken and I believe her until she’s dating someone new.
I’m with Mario again, and after a few drinks, he lays his head down on my shoulder, which he tends to do. Lays his head on my shoulder or my tattooed thighs, or my stomach. I insist he tells me what’s wrong,
“This weather makes me sleep more than I should be”
“Sometimes I just can’t sleep but then I have to wake up for work at 7”
I insist we talk about it,
“How can I make you feel better?
“You already make me feel better”
I ask if he’s ever talked to someone professionally, because it helps.
“You’re my therapy”
All their subtle comments replay in my head, and now instead of just wondering, I spend this year worrying.