By Ava Mailloux
First, get the sorry out of the way. She’ll come up to you with her makeup smearing around her eyes from tears she’s trying to hold back and tell you that she fell asleep in the table and woke up with this disgusting hand up her skirt. The first thing that’s going to come springing out of your mouth is, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry.” You don’t want to sound macho but you also can’t pretend to really understand her experience since the worst thing that’s ever happened to you while passed out was having a dick drawn on your face by your frat brother back in college, so you default to this platitude because she’s looking at you and you have to say something. Both of you know it doesn’t mean a damn thing, so it’s good to get it out of the way first before anything. Clear out your brain for whatever comes next.
Move away from your friends who you were talking to at the bar. They will understand. Stop yourself from saying, “Hold on, I need to take care of this,” or “I’ll be right back.” You know this will make your girlfriend will feel like an obligation, and she might make the scene even worse by bursting into tears. Your friends will wince. The bartender will glare at you.
Do not attempt to find the guy and kick his ass. This urge will be almost as strong as the urge to apologize, but it is different because you must step on it and crush its head quickly before you do something you’ll regret. A fight in the parking lot will make you feel better, but it will not make her feel better. This goes double if someone calls the police. No one ever feels better after an encounter with the police. Besides, you have a bag of pot in your pocket.
It is okay to look furtively at the eyes of strangers, trying to decipher which one is the creep. Send hateful thoughts his way. Send all that you want. Every man in the bar starts to look culpable. Anyone can look creepy if you want them to hard enough.
You should bring her out to the deck, where people are smoking in tight knots. If someone tried to get your attention from across the bar, wave them off. Try not to leave her standing there, chewing her lip and blinking back the tears. Even if you see an old friend, someone who you haven’t seen for years, put your head down and resolve to call them later and ask why they didn’t tell you they were in town. It will not be fair that they had to show up on this night out of all the nights there are in a year, but you live in an era of constant communication. You will call your friend later and can explain if you need to, why you did not say hi. You are not a jerk.
If she leans against you or tries to put her arm around you while you’re taking her out onto the deck, you can give her a hug. She might look for a cuddle, for comfort. Do not touch her ass if she does this, even though the first reflex when one wants to cure a hurt is to caress the hurt spot, even if you just want to expunge the taint of his hands. You already know why this is a bad idea, even if you are a little drunk. Ignore the senseless impulses that pop into your head.
If she does not reach out for you at all, you should probably just touch her shoulder or arm. She might not want your arms around her, even if she understands that you feel the need to give her comfort as badly as she wants to take comfort from you. Her skin is crawling. The bar looks like a carnival of flesh, bulging with hateful heat, black hairs springing out like weeds. Look at her and let her see that you are you and not anyone else. Try not to be offended when you reach out for her and she flinches away.
This is a good time to be a friend as well as a lover. She’ll be standing out on the smoking deck with her hands resting on the railing, looking down at the canal flowing underneath. Give her a cigarette. Listen as she complains about events that might only be tangentially related, like the problems she’s been having at work that make her feel sore and infected, ready to pop at a touch and weep pus all over everything. Restrain that small, uncharitable feeling that she is taking advantage of this, that it was just a hand on the ass for Christ’s sake, nothing that she hasn’t laughed off before, and now suddenly it’s a window into everything that’s wrong with her life. This is not the right time to bring up the fact that you just talked about her job last week and it was you who said that she was spending too much time feeling sorry for herself and that you weren’t going to enable her any more. She said you were right. You both knew you were right. And she did stop for a little while and it seemed like she was happy again, but now she has you prisoner and everything’s coming back up. Try really, really hard not to resent her. Think of the guy and how much you want to kill him to balance it out.
Soon, it will look like she’s starting to get a hold of herself. She has her blue jacket wrapped around her body and is wiping the tears off her face with the sleeve. She never really cried, just leaked slowly, and you’re grateful. She seems to be getting herself together, and you think maybe she is remembering what you talked about earlier and is trying to be a stronger person. Maybe you’ll still be able to catch your buddy inside. For a moment, you admire her, a clear and true emotion that makes you feel a little better about your relationship. You’ll want to tell her she looks beautiful, but you don’t. Right now, beauty feels like the currency of the gutter. Touch her and smile. Ask if she’s ready to go back in. Stay with her when she says no. Lie and say you think you saw the creep leaving the bar. She’ll tell you that you don’t even know who it was. She’ll say she thinks she wants to go home soon.
We can go home whenever you want, you say. It’s good to be supportive and understanding. You thought maybe that she was feeling better, since she smiled and made a joke about a girl on the porch who was wearing a set of fairy wings. Usually the jokes means all is forgiven. But you can understand why tonight might have been spoiled for her. Occasionally, you have to declare the night a total loss. You can go home and watch some movies. Tomorrow, after she gets some sleep, she will feel like herself again. Hopefully you will too. You will be able to get the image of some guy with dirty knuckles sliding his hand up her dress. Maybe you should call the bar tomorrow and complain. It would be the next best thing to punching him in the face.
She wants to go home. Walk with her across the bar and wave to the people you were talking to. Your buddy who you haven’t seen in a while is at the bar with a beautiful girl, someone you both knew when you were undergrads at Penn State. You will bite your tongue to distract yourself from that sinister acid feeling of resentment in your mouth and remind yourself, stubbornly, that you are trying to do the right thing. It will suck. Everything sucks.
She seems happier when you get out to the parking lot and she is walking a little ahead of you, looking back and laughing even as she’s wringing her hands a little. You know she feels guilty for making you go home and wonder how much of your face she can read. Maybe she saw you look at your buddy’s beautiful girl who was sitting at the bar. You chase after her a little and say, Are you all right? Are you sure?
I’ll be fine, she says.
You say, I’m going to call the owner in the morning and complain.
No, don’t! She laughs nervously. Don’t do that. I’d be too embarrassed. It was stupid to fall asleep at the table anyway. I’m too fucking stoned.
Stuff your frustration down your throat. Say, You were so upset.
I’ll get over it, she says. I just need to go home and sleep. You’re right, I take everything too hard.
It’s okay to feel upset about someone…doing that, you say. You’ve almost stopped in the middle of the parking lot. She keeps walking ahead and she’s still laughing, almost giddy. Again, you’re touched by anger because she can get what she needs to feel better. You are still a little disturbed by the thought of the guy’s hand, the dirty knuckles on your girl. What it has cost you. You just wanted a good night out and now you feel like a little part of her has been ripped off her and kept from you, when you used to have her all for yourself. You want to call her a fake for still acting like she is whole.
Change the subject. Pick something neutral. It looks like she’s feeling a little better and you think maybe you can put this behind you all right. Maybe you won’t need to call the owner, not even for your own peace of mind. You can figure it all out in the morning. Just do what it takes to get through the night. The gravel crunches under your shoes and her blue coat looks black in the orange street lights. You can smell Cayuga Lake not too far away. The sign for the club, with its freaky Gothic letters, hangs over your head.
In the car, she asks you if you’re okay. Insist that it is you who is worried about her. She tells you not to worry. If you are unable to stop yourself from yelling back that she was the one who wanted to go home, be sure to apologize afterwards, especially if she starts crying again. Hold her hands between yours and say, I’m an asshole, baby, I’m sorry.
It’s not going to work anymore, she says.
Gape at her for four seconds. Then say, what won’t?
This. Everything. She waves her hands at the empty parking lot, as if it’s a symbol of some kind. It’s my fault. I think it always has been. I’m scum.
Assure her that she is not scum, even if she will not be convinced. The streetlights bleed across her face and her tears glint. Someone is shouting outside and a group of kids with wristbands is laughing, all leather and fishnets. You have to move the conversation away from all this absurdity.
Say, Let’s talk about this at home. Put the car into gear. Reverse out of the parking lot and get onto the road. Put a hand on her knee.
I have something to tell you when we get back, she says. About the real reason I’ve been so freaked out about work and stuff over the past month.
You can tell me anything, you say. It is okay that you don’t mean it, especially if it’s what you suspect. She isn’t that hard to read, especially when she has done something she is ashamed of. You think you know what she is going to say, but you still wish you could tell exactly how the dirty hand in her skirt and the Goth kids in the parking lot and the swampy smell in the air and your buddy at the bar all conspire in her mind to put her so far and so finally beyond your reach. She is less than a foot away from you, but still she is falling away, like a piece of bread dropped into the lake to be picked apart by the fish. Remember how she told you she used to do that, back when she was a little girl growing up near Ithaca. You are losing her; she is drifting through murky water, swallowed by the creatures that live there.
Drive the car home at a reasonable speed. Don’t swerve. Don’t slam on the breaks. You don’t have that far to go. Try very hard not to think about anything.
Copyright 2014 Mailloux