A week after the breakup, I flee the city with a friend to celebrate the Fourth of July at a farmhouse upstate, feeling suitably independent. I’ve heard that there will be over a hundred people at the farmhouse, and a DJ, and I am hoping there will be cute boys.
What there actually are: herds of married men, fat, alcoholic, and loud. Also old: my friend’s 91-year-old uncle takes a shot at me, placing a withered hand on my bare leg and rolling his watery eyes over my body. His entire head looks like it’s made of melanoma. He was in the navy during World War II, he tells me, turning his back on the 70-year-old woman who had been flirting with him before I sat down. I can’t tell if she is upset by this or not, inscrutable behind her enormous sunglasses.
“Oh, she’s too old for my uncle,” my friend tells me, when I relate this story to her in the kitchen. She introduces me to a sexy correctional officer who looks like George Clooney if George Clooney worked Riker’s Island. C.O. Clooney is at the party with his five children (one of whom will eat the blackened eyeball from a suckling pig on a drunk uncle’s dare for $20) and with his beautiful wife, who looks at me with surprising tolerance as her husband sidles in closer. He touches my hipbone and tells me that he asked the D.J. to play Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” especially for me.
With my combat boots and pink hair, no one on this farm looks like me. A man who is so drunk that one of his eyes has slid closed, asks if I am going to a punk concert. “This is how I dress,” I tell him. “Thank you for making it awkward.” He is wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo for the bar he works at and the following motto: Where men fake relationships to have orgasms and women fake orgasms to have relationships. This t-shirt and its assumptions are intensely depressing.
I will spend the night refusing things the bartender is trying to get me to drink: a bottle of tequila, his beer, a mysteriously half-empty bottle of water. Eventually, having failed to get me to drink either alcohol or roofie potion, he will lose both his depressing t-shirt and his pants, swaying naked in the kitchen for a while before wandering out to the gazebo by a duckweed-choked pond to lay out rails of cocaine in front of someone’s father-in-law.
I dance on the patio with the fat, married men, the dj throwing down a mad jumble of songs reflecting the disparate ages and preferences of all the people here, Frank Sinatra crowding elbows with Bob Marley and Cake and Johnny Cash. I know all the words to “Cocaine Blues,” which impresses a plumber in a Cubavera shirt who I learn is newly divorced. The head of the suckling pig was left on the patio for the dogs, and barefoot people navigate deftly around it. It is Lord of Flies, but with more drinking.
I remember when I used to drink this way. I try to enlist the plumber in coming up with the over/under on the number of fingers that will be lost tonight as the inebriated set off bottle-rockets and M80s. There are kids swimming in the darkening pool with no one watching them, and our hostess cuts her hand cracking open a lobster claw, but heedlessly continues to pile the meat, now bloody, on a plate.
I go upstairs to change into my bathing suit at around midnight, and I see that I missed a call from Sketch. Another ass-dial, I listen to two minutes of his accidental voicemail, him talking in a soft voice to some girl. I can’t make out what either of them are saying, but it sounds like they are walking somewhere.
And there is it is, that feeling of abandonment and loss that has been missing all week. So I go outside with the plumber, who follows me into the pool in a pair of pee-stained briefs, and I let him kiss me. He tastes sour, like booze and regret. He does that tongue-flickering thing that someone, at some point, must have told him was hot.
I tell him I will race him across the length of the pool and when I reach the other end ahead of him, I climb out. I can’t stand how I act at times like these; I loathe the phony sound of my own laugh when I am letting someone kiss me just because I want to avoid social awkwardness more than I want to avoid someone’s sad, gross, flickering tongue in my mouth.
I go upstairs without telling anyone I’m going to sleep. The room I have been assigned has an aquarium motif on the walls; schools of silverfish, friendly-looking squid, a badly-scaled Orca. While I am in the bathroom, changing out of my wet suit, C.O. Clooney flies open the door and stands there grinning at my nakedness. It’s weird how a person’s profession can bleed all over their entire personality; I can picture him fucking with the inmates at Riker’s, no problem.
“Seriously, dude?” I say, not as scared or as angry as I probably ought to be. “You gotta give me a minute.” I use the same voice I use with my middle-schoolers and it works; he backs out, chastened. I don’t bother going back downstairs for social niceties. I lay in bed with my wet hair, looking at the fish mural, tired but alert. My door doesn’t lock, and an hour later the plumber comes into my room, turning on the light and closing the door behind him.
“Go away,” I tell him, and when he doesn’t, I point at the door and yell “OUT!” in one long, drawn-out note with my massive yoga lungs until he leaves. My friend will tell me tomorrow that, after I yelled at him, the plumber went downstairs to the kitchen and talked about me for an hour, waxing on about our “connection” until someone told him to stop being such a bitch.
Despite everything, I’m glad to be here, in the country. The city I have to return to tomorrow is haunted, and even as I lay awake on rape-alert, I feel pleasantly hidden from the rest of my life. Even the walls around me contribute to the illusion that I am deep below, where nothing can bother me. In the morning, I will tiptoe out past all the passed-out men like they are sleeping dragons, miraculously unharmed.