Like Now, But Not: Stories

AUGUST ’17 – MAY ’18, Bowdoin College.

This year, I wrote a collection of short stories for my English Honors Thesis. The interconnected narratives span nine months during a year like 2018, and are told by characters in the same friend group.

The excerpt below is from the story, “Blair Had a Nightmare (Meet Mr. Man).”

It should take ~5 minutes to read.

[…]

In bed, I tapped the blue button and it was the first thing I saw, right at the top of my Newsfeed.

“Hannah Lyons tagged Anna Davers in a post.” A sentence inside of a white border inside of a grey one. Five hours ago. Four photos of them together, two hugging on the beach, one paragliding, one posing at prom. Both blonde and freckly and kissed by the California sun. Both of their names in bold. I scrolled through her words, this girl, Hannah Lyons, apparently one of Anna’s friends from home. The post was barely two paragraphs and then suddenly Anna Davers was dead. Same with her family. Just dead. Just eight lines, five broken-heart emojis, two prayer hands, and one promise to never forget their times stargazing in Oregon.

I said, “Fuck,” and felt the sound out there in the world and wished I could take it back. Anna was supposed to host the pregame for the concert that night and I wasn’t supposed to be up, shouldn’t have checked my phone, wondered if maybe I was having another nightmare. I read the post again and three times more and then quit out and deleted the app, told myself I didn’t see. I stashed the phone under my pillow and went back to sleep. There was no reason for me to be awake yet.

*

My bladder shocked me back into the morning, biting my lower stomach and threatening to burst. I checked my phone. It was 10:43 a.m. and I wasn’t going to move. My shoulder hurt. I’d wait until 10:50 a.m. at least, a better, rounder number.

I flipped onto my back and thought of the day and my list and how I actually needed to be a person, get stuff done. And I needed Riley. The concert was in nine hours and we had to pick up the goods! I opened Snapmap and saw that her Bitmoji was in its little red car six minutes before, probably dropping the boy home from their sleepover.

I checked on my animated mini-me and decided I’d slip her into something fun for the concert. I swiped through the virtual closet and picked out this sparkly tank top and a pair of destroyed denim pants. She posed to show off her new outfit and looked so damn cute. I always wished my hair was as straight as hers.

And then it was 10:53 a.m. Missed my chance to get up. I’d try again at 11:00 a.m. I went back to Snapchat and saw Freddy’s Bitmoji in Manhattan, pale and wearing a set of blue scrubs, a stethoscope around his neck. He was at his apartment midtown, right where’d I’d left him on Wednesday. I made a noise like, bleeghh, and closed my eyes, tried to recollect how it all went down.

It’s a weird feeling, I think, remembering something for the first time, seeing how your brain pieces the bits together, keeps some, throws away others. The Freddy thing was only two days before, so the moments were fresh and ready to be caught.

First, I thought about his face when it happened. We were banging and he was on top, jaw dangling from his head, nostrils flared, dark eyebrows slanted down. I was semi-into it like I always am, sort of bored, BUT THEN, everything scrunched together, his face and the seconds, all at once like being sucked up in a vacuum. He thrust in and put all his weight on me, gripped my shoulders like he was doing pushups but then suddenly fell, dropped down three inches on his left side, my right. Something inside me cracked.

He screamed before I felt anything and then jolted up and raised his hands and shook them at me so maybe he could pretend like it hadn’t happened. Because, yeah, he had just fully dislocated my shoulder.

I couldn’t feel the pain as I laid there in bed, but I remembered how the tears sprinted from my eyelids and how I said, “Did you just do that?” like I didn’t want to know the answer. Everything hurt like glass in between my bones and I hated him and breathed a scream and touched the fingers on my right hand and they weren’t there.

“You did not just do that!?!” I cried. “Oh my God. You just did that!”

I screamed and kicked his body away from me. He toppled over and tore off the condom and yelled, “Where should I put it?!” but then just flung the thing across the room.

I couldn’t believe that only happened Wednesday. I tapped his Bitmoji. Was I supposed to see a doctor? I poked my shoulder and decided that that was a future-Blair problem. I still had to pee.

After the initial shock of the incident subsided, Freddy collected himself and went, “Right! I got this! You’re fine! Don’t sleep on my EMT certification!”

He pulled my arm forward and sideways, I screamed at him, and then it was done. We were both still naked. Freddy picked the condom off the floor and said sorry, got me a bag of ice and a handful of Advil and made me swallow all of them. He sat down on the bed and went to touch my hair but I slunk away like, absolutely not.

Then he said, “If it doesn’t hurt tomorrow, it’s fine,” and I was like, “This is too cold,” and dropped the ice on the bed and made him wrap it in a dishtowel. He went to the kitchen and asked me if I was having a good time at school.

I said, “Sure,” and he said, “Don’t ever graduate,” so I said, “I think I’m going to go.”

I didn’t want any of that, any of him, any of his scratchy duvet cover or his too-cold ice or his mediocre dick. And he dislocated my shoulder, so.

I started to get dressed and Freddy sat his naked body at his desk, opened his laptop and said, “Fine. Let me just send this email and I’ll walk you out.”

I told him no.

We didn’t hug or kiss goodbye. I said, “Thanks for the hospitality,” and then sent him a Snapchat of a dead pigeon outside his building with the caption, “o.”

In bed, I tapped his Bitmoji, cringed, and didn’t think about Anna Davers.

Instead, I remembered walking back to my dad’s apartment, waiting before the crosswalk and seeing an old man open the door to leave his brownstone. He was wearing a black coat that hung just above his ankles and he hesitated at the top of the stairs, stared out at the street like he wasn’t going to make it down. I watched him take little preparatory steps on the scraggly welcome mat and then I stared too hard and pictured both his knees cracking and buckling, his bones sliding up and down and next to each other like when you take apart a metal shelf too quickly.

I blinked. It didn’t happen. The man patted his plaid newsie cap with both hands and slowly turned himself around. He faced the building’s closed door and gripped the side rail, then walked backwards down the steps like moving through water. I stared harder and started counting each of my twenty-one years and got that electric panic thinking about how everything that’d already happened in my life would keep happening and keep getting bigger and messier until I was that old and too heavy with it and had to consider whether I was going to survive the stairs. I felt like there had already been too many times, and that there’d be too many more.

So, I stood at the crosswalk and decided that I didn’t really want to live for very long. Maybe until my forties. That it might be nice to leave before anything bad happened, like cancer or organ failure or the end of the world or whatever.

But like, with that kind of thought, it was there in my mind on Wednesday, but then I was at school and Anna Davers was dead and so was her family and so was my fish and I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror and realized I’d gotten a nosebleed. There, I saw myself alive and picked at the crusty red and wanted all of my years forever.

[…]