I was in the parking garage, walking back to my office the afternoon he called and asked me to meet him in two hours at the bar. We hadn’t planned on meeting that week until Thursday, and he was fucking with me by calling me on a Tuesday on such short notice, not that I had anywhere else to be. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t drink on Tuesdays, because I did, but it was hot as fuck out and I had been parading around the city on foot doing errands and I was least of all prepared with deodorant to reapply before I sat down to drink with someone I had only seen behind my own eyelids every fucking night for the past year straight. Also, I wasn’t wearing my drinking clothes, the uniform of romance I had put together in my head so many times, one that at the very least included a low cut tank top and a massively padded bra that somewhat matched my underwear.
Instead, I was wearing a sleeveless, powder blue sweater and grey and blue plaid pants, my hair looked like a nest on the top of my head and most of my makeup had slipped off my face somewhere between errands 1 and 4. The worst part, though, was that my armpits, legs and most certainly my vagina region resembled that of a peasant woman in rural France, a complete crisis situation that made me want to avoid the happy hour entirely. While I didn’t see the night ending with my pants around my ankles, I certainly wasn’t going to feel comfortable sitting around with the crotch region of a Woodstock hippie, not if these were the nights that would cement the foundation of the rest of my life.
I went, though. I went to that happy hour, bushy pube region and all, and then to twenty others in less than two months, and we slipped immediately back to where we had been the nights I lived two floors below him, those nights I could hear his bed thumping against the floor while he did this and that with that fucking twit girlfriend, while I miserably blew out massagers sold at Brookstone that were probably not meant for between my legs. It was intoxicating and miserable and for some awful reason, I loved every last second of it.
It was mid summer the night he casually asked me at the bar to go camping with him a few hours away in Virginia. We were sitting side by side at the bar, watching the Red Sox after work as we ate dinner–the chicken finger platter, extra honey mustard, and the caesar salad wrap, both with French fries that I’m positive were double or triple fried and therefore extra delicious.
“Yeah, I’ll go camping,” I said calmly, trying to slow the racing that just crept into my veins. I kept my eyes up at the TV that sat above the bottles of liquor, up and to the left. I drank my drink more aggressively, but quietly, so you couldn’t hear it being swallowed in gulps so big and fast that it caused brain freeze. There is nothing charming about drinking yourself into brain freeze when you’re guzzling gin in absurd quanities.
“Next weekend, with some of those Peace Corps friends. You’ve met a few of them, remember?”
Next weekend was his birthday. He never said it was his birthday but he knew it was his birthday and he knew I knew it was his birthday but he wasn’t looking at me when he asked me because I could see his reflection in the mirror that sat behind the bottles of booze and he was looking at his chicken Caesar wrap which while delicious, was not interesting enough to stare at directly with such casual intensity.
He had just asked in a mere ten words if I wanted to go share the most pivotal romantic weekend of my entire twenties near a body of water, under the stars, in a tent, in the middle of summer where clothes were pretty much optional as the temperatures rose and booze, dear god there would be booze.
“Yeah, I remember them,” and by them, I think I knew one of them, and now I didn’t know what to panic over more, meeting fifteen infamous Peace Corps kids, most of which dated back from his days in the International dorm at UConn, or the part about the tent and the booze and the hot nights.
That particular group would end up including an ex girlfriend, two stoners that I’m sure someone told me were brilliant but I found somewhat unremarkable yet generous with their weed, which was actually very kind of them, two lesbians–though not dating lesbians, separate lesbians, one of which was foreign and outrageously sexual and confident and made me frightened to lock eyes with because she was also slightly crazy but also super charming and she actually just petrified me with her lesbian powers. There was the elf-like girl that I knew was infatuated with him who spent most of her time in my presence staring down at me from a branch she was perched in, twenty feet in the air in a goddamned tree which no one seemed to think was bizarre but me, two hippies that I think were on the run from the law or Sallie Mae or someone, an exotic girl that I disliked for no good reason and two unshowered, long haired guys that smelled of hemp but offered a supply of bows and arrows and targets and other assorted carny games not meant to be played in groups that ingested large amounts of liquor in short amounts of time.
“So you’ll go?” he asked, still not looking at me but now at the mirror at me, and so I looked back at him in the mirror, up from my chicken fingers, and said as casually as possible,
“Sure, sounds fun. Can’t wait to meet the rest of them.”
For the next five hours we drank gin, jager and soco, to calm our minds from the plans we had just made, and I couldn’t tell if it was the anxiety or the booze that was making me sick. I casually stood up from my stool, excused myself, walked in a crooked line to the back of the bar and threw up in the pissed covered stall they passed off as a woman’s room. Wiping my mouth, I applied a coating of gloss to my lips, most of which missed, patted my hair down and walked back to the bar, grabbed my things, leaving the bar with an exit that included a punch on the arm, and giving him an awkward cross eyed glance I confused with winking and a crooked smile that was involuntary because I had drank my face numb. I drove myself home on autopilot and woke up four hours later on my couch with my clothes on, forty eight minutes before I was supposed to be at work, still drunk, with little ambition to do anything but crawl into my bed where I belonged, lay my head back down, sober up and casually masturbate to the possibilities of next weekend.
We drove to Shenandoah in a rental I picked up at lunchtime on a Friday. Something was wrong with my car that week and I knew we wouldn’t make it in his Jeep, which could barely make it five miles to our favorite bar without overheating, forget to the Valley with the chance of hitting rush hour traffic or escaping back woods rednecks. It was a midnight blue Dodge stratus, and I can only remember this detail because of what happened to the car that weekend, but again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
We packed up a backpack each, a tent, two sleeping bags, a cooler we’d later fill with ice, booze and not much else, one dog, a driving playlist and a suffocating supply of sexual tension that kept me on edge for the entire three hour ride. I was trying to find a balance of creating more film score moments without ruining the chance of a long term opportunity with someone I had been chasing in my head now for just over three years.
We stopped in the town closest to the Valley to stock up on the important items—two jugs of Jim Beam, two bottles of ginger ale, a few packs of cigarettes, a pack of cards, batteries for our radio, candles to keep the bugs away, a bag of ice, a tin full of gasoline, which I actually can’t remember why we bought it in the first place, solo cups and three cartons of chinese food, because we had other things to get to besides wasting the night grilling.
We found a spot around a bend, two miles down the dirt road past a canoe rental shop run by stoners and college kids. We almost missed it as we barreled down the road, but stopped short with a slam of the brakes after seeing a rickety gate, weeds and overgrowth tangled in and out, creating a web. We obviously weren’t supposed to go in, but there was no one else in sight, we could see it was the gateway to a lush field that ran along the river’s edge. It was deserted, it was off limits. It was perfect.
We ripped our way through the tangled web, pulled the gate open, crept the car inside onto the long and vibrant green grass and pushed the gate closed behind us. A once driven path snaked through the field and opened up at the lake. There were thirty yards of lush field, untouched for some time, a large fire pit lined with large stones, ashes and coals black and gray, the ground forever blackened and the lingering smell of burning wood, wafting from the tented camp area down the way. I turned around in a slow circle, surveying our spot, then stopped and took a few minutes to stare out at the reflection of the sun setting on the lake. I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans and then jammed them in my pockets, mostly because they would not fucking stop sweating. The sun was just setting, the cool air was starting to roll in and the water splashed loudly against the rocks and the brush that lined the banks, swishing and swooshing, rocking some of the anxiety out of panic stricken body.
Unpacking the car, we piled every thing near the fire pit, loaded the cooler, dumping ten pounds of ice on the liquor, prioritizing our efforts, finding sticks and fire to burn second. I think it was an unspoken rule that we’d trade warmth by fire for booze at all cost in the next 48 hours. You can’t blame poor decisions or awkward first sexual encounters on hearty fires but you sure as fuck could blame them on a handle each of Jim Beam.
I plopped down on a wooden stump next to the cooler and poured us each our first drink, strong and dark, and put it to my lips as he fucked with his phone and tossed the pile of wood stick by stick into the fire pit. His dog laid down next to his outstretched legs, and he twisted his head side to side, cracking his tanned neck as he took a long, slow sip of his drink and looked down at his phone again.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” he said lightly, “the rest of the group isn’t coming until tomorrow.”
And I knew by the way he half looked up at me, half buried his face in his red solo cup, that they had never been coming that night, and then I too, buried my face in my cup, looking back up again only when I came to the bottom.
It was going to be a very long night.