The day before the exams that were supposed to determine my entire future, I went to Sarah’s place. We had organised to meet each other, but after several unanswered phone calls I was losing hope. I brought with me a movie she asked for in case I had the time to hire it, which I was more than happy to make. I noticed several magazines at her front door. She had left a note on top of them, written in impeccable handwriting, saying she was too sick to see me. The magazines contained pictures of celebrities in dresses that I was expected to memorise and later dissect. I calmly took a seat and looked through them.
That was the first time I ever left something at her front door.
The third of the four times I saw Sarah came unexpectedly. She called one Saturday night three weeks before my formal – which she had already agreed to attend with me – suggesting we ‘catch up’ because she had apparently changed quite a bit. We wouldn’t be going to a party or hanging out with friends; it would just be the two of us. We were best friends by then.
(The only function I had really attended with a girl was the previous year’s formal, when I experienced the terrifying process of trying to invite a girl when you don’t actually know any. That year, Sam organised for me to take his girlfriend. I didn’t even have to ask. He was utterly confused a year later when I turned down his unserious offer to take his then-ex-girlfriend again. They’d met while acting in a popular school play together in which Sam had a scene-stealing performance in a supporting role. I had only met her once before – Sam brought her to my place, where we drank cheap wine and ordered pizza. The delivery boy ended up giving me more change than what the pizzas cost, giving me my mantra for the night – repeatedly exclaiming my inability to comprehend how someone so incompetent could retain employment.
While she used her phone, Sam organised for me to leave them alone for half an hour. According to Sam she had given him a blowjob, swallowed, and was in the middle of giving him head again when I returned.
Memories from the formal: the corsage, mother and her talking during the trip to the party beforehand, yawning while putting my arm around her for a photo, the money I handed her for a cab before she left the after-party, sitting with my legs drunkenly sprawled over some steps so people would pay attention to me after she’d gone.
The next time I saw her, years later in a club, when she asked what I had been ‘up to’, I said ‘Look, I’ve been doing a lot of masturbating,’ just to see her reaction. ‘At least you’re … honest?’ she shrugged. ‘No wonder you can’t get a chick,’ Kevin told me when I proudly relayed the story to him.)
Sarah requested I get drunk before seeing her, since we’d mutually decided I hadn’t been drunk enough to expose any recognisable personality in the times we’d seen each other; and which I was more than willing to comply with. I was completely sober and had less than two hours to meet her. I was eighteen by then. Outside the local liquor store a guy younger than me asked if I could buy him some cigarettes, which I did, though not without keeping the change. Within an hour, I was suitably hammered.
I waited outside our meeting place for over twenty minutes, sipping from a hipflask, convinced I was being stood up again, then went to the nearest bar, had one quick beer, and headed back to our meeting place. A very tall, statuesque figure was skipping toward me and once it recognised me, said, ‘Oh my God, Nick?!’ and sprinted, leaping into me, nearly breaking my nose as she squeezed my body.
Once she calmed down I told her, ‘I’d forgotten how beautiful you are’ – something I definitely would not have said without alcohol – trying to check if my nose was bleeding as we walked in no obvious direction. She just gave this big flip of the hair in response, flattered.
She had lost her puppy fat since I’d last seen her. She looked totally different, this time legitimately breathtaking. She bounced instead of walked, and had a permanently mischievous grin. I was surprised she didn’t trip over herself – her legs were so long they almost looked grotesque, and the high heels she wore made her even taller and goofier. She had too much personality to be restricted by such a thin body. Her jeans clung to her body and I still have a blurry mental image of her ass, since I walked a step behind her for the next ten minutes. She looked flushed, almost unnaturally clean, even though she was wearing some kind of football jersey. ‘I had to wear this so my Mum would think I wasn’t going to a club,’ she said. She changed in a McDonald’s, and emerged with a white article of clothing covering her breasts (nonexistent) and little else.
I too was in the best physical shape of my life, and in my drunken state had dressed to accentuate my newly bloated, heavy chest and defined arms, wearing a t-shirt I’d discarded years ago. She jumped into my arms after surprisingly little convincing on my part, and I carried her to the train station.
Sarah was mildly pissed off that I hadn’t brought my handwritten diary, subtitled My Sad Life, which I had promised, which she had demanded (she was still referring to me as a ‘closed book’), which I had written in disturbingly consistent handwriting over the past year during extended periods of teen angst. It was already accepted to be the only way, besides being drunk, that I could open up to her emotionally. She brought an extra-large bag specifically for it.
I was still mildly pissed off after hearing through the grapevine of Kevin and Larry’s girlfriends that Sarah once described me as ‘obsessive’. I never mentioned it to her. Kevin and Larry never understood the concept of inter-gender, non-sexual friendships, and had no idea who the girl I spoke to on the phone was, or why they hadn’t met her, though on the Saturday nights they showed up at my door and I was wearing clothes that would be considered respectable in public, they assumed, ‘Sarah’s coming tonight, isn’t she?’
We went to one of her favourite clubs, where the bouncer waived the cover charge and didn’t bother to ask Sarah for identification. As usual she was the most influential person in the room. She was loud, the centre of attention without trying to be, and displaying none of the insecurities she’d been revealing to me in the months since we’d last seen each other.
We sat in a booth near the dance floor, yelling over the music about our work-out routines as I commented on her abdominals, touching them. I remember twirling her hair around my index finger without her reacting. I remember flexing my biceps for her – something I specifically planned not to do under any circumstance, though at her behest I really had no choice – and I remember ordering a lot of beers and waters. I remember stalling in mid-sentence, unable to explain something she couldn’t possibly be interested in, then taking her hand and kissing it before leaving to get myself another drink, and returning to find her dancing, surrounded by approaching guys.
At my suggestion, we held hands as we navigated crowded streets. At every traffic light, I punched the crosswalk button, then assured her, ‘Didn’t hurt.’
The attention she was getting from strangers made me completely uncomfortable – I felt like her bodyguard, tightening my fists every time a group of males passed us, expecting confrontation.
But her mother was calling incessantly, insisting she get home, and after Sarah borrowed a phone from a yuppie to uselessly protest, we caught another train after spending less than two hours together. As soon as we got off the train, and before we had the chance to say goodbye, her bus arrived. I handed her whatever loose change I had in my pocket – the last of my money – and tried to sneak onto my bus until the driver caught me and said, ‘If you just told me you didn’t have any money, I would have let you on.’ I walked home, which took hours that felt like months, occasionally throwing up, full of the regret that was already becoming familiar.
The next day, Sarah called, early. I had not slept.
‘So, did you have a good time last night?’
‘Is it my imagination, or did I … have my hands on you, like, the whole night?’
‘Well, a bit, but it’s okay!’
‘I already have … bad memories.’
‘Seriously, it’s not a problem. We’ll have an awesome time at the formal anyway.’
I said, ‘Yeah.’
And I meant it.
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