Finally, finally we are leaving this bar. I’m done with this birthday party and done with my glasses, which lie crunched on the pavement. I feel like I should be done with a third thing, but no, just the glasses and that super lame party. I squeeze Calvin’s hand to reassure him that I’m not done with him, and stride confidently forward as if I can still see.
Calvin follows me stumbling, and he’s not laughing even though I’m laughing. When I stop moving, because I’ve come to the corner and have to decide which direction to go, he almost runs into me and swears, sounding a lot more stressed than I feel. When I turn to look at him, his eyebrows look like they’re a crowd trying to do the wave in a sports stadium.
“Jesus christ. What facial expression are you trying to make? You’re going to sprain your forehead.”
Calvin holds his hands up in a placating gesture. “Okay, don’t take this the wrong way, but I need to go home now because I’ve never been alone with you when you’re belligerent and it’s terrifying.”
“I can’t let you go home, because I can’t see. No glasses, remember?”
“That’s your own fault,” Calvin says, but he lets me grab him and push him up against the post of the traffic light, the back of his head thunking against a flyer advertising some band’s concert two weeks ago.
“I hate that you’re married! You should stop being married.” Not that I’ve really considered Calvin as a possible love interest for me until, oh, right about now. He squirms in my grip.
“Ha ha, very funny.”
“Oh, wait, I’m thinking of–who’s your friend that just got married? Whatever, my point is, I need to be more open-minded about short men.”
Calvin scowls up at me. “I’m not short, you’re just a giantess, and did I mention how freaky it is when you act like this? Just–look, seriously, I want to go home and sleep.”
His words kill the buoyant mood that had propelled me out of the bar and onto the sidewalk. I am crestfallen. Calvin’s desire for a good night’s rest is the worst thing that has ever happened to me.
I let go of him and step back, only swaying slightly. “You suck,” I tell him, feeling seven years old.
Calvin sighs, his eyebrows settling into one sad, scrunchy line. “Jess, come on… can’t I call you a cab?”
“No,” I say, and then I turn so that I’m facing the street, the rest of the world, and say it again louder. “No!” I declare to the neighborhood and to the city. I pick a direction and start walking, picking my way in the gutter next to the curb, everything I see a blur.
Calvin’s right: I am a giantess. Over seven feet tall with shoulders broad as a toddler’s height. No wonder I inspire some terror when I get drunk and happy (I’m not being belligerent though, really, it’s just that Calvin’s a weenie).
I walk and I keep walking. Soon I’ve left Calvin and the bar far behind me, and I have transitioned into a different part of the city, more residential and quiet then the area I came from. I have always enjoyed the way my conscious mind drifts softly away when I reach a certain point of inebriation; it’s just one foot in front of each other, and I don’t have to analyze each step, my thoughts don’t work to distract me from contemplating the distance I have left to travel. Each stride just exists and then ends.
This is the most I’ve attempted to travel without glasses in years, but my current state of mind is such that I can’t be scared. Who needs eyesight when you can navigate using the powers of your own delusional overconfidence?
The neighborhood transitions around me again with the appearance of more convenience stores and laundromats, and then I reach a wide street featuring car dealerships and pawn shops. I’m interested in leaving this part of town as soon as I enter it, and I turn down a street which I hope will eventually take me back to the hip disheveled neighborhoods near the university, where I live.
Crossing the street, a car almost hits me. It seems like it came out of nowhere, but it’s not like I can see so how would I know? The brakes squeal as it swerves, and I watch its bulk sway back and forth before the driver creakily parks, practically running his bumper into the curb. Urgency hums in the air as the car door opens and the driver tumbles out, whipping his head around to gawk at me. I realize that he thinks that he hit me, even though it didn’t seem to be a particularly near miss.
“Jesus Christ,” he says, his voice covering several octaves in just two words. “Are you okay?”
He totters closer, and I can see the moment when he realizes how huge I really am. Men that meet me either try to make themselves shrink or make themselves grow, and he is a shrinker, his shoulders hunching down and his head inclining slightly, making himself appear as small as possible in my presence. “This street is so–there aren’t any lights, it’s terrible, I didn’t see you,” he says, as if anything could be said to disguise the fact that he almost hit me because he is just as drunk as I am. This man shouldn’t be driving.
“I’m hard to miss,” I say. I’m not angry nor particularly interested in making this man feel worse. It’s just the truth. I’m too big to blend into the background. I’d make a terrible spy.
The man looks around, as if only just now realizing that he’s come across a girl walking alone after midnight in the middle of a less-than-stellar urban neighborhood, and regardless of how tall the girl is, that’s not something that should be going on. “You’re just here by yourself? Do you need a ride somewhere, or um, I could call someone for you?”
“That’s–so nice of you,” I say, even though I’m not sure that asking a drunk girl you’ve just met in the middle of the night to get into your car is nice as much as it is suspicious. “But no. I’m fine.”
I turn around, and start walking back the way I came. He calls after me, and then there’s the sound of his knees hitting the ground, and a nonverbal noise that I don’t understand. When I glance over my shoulder, I see him kneeling and sobbing into one hand, his other hand pressed to the road–his fingers are splayed, like he’s trying to dig into the asphalt.
I am mortified for both of us, foolish wrecks that we are. This man disgusts me and I don’t want to be a witness to what is probably one of the more pathetic moments in an overall pathetic life, but I seem to have stopped. Why am I no longer walking? Am I going to kneel down next to this man, pat his shoulder, tell him everything will be all right? Am I going to try to find a cell phone on his person and call both of us a cab?
I go back to him and kneel down to his level. I expect him to push me away, but he lets me put my arm around him, my hand fitting in his hot armpit and lifting, helping him stand up and coaxing him back to his car. His features are blurry to me. I can identify in the jaundiced streetlamp light that he has shaggy, curly brown hair, but that’s it.
When I pour him into the backseat he clutches at my shirt, clinging and pulling me partway into the car. I have to brace myself with a hand on the seat to avoid falling on top of him. I feel a hot flash of annoyance, but it doesn’t seem like he’s trying to kiss me or cop a feel, he just didn’t want me to go.
“What are we doing here?” he asks me, plaintive and profound. Somehow the question makes me want to stay with him. Something suspiciously lump-like begins to form in my throat.
“I came from a party,” I tell him. “I didn’t like it so I walked away.”
“I came from a party too!” he says. “Everyone there was younger than me.”
I laugh. I don’t ask him how old he is because I’ve already decided that he’s my age or close enough–someone in their early thirties who still thinks of themselves as twenty-two. “A college party?”
“I don’t want to talk about it. It was just… I hated it.” His words get progressively more slurred and mumbly and his head lolls back so that now instead of his face, all I can see is his neck and the underside of his jaw. He is obviously seconds away from passing out.
“I’m sorry,” I tell him, even though I’m not particularly sorry or not-sorry. He lets out a deep sigh, giving me the faintest whiff of his bad breath, and makes a sound that is almost a word, perhaps ‘thank you.’ And then he is asleep.
I entertain the thought of climbing into his front seat and falling asleep myself. That would mean waking up with this man, and we would probably go get our hungover breakfasts together, marveling at our serendipitous encounter over diner coffee. Maybe the connection would be good for me. Maybe once I get new glasses and with them the ability to accurately see his face, I’d be attracted to this man. I could use a new acquaintance in my life, someone with whom I lack an interpersonal history, someone who doesn’t make me feel guilty and embarrassed for years of wrongdoing whenever I look at them.
But I’m not tired yet, and even if I were, I am too tall to ever comfortably fall asleep in a car seat. If I did manage to achieve unconsciousness, I would wake up with horrible cramps in every limb. Even as intoxicated as I am, the idea is too unappealing to seriously consider.
I leave him. I walk into a bush because I can’t see. I correct my path so that I am actually on the sidewalk and keep walking.
When the sky starts getting lighter I’m no longer drunk, and this stopped being fun a mile ago. My fingers feel fat and dry. I don’t believe I’ll ever see my own front door again until it is wonderfully in front of me, with my roommate slouched in one of the rickety chairs on our front porch, waiting. She sits up when she sees me.
“Did you just–where’s your car? Where are your glasses?”
I shrug. “Casualties.”
Amanda looks very concerned for my welfare. She stands up and takes my elbow, gives me a hand up the rotted-through wooden steps to the door. “Did you walk home from Katie’s thing? Holy crap, have you been walking the whole night?”
“Uh-huh.” When she touches me my whole body wants to sag forward, and my feet remember to hurt.
“Jess, this is the fourth time you’ve gotten drunk and wandered off in like, three weeks. It’s getting weird, not to mention dangerous.”
I turn and she’s so much shorter than me that I have to do some serious leaning in order to kiss her cheek and shove my nose into her hair. She uses the best-smelling shampoo on the planet, and I’m always looking for excuses to press my face against her head. “I don’t care,” I say.
“I know you don’t,” she says, and she sounds just like Calvin.
“You sound just like Calvin.”
“What does that–never mind. Come on, you should sleep.”
Amanda is concerned. Everyone’s concerned: not about the drinking, because all my friends are alcoholics, too, but the walking. The walking is new. And it scares people, to think of me trekking around with my thoughts so impaired. I think the height is part of it–she’s just so high off the ground, they think. What if she were to stumble and twist an ankle? She’d have so very far to fall.
Amanda shepherds me into my bedroom and onto the bed, and I want to ask her if she enjoys this, the taking care of me, if it’s part of why we’re friends. I’ve long suspected that she gets a thrill out of looking after someone who needs it so very badly.
“Your sheets could use changing,” she says as she guides me into my room, making a face at my unmade bed. The corner of my fitted sheet has been tugged loose so that it’s only half-covering the mattress beneath.
“No, they’re still clean, it’s just that my bed is full of stuff,” I say. A couple books, a few pairs of clean underwear and a flashlight are clustered in the center of the bed, and one of my pillows is at the foot, teetering and close to sliding off. I shove everything to the side, enough to make room for me to flop my body down. Amanda hovers, and I’m looking at blankets instead of her face, but I still know that she’s chewing her lip, one shoulder hunched slightly, wincing at me the way she does when she’s worried.
“I just don’t get what it is you’re trying to do,” she says. “The wandering. This whole mysterious-inscrutable-shit-show act.”
“Not an act,” I tell my dirty sheets.
“It is though. Don’t tell me you really expect me to take this at face value. I’ve known you too long for that.”
“I think I’m just bored. Acting out, you know, looking for attention or something.”
I hear Amanda suck in a breath through her teeth, and I’m not sure if she’s angry because she thinks I’m blowing her off or telling her the truth. She mutters “whatever” and leaves the room, clicking the door shut behind her.
I roll over onto my side and close my eyes, but my mind just circles around itself as I try to avoid making the nausea worse by moving. Eventually I must fall asleep though, because Amanda wakes me up, pushing my bedroom door open and telling me that, bizarrely, someone is calling her phone and asking for me.
“I think you lost your phone last night in addition to everything else,” she says, rolling her eyes at me as she hands hers over.
“No I fucking didn’t,” I mumble groggily, more certain of this than I’ve been about anything in the past 24 hours, which of course means that I’m wrong. I accept Amanda’s phone and it’s him, the guy who almost ran me over last night.
“Hey,” he says, and I can hear all of his nerves and embarrassment and uneasiness in his croak of a voice. “Is this–uh, I never got your name, but are you the girl I ran into last night?”
“The girl you almost ran over, you mean?”
“Jesus. I’m sorry. I don’t remember much, but I–your phone fell out of your pocket or something because I found it on the floor of my backseat.”
I sit up in bed, and Amanda is still in the doorway, waiting for some explanation which I’m not going to give her. Or maybe she’s just waiting for me to give her her phone back. “If it weren’t for me, you’d probably have woken up on the sidewalk instead of inside your car.”
He sighs, and the next words are muttered and hard to hear through the phone. “Yeah, I kind of figured that. Thanks. Did you get home okay and everything? I remember you were alone and you seemed kind of out of it, and it was really late and you were all by yourself.”
I laugh, and stand up and close the door in Amanda’s face. She slams her fist against it, but I can hear her footsteps moving away to her own calm and put-together corner of the house. “Yeah, it was real dangerous for me to take a walk at night by myself like that. Someone might have hit me their car or something.”
For a long time he doesn’t say anything. Then, “What’s your address? I can come drop off your phone.”
“You’re a stranger, I’m not giving you my address.”
“Fine then, you want me to drop it off somewhere else? Like I don’t know, under a park bench or something, and you can come pick it up?”
“You shouldn’t drink and drive.”
I expect him to go quiet again, or maybe just hang up on me, but instead he laughs, and it’s a sound that lets me know that he tells himself the same thing every morning and has been for years. “You’re right. But I won’t stop.”
I want this man to tell me things about his life, and through his openness I will be given understanding of my own strange decisions. I want him to point me towards the epiphany that I’ve been walking all over town to try and find.
But all he says is, “Because it’s easy. Look, will you just tell me how to give you your phone back? I haven’t even been home yet and I’ve got shit to do today,” and I want to cry. I lean my forehead against my bedroom door and try to keep it together.
“Do you ever have something happen to you that’s so strange, so surreal and full of coincidence that you feel like it has to mean more than it actually does?”
This man sighs again, and I know how badly he wants to be done with this conversation, he just told me so, but his voice is slightly more sympathetic when he answers. “Yeah. I feel that way all the time.”
I wipe at my eyes, even though I’m not actually crying. I just wish I was. “You can drop my phone at 1104 West Abalone Avenue. There’s a mailbox out front, just leave it in there.”
“Okay. I’ll come by in a few minutes.”
“Great. You can hang up now, if you want. It’s okay that you’re not into helping a stranger through her existential crisis.”
He laughs at that. “Why don’t you save my number, and if you still feel like you need a random alcoholic’s thoughts about life and addiction tomorrow, we can talk then.”
“What name should I save it under?”
“Save it under ‘asshole who almost hit me.’ Or ‘asshole that I’d never want to talk to again if I actually got to know him.’”
I hang up, and find Amanda to give her back her phone. I can’t stop smiling, and I can’t explain why when she asks me what I’m so happy about. It’s just that something happened in my life, something strange and kind of stupid and ultimately meaningless, but something that is more interesting to me than any of my friends have been for months. Something has happened, and it lets me imagine that maybe all of my walking has actually been leading me somewhere.
I go back to my room, shove all of the detritus on my bed onto the floor, and pull off the old sheets. I consider putting away all the things on my floor making the bed with fresh sheets, but that seems like more industriousness than I’m capable of at the moment, or possibly ever. Instead I leave the mattress bare and go outside to wait for my nameless drunk-driving acquaintance on the porch. I sit in the same uncomfortable chair that Amanda was using when I got home this morning, and spend some time considering the new friendship I will hopefully be making when this man arrives. Will he turn out to be someone interestingly tragic, or simply pathetic? Either way: I will get my phone back and then I will add him to my life.
Cléa Major is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and currently resides in Carrboro, NC. She is originally from Salt Lake City, Utah. She loves cats, television, and Beyoncé’s latest album.
© 2014, Cléa Major