19

A pile of friends convinced me to rent a hotel for my nineteenth birthday. The idea being to get bombed on cheap beer. None of us had apartments so our options were basements or rented spaces. The clerk charged sixty bucks and asked if I was in town for the hockey game. Told him sure was. Felt no need to hint I was planning a party. That was for later. He handed the key and I went to my room. Nothing special but fit for the occasion. I still had time to kill so crashed on the bed to cartoons and pizza. The sheets smelled of sweat. Not a bad start to nineteen.

I’d lost my phone just days before. Inhaled anxiety over not having it. My first girlfriend and I split a few weeks earlier and I hoped she’d call me. With no phone I had no way to know if she’d reconcile or at least reach out for my birthday. The chances seemed slim but an error in my brain told me it might happen. So I went to the Verizon store for a new one. They said it was $150 to replace the phone now or fifty if I waited. I dropped $150 on a rubbery piece of shit. Couldn’t miss the call I felt so sure was coming.

I thought contact from my ex might mean something. That she still loved me. That the pain would leave my body. No more obsessive focus on my own misery. A closed loop I couldn’t escape. But she’d lost her virginity to her new boyfriend the week before. I learned this in a text that rocked me. She’d sent it so I’d know how over we were. That there was no more us. Just a her and an I. The inseparable now separated.

Still, I thought my birthday might fix it all. A date on the calendar acting as magic. One that could rekindle the embers of better times. So I headed back to the hotel with a $150 hunk of rubber. Gripped it to catch the buzz of a call or text. One or the other had to be coming.

Come early evening my friends poured in. These were the guys I’d been close with in high school. Now they all attended college. I was the only one taking a year off. Lost in more ways than one. I hadn’t applied to schools as I didn’t know what path to go down. I felt like a hydra scanning fifty futures. Possessed no passion that could be converted to a paycheck. A sense of purpose. I’d never thought much about growing old. Always assumed I’d stumble along then kill myself.

I spent that first year after graduation seeing this girl, watching Family Guy, and working at a gas station. Within three months I burnt out on the lazy life. Listless and bored. By the time my birthday arrived I was ready to jump back to school. To structure. I felt so lost from boredom and the breakup. I still had no clue what to do with myself but that didn’t matter. College implied four years of dodging choices. In this I could always count on my brain to do one thing: skirt responsibility.

My friends brought beer. Cheap foam soaked in alcohol. I can’t recall who all was there but I think it was four guys and two girlfriends. They drifted in and out, the parking lot an extension of our party room. For energy we played music and bullshitted. Watched more cartoons. But there was a throttle on the fun. Everyone knew I’d just had a breakup. Still, none understood how fucked up I was.

For weeks I suffocated under an avalanche of pain. Did all I could to keep it to myself. Slapped on a veneer and performed as normal. But friends knew I was off. Normal goofy Nolan replaced by a comatose kid. I stopped eating. Started staying in bed. Grew thin and turned pale. When I got up I did my best. Slapped on the veneer. But I couldn’t escape my brain. Now it was my idea to drink. I wanted to get wasted so I could exit my head.

Someone ripped the case and slung Natty to all. I cracked a can and started guzzling. Soaked skull meat with booze. It caved barriers both good and bad. Now I felt something unfamiliar: the absence of pain. Thoughts of her came and went but at least there was relief. I focused on the fun in the room. The present moment. For once my brain stepped out of the past. But the dam didn’t hold. She flooded my mind once more.

I tamped the new wave with more cans of swill. It wasn’t long before I was falling all over. I’d try walk but legs wanted to go sideways. It turned to routine. I’d tip then be righted by helping hands. Every time I went down I could feel the phone in my pocket. Waiting for it to buzz. Sad that it didn’t.

As booze shot through I felt more open. Like I could vocalize the internal. So I started babbling about the girl. My friend’s girlfriend said maybe she’d come back to me. I told her that wouldn’t happen as she’d banged a new guy. That knowledge brought pain even though part of why we broke up was my being too scared to fuck her. I was inexperienced and shy. Liked our physicality but stopped short. Thoughts of taking things further filled me with anxiety. My body wanted to but brain couldn’t.

I wanted out of the relationship before we broke up. She was my first true girlfriend but our spark dimmed. Started feeling awkward. We’d already split once. This was the redo. Despite these thoughts I was too timid to end it. But when she made the decision for me I despised her. Felt I’d been wronged and stuck with that story. Being blameless made it easy to feel sorry for myself. I didn’t want to be with her. But not being with her I wanted even less.

I rambled about her fucking her new man then fell into a wall. Collapsed to the floor. I wanted her but at the same time hated her. Felt angry for everything she’d done. Pain she’d put me through. Telling me this new man was just a friend. Fucking him the second we ended. Cutting me from her life like nothing. Through all that I was angry at myself for being an inattentive boyfriend. Not giving her what she needed. Not accepting it was over.
These feelings were unlike any I’d ever felt. I didn’t have the tools to process that which overtook me. I felt so unwanted. She had someone and I didn’t. Moved on as I fell further. Cheap beer wasn’t helping. Just slamming bad thoughts to the forefront. I couldn’t escape my brain no matter how I hoped to ignore it.

We wound up outside in the hotel parking lot. A friend was so hammered he got in his car and started blaring its horn. A few weeks before my own car had blown up. Now I was driving a piece of shit called The Sweetmobile. The Sweetmobile was an ’89 Chevy Celebrity that I scored for $300. I decided to destroy it the day I bought it. Applied spraypaint and baseball bats. Glued a plunger to the hood. In short it was a rolling shitshow.

At the hotel on my birthday I attacked it once more. Banged out every ounce of frustration. I jumped on the roof. Honked the horn like a dipshit. Kicked the doors as hard as I could. It was drunken fun. The physical release a rare moment of mental relief. Two friends joined me. We jumped on the hood like a trampoline. Shouted and laughed our asses off.

Back in the room a hotel clerk came ’round and said there’d been noise complaints. The police would be called if there was another. I don’t know how we didn’t see that coming. We’d acted like animals. None were of age so the party cleared quick. Beer cans lay scattered across the room. I was scared the police might see these but felt too wasted to pick them up. All but one friend left. The day now down to embers. My first night of nineteen.

The last friend and and I lay in the dark speaking in hushed tones. Still drunk but a real conversation. One where you touch on the subtext of life. We were young and figuring things out. Sprouting curiosity for that beyond us.

We both came up in rural North Dakota. Still lived there but now trotted to early adulthood. Our worlds expanding. Lives branching. I knew I was stuck in a mental cage. Tried to tell myself there was more to life than my present situation. A fresh breath waited for me in the future. I understood it but still felt how I felt. My brain an unbeatable demon.

We dug as deep as drunk youth are able. Still, we didn’t discuss my broken heart. As I sobered up it was once more a topic I couldn’t touch. The pain rebottled in my chest. Soaked to my bones. Poison waiting to shoot back to my brain. Once alone it would reenter. The two of us spoke ’til he fell asleep. I lay awake. Head against the rubber phone. Waiting for a buzz that’d never come.


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