I walked into the bar without much expectation, just as I had so often that semester — the first half of which had been speckled by moods that ranged from “sad” to “hopeless” to “sad and also pretty hopeless to the point I’m guzzling Mad Dog on a Tuesday afternoon,” all painted over a frame built of unrelenting celibacy.
Lofty mating expectations were particularly unreasonable for me on this night, dressed as I was: a human American flag with exposed white thighs and a poor excuse for a mustache. I expected nothing more than a serious binge that would see me heading home to finish a few episodes of Friday Night Lights before knocking out one more big gulp of scotch, so that I could fall into a fitful sleep where my last thoughts were self-pitying ones.
It was my first experience with real heartbreak, and afterward my confidence rivaled that of a flat-chested freshman at her first high school pool party. I spent much of the semester drinking in the dark, listening to Bright Eyes and cowering from any hint of romantic interaction.
By mid-October, I had still not gotten over the break-up. It was during this time that I found out my now ex-girlfriend had cheated on me in the middle of our relationship. With a semi-famous Miami-based tattoo artist. (Fuck spring break, amirite?)
If you’ve never experienced what it feels like to suddenly become aware that some other man has been inside your girlfriend and you didn’t know it until half a year later, after you’d spent at least thirty seconds at a time on dozens of occasions doing the same, well, then I hope you never do. Because it really fucking sucks.
So I ended up leaving the house in a royal blue track jacket with a white V-neck underneath, a white bandana wrapped Rambo-style around my head, and crew socks. The sexiest part of the outfit was a pair of red shorts that I affectionately refer to as The Plum Smugglers. (Had my father passed unto me anything more than a medium length jawn, a wardrobe malfunction would have been imminent.)
On our way downtown, Kev and I broke into a light jog, taking turns handing off a ShakeWeight we hoped would resemble a relay baton. Fellow revelers gleefully greeted us with fist bumps and Forrest Gump references. I tried to affect a similar level of enthusiasm, but most of my thoughts were, disappointingly, about my ex-girlfriend. One friend joked that she was probably dressed as Kat Von D, and I laughed, trying to seem unfazed, while inwardly I was banging my head on a wall and repeatedly screaming things that the lead singer of Staind probably often says aloud.
It was Chelsea, a pretty girl I’d met briefly at a party earlier in the year. That time, we’d spoken only for a few moments, probably because I had plans to go home soon to my bedroom, so that I could cry in bed while watching speeches from romantic films on YouTube.
Eventually (because liquor) I forgot that the lower half of my body was even more exposed than hers. And pretty soon after (because liquor), I forgot that I was still reeling from my first cuckolding. I quit thinking entirely, really (because liquor); I’d even absentmindedly put one of my old-school Nikes up on a chair and was rocking back and forth as I spoke with her, like I was Captain Morgan in the Olympic Village.
She didn’t leave my side for any of the other guys at the bar — which a woman of her caliber could have easily done — and an old friend, Optimism, poked its head around the corner and gave me a head nod. My confidence was building. I head-nodded back.
Who knew? Maybe I’d get Chelsea’s number at the end of the night. I’d start texting and researching on Facebook until I knew every single thing about her, and then I’d ask her to spend time with me again in person.
Sometime around midnight, one of the girls vomited in the middle of the bar and my brother started barking in a made-up language that sounded like the one we’d used as children to make pretend communication between our stuffed animals. It was time to leave. We headed toward my apartment to post-game.
We traipsed up Chelsea’s stairwell and into her apartment, where she introduced me to her roommates and then whisked me away to her room where we commenced a heavy make-out session. My main concern was that a recent lack of use would reflect poorly on my longevity. I did not want to embarrass myself with a six-pump dump.
But because I’d had no place to put it, I’d left that all-important leather rectangle and its — at the moment — most vital component at my home. I’d taken out my debit card and driver’s license and stuffed them into my socks.
I dressed and sprinted down the eight flights and outside to the bodega next to her apartment. It was closed, but I was not to be denied. I began running down one of Penn State’s main streets in the direction of an all-night convenience store I knew was only six blocks away.
The cashier pointed to a sign indicating I had to meet a $10 limit to use the plastic. I guess I could’ve purchased some lube, or maybe a Gatorade, but tunnel vision led me straight back to the rubber rack, where I snagged three more three-bangers.
I was taking too long, I thought as I checked out. Chelsea would probably be asleep when I returned and fail to buzz me in. Or she would allow me in for a passionate cuddling session, at best. Eventually, she would fall asleep and I would retreat to her bathroom where I would weep, snap one off, or both simultaneously.
What was I going to do? Bring them back and explain what had happened? Chelsea might find it vaguely romantic, but she might also assume I was being overzealous — that I was planning some sort of sexual marathon. (See what I did there? You know, because of my costume?)
I was ready to toss most of them in a trashcan when I saw a Fireman with a Flo from the Progressive Insurance Ads. I handed the guy a box and muttered something about points for safety. I handed another to a Spider-Man (“for web-slinging!”) and one to a UPS Man (“special delivery!”) before I finally arrived at Chelsea’s.
When we were done — after more than six pumps (because liquor) — I went to the restroom, looked at myself in the mirror, and thought briefly about high-fiving my reflection. Then I returned to the bedroom, where I grabbed my phone out of my sock to check it before snuggling up next to Chelsea.
A friend was back at my place, very drunk and very sad, with a broken heart he’d sustained more recently than I’d sustained mine. He’d called and texted a few times, wanting one of our empathetic late-night balcony conversations to help set his mind right.
On the way, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the floor-to-ceiling windows of a Bank of America. I slowed and realized that, for one night at least, I’d left myself behind. I’d become someone else — someone who wasn’t sad, who won more than he lost, and had a mustache and short shorts and hairy white legs.