The problem, she reckoned, was not her taste. It was everyone else’s lack thereof. They were still hopelessly caught up in the pre-twenty-five phase of their twenties despite all of them being twenty-five and up. She was the last to “turn,” celebrating the further spiral into adulthood at this very moment with Jell-O shots prepared by Anna, a friend who worked at an investment bank and had only seemed to become more alchoholically unruly the higher her pay grade became. And though their friend crew had been rent of late by “real jobs” that required avoiding the nightly fun they once had (now mostly relegated to Fridays and Saturdays, speaking to the lily-livered yuppies they had transcended into), they made an exception to fête Amelia on her actual birthday, which took place on a Wednesday.
She had selected a new bar/club that was just remote enough to be “edgy” but just close enough to not give anyone an excuse to back out. Before heading there, they had all come to Anna’s (who lived closest to the destination and had the nicest apartment) first to pregame. Amelia had come much earlier than the others in order to change into a form-fitting black velvet dress with a plunging neck and backline. It was from Zara–no more Forever 21 now that she was a grown up. When she emerged from Anna’s spare room, Anna practically spilled all the Pop Rocks she was dispensing into the Jell-O shots in shock.
“Too much?” Amelia asked innocently.
“I mean, it’s great. It’s just not really, um, characteristic for you. And I don’t think anyone at this club is going to be dressed quite…like that.”
Amelia shrugged. “Whatever, it’s my birthday. I have an excuse.”
Anna crouched on the floor to gather the Pop Rocks she had dropped into her hand and throw them in the trash. Amelia stopped her just as she was about to let them fall into the bin. “No, wait. You should give those to Chris. Make him a special Jell-O shot with floor Pop Rocks.”
Chris was, for some reason, the best friend of Amelia’s boyfriend, Benedict. Seemingly sweet, delightfully doughy Benedict. Amelia had barely been going out with him for more than three months but it was already the most intense relationship she had ever known. That’s what happens when you’re in your twenties: everything, perhaps, is felt with far greater intensity than what more jaded and objective older parties might experience. Amelia was still much too naive to know that, and fell face first down the rabbit hole of her zeal for Benedict.
They met as a result of the incestuousness of the neighborhood, though she wasn’t aware of how good of friends he was with Chris until it was too late. Not only had she once before been so out of her mind drunk that she actually went home with him only to awaken with his used condom on her face as she rolled over to find him with his ass out snoring and farting at the same time, but she also generally despised him even apart from that incident. They kept it civil with one another only because they shared so many mutual friends, yet for some reason, Amelia had never seen him with Benedict. Maybe it had all just been so well-timed for her to constantly evade witnessing them in the same setting. Which was strange, but then, so is life.
As she grew closer to Benedict at a rapid pace, he was eager to introduce her to Chris, who she feigned only casually knowing for the sake of politeness, but also because she was genuinely ashamed that she had ever allowed someone so grotesque entry into her body. Not that she wouldn’t later think Benedict was just as grotesque after he broke up with her. But that was far away from now, this night. Just as she had to tell herself Chris’ proximity to her would be throughout the evening. She would be careful to remain at a distance, for he could waffle between rage and being purely annoying in his only two unfavorable states of drunkenness. Even a sad drunk is more bearable than a belligerent or vexing one.
As Anna placed the Jell-O shots into the freezer, she turned around to ask, “Is Benedict coming soon?”
“I hope so. I told him to pick up the cake at Carvel.”
Anna shook her head. “I think it’s so funny you still keep that place in business every year by buying a cake from them.”
In faux outrage, she returned, “They don’t need my business, Carvel is an institution. Maybe you would know that if you weren’t an East Coast poseur.”
Anna removed a bottle of vodka from the freezer as she was putting away the shots and poured it into two of the chilled old-fashioned glasses from the side pocket shelf. She added two giant cubes of ice into each glass and offered one to Amelia.
She took it reluctantly and said, “No chaser?”
Anna eyed her skeptically and responded, “Oh come on, you’re still young. You can take it.”
Looking back on that moment, Amelia had to wonder if Anna was being deliberate in sending her on a doomed mission of getting through the evening with any modicum of dignity. If throughout their entire friendship, there had been just a tinge of antagonism. She didn’t want to dwell on that thought too much as she grappled with the results of that evening the following morning.
As she glanced at herself in the full-length mirror in Anna’s living room, a knock at the door came from Benedict. Anna opened it as Amelia tried to act aloof by putting on more lipstick, but her cool vanished as soon as she saw a frazzled Benedict enter the room with a smushed Carvel box, opening with, “Amelia I’m so sorry, it wasn’t my fault. Someone bodychecked me while I was on the subway and I had to use the cake as padding.”
Amelia looked from the pathetic crumble of what was left of her cake to the even more pathetic expression on Benedict’s pouting face. She couldn’t be mad at him, and maybe having a cake was puerile at this juncture, a sign from the gods that she ought to give up the ghost of youth and all its entailments of fun as linked to sugary confections. So instead of berating him, she simply caressed his cheek, pecked him on the lips and said, “It’s fine. Carvel is juvenile anyway. Fate is clearly pushing me to grow up.”
Benedict grinned at her and mused, “That’s what I love about you, you’re so understanding. You never lose your temper.” He gave her a squeeze and then went toward the kitchen to fix himself a drink as though nothing had happened. Those words seemed to foreshadow a challenge from the universe that night, one that would goad and dare Amelia to not lose her cool. It appeared she was put to the test the moment Chris flounced in wearing a turban and a cape, announcing he had dressed so flamboyantly in honor of the “birthday whore.” It was a pre-#MeToo era, a time that can’t be stressed enough for getting across just how much little assholes like Chris got away with saying “offhanded comments” like that. Thus, Amelia, Anna and soon, Lorraine, who had gone to college with the former two, all took his epithet with a grain of salt. Plus, the female energy was soon outnumbered by the appearance of Amelia’s friend, Brendan (a surprisingly butch gay man who didn’t even like early 00s Britney), and Anna’s two European cohorts, Sven and Slade. It was unclear which one she was fucking this week, or if she had finally decided to have both at once.
Her assertive sexual aura was an overt turn-on to Benedict, who seemed increasingly dissatisfied with Amelia’s prudishness despite pretending to exude a cavalier and open approach to sex. It had come up more frequently than she had wanted it to of late, with him making suggestions like letting him use her vibrator to get her off. She was already embarrassed enough as it was that he had found her vibrator in the first place.
She choked these thoughts away by choking down the alcohol to the tune of Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful.” The song had just come out and she put it on to ironically get the party started. Chris made a standard-issue retard response to Del Rey asking, “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?” answering her, “Na bitch, I’ll have moved on to someone who’s not old and ugly.” His “humor” made her bristle, not aware of just how much turning twenty-five was affecting her. For it felt like the first irrevocable milestone, the kind that couldn’t be brushed aside, like turning ten or sixteen. And it wasn’t a “joyful” sort of occasion, like eighteen or twenty-one. No, this was the signal of nothing but a lifetime of unwanted milestones: thirty and then forty and then dead with nothing to show for it but an ornate casket if you were lucky enough to be rich or, that increasingly mythological thing: middle class. Yet it wasn’t something she felt she could speak to any of her friends about. She realized the foundation of their entire dynamic was based on drinking and the alleged feeling of superiority that was supposed to come with “making it” in New York. Though the definition of that was something very different from a once romanticized notion of being recognized as an artist there, having instead mutated into being a recognized as a neo-bourgeois with a soul-sucking enough job to afford the rent.
Amelia could still remember the time, three years ago, when she thought she might actually pursue her dream of being a visual artist once school was over, tackling political issues through her beloved collages. The enthusiasm she had for collecting old magazines from the thrift shop or the sidewalks quickly gave way to an enthusiasm for a regular drinking schedule–wanting to keep up with her friends so she could still relate to them by relating to not being able to remember anything from the previous night.
She thought the introduction of Benedict into her life might change all that, for he gave the impression of what her father would call “having a good head on his shoulders.” It might have been a good head, but it wasn’t a very smart one, for he would often get so drunk in front of her he would freely start flirting with other women–whether mere nearby civilian vages, bartenders or service people of any kind, really. She chose to ignore his behavior by drinking more. The more you drink, the less you think.
This mantra settled into her brain as she sunk into the corner of a booth at the bar/club she had stupidly chosen for her birthday when she ought to have just stayed inside and willfully ignored the day. She could feel herself slipping toward unconsciousness, and knew that her state wouldn’t necessarily conjure the help of her friends or her boyfriend. It was a selfish generation, after all. All of the sudden, like the ominous apparition he was, Chris materialized. Hovering above her, perched like a stooge in the vein of Iago on Jafar’s shoulder, he smacked away at his chewing gum. Though she was mired in a drunken stupor, she could still intuit what was about to happen. She couldn’t say if it took five seconds or five minutes, but soon enough, the gum fell from his slobbery mouth and onto her brand new dress. He looked at it and laughed as she tried to pull it off with her languid motions. The gum, meanwhile, only spread further.
In the morning, she woke up next to the garbage cans outside of her apartment. She supposed she didn’t have the strength to make it inside or bother with finding her keys. In fact, where was her clutch bag? Oh Christ, she thought. This is not how twenty-five is supposed to look, she knew, as she floated up out of her body and saw the grim portrait before her: makeup smeared, gum clots scattered like cum stains all over her dress, dirt marks on her skin. She would be better off alone, without “friends” or a “significant” other. At least she wouldn’t be compelled to think anyone might take care of her in her current condition. She could instead harden her heart and do it herself as adults did. Or at least, adults of the past. The kind you saw in 70s movies (minus Theresa Dunn in Looking for Mr. Goodbar).
She had buzzed the intercom enough times to get inside. Before she crawled into her bed, she did the responsible thing and cancelled all her credit cards (thank god she was an innovator in believing in a cashless society). Then, in a moment of near sobriety, she put the dress in the freezer, as the internet had instructed her to do in order to remove gum from clothing, forgetting to take it out until she left the apartment roughly five months later ahead of their lease expiring (for she and her roommates couldn’t stand to live with one another any longer, as things often reach a crescendo that dramatically in matters of New York City real estate).
Increasingly, she saw less and less of those friends that demarcated the nature of her early twenties: unfocused, emotionally detached and largely phantasmal. Benedict cutting their tie was the last thread remotely keeping her affixed to the strange period called before twenty-five. And now it had floated away as gracelessly as she and her erstwhile group had floated into one another’s lives.