It was 2 PM in an antique shop in some trendy sub-sect of Alexandria. I was lost somewhere between thinking about shower sex in a public dorm bathroom and trying to decide whether to buy an antique opal bracelet with a worn, silver, clothespin hinge.
I walked through and around ornate baroque-style tables, stacks of vintage Time magazines, oversized gumball machines, and two small Chow Chow puppies that belonged to the store’s owner. In one hand I was holding a lukewarm chai latte and in the other hand I held a brushed brass birdcage that I was told was made in the garage of a 56-year-old man in Salt Lake City, Utah on March 3, 1942—a day that was not distinct to him for any particular reason, other than the fact that he made a birdcage for his small blue and green parakeet. He named this parakeet Jesse. He liked his animals to have human names and custom homes. I wanted to fill the birdcage with paper cranes. I thought that would be a thing to do since I can’t be trusted with the fragility of living creatures. Walking through the antique store felt like walking through a museum filled with trivial items from trivial people. It somehow felt more sacred. The unknown origins of the items were making me anxious. Everything smelled old and I felt like I was ruining it. I wafted Axe body wash whenever I walked too quickly.
I thought about earlier that morning. I remembered my body bent over in a communal shower being fucked by a stranger.
I wanted to be someone else. I had about $40 left in my bank account and I wanted to spend it all on other people’s stuff. On the back of a shelf behind a bowl of rusting rings that reeked of failed promises I saw a black opal bracelet. I imagined that I had events to go to that required a black tie date and a black opal bracelet—something nice and respectable. Where I could drink champagne from a glass that was made to drink champagne out of instead of guzzling down forties in an attempt to keep up with guys that were playing “Edward Forty-hands.”
Earlier that morning I had woken up, night-wrecked and cold, jammed up against a vaguely familiar body with the vaguely familiar bulge digging into my spine. My hair was matted into a double constrictor knot like pocket jammed headphones and last night’s mascara was becoming this morning’s eye infection. Ever since I had broken up with my boyfriend I had been waking up in strange places. I turned my head toward the almost stranger and expected to see a familiar face.
When is the appropriate time to tell someone that you could never love them? I thought of a line from a Maoist text: “With company they grow easily, when they grow together they will be comfortable.”
Breathing into myself, my breath tasted like stale smoke, semen, and undetermined alcoholic substances. I rubbed my tongue across my teeth; goldfish to an anemone. All I wanted was a toothbrush and a chai latte. Maybe some eye drops. I wondered if I had any important e-mails.
Rolling over gently in the bed of an almost stranger, trying to find my clothes without making too much noise, the alarm on my iPhone went off. It was 8 AM apparently. It was 8 AM and my alarm was going off, the almost stranger was waking up, I had almost recovered all of my clothes, and all I wanted to do was finish off the morning sleeping alone in my own bed.
Before I could shut off my alarm the almost stranger turned to me and pulled me back into the mass of sheets and evaporated sweat. He rolled over to plank on top of my body. Laying stiff, I thought that I could somehow make him think that I had fallen back asleep or that I had been sleepwalking and was never actually awake.
The almost stranger kissed me on my lips. I tried not to visibly cringe as to keep up the illusion that I was asleep. The almost stranger kept mashing his lips against my unresponsive mouth, prodding them with his tongue. He took his vaguely familiar hands to the tops of my shoulders, moved them down against my arms, and pushed his fingers in between mine like he was about to hold my hand. Instead of holding my hand he pulled my fingers toward his vaguely familiar crotch and expected me to do something. For a moment I thought that if I just pretended that I was asleep for a little bit longer this would eventually have to stop happening to me.
I wanted to be someone else. “I have no idea what I am doing with my life any more,” I thought, under the weight of a stranger. Uncertainty and flux are often mistaken for progress. Panicking, as I realized the true length of minutes and the failure of my “just play dead” strategy, I flung my mascara-crusted eyes open and started to move my hands around the general area of the almost stranger’s crotch. Somewhere in my brain it registered as rude for me to just get up and leave. The almost stranger, still planking on top of me, buried his head between my neck and my shoulder blade.
“Do you want to have shower sex?” he asked.
“Can I just check my e-mail first?”
I checked my Gmail inbox on my iPhone. I had five Facebook notifications and spam messages from automated subscriptions that I couldn’t remember signing up for.
“Okay. Let’s go.”
The almost stranger handed me a towel that looked slightly used. I opened the door and walked barefoot down the hall that led to the communal showers. The almost stranger followed behind me, directing me to the bathroom.
“Turn left here”
The bathroom was empty. We undressed silently, hanging our clothes and our towels onto the shower rod when we finished. The almost stranger pulled me into the shower and turned on the water. “Cold…” I mumbled. The almost stranger attempted to initiate physical contact. “He wants me to do something… it’s too cold…” I thought.
“Can you turn up the hot water more?”
“Oh yeah. Sorry.”
The almost stranger pressed me up against the beige tiled wall of the frat house bathroom, with my head pulled back at the optimal angle to have Head and Shoulders 2-n-1 shampoo and conditioner streaming into my eyes and running down into my open mouth. I could feel my skin pulling at the constant quiet weight of hot water. I could feel my skin expanding from the release of sticky sweat. I could feel my brain expanding as it filled with tiny thoughts and big thoughts and as the tiny thoughts and the big thoughts fought each other like lightweight boxers for space and attention until they were reduced to just dull buzzing shower noise. Suddenly I wanted to scream out “THINGS WILL GET BETTER WITH TIME ALL THINGS HEAL” when I orgasmed but, I thought, I probably wouldn’t have an orgasm. Maybe, I thought, as I was being fucked from behind, that could become my mantra. I could at least mutter it under my breath or sing it to the tune of Happy Birthday so that way people would always think that I was happy and growing. On the other side of the shower curtain oversized frat guys, semi-permanently clothed in pastel colored shorts were audibly pissing. The layered symphony of piss and rhythmic fucking played back in my mind.
The almost stranger walked me back to my dorm room. On the way back, we stopped in a gazebo that was located next to the campus’s wildflower preservation. The almost stranger packed a bowl and we smoked together under the gazebo, surrounded by native wildflowers.