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g r a v e l
A L I T E R A R Y J O U R N A L
The Genesis of Hangover
In the beginning there was me. A naïve freshman girl, shy and timid, boyfriendless, blissfully alone. Everybody’s good friend. A people-pleaser — a helper of friends in need, a pamperer, a lavisher with presents and attention, a party-goer. A perfect drinking buddy. His good old drinking buddy friend.
Because then there was he. A promising alcoholic-to-be, brilliant, tall and green-eyed. I always liked the extremes. He was the smartest of all my classmates, and nothing in the world is sexier than a narcissistic insecure man who is much more intelligent than anybody. A friendship started on the twelfth day of our freshman year at Moscow State and lasted forever: the glorious time of feverish study sessions in the library, hangman competitions, and decadent beer-drinking contests to the accompaniment of Rhapsody in Blue and St. Matthew’s Passion. Of course, we had a weight difference, with his almost two hundred pounds and my one hundred and forty, but he had a pacing problem, and I was good at self-control, so it was always me who would remember the end of the evening. Yet it wasn’t about the winners and losers, it was the carpe diem thing, the process over result, the involvement and sharing. And I never had hangovers.
Later, of course, there was love, and I had butterflies in my stomach and a pleasant lightness in my head. The first notes of Rhapsody in Blue made my body tingle, and when I spoke of green eyes, I smiled. I was such a fool in love. Unrequited love. He didn’t show signs of any. Everybody seemed to know about it but him. I guess I was too precious a drinking buddy to be lost for some stupid sentiment, and he pretended that everything was as it used to be. We never talked about it though, and that left me with a hope. Fat chance it was, but he never closed the loophole for me with I don’t love you or not gonna happen. I would have been so grateful if he had.
So I kept trying. I was always there — ready to help, ready to drink, ready to clean up the mess. Surprise birthday parties, best presents, tickets to concerts, and more beer than ever, because I wanted to show how good I was, how perfectly safe and wonderful the relationship with me would be: the saint, the damn fucking saint.
But then, undoubtedly, there was she. Red-haired, intelligent and irresistible. Magnificent in her love of herself, she was like a magnet to people around her. Male people, of course. For women she was always a red-haired bitch, unless they were lesbians. She liked me. We were friends for a while, but when she gave me a bunch of poems which contained easily identifiable lesbian imagery in them, I issued her a restraining order in my head because I really didn’t know how to cope with girls. I had enough trying to reverse the drinking buddy situation.
And then after a very difficult exam he had to retake because he failed to pass it the first time, I was the only person of our gang who waited for him near the door of the exam room. He was pleasantly surprised to see me there and since he passed he suggested we should celebrate. At his home. Alone. I was elated. We bought a lot of beer and went to his apartment. We talked about everything and nothing and was soon pretty drunk. We sat in the living-room, in the armchairs that faced each other. I stared at him as his body got more blurry, and he looked at his cat and the window and sometimes me. In a couple of hours he said that he should go. “Oh, I understand,” I said. I went home disappointed but still happy because I was such a goodie-goodie, patient and understanding fool.
It turned out later that “somewhere” was a party to which I accidentally wasn’t invited.
Certainly then, there were well-wishers telling me who my green-eyed drinking buddy brought to that party. The time stopped, the butterflies died, and the breathing ceased. I wasn’t surprised. The red-haired bitch. Of course. And in a week the two became an inseparable item. And I watched them from the distance. Watched them and tried to get my breath back. It was so damn difficult — breathing in, breathing out.
And then there was a love triangle. I loved him. He loved her. She loved herself, and a little bit each of us, but not much, of course. The three of us were also an item. If we had to meet, she would certainly be there. Red-haired bitch, so skinny and so graceful, bloody stick-insect. He would sit there holding her hand and smile idiotically looking at her, only at her, and never at me. And she would look at me, as if telling me to give up. But I didn’t want to give up, and soon I discovered that if I wanted to, I could easily make her cancel their dates with him to spend time with me. He hated me for that, because I would call and snatch her away from him right from the date. Or would ask her to allow me to have lunch with them where he would sulk over a beer, and she and I would gossip endlessly, because I knew how he hated gossip. And yet, he never did anything to sort it out, he never told me to stop. He decided to reinforce his drinking instead. We were a very pathetic love triangle.
A red-haired bitch.
An indecisive fuck.
A scheming saint.
Then there was a party where I snapped. I got so drunk that I could hardly walk. He offered to walk me to the train, which was an unusual kindness from him. It was a crisp winter night, and the road was covered with ice. We were walking in silence, and I really wanted to talk about our unnatural triangular infatuations, but I couldn’t. I was so drunk that I kept slipping and falling on the road. Every time he would pick me up and in a minute I would fall again. He didn’t talk as much as usual. He mentioned the stars, which were beautiful, and quoted a couple of verses, which were surprisingly familiar. Her poems!
“Honey, why can’t men love good girls?” I asked, after yet another landing.
He picked me up in silence, and kept walking, holding me by the collar.
“No, dear, I need the answer. Please tell me, why can’t you love a good girl like me? Why can’t you, for fuck’s sake, handle a saint? Why do you men always need the per aspera ad astra situation?”
Did I say that? Maybe I didn’t. Probably shouted it very loudly inside my head. I remember well that he was silent.
In the end there was our first and the last kiss in front of the metro station. He kissed me and said “I am sorry.” At home I found half a bottle of brandy, and it was the first time I didn’t remember how I got into bed. Next day I had my first hangover: I was swooning with nausea while the distorted Rhapsody in Blue was booming, crashing and banging inside my head, and till I got better I didn’t think about him or her even once. I had about ninety-nine hangovers like that before I became fine again.
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