I FEEL impulsive and reach for my phone, hitting the call button at the first name under Contacts. Drunk dialing is a little bit like Russian Roulette. Nine times out of ten, no one picks up. After all, these calls usually happen late or on the weekend. But this is a weeknight and it is still early. On the other end, there’s an answer.
IT’S HER last night in Brooklyn and she has yet to set foot in a single establishment of note in the two months she’s lived here. With three jobs and plenty of friends in Manhattan, Jules never parties down the block from home. Instead, she hops on the train and heads toward the part of the city tourists think about when they hear “Big Apple”. Across the bridge, she downs drinks and flirts with dawn, the train schedule on the back of her mind. Somehow, she always returns to Brooklyn before the morning.
Sunrise usually finds her sobering up and dozing off in a quiet, still Park Slope bedroom, while street chatter and zipping cabs continue on in another world just a water’s width away. But after tonight, she won’t be back here, at least not as a resident. Tomorrow, Jules will be packing her clothes into the trunk of a friend’s car and driving over a hundred blocks north to her new apartment at 118th on the east side.
When I learn just how little she’s seen of her own neighborhood, I decide that this is something that must be amended immediately.
“This is what we’re going to do,” I tell her on my way out of work. “I am coming to Brooklyn — god knows I won’t have a better reason to be in Park Slope until motherhood — and we are going to go to one restaurant and one bar, and that will comprise your Brooklyn experience.”
It is an eleventh hour try at redeeming the past eight weeks of flight from a neighborhood she will probably see little of from now on. But that is precisely why we need to do it.
IT ALWAYS surprises me when the F train lurches above ground as it moves deeper and deeper into Brooklyn. From afar, the skyscrapers and water seem eerily removed, as if they are imagined destinations and not within less than an hour’s reach. This part of the ride reminds me of my favorite moment on the Boston subway: when the Red Line train rises over the Charles River and offers a brief and blissful view of the water that lasts just the length of the journey past Charles-MGH. Every Monday during fall semester, I caught this sight twice over on my commute to an internship downtown. Every day this summer, Jules has glimpsed its New York twin.
I get off at 7th Avenue. We opt for a Thai restaurant just footsteps from the train station, our decision mostly resting on its cocktail menu. She orders a Long Island; I get a lychee-flavored martini. To our amusement, my fried rice is shaped like a Star of David. It is also unexpectedly spicy. After just a few bites in, my eyes begin to water.
“Jesus,” I sniff, not ironically. “I don’t know how I’m going to finish this.”
Across the table, Jules laughs at my dramatic deep breaths. Her safe, though bland, selection of pad thai suddenly doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. I take a large gulp of water and ask our waitress for a side of white rice.
“I just lost hearing in my right ear. Is this an allergic reaction?” I ask my giggling friend.
I am being ridiculous as per usual but I’m not entirely joking. I sniff again and blink back tears. With genuine concern punctuating her laugh, Jules suggests that we go for post-dinner ice cream.
We wind up in a liquor store instead. After I miraculously (and painfully) finished my meal, we downed the last of our drinks and decided to go bar-hopping, only to discover that the Park Slope crowd is neither young nor college-friendly. The establishment we walk into is not like any store I’ve been in before. There is a thick pane of glass between us and the shelves of alcohol. I can only assume that the strange barrier is a preemptive measure against theft. And here I thought we were in the Pleasantville of Brooklyn.
In front of the dread-locked cashier is a sign that says “Cash Only”. I wonder if anyone actually walks in with enough green to purchase several of the bulkier bottles. Jules and I can’t decide what to buy so we finally settle on what we drank the last time we were together: a miniature bottle of Skyy, enough for four shots each.
On the way home, we pick up a pack of cigarettes. We’re already feeling good — the drinks during dinner have hit us — when I spot on the lowest shelf of a corner deli the bottle of Welch’s White Grape Juice I’ve searched three stores for. Fuck bars. This is all we need.
“MMPH,” she murmurs, handing her emptied glass to me. “Get another.”
Jules and I are in her apartment, determined to turn our unfruitful search for a bar into a nonetheless entertaining evening. I’ve been mixing drinks for half an hour, but this time, when I reach for the bottle, it’s empty. I’m slightly taken aback though I know perfectly well where the alcohol must have gone.
“Jules, I have to tell you something,” I say.
She returns my grave expression with a quizzical look. “Okay,” she says.
“You have to promise me you’re not going to freak out.”
I pause dramatically before I lean in and tell her, “There’s no more vodka left. We finished the bottle.”
She is incredulous. I pick up the bottle and flip it over to demonstrate the severity of the circumstances. Jules screams and covers her face, bursting into giggles.
“Holy shit,” she says. I can’t help but laugh too. It’s not even the alcohol, though I’m starting to feel tipsy. The entire situation is comical.
“Oh my god, Jules. In about 15 minutes, it is going to hit us. Hard. We are going to die in 15 minutes. What do we do? What do we do to prepare for this?”
Jules can barely respond. She is on the floor laughing with the box of cigarettes pressed against her lips. A few minutes later, we discover the bottle of juice uncapped and we embark on a frantic search around the room for the top.
“We need to find it while we’re still sober!” she says.
We are stumbling.
AFTER the fifth or sixth cigarette, I get up from the stoop. Before I am even halfway upright, I stumble backward. The open night air feels like it is throbbing, pulling me to the floor. It’s been over 15 minutes and I’ve overestimated my sobriety. This was what I was telling Jules about earlier — “dying”, or rather losing all feeling and emotion. I am numb. Every part of me is numb.
She pulls me up and I clutch her hand hard while spreading open my arms for balance. It is a warm evening with the occasional cool breeze and I am clad in her clothes: a pair of boxers and a green t-shirt I’d never buy for myself. Unsteadily, the two of us circle her block, walking arm in arm, cigarettes in hand. We are having a full-fledged conversation, but I know that it’s the kind we’ll forget about the second there’s a pause. Each step is heavy, heavy like our intoxication, and my feet land in thuds against the pavement.
The smoke and the scent of Jules’ clothes on me make for a heady combination. Her voice has a lulling effect. But everything does when you’re drunk. My fingertips are raw from lighting multiple matches, most of them burning out too quickly to be of use. After we strike the last of them, Jules and I light up by pressing the tips of our cigarettes together in a sort of kiss. I suck hard on mine and exhale slowly. It burns my throat. It almost smells sweet. And suddenly, it occurs to me that I don’t know what it is I’m drunk on, if it’s the alcohol or the company or the city or the weather.
Jules flicks her cigarette and an ash lands right on the web between my index and thumb.
I flinch. The unexpected pain pulls me right out of my thoughts. Maybe I’m not so numb after all.
By the time we walk up to her doorstep for the second time, our tongues are dense with tobacco and we are so heavy in our drunkenness that we have to pull ourselves up the stairs by the railing. When we get inside her room, we collapse into bed, one after the other, abrupt and indelicate, as if weighed down by lead.
I’m worried that I won’t wake up for work in the morning, but Jules shoves a vibrating alarm under my pillow and assures me that if it’ll wake up someone with ADD, there’s no way I could accidentally sleep in. I shut my eyes and wonder how soundly I’ll sleep tonight. Her sheets feel cool and crisp against my skin. Our nightcap is doing the opposite of its intended purpose and the more I try to calm my mind, the more thoughts simmer to the surface. I think back to the conversation I had earlier as I sipped my white grape cocktail and made phone calls on impulse.
“Listen,” I said. “This is important. This is really important.”
“Okay, I’m listening.”
“I need you to do something for me, okay?”
“Depends on what it is.”
“You’re going to be in New York a while, right?”
“Well, I’m going back to school in September. But Jules is still going to be here.”
Out of the corner of my eye, Jules perked up at the mention of her name.
“All by herself,” I continued. “And you have to promise that you’re going to watch out for her. Can you please do that for me?”
Even in the darkness, in my darkness beneath my eyelids, everything is spinning. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over this feeling, this nothing.
IN THE morning, I wake to the pulsating device beneath my pillow. I groan. Turning over makes me dizzy. Sitting up makes me dizzy. My throat is thick, my voice husky and ragged. Beside me, Jules sighs deep as my movements stir her from her slumber. I have an hour to get to work in SoHo.
After a shower and a change of clothes (out of hers and into mine), I drag Jules out of bed for breakfast. At less than six bucks and under half an hour, it is possibly the most satisfying meal I’ve had in New York yet. I know that there’s no one else I’d rather share it with.
“Brooklyn is beautiful,” Jules comments wistfully as she walks me to the train station.
There is a tinge of regret in her voice, perhaps because we both know the ride to suburbia is too long for either of us to come back here very often. But for now, we revel in its charms. It feels like the neighborhood is just waking up, and I am pleased by the subdued activity. I take in the sunlit awnings, the sidewalks, the quiet, and I wonder when I was last somewhere that felt as suburban, that felt as much like a home as a place could in a city.
“Brooklyn is beautiful,” I tell her in agreement.
I pause a beat and turn my head to Jules. “Let’s never come back.”
She looks me right in the eye and grins. Her skin, pale and pink, is glowing against the sun.
“Never,” she says.