Around the time that I had left my mother’s house to move in with Nick, I got a call from Lucy. This was the third of five instances in which I unsuccessfully left my mother’s home; invariably, I had to return after each landlord refused to renew the lease, which was almost always a direct result of the people I lived with spending all their money on booze and cigarettes instead of bills. However, my arrangement with Nick had yet to prove disastrous, and as I was preoccupied with our new-formed romance—still in its innocent, fledgling state—I was in a rather good mood when Lucy called.
It had been about a year since the last time I heard from her. A mutual friend, Eliza, had told me over drinks in her apartment quite a few months before that Lucy’s parents had sent her away to a women’s rehabilitation program in Connecticut. Leading up to this strange departure, no one had heard from Lucy for weeks, and our scattered sightings of her before her disappearance were filled with psychotic ramblings and impulsivity to the highest order. The group’s working theory was that she was off her medication again. Going on and off her medication was a common pastime for Lucy (and for the rest of us, really), so we did not make too much of her odd behavior. According to Eliza, it was Lucy’s attempted suicide that was the catalyst for her being institutionalized.
Eliza dealt in the group’s secrets. Having no actual abilities of merit of her own—while also acquiring the kind of pinched and sinister face exclusive to girls who participate in cotillions—relegated her to being the weasel present in every friend group. No one trusted her, but everyone traded with her, the currency in the form of information and drugs. She was deeply paranoid, about everything imaginable. I believe this to be a direct result of her mother’s influence. At almost six feet tall, Eliza’s mother was an Amazonian of stature and personality, who convinced Eliza to avoid breakouts by using so much astringent that her skin would fall off in little snowflakes all throughout high school. Standing at five-three, Eliza suffered an immense Napoleon complex, and responded by taking a page out of the Hoover Handbook.
By the time Lucy called me, Nick had been at work for about six hours—this was when he was bartending at Alfie’s—and I had smoked the rest of our weed. The idea of a nap was on my mind, but I also was aware that the two weeks Nick had given me to find a job were winding down. Still in the early phase of being away from my mother and determined to make this time work, finding a job was my number one priority; however, by the time I was in the right state to go out looking to be hired, it was already half past six, and any place I was qualified to work in would have been closed.
I had woken up a little past eleven only to find that Nick had eaten the last of our bread, and was left unable to purchase more due my lack of funds. Upon the realization that I would have nothing to eat until Nick came home from work that night, I smoked a joint to put off the nausea I was sure to experience. Then for an hour and a half I waited for the psychological effects of the drug to wear off, as I did not expect any business to hire me in a state of intoxication. Right around the time I was sobering up, I got a text from Amanda asking if I could smoke her up and I told I would in exchange for an egg sandwich.
Under any other circumstances, I would have said no, but as my hunger was growing quite severe (I could feel the muscles in my stomach knotting together and becoming acidified by the build-up of bile that was occurring) I offered to barter. The thing about Amanda was, she never left once you invited her over. The poor girl suffered from a terrible case of nerves and was constantly frightened of offending someone, so would go to great lengths to never say anything definitive at all. She had a sort of sickly complexion, like she had been a premature baby or was chronically afflicted by jaundice. After we smoked and I ate, I had to entertain her for about two hours. This mostly consisted of me talking about nothing in particular while Amanda made soft noises of affirmation.
After she left, I was rendered so exhausted by the effort needed to converse with her that I rolled myself another joint and fell asleep for an hour. I showered when I woke up, then proceeded to make myself presentable to the tastes of potential employers. I also remembered at this point that I had forgotten to take my antidepressants while eating the egg sandwich earlier, so I forced down the pills with tap water on an empty stomach, full well knowing I would become ill. By this time, it was much too late to go out looking for a job.
So it was in this state of apathetic uselessness and nausea mixed with the effects of the marijuana that I answered the phone when Lucy called me.
“Margot, it’s Lucy,” she said. She had an urgent voice, and always spoke as if no one else was meant to hear what she way saying.
“Yeah, I almost wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t have Caller ID. I haven’t heard from you for a while.”
“Right, of course, no one has. But the situation, as it stands now, is that I’m a free entity once again. I’m back in town, and I’ve already lined up for us to go to Kylie’s tonight. She and her boyfriend are tripping and said we could join them if we wanted.”
“I don’t know, Lu, I’m back on antidepressants again so I shouldn’t trip. And I guess you haven’t heard yet, but I’m living with Nick Ableman now, and you know Kylie won’t want him there.”
“Yes, yes, of course I know you’re living with Nick Ableman. Eliza told me. Anyway, I can’t believe those fuckers got you to go on pills again. You know they’re just diagnosing you and prescribing you bullshit to make some money. I can’t believe you even think you’re depressed. I almost lost my fucking mind and I still wouldn’t let those bastards get their hooks in me. But that’s neither here nor there. There’s still no reason why you can’t go to Kylie’s—she’s totally over what happened at Adam’s Christmas party.”
“I don’t think I want to be around a bunch of people who are tripping.”
“Margot, this is my first night back home. And I won’t if you aren’t going to. And anyway, there’s no reason Nick even has to come if you feel so weird about it.”
I could feel myself already getting pulled into whatever Lucy wanted to do. She had an electric pulse that made people swarm around her, and I had to admit that I had felt lonely in her absence. I didn’t like any of our other friends too much, or if I did I could only handle them in small quantities.
“Fine, but I can’t stay out too late. I have to find a job tomorrow.”
“No worries. Meet me at Adam’s at 9:30. He’s letting me stay with him for a little while.”
Nick got home a little while later with food from the burger joint down the road, and I told him about my plan for the night.
“Well, what am I going to do by myself tonight?” he asked. It was in these pathetic moments of insecurity that I hated Nick, but I was mostly willing to overlook all that in the early stage of our relationship.
“Whatever you want. It’s not even going to be fun. Kylie and that new guy she’s with—I think Craig?—are just going to be tripping and Lucy will be screaming about nothing, like usual.”
“So why are you going?”
“Because it’s Lucy’s first night back in town. Anyway, I won’t be out late.”
“Alright, alright. Maybe I’ll see if Jason wants to come by and grab a few beers. How did the job search go today?”
“Good, I think. I put an application in at a few clothing stores in town. I’ll look some more tomorrow.”
He smiled, and it made his face look like a little Kansas cherub. “That’s great, baby. Hopefully you’ll hear back from somewhere soon.”
“Yeah, hopefully. Can I have some money to buy food tomorrow? I had to invite Amanda over today so she would buy me an egg sandwich.”
“Oh, shit. Yeah, of course.” He reached into his wallet, handed me a twenty, and kissed me. “Sorry, I should have left some for you before I went to work.”
“It’s no big deal. I got some free food.”
“There’s a reading at Thistle this weekend. Some guy from Oberlin who writes poetry on the plight of the Burmese immigrants in San Francisco who travel the streets of the city as troubadours. Would you be interested in going?”
I had gotten up from the table and was in the process of pouring myself a glass of whiskey when Nick asked me this. “Why doesn’t he write poetry about the plight of people still living in Myanmar?” I asked. “Or about any of the dozens other groups of people who can’t even be troubadours—in San Francisco of all places! Or about my plight, for chrissakes? I couldn’t even buy food today!” I could tell at this point that Nick was slightly exasperated at my response. He liked art about anything he thought wasn’t cliché, and he thought everything was cliché.
“He’s trying to portray a particular story, about particular people. Everyone is writing about all those other things. He’s the only one writing about these people.”
“Well, that’s fine and all, but nothing of huge import can ever be solved if our intellectuals are distracted by niche narratives that don’t have a very large societal implication.”
“It’s just one guy who wrote a few poems about Burmese troubadours! I don’t see why you’re so annoyed by this.”
“Fine, fine, whatever. But I don’t want to go.”
Nick sighed but did not press the issue. “You don’t have to. When you’re out tomorrow, could you pick up my Concerta? I called in the prescription today but forgot to pick it up.”
An hour later, Nick went to get drinks with his friend and I started walking to Adam’s. He lived in a terrible neighborhood, filled with yuppies and hipsters whose parents paid for their apartments. Adam was part of this crowd, but we put up with him because of his generosity.
I met Lucy outside of his building. She was standing in a white nightgown, smoking a cigarette. “Oh, thank God you’re finally here!” she said. “I was starting to think you were going to abandon me.”
“No, no. Here I am.” Lucy looked like a manic mess. Her curly hair was cut short, so that it framed her face in whispy, knotted locks. Her skin looked grey and corpse-like, and her face was coated in makeup. When she sucked on her cigarette, her throat made a tiny squeaking noise, like air being let out of a balloon, and every other minute she would erupt into a coughing fit, spewing green and brown mucus on the pavement below us.
Lucy hooked her arm in mine and began walking in the direction of Kylie’s apartment. We passed through the poor neighborhood that separated Kylie’s from Adam’s, where little kids were still playing out in the street despite the hour. They were skinny and happy, with huge chewing gum smiles spreading across their hollow cheeks. I wondered about where their mothers worked and if they had baby siblings who cried, or if their fathers drank beer every night and yelled at the television.
“Look at how much fun they’re having,” Lucy said, and it was the saddest I had ever heard her sound. We kept on our way and didn’t talk to any of the children, even though they called after us when we passed them.
When we got to Kylie’s, we walked up to her floor and Lucy opened the door to her apartment without asking. Kylie and Craig were sitting on the floor in the middle of the living room, and even from the doorway I could see their eyes were entirely black. Kylie was a pretty girl, probably the prettiest of all of us, but her face twitched all the time, as if she wasn’t in control of her muscles. Every time I saw her she had a different boyfriend, but for various reasons I tried not to see her too often.
“Lucy! Margot! Everything I’m seeing right now…None of it is as beautiful as the two of you.” Lucy smiled, but this kind of LSD bullshit was exactly why I hadn’t tripped in two years. Too many times, I had heard silly, high people wax poetic on ego death, when the only thing I ever experienced while on acid was the need to sit in front of the mirror and watch my angry pores breathe and erupt and crawl around like tiny red ants. No great revelations. No life-changing visions. Just a metallic, hurricane stomach and the feeling of a dry paper mouth. Already, I knew I didn’t want to be there.
“Margot is back on pills so she can’t trip and I told her I wouldn’t either.”
“Oh, Margot, trading one kind of drug for another.” Kylie began to laugh uncontrollably. While still laughing, she began to lay prostrate on the floor, the green fibers of her carpet ticking her face and causing her to laugh more. Her boyfriend said nothing and stared out the window. I shot a look at Lucy, meaning to convey that I didn’t want to stay with these psychedelic lunatics, but she either didn’t get the message or didn’t care. She sat down next to Kylie.
“Margot, Margot,” Kylie said, “Why do I never see you anymore? I know you’re with Nick and I’m sorry I slept with him a few Christmases ago but don’t you like me?”
Lucy began to pet her hair. “Kylie, sweetie, of course Margot likes you. We’re all friends. You’re just feeling nervous because of the acid.”
This seemed to calm Kylie down, but after a few more minutes she began to cry uncontrollably. “No, no, no. Margot doesn’t like any of us. I could always tell. It’s the way she looks at people.”
Lucy glanced over at me, as if there was anything I could say to calm her down.
“Kylie, I don’t dislike anyone. Especially you. Just try to relax.”
She looked up at me with wild, red eyes. “You’re a liar! You always have been. I think you even lie to yourself. You probably lied to yourself about caring when Lucy went away. You don’t care about anyone, Margot. And I always knew it, but with you standing in front of me like this I finally realize it.”
“Kylie, I don’t understand where this is coming from. I’ve never done anything to you.”
She began to cough at this point, and little drops of spittle and the square paper tab—all chewed up now—landed on her chin. Lucy began to seem concerned at this point, like she was realizing that this situation was not in her control. Craig still was silent.
“Lucy, why did you bring her here? She’s a phony. She tries to stand apart from everything but she’s not like us. She doesn’t hurt like us. She’ll just go back to her mom’s house again when Nick learns to hate her and she’ll stop talking to us. She didn’t try to call any of us after you went away.”
“Kylie, Margot hasn’t done anything. You should be excited to see her since she hasn’t been around for a while.” Lucy tried to smile at her and me, but I was past the point of trying to fix this situation. When Lucy left, I had tried to extricate myself from these people, remaining on the periphery so I could come back into the fold should I have to, but keeping enough of a distance so as to be disconnected. This attempted separation was for no other reason except that they all (except Lucy) were limiting and frustrating, only risking so much. They were dilettantes, their artistry only an affectation. This had never been proven to me so much as in this instant, as Kylie used her weak constitution as an excuse to say what she had always wanted to. And I could see suspicion creeping in Lucy’s body. I saw the initial moment when she began to question my friendship, to wonder why I never called her when she was in Connecticut. I saw that my Lucy was like the rest of them—she demanded things of me, things I could not give, support I could not offer. Her eyes on me were tainted with victimhood, and the death shadow surrounding her finally seemed to engulf every part of her. I knew then she was another one who would never understand.
“Lucy, I’m leaving.”
“Alright,” she said. “I’ll call you tomorrow.” But her voice told me she wouldn’t, and in fact that was the last night I saw either her or Kylie. I walked back to Nick’s apartment, where he was waiting up for me in bed. I fell asleep next to him, resolved that I would find a job in the morning. This time, I would not go back to my mother’s house.