The great forgotten year

We met at a party.

Our recollections of that party are divergent. She says I tried to make out with her. I would swear upon a Bible and all things that are holy that I have never, ever had a single iota of attraction to her, and seeing that I have never been in the business of random kissage, I will keep to my version.

Regardless, by the end of that night, we had exchanged phone numbers and embarked upon a spring, a summer, and a winter of camaraderie, caddishness, and the obnoxious behavior you partake in when you are bored, young, have too much time, have too much money, drink too much booze, and have very little sense.

That is to say, we had outrageous fun.

That was the year I turned 25. To this day, I’m not quite sure if my partner-in-ridiculous was my age or older. She was cagey that way. In fact, she was cagey in many ways. Two dots, one chocolate, one pineapple, outsiders in a strangely similarly clothed, be-skinned, and educated world, and trying to drink every drop of whiskey we could find, to squeeze the last bit of blood out of every stone.

We addressed each other with those phonetic nicknames that come out of prep schools and rugby teams: Captain Cass and Skipper S–. In the end, it was just the Captain and the Skipper. With the aggrandizement that should only live in vainglorious youth, we conflated our ‘exploits’ with an absurd television show, Gossip Girl, and made it our weekly mass and confessional.

We were stupid and even as I acknowledge that now, part of me will forever miss that time in my life where I was unaware enough to imagine my life as such a story.

I was liberal with my wallet and happily poured endless whiskey down my friend’s throat. In retrospect, we had a classic enabler and enabled relationship: the Skipper always acted out the behavior I wished I could do, but would never be caught dead doing. She could blame me for feeding her shot after shot; I could blame her for her inability to say no. It worked. She got to be victim; I got to be hero, and we could do this playact four times a week, like any critically acclaimed Broadway play.

The rooftop party in Brooklyn, with the Italian girls and the open bar. The weekly party in Union Square that we attended faithfully every week, still dressed in our smart business suits and skirts from our work days in the bowels of Wall Street. The random bars in West Village, crushed in crowded rooms, sweaty, sleeves rolled up, and vodka slipping over the rims of our glasses as we danced and cavorted and shed our serious lives in every sip and undulation.

Of course, it had to end.

Because, in all enabler and enabled relationships, all codependent relationships, the negative eventually starts to outweigh the positive.  Why did I feed her enough alcohol to drop a heavyweight boxer (and let’s not discount the amount that I drank myself)? Why did she drink with the wildness and abandon of a berserker just back from a raiding party? What did I get out of effectively winding “my friend” up like a boozed up toy soldier who had little impulse control to begin with, and then setting her loose? What was she hiding from that she had to burn it out of herself until she nearly blacked out every time?

Could it be that aforementioned rooftop party in Brooklyn, when I had pointed out a particular lady that I found attractive, that no less than 30 minutes later, I found the Skipper making out with her in the corner? I ordered us countless rounds that night, smoldering, not even remembering the number at the bottom of that ticket as I scrawled my name out, the nib of my pen ripping the paper.

Could it be that she loved to tell her version of our first meeting every time we met a new group of girls, doing her best to let them know that I had wanted her but I wasn’t good enough for her, but we became friends after because I had “proven” to be a good friend? I hated that story; I still do. In retrospect, my response of always declaring it a night of celebration for whatever stupid thing (a new episode of GG, new cufflinks I bought, or new boat shoes she got)… Did I secretly delight in watching her fall over her face by the end of the night?

One may guess, but it is hard to know when all the edges are smudged with scotch, when you sleep only a handful of hours each night before you wash, rinse, and repeat the next day, when you are on the merry-go-round at 100 miles per hour. You know you’re going to fall off – no one is wearing any seat belts, those are for wusses – so you just hold on and pray.

At the end of the year, she crossed a line. We did. Codependency tends to fall apart when you introduce outside elements. For her, a classic want-take-have girl, it was encountering someone whom she wanted, but couldn’t take or have. For me, I got tired of the messes, the hostile slights and digs, the never-ending tabs, and the fact that while we had seemingly traveled miles and done so much, we were just on a dying treadmill.

I sat down, one evening in early December of that year, in a beautiful, Michelin-starred restaurant in Upper East, with a mutual acquaintance and had a lovely dinner. No one drank too much; no one’s voice was raised too loud; we had real conversation and laughter that was not about gassing our own heads up and inside jokes, and she told me something true. And then requested I not repeat it to the Skipper for fear of a real blow-up.

Do we never learn? Secrets of that type always get out, and of course it did, and of course the Skipper went off the rails. Everyone was accused; all friends were enemies; not a drop left in any glass, and I said enough. Enough! I was done with the drama. I was over the noise, the paranoia, the craziness. I needed off the merry-go-round and so I leapt off, bleeding and scraped, and scrambled away from her boiling contempt and toxic rage.

I left her behind. Even now, years later, I still have some shame and guilt. I had a part in the disaster: I fed it. She had a part, too: she thrived on it. I wish I had the maturity I do now to see a better way through it, a way forward. She was my friend and I did love her; we were both tragic and toxic, in our own ways.

Instead, I did my best to forget. It’s just what you do.

Two or three years later, I’m really not sure, I ran into her again. Never let anyone tell you New York City is a big place. It is tiny and there are not enough streets to hide all the ghosts that populate it.

She had reached out to me, even before then, attempted to reconnect, but by my late 20s, I owned my boxes and my certainty. I patrolled them with the militancy of an actual captain. I had no ears to hear her; I had no eyes to properly see her. It wasn’t that I could not forgive her. I couldn’t forgive myself. Facing her would have required me to face myself, and at that time, it was not in the cards.

So, it didn’t happen.

We met at a party. I was wearing a gray pinstripe skirt suit with black knee-high riding boots. Light lilac purple shirt with a windowpane overlay, striped purple and gray repp tie. Cufflinks. She was in a khaki skirt, blue shirt, banker white cuffs and collar, dark brown ankle boots, and a navy wool peacoat. We ended up shoulder to shoulder at the bar, ordered our drinks, and then complimented each other on our taste in whiskey. We clinked glasses, the first of many times that night.

I maintain, I never tried to kiss her.

After last call, we left together, arms slung over each other’s shoulders, leaning against one another as we stumbled up the sidewalk underneath harsh, 4am streetlights in the emptiness of Union Square.

We hailed a taxi and shoveled her into it, giggling all the way. I double tapped the roof of the cab with the flat of my hand to send him off, even as she rolled the window down to give me one last cheer: “You’re awesome, Cap’n!”

I waved her off as I toddled over to my car, got in, and sat there for a minute before I said aloud to myself: “This is going to be a great year.”


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