, September 2023

Carl opened his eyes to daylight.

He was in his bed, still fully clothed, including shoes. He had no idea how he’d gotten there, or how he’d even gotten home. He had a terrific headache, and his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth. Most of his body was numb, and the parts he could feel hurt like hell. There was a horrible smell, a mixture of urine and vomit. His hair was stiff and clumped together with dead leaves stuck to it.

He began to remember things. Being at Eric’s house. Pouring Scotch-whisky, triple-sec, and orange juice into a wineskin bota bag from some long-ago family vacation. They both couldn’t believe how all they could taste was the orange juice, despite the concoction consisting mostly of liquor.

Earlier that day, Eric had overheard someone in the hallway at school mention a big party that night on Atwater Place. This was the first time they’d ever heard about a party ahead of time. Normally, they heard about them afterwards, Monday morning in homeroom, when stories would go around of someone getting wasted over the weekend and doing something stupid. Only the cool were in the know of these bashes beforehand, and they kept quiet about them so that every loser at Massapequa High School wouldn’t show up. After school, Carl and Eric went to the library and consulted the Southeast Nassau County Road Atlas, learning that Atwater Place was in Nassau Shores, down near the water, a small single block that probably only had a few houses on it, so, even though they didn’t know the specific address, once they got to Atwater, the party would be easy to find.

He remembered passing the bota bag back and forth while on their high-performance twelve-speed road racing bikes, he on his Centurion Accordo, Eric on his Peugeot PZ10. He remembered starting to wobble, and both laughing about it, then locking their bikes to the rack at the library. He remembered them scream-singing Don McLean’s “American Pie” to the passing traffic on Merrick Road as they marched east past John J Burns Park, towards Nassau Shores. He remembered them stealing the flag from the 8th green of the Peninsula Golf Club, then marching it up West Shore Drive and planting it on Judy Pietrowski’s front lawn, a girl from one of Eric’s smart classes.

After this, his memory was really spotty. He remembered the backyard at the party being bright from a floodlight attached to the house, and there were a lot of people in the yard, but everything was sideways. He struggled to his feet, only to go crashing right back down. Several guys picked him up and threw him over a chain-link fence into the neighbor’s yard, then pissed on him while he lay unconscious in the dead leaves.

The next thing he remembered, he was under a yellow streetlight, and it was quiet. Eric and some guy were helping him into the bed of a pickup truck. He remembered none of the ride, but recalled the truck parked in his driveway, engine running, headlights on. They leaned him against the back kitchen door and went away. When the door opened, he fell inside, a barely-conscious heap on the floor. His mother started screaming, and asked Rick “The Dick”, his “stepfather”, if they should call 9-1-1. He told her to “Calm down, babe,” which set Carl off. He pushed himself off the floor and started yelling at him not to tell his mother what to do, and that he’d ruined all of their lives. He took a wild swing at him that missed by five feet and he fell on the floor, while his mother screamed at him to stop. The Dick tried to help him up, but he yelled at him to fuck off. He staggered across the living room and crawled up the stairs, and made it to his bed, where he now still lay—

His mother and The Dick were probably already waiting for him downstairs. They would likely ground him for a month or two and take the TV and Commodore 64 out of his room. By Monday morning, everyone at school would have heard about it. He already knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep on Sunday night. Whatever hope of an improved social life he thought the party may bring was gone. His best hope now was that, next weekend, someone else would do something stupid, and everyone would forget him again.

He got up and went into the bathroom. He brushed his teeth, pissed, shit, and showered. He wouldn’t deny anything, but he would show no pain. Later that evening, he would go to work as if everything were perfectly normal. Several weeks earlier, he had taken a job as a fry guy at the All-American Burger.

Back in his room, he got dressed, then stood behind the door, listening. They were in the living room talking quietly, but he couldn’t hear what they were saying. Already tired of dreading it, he took a deep breath, opened the door, and descended the stairs— ▪