Many of you who read these stories consistently know that I have mentioned that there are a lot of memories of mine that have been erased due to the many years of alcohol abuse that I have subjected my brain to, making it hard to recall most (if any) details about specific events in my life. The year that I spent living with one of my best friends, Kyle, produced many memorable moments (and many that I’ve tried to forget), most of which I’ve found difficult to fit into this semi-humorous collection due to their harsh and “real” nature, but that I still feel the need to map out on paper anyway. Some of them may someday fall into another collection with a more apt theme, but for now, there are still some that stick out to me as remember-worthy and that I think are appropriate to look back on at this point in my recovery. I try my hardest to look back and laugh at both the good and the bad while still learning from each experience and using them as a gauge for growth. Not only have I changed, but I’ve progressed, with nothing but memories to drive me towards something greater.
Anyway, it was 2011 in downtown Sacramento, and Kyle and I were more sober than usual.
Actually, too sober.
We were both pretty sick from not drinking, and the shakes were driving me towards a deep depression that I didn’t feel like I was ready for. We had no jobs, no cable TV, no movies to watch besides his normal go-to collection of old Frasier episodes, and it was Halloween. Oh, and we were both broke. So there we sat, twiddling our thumbs, wondering out loud if we should go and rob Safeway again for a case of beer. Neither of us were usually up for this if we were sober and in the right mind, but times were dire, and Frasier be damned if we were going to sit there and watch each other seize up uncontrollably, so we decided to take a walk.
We started out just as it began to get dark, but of course, we didn’t make it too far. We were just too worn and tired, our bodies were breaking down from lack of nutrition and fluids, and our feet couldn’t carry us any farther than a few blocks. Just around the corner from his apartment was a guy setting up for an apparent party. We both had no idea who this guy was, just that he lived next door to a friend of ours. He was outside, stringing lights and cooking food, and in the moment I thought nothing of it, so Kyle and I continued on one more block, chickened out of our theft plan, and turned around. We decided instead to ask our neighbor if she had any spare money, but on our way back, it now being dark (we were moving pretty slowly), people were now entering into the now decorated party house.
As we were passing by, I casually mentioned to Kyle, “I bet they got plenty of alcohol in there.”
“Yeah, probably,” he said back, nonchalantly.
We looked at each other and saw the gleam of epiphany in both of our eyes. We had had the same thought: we needed to get into that party.
With my quiet personality and social shyness, I had never been much of a party person, so the fact that this even popped into my mind was a clue to how desperate we were at the time. Niles Crane himself couldn’t have talked us out of it. We made our way home and planned.
Me — “We can’t just walk in, can we?”
Me — “Someone will notice, right?”
Kyle — “Well, yeah, but we just go in when they’re all nice and drunk.”
Me — “By that time, the alcohol may be gone.”
Kyle — “The alcohol is never gone at parties like that.”
Me — “You’ve done this before?”
Kyle — “Of course! You haven’t?”
Me — “Of course! . . . not. . .”
You could tell that I was very reluctant from the word “go.” When I asked if Kyle had any sort of costume, again, “of course” he had one stashed away in his closet.
“It’s ‘V’,” he said, and I looked at him as if he were crazy. “Like ‘V’, from the movie, V for Vendetta.”
I knew the movie, and the graphic novel that it spawned from, in which the protagonist, a man who goes only by the name ‘V’ and wears a cape and a Guy Fawkes mask, commits acts of terrorism in the hopes of setting his totalitarian government straight.
“So, I’ll be behind a mask?” I asked.
“Yeah, I got the cape too,” he said.
Perfect. No one would see my face. I would be veiled from the glares and the questions and the remarks. I could mask my jitters, my detoxing sweats, and my sunken-in eyes. I developed a plan to use hand gestures so that I wouldn’t have to speak either. V did it in the movies, I could do it too. It just may work, I thought.
“Who are you going as?” I asked Kyle.
“Daphne from. . .”
“Frasier, yeah,” I finished for him. Typical Kyle. He donned a wig he just happened to have stashed and I dressed quickly, then we were on our way.
By the time we got there the party was packed. People were hanging with red cups in their hands and the front door was wide open, providing a view into the house, and an entrance. I approached slowly, but Kyle, now also wearing a dress he got from only Roz knows where, pushed his way quickly past the crowd and into the house. When I finally reached the doorway I froze, and the anxiety brought forth by the situation finally hit. I noticed people around me were mostly my age, 24 at the time, and dressed for all occasions. You had the cliché sexy nurse, the cliché sexy pirate, and the cliché sexy Tinkerbell. I felt like I was in the middle of some messed up soft porn version of a Disney film.
All of the talk around me was focused around hit political topics, past holiday functions, and work. I didn’t feel like speaking or showing my face, but the mask made it ridiculously hot. The detox sweat began to intermingle with actual heated, stinky perspiration, and I began to nervously look for a way out. It was then that I felt a slap on my shoulder and heard, “Nice costume bro! I seen the movie. V, right?”
I turned and saw a male zombie hooker — contestant number one. I nodded quickly, universal language across the world for “Yes.”
“Yeah man, awesome,” he went on. “Where’s your drink at? You need one?”
I nodded again. I realized that for the whole party it would have to be like this, universal nods and hand signs understood by drunks and idiots alike; it should be easy enough.
“Let me get you a drink bro,” he said.
“Awesome bro! Yeah, thank you!” I said with an enthusiastic nod.
We made our way inside where rock music was blasting out loud and people were standing all around in groups talking. To my left was a pool table covered in plastic where ten people were hovered around cheering and playing beer pong. To my right, a bunch of characters from video games were standing by a couch laughing, Lady Gaga and Flava Flav were on the couch engaged in a yelling match, and there was some sort of card game going on between what I could only guess to be a petrified CEO (mummy with a suit on) and Lenny Kravitz (or Prince, who knows). Everyone else was all grouped up and huddled together, and it all made me feel like it was just one fucked up, warped-out version of high school. I could work with that after a couple of drinks. I would just mimic the same tactics I did back then: find the biggest, loudest guys in the room, and avoid them at all costs, then find the hottest girl, and ignore her too, because she was most likely one of the loud dudes’ chicks.
I was receiving odd looks and I quickly realized why — I was the only one with a mask on. It made sense, I suppose; most people prefer to be able to breathe while at a party. How did I bare this torture when I was a young kid? The man, contestant one in what I was finding to be a fun game, finally returned with a drink, and an immediate issue came to the forefront of my mind: How the hell am I supposed to drink this while keeping the mask on? I could use a straw, but that would just make me look more idiotic than I already felt, so I just tipped the mask up to reveal my mouth and took two giant gulps.
The man looked at me quizzically, and I’m still not sure if it’s because I didn’t take off the mask or because he saw that I was black, being that I was completely covered from head to toe, including gloves. But before I could say anything, my greatest fear happened, the prettiest girl (that I could see) walked over to join us. She was one of the few that wasn’t dressed up, which made her more intriguing in my mind. “Awesome costume,” she said — contestant number two. “What are you, exactly?” It was another question I figured would come up. I pointed to contestant one, the universal signal understood as “He knows.” He explained it to her as best he could. “Oh, awesome,” she lied. “What department are you in?”
Shit. I tilted my head, the universal language of dogs for “Huh?”
“Oh!” she said. “It’s like a kind of game. I get it, you don’t speak. Nice character play. Johnny, is it you under there?”
“Well, I don’t know then, just tell me.”
I didn’t want to. I was really starting to like this game, and the warmth of the drink was beginning to kick in. Plus, I was kind of enjoying messing with her. She was definitely beautiful, and I could tell she was a little tipsy already. I looked to the biggest, most attractive guy in the room that I could see, just to see if he was looking our way. There was a man dressed in a black and white suit holding a martini. James Bond. He seemed preoccupied, so I continued on. I put my finger up to Guy Fawkes’s smiling mustachioed grin and shook my other finger in front of me — the universal taunt for “I’m not telling.”
“Fine Mr. Mystery Man,” she said. “Come with me; I’ll grab you another drink.”
It was apparent at this point that this was a company party, but for what company I hadn’t the faintest idea. I just hoped that it wasn’t the sheriff’s office or anything else law related. We made our way into the kitchen where Kyle was chatting with two girls and taking shots of Jack Daniels. “Oh, there you are, mate” he said his spot-on English accent, and handed me a shot. What a pal.
He continued his conversation with the girls and I took my shot and returned my attention to . . . “Uh, what’s your name?” I said before I could realize my mistake. Shit! It was too late; my game was foiled.
“Oh, I’m Melissa,” she said, then, “Hey, you spoke!” She squinted her eyes at me. “I can’t place your voice still.”
I set the shot glass down, brought my hands to my smiling mask lips, and bounced my shoulders up and down, universal emoji language for “I’m laughing,” then said, “Remember, remember, the fifth of November.”
“Oh, you’re no fun,” she said. “Just let me see.” She grabbed the mask and yanked it halfway off as I grabbed at her hands in an attempt to stop her. Right then the host of the party walked in on us and saw Kyle.
“Who are you?” said the final contestant.
Kyle put on a class act as usual. “The name’s Kyle, and this be me best mate, Ryan. We live in the loft around the corner. Who the bloody hell are you?”
People all around us laughed, but he didn’t seem amused. “This is my damn house,” he said. “Did someone invite you?”
“We saw you were having a party and your mate outside let us in,” he lied. “Nothing to get your knickers all bunched up your arse about. We can leave if you need us to.” His emphasis put the guy on the spot, and if he kicked us out now it would make him look like an asshole in front of his coworkers, who Kyle had already become best mates, er, friends, with. It gave him no choice but to accept the offer that had been unknowingly forced upon him by my partner in crime.
“It’s just you two, right?” he asked.
“Of course,” said Kyle. I gave him a thumbs up and a nod, universal compliance code for “Yup, just us, sucker.”
He bit at the bait. “Yeah, it’s fine.” He looked at me and saw my glass was empty. “You guys need a drink?”
Thumbs up again from both of us. We were officially in. “Time to get pissed,” Kyle commented. I was confused at the time, but I later understood this was British lingo for “drunk.” Kyle had mastered this from watching a lot of British crime dramas. Poirot was definitely not a favorite of mine.
After that, and a couple of drinks, I finally felt comfortable enough to take off my mask, which at that point had me nearly suffocating, grinning on the outside but choking within. Melissa gave me a surprised look, and again I questioned if it was because I was not what she had expected or if it was better than. I played off the latter, and I think I was right.
We drank and began to hit it off more and more. To this day though, I still never figured out where all of them worked; it must have been some office building downtown, I presume. But it didn’t matter, Kyle and I were getting what we needed — a refueling of sorts. We had succeeded in our mission and it felt really good to be accepted amongst this group of once a month alcoholics, all the while hiding behind our own internal masks of spiritual and mental maladies. They were the lucky ones — to be able to drink without consequence, to be able to drink without waking up and needing another just to feel well, to be able to have fun even if they weren’t drinking. I no longer needed Guy Fawkes, but I needed the alcohol to hide the true me yet at the same time to feel like the true me. Like the movie, I myself felt like an “undesirable,” deserving to be imprisoned for actions in life I felt I had no control over. It is how it was, and since the shakes had finally abated, and my confidence had been restored, Melissa and I soon disappeared into the back of the house.
Melissa was a true bubbly type who apparently knew everyone there, and in the back of the house, where I’d presumed we’d be alone, we ended up in a room full of people passing a blunt around. When it came to me, I passed it up, and my winning line of the night for Melissa came out: “I can’t. I was just accepted into the Sacramento Metro Fire Academy, and they will probably test me.” It was true, and after that was mentioned, she clung to my arm for the remainder of the night.
I soon asked her if she was there with anyone. “You see that James Bond guy out there?” she said.
“Jesus. . .” I should have known.
I could only smile. I didn’t care. I wanted her, and soon — I really can’t remember how — we ended up in the bathroom exploring each other, with crazy lies being tossed around like “I never do this” and “This isn’t right.” We both shut each other up by pressing our lips against the other’s until her friends barged in and dragged her away, spewing more crazy lies like “She’s just drunk,” “She doesn’t know what she’s doing,” and “We need to get her home to her man.” In true Cinderella fashion she was whisked away from my arms in a hurry; she yelled out her phone number and told me that I better call.
“Quick, someone hand me a pen!” I yelled to the room of stoners. Everyone shrugged, the united universal drunk and high language for “Who the hell brings a pen to a costume party?” I eventually found one and ran back out in time to give her one last kiss and copy it down on my palm. The proverbial glass slipper was literally in hand and she was torn away from me by these supposed “friends” that I presumed could only be her evil step sisters. I went back into the house and found Kyle, who explained to me in true Kyle fashion how he had just gotten done pleasuring the party host in his garage. I rolled my eyes, universal Ryan language for “Geeze.”
We only stayed a few more minutes to walk around and finish people’s drinks that they had set down and forgotten and then we stumbled back to the apartment, laughing at all the events of the night. I couldn’t believe what we had actually done, but it’s still to this day one of the least crazy things I’ve done to feed my disease. I sat on the couch and wiped my returning sweat from my brow.
I looked at my hand, and suddenly the blues were a-callin’.
“Frasier, damn it!” The number was all smeared and mixed up, like tossed salad and scrambled eggs, half of which was most likely left on my forehead. I sat there, a bit confused, but I had my plan pegged. I called my ex, universal language of all drunken men for “I’m lonely and horny.” She didn’t answer, so I looked to my hand again, but I didn’t know what to do with those tossed salads and scrambled eggs of scribbles. It seemed like there be no callin’ again that night. I just went to the bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror. Scrambled eggs all over my face. What is a boy to do? Time to sleep
Goodnight, Seattle, I love you.