CLOSE • by Sarah Butterfield

I feel so heavy as they lift me up; men I have never met with their hands under my arms, around my thighs. The bus has moved on and I think I’m finally safe, lying by the sidewalk on dried mud, telling Kim to just leave and let me sleep. “Don’t call my parents, I’m okay,” is all I can mutter amidst the sudden surge of people and motion. The ground moves away, replaced by white sheets. I’ve never been on a gurney before.

Earlier that night I asked Kim what I should wear. I stood in my bra, alternately holding the blue top and the green top in front of me for her to decide. I knew what she would pick — the green was a perfectly nice shirt that would provide a hint of cleavage and nothing more, while the blue was a thin, low, lacey, strappy thing that required an industrial-strength pushup bra and, quite frankly, nerves of steel, because one never knew if it would just give up and let a tit pop out. But making her choose gave me permission, so when I slipped the blue over my heavily padded and underwired boobs, it was really her responsibility and not mine. “Come on, we haven’t gone out in forever,” she had said. “Gotta make it count. Wear the blue.”

They put me in the ambulance; it races down George Street. The sirens play like the beginning of a bad techno song. Kim’s voice, staccatoed by sobs and desperate gulps for air provide an unlikely but steady rhythm, while the EMTs sharp commands to each other and comforting words to me are the baseline. I think they’re bringing me to the hospital in some kind of new wave disco car. I’m reminded of being back at the party, with all the pounding and moving, so I vomit on the EMT’s shoes. My retching is the bridge, pausing all the other sounds until it’s over and the song can resume.

We had gotten to the party at eleven. We were handed cups of Jungle Juice and told to enjoy ourselves. Kim drank hers slowly, a talent I’ve never possessed. I drained mine and asked the impressed frat boy for another. “Awesome,” he said when he handed me the red plastic cup, filled with punch-flavored disaster. He motioned to the stairs because, of course, the real party was below. It was a mess — a filthy, sweaty basement filled with underage drinkers clinging to strangers, vaguely moving to a song that we could only feel, not hear. After a few minutes, we pressed back upstairs, out past the frat boy with his vat of liquid bad judgment. Once outside, a cigarette cleared my head enough to suggest The Olive Branch, a New Brunswick sports bar that was rarely overcrowded, but always lively.

Inside the hospital is too bright. I close my eyes and everything spins; I open them and am assaulted by fluorescence. Close. Open. Close. Open. Dizzy. Throw up. Hands touching me. You’re all right, there, turn your head. You’re at Robert Wood, dear. Who is she? What were those shots? Whiskey? Why did I start the night with beer? Female, twenty-two, over-intoxicated. Close. Open. Close.

On the walk to the bar I ranted to Kim about my dad and stepmom. Evidently their son’s birthday party was today, but I hadn’t been told. “They wanted him there,” I complained, “and that stupid asshat Kevin won’t go if I’m there, and lord knows vice versa so they made a command decision to invite him and not me. Because he’s never around and I’m always around and I get taken for granted and I’m sick of it.” She responded with the appropriate “Screw them!” and “Ugh, what douchebags.” Kim’s an excellent friend, even when drunk. We got to the bar and it didn’t disappoint; almost immediately a guy with aviator sunglasses and brown hair offered to buy me a drink. I winked at Kim before I responded, and she pointed to my boobs and gave me a less than subtle thumbs up. “Sure,” I said, turning back to Sunglasses, “but I’m doing shots, and so is my girl.” His friend sidled up on cue, and drew Kim’s attention while I downed something brown and painful. This is enough, I thought. Even though it’s cheap and superficial, in this moment, this guy wants me and that’s enough. “Want another?” he asked, already signaling the bartender. “Always,” I replied.

Open. Close. No other injuries. I know I got on the bus with Kim, but I don’t remember the ride home. Her friend says no drugs, no allergies. Open. Close. Open. Something in my arm. She has ID. Close. Open. She’s losing consciousness. Red on my jeans. It looks like blood but it’s only dried Jungle Juice vomit. On your side, dear. Is there an emergency contact? Where’s her friend? There’s dirt on the gurney. I brought it with me. The friend’s pretty drunk too. Not like this one though. Open. Close. It’s easier to stay closed now, nothing is moving anymore. Everything is wonderfully leaden; heavy and still. Call her parents for consent to treat if she’s not responding. Close. Close. Close.

Sarah Butterfield lives in New Jersey, and hopes to have a cat someday.

This story is sponsored by
Molotov Max: Poetry and pictures that whap you upside the head. Inspirational, but not saccharine, these poems want you to get out and take a stand. “Molotov Max: Gotta Match?” by Max Stockinger.

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