Cat Power is blasting, but all I really hear is my friend Erica retching. She is bird-boned and high yellow by her own proclamation, yet her chiseled, golden cheeks are hidden in the depths of a PBR box. Though our classmates glance to her every now and then as she gradually fills the box with vomit, I am the only one watching Erica with rapt attention. I stand in the doorway, barely moving even after Big Mickey taps me on the back.
“Um, is she going to be okay?” he asks in the deep voice befitting of a large man, though not one as young as Big Mickey is.
“Yeah, she just has to get it all out,” I say.
Big Mickey shrugs and leaves me in the doorway. Erica’s head bobs up and down a couple more time before she pushes the box away and curls up on the floor. I sigh and walk over to pick up the box. Erica’s eyes are closed, but the expression on her face is not a peaceful one. I head out the kitchen door and down the backstairs of the row house to the dumpster. Though the night is clear, my conscience is not.
I am an asshole. I know that now. But for all of college, I’ve been Saint Stephanie the Self-righteous, she who is angry and in denial. She the biracial girl who pals around with that other biracial one—the alcoholic, the bulimic, the clinically depressed—in part to commiserate far from the gaze of our white audience, in part to look better before them.
I never needed pills or booze to cope.
That fact, Saint Stephanie, does not make you better. You may not be addicted to substances, but you are addicted to your inner rage.
I am not white.
I am not black.
I am not white.
I am not black.
It is a mantra and it is a curse.
The dumpster is, of course, no place for an epiphany, even with a million stars burning bright in the sky. So I dart back up the stairs, edge through the crowd in the kitchen, and scamper back to the living room. Erica is still on the floor. I crouch down to her so that our faces nearly touch. Mine is so much pinker than hers.
“Hey,” I whisper. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
Erica does not stir.
“Come one,” I say as I rustle her. She grunts but does not move. Even with her tiny frame, I know I cannot carry her. I signal to Big Mickey and he ambles over to us.
“Could you help bring Erica to my car? It’s not because you’re a guy or anything. You’re just…”
“Much stronger than you?”
I roll my eyes and nod as I hug myself.
“Just don’t hold her too close,” I say. “She stinks.”
Big Mickey scrunches his nose as he scoops Erica into his brawny chest. We then leave the house in silence and head down the block in search of my car. Despite being sober, I have no idea where I parked. All I know is that it had to be close because Erica had on heels and didn’t want to stumble block after block in stilettos.
Once I locate my hunk of junk, I jiggle the key in the lock on the driver’s side, shove a pile of books off the passenger seat, and open the passenger side door from the inside. Then I roll back into the driver’s seat so Big Mickey can put Erica down. He buckles Erica’s seatbelt and stands there, looking at me.
“Okay, well, thanks,” I say.
“Yeah, no problem.”
“See you in class on Monday,” I add, feeling like I’m reading from a script.
“What?” I snap.
“I think Erica might need professional help,” says Big Mickey. “Her drinking has gotten—”
“There’s nothing we can do about that right now. Good night.”
I roll up the windows with Big Mickey still standing there, glowing white in the moonlight. He is as white as my father and Erica’s mother.
Erica lives on the first level of her building, so it’s easy enough for me to drag her into her apartment. Her sprawling two-bedroom is always a dark, messy cavern, but tonight it exudes a menacing air.
“Hello?” I call out as I stand in the front door with Erica draped over my shoulder. When nobody answers, I bring Erica to the bathroom and seat her on the toilet.
I run to the kitchen to fetch cold water and splash it on Erica’s face. She winces and perks up. Then I tip her head back and feed her water as if she were a baby sparrow I was nursing back to health.
“I’m tempted to put you to bed, but I’m afraid you won’t wake up.”
“And then you’ll be the only mulatto in our class,” Erica sputters. She paws the water cup out of her face as her chuckling grows into a giggle fit.
“Let’s not forget that Shirley Plantation would lose their top slave re-enactor, too,” I say slyly, poking fun at Erica’s real-life college job.
“That’s right,” she laughs. “Can’t let the plantation down.”
“How about a cold bath?”
“Yeah, I know you have ice.”
I bend over to turn on the faucet and turn around to find Erica making a failed attempt to remove her clothes. Her head is stuck in her blouse. I yank it off and help her wriggle out of her jeans, too. She kicked off her heels long ago.
“You’re so good to me,” Erica says as I hand her a towel.
“Don’t say that.”
“I don’t mean you’re perfect, but you are good to me.”
I smile, though I don’t say anything for the rest of the night. When we wake up, we are a bundle of limbs in the tub, pink and yellow entwined. All of the ice cubes have melted.
Christine Stoddard is a Salvadoran-Scottish-American writer and artist who lives in Brooklyn. Her visuals have appeared in the New York Transit Museum, the Ground Zero Hurricane Katrina Museum, the Poe Museum, the Queens Museum, the Condé Nast Building, George Washington University’s Gallery 102, and beyond. In 2014, Folio Magazine named her one of the top 20 media visionaries in their 20s for founding the culture magazine, Quail Bell. Stoddard also is the author of Hispanic & Latino Heritage in Virginia (The History Press), Ova (Dancing Girl Press), Chica/Mujer (Locofo Press), Lavinia Moves to New York (Underground Voices), The Eating Game (Scars Publications), and two miniature books from the Poems-For-All series.