It’s 2010 and I’m a senior at The University of Toledo majoring in education with a focus on English literature. I’m a white male in my early 20s, the poster child of American privilege, too blind and head strong not to escape the tunnel vision of all this entails. I sit across from a white woman at a posh restaurant that I can’t afford, but am willing to charge to my credit in order to impress her. I even drove my father’s car, pretending it was mine, too ashamed to confess I’ve been getting around by taking the bus for over a year. It shames me to admit I can’t recall her name
But I do remember her hair: jetblack, possibly dyed. Shining like silk and down to her waist. She tells me she’s a business major at the community college. She works two jobs, one as a cashier and the other at the ticket booth for the Walleye’s, our town’s amateur hockey team.
None of this is thrilling, but I do my best to pay attention and avoiding scarfing the t-bone on my plate. I’m not even sure why I asked her out on this date, because I’ve only seen her a handful of times before, and our last meeting was a complete embarrassment on my part. To simplify, she held a party at her house, I got drunk and threw up in her roommate’s bedroom, and now I’m here trying to atone for my sin. I can’t even believe she accepted my invitation, though the hand written apology I mailed to her house undoubtedly played a major part.
So much of this tale begins with embarrassment. As I look back on these pre-diagnosed years, I can’t believe who I was. And sometimes I wonder if I still am. This is the first legit date I’ve been on in three years. The last relationship I was in ended up in misery. They all do. Sometimes I try to convince myself I’m not a misogynist, but I can still recall in horror the time I screamed at the said former girlfriend “I just want to fuck you!”
I was twenty when I shouted that. It’s hard to explain to women what hormones due to a young man who can’t get over the fact that he was horny and she didn’t want to have to sex. Needless to say, the relationship didn’t last much longer after that incident. And yet here I am with this beautiful creature before me, name not remembered, just trying my best to be the gentleman I’m not.
A older woman sitting at a table next to us, possibly mid-50s, leans over to anonymous and strokes her hair as she tells her she loves it. It’s an awkward moment. Anonymous gives a coy smile and politely says thank you. The older woman smiles and leaves with the group of people she’s with. I’m completely convinced now that the hair is dyed.
I’m not much for small talk on this date. It’s a weird point in my life. I’ve become completely delusional with my superiority, convinced I’m going to become a famous composer while teaching English to second graders in the Republic of South Korea. I’ve always been a little cocksure but the degree of confidence is off the charts. Little do I know that I’m on the verge of a mental collapse, the beginning of many that to this day feel like will never end. The word they have for this is bipolar, and it is at this point my life that I can safely look back on and point to the beginning.
It’s no wonder that because of this I make a complete ass of myself during the date. When the steak arrives I complain that it has no flavor. Anonymous tells me to ask for A1 sauce. I do and the waiter brings a bottle, and like a fool on meth I raise the bottle to my eye and peek into it and remark that there isn’t much left. I swear I’m not a complete moron but anonymous looks a little embarrassed, and I assure myself that I’m just having fun. I should reiterate that this is a posh restaurant that I can’t afford. It’s called the Mango Tree and this steak costs twenty bucks, and I can’t even remember how I got here.
As usual when on a date, I don’t eat the whole meal, though this is completely contrarian to my nature. But I like to be modest, put on a front, pretend I’m a mannered and cultured upper tier gentleman, usually a bad practice considering what happens when women get to really know me. But at this point, I don’t think I’m fooling anyone about who I am.
When we go to leave I completely blank out on how I get back to anonymous’s house. I’m so used to taking the bus, and this being a time before smart phones and GPS, I’m completely lost. But I try to play cool. So we get in the car and I just start driving in the general direction towards your house.
“You sure you know where you’re going?” she asks ten minutes in and we’re on the completely wrong side of town.
“I thought I did,” I say.
She chuckles and I feel a wave of relief. She turns the radio on, something I’m not used to from a stranger. I smile at her, and she smiles back as she fidgets with the tuner. She finds the alternative rock station and some god-awful music begins to play, and I’m still a little baffled by her not asking if she can turn on the radio. But the boldness of it all thrills me, and it’s a nice to break to let a woman take charge.
She brings up our mutual friend Nick while we’re at a stop light. Nick you could consider my best friend at this point of my life. He’s kind of an asshole and says whatever’s on his mind, which is probably what attracts me to him the most. She tells me how much she likes him, that he’s so funny and carefree. I nod to all this, a little worried by how much attention she’s focusing on him. And this fucking red light won’t change.
She notices, and quips, “Nick would totally run this light.”
Fuckitall. I run the light and she laughs. As much of a fool as I have been I’m a little worried about what I’ve just done. But she’s having a good time and we finally figure out how the hell to get back to her place.
I pull up in front of her house, not sure what exactly happens next. Earlier she told me she’s having a party tonight, something that seems odd to do on the same night of our date, but whatever. I glance at the clock which shows eight. The party doesn’t start till nine. She doesn’t quite invite me in but I nonetheless follow her out of the car up the front steps of her porch into her living room.
The main room has an old wooden floor. It’s a typical mid-century house that hasn’t been updated since the 90s. Nice, but painfully obvious she can barely afford the place, but she seems proud to call it home. It’s better than my situation. I live with my father, the excuse always being I had to choose between having a car or my own place. I chose a car. Then I decided I wanted to live a car-free lifestyle. So here I am borrowing my dad’s car on a date, in a woman’s home trying to convince her I’m the real fucking deal.
She takes her coat off and slings it on the couch.
“So,” I say.
“So,” she says.
We stand there like fools in the silence. I stare at my square toed dress shoes that I usually reserve for the classroom. She’s decked in knee high black boots and a black dress. Such an odd pairing. I feel like Mr. Rogers on a date with Marilyn Manson, but in a way her bold look turns me on. She’s just completely unlike anyone I’ve ever dated.
“I think I’m going to wash some dishes before the party,” she says.
“Oh. I could help you,” I offer.
“Uh, that’s not an issue.”
“I’m not exactly sure what I should be doing.”
She smiles. “You could go get some beer.”
Those words are a breath of fresh air to my ears. “Sure,” I say. I stand there for a moment, not sure what else to say.
“So…are you gonna go get it?” she asks.
“Uh, yeah. Of course.” I back pedal out of there and into my car.
Sitting in the driver seat I sigh and just take the moment to relax and ask myself what the fuck am I doing. Part of me is a little angry that she’s having a party the same day of our date. Who the hell does that? I usually feel in control of myself but lately things have gotten pretty bad. It’s clear as day that I don’t feel welcome in this house. Nor do I feel welcome with the people that will be there. These are the same people that will have been there the night I made an ass of myself. And here I come back for more. I don’t know why I punish myself by being here. Nor why I have taken such an interest in anonymous. Whatever the case, it’s too late to back down now.
I drive to the local carryout and purchase a 24 pack of Coors Light. As I get back in my car I get a text from Nick. “Am I still picking you up tonight?” the text says.
I’m not exactly sure what he means, and to this day it completely blows my mind that I didn’t realize he was referring to the partya, nor why He’s asking if I need a ride. But this is all part of a larger issue, mainly that I’m losing grips of my life at the moment. That I can’t keep control of social engagements nor my behavior is all painfully obvious that something is wrong. But if only I knew it in the moment. Clueless, I ignore Nick’s text.
Back at anonymous’s house I find her in her bedroom staring into a computer screen. Pictures of Nick are pulled up on Facebook. She smiles with glee as she stares at the picture of him passed out on a couch.
“I got the beer,” I say.
“That’s great,” she says, not bothering to look up at me. She just keeps staring at the damn picture.
I shrug and walk out to the kitchen. I put the beer in the fridge. As I do so there’s a knock on the front door. Anonymous goes to the living room and opens the door. In walks Alex, a guy I’ve seen here before. Behind him is a thin white woman who looks so frail I can only assume she had some sort of drug problem. Alex hugs anonymous, walks through the house, and extends his hand towards me. I shake it as he introduces himself, something he’s done to me every time I’ve remet him among the same group of people. I wonder if this is some sort of joke or if he really has no fucking clue that we’ve met him six times before. Acting ignorant, I nod and introduce myself back.
He prances back through the house towards anonymous, a cocksure walk that seems way too sure of himself. I feel a slight unease, not sure what exactly I’m supposed to be doing at the moment. I limp into the living room. The frail looking women looks up me. “So you’re the asshole that puked in Luke’s room,” she says.
“Yeah, that was me,” I say looking at the floor.
Anonymous lets out a nervous giggle before informing the frail woman that she invited me.
“I’m just giving you a hard time,” the woman says.
“Well,” anonymous says, clapping her hands together, “who wants a drink?”
We all gather into the kitchen. Anonymous hands out a beer to all of us. After she hands me mine the frail women looks at me with a cocked grin and asks, “Sure you can handle it cowboy?”
“I’m fine,” I say.
More people arrive. Some familiar faces that seem to glance at me with embarrassed recognition. I tell myself I’m being paranoid but as we all stand around in the living room it becomes all too apparent that I don’t belong here. Everyone has formed into circles and chat among themselves. I stand with my arm against the wall, peering into my cell phone, reading the same text over and over, trying to appear occupied. A hand waves in front of my face. I pull down my phone and see anonymous in front of me smiling.
“Having a good time?” she asks.
“Yeah,” I say.
“You’re not talking to anyone.”
“I was waiting for you,” I say.
“There’s other people here. Go mingle.” She pushes me away from the wall and towards a group of people. I walk up to them, and they all turn their heads to me, then back to themselves. Just as if the situation can’t get any worse, the front door opens and Nick walks in, a bottle of whiskey in his hand. With him is Ryan, an old friend of Nick’s that I’ve hung out with occasionally. The moment I see Nick I start to cheer up. For the first time tonight I’ve found an ally, if only for the moment.
I walk up to Nick and pat him on the back. “Good to see you,” I say.
“I didn’t think you were coming,” he says.
“What do you mean?” I say.
“You never responded to my text.”
I don’t say anything.
“So how did you get here without a ride?”
“Well…” I stammer. Before I can say anything else anonymous interrupts us and hugs Nick.
“Nick, I’m so glad to see you here,” she says.
The two walk off, leaving me standing there with Ryan.
“So Ryan,” I say, “how you been?”
Ryan mutters something and walks off.
As clueless as I am at this point in my life, I’m painfully aware that I’m out in the wilderness. These are people Nick went to school with out in the country. I’m just a city boy, hailing from a poor neighborhood on the East Side. And as much as I hate to admit this about myself, I’ve always been a loner, especially when it comes to social circles. As I stare at the floor, unwillingly to try and mingle, it strikes me that as usual these are people I won’t click with.
A little uncertain of where I should be, I make my way back through the house and down to the basement where everyone has gathered. Nick is back with Ryan, having a drink and talking amongst themselves. I stand next to Nick and try to spark a conversation. I ask how he’s been but he completely ignores me. I’m not sure what I’ve done, of course I don’t, and I start to get defensive. I ignore Nick and after some awkward silence Nick goes back upstairs. Once again I’m alone with Ryan. Once again we’re silent.
Fed up with this shit I speak up. “So Ryan, how’s the band going. You find a singer yet?”
Ryan looks annoyed. “Nope.”
“That’s too bad,” I say.
He takes a swig from a red Dixie cup. “So, you still singing in your band?” he says. He snickers and takes another swig.
To clarify, I play guitar and drums and formed a band of myself and a couple of friends. We were never able to find a singer, and without much care I took up duties. I’m not sure what exactly Ryan is snickering at. I don’t think I’m a bad singer. Hell, was in honor choir in high school. But I start to feel a nagging feel that he thinks I’m a fool.
Ryan downs the cup and heads upstairs. Again, I’m alone and staring at the floor, amidst a crowd of people who all seem to be having a good time. I’m a little confused about what’s going on. Nick and I have always been close, but something feels different tonight. Fortunately, anonymous appears.
“Still not having fun?” she says.
“I am too” I say.
“You’re not talking to anyone.”
“I’m not much of one to mingle.”
“You need to open up more.”
“Sure” I say and head into the crowd and that nagging feel of unwelcomeness returns. Faced with the fear of having to like these people, I hurry upstairs where it’s more quiet.
Nick is talking with a group of women, and I hear him mention he’ll see if there’s any opening at his work. The idea of networking seems odd to me, something I still struggle with today. I feel so far removed from where Nick is at life. I live with my dad and and have the security of being school. Nick is a high school dropout who found his in way through the workforce. After surviving through a string of minimum wage jobs, Nick got hired as an ATT cable technician. It sounds impressive and I envy the fact that he makes enough to money to afford a house. Nevermind that I’m an education major months away from graduating. The idea that I can succeed seems so far removed from my consciousness that I might as well be a dropout myself. Sadly, this lack of faith in myself will prove true, as time will eventually prove..
I mope around the house, trying to make a gameplan of what I’ll do. I really want to just be alone with anonymous. Afterall, this was supposed to be my night with her. I didn’t even know she was throwing a party until I picked her up hours earlier.
Finally Nicks ends the conversation and I make my way to talk to him again.
“So Nick,”I say, “what are you drinking?” He holds up a dixie cup that has a a brownish liquid in it.
“Seven and seven,” he says.
“That’s cool,” I say.
With a pause and sigh, Nick adds: “There’s some whiskey you can have in the fridge.”
I tell him I’ll get a sip and head into the kitchen. Standing in front of the fridge are anonymous and Alex, busy in a conversation. I interrupt and motion that I’d like to get in the fridge. Alex asks what I want.
“There’s a bottle of whiskey,” I say.
“That’s Nick’s,” Alex says.
I’m thrown off by this. Is he implying I’m a mooch? Looking at this period I realize why. A couple of weeks earlier at the party where I unfortunately threw up, I had been drinking from Nick’s whiskey. I vaguely recall him offering a drink, but I now realize that I ending up drinking more of it without his permission. So much so that I got obliterated drunk.
Alex nods and moves out of the way.
I fill a cup with the whiskey and make my way back to Nick. Ryan’s back with him and they pause from talking when I stand next to them.
“Seen any good movies lately?” I say.
They both shake their heads.
“Well,” I say, “why so quiet.”
Nick stares at me. I grin a little, not sure what’s going on. It’s a nervous grin but Nick takes it the completely wrong way.
“Did I do something?” I say.
“Yeah you did,” Nick says.
“You didn’t tell me you were already here. You wasted my fuckng time.”
I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what’s going on.
Nick continues. “You know what you are Mike?”
“What?” I say, in disbelief.
“You’re a narcissist.”
As goofy as it may seem, I’m not even aware what a narcissist is. So much for that English degree. A little confused and not really sure what he’s trying to imply, I keep up with the nervous grin.
“What the fuck are you grinning about?” he asks.
“Oh come on,” I say, “you’re being silly.”
I hear Ryan snicker.
“What the hell are you laughing about?” I say to him.
Ryan just keeps on snickering.
“So what are you going to say about this?” Nick says.
“I don’t know what the hell you are talking about,” I say.
“You really don’t get it. I want you to leave me alone.”
Even without knowing what a narcissist is, I’m completely dumbfounded by this. I feel my neck burning, my limbs to starting to numb. And I’m still fucking grinning.
“Come on Nick, you don’t mean that,” I say.
“I won’t say it again: I don’t want to be friends with you.”
I feel dizzy, so much so that it reminds me of the time I got punched in the gut by a teenager when I was kid. Unsure of what else to say, I stop grinning.
“Oh,” I say.
“Yeah,” Nick says.
Confused and hurt, I head to the bathroom. I wash my face at the sink with my hands, and stare into the mirror. My eyes are red and I realize I’m going to look like a dumbass if I stay here any longer. I make a quick decision that I’m going to get the hell out of there.
Back in the living room music is blaring, and I’m convinced people are staring at me. Without hesitation I head for the door and slip out of the house. It’s a cool night and a breeze blows against my face. I’m still confused but I can at least sigh because I got the fuck out of there. And then the door opens.
Anonymous steps out to the porch and asks if I’m okay.
Her voice drives as wrench through my head. “I don’t belong here,” I say.
“Yeah, I figured that,” she says.
“You a nice girl,” I say, I’m glad I got to spend time with you.”
“Thanks.” She hugs me, but still numb, there’s no comfort in the gesture.
“See you around,” she says.
Instead of going to my father’s house I head over to my mom’s, who only lives a couple of miles away. I have a bedroom there that I use occasionally when I have to go to work on that side of town. The house is dark and I sneak in, trying not to draw attention to myself.
I sit down at the computer in the living room and open up Firefox. I type in “narcissist” on Google and pull up the Wikipedia entry. I read the definition slowly, in complete disbelief. “Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes,” the article reads. Bam, the first fucking sentence. I get angry as I keep reading the fucking definition over and over. I’m not like that, I tell myself. Slowly this anger fades, and as I keep reading this fucking article over and over, I start to tear up. “What the fuck?” I whisper.
I move away from the computer and slump down on the couch, alone in the dark, tears pouring down my cheeks. “What the fuck?” I say to noone.
The good thing about a good cry session is that provides catharsis. I’m completely drained, and feeling defeated and humiliated, I lie in bed. I drift off for what must be minutes when I hear my phone ring. I look at it and can’t believe that it’s Nick calling. I hesitate about answering, but perplexed, I flip the phone open.
“Hello,” I say.
“You didn’t fucking tell me you took her out on a date,” he says.
“That’s fucking awesome.”
“I’ll talk to you later, man.”
The phone clicks. I’m not sure what the just happened. I sure as hell don’t feel relieved. I still feel buzzed from the night. And without any more care to be alive, I close my eyes and fall asleep.
As Nick says, we see each other again and hang out and watch films and get drunk at bars. But everything feels different now. And while the friendship seems to be reestablished, it’ll be a mere six months before I text him one day and tell him our interests don’t align. It’s a phrase I often hear academics say, and I feel like an entitled prick sending it, but Nick merely replies back “Ok”.
During this time I see a therapist, a pretty respectable one that I was fortunate to be able to get and in see. I expect to be a bag of emotions, to lie on a couch and spill my heart out. He has none of this. He informs me that I’m like a sponge, soaking up all these emotions. I need to let everything flow through me, like I’m a window screen or something. I tell him I don’t believe that. He tells me I will.
I bring up the narcissist incident. During the months since that moment happened I’ve become obsessed with personality disorders and begin to believe I have one. Thanks Google. I tell him that I think I have narcissistic personality disorder. He laughs.
“Those diagnoses are nonsense,” he says.
It doesn’t quite register in that moment, but I’ll eventually realize that he’s right. Psychologists will try to pigeonhole any negative aspect of our personalities they can think of. Google it and you’ll see all the bullshit there for everyone to load up their prejudices with. Highlights include asocial, sadistic, histrionic, and more that only make me angry. Keep in mind, these professionals at one point considered homosexualtiy a personality disorder. But man, looking back, does it feel good to be told by a respected professional in the field that this shit is just labels. This eventually will shape how I view how we victimize and stigmatize people with problems. It’s the reason I find the American notion of justice no more than a thirst for blood. I always take it personal when an accused individual is blindly persecuted without any attempt to understand what has shaped the person to be what they are. This is also the start of my disrespect towards other psychologists. I’ve seen many, and aside from this one, I’ve had lousy experiences. They always ask me want I want to work on. I never know what to say. I don’t want to have bipolar disorder anymore. I just want to talk to someone. I still think about this guy though. He simply asked what brought me here, and gave me solid advice. Something a father should give. It’s a little disheartening when I get a $200 dollar bill in the mail just to get some closure. I still have strong feelings about this period, but the hole in my wallet is by far the easiest aspect to accept.