Private Lives: Personal essays on the news of the world and the news of our lives.
I was going out. I deserved it. I’d had lunch — one Diet Coke, two Marlboro Lights and a Chef’s Signature Lean Cuisine. I’d even done two luxurious miles in 24 minutes on the treadmill at the gym down the block. My stomach growled, angry for being empty, but I felt thin and attractive. There’s nothing more dangerous than a girl who feels thin and attractive.
I hailed a cab to Union Hall in Park Slope. It was warm for late October. I was meeting friends. The top floor of Union Hall has fireplaces, leather couches, an indoor bocce court and a library with actual books, where pseudo intellectuals discussed the same three writers (Hemingway, Kerouac, Salinger) between Jaeger bombs. Wrinkle-free gingham button-downs, Wayfarers even though it was dark, boat shoes because we were close to the Gowanus. These guys all went to honorary Ivies and had entry levels at their dads’ companies. The suit factory can produce a fun night. Just don’t expect them to go Dutch on your Plan B.
The line to the bar was long, so when I arrived I ordered two Jack and Diets for myself. The best investment you’ll ever make is a large tip on your first drink.
I made my way downstairs. My favorite kind of dance floor is so dark and crowded that no one notices that I can’t dance, and this was that. I swayed to the beat without spilling either drink (talent) and scanned the crowd.
Once I had a few (eight) drinks in me I had no use for the friends I came with. I talked to them all the time. I knew their deal. Whiskey made the world a warm hug. Everything and everyone was nice. Addiction, pollution, violence — these were things to worry about tomorrow.
I pushed away some young thugs wearing flat brims who were coming on stronger than my drink. It was clear they were working me together. Two guys? Maybe, but these were not my type. The night was just starting. It was too early to lower my expectations.
I walked back upstairs and outside to the patio and lit up. I saw him. He was standing alone with a beer, smoking. He was looking at his phone, the way you look at your phone when you have no one to talk to. It was easier to pick a guy up when they were separate from their bro herd.
“Hey, I’m Jessica. What’s that monkey doing on your glass?”
He had a little toy monkey hanging off the side of his pint. “It was trivia night,” he smiled.
The next two hours were a blur. So let’s call him Rick. He worked at an app. Everyone worked at an app. Liquor before beer or beer before liquor? I couldn’t remember which one was supposed to come first so I just went back and forth.
We were smoking again, out on the patio. My self-confidence was directly proportionate to my blood-alcohol level. I was Kate Moss. I pulled a bar stool between us. “Let’s arm wrestle,” I said. A command, not a question.
“Uhh, I don’t know. I bench 220. I was a high school quarterback …” he backpedaled.
“Stop making excuses,” I said.
We knelt down on the cement and put up our arms on the small uneven surface of the bar stool. He won the first round. We went left the second round.
“You’re letting me win,” I said. He just laughed. “Come on, arm wrestle me for real. Don’t be a girl!”
We went right again. My arm snapped in half. Rick had broken my humerus in two, a clean fracture. I bent my arm 90 degrees and watched my arm leave my arm. I took my left hand and held the two pieces of my right arm together. “Oh my God,” he said. He was freaking out. “Go close my tab and get us a cab. We’re going to the E.R.,” I said. Cool as a cucumber.
The E.R. at New York Methodist was empty. The doctors on duty could not care less about a drunk girl with a broken arm. The scrubs played Candy Crush below “No Cellphone” signs and passed around a box of Entenmann’s. A nurse with powdered sugar on her lips reluctantly signed me in and ushered me to the waiting room.
Rick filled out my paperwork. We were alone in the waiting room except for a man who looked to be homeless curled up in a chair, sleeping like a baby. Still, it wasn’t the weirdest first date I had ever had.
A doctor finally came over. He had my same last name and first initial. My drunk had unfortunately mellowed but I still found this hilarious and proceeded to act as though we were kin. Blood is thicker than water, which is thinner than whiskey. “I need your urine sample to confirm a negative pregnancy result before we can give you an X-ray. Here’s a cup.”
“Thanks Dr. Caldwell, but I can’t move my arms so I’m not sure how I’ll undo my jeans and aim in that cup. Is there like a nurse on duty? Who can help me?” Dr. Caldwell said “Yeah” and walked back to the front desk with the slowest gait I had ever seen. If he was walking any slower he would have fallen over. A half hour passed and no one came to help me.
Rick and I enjoyed typical first date chatter. What’s your favorite color? Food? College major? If you could bring only three things out of your burning apartment… He stood up. “This is ridiculous, let’s go!” he said, as he led me to the bathroom. Rick proceeded to take my urine sample, which did make this the weirdest first date I’d ever had. He unbuttoned my jeans. “Well this is happening sooner than I thought it would.” “Yeah right!” I said.
I squatted and my cup runneth over: 12 drinks poured out of me. We laughed. God, he was cute. I really liked this guy. We returned to the waiting room. The homeless guy was gone. Where did he go? We were quiet for a minute while we waited to see what would happen next. Anything is possible in the time warp of an emergency room.
“Can I get you anything?” he asked.
“Please just don’t leave me,” I said. I was suddenly serious and worried he would. They always left.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “Let’s go smoke a cigarette.” I was in love.
We left the E.R. at 5 a.m. with a plaster cast and Percocet (guaranteed Sunday Funday). Rick hailed a cab. “What do you wanna do?” he asked.
“Can I go home with you?” I said. “I just don’t want to be alone.” It was impossible to hide my desperation.
“Yeah, of course.”
We went back to his one bedroom in Brooklyn Heights. He had a pet turtle named Biggie Smalls, a fridge stocked with Trader Joe’s, and premium cable. Cozy. We smoked again out the window. He helped me undress in slow motion, like a child. I wrapped my cast in a plastic shopping bag. We took a hot shower and saved the Percs for later. He washed my hair and it felt really, really good.
He gave me a brand new toothbrush. Normally this would be a red flag, a sign of a seasoned player, but he had just been to the dentist, her name was printed in bold. I lay on his bed, on my back, some pillows propped under my head. I clutched my right arm with my left, holding it close as if someone was trying to steal it.
Jessica Caldwell is an independent film producer, and a writers’ room assistant on the Showtime series, “Billions.”