It seemed I was well on my way. I felt…popular. My Myspace page was constantly blowing up with comments from new friends, refreshing my memories of the outrageous things we’d said and done the night before. We joked about absinthe shots and the weird guy who fell through the glass table after trying to dance on top of it. We giggled hysterically as we filled memory gaps lost to intoxication.
I saw these people at parties. The girls welcomed me into their social circles. They hugged me, swearing that we were great friends. We all vowed to spend the summer parading the beach together.
Loads of people made promises about the glory of my upcoming two-one.
“Okay, well, we have to all go out on your birthday,” they chimed.
“Your birthday is gonna be so rad!” my friend James (not his real name) assured me. “We’re gonna rage like we’ve never raged before!”
I was certain that I would not face the horrible scenario of not having people to go out with on my 21st birthday. This was P.B., after all, a town where a person would hit a bar dragging an oxygen tank, if necessary. My birthday would land at the beginning of Memorial Day weekend. Who was going to stay home?
But as the big day approached, I faced a bleak reality: San Diego, especially P.B., is a town full of flakes. There is no such thing as making plans. If you throw a party, people who say they’ll make it won’t show, and people who say they won’t show, do. Everything is done spur-of-the-moment. This behavior clashed with the tenets of Southern etiquette that still lingered from my childhood. In the South, it’s extremely rude to back out of plans. You are expected to either keep them or call in advance to cancel. But the people I knew in San Diego didn’t give a damn about my plans. Whatever was good for them was the only thing that mattered. If I wanted to be a P.B. girl, I needed an ultra-laid-back attitude or I’d be considered uptight and dramatic.
I never could become nonchalant. I only pretended. When a friend and I planned on doing something one weekend, I knew it would never happen. I could repeatedly phone, but it would be in vain. Yet, I never spoke a word in opposition. I never called these precious P.B. friends rude, self-centered, or unreliable. And when my birthday came along, I never revealed how hurt I was when the dozens of friends who’d vowed to make the night unforgettable seemed to have other plans, to scatter, maybe, into the depths of the universe. Nobody apologized or even remembered that I had a birthday coming up. Unlike middle school in Tennessee, the P.B. popular kids didn’t even tell me they were going to be busy. To them, one day I would just magically be able to enter the bars and it wouldn’t occur to them why.
This city that I wanted to blend into was populated with lost little lambs — brainless, coked-out, cleavage-baring little lambs— unable to think or care a single footstep ahead of their four-inch wedges. Everyone, it seemed, had the attention span of a toddler on crack.
On May 27, hours before midnight, when I would turn 21, I fought the urge to bury myself in the sheets and cry until my birthday passed. I called a few friends. After enough borderline begging, I convinced Yolanda (not her real name), her husband Darren (not his real name), and Janet (not her real name) to go out with me.
Janet was a 24-year-old Georgia gal. She was book-smart but seemed as naïve as a Sunday-school girl. When she drank, she did so continuously until she was either purging or naked with someone who would take advantage of her; she was a date-rape waiting to happen. Men were drawn to Janet, though there was nothing remarkable about her appearance. She had a cute-but-quaint round face and a short chestnut bob with the tips touching her chin. Her body was petite and pear-shaped. No, it wasn’t beauty that attracted men, but the fact that Janet was such an obvious disaster. When it came to standards, she had none. Even in my drunkest, sluttiest moments, I was a hundred times more selective. She’d bang anyone who gave her the time of day. But there was innocence to the way she did it — she was like a child manipulated by pedophiles. Janet’s men were the worst kind.
I legally entered the doorways of a bar on May 28, 2006, around 12:30 p.m. The bouncer looked at my ID, smiled, and said, “Happy birthday.” I wanted to kiss him. It took only one Long Island iced tea to make me forget about the people who’d stood me up, including James, who I’d seen with his crew at another P.B. bar that very night. By the second Long Island, I was posing for goofy pictures and throwing darts with Darren, happy with the three friends who had come out. By my third or fourth, we had company.
Janet had invited a boy named Tony (not his real name) she’d met online. Tony was short, standing at about five-foot-six, with short brown hair, a five o’clock shadow, and goofy big ears. He looked as if he’d stepped out of Jersey Shore. Tony was accompanied by a friend. I paid little attention to both of them because I was focused on getting hammered, assuming that I wouldn’t have an appropriate 21st birthday if I didn’t.
After the fourth or fifth beverage, my memory of events gets spotty. The next thing I recall is falling flat-faced onto the sidewalk — wearing heels had been genius. Suddenly, Yolanda and Darren were gone and it was just Janet, Tony, his friend, and me crammed into my tiny living room. I sat on the cheap loveseat, the friend sat in the circle futon, and Janet curled up with Tony on the carpet; he had his tongue down her throat. A happy couple for the night, they stumbled into my roommate Bianca’s bedroom.