Before Myspace and Friendster, sites like Hot Or Not, Face the Jury, and What the Dilly were online playgrounds, occupied by the users of all ages who were predominately weird. These sites were filled with far more questionable discourse than you’ve ever seen on Facebook.
This was the dawn of social networking, when Dateline aired specials on the dangers of meeting people online. Men over thirty could hang out with girls too young to pay them any attention on the street, so long as they hosted the party and were willing to buy the booze.
I was nineteen when my boyfriend of three years and I took a ‘break’ that turned into a six-month free for all. Since I had met him in a chatroom, it was to the internet I returned to look for diversions. Jeff was a token older internet guy — kinda dweeby, practically jizzing his pants at the prospect of hosting a party for his “fave hotties” from the internet.
Jeff lived alone in a ranch-style house deep in the suburban sprawl, a neighborhood made up of little square houses in little square yards with driveways, freshly mowed lawns and carefully groomed shrubbery. I arrived alone, with four bottles in a plastic bag: two 20 oz. Coca-Cola classics and two pints of Bacardi 151.
I met Amy as I poured half of each soda down the kitchen sink. She had on too much black eyeliner beneath the thick, square frames of her glasses. But it worked with her whole mall goth vibe; tight band t-shirt, red plaid miniskirt, an oversized black hoodie thrown over it.
I nodded to the hefty CD binder cradled to her chest. “What do you have in there?”
Amy smiled. “Everything!”
I took a drink from the mix I’d made. The first sip burned; nose, throat, mouth. I sputtered, then extended the bottle to Amy.
“Rocket fuel,” I joked.
Amy choked and spit as I had. We passed the bottle back and forth, reckless with our consumption as we flipped through her CD case. Amy pushed strands of bottle black hair out of her face and pulled at the elastic at the end of one pigtail.
“Do you like My Chem?”
I shook my head. “Never heard of them.”
“Oh — they’re my favorite! You have to hear this!”
With each ring of the doorbell, more people we didn’t know streamed into the house, party growing ever more raucous with an explosion of underage drunks. The air was rife with hormones — and opportunity.
The bottle is half-empty when Amy suggests we move to the basement to seek out familiar faces, pilfer some of their beers. She is not as drunk as I am when she whispers in my ear that she’s going to kiss me, both because she wants to and because she wants to impress the guy standing to her left. He gave our show a dismissive glance before turning his attention to a nearby gaggle of blondes. Once that first overture had been made, Amy had no qualm with repeating it.
My vision was starting to blur when I noted we’d run out of Rocket Fuel. The basement was hot, crowded with unfamiliar faces I was having a hard time telling apart. Amy and I were slurring our words when I left her on some guy’s arm, hitting the kitchen to reclaim my second bottle somewhere with more elbowroom.
I met Carly and Kim as I dug through the fridge. They were Abercrombie-clad and J.C. Penny pretty, two factors that betrayed their age before they had the chance to tell me they were still in high school. The two girls eyed the bottle in my hand, their stares anticipatory. I felt obligated to proffer some of the contents to them.
Each took several swigs before cringing, mouths crumpled by the accompanying burn. The second batch was easily twice as strong as the first. Kim thanked me and wandered off, but Carly glued herself to my elbow, just as eager to help nurse my bottle as she was to consort with me.
Carly’s eyes twinkled when she mentioned she saw me kissing Amy downstairs. The comment came out of nowhere. Unsure of how to respond to an observation that didn’t sound like it was inferring anything, I gave a shrug and sheepish smile but said nothing.
“Should we go somewhere… more private?”
Her suggestion sounded like an offer, not spoken so much as purred. I knew she was drunk — but so was I. With a devious smirk, I took her outstretched hand and followed her down the hall.
Most of the bedrooms were already occupied, or at least locked. It was just luck that the last door opened as Carly reached for the knob, revealing both Jeff and his bedroom were unoccupied. Seeing her hand wrapped around my wrist, Jeff opened the door wider and ushered us inside. When the door shut, there were three of us inside. Jeff turned the lock and drifted wordlessly into some darkened corner. Carly and I were in no condition to pay him any mind.
Carly went right for the bed, sprawling across it, but I stood between door and mattress, unsure if I was supposed to be taking the lead. She eyed me, licking her lips and pushing her hair out of her face.
She giggled. “Don’t you want to kiss me?”
We didn’t paw at each other so much as I grabbed at her, room spinning as I plied her breasts, gorgeous globes of pale flesh; bigger than mine, heavy and firm. Carly did a lot of heavy breathing before shedding her shirt and sliding her jeans just below the knees.
I heard the whirr and pop of the camera’s flash going off but didn’t stop. Each successive flash lit up the room, creating momentary freeze-frames of our activity, saved and stored digitally. My hand snaked past the barrier of her underwear. The one-man flash mob continued.
The mound of soft hair beneath the cotton caught me off guard. This was my first exposure to a viable thicket of pubic hair in the wild, both intimidating and sexy now that it was attached to a young, lithe body instead of the older women changing in YMCA locker rooms. My slicked digits moved in and out of Carly, the motions graceless, hasty. Still, her mix of gasps and moans egged me on.
Knocks at the door went unnoticed until they became louder, a resonant, ominous pounding that punctuated Carly’s panting.
The voice outside is familiar though I can’t identify it, clear and loud. Jeff unlocked the door without bothering to put his camera down.
Carly’s friend Kim had returned, infinitely more sober than either of us and clearly not amused. Kim took in the scene, sucking in a breath.
“Carly.” The word is both a command and stern use of her name. “We need to go. Like, now.”
Kim strode across the room, using Carly’s arm to pull her fully upright. Poor girl barely had enough time to dress herself before she was dragged from the room.
Jeff gave me a high five after the girls left and then scurried from the room — to show off the fruits of his labor, no doubt. Ten minutes later, I locked myself in a bathroom and revisited every mouthful of firewater I’d dispatched. There was no relief to be had once my stomach emptied. I dry heaved until snot and tears mixed with the residual vomit on my face.
Once my retching subsided, I found a vacant room at the far end of the hall, barricaded myself inside and promptly passed out on the hard wood floor.
I woke with my first truly crippling hangover ever. The house was empty, save for Amy and Jeff. Both looked like hell but didn’t seem any worse for wear — how? My repeated trips to the bathroom proved even the emptiest of guts can hold you hostage.
I was supposed to report to a shitty waitressing gig for the afternoon shift, but each visit to the porcelain god became progressively worse. I could barely stand — I could forget about driving anywhere, not to mention making polite conversation with strangers. I retrieved my bag from where it had been stashed the night before, finding both my keys and wallet still safely inside but the heavy flip phone gone missing. I stumbled between rooms, searching for the little silver Samsung. Wherever it wound up, it was long gone.
I was reduced to squinting at the tiny numbers in a phone book; scared I couldn’t get away with calling in sick. I was barely holding it together when I got my manager on the phone, claiming I had a bad case of food poisoning. With noticeable doubt in his voice, he told me to feel better, that he’d see me the next morning. My stomach rumbled as we hung up, guilt and waves of nausea looming.
I rejoined Amy and Jeff in his bedroom. I didn’t want to still be there, but I still wasn’t capable of actually leaving. Taking a seat at his desk, I searched the web for “quick fix home hangover remedies.” None of results were particularly appealing.
As I searched, the grogginess I’d woken with began to lift, the aggressive churning of my stomach abating. With each slow, deep breath I began to feel better. Miraculously, entirely better. Something was off.
The room smelled funny, both warm and chemical, a preheated oven with the inside coated in degreaser. I turned to identify the Rice Krispie crackling I was hearing, expecting a lot of things but not what was actually going down behind me.
In Jeff’s hands were a broken light bulb and lighter, held one over the other, the flame steady. Amy’s eyes were all for the wisps of smoke rising off the burnt glass, chasing them with the empty tube of a ballpoint pen. She sucked them up masterfully; holding her breath before exhaling long, gray battering rams of acrid-smelling vapor.
The two looked over, but didn’t stop on my account. It took a few seconds for the whole situation to click. Once it did, I was appalled. A sudden surge of adrenaline expedited our goodbyes; I had to cut my losses, abandon any hope of recovering my phone, and get home before the second-hand high wore off.
I got home with enough time to shower before I started to sober up, moving from feeling just fine to coming down in a bad way. At least I got to feel like shit in the safety of somewhere familiar.
It took a few days before I recovered enough to leave the house and replace my phone. The first call I received was from a number I didn’t recognize, but I answered it anyway. (This was before everyone started sending unknown callers directly to voicemail.)
It was a girl on the other end of the line.
“Hey, sorry about this weekend,” she said.
I didn’t recognize the number, or the voice, either.
“This is really embarrassing and all, but I lost my phone at a party this weekend, so I have no idea who I’m speaking with.”
The name didn’t ring any bells.
She cleared her throat. “Carly’s friend? I uh… burst in? While you two were, um…”
Flashes of the scene in Jeff’s bedroom come back to me, and I chuckled. “Yeah, I remember. I’m really sorry, you know, about all that…”
I am preparing to make excuses and apologize, but Kim cut me off.
“Listen, my parents are going out of town this weekend, so I’m having a little get together.”
She paused. “Girls only. You in?”