1. Wake up on the day after Christmas, feeling as though someone has taken the blunt end of a hammer and rammed you in the head several…thousand times. It was probably a bad idea to help your parents and your two older brothers finish that fifth of vodka last night. But you’re 23, and according to the unspoken laws of the world, it is socially acceptable to ride the Courtney Love Express until you’re 26. Or 27.
2. Get out of your bed. Stumble to the bathroom where you dry-heave a few times into the toilet but only manage to taste the glazed-ham-and-casserole (lots and lots and lots of casserole) remains of yesterday’s Christmas dinner.
3. Splash water onto your face, swish some Listerine around your mouth for approximately 27 seconds, and climb back into bed. This is not a fight worth fighting.
4. Accidentally fall asleep on your cell phone for a couple of hours. Roll over when it begins to vibrate, jammed against your ribs. Read a text message from your best friend, inviting you to a holiday party this evening.
5. “Sorry, don’t think I can make it. Not feeling well,” you respond. He texts back, telling you not to be a “basic bitch.” When he sends a second text, pointing out that you haven’t seen each other for three weeks and that he’s going out of town in a few days, so this will be the last time you can hang out until 2014, agree.
6. Seven hours later, stuff yourself into a holiday dress and stockings that no longer fit but are the only presentable items of clothing left in your closet — which, otherwise, is a lurid reminder of the Hot Topic phase you went through during high school. You only packed to go home for a few days — sweaters, jeans, and the like because the fanciest event you thought you’d attend was your grandmother’s nursing home Christmas Bash.
7. Your best friend picks you up, borrowing what you recognize as his mom’s SUV because he lives in New York City these days and doesn’t drive much. Actually, he doesn’t do much except complain about his boss and how much his life resembles an episode of Girls put together while the writers were drunk. He double takes at your outfit but graciously does not say anything.
8. The party venue, a hotel downtown, has an open bar. Upon arriving, you attempt to make a beeline towards it. You live in the South, so you didn’t get a white Christmas, but you can dream of a white wine post-Christmas.
9. Your best friend grabs you by the sash on the side of your dress (yes, it is that kind of dress) and hisses in your ear, “Try to remain minimally classy. We have to say hi to people before we start drinking.”
10. Take a hors d’oeuvre from a passing waiter. Manage to spill marinara sauce on the front of your dress, but pray that no one will notice. It can’t get worse, anyways.
11. With your best friend in tow, muster the politest smile you can manage and say hi to childhood friends and classmates — including the girl who made a habit of pulling your hair everyday during 7th grade Pre-Calculus class, whom you haven’t seen since high school graduation. Notice, with a hint of smug superiority, that time has not treated her well.
12. After making the rounds, you finally head towards the bar when you notice…your ex-boyfriend from high school standing in a corner of the room several yards away. He wears a sports jacket and crisp, pleated pants — a far cry from the shiny, gym shorts and hoodies of yore. His hair is slicked back. His face is stubble-free. He’s grown up.
13. Your heart jolts.
14. Your heart jolts a second time when you realize that he has his arm around the girl who bullied you during Pre-Calculus. You wonder when that romance developed and why none of your friends at home have informed you. You look around for your best friend, who you can interrogate about such matters, but he is suddenly nowhere to be found.
15. Your heart jolts a third time. You take a glass of wine from the bartender and finish it in one swig.
16. Your best friend pops up behind you, babbling about the person he just ran into. He stops speaking when he catches your line of vision and grips your arm in solidarity. “Oh, honey,” he says. “You should go say hello.”
17. He downs shots of fireball with you in a second display of solidarity before you go. This is whiskey so thick that you can feel your chest hair begin to sprout. You pat your hair, check your lipstick in your phone camera, and make your way over.
18. “Hello! It’s been ages! How are you?” your ex greets you warmly and pats you on the back. Your Pre-Calculus nemesis flashes a thin-lipped smile in your direction. Another waiter passes by, and you grab a glass of wine from his tray.
19. Pre-Calculus Bitch jabs a finger at the front of your dress. “Is that a stain?” she asks, sneering. You contemplate pouring the rest of your wine over her head. You briefly wonder if she’d melt and/or if someone would kick you out of the party.
20. As you mentally calculate the trajectory your wine would take if you just tossed your glass at her from where you’re standing, your ex exclaims, “Well, it was really great to see you!” He places his hand on her back, adding, “Listen, we need to run, but give me a call the next time you’re in town. Let’s get coffee or something.”
21. You watch as they walk hand in hand toward another cluster of friends — off to live the rest of their Hallmark storyline romance. You feel your wasted heart thump pathetically in your chest as you trudge back towards your best friend, dejected.
22. Encouraged by a moment of desperation and tipsiness (ha, who are you kidding?), ask your best friend if he will be your New Year’s Eve kiss. “I know you’re not attracted to me like that,” you sob. “But that’s what best friends are for, right?”
23. With an emphatic smile, he takes the empty glass from you and places a fresh one in your hand. Before you raise the glass to your lips, he warns you to pace yourself before you head straight into “hot mess city.” He does care.
24. As you sip, you remember that you’re only 23, after all, and you have a solid four years before you need to figure out all the answers — if there even are any answers. So, it’s okay for you to not to have your life together. Not that tonight is any indication that you don’t have your life together.