Dispatch 18 (Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 1998)
I woke up with fragments of Halloween night blurring
intensely with half-formed dream images I was already forgetting.
The throbbing in my head wasnt noticeable at first
because the weight of it felt like a remnant from sleep, a ball and chain dragged from the
subconscious world to this one.
I did remember one detail and for those first few seconds
of waking wasnt sure if it had been dream or reality. My hand was shaking in
hangover weariness as well as fear as I brought it to my lips. I brushed the back of my
hand against my lips, feeling the glossy lipstick rub off.
It wasnt my shade.
* * *
Oh god oh god oh god what have you done to me, I want
to sleep and not wake today and not remember and oh god Gina what did you do what did I do
and what happened?
* * *
She was gone already and more numb than anything else,
I took a shower under hot water that soothed me, but didnt waken my senses. In the
terrycloth robe, I wandered to the kitchenette, made coffee in the little four-cup
dispenser and drank it with as little milk and as little sugar as I could stand.
I used it to wash down the Midol.
I remembered a little bit at a time with no blockages
it was like using a flashlight. The only parts illuminated were the ones I chose to
point my memory toward. I remembered Sixth Street, getting ready before Sixth Street,
coming home after Sixth Street. I remembered. All the way to brushing my hand against my
lips, bringing back the last of last night I remembered.
Every few moments, sitting there alone with the blue
coffee cup (National Honor Society 1996, it read maliciously) between my hands, a voice in
my head rose up shrilly, freaking out. I tried to calm it down by pointing the memory
light in other directions, always other directions, coming at it from another angle, from
some corner of safety.
Best not to stare at the sun directly.
* * *
After the coffee and after some orange juice, I felt a
little better. I willed my memory back to start from the beginning to replay it as
if on a movie screen, start to finish. Methodical. A to B to C.
I remembered our costumes.
* * *
My original idea for a
Halloween costume was to use a childrens Easy Bake Oven, cut a hole through the
bottom and stick my head through it Instant Sylvia Plath. Would anyone get it? I
didnt care. But finding an Easy Bake Oven that
someone is willing to let you cut up turned out to be more time consuming than I thought
it was worth so instead I broke down and went to a costume shop on South Congress. It was
last minute costume searching on Friday afternoon and the best I could do outside of a
tacky rubber mask and without looking slutty was a nuns costume. But I cheated a
little I wore fishnets.
I arrived in costume, habitually, at about six.
Ginas roommate Soo was getting ready to hit a party with her boyfriend, whom I met
for the first time.
He was rail thin with thick glasses and spiky hair. His
name was Tan. Tan and Soo were dressed as matching devils, red capes and pitchforks, but
the two of them smiled and held hands so much I began to believe that the only Hell they
might preside over was the one for single people.
I made a little show of fending them off with my cross and
they played along gamely, shriveling into little screaming piles on the floor.
They were on their way out when I arrived, but Gina was
still getting dressed, putting on the finishing make-up touches in her
Cats-but-not-Andrew-Lloyd-Webber-Cats costume. She had on a skin-tight black body suit,
black high heels, a red collar with a tiny jingle bell and kitten ears on a band in her
hair. Shed hair-sprayed her curls back and it looked suitably tousled. Shed
painted a small black dot on her nose and was drawing thin whiskers on her cheeks.
"Hey, Heather! You drove away the demons."
"I think I did," I said. "I forgot to bring
you Friskies. Will a communion wafer do?"
"Id rather have cat-nip," Gina said.
"Rolled up in little papers that I can smoke."
She picked up her purse, a small leopard-skin bag, and we
left. Gina drove us to Hula Huts on a beautiful, cool evening perfect for Halloween. It
wasnt too cold to wear a revealing costume and not uncomfortably warm under my habit
We arrived at Hula Huts in time for an hour-long wait for
a table. The mix of people waiting outside by the water and near the parking lot was a
motley assortment that was just the sneak preview of what wed find on Sixth Street.
There was a mummy, one of the South Park kids (the fat one?), a pirate, and three, yes,
three Monica Lewinskys with stained blue dresses.
Gina and I waited in the cool breeze. I made little cross
gestures to people as they passed and when Gina saw a guy walked by that she liked, she
made a throaty purr. If he was really off the charts, she meowed loudly, always getting
the man in question to turn her way.
Two guys dressed as women (not in drag this was the
clumsy "raid the girlfriends closet and use balloons for boobs" kind of
effort) came and started talking to us. One of them mentioned a frat party going on. He
handed Gina a little card-stock flyer and then their table pager started flashing its
little red lights and they went inside.
"Try to come if you can make it!" the shorter,
less womanly-endowed of the two said as they walked inside to claim their table.
Our table was ready sooner than the hour wed been
told it would take. We sat, and I ordered a fajita tube taco while Gina went for
enchiladas. We were both tickled, watching people inside and outside on the pier in their
costumes, drinking lots of drinks, acting out their characters. Halloween, at least at
Hula Huts, was not a kids holiday.
The food was fantastic and far too much, but it was washed
down well with two rounds of strong margaritas. I was woozy by the time we finished eating
and I had to whip my little calculator out of my purse to figure out the tip. My brain
couldnt grasp the numbers, and even as I tried to enter them into the little
solar-powered Casio, I kept screwing up the decimal point.
Gina was driving and if she wasnt sober, she
didnt show it. I didnt think about it then, but a good many of our nights
together revolve around dining, drinking, then driving. I dont think theres a
twentysomething in Austin who hasnt driven
drunk. They citys public transportation isnt exactly suited to getting the
drunks home safely.
We navigated through the heavy traffic toward downtown and
had trouble finding a spot even in the pay lots. We ended up a good many blocks from Sixth
Street and had to pay four dollars to a withered old lot attendant.
"You ladies have a good evening," he rasped. We
passed the warehouse district on our way and I was disappointed to see so few people
running around. It wasnt too much of a step up from the average Saturday night.
As we crossed Congress, however, I started to notice the
different. Many more people were dressed up in elaborate costumes including Naked Guy,
wearing a body suit with extremely anatomically correct equipment hanging near to the
ground. There was also a fully decked out Borg from Star Trek and a Xena complete with
As we hit Sixth Street and started heading East, we hit
the multitude. Thousands of people were milling, a few feet at a time. It was a kind of
impromptu parade the people walking walked and many of them were in costume. But
there was an almost equal number of people keeping off to the side, standing still and
occasionally taking pictures of people with good costumes, or in the case of Gina and I, a
pretty face. It was a great opening line for some guy: "Let me take your
picture!" and he could hide behind his camera, shoot the snapshot and brag to his
Gina was popular among the amateur photographers.
Police barriers separated the middle of the street
creating two separate sides. People came and went, east and west, some waving to the other
side costumes passing in the night.
The sheer number of costumes and the energy of being
pushed around in a mass was exhilarating for us, but also a little tiring. We finally
retreated to one of the dozens of bars open for business. They had drink specials on well
drinks and Gina and I went right down to it. I was getting hot under my robes, so I took
off the habit as we drank.
"Mother may I?" someone behind us yelled as I
removed it. Gina laughed and patted me on the back.
The guy and his group joined us and began buying us
drinks, making idle conversation. Gina didnt seem to mind letting them pay for
drinks, and I followed her lead. We continued consuming: I counted (between the two of
us): two Long Island Iced Teas, three kamikazes (one for me, two for Gina), three buttery
nipple shots (two for me, one for Gina) and the Shiner
Bocks that started us off on the magic journey.
I got up to go to the bathroom and stumbled off the stool
as I did so. Inside, in a plain and dirty stall, I nearly lost my balance and brained
myself. I imagined what would have happened if Id fallen, cracking my head open
against the side of the toilet. Halloween, I thought morbidly, would be a perfect night
for something like that. Nun dies on the can.
Gina was ready to go when I emerged. I put my arm around
her for balance and we again braved the outside crowd.
We headed back the way we came, music from a dozen
different clubs and bars providing the back beat for the costume parade. I laughed loudly
at a couple dressed in Elizabethan glory. A round
white head from the Jack in the Box restaurant mascot passed by and by then I knew I
didnt have to be drunk to appreciate the surreal, but it certainly helped.
"I was gonna go to the frat party, but I think
were both too drunk," Gina said. "Do you agree?"
I nodded sickly, still leaning on her as we walked through
the throng of people. We saw a fight begin and kept on walking as people began to push in
all directions. The police looked on and didnt move, then came in at full force,
holding back a woman who was screaming and spitting at another girl.
By the time we reached Congress Street, twenty minutes
later, the crowd was almost non-existent and we could walk freely. I looked at my watch
and was amazed to discover it was after 2 a.m.
We walked to Ginas car and she took me home, driving
by some miracle that helped us both from getting killed.
She took me straight to my apartment and I didnt
think about my car or how I would get it in the morning. Sleep, or just lying down and
keeping the swimming world steady seemed more important.
We wandered into my one-bedroom apartment. I could hear
the loud thump thumping of the upstairs neighbor playing reggae music. I offered Gina beer
from the fridge that had been leftover from a long-ago party. It was pretty much the only
liquor I had in the house. She took a Shiner and began guzzling it down. I abstained,
preferring to avoid tempting fate.
"Music!" Gina said. "And not reggae."
She thumbed through my CDs and put on my Janis Joplin Greatest Hits disc.
She hadnt head all of it, but we both scream/sang "Piece of My Heart."
We lay together on the futon and the ceiling with its
mottled specs drifted lazily above me, the world spinning at several thousand miles a
second as I tried to stop feeling it.
"Heather, you drank a lot," Gina said, turning
"I know," I said, defeated.
"You gonna be okay?"
"I feel okay, Gina," I said. "In fact,
lets go out again. Lets go back. Im more sober now."
"Youre crazy," Gina told me. "We were
lucky to get home. I dont know how I made it back."
"Are you still drunk?" I asked.
"I dont know," Gina said. "A
"Do guys always act that way?" I asked.
"Buying you drinks, talking to you, just giving you
all this attention."
"I think Id be very unhappy if guys didnt
give me that kind of attention," Gina said, sounding very serious. "I crave it.
Maybe just because Im used to it, but I expect men to give me total attention. To
desire me, even if they cant have me."
"I cant do that," I said. "I mean,
Im not you. You know that."
"Why, because youre not attractive?" Gina
"Its not about being attractive, its
about how you carry yourself. And yes, some of it is beauty. I dont look like you,
Gina," I said. I didnt know why I was saying all this. It wasnt exactly
"You have your own look," Gina said. "That
doesnt mean more or less attractive. Youre a different person."
"Im not a knockout," I said. "And I
accept that. Its fine. But guys dont look at me the way they look at
"So make them look at you," Gina said.
"Its all just attitude."
I shut up. I was a little angry. A statement like that is
an easy one to make for someone who has a body and a face to back up that attitude. I was
too woozy to argue. I didnt want to keep talking about this.
"Heather," Gina said, getting my attention back.
"Youre pretty. Do you not believe that?"
I shook my head. "It doesnt matter. I never
made it a priority to be pretty."
"You have good lips and beautiful eyes," Gina
"Uh huh," I answered.
"And youre smart. And youre a good
"Yeah, whatever," I said.
"How come you cant take a compliment?"
"I can. I just
I dont know. Im
drunk, Gina. I cant, you know, think right now. Its just, theyre just
words. Doesnt mean anything in the real world."
"Oh," Gina said.
And it happened. I was turned away, listening and
responding as I faced the ceiling and I saw her move toward me. I turned and she was
there, her face next to mine.
She moved in slowly, inexorably, her eyes wide open as I
froze in surprise. She leaned to me, the fragrance that laced her neck cutting through my
drunkenness. Her lips pressed against mine and it was soft for just a moment as they met
mine. Then the pressure was harder as her teeth bit my lower lip. I responded, maybe
mechanically, but responding just the same and unsure why. It was just
falling asleep or coasting on cruise control. Just giving up my presence and letting this
warmth take over. Her tongue touched mine and then the world returned, suddenly,
sickeningly. I jerked back, as if waking, and rolled away.
"Gina," I said, my thoughts jumbling and
multiplying. "What was
She was getting up and going to the bathroom. I heard the
door close and the running of faucet water. I buried my head in the cushion. The sudden
motion had made me feel queasy. I took deep breaths and soon I began to drift.
I was aware of the muffled sound of the bathroom door opening and
footsteps coming toward me, I knew I was losing this world. The sounds
of the room followed me down the rabbit hole, and I was surrendering
again, this time to sleep instead of a kiss.