Dispatch 33 (December 31, 1998)

     "Are you two, like, roommates?"
     The tall one, I’ll call him Trevor, is wearing a baseball cap (Oakland A’s) and drains his plastic cup of Shiner Bock in about two swallows. His buddy (let’s call him Chad) is a little chunkier with a Longhorns sweatshirt and pale blue eyes that would burn if they didn’t look so dead and numb.
     "Yeah, we live together," Gina said, holding her own cup of beer that she sipped from occasionally. When we arrived at the party, Gina had led me straight to the bar, or what passed for it: a makeshift counter with about eight bottles of the Old Standards – tequila, rum, vodka, Kahlua, Jack Daniels, Tanqueray gin and a no-name bottle of vermouth for those swingin’ martini-drinkin’ cats in their velvet Hef robes smoking $7 cigars. We’d each had two tequila shots and a White Russian.
     The outside balcony area was huge for an apartment, accommodating about 15 people. We were enjoying the cool night air. Having emptied out our White Russians, we’d gone for the Shiner-filled keg. My buzz was a pulsing pleasant thing, having edged past the Land of Queasy to reside in the Avenue of the Floating Fearlessness.
     I still didn’t know who Gina knew at this party and she hadn’t introduced me to anyone she hadn’t just met herself. We made our way from the makeshift bar to the back patio doing the little meet and greet handshakes and small talk maneuvers that are par for the course at college parties. "What was your name? What are you drinking? What’s your major? Do you want to stay in Texas?"
     I’d been asked close approximations of those four questions by the dozen or so people I’d met tonight.
     Gina was being asked the same questions, but the men asking them were a little more intense, looking at her a little more closely, leaning in and listening with a little more effort. Rather than blurring my perception of this, the alcohol was making it sharper, slowing things down to an RPM (flirtatious Rhetoric Per Male) that I could follow, even from the distractions of my own conversations.
     Gina had just gotten back into town that morning and sometime during the course of the day, somebody from her co-op had given her a flyer for the party, complete with directions.
     Gina called me at noon, told me that we were going out for New Year’s and that I should dress up in case we went somewhere fancy.
     I dressed up, black hose and all, and here we were at an admittedly nice apartment, but watching little more than like-aged students getting as drunk as we were. Inside, a group of friends we didn’t know was watching a Jerry Springer tape, exploding into gales of laughter every time a fight broke out.
     My buzz was starting to wear off a little when Chad and Trevor approached us. Gina was already starting to play with them.
     "How long have we been living together?" Gina asked me. "A year and a half? We finally had to tell our parents during Thanksgiving."
     "Tell ‘em what?" Chad asked, tipping back him plastic cup, emptying the contents.
     "That we were living together," Gina said. She put an arm around me. I stuck my face in my own beer cup, hiding a smile.
     Chad’s pale cheeks were flushed of red. It looked as if the beer was boring crimson holes through his cheeks. The keg was right next to him – he pumped and poured as he spoke. "Your parents didn’t want you to have a roommate?"
     "They have a problem with our relationship," Gina said. Gina’s hand was stroking my hair and all of a sudden it was too much. I knew what she was doing and it must have been the drinks because I knew if I stuck around I was going to burst out in an explosion of laughter.
     "Oh," Chad said. "Oh, okay."
     I excused myself and headed for the bathroom. When I came back, Gina had disengaged herself from Chad and Trevor and was looking out at the hills. The apartment, which probably ran over $1,000 a month, had a balcony that faced the West hills. Here at night, you could see the lights of the houses near the MoPac Expressway shine through the thick-leafed trees. You couldn’t see water from here, but the trees blanketing the rolling hills looked like black cotton in the night, fluffy and lush.
     "Do you want to stick around?" Gina asked me. She was leaning against the wood rail of the balcony.
     "Not really," I said. "This isn’t how I really expected to spend my New Year’s."
     "Me neither," Gina said. "Except for the drinking part."
     "And the latent lesbianism," I said.
     "Ay, Heather," she said. "That wasn’t serious."
     "I’m kidding," I said. "I know you were joking."
     "They kept asking questions after you left," Gina said. "Like ‘how long have you known you’re, you know, into other women.’ "
     "You probably made their night."
     "If that’s all it takes, I feel very sorry for them," Gina said. "So where do you want to go?"
     "Can you even drive? You’ve had as much as me," I said.
     "I can drive. Where are we going?"
     "Downtown," Gina said. "Let’s go."

* * *

     I thought we were going to miss midnight when we couldn’t find a parking space. We circled from Second Street all the way up to the capitol. We ended up paying $5 for a space near Fourth Street and walking near the warehouse district.
     We went to Polly Esther’s. Gina and I were both feeling trashy. We were dressed up with somewhere to go, fitting right in with the overdressed, fake-ID’d waif naifs in black who were just happy to be getting in the door.
     It was already 11:30 when we got there. The music was 70s funk and disco classical ("I Will Survive," "Celebration"). Gina and I began dancing, losing our identities in the mass of swirling bodies and mall-bought clothes. The lights, the liquor and the music disoriented me until everything was a spinning ball. Gina’s face came and went, like a visage in a dream.
     The D.J. stopped the music later and the countdown was coming. "You guys ready for a BRAND-NEW-YEAR?" he asked. Everyone, including me, cheered loudly, giving in.
     "Let’s count it down!"
     Gina was next to me and we smiled at each other. We counted it down, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6.
     My body clenched in an anticipation I hadn’t expected to feel. Another year, another countdown. I wasn’t expecting to feel anything special, even in the pre-Millennium hysteria of the 1999 date.
     5, 4, 3, 2… All movement seemed to stop. It was all about numbers, about getting there, about surviving another year together.
     People hugged and cheered and laughed. Glitter and balloons dropped from the ceiling.
     "It’s 1999!" the D.J. screamed. Prince’s "1999" was playing and people started dancing within the first few notes. They knew it was coming. Their bodies were ready.
     Gina hugged me. "Let’s go outside!" she screamed into my ear, the only way I could hear her.
     We went through the front doors and watched throngs of people moving up and down the street, shouting, laughing, walking drunkenly arm in arm.
     "Everybody that’s out like this is really living, determined to have a good time," Gina said. "There’s some people that live like that all the time, but very few. Don’t you wish you could feel like this all the time?"
     "It wouldn’t be as special if I felt like this all the time," I said. "All my memories would be the same."
     "I guess so," Gina said. "This will be a good memory."
     "Really?" I asked. I’d assumed that Gina was having a good time, but I didn’t imagine this rated very highly on Gina’s scale of fun evenings. I thought something on the order of a night of salsa dancing at Miguel’s was much more her preference.
     "This took me out of myself," Gina said. "It made me forget about a lot of things for a little while. I didn’t think I’d have too much fun tonight."
     "I understand," I said.
     "So thanks," she said.
     "Wanna go back inside?" I asked. The truth was, I heard more music inside. "Jungle Boogie." I wanted to dance, right now.
     I dragged Gina by the arm and we got back in to Polly Esther’s with our hand stamps. We were dancing again, our rhythms vastly different, but similar enough to the music that it didn’t matter. We were creating memories, however disjointed and blurry they’d appear later, and Gina was forgetting about some of the pain in her life for just a few minutes.
     They were good minutes, the first ones of the new year.