I woke up.
Have you ever noticed how many stories start with somebody waking up in the morning? I wonder why that is. I mean, unless you were kidnapped in the middle of the night, without your knowledge, stories rarely begin first thing in the morning. Even if you’re waking up next to somebody you don’t recognize, with a swastika tattoo on their forehead and a satisfied smile on their face, the story didn’t start there. It started with that first shot of tequila and your friend daring you to shave your taint, (at least, that’s how most good stories start.) It just so happens that everything between that shot of booze and waking up next to Josephus, is too much of a blur for you to remember.
I think that stories start in the morning because it’s like a save point in a video game. It gives you the opportunity to take stock of what’s happened, figure out where you are and try to remember where your underwear ended up.
So, even though it’s not where my story begins, it’s where we join it. Already in progress.
I woke up. I was alone. This is pretty typical for me, (preferred, even). Except that it wasn’t my bed. I pulled myself up on my elbows and absorbed my surroundings. Next to me, the glowing red numbers on the cheap, generic alarm clock said 7:30 am. On the other side of the bedside table was another bed. Still made and untouched from the previous evening. I was naked, in a matching queen-sized bed. Same maroon bed spread, same starched white sheets, and probably the same amount of gross stains revealed by black light.
The disgusting beds, gross floor and unfathomable bathroom could only mean one thing: cheap ass hotel. The kind that’s one step above paying an hourly rate, but where the night manager is probably used to renting out the same room more than once an evening.
I leaned over the sides of the bed until I located all my clothes and gathered them up, all while playing the most difficult game of “Everything is Lava” ever devised. While getting dressed, I pieced together the previous evening…
It was winter, 2002. I was still in my first year being stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Still months away from my first trip to the Middle East. I was pretty new to the Army, but no stranger to being young, immature and living on my own.
Those of us in the division Public Affairs Office were pretty tightknit. Sometimes incestuously so, (but that’s another story). In our off hours we would often hangout together for beers and good times.
And so it was that I recalled the previous might began with a few of us partaking of libations at an abode off-post. It was Christmas Eve and we were all feeling like inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys. Instead of visiting family, we stayed in the area. Eventually, a combination of alcohol and boredom set in and we desired new activities in a new locale. But before a consensus was reached, my hilariously ancient, turn-of-the-century cell phone rang.
“Josh?” It was my girlfriend.
“Yes, Jewels?” I responded lovingly.
“I was just in a car accident and my nose is broken.” She muttered.
Holy shit. That sounded pretty serious. I sobered up about 30 percent, (I was 22. Still young enough to drink a case and then go run three miles) went off somewhere more private and invoked the aura of “Concerned Boyfriend Josh” (chicks love Concerned Boyfriend Josh).
“Tell me what happened,” I said, my voice oozing with the promise of emphatic, long-distance hugs.
She started telling me a very disjointed story about a side-collision in an intersection in Maryland that I knew very well. But for some reason, things weren’t adding up. Timelines didn’t jibe. Bullets were not magic enough and there was no second shooter on the grassy knoll.
That’s when I remembered a very important fact that really should not have slipped my memory as often as it did (and bafflingly enough, still does to this day): She is one of the biggest liars in the known world. Hey, do you know that guy who lies to you so much that you can instantly believe the exact opposite of what he says? He still doesn’t lie as much as she does.
It turns out that she didn’t like the lack of reciprocity in responses to a text conversation we had been having earlier in the day. She thought that I wasn’t paying enough attention to her. So she pretended to have been badly injured in an imaginary car accident to get my attention. Because that’s something mature adults do on a regular basis, right?*
It’s okay though. I am a loving and understanding boyfriend, with infinite patience and a demeanor that cannot be perturbed. I only spent five minutes cussing her out before hanging up the phone in righteous anger.
Then, I went to the Korean bar.
For those not blessed to have lived on or near a military instillation, it can be quite an interesting cross-section of ethnicities. Because when you travel across the globe, shooting people, it’s a small world after all. In its past, the 101st Airborne Division had been sent to the Pacific and many Soldiers had returned with Korean wives. With such a growth in the Asian demographic, there were, naturally, Korean churches, stores, bars, etc. I happened to be a fan of a Korean bar whose name I completely forget, (like, I’m not even going to make something up. Considering how often I went and how much money I spent there, I’m kind of embarrassed that I forgot its name.) because they had generous portions of booze, the most ridiculous karaoke music in this hemisphere and a menu that included a plate of spicy, boiled caterpillars and grubs. Oh, and hot bartenders.
Her name was Connie. She was 36. I was 22. I liked those odds. She had a daughter who was six years younger than me. I ignored that bit of information. Connie, like any woman looking to get drunk, enjoyed a few tequila shots (On the house. Being a bartender has its advantages.)
People, I’m no hero or role model,** never claimed to be. The events that evening were fueled by anger, alcohol, indignation and lust for a hot Asian chick who was much older than I was. She followed me to a nearby no-tell motel where we played Monopoly and braided each other’s hair for a few hours until she had to get home to feed her cats.***
* * * *
Back to now. I was fully dressed. I looked at myself in the mirror and saw myself giving me a knowing nod. Hell, my reflection practically did a slow-clap. Feeling groovy, I left the room, checked out and walked to my car, where I used my sleeves to dust all of the snow off the windows.
Which was helpful, because it allowed me to see my car keys, still in the goddamn ignition. So I had to stand out in the snow, with a hangover, waiting for the locksmith. At 8 am on Christmas morning. Probably the shittiest way to start a Christmas I had ever attempted.
Which is when the phone rang.
“Merry Christmas, Jewels,” I responded lovingly.
*No. Not in the slightest. That is some crazy shit.
**Not true. I am the BEST role model.
***This is exactly what happened.