Chapter 20. I will not feel this




“Once upon a time, there was a very pretty girl who lived in a beautiful BOX, and everybody loved her,” Violet slurred into her blurry reflection.


It was rearing toward 1 a.m. and Scorpio Mood was jammed with hundreds of girls. Girls sparkling with sweat, smelling like salt and sex, scanning the bar for something or someone to satiate the after-midnight longing.


Violet was drunk and alone in the bathroom, applying eyeliner and quoting lines from the movie Gia. She’d first watched it when she was eighteen, right when it came out on HBO. Angelina Jolie plays the role of Gia Marie Carangie — a drug-addicted, lesbian supermodel with a dark past and a fragile heart. It ends with Gia dying of AIDs, only twenty-six.


She’d watched the movie at least a hundred times since then. And even though Gia’s life was objectively tragic and Violet cried through the credits every single time, she couldn’t help but deep down inside, find her death sort of beautiful? Sad beautiful. Sad because Gia had never belonged in this world. Beautiful because now she was free.


Lately, her own thoughts seemed to be replaced by random quotes pulled directly from the movie, that would play over and over in a loop in her head. She liked it. She liked anything that took her outside of herself.


She clumsily rimmed the waterline of her eyes with smoky black kohl and shook her hair loose. She watched it tumble out of the bun at the top of her head, free fall past her cheekbones, smacking against her clavicles.


“I don’t think a woman is really a woman unless she’s a blonde,” she purred, drumming her lavender nails against her ribcage. She sucked in her stomach, smiled hello to the bones, and unzipped her new dirty-white vintage clutch. A burst of bright orange flashed across her eyes. I don’t need you tonight, Adderall, she sing-songed to the prescription bottle, dropping her eyeliner into her bag, breezing out the door and onto the dancefloor.

Tonight she was free. She didn’t belong to anyone. Not even her drug of choice. She slipped through the crowd and slithered up to the bar, right next to a brooding Imani. Imani was by herself, sipping beer out of the bottle, baggy jeans slung low on the hip, nipples hard and braless in a flimsy, loose tank.

Violet socked her in the arm. “Boo,” she giggled.

Imani whipped her head around. A bleary-eyed Violet stood before her in a frilly cream bra top and long black skirt that dragged against the sticky bar floor. “I’m surprised,” Violet arched her brow.

“Surprised about what?” Imani asked, wrapping her six-foot-two arms around Violet’s five-foot-five frame.

Violet wrestled out her arms: “I thought I was the only one who went bare-sleeved in the winter.”

“Gotta shake it up every now and then,” Imani shrugged, wondering why Violet didn’t want to be hugged. She’d known Violet a long time. Violet was a famous hugger, she’d cling to your limbs, feverishly, like she’d been starved of affection.

“I like to see you shaking it up,” Violet dug her hands into her scratched-up clutch and pulled out a cracked blue Amex. “I know you’re going to say no —” she waved at someone from across the bar “but I’m going to order it anyway!” She sing-songed raucously; as if she was announcing the names of two boxers before a fight.

The bartender, a stone butch in bowtie turned to assess the girl behind the big, boisterous voice. She needed to keep tabs on these hammered little baby dykes. It was a blood moon, after all. She was shocked to find a small pale girl, with big bratty eyes, sheepishly smiling at her from the other side of the large granite bar.

“Sorry, I’m a little rowdy tonight.” Violet batted her long, fluffy lashes. “Could I trouble you for two shots of Belvedere and a dirty martini, extra olives pretty please?”

The bartender nodded, handsomely, and swiveled her hips straight toward the big bottles of liquor glowing in the distance.

“I’ll do a shot. I’m shaking it up.” Their eyes met.

“Your eyes —” Violet gasped.

“What about my eyes?”

“They look different.”

“What do you mean ‘different’?”

“They’re on fire. They have the burn of a woman going through some real ass shit.”

“Fuck. Really?”

“It’s hot.”

Two shot glasses filled to the brim with vodka and one sad-looking martini appeared before them. “Thanks,” Violet winked to the bartender, handing over her card. “I’ll keep it open” she chirped, for the millionth time in her life.

She handed a shot glass to Imani, who graciously accepted. In perfect unison, they clinked glasses, slung their heads back, and poured back the poison.

“Goddamn, that was strong.” Imani hooted, feeling instantly loose. “Nia and I broke up.” The words stumbled out of her mouth as gracelessly as the shot had rocketed down her throat.

“I knew it,” Violet declared, her voice as clear as day. Had the shot somehow sobered her? “I hate that you’re in pain —” her eyes glittered “— but this is the best thing that could’ve happened to you.”

“What do you mean?” Imani stared at the floor, dumbfounded.

“You’re not meant to be a shadow person.”

Right as Imani opened her mouth to ask Violet what she meant by “shadow person” — Violet had disappeared into the crowd.

*

Violet slinked to the back of the bar, looking for the dusty pink couches, where she’d sat with Jack and the promoters, earlier in the night. Her abrupt exit from Imani was by design. Like any good therapist, she knew the most hard-hitting way to get through to someone, is to casually drop a bomb on them.

The couch was empty. Where was Jack? She felt ravenous for a smoke. “Jack?” Her eyes were a drunken game of darts, flying recklessly around the room.

Until they landed. Sharply.

Right in the eye of the bull.

She froze.

She was face to face with Ray.

“Martinis at a dive bar?” I guess some things never change.” Ray rasped. She was wearing expensive-looking boots Violet didn’t recognize and a black satin blazer she also didn’t recognize. Ray looked like a statue. Still with muted eyes. Ray inched closer to her. Violet felt Ray’s breath snake down her chest. She felt it trickle down her rib cage, teasing the waistline of her skirt. Violet was hypnotized.

And then out of control.

Unsafe.

She closed her eyes and heard the sound of drunk middle-aged men. She was back in her teenage bedroom. With a broken lock. She stared at the Smashing Pumpkins poster tacked up on her wall as she sat on the dingy carpet with her back shoved against the door praying desperately to a God that didn’t exist that pretty please this didn’t happen. Again.

“Still a space cadet?” Ray laughed.

Violet opened her eyes. She was back at Scorpio Mood.

Ray’s hand brushed against her cheek.

I will not feel this.

“Um, hi. I need to go,” Violet turned her back to Ray and scrambled away. Rough hands grabbed at her waist. She held her breath and looked behind her, ready to snap.

But no one was there. Not even Ray.

I will not feel this.

She beelined toward the bathroom. She’d splash her face with cold water. She’d reapply her eyeliner. Fuck, maybe she’d even take an Adderall. Adderall was like an ambulance, it could rescue her, speed her away from her past. Maybe she’d take two.

She peeled down the hall where a second, secret bathroom was. She was pleasantly surprised to see Buffy — the famous downtown barber and notorious party promoter, alone, watching the party wearily.

“Why do you look so sad?” Violet asked, standing next to her, leaning into the exposed brick wall.

Buffy kept her gaze dead ahead. “The better question is —” she turned to face Violet, “— why do you look so sad?”

“I’m not sad,”

“Neither am I.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.”

They stood in stubborn silence for several seconds. Before either of them had a chance to crack, Violet heard her voice softly ask: “Can I kiss you?”

“Yes,” Buffy’s heart began to race. She swung her body in front of Violet’s body. “Fuck, yes.” She softly kissed Violet. Violet kissed her back.

“I like this,” Buffy breathed into Violet’s mouth. “A lot.

Violet traced the outline of Buffy’s body. Buffy bit Violet’s bottom lip. Hard.

“Once upon a time, there lived a very pretty girl who lived in a beautiful BOX, and everybody loved her,” Gia repeated in her head as her tongue explored the inside of Buffy’s mouth.

Violet was good and numb again.

*

Gabriella took in the blur of the city from the back of a yellow cab. Next to her, adorned in floor-length yellow-gold fur, smelling of cheap prosecco and chalky lipstick, was her Aunt Valentina.

“What happened to that new best friend of yours? Your mother said you two were attached at the hip?” Valentina asked, reaching into Gabriella’s YSL, helping herself to a generous spritz of her Miss Dior. “Rose petal, or something like that?”

Gabriella looked into the moon. It was orange-red and abrupt, like a stop sign on a long country road.

It was a blood moon.

“Violet,” she said flatly, drawing a heart with a pointy, pink acrylic nail on the frosted glass window. “Or something like that.”

The steam from the car-heater made the heart disappear, instantly. Gabriella frowned and drew another.

The blood moon rolled her eyes from her throne in the inky black sky.

*

Knife didn’t know why she’d decided to come to the party. She didn’t want to run into Violet. Did she? It didn’t make sense if she did. She’d buried Violet these past couple of weeks. Yes, Violet emerged from the grave and haunted her dreams— but in the coked-up night — she was free from her ghost.

But she’d willingly put herself at high risk by showing up at Scorpio Mood. And the blow was wearing off.

She’d need something stronger.

That’s when she noticed Catalina’s glossy black hair and big almond eyes staring at her from across the room.

Big droplets of adrenalin rained in her brain as she stared, blinklessly, back at Catalina, her blue eyes so cold the entire bar shivered.

*

Buffy’s lips were on Violet’s neck. Violet’s palms pressed into the naked flesh of Buffy’s back. They were hot and breathless and perfectly in sync.

Buffy’s knee worked its way between Violet’s thighs.

Violet suddenly longed for something — someone.

In her mind’s eye, she saw Knife. She felt Knife’s knee shoved between her legs. She was back in Fire Island, in June. Laying on the hardwood floors of the Mermaid Melissa house. Knife’s platinum hair fell into her blue lagoon eyes. Their foreheads were touching, but their lips wouldn’t dare. They were sharing a bottle of Jack Daniels, the tension between them sexual and chaotic and calm and loving all at once. The most in her skin she’d ever felt.

“What’s wrong?” Buffy asked, cautiously pulling away. Violet jolted back into the present.

I’m in the wrong scene.

But what if there was no right scene? What if no movie would ever feel right? A wash of homesickness poured over her.

I will not feel this.

“Nothing,” Violet whispered, grabbing Buffy by the hand, pulling her close. She looked at her seductively, hoping she had coke. They could bump in the bathroom and have sex and forget about everything.

“You froze,” Buffy insisted, pulling her hand away.

Why was everyone always telling her that lately? It was embarrassing.

Violet studied the wrinkled frown on Buffy’s forehead and looked into her warm, worried eyes.

She suddenly felt very sick. Vomit sick. Buffy felt sorry for her. And there was nothing she hated more than someone feeling fucking sorry for her.

It reminded her of being sixteen, the day she walked into school with her first black eye. Buffy was every teacher, looking at her helplessly, pitifully, poor little thing. Their concerned faces made Violet feel like her life was small. Meaningless. Like a scrawny street kitten in a shelter. Well-meaning people with big lives might stroll in, and consider adopting her — but then they’d realize: They had too much going on. They’d sigh and walk back into the street, promising they’d donate to the ASPCA, while she watched from a filthy cage, a prisoner of her circumstance.

That was the first time she’d ever been ashamed.

The only other time she’d ever felt shame that ugly was —

Suddenly she heard party sounds. Not New York City lesbian party sounds. High school party sounds.

High-pitched girl laughter. Liquid splashing into plastic cups. Cheap Bic lighters falling out of jean pockets.

She looked around. She was in a bed. A boy bed. There were Pearl Jam posters taped to the wall. The sheets were plaid and cheap and stunk of drug store cologne and semen.

“I need to find Shay,” she said. She tried to swing her legs to the ground but they felt crazy glued to the sheets.

She felt boy breath land on her girl face. “You’re safe here with me.” The boy breath slithered across her body like a snake. The room spun.

“Violet!” Buffy was shaking her by the shoulders. “You like — nodded out! Again!” She gasped.

“I’m so sorry,” Violet whispered. “I’m not feeling well, I’m going to be sick” she ran into the dark hall, toward the secret bathroom.

Buffy watched her go. She thought about the last thirty minutes. She’d been lost in the sexiest hookup with a pretty girl and suddenly the pretty girl was gone. She wanted to feel surprised.

But strangely she wasn’t.

She might’ve been a barber with buzzed hair and combat boots, but she’d still been raised a girl. There were certain things she understood. Even if she wished she didn’t.

Violet slammed her body against the bathroom door. It was locked.

There’s a line,” a girl with blue-faux-hawk sneered through thin, pale lips. Violet took in the six women waiting before her. They glowered at her with folded arms.

“Sorry,” she headed toward the back of the line. “Fucking bitches,” she mumbled under her breath, as a sliver of cold, panicked, sweat trickled down her spine.

She fumbled with the clasp of her tiny stupid decrepit vintage clutch. What had possessed her to buy that dumb bag? It was hideous. She hated it. Finally, the clasp flew open. With the muscle memory of a true addict, she was able to quickly locate her pill bottle as she kept her gaze forward. She twisted off the child-proof cap and curled her fingers delicately around two pretty blue pills.

I will not feel this. I will not feel this. I will not feel this.

The next thing she knew the pills were on her tongue she was back in the comfortable loop of Gia quotes.

“Once upon a time, there lived a very pretty girl who lived in a beautiful BOX, and everybody loved her,”


“I don’t think a woman is really a woman unless she’s a blonde.”


A new one joined the line-up.


“Life and death. Energy and peace.”


“Life and death. Energy and peace.”


“Life and death. Energy and peace.”


By the time it was her turn to go into the bathroom the pills had kicked in and she couldn’t feel anything at all.


Natalia Gonzalez lost her breath when Gabriella waltzed through the doors of Scorpio Mood. Her long dark hair was fastened into her signature, tailbone grazing ponytail. Her lashes Venus Flytraps, trapping the room’s attention. Her curvy body encased in a strapless velvet dress the color of red wine, with a split so far up the thigh you could stare into the soft skin of her naked hip.


She radiated sex. Energy. Emotion.


Natalia was intoxicated. She took a deep breath and slowly hoofed her way to Gabriella.


The sweet stench of Gabriella’s Dior fragrance, Juicy Fruit gum, spray tan and drug-store glitter was so potent Violet smelled it from inside the bathroom.


Gabriella, she thought. Gabriella is here.


Stars shot across her heart. The walls sparkled. She felt giddy. Like she’d won a prize. She kicked open the door with her black Mary Jane platform shoe and spun into the strobe-lit party. Shiny Gabriella was here and everything would be beautiful and nothing would hurt.


And then she tripped over her too-long skirt and suddenly remembered Gabriella wasn’t speaking to her. Her toe throbbed. Her heart broke.


I will not feel this. I will not feel this. I will not feel this.


“A woman isn’t really a woman unless she’s a blonde,” she whispered.


She took off for the bar. Her eyes were open. She could see. But she could only see shapes and bodies, not faces. She couldn’t hear voices, either. Just:


“Life and death. Energy and peace.”


She heard herself order a shot of vodka.


“I don’t think a woman is really a woman unless she’s a blonde.”


She watched herself take the shot of vodka. But she didn’t feel its usual peroxide burn.


She wasn’t in her body anymore. She was floating in the air. Hovering above the bar, watching the scene, without being in the scene.


She ordered another shot. Her body floating so high she reached the ceiling and settled into the rafters.

How can I be in the wrong scene, if I’m not in a scene at all? She wondered, curiously, watching Gabriella pout and giggle and bat her lashes at a smitten Natalia. Next to her stood a beautiful tall woman in a fabulous floor-length fur coat. Aunt Valentina, she thought to herself. Aunt Valentina was talking with her hands, Italian New York style. They all looked vibrant. And happy. Watching them be happy made her happy. The safe kind of happiness you can only experience from a distance. Like when you’re at the movies and the character you’ve been rooting for is thriving.


I could do this.


“Life and death. Energy and peace” was disrupted by a new voice. Knife’s voice: “Why are you so far away?”


I will not feel this.


“Life and death. Energy and peace.”


I will not feel.


She looked into the crowd swarming the bar. She saw Jack with a cigarette hanging out of her lips, settling up her tab. For a moment she was tempted to fly back to earth and join her for a smoke.


I will not.


But she stayed put. And then she saw Knife. Animated, talking, to a big group of girls, magnetizing them with her dilapidated charm.


“Life and death. Energy and peace.”


She remembered the second part of that quote.

“If I stopped today it was all worth it.”


She smiled because it was true.


It was all worth it.


Then the screen cut to black. The blood moon dimmed and the movie was over.