You Couldn’t Undo a Night of Drinking at Sixteen

By Elizabeth Lies

Photo by Elizabeth Lies

You know when you make a bad decision, wake up in the morning and she’s ugly and you’re feeling ashamed that you treated her like this and she’s asleep, her mouth open, you can see every cavity she’s got, so you leave. Quietly. It’s nothing she’s done, but she reminds you of a crack whore. And two weeks later you’re getting tested for STDs because, well, just because you feel dirty just under your skin. You’re itchy a lot.

You’re clean, medically speaking.

Telling yourself it’s not going to happen again, that you’re over being a douche-bag, you try to be a nice guy. You hold doors for ladies, without ulterior motives. You stay in on a Friday night just to see what it feels like.

But it’s bound to happen and then it happens and you’re waking up and she’s ugly and you’ve done it again. She’s a nice chick, but you’re not looking for someone nice. You feel like shit. The room smells. You smell. You hate yourself because you know you’ll do it again.

It’s worse than that. You know it’s worse than that. The other guy’s an ass, making an invisible mess of his life. You have the evidence of your dumbassery on your hands. Your goddamned hands.

You could get them removed. No guarantees that it would work. You read about one guy who went in for the lasers and they ignited old firework particles lodged in his skin. You run the holiday fireworks shows at camp. You’re probably covered in explosive material.

The sticking point, as you see it: Shouldn’t you have to live with your teenage mistakes, so you don’t keep making them when you’re full grown?

After the summer you acquired your new name, you got swagger. For a week you walked around saying, “Sugar, sugar how you get so fly?” before you realized it wasn’t having the desired effect. Instead it was all “Hey, baby!” and “What’s up, hot stuff?” and listening to rap music because they said “bitches” and called their ladies “hoes.” That was appealing to the hormones and the fight against your too nice home in a too nice part of town in NYC.

You’ve heard this story before. It’s the story about a guy caught in a loop he can’t get out of and eventually the damn loop turns into a snake and it eats the guy whole, gold chains and all, starting with his head.

The bad dreads were easiest to get rid of. Shaving your head had never felt so good. You did it in the kitchen with the scissors your mom’s cook used for opening chicken carcasses. Then with your razor, you cleaned up. This was the first apology you left your mom, one piece of twisted hair, on the kitchen counter.

But you couldn’t undo a night of drinking at sixteen. Something stolen from your mom’s liquor cabinet. The night you and four guys you don’t even talk to anymore went out with your fake IDs, not to the club, not to the liquor store, but to go get tattoos.

The lights were clinical. The walls were covered like someone had done a bad job wallpapering. Those sample tat sheets, you could just point and pick like when you’re in the butcher’s shop checking out cuts of steak. The tattoo lady didn’t give an f that you were using fakes. Or that she could smell alcohol in your sweat. Or that you weren’t spelling “life” right. She overcharged you, pocketed the cash and went at you boys like you were canvases she could whitewash if she didn’t like the results.

Excerpted from the manuscript, This is Life in Half-Terms.

Jen Ferguson is a Canadian studying for her PhD at the University of South Dakota. Her collection of linked flash fiction stories Border Markers is forthcoming from NeWest Press. Follow Jen on twitter.