It takes awhile, but Allison finally convinces you to sit up. First you rolled over on your back and stared up at the sky, so full of the starless moonless dark, and then at Allison’s shadowed face, searching for an expression your aching head could comprehend, something understanding, sympathetic, and loving. You finger your lower lip, the cut down the pillowy middle where the blood has already crusted. You tell Allison when you find RJ you’re going to fuck his shit up. You’re going to punch him in the nose, in his darling eyes, right in that goddamn shit-eating grin of his. Allison says you’re not going to do anything like that because you’re leaving. The party is over. You’ve had too much to drink and you’re going home.
Too much. With the same bitter edge that haunted your voice earlier tonight, you tell Allison she has no idea what too much even means. You tell her, The way I feel, there’s no such thing as too much.
What’s your problem? All night you’ve been like this.
There’s only not enough. And you and your friends wouldn’t really know anything about that.
Oh. Okay. So you’re some tortured soul now because—
I never said that.
—because you got sick and were hospitalized for a few weeks—
I wasn’t just sick. It was worse than that.
—so, what? Now you have a monopoly on pain? You think you’re the only person who’s ever hurt?
I never said that.
You haven’t said much all night. We could tell the whole drive over here. The entire ride felt awkward. And then you get drunk and make a fucking fool of yourself, parade around like a martyr, like you’re the only person in the world who’s ever had something bad happen to him.
They cut out my colon.
If you didn’t want to come you should’ve just said so.
I walk around with a plastic bag on my stomach. I shit into a bag on my stomach.
We could’ve left and it would have been no big deal. We didn’t have to do any of this.
Would you listen to me for a minute.
And I’m sorry about that. Really. I am. I can’t imagine what that’s like, having to live that way. Must be hard. But you’re not making it any easier when you act this way. When you walk around like a dark cloud and pick fights with my friends—and RJ’s a good guy, it might not seem like it to you, but he’s one my best friends—and you destroy someone else’s things? They were laughing at you out here, you know.
You smirk and tell Allison you know. You overheard. And, better yet, you overheard her laughing too. So you’re all guilty. So much for being good guys. You tell Allison how you knew from the second you arrived at the house that all of her friends were giant fakes, that they were all, as you like to say, fair weather. None of them are in it for real. They’re too young. They have no idea what real even means. And then because you are drunk, and the pain swelled against your heart is suddenly so rich, you lift up your tee-shirt and show off the tan ostomy bag. You unsnap the bag from the wafer and breathe in deep the punchy odor of your own feces and lurch your belly toward Allison so she can see and smell and know what ‘real’ means. The stoma gleams wet, a puckered inch-thick red nub, speckled and smeared with brown. All through your recovery in the hospital, Mom called the stoma a rose. Sometimes during those long lazy days, when you felt gloomy and worried the ostomy had condemned you to a sexless, loveless life, she would brighten and try to appeal to your poetic sensibilities and say, You have your own rose now, right on your belly, as if the butt of your intestine could ever be so beautiful. When you were first learning how to drain your ostomy bag, and dirtying your gloved fingers and staining the ties of your gown and spilling some of the output on the tiled floor, she warned against making it your enemy. Don’t hate it, she cautioned. It’s forever. But hate is too easy. You have so much of it in supply. While you’re looming over Allison with your belly and stoma exposed, you dive into your rant again and go off about how nobody, none of them, know pain like you do. Allison shakes her head and laughs in your face. The urge to bite through your bottom lip returns, overflows until it becomes unbearable, and then it is easy to turn on your former high-school friend and crush. You snap the ostomy bag on again and lower your shirt while Allison gets up from her lawn chair. You call her a bitch, and a cunt, and a whore. Have fun in your fucking ivory tower, you say, calling after her as she heads for the sliding glass door. Have a blast with all your dead heroes and your worthless degree. Safe from harm, and reality, and everything in life that actually matters. By the time you’re finished shouting you’re spitting on yourself, almost foaming at the mouth, and Allison is on the other side of the glass, back turned, awash in a bleach of fluorescent light. She only hears your muffled voice, and very little of what you said, but that is not what you go on believing, and you wander out into the backyard where the light is bruised feeling lifted and true.