For the James’s, Janelle’s, and Jessica’s in our lives
Thank you for the passion and the pain alike
Thank you for inspiring us
January 1 – 4:00 AM
“Why did you come here?” came a slow gargled female voice on the other end of the phone. “You shouldn’t have come here.”
It was 4 AM on New Year’s Day in New York City and I had just ducked inside of the 145th Street train station to shield myself from the cold when an unknown number blinked on my cell phone screen.
“Who is this?” I asked.
“It’s Janelle. You shouldn’t have come here… You cheated on me.”
“Whoa. Hey, I’ve done a lot of things to hurt you, but I never cheated on you.”
“Yes you did! You cheated on me! Why did you come??”
She was audibly crying on the other end.
Suddenly another voice spoke on the phone.
“Junior, It’s LaKiesha. Let me call you back.”
“Is everything all right??” I asked.
“Yea, it’s fine. Let me call you back.” LaKiesha abruptly hung up.
“She thinks… I cheated on her…” My mind was swimming in thoughts. Against my better judgment, I realized what I had to do.
December 31 – 10:00 PM
Downtown, New York Financial District
“James, you sure you don’t wanna come with us?” Katrina asked as she tugged on my arm.
“No way dude… What if she’s there? There’s no way I could be in the same room with her.” I replied.
It was New Year’s Eve. I met up with my best friend Yves, Yves’ girlfriend Katrina and a bunch of our friends in a loft downtown to drink together since we were all going to different parties later that night.
As we made our way to the Fulton Street subway station, Katrina was still trying to convince me to come to a party at which Jessica was supposed to be. “James, listen,” (I don’t know why she calls me James. It is my name, James McDonald Jr., but all of my friends call me Junior.) Katrina continued, “The best thing would be for her to see you happy, with a bunch of girls, having fun!”
Jessica Martinez was the love of my life. She was “the one”. The one you wrote poetry for. The one you told your grandmother about. The one you bragged about to strangers. The one who dumped me a month ago...
In the week prior to the breakup, I was under fire at my shitty executive assistant job with the bosses from hell. The position was insufferable and the strain of me hating the job and me hating myself for being stuck in the job had been spilling over into my personal relationships for months. I was short with my friends. With my family, I had little tolerance for anything that might upset me. There were several moments during this time when I would snap if my plastic grocery bag handle ripped, if my iPhone was too slow loading something, if I spilled something, if I missed my train. The smallest of annoyances would send me into violent whirlwinds of rage I had never before felt at any point in my life. Of course, I had my moments like anyone else, but never before had I been so unable to compose myself and surely never as often as has been the norm during these past few months. The stress and anger came to a head during the last week of November when I found out one of my bosses was intent on having me fired.
My boss Samantha Sturgis was a miserable human being—the type of human being who delighted in others’ misfortune but never overtly. Only those in the company who were unfortunate enough to work directly with her were exposed to her vindictiveness. She sat ten feet away from me but would send me emails like “I thought you were going to have this project completed by five o’clock?” I would reply “I’m printing it out and will have it to you shortly.” I found out later that she was blind copying the department head on emails like these. He would see her emails to me but would never see my replies. After months of emails like these, it was clear to him and to the human resources department that I was incompetent and incapable of fulfilling the requirements of the job even without proof that I was not getting my tasks completed.
I was also required to inform her whenever I left my desk because she claimed I was never there when she attempted to contact me. This included not only trips to the mailroom and marketing department but also trips to the lunchroom and the restroom. This was a small sampling of my every day dealings with her. Couple this with my monthly disciplinary meetings with HR in which the director would say things like, “Samantha says that your tasks are fairly simple and yet you seem to be struggling. Why is that?” She never brought up the fact that no single person had ever lasted in my position for more than four months and that I had been there for over a year. “When there is high turn over in a single position, are the seven assistants at fault or the one manager?” I wanted to ask her.
I was called into another one of these meetings in that last week of November where the HR director and my bosses informed me that this was my final warning and that any injunction whatsoever including being five minutes late to work, taking ten additional minutes to finish a project, or not notifying them when I went to use the bathroom would result in my immediate termination without severance pay.
I knew it was unfair and after giving it some thought I was resolved to fight back by doing everything they asked, documenting it and saving every degrading email correspondence even as each minute spent in that building ate away at my dignity. After two days of this however, I found myself so pent up with rage that I would walk to work hoping someone would bump into me so I could loudly curse them out, punch them in the face or shove them into oncoming traffic…
It was at that exact moment when I really understood what this job was doing to me and decided I would rather be dead broke and happy than to put up with their bullshit for another single day. I walked in the same day and quit without giving notice. Not to the company. Not to Jessica either...
I called her the moment I left the building with my bag of belongings and stolen office supplies.
“Babe… I just quit my job.” I was relieved at the thought of having my life back. “I want to come up to see you and…”
“You did WHAT?!”
She didn’t sound happy. Wallowing in my own misery for weeks, I hadn’t even given thought to how she would react. What made matters worse was that we hadn’t been talking for almost a week because, in my volatile state, I managed to pick a fight with her every time we spoke.
“I think I need to take some time to figure this out…” she said.
“Are you… breaking up with me? Baby, please…” I couldn’t believe it. “Baby, not right now. I need you…” I couldn’t understand how my life could come to such a screeching halt in just a matter of days. “I tried,” I remember her saying, “I’m sorry Junior. I tried. But I can’t do this anymore.”
Now it was the night of December 31st and I was a complete mess; fully lost in misery after losing my job and losing my Love. On top of it all, I eventually lost my apartment in the two weeks following the breakup. Seeing the woman who left me to drown in all my pain and grief and sadness, the same woman who could save me with a single embrace, it would be too much for me to bear.
“No, it’s ok.” I said, effectively and finally turning down the offer, “I’ll hit you guys up later. Maybe we can meet back up.”
“Aight dude,” Yves said, giving me a dap, “We’re probably gonna grab hookah or something around 3 so hit me up.”
“Aight homie.” We each went our separate ways.
I actually had no idea where I was going. I ruled out the possibility of going to an expensive party at a nightclub because I didn’t have money. There were two house parties I knew of but neither of the hosts returned my texts for more info. As I wandered in no particular direction, I noticed that all of the city’s partygoers were wearing their ties and hard bottom shoes, their little black dresses and five-inch heels. I decidedly dressed down, wearing a blue cardigan with a white t-shirt underneath, Levis jeans and Timberland boots, my outfit matching my life’s status—middle of the road. I didn’t even get a fresh haircut. My shaggy little afro was as unkempt as my unironed clothes. I just didn’t give a shit anymore. Ironically, Jessica bought me the cardigan this past summer during her trip to Europe, but I hadn’t worn it until now. “Way to start anew, Junior…” I thought. No matter what I did or where I was, it was like she was there. When I tried to sleep, I would abruptly wake in cold sweats. The nightmare of her leaving me played over and over again in the theater of my mind. When awake, the nightmares just turned into daymares and made it impossible to eat.
I shook my head trying to physically free it of the haunting memories that had plagued me for weeks on end. Just then I got a text from my friend Alexis. “Oh sorry for the late reply Jr! This party is actually wrapping up. We’re all headed uptown to May’s party.” This was not the answer I had been looking for. I called her to find out more info.
I could hear several voices on the other end when she picked up.
“Hahaha! Hold on. Hold on. I’m coming now,” Alexis was saying to a friend in the background as she answered, “Hey Junior! So yea, we’re all going up to May’s apartment.”
“What about Calvin’s party downtown?” I asked wishfully.
“That one is done too. I think pretty much everybody is gonna be at May’s. You coming?”
“I dunno, Alexis... I wasn’t invited.”
“Everybody’s invited! Just come through. I’ll see you there. Ok, I gotta hop on the train! See you later!” We hung up.
“Great. Just fucking great.” I muttered. It had been a year or so since I last saw most of the people who would certainly be at May’s party. They were all friends with my ex-girlfriend Janelle, who I broke up with a year ago. Janelle and I had been together off and on for three years before I met Jessica, and May was Janelle’s best friend. Janelle and I had scores of mutual friends, most of who probably thought I was a wretched scumbag, although they never said so to my face.
Here I was, standing on the corner of John Street and Nassau Street stuck in the crossroads in the most literal sense of the term. Looking left up John Street I said, “Chance seeing the girl that just dumped you?” then looking right down Nassau I said, “Chance seeing the girl you dumped? Probably with all of her friends, in her brand new clothes, with her big, handsome new boyfriend?”
I pulled a small bottle of Jack Daniel’s out of my back pocket and took a swig.
“You’ll never leave me, right Jack?” I wished aloud. “….Fuck it.”
I walked down Nassau toward the Fulton Street A train station. I was headed uptown.
December 31 – 11:00 PM
St. Nicholas Ave, Harlem
I got off the A train at 145th Street and started making my way to May’s apartment on 146th Street. Alexis texted me the address and as I was looking for the building number, I saw my old buddy Kwame walking towards me from up the block.
“Oooh what up Kwam’? Long time no see.” We dapped each other.
“What’s good Junior?” he replied. There was a slight hesitation in his voice. “You know Janelle’s gonna be here right?” he added in a fair warning tone. He had been one of my closest friends for over five years and had seen much of the on again, off again in the James and Janelle saga.
I shrugged. “No worries. I have this.” I produced the little bottle of Jack from my back pocket, smiled and took a comforting swig. At this moment in my life, Karma had given me a sound beating. My body bruised and battered, my face bloody from the proverbial pounding, it was as if I was summoning just enough energy to spit in Karma’s face and mutter with a broken smile, “Bring it on.”
We headed up the six-floor walkup to May’s apartment to find very few people there. May greeted me with a warm embrace adding, “Oh wow! So good to see you!” I knew she was lying but I appreciated her effort in not making this any more awkward than it already was. She hurried off to finish up some last minute arrangements. Kwame and I joined the few folks who were in the living room to the right.
The apartment was pretty big, especially for this part of Harlem. It took up the entire floor of this small building. In addition to the large living room, there were two equally large bedrooms connected to it on either side. There wasn’t much furniture, just a couch, a few mitch-matched chairs, and a small coffee table that was moonlighting as the “bar” for tonight’s festivities. All of these were pushed to the walls to make room for the guests. There was a large flat screen television on the floor in front of the bricked fireplace and a laptop in the corner playing barely audible music. The kitchen and two other rooms were situated at the other end of a long hallway in the Brownstone-style apartment. May and her roommate owned a clothing line and parts of their loft doubled as showroom space.
I hung my coat in the closet and immediately made myself a drink. Hennessey on the rocks. When May floated back into the room, I asked her if she needed help.
“Uhhh..” she breathed hesitantly.
“Do you have speakers?” I asked, pointing at the laptop.
“Oh, yea.” She disappeared into the bedroom to the left and reappeared with an iPod dock. “You can set this up.” She hurried off to answer her phone.
I set up the speakers using my own iPhone for the music then I set up the television and held onto the remote in preparation of the countdown to New Year’s. I also helped set up the liquor and food. Most of this was self-serving, as I didn’t fancy being the asshole who wasn’t invited but decided to show up anyway, sit in the corner and drink all the liquor.
As midnight grew closer, groups of people started trickling in, almost all of whom were mutual friends of mine and Janelle’s and most of whom I had avoided since breaking up with Janelle. I didn’t have anything against them. In fact, I knew many of them before I even met Janelle, but I wanted nothing more than to move on from that relationship and hanging out with them would have made that difficult.
They were all very friendly and most were surprised to see me since they knew Janelle was coming. I knew Janelle wouldn’t be there until around 1 AM because as was her family’s tradition, she had to be with them in the Bronx at the strike of midnight on New Year’s. I had time to chill and drink and not worry about the mess I might have just gotten myself into.
December 31 – 11:30 PM
Salsa music played loudly on the stereo as the scents of pernil, paella, and mofongo danced merrily to the rhythm. The dining room table was beautifully dressed with a brand new crimson and gold tablecloth and runner. The only thing that wasn’t new was the china and cutlery, but even these were only used twice a year. The crystal glassware was spotless, and the traditional grapes were placed at the center of the table in a brilliantly shined silver bowl. The grapes were for good luck and good health in the New Year and were meant to be eaten at the stroke of twelve. Of course, the youngest of the three sisters who lived here had already pilfered a few when her mother was not looking.
Janelle Lisette Alvarez, the oldest of the three, rushed out of the kitchen where she had been helping her mother prepare the meal. Although she was cooking, she was already dressed and ready to go. She was clad in a close-fitting black romper with see-through black leggings. Her fuchsia five-inch designer heels were in her bedroom patiently awaiting their stunning public debut. Her curly Dominican hair was straightened and her make up was professionally done, her striking lipstick matching her pumps.
She hurried upstairs to get her phone. It had been buzzing incessantly for as long as she’d been downstairs. She checked the screen.
“Ugh.. Seventeen texts, five missed calls.”
She started reading and replying. Since she had helped May send the invites to the party, people were calling and texting her for party info. “Where is it again?” “Wut time ppl gettin there?” “What should I bring?”
She got through half of the texts when suddenly her eyes grew wide.
The last seven texts gave her pause.
“Ur not gonna believe who decided to show up. Call me.”
“Hey Liz dunno if you knew this already but jr is here at May’s party.”
“Holy shit! Junior is here!”
“Umm ur ex is here.. Is that cool with you?”
“Haha this loser JR came through. He looks like shit. Just giving you a heads up.”
“Jr is here. Dunno why. I didn’t invite him…”
“Seriously Liz lemme kno if u want me to kick him out.”
Janelle was completely puzzled. She called May.
“Finally! Liz you’re not gonna believe this shit!” May started, “Fuckin’ J—”
“I know son! I know. Mad people texted me ‘Oh my god Junior is here’ and all this shit. I’m like ‘Why are you telling me?’ May, I really could care less. I’m so done with that.”
“You sure? Just say the word and I’ll kick him out.”
“Nah there’s no need. Let him live his life.”
“Ok… Well lemme know if you change your mind.”
“Nah I’m good.” Then she added with a smile, “I heard he looks like shit.”
“HAHA He does! Didn’t even dress up. Wearing construction boots and shit! HAHAHA You’re gonna shit on his face!”
“You already know.” She heard her mother calling her downstairs. “Ok May, I gotta go. Te veo. Muah.”
When Janelle got down to the living room to join her mother and sister, she was laughing to herself.
“Y tu? Que paso? Porque estas riendo?” her mother asked, as she oft did, in Spanish.
“Huh? Laughing?” Janelle chuckled, “Oh nothing.” Reading her mom’s expression, she remembered what a terrible liar she was. With a smile she confessed, “So apparently Junior is at May’s party right now.”
“Ay Dios… Y que vas hacer mijita?” Her mother was concerned.
“Haha I’m not gonna do anything mom.” She laughed at her mom’s worried look. “I’m fine. I’m so over that.”
“Ay mijita, just in case.”
Her mother poured three shots of Patrón. One for herself. Two for Janelle.
December 31 – 11:59 PM
May’s Apartment, Harlem
Most of the invitees had shown up to May’s and everyone was holding a freshly poured glass of Champagne. We stood around the television as the countdown to the New Year began.
“TEN!” we sang in unison, “NINE! EIGHT! SEVEN! SIX!”
“Humility…” I quietly wished to myself.
“Please..” I closed my eyes.
“Just give me a break Lord…”
“HAPPY NEW YEAR!!”
For the next half hour, everyone in the apartment hugged and kissed each other, exchanging kind words and best wishes for the New Year. It was evident that all of the bad karma I released into the universe had finally come back to me all at once within these past couple of months. I was systematically trying to right some wrongs wherever I could. I made it a point to seek out individuals with whom I had differences and who weren’t fond of me either. I gave them warm, true embraces and meant every kind word I shared with them.
One of these individuals was a guy named Devin. I never liked him because he came into Janelle’s life during one of our breakups a couple of years ago. He was some kind of artist. I always thought something happened between he and Janelle, and when Janelle and I got back together, I gave her grief about keeping him around and was a complete asshole to the guy until she finally cut him off. She obviously started back talking to him, since he was here at the party. I sat down next to Devin.
“What’s up man? Devin, right?” I said.
“Junior.” I told him while shaking his hand. “We’ve met before.”
“I… I don’t think so.” I knew he was lying.
“Yea. We have.” I stated, ignoring Devin’s feigned ignorance. “Happy New Year bro. I wish you the best.” I was sincere.
I got up to get yet another drink, and on my way back from the kitchen, I saw that Janelle’s best friend Yennifer had arrived. As I had done with everyone else by this point, I went to her to give her a hug and a happy new year. She didn’t hug back. Instead she appeared utterly horrified at my presence.
“Why are you here?” her body was rigid, arms at her sides.
“Really Yennifer? Still?” I replied. I was still hugging her until I realized she was dead serious. I shouldn’t have been surprised but everyone else had at least been cordial even if they were faking it. “Ok…” I let her go, “Well, Happy New Year…”
Another drink in hand; I occupied a seat in the furthest corner of the apartment. My stomach knotted as the moment I had been dreading was fast approaching. The sobering depth of the hole I had dug myself into trumped the amount of alcohol I was drinking in attempts to fill the hole.
I started second-guessing myself as my thoughts ran wild “What would I say? How would I say it? Should I say anything at all? Should I just sit in this corner and drink myself silly? Should I just leave?” I couldn’t leave because I was staying with Yves and Katrina and they were out partying too. No one was getting my texts anyway because it was New Year’s and every cell network was backed up.
“I have to swallow my pride—the little bit I have left, and just say a quick Happy New Years and sit back down. What’s the worst that can happen?” I laughed at my sad existence, “Shit, what have I got to lose? I’ve lost everything already.” Swig.
January 1 – 1:15 AM
St. Nicholas Ave, Harlem
Janelle, her younger sister Lunelle and Lunelle’s boyfriend sat in the back of a black gypsy cab. Her oldest friend LaKiesha—who always rang in the New Year with the Alavarez family—sat in front.
Janelle leaned forward. “It’s on the next block,” She told the cab driver, “On the left.”
As she reclined back into her seat, Janelle felt the slight buzz from the Patrón shots and the glass of Grey Goose she shared with her mother in the Bronx. She smiled at this as she pulled out her phone. She saw a few texts waiting for her.
“where r u??? everyone is waiting for u!”
“OMFG Jr just tried to hug me! Get here now before I fucking kill him!”
She rolled her eyes. She had no interest in being caught up in everyone else’s bullshit.
“I’m too fly for that shit.” she said aloud. She prided herself in out-dressing, out-dancing, and outshining everyone. Tonight was no different. She lived for these moments and she was determined to have a fun, drama-free New Year’s.
She did feel a tinge of nervousness, but not because of Junior. She felt the butterflies of a performer about to take the stage. This was her moment. Her only concern was whether people had their cameras ready or not.
She texted May and Yennifer the same message. “I’m here. Let’s have fun tonight. No drama.”
January 1 – 1:30 AM
May’s Apartment, Harlem
Janelle had arrived. I didn’t see her yet, but I could hear her in the hallway. She greeted several people as she made her way through the party.
“Here we go…” I thought. I was nervous. Not the kind of nervousness one feels when their high school crush walks into the school dance, but the twisted feeling of guilt deep in the pit of my stomach.
Jessica dumped me with no full explanation, and at the time, I had no idea how or why my life was crumbling. I still didn’t fully understand it. There was just this huge void in the wake of Jessica’s departure from my life, and the first thing I thought about was what I had done to Janelle and how I had left her to drown in the sea of misery I myself had heaved her into. I finally felt the guilt of what I had done, and it didn’t even matter whether I felt right or wrong for leaving her. I left her. Now I had to face her for the first time in what seemed like forever. It was like I was facing myself. Knowing the despair and hopelessness I felt at that moment, I was not looking forward to it at all.
Janelle was getting closer. I didn’t want to be in an awkward situation where she could embarrass me in front of everyone with one of her snide “Can’t you see I’m busy?” quips, but I also didn’t want to not say something because that would make it even more awkward. She didn’t know I was at the party, but it wasn’t like I could hide from her. I had lost all feeling by this point so being a coward was out of the question.
My buddy Kwame was sitting next to me on the couch and as I contemplated if/when/how I was going to do this, I thought aloud, “Well, it’s now or never right? What’s the worst that can happen?” I waited for an answer... Kwame was fast asleep.
I mustered up all of the liquid courage I’d been storing for this very moment, and I got up just as she finished saying hi to a friend. I quickly made my way towards her and I could tell she was purposefully not meeting my eyes. I’ve known her for three years, and I knew that look all too well. “I guess she already knew I was here…” I thought. She pretended not to see me and was about to engage another friend. While there was still space, I cut in and gave her a full hug. She didn’t hug me back.
“Happy New Years.” I said only loud enough for her to hear, and then added, “You look great.” She did. She wore a close-fitting black outfit with bright colored high heels. Her hair was straightened and her make up was perfect, her lipstick even matched her shoes.
She gave me a curt nod, half of a fake smile, no eye contact and that was it. I hurried off down the hallway to get another drink which I so desperately needed right now.
“That wasn’t so bad.” I thought, “Could have been much worse. Her big handsome new boyfriend could have been lurking there ready to punch me in the face.”
From that point on the party rolled without a hitch. The proverbial eight-ton gorilla in the room had shrunken to only three or four tons, making it much easier to maneuver around. I was “DJing” and dancing and laughing and catching up with friends. I helped find May’s phone when some idiot tried to steal it. People were really making a mess and Janelle started to freak out so I helped her clear the empty bottles (against her wishes) and I even washed the dishes. I also got the chance to share friendly words with Janelle’s sister Lunelle. She always liked me, and it was sweet of her to be cordial with me when none of Janelle’s closest friends were.
Around 2:30AM, the party started to clear out. Janelle’s boyfriend (if there was such a fellow) was still MIA, but there was another guy particularly close to her on the dance floor for more than a few songs. Right at that moment a girl plopped down next to me on the couch and asked me if I knew that guy’s name; apparently she was fond of him.
“Nope.” I replied trying not to slur my words, “but you wanna know something funny?”
I started pointing around the room.
“You see that girl?” I pointed at May who was on our left, “She used to go out with that guy with the blue shirt. But now she’s with that guy who just went down the hallway. And that girl over there?” I pointed straight ahead to a couple in the next room, “She used to date him with the hat and him over there too, now she’s with the guy that’s with her on the bed. And my ex used to date that guy over there in the corner. Incestuous little gathering we have here. Isn’t that funny?”
“Is she your ex?” She asked, pointing her chin at Janelle.
I smiled and shrugged as I buried my face back into my big red plastic Dixie cup full of Hennessey.
Three AM rolled around and there were only about twenty people left at the party. I still hadn’t heard from my friends downtown. Calls were going straight to voicemail and no one was returning my texts. I didn’t mind too much at the moment, as I lay slumped on the couch enjoying my emotion-numbing buzz.
Janelle was messing around with the music and stopped on a song that she and I used to love. She started to dance by herself, her back facing the room. I was humming the words to myself and bopping my head to the rhythm, but then before I realized what I was doing, I impulsively walked over and tried to dance with her.
“Who is this?” She said without looking back.
“Get off of me. You’re drunk.”
“No I’m not.” I was.
“You must be drunk. You wouldn’t do this if you weren’t drunk. Get off of me.”
“Ok I’m sorry.. I’m sorry.”
At that moment I realized I had overstayed my welcome. Worse yet, I wasn’t even welcome in the first place. I grabbed my coat, bid a quick adieu to a couple of the stragglers and made a hasty exit. I didn’t know where I was going but I knew I had to leave for fear of making an even bigger fool of myself. “I guess I have a little bit of pride left in me after all…”
Outside on St. Nicholas Avenue, I scrolled through my phone trying to figure out who would let me crash at 3:30 in the morning. If worst came to worst, I would head back to 42nd Street and sleep in the Port Authority until daybreak when I could catch a bus back to New Jersey where I was currently staying in my buddy’s basement. Oh, what a life.
My friend Femiola lived in Harlem as well and she was sure to be out partying. I called once. No answer. I tried again. Luckily, she picked up.
“Where you at Femi?” From the noise in the background, I could tell she was outside.
“I’m leaving a party right now heading to May’s party.”
“Well it’s pretty much done. I just left there.”
“What was you doin’ there?” She exhibited the same surprise as everyone else.
“Long story…” I didn’t even want to think about it. “Listen, can I crash?”
“Well I’m like a couple blocks away. I’m gonna go check it out anyway and I’ll hit you back.”
This wasn’t what I had hoped for, but it was better than nothing. “As soon as Femi gets to May’s, she’ll see that the party is over and I can finally put this night behind me.” I thought as I walked down to the 145th Street train station. I stood on the steps leading down into the station low enough to shield myself from the cold and high enough to maintain cell phone reception.
Fifteen minutes passed and I still didn’t get a call from Femiola. I decided to call her back.
“Yea, Junior we just got here but umm.. Lemme uh.. lemme call you back.” Click.
A few moments later an unknown number blinked on my cell phone screen. I picked up…
January 1 – 3:30 AM
May’s Apartment, Harlem
Janelle Alvarez stood in the kitchen of May’s apartment clutching a bottle of Grey Goose by the neck. The kitchen was located in the rear of the apartment, the furthest room from the apartment door. It was a good size with two countertops adjacent to each other, one with a kitchen sink on the far wall below the kitchen window and one to the left. There were empty beer bottles, red plastic Dixie cups and bottles of liquor and wine scattered on the counters and floors, partly because the garbage can was full and partly because people had gotten too drunk to care where they left their cups and bottles. Janelle was laughing uncontrollably to herself and muttering imperceptible words directed at no one in particular in between swigs of vodka straight from the bottle. In attempts to keep up appearances for all of the people who had attended the party, not to mention her estranged ex-boyfriend, she hadn’t shown signs of drunkenness throughout the night. Now, with most of the attendees gone, she found herself needing some liquid comfort. On the kitchen counter to her left she spied a bottle of Patrón that wasn’t yet completely empty. She poured its remnants into the nearest cup and drank it as a shot. As she blinked her eyes and pursed her lips to regain composure, an intoxicated May stumbled in.
“Dude! What the fuck??” May blurted out.
“I know right? What the fucking fuck!” Janelle burst as they both broke into laughter. This night was certainly one for the books. Both Janelle and May had ex-boyfriends show up and there were no fights, no problems and everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves. Janelle downed another gulp of Grey Goose from the bottle, handed the bottle to May while wiping the excess vodka from her chin with the back of her hand and then slowly walked down the hallway toward the bathroom.
Several minutes later Janelle’s sister Lunelle went into the kitchen looking for her. “Have you seen my sister?” she asked May.
“She went to the bathroom prolly to puke or somethin’.”
Lunelle went back down the hallway and saw that the bathroom was closed. She knocked. “Hello? Hey, Nelly you in there? We want to leave.”
“Leavmealn…” came the voice on the other side of the door.
“I can’t understand you. Can you come out so we can go home?” Lunelle repeated.
“Ugh!” Lunelle breathed. Annoyed, she went back to the kitchen and spoke to May. “I don’t know what’s wrong with her but can you go in there and tell her to get out? She won’t listen to me.”
May obliged, following Lunelle down the hallway using the wall to keep her balance as she went. She knocked on the bathroom door. “Janelle..” she slurred. No answer. She knocked again this time with the side of her fist. “Janelle? C’mon if you don’ answer ‘m comin’ in.” Janelle still didn’t answer. May shot Lunelle a worried glance as she slowly turned the doorknob.
She cracked the door and peered inside. Janelle was sitting on the bathroom floor to the right slumped against the wall near the toilet. May pushed the door open and rushed in.
“Janelle! Janelle! Are you ok?” she screamed as she brushed Janelle’s hair to the side so she could see her face. Janelle slowly lifted her head to reveal her face covered in tears, her dark mascara running down her cheeks.
“What the fuck happened? Are you ok? Did you throw up? You need to throw up??” May was almost frantic.
“’M fine ‘m fine.” Janelle mumbled brushing May’s hand away from her face.
“Talk to me. What happened? You ok?”
“Why was he here why did he come here he fuckin cheated on me he cheated…” Janelle mumbled.
“Who? Junior?” May spat the name out, disgusted. “Fuck Junior. Mother. Fuck. Junior. Don’t cry over him. Fuck him.”
“I kno’ I kno’ but why…”
“Jus’ forget about him Janelle. New year. New you? Right?”
“But why…” Janelle’s head fell into her palms as she again began to sob. May realized she wasn’t sober enough to be useful in this situation so she stood up and left the bathroom to get another one of their friends to help.
As she was heading to the living room, which was located to the right on the opposite end of the apartment from the kitchen, someone knocked on the door. May opened it without checking the peephole as she had been doing throughout the night.
“Heeeyyy!” May said, mustering all of the enthusiasm she could manufacture at that point in the night. It was Femiola and her friend Shadina.
“Well, you look like you had a good time.” Femiola said sardonically in response to May’s visible inebriation. They hugged then Femi and Shadina stepped into the apartment. They were about to take off their coats when they took a quick glance into the living room and then down the hallway and only saw a few people present. The music had been turned down and the remaining attendees were in small groups conversing amongst themselves. Femi shot Shadina a guilty, apologetic grin as Shadina, unamused, rolled her eyes.
There was a small commotion emanating from one of the bedrooms. A few moments later, May emerged from the bedroom followed by several girls. Devin, who happened to still be in the living room, overheard some of May’s conversation and stopped her in the hallway to find out what was going on.
“Janelle is crying in the bathroom,” May said nonchalantly.
“Do you need me to talk to her?” he offered.
“Nah we’re good thanks.” She continued down the hall back toward the bathroom, her friends in tow.
Femi was about to ask May what was going on when her phone rang. She picked up. Her mind preoccupied by the situation unfolding in the hallway, she paused and then said, “Yea, Junior we just got here but umm.. Lemme uh.. lemme call you back.” She hung up without waiting for a response and then followed May and the rest of the girls to the bathroom. There were five of them; May in front and Femi pulling up the rear. They each filed into the very small bathroom and Femi, finally witnessing Janelle’s appearance, decided it was best to shut the door behind them. When she turned around, LaKiesha had just snatched a phone from Janelle, said something to the person on the other end, and then hung up.
January 1 – 4:00 AM
St. Nicholas Ave., Harlem
An unknown cell phone number blinked on my screen. I picked up.
“Why did you come here?” Came a slow gargled female voice on the other end of the phone. “You shouldn’t have come here.”
“Who is this?” I asked.
“Janelle who?” I knew who it was. I just couldn’t believe she would be calling me. I didn’t even know she still had my number.
“It’s Janelle. You shouldn’t have come here. You cheated on me.”
“Woah. Hey I’ve done a lot of things to hurt you, but I never cheated on you.”
“Yes you did! You cheated on me! Why did you come??” She was audibly crying on the other end.
Suddenly another voice came on the phone.
“James, It’s LaKiesha. Let me call you back.”
“Is everything all right??” I asked.
“Yea, it’s fine. Let me call you back.” LaKiesha abruptly hung up.
“She thinks I cheated on her…” My mind was swimming in thoughts. “She thinks I left her because I was cheating with Jessica.. I can go back.. even if it’s to get punched in the face. I have opportunity to give her what I so desperately need. Answers.”
“Fuck it.” I left the train station to face the cold…
When I got back to the apartment building, I pressed the buzzer trying to gain access. No one answered. For one full minute, I deliberated my decision; the alcohol in my system disallowed me to process complete thoughts. “Fuck’m I doin… No, she needs this... Bad idea bad idea bad idea… Need to tell her the truth...” At that moment, the door swung open and Devin came out. I caught the door before it closed.
“The party is pretty much done.” Devin offered, “There’s no one up there.”
“Janelle’s not there?” I asked innocently.
“Janelle?...” He screwed his face up in feigned contemplation, “Nah, I think she just left with her sister.”
“Thanks. I’ll check anyway.” I smiled. I turned towards the stairwell, “What a cornball.”
I headed up the six-floor walkup, and at the top of the steps, I took a deep breath. I knew everything about this was a bad idea, but there was an overwhelming compulsion that propelled me to come back. Did I owe her anything? I didn’t cheat on her but would she believe me? Was there something I could tell her to give her closure? Did I miss her? Was I wrong to have left her in the first place? Could talking to her somehow help me gain closure with Jessica? I had all questions and no answers. I shook my head to myself and knocked on the door.
Femiola’s friend Shadina answered the door (which was funny because she was a friend of a friend of the tenant and she was the person who opened the door at four o’clock in the morning). Shadina looked utterly perturbed that Femi brought her to this awful party with no music, no guys, no food and no liquor. Along with her in the hallway by the front door was Janelle’s younger sister Lunelle.
“Oh, hey Junior…” said Lunelle.
“Hey… Uh, where’s Nelly?” I asked.
She didn’t answer. I looked at Shadina whose eyes flashed behind me down the hallway. I took the cue and headed towards the middle of the hallway where I heard muffled voices emanating from the bathroom. I knocked.
“Who is it??” came a voice.
“Oh… Um…” the person hesitated. “What do you want?”
“I need to talk to Janelle.”
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
“WHO-IZZAT??” came Janelle’s gargled voice.
“It’s no one,” another female voice answered her.
“C’mon, let me talk to her.” I repeated.
“Um.. Ok uh.. Hold on.”
LaKiesha cracked the bathroom door just enough to push her way through. She immediately pushed me backwards into a small room across the hallway that was filled with racks of clothes.
“What’s up dude?” she asked.
“I just wanna talk to Janelle.”
“That’s not a good idea right now.”
“She thinks I cheated on her. I didn’t cheat on her LaKiesha.”
“I don’t know…”
“I did a lot of things. I know I hurt her when I left her, but I didn’t cheat on her.”
LaKiesha and I had always gotten along well and she liked me for Janelle. She didn’t want to believe me, but I could tell that part of her did.
“Just let me talk to her,” I said.
“Um.. Ok. Let me ask her.”
She went back into the bathroom and I could hear a small argument ensue. The loudest voice of them all was Janelle’s.
“WHO?.. JAMES??? LET’IMINN.” She commanded.
“Ok.. Ok.. You promise you’re ok?” another voice asked.
“ ’M-FINE. YOU. LEAVE.” She told them, “LET HIM IN.”
“Ok… We’ll be here. Just let us know if—“
At that moment the door edged open and out came a procession of LaKiesha, Femiola, Yennifer, May, then Cheri. They were apparently holding an intervention in the small bathroom that could barely fit two people—let alone six.
The look they each gave me told a story. Cheri and Yennifer looked at me in utter disgust. “How could you do this to our best friend?” May looked somewhat neutral, as she had seen the many ups and downs of the James and Janelle saga firsthand. Her look said, “Shit happens.” LaKiesha’s look said, “I sure hope you know what you’re doing buddy.” Finally, Femiola put one hand on my shoulder, let out a deep sigh, then shook her head. She and I were close friends and I had seen this look many times before. That look meant, “You’re a fucking fool. I should stop you, but whatever, Junior. Do what you want.”
An immediate rush of uncertainty took hold of me as soon as Femi let go of me. All this time I thought they were protecting Janelle from me… I only just realized, as they pushed me towards the door, that they were actually protecting me from her…
January 1 – 4:45 AM
May’s Apartment, Harlem
I stepped into the small bathroom to see Janelle sitting on the floor leaned against the bathtub. The white tile floor had little black tiles dispersed evenly throughout, as did the bottom half of the four walls. The bathtub was directly in front of the doorway. The shower curtain was dark blue with a pink and purple floral pattern and there was a matching dark blue bath rug in front of the tub. Directly to the right of the tub was a small sink. This was littered with four used toothbrushes, an empty tube of toothpaste, hand soap, and a bunch of female hair care products. The toilet to the right of the sink had a black seat cover and a curling iron and a flat iron sitting on top of the toilet’s tank. Used tissues were scattered everywhere, and Janelle held a fresh wad in her hand. Mascara was smeared all over her face. Her eyes and nose were red and swollen. She looked a right mess.
“Sit.” She whispered in an unnaturally composed tone as she nodded her forehead toward the toilet seat. I went to the seat, facing her the whole time, and sat gingerly as if I had a bout of hemorrhoids.
“Why did you come here?” she asked, again in that forced even tone of voice.
“SHUT UP!” she burst.
I technically wasn’t afraid for my life but I knew it was a mistake to be sitting in this small room with her while she was in this neurotic state. I also figured there were several people listening at the door mostly to eavesdrop, but on the off chance that I would attack her, they would rush in to save her. I strongly doubted they would do the same for me…
She began again in that calmed voice. “Did you think you could just come in here and everything would be fine?”
“I… I don’t know.”
“What do you mean ‘you don’t know’? Did you think it would be fine? Just answer the question.”
“I just… I mean… That was a year ago.”
“Nine months.” She quickly corrected me.
“Yea… um nine months.. So I just figured you would be ok… by now..”
“Me?? I’m fine. I’m fine. Fiiiine… I did everything.. everything.. that you said I couldn’t do.” She uttered that last bit through gritted teeth. “I lost weight... Look at me!” I was looking at the floor as I often did during these difficult conversations. I hesitantly met her eyes.
“I look good,” she continued, “I lost fifty pounds after you left me. You said I couldn’t do it.”
“I never said—”
“SHUT UP!” she screamed, “You shut up and you listen to me! I did everything you said I couldn’t. You know I have a job? Yea. I started right after you broke up with me. And I have my own apartment. I pay my own bills. You didn’t believe in me. Look at me!” I looked back up. “I told you I would do it but you didn’t believe me.”
“You didn’t believe I could change… so you left… you left me for… that… bitch. That fucking bitch.” She pounded her right fist into her left palm as she spoke.
“I didn’t cheat on you.” I offered.
“Yes you did! You fucking cheated on me! With that bitch. And that’s why you left me.” Janelle stated this as if she was quoting scripture. It was clear to me that she had been using this reasoning to cope during these last nine months.
“I know I hurt you. I know I did. But I never cheated on you.”
“You’re lying. Were you in love with her?”
“I….” I was hesitant.
“Were you…” she started through gritted teeth, “in love with her?”
“I…” This was no time to lie. “Yes.. Yes I was.”
“How could you? How could love this random broad?”
“She wasn’t random.”
“So you cheated on me.”
“You cheated on me! How else could you have fallen in love so quickly??”
“I didn’t cheat on you. I met Jessica after—“
“Don’t fucking say her name!” Janelle looked positively homicidal. I shifted uneasily on the toilet seat. “Don’t you fucking say her name in my presence! This random fucking broad that you cheated on my with.”
“I told you I didn’t cheat on you!” I was getting upset. Although this was the most humbling experience in my life, I still didn’t fancy being called a liar.
“So when did you meet her then?” She asked more calmly. Her sudden changes in emotion made me supremely uncomfortable.
“Um.. a month.. yea… a month after we broke up.”
“You’re fucking lying. I’m supposed to believe that you fell in love—head over heals, in a month?? You think I’m fucking stupid??”
“We broke up when? In April?”
“March 24th.” She corrected me.
“March. I didn’t start dating her until May.”
“Even then! Even if I believe that bullshit. How could you fall in love with a random broad a month after you’ve been with me for three years??”
I was at a loss for words. “I.. I don’t know.”
“You don’t know… You. Don’t. Know…” she was almost amused, letting out a slight chuckle. “And where is she now?”
“We um…” a lump formed in my throat. “She… she dumped me.”
“Ooohh she dumped you?” she feigned surprise. She must have known already. “Why?” she pressed on. She wore the most condescending expression; her lips pursed and brow furrowed.
“Because.. ah.. Because I lost my job.”
“She left you. Because you lost. Your job.” The infliction of her voice suggested the condescension of a lawyer during a cross-examination.
“Sort of.. I actually quit, but they were gonna fire me. But I treated her like shit during that entire process. Then I quit without telling her. So she dumped me.. Same day.”
“She left you on the same day you lost you job??”
“Do you remember? Huh? Do you remember when you lost you job when we were together? You remember how you treated me?”
“You treated me like shit. You were always upset. Always spazzing. But I never left you.” She began to inch closer to me. “I never left you.”
“I know...” I quietly acknowledged. She was right.
“I’ve never left you. No matter how mad you got or all the bullshit you’ve done. I’ve always been there for you.” I didn’t respond. She was right. I knew she was. “I was there,” she continued, “after you graduated when you didn’t have a job. I was there during finals when you had to pull all-nighters in the library bringing you Gatorade and donuts. You remember that?”
“Yea, I remember.” I smiled. Those were fond memories.
“But still, you left me…” she had calmed down and was only sitting a foot away from me on the bathroom floor. She took me by the wrist and used my open hand to caress her cheek. Tears started to form in the corners of her eyes. “Why did you leave me?”
“I was… I’m…” Tears began to form in my eyes as I searched for something to say. Having been given the clairvoyance of hindsight, I searched for the real truth behind my actions nine months ago. “I was unhappy.” I started slowly, “I couldn’t see a future for us.. I did what I thought was best.”
“You told me you didn’t love me.”
“I didn’t say—“
“You did. You looked me in the eyes and you said ‘I don’t love you’. You don’t remember that?”
“I… I do.. but I didn’t mean that. I did still love you as I do now and always will.” I was telling the truth. “I just thought that’s what you needed to hear for the breakup to make sense to you. You said to me ‘Tell me you don’t love me’… so I did.”
“Do you have any idea what I went through after you left me?”
“No..” I honestly hadn’t given much thought, if any, to how she was doing while I was enjoying my new life without her.
“While you were off taking bitches to Puerto Rico and Mexico… yes I know about that.” She was only half right. I opened my mouth to say something but decided against it. This wasn’t the time to argue about the details of my tropical vacations. She continued, “I know about everything… while you were off with random broads, I was here. Sick. Sick of my own life. I didn’t eat. I cried myself to sleep every.. fucking.. night… for weeks upon weeks…” She was crying now, fighting to get words out. The pain and anger and grief I had cause finally being released at the only person who mattered…
“I’m.. I’m sorry…”
“No you’re not.” She cut in, “No. You’re. Not. Because you were off enjoying your life in ‘love’. Taking her on trips! You never took me on trips, but this.. this random broad… That should have been me! Should have been all mine, but you didn’t love me. When you were with me it was always ‘Oh I don’t have any money’ but a month later you’re taking broads on vacation.”
“I would go out,” she continued, ignoring me, “every day of the week to party because I couldn’t stand the feeling of being home crying over you while you were out. You didn’t give a fuck about me. You didn’t give a fuck about me! My friends would tell me ‘He’s obviously not worried about you so you shouldn’t worry about him’. So I was out every night. I would party Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday straight. I didn’t give a fuck. Party until 5 AM on a Sunday or Wednesday then wake up at 6 and go to work. I was popping bottles every week. $300. $400, fuck it. Drunk every night. Having fun. Taking cabs back to the Bronx for $50. I spent almost $3000 one month just on clubs. All because I couldn’t stand the thought of you being happy with some random broad while I was crying over you.”
I was speechless, not so much because I didn’t believe her but because I had purposefully cut all of Janelle’s footprints out of my life. Facebook, Twitter, Gchat, pictures, her friends. I wanted to leave her in my past and let her live her life as I lived mine. I didn’t want to hear about anything she was doing. My friends knew not to mention her and I liked it that way. I had the fortune of being happy, in love with someone else and not having the time to even wonder how she was doing. In my own past, I found that, for better or worse, the more time I had to myself after a split, the more I forgot all the bad things that caused the split and ended up back with that person. I couldn’t keep to myself. I kept myself busy. I reconnected with old flames and I sparked up new ones.
Janelle began again. “My friends calling me, texting me ‘he got pictures of her all over Facebook!’ Every week I’m getting a call ‘He’s fucked up. Are you all right?’”
I was silent, staring at a random tile on the bathroom floor.
“I remember the day she dumped you.”
“Wha..?” I looked up.
“Yea. At least three people hit me up. ‘Junior crying over this bitch on Facebook. I think she deaded him.’ And I remember. I remember going into the bathroom at work and being so happy. So, so happy.” She gazed at the ceiling, reminiscing about that joyous moment, “Fucking karma. ‘This is what he gets’ I thought. ‘This is what he fucking gets. Now he can feel how I felt. Now he can go through the pain he put me through.’”
At that moment, I realized this was why I came back. I came back to be spat on and told off. In my current situation, I was Jessica and Janelle was me, and I wanted Janelle to rip me a new one. I wanted her to claim her victory at last over that asshole… that bitch who left me at my lowest point. I wanted to see her win because for once I saw myself in her,
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