The basement of your dorm is a lounge for the whole building; right now, it is empty. You slip your hand under the couch cushions. A dime, a quarter, five pennies. You check the slides and slots of the washing machines and push open the tiny door of the coin return in the pay phone: fifty cents. You reach beneath each washer and dryer, the undersides cold on your knuckles and the floor gritty on your fingertips: two nickels, two quarters. You reach into the secrets of every piece of furniture in that basement and wonder: Is this what your alcoholic father did when he was in college and had no money? Is this who you are? Is this glamourous in ways most people do not comprehend?
Now you hold many coins, warm and slick in your fist, that you can add to the quarters you already have to create a total of two dollars and sixty-four cents. You mount the concrete stairs that lead to your suite and place the money into the hand of your 21-year-old roommate as she sits at her desk. When you drink, she always observes as you put on the Budweiser guzzler helmet with straws and play Steppenwolf’s Greatest Hits over and over. She is blond and aloof and polite, and girls like her make you want to tell them everything. About how you were sober in AA but now you’re not, how you hunt for change like a hobo for a quart of Mad Dog from the 7-11 down the street. How since you started drinking again, people fall into two categories: those who don’t drink nearly as much as you, and those who drink as much as or more than you. The people who drink like you are mostly cool kids with dyed hair or punk clothes or artistic tendencies or all three. You adore them immediately.
When you had sex with one of them and he acted like your boyfriend, you wanted to impress him, but all you thought you had to offer was your reckless alcoholism, the only way you know how to be a rebel. So one morning in your dorm suite as the sun shined on your shoulders, you walked along the giant windowsill and picked up one plastic cup at a time and swallowed the remaining Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, the Coors from the keg at Sigma Phi Epsilon, the Absolut screwdrivers that separated into filmy vodka and pulpy orange that blended again in your mouth.
You put on your jean jacket and walked across campus to his dorm. You passed old brick buildings of intellectual and architectural significance. Your buzz grew as newly fallen snow seeped wet through your canvas tennis shoes. Yesterday, a girl so unlike you, virginal and shy, hung out in your room and expressed surprise at the lack of winter clothes in your closet. It occurred to you that your parents might not have taken good care of you.
You stood at the doorway to his room, smiled, and whispered jubilantly in his ear that you were drunk.
He yelled, “Oh my God, my girlfriend is a fucking alcoholic!” and dumped you.
You stood there blinking and then said his name and reached for him. You felt yourself sway.
You present your change to your 21-year-old roommate.
“You only have change?” she asks. Her books are open on her desk, lamplight wincy on the glossy pages of her textbook.
“Sorry. I’m a loser. Thank you so much.”
She smiles with great politeness. “You’re so funny. Orange again?”
You nod. “Really. Thanks.”
She pulls on her wool coat and leaves.
Later, you hold the half-empty bottle inside your jacket and leave your dorm in search of people to party with. You start with the boys’ freshman dorm, legendary for its stench and disrepair. The light is always dim. You stand outside their circle in the hallway and hold out the Mad Dog, waiting for them to let you in.