Say Whiskey to the Dress
It’s September, and for a brief moment, I feel on top of the world. I’m on the last leg of my MFA program, I have earned a magazine fellowship, and I’m invited to the book release party for my professor, who is not only one of my favorite poets but who I also hope will be my thesis advisor. By the end of this party, though, I will have lost all threat of the pride that may have been creeping up.
There’s something about transportation devices that always seem to insert awkwardness into my evening. Subways, turnstiles, escalators—so much can and does go wrong. In this case, it takes me several minutes to figure out how to open the elevator until two women walk in. One touches a buzzer that I had noticed but didn’t understand, and the other slides open the elevator door.
I say, “Oh, I’m so silly. I should have known to push the buzzer.” We all laugh to say yes, of course, aren’t we all silly sometimes. I remind myself that my hair is still behaving and I’m wearing my best Joan Halloway dress to feel confident again. But when I move my hair to one side, I feel a strand catch on my zipper.
“Oh, your dress,” says one of the women. I waive at her casually.
“Don’t worry. The clasp just gets stuck sometimes.” I say this assuming most women would understand, but when I reach behind, I realize my entire dress is unzipped—and has been all day. The one mile walk in Jersey, the subway, my walk through Riverside Park, and oh no—even the attractive guy on the street. He hadn’t been checking me out; he had been checking out my awkwardness. “I don’t know how this happened!” I say. “Must have been loose.” But I’m panicking, because we’re two floors from the party and there’s a room full of writers. I’m lifting the zipper desperately and wiggle to get it up. I tell myself that this isn’t so embarrassing, that surely these two women are going to a different event from me. But the doors open just as I’ve fixed my dress, and the woman walk past me onto the sixth floor.
Determined to recover, I walk towards the first people I recognize: Aaron Michael, a fellow MFA student, and Eduardo Corral. I had met Eduardo earlier in the summer when I attended his book release. He had been very welcoming and gracious and was no less this time around. A group of students had surrounded him, asking him questions, telling him about our program. I’m feeling more confident listening to the conversation. Then, inexplicably, it’s just Eduardo and me. I’m not sure where the others have gone. The first time I met Eduardo, I rambled like a school girl meeting a movie star. I wasn’t keen on making the same impression again. But while I’m determined to not say anything foolish, it turns out that I can’t think of anything to say at all. I look anxiously to the food table, gauging when Aaron Michael would come back. Eduardo looks around too, trying to find some other group to rescue him but too nice to leave me stranded in a room full of strangers. We laugh nervously, him sipping a cocktail. “I’m going to grab a drink,” I say, and he’s walking away before I finish my sentence.
Most of the food is gone and I haven’t eaten all day, but I’m too anxious to eat anyways. The first comforting thing I have seen all day is the bottle of Maker’s Mark behind the makeshift bar. “Do you want ice?” the server asks.
“No. No ice.” I look around for someone I know. “Make it a double?”
Soon, I find my friends and am speaking more freely, feeling like I belong in this world. Near the end of the night, my professor makes her way over to us. I’m a little nervous, but it’s quickly apparent that she has also had a few drinks and she suggests that we all do shots of tequila with her. I’m not sure I should, since I still have my nth glass of whiskey in my hand and I’m a lightweight, but I’m too thrilled by her attention to turn it down.
After clinking glasses and swallowing the shot, she turns to me. She says, “I’m so excited for your fellowship. You’re going to do great.” This means so much to me, but before I can say so, I’ve tipped my glass, spilling—right on her boots.
I gasp. There are no words.
“You just spilled on my toes,” she observes.
“You just spilled whiskey. On my toes.” I wish she hadn’t repeated it, like it could somehow be less real if she had only not repeated it.
“I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” She touches my shoulder, smiles with what seems to be curiosity, and walks away.