By Pete Bailey
All over the car door, the passenger door, my car’s passenger door, as we sail north up Damen Avenue, New Year’s Eve. We’re only two drinks into the evening—I’m driving, after all, and we’re heading to a place we can crash for the night—and she vomits a great awfulness all over her side of the car. Two friends are in the backseat, a couple, Jane and Fred. Amy, my date, looks mortified in embarrassment. She’s got puke on her pink shirt.
I turn, pull over, stop in front of Nick’s Beer Garden, and Jane takes Amy inside to help her clean up in the tavern’s bathroom. Fred and I sit in the car; I’m furiously wiping away the two-drink upchuck on the interior. Fred repeats “Dude” over and over again, each utter more and more dramatic, until the women return.
I fell in love with her t-shirt. She wore it one day to class, a lit course we had together as undergrads, this wonderful shithole of a garment, mud brown all over except for the bulging orange football helmet in the front. A cute girl, a ginger, in a Cleveland Browns t-shirt, who’s into Fitzgerald. I wanted her bad.
Too scared to approach her though. Months passed. She wore the Browns shirt a few more times, demanding my attention, making class unbearable. Then, randomly, I got an invite to a party near UIC from a friend. “Hey, I’m going to this thing, come with.” I went. Amy was there. It was her party. I had a few and worked up the courage. We talked. I flirted with her about the Browns t-shirt. We were both recently out of long-term relationships. I got her number. Only stranger I ever asked for a phone number. It was mine.
First date: Amy and I decided to go get drinks at a bar on Taylor Street, but it just so happened the Cubs were in the playoffs and a game was on that night, so we spent the evening with pitchers of beer watching the ballgame instead of getting to know each other. In many ways, it was the best first date I’ve ever had.
Second date: I tried to impress her and we went to some private party at Smart Bar. She looked out of place. So did I.
Third date: Amy called me and suggested we go see “In America” at Piper’s Alley. Great idea, let’s go. By the end of the movie, as the lights come up, I was a blubbering, sobbing mess, and of course, she was calm and cool, reserved, staring as I tried to hide my stupid ugly boyish face.
Fourth date is New Year’s Eve, she and Jane are back in the car, we’re heading towards another party. No more drinking. After a while Amy and I head back to her apartment, and she apologizes again for throwing up in my car. Not a big deal, I assure her.
“It doesn’t take much alcohol to make me throw up,” she says.
I tell her it’s not a problem. And it isn’t, except that when we get inside her apartment and our coats are off and we’re slumped on the couch, she kisses me, all lips and tongues and wetness, and she tastes like puke.
A month later and Chicago is in the worst of winter. To put the malaise on pause Amy and her roommate decide to host a party, a “Winter Formal,” in which the guests are expected to don proper prom attire. Suits and dresses slush through the snow. Jane and Fred will be there, thankfully. Of course, I have to be there.
Amy and I haven’t had sex. We’ve been seeing each other three months. No sex. She pukes too much. I can’t get her to not consume some sort of booze when we do see each other—mostly because I can’t get myself not to consume some sort of booze—and the poor girl throws up.
“Maybe you’re allergic?” What did I know. I didn’t know a fucking thing. Never in the car again, but in various bathrooms, in garage bins and one time on the El platform. A winter romance no-sex barf-o-rama. Worst part, she didn’t even wear the goddamn Browns shirt anymore.
Winter, formal. I look good. I have my emerald green shirt on. Black tie. I look good. We dance a lot, it’s a fun time. I help her clean up—she leads me to the bedroom. From what I can tell, there’s nary a hint of vomit in the air.
We’re rabid. Our bodies, each warming the other, the room so cold as Chicago creeps in. OK, OK, it’s gonna happen. “There are condoms under the bed,” she whispers.
Clothes are off. Hot, bothered. Hands and fingers and tongues and lips all over. She kisses my neck, reaches down and takes me in her hand.
Then, the most horribly designed words I’ve ever heard: “So this is what you’ve been hiding.”
It might be impossible for a man to lose an erection as quickly as I do on this frigid evening. Amy’s unbelievably dorky attempt to…to what? I don’t know! What kind of a comment is that? “So this is what you’ve been hiding?” Has she said this to all her guys?
I panic. I’m confounded. For few moments, I’m legitimately frightened. What do you mean? Why would I hide anything? Stop touching me it’s over!
Now I’m embarrassed, erection a memory. Why am I embarrassed? You said the fucking dorky thing! Why did you say that dorky thing?!?!
I turn over. We lie there. We don’t speak. Eventually we fall asleep, rigidly. Formally.
A month later I move to a new apartment, have my wisdom teeth out and start a new job. A great time to not return her phone calls—I’m busy, I’m sorry, I’ll call you later—and let the relationship fade. That’s what cowards do, and being one myself, especially back then, it seemed the only option. Without much effort, we stopped speaking.
A few years passed and I was having beers with a buddy at Ukrainian Village’s Innertown Pub, some fucking weeknight, some otherwise useless evening. A girl in the corner, she looked familiar, and it took me five more seconds to realize it was Amy.
“Hey,” I whispered to my friend, “I used to date that girl.” He didn’t really give a shit.
Still the coward, I wasn’t going to say hello. An hour passed, maybe two, and I got a tap on my shoulder.
“I thought that was you.”
We talked briefly. She moved out of the country, met a guy, got married. Has a baby girl. Holy shit.
“Are you happy?” I ask her. Of course she is.
Amy comes up once in a while when friends and I share war stories, and I feel an equal amount of bittersweet casualness and honest regret. The relationship was barely something, but I could’ve acted more maturely. You really do some regrettable shit when you’re young. Oh well. She’ll live on in anecdotes.
But if somehow she’s reading this: Amy, I hope you’re still wearing that Browns t-shirt every once in a while. It’s super hot.