Eddie worked in my dorm’s cafeteria and I don’t remember how we got to talking. But we did get to talking, a short, awkward 17-year-old and a tall, big Mexican guy in his early 20s. He told me about his boyfriend, how they’d moved up here from El Paso for their careers. They both wanted to work in fashion but weren’t having much luck yet, and lived all the way up north by the lake because it was cheap. I lived in the dorms which I knew were not cheap, but my school had rules about moving off campus and I was too chicken to break them.
It sucked sometimes because rent really was good in this almost-tip of the city by the Granville Red Line. There were still more hookers than brunch places in the early 2000s, and four convenience stores at one intersection. My roommate and I called it the UN of Convenience Stores, though in retrospect he UN of 7-11 would’ve been more clever. The owners were Korean, Mexican, African, and Middle Eastern respectively, a not-inaccurate reflection of Edgewater and immediate neighbor Rogers Park’s demographics.
Eddie and I were a couple blocks north of the UN when we ran into some people smoking a joint on the sidewalk. We were on our way to the beach. And we didn’t run into them so much as a measured amble. You could smell the pot from a block away. We looked and each other and slowed down. Two women and a man. A good combination. I relaxed a little. We wavered at the corner of their group until one woman gestured to us.
“You want some?”
I was too chicken to rent an off-campus apartment, but not too chicken to smoke with a stranger.
I sucked in deep and coughed, tearing up (it wasn’t the most quality stuff, I wasn’t the most experienced smoker), then passed it to him. He took a neat and delicate drag, letting smoke seep out of his nostrils like twin dragons. I was impressed.
I felt it curl through my body, releasing some of the ever-present tension. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them everything was soft and glowing, the streetlight an orange bloom. This was a good idea, I barely thought, it is good to be here. The woman was gesturing to me.
“Hit it again, girl, hit it again.”
I was already reaching. I offered it to my friend, who flipped his hand no thank you. We should go, he murmured quietly. I nodded.
“Thank you!” I chirped. Everything was great. Everything was so, so great.
We met his boyfriend at their apartment. He was small and thin, eating a baloney sandwich on white bread in their spare kitchen. I don’t remember what we talked about. I could smell the yellow mustard. I think we smoked a little more.
“Are you going to swim in that?” He gestured to my jeans and t-shirt.
He rolled his eyes. “Hang on.”
I ended up wearing his clothing as a makeshift swimsuit. It fit really well. One pair of metallic booty shorts and a mesh top later, we strode towards the beach. I tried to refrain from swinging my arms as I walked.
I was swinging my arms when we reached the lake. It glimmered in the moonlight, little waves lapping a curving shore of high-rises. I took off running, feet pounding the dark sand. I had to be in it, could not wait to feel that cold water around me. Eddie’s boyfriend followed. We waded out until it came up to our hips, screaming and splashing. I went out deeper so I could do somersaults and handstands then dove under, wet hair streaming down my back like a mantle as I rose up.
Throughout all of this Eddie did not join us. He stood on the beach watching, hands in his pockets.
By the time I got back to the dorms I was freezing, bra and underwear sopping under my clothes. My roommate was gone for the weekend, a small joy: I stripped naked, wrapping my gooseflesh in as many blankets as I could find.
The clock read 2pm when I woke up. For a long moment I wondered where I was.