I didn’t see his face when he climbed into the backseat with two of his friends. His hoodie was pulled up covering him anyway. They were all young, in their 20’s, living in a sketchy neighborhood on the edge between Hollywood and Silverlake. Two guys, one Asian tough tomboy squished between them. They only wanted to go a few blocks away to one of their apartments and then come right back. I’m not sure why they all needed to go, since R stayed in the backseat while the other two ran inside to grab their stuff.
“How was your new year?” I asked.
“Well considering I woke up with a black eye, cigarette burns, a broken bathroom mirror and blood all over the ground, I guess not so good.”
“Hold up. What?” I swirled around in my seat to see if he was joking. He leaned into the the light to show me his shiner. Nope, not lying. “Oh my god, what happened?”
“I don’t really remember but I think I told this guy to hit me.”
“I kind of turn into a different person when I drink,” he smiled shyly as I peered at him, examining him for signs of darkness. But no, he was all sweetness, soft and eager as a puppy.
“So you told this guy to punch you in the face?”
“Well actually, I told him a few times. The first time I told him it didn’t hurt. So he got me in the eye. And then I think he hit me again. Then I passed out, and in the morning, my bathroom mirror was smashed. I think he did it cause I kept talking to this girl that he told me not to talk to.”
He rolled up his sleeve to show me his arm. I gasped. There were two round big angry scabs and one big blobby one, raw and red and crackling at the edges. He pointed to one of the round ones. “I told him to go ahead and burn me with a cigarette, so he did. And then I was like fuck you, that didn’t hurt. And I burned myself with a lighter.”
“You burned yourself?”
“Yeah, kind of dumb right? I told you, when I drink, I become somebody else.”
As his friends piled back into the car, I asked them, “Hey, how come you didn’t stop your friend from becoming a crazy person?”
The Asian girl replied, “We weren’t there, but believe me, if we were, none of that shit would’ve gone down.”
They got into a discussion of the guys who had been around, those “friends” you have in your 20’s but hopefully shed in your 30’s who push another shot on you, who never want the party to end and need you to keep up with them. You can them “fun” then. Later they are “crazy” and not in a good way. More like a prison for manslaughter kind of way.
Before they got out of the car, I turned around to R. “Hey, know who your real friends are. And be careful with the drinking, OK?” I know it was Mom-like to say it but you know — see something, say something. Even though I’ve had other passengers with drinking problems and kept my mouth shut, he had explicitly told me that he knew he became this other creature when intoxicated. I felt it was my duty to let him know I’d been listening.
Instead of being offended, he grinned. “I know, I will. ” He asked me my name. He shook my hand, pumping it up and down. Like I said, he was a sweet kid. Those are the ones I worry about the most. They bruise easily.