“Someone’s face hurts because someone just got punched.”
I told Heinrich to shut up or his face would hurt. Because of my fist.
I’d like to say that we were all drunk but we weren’t. The girls were tipsy on wine coolers; the guys never drank more than one or two microbrews—the bitterness gets to us. (None of us drink coffee; all of us like the idea of chocolate bars with very high cacao content but none of us actually eat them.) We could drink flavored vodkas mixed with fruit juices, but there’s really no point. What we really hate is being drunk.
How it happened was Heinrich left me alone at the bar, next to a regular. She was fortyish, hair-sprayed, make-up melting off her face—my type. She was drunk. What I did was make her laugh, touch her shoulder, lick my lips.
I think it was the licking my lips part that drew a fist to my face. It was the bartender, her husband, the owner’s fist. I didn’t know that at first, as she dabbed clumps of generic foundation into her napkin.
“How do you know he’s her husband, then?” one of the girls asked.
“He told me as his fist was moving: ‘That’s my wife, bitch.’”
“You’re such a bitch,” Heinrich said.
I hate my friends.
I feel dumb almost every time I speak. I don’t feel dumb when I talk only if I talk about feeling dumb. Sometimes I make a conscious effort to say things that will not sound dumb. For instance, after I got punched, I say this to my friends:
“He imparted two insightful bits of information. First, by saying, ‘That’s my wife,’ he let us know that the woman at whom I licked my lips is married to him, the implication of which is that I should not, nor should any other man, and possibly woman, although he would probably think that was hot, lick my, his, or her lips at this particular woman, his wife, he owns her sexuality, let’s deconstruct the binaries thereof, let’s be graduate students, blah blah blep.” I want to stop here. I’m not even using correct grammar; I’m not making a point. I suck.
I continue, “Second, he thinks or wishes that I am a ‘bitch,’ which could mean a female canine primed for breeding, licking its lips at his wife.
“Or, he could have meant ‘bitch’ as a colloquial insult, commonly lobbed at a threatening entity in order to weaken its social standing. In the case that the insult is applied to a man, it is meant to emasculate; if levied on a woman, it is usually to exact ownership or domination over her.
“Ultimately, the second use of ‘bitch’ was effective, because now, after being called a bitch, I have no penis.”
That is the punch-line. No one laughs. One of the girls grins at the ground. Heinrich looks down her shirt.
I go to the bathroom and seriously consider eating a urinal cake. In my head, an eight-year-old version of myself is calling my present self a urinal cake face. The pet chimp I always wanted at that age throws feces at me. It is my own feces, drizzled with the chimp’s AIDS-infested blood. The chip knows sign-language and, in my head, I understand what he signs: I hope you get it.
The chimp grins. I finish peeing and pick up the urinal cake. I put it to my lips.
Then another fist—the bartender’s other one—breaks up my face and the cake. I fall hard, head to linoleum. The blood comes quick, I see.
I am worried. If I die here, now, my last words will have been misunderstood, not laughed at, dumb ones.