I'm 19, I'm sitting on a bare, dirty mattress in my boyfriend's room, pressing a frozen bag of mixed vegetables to a shattered cheekbone and wondering how the hell I got here. Not here, physically, he drove. An ill-advised drunk drive through the nation's capital. Intellectually, I know that I am drunk, but I feel almost sober now, the drama of the evening sharpened everything and though, when I look back on the night, there are gaps in action and conversation, I feel present now. Sober. But not really. My skin is sticky from crying and the makeup I cake on to hide how tired I look, the mask I wear that lets me be one of the gatekeepers. I am wearing a short black dress, and the soles of my feet are dirty. There are bits of grass stuck to my legs.
The night had started well. At an embassy party, I don't remember which one. It had felt glamorous and uniquely D.C. It felt like we were okay, like we were young and alive and everything was ours. Like we had everything figured out. But we didn't. We were like sharks, forever moving, afraid to stop.
I don't remember a lot of the party, I don't remember why we went or how we got in or why we split up when we left. But I remember the walk to the car, my friend, my boyfriend, and me. I remember two men throwing insults at my friend. I remember him not taking it. I remember him on the ground, hitting. I remember taking off my shoes and running, running, running across the lawn. Tackling the one boy off of my friend and not knowing what to do next. I remember this stranger's left fist connecting with my right cheek. I remember the crunch. I remember how there was a moment of shock, for both of us, this boy I didn't know and me, that he had hit me. Then it all goes blank.
I remember the ambulance. The bandage on the friend I called my brother’s hand, how I knew when I saw it that we were family, beyond just the words. When he realized I had been hit, he had hit back, shattering the boy's face and injuring his own hand. I remember speaking to my father on the phone, him wanting to fly to DC in the middle of the night. I don't know why the ambulance let us go. Two drunk and bloody kids in the middle of the night. And I don't know how my friend got home. I don't know why my boyfriend at the time missed the whole fight. I would resent him for it for years, never realizing that he was in no way implicated in my decisions.
I remember getting to that apartment, sitting with the vegetables and my shame and the very real pain I felt everywhere. A little voice in my head telling me I was dying. I was too selfish to think of anyone but myself. This was the moment I'd look back on more than a decade later as the beginning of the end. It would take me 4 years to start becoming myself again. Almost a decade to get sober.
In the morning, I walked campus in extra makeup, but I still had a black eye, a swollen cheek. I concealed more than the makeup did as I sit in the middle of the quad with the self-assured bravado of someone who belongs there. I'm smiling, so everything is fine. Everyone knows my name, but I have very few friends left at this point. Not real ones anyway, though it will take me awhile to notice. A year later I'll leave school. People will tell me I've made a mistake. It will be one of the best decisions I make in the first 3 decades of my life.
Now, a year into sobriety, I can still touch my cheek and feel a small indent that never quite healed. I am glad. It reminds me that in moments, we are shattered, but that with time and patience, we heal, we rebuild, in a way that’s a little different than before. There is life in the dents and the cracks, and lessons. Big, beautiful ones, that we must learn. We break so that we can heal, not perfectly, but stronger this time.