Home > The Lost Night(4)

The Lost Night(4)
Author: Andrea Bartz

He apologized, grinning, then headed for his desk.

I returned to Facebook, to the grid of photos. There were so many pictures of us hanging out in Sarah, Alex, Kevin, and Edie’s apartment, which we’d jokingly called SAKE, pronounced like the Japanese wine, unwilling to bear the inconvenience of mentioning all of the tenants’ names. Always with drinks around, always with drunk, sparkly eyes. So few of these images stirred up memories; they were like loose leaves or a deck of cards: Young People Having Fun. I seemed to be always there, though I lived two stops away on the subway. Sarah was sort of right: While Edie and I had been best friends for a moment, I’d never quite been a full member of the clique. Once Edie and I had had our falling-out, I’d been just outside, watching them through a sheet of glass.

I scrolled. There were just as many photos of us in other apartments within Calhoun Lofts—beer bottles scattered around, someone flipping off the camera or finding a way to look blasé. It was such an odd building, a full block long and set up like a college dormitory, only instead of small dorm rooms, there were apartments, each tall and rectangular, like a giant shoebox. They came gapingly vacant except for a kitchen and a bathroom crouched in one corner. And into those giant shoeboxes, tenants brought plywood and drywall and constructed their lives: lofted bedrooms resting on stilts with a forest of four-by-four pillars underneath, or cubbylike rooms lining either side of the long walls, so that standing in the central corridor felt like being on dry sand with the Red Sea rising on either side.

Sarah had been the Virgil who’d led me through Calhoun’s graffiti-splattered front doors and into its deepest circles. I’d first met Sarah in Manhattan a week or two earlier at a vodka-soaked rooftop party thrown by effervescent PR people for some product or campaign launch. It was August 2008 and I’d just started my first job as a fact-checker at a fitness magazine; Sarah was a junior designer at The Village Voice, and somehow both our names showed up in some media directory and garnered us invitations. It felt strange, gulping cocktails at this extravagant party while the stock market teetered and talking heads wrung their hands and both our companies implemented hiring freezes like an early winter frost. We chatted away and exchanged emails and then got lunch at a burrito place, and just like that, we were friends. I miss that about my twenties, that vastness, that sweeping sense that there’s room for everyone worthwhile, all the time and space in the world.

Sarah lived with Edie and some other girls at the time, in a different apartment within Calhoun Lofts. I’d heard the building referred to in reverential tones; it was hipster legend. Sarah had invited me to see a show there that Saturday. My outfit and hair carefully planned out and rethought, I’d taken two parting shots of whiskey, boarded the L train, and ridden deep into the bowels of Bushwick.

Sarah met me at the door with a hug and a compliment (I can still taste that tang of relief that I’d dressed acceptably) and brought me first to her apartment to pregame. Stepping into her place, I gasped at the soaring warehouse space with unfinished walls, twenty-foot ceilings, and, on the far end, a wall of dirty windows that looked straight out of a vintage elementary school.

Rap music poured from speakers and my eyes fell on Edie, standing on the couch and dancing with abandon, a red Solo cup held high in one hand. I saw her as if in slow motion: red waves skipping over a cropped gold blazer, a sliver of pale stomach above indigo shorts, all skinny limbs and outsize confidence. Sarah yelled up an introduction and Edie turned her emerald eyes to me and smiled, and suddenly nothing in life was as important as making this girl like me.

Sarah poured us drinks and we sat down with the other roommates. I remember less about them: a quiet girl named Jenna with long brown hair and a bumped nose (she worked in book publishing, maybe?) and an impressively skinny blonde named Kylie, who spoke with a California raaaaahsp. Strangers thrown together by Craigslist, but all nice girls, a group that danced and drank and lived well together. I focused my efforts on Edie, who was bright and hilarious and weirdly delighted by everything I said. I did so well. I hit that second-drink tingle of wit and found myself thinking that this Edie was everything I wanted my life in New York to be.

She didn’t ask me what I did for work; instead we gushed about our close-at-hand dreams, her imminent enrollment at Parsons, my plans to write narrative nonfiction so finely crafted it’d make readers’ chests ache. We talked about men and Bowie, how we’d both read an article revealing we’re about 40 percent stardust and 60 percent hydrogen, or Big Bang dust, and isn’t it wild our atoms are as old as life itself. We had such great energy. Even Sarah noticed it and politely faded into herself.

After a final round of shots, the girls led me to an apartment on another floor—another huge rectangular canvas, now decked out with a stage along the far windows, a bar/merch table off to its right, and an especially bizarre construction of living quarters: Over a thicket of four-by-fours, they’d built a cluster of elevated bedrooms, each claustrophobic and squat and opening into an elf-size catwalk, which lipped out into an overhang from which to watch the stage. (A resident I bumped into that night told me that during a brief run of Romeo and Juliet, they’d made literal use of it for the balcony scene.)

Our drunkenness swelled, not just from the shots but also from the frenzy: strobe lights, spilled drinks, gyrating masses, a pounding band sporting silver and gold jackets and sequins on their eyebrows. We allowed the surf to sweep us up, dancing along, a pleasant tornado. The night faded to black afterward, like so many after it, when the light of my consciousness would blink back on hours later in my own bed or on SAKE’s couch or sometimes atop the small, sweaty mattress of a male Calhoun resident. Periods snipped from my timeline, blacked out, right in the middle of the best days of my life.

That’s my lingering impression of our year as a gang: such potent, intoxicating fun, a billowing glee I hadn’t experienced before and certainly haven’t since. A montage of drunken nights spent wandering from floor to floor searching for the source of a pounding bassline, or setting off fireworks from the roof, or drifting around phoneless, unable to find one another in separate sets of staircases. We weren’t yet glued to our devices: There was no Instagram to document in flattering light that you’d been included, no location tagging to show you were there. For me, it was like a college do-over, reparations for those four years of agonizing over my GPA and pottering around in a medication-induced fog. Calhoun felt self-contained, its own little microcosm, with secrets and a kind of kiddie society and the feel of a grand immersive theater production. We were so young but thought we were the wisest bastards on the planet. We didn’t run the world, and in fact outside the sky was falling, but we did run that building, eight floors high and a block long on an otherwise undeveloped street in Bushwick.

My pointer hovered over a photo of Edie dancing, and I smiled at the screen. She really did come alive on the dance floor—spinning and popping and shaking and convulsing in a way that somehow looked so fucking cool, so confident and brazenly joyful that others always turned to watch. There was a monthly dance-off, I remembered suddenly, in a sweat-smelling venue by the river, and three times Edie had taken home first prize.

And that smile on her face. I checked the date: June 3, a few months before she died. No one had seen her smile like this in the weeks leading up to her death. Not Alex, whom she would dump just a few weeks later, even as they vowed to be friends. Not Sarah, as the two picked little fights, half antagonizing, half avoiding each other—impossible, of course, in that strange Alice in Wonderland–style setting. Certainly not me, in the aftermath of the blowup of the century that left me looking around at the bomb site and wondering how I’d called her my best friend.

I finished fact-checking the cocktail feature and turned my attention to an absurd sex piece about what everyone can learn from polyamorous relationships. An idea unfurled as the day wore on: the state’s Freedom of Information Law. A FOIL request, a polite and unignorable demand that the police department pony up whatever I please; I completed them all the time for work, digging up files that writers were too lazy to uncover firsthand. I knew the intricacies of the application form and could certainly make a quiet request under the guise of my research job. If there had been an investigation around Edie’s death, as Sarah had mentioned, then there must be a case file. I filled out an online form and got a pop-up indicating the requested files would be sent to me in one to five business days—a bullshit timeframe when the retrieval was almost certainly happening on a scale of nanoseconds, if-then algorithms instantaneously humming in a digital brain.

Near the end of the day, I checked my work email, and midway through responding to an editor, something clicked: I had to get into my old email. I’d blathered tons of juicy stuff in messages to and from Edie back in the day; we’d written constantly about weekend plans, her relationship dramas, the previous night’s party recaps. Maybe inspecting them now, with my fact-checker’s eye, would reveal something I’d missed, a cry for help or a pall of depression I’d been too young to grasp. Or perhaps I’d written something about the concert that night—maybe there was proof, documentation of my whereabouts. I’d abandoned the account years ago, and the service no longer existed, so there was no simple reset password button. But there must be some way to crack it back open, wriggle inside.

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