How Nicole Hit Her Head, or, a Very Tumultous Weekend, or, The Saga of our Birthdays, or Looking Nice with Open Wounds, or How Hard it is to Write an Honors Thesis Sometimes on a Friday Morning
On Monday, typing travel reimbursement memos, my hip still throbbed, though the bruise didn't appear until Wednesday, ugly purple, bigger than my fist. With the dictation headphones in and my hair still matted with blood I felt silly and Fight Club, like typing haikus on company time and abusing my copier privileges.
on Sunday the weather was nice so I wore red, white, and blue.
At the Holi festival behind the cafeteria revellers splashed pink dye all over me, so I had to go hoe and change.
In the sun it was seventy five so I wore a sundresses with white flowers embroidered across the chest, and we biked to the Bayou St. John. Going down the hill on Jeff Davis in the sunshine I let the freewheel spin and raised my arms in the sun, watched the trees against the blue sky and felt that one moment of perfection you only get going downhill on a bike on a sunny day.
At the bayou, even in the sun, the breeze coming off the water made goosebumps raise on our arms, and we huddled around the pot where crawfish were boiled alive, warming ourselves on the steam. When we gave up and went home I stepped in the shower, getting my hair wet but not washing it, feeling the steam around my own skin. I've never left a party only to shower and return but we did return, in jeans and sweatshirts. It was dark on the bayou and we clustered around the table greedily fumbling with carapaces and tails that we couldn't see. The boys became giddy, setting off bottle rockets, agitating the dogs.
I got into a boat with my boyfriend when the water was still. Our oars made silk-fabric ripples in the water and we rowed under the footbridge, ducking low, hearing it creak over our heads. The bridge, strung in Christmas lights, mirrored perfectly in the water. "I'm going to remember this for a long time," he said. I want to. I watched the cars go by on Esplanade from a boat, dipped my fingers into the water. It was warm.
on Thursday I didn't go to see the Two Gentlemen of Verona like I said I would. I age meager pasta provided with the best intentions in a student lounge at the Tulane School of Medicine, talked to a friend about my job, his former job. They showed us the robot dummies where the medical students practiced delivering robot babies, putting in a central line, injecting intravenously. Everyone said they loved the school.
I told another student that I was writing a thesis on time travel and he looked at me, awed, and said "You're a keeper."
I drove home listening to Johnny Flynn along Claiborne, so close to the Superdome you could see the individual lights around the edge as they change color.
on Friday I went to Thesis Fridays alone, mixed jasmine and peppermint tea, made sure the protaganist knew she was her own mother. Time travel problems.
I left at eleven thirty to attend a lecture on the role of neonatal testosterone in prepubertal impulsivity. I wore a red halter dress, my shoulders feeling very exposed, my hair down. Through the lecture I was nervous, butterflies and goosebumps.
After the lecture I went to Cafe Freret to have lunch with my ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend. We talked about theatre, television, and time travel. Going home I tried not to think certain things. I kept thinking of how nice she was, how easy it is to be taken advantage of when hyou are nice. All week before I'd been dreading the meeting, what we would say. "When I knew him, he was a depressed, alcoholic, suicidal, manipulative, mean person," I'd practiced saying, in my head. "I hope he's changed." I didn't say any of those things. We sat at the table long after we ate, our conversation punctuated by silence.
Friday afternoon I went to bike help desk, put on a new bike saddle, rode around campus in the sunshine. While Grimes played I put my brass bell on my stem, watched from the back of the stage her hood fill out in the wind. That night at the levee there were four bonfires. In the woods was a large canvas washed up by the river, covering something the same size as a man, with his head leaned forward as if in sleep. My search for firewood turned up only trash, everything turned gray by the moon. I walked near it only slowly, at first thinking it was a hobo in a sleeping bag, then—when it did not move—a body. I didn’t touch the canvas to find out.
Around the campfire I went with the only people I knew, only to find them high on acid. Smoke blew into my face, making me cough.
A hobo, drinking Artem’s mezcal, approached us. “I wanna sit by the chicks,” he said. “I ain’t tryin to look cool,” he said. “I’m 36, and a hobo, hoppin freight trains and stuff.” His other friend, also a hobo, said goddamn in an accent that reminded me of home.
Those drunken boys who tried to climb the bridges fell into the Mississippi. ”You aren’t an alcoholic until you graduate,” the girl sitting next to me said.
At the liquor store I sepnt twenty seven dollars and seventy three cents on alcohol, and drank none. I only wanted the cork to plug the ends of the handlebars on my bicycle.
In the woods I found no firewood.
Sitting around the campfire I thought of Kelsey’s front porch, about being miserable in fancy clothes, about doing what other people want, about the very isolating feeling of drinking only water and watching those around you become intoxicated.
The clouds were orange from reflected sodium streetlights and the moon was half full, half empty.
We climbed atop an abandoned yellow platform that shook with our movements, by a ladder set at a 30 degree angle, tilted away from the body.
I went to the woods alone. I did not go home. I did not pull aside that canvas to reveal whether underneath was rotting flesh or just logs.
on Saturday night I went to an Everything is Terrible movie with Bailey, called Doggie Woggiez! Poochie Woochiez! I ordered and drank a Goya Ginger beer that burned my nose and throat. Three men dressed as dogs did exaggerated comedy. The movie was an hour and a half of found footage of dogs, each clip less than twenty seconds. I didn't understand the humor. I fell asleep to dog jobs and woke to ghost dogs, unaware of how much time had passed.
Leaving the threater two of the dog-men said "Goodbye!" to us for a good two minutes as we walked back to the car.
Saturday afternoon, at Plan B, we fixed a bent crankset, discoveerd a bent frame, bent it back using a vice. A man with a cigarette in his mouth said: "This is way hillbilly," holding the frame while we clamped down the vice. That night Braden put together his new bike before we left.
At midnight, the brand new Sunday, I went to Snake and Jake's with Bailey. "Are you happy? How is your relationship?" she asked me. I am.
We walked the three blocks home at 2am, after ditching the bar because a man with a coffeepot kept talking to use. Five blocks away, at Pine and Maple, two students were mugged at gunpoint, shoved to the ground and hit. We didn't know. We drove to the store for cigarettes, came home in ignorance. I took Nyquil to stop the coughing at three and fell asleep in my underwear.
on Sunday night Braden was excited about his new bike. "He was biking like an asshole," I told Bailey later, holding a gauze pad to my head in the front seat, shaking. His new bike is faster than mine and he, giddy with fireworks, crawfish, and beer, wanted to bike fast, take sharp corners, beat cars at stoplights, not wait for me. I caught up to him on Jeff Davis as he was fumbling with a light, not paying attention to me. While reaching around for the light he swerved in front of me, knocking my bike towards some cars. I backpedaled, used to a fixed gear, unable to find the brake, and landed with my left hip and the left side of my head on the road. "Are you okay? Are you okay?" he kept asking, over and over. "My head," I was screaming, clutching it. "My head, my head--"
Two med students in the car behind us stopped and ran over to help. I kept thinking how important it was to be lucid, to not cry, to be sane. "Where do you go to school?" I asked and upon learning it was LSU joked: "Oh, I work there. Let's just meet in the cafeteria next time," with blood still running into my hair. I sat down on the curb to avoid throwing up. Braden put his jacket against my head to try to stop the bleeding.
Jake and Sarah's house was only two blocks away so they drove to come get us. In their kitchen Sarah washed my head with the sprayer on the sink, running warm water over my scalp. "Do you want me to stop being nice to you?" she asked. "I know if I'm hurt an people are nice to me I just start crying." In the kitchen, after everyone had left, I just started crying, holding a brown towel to my face.
At home my rooommates fussed over me and washed my hair, Chelsea pouring hot water over the right side of my scalp, Bailey applying peroxide, neosporin, and bandages to the skinned patch on my left elbow and palm.
In bed, shaking, I piled blankets around myself, sobbing intermittently. My eyes remained undialated, my head pain local. I remain unconcussed.
on Monday I woke with blood matted on my hair, on the right side, and afraid to touch my scalp I washed the ends, the water running brown against the white porcelain sink, and then drove to work. My boss noticed my limp. "But you were wearing your helmet and gloves," he said. "Yes," I said, my left hand bandaged, blood still dry against my scalp. My helmet was in a gift-wrapped box on the bookshelf, waiting for my Wednesday birthday.
At home I put on a dress I'd never worn before, from my wife, in liquor-gray-brown satin that had a large bow over my chest and fell to my ankles. I biked to work that afternoon very slowly, unable to put a helmet on over the knot on my left side.
At work we prepared for a reading by Jonathan Franzen. I walked around the quad in the sunshine in sandals and that long dress, holding yard signs to direct people to the event, walking slowly. At the reception I told the two people sitting next to me, Zach and Evian, about the accident, but didn't mention it to my boss. No one noticed the matted blood in my hair.
The reading was funny, and Franzen signed my book "To Nicole: Happy Birthday."
on Tuesday it was Braden's birthday. We ate biscuits cut out in the shape of men for breakfast, spread them with raspberry jam. That night I bought bread and made sandwiches on twelve-grain bread with raspberry jam and nutella. We tried to bar crawl but tuesday night defeated our compatriots. At Parasol's, eating the orange slice out of my old fashioned, sitting next to me, he repeated: "No one came to my birthday party." Outside the bar, sitting on the sidewalk, we fixed a flat tire and our friend met us. At the next bar they were doing Pub Trivia, the Princess category, and I knew all the answers. I ordered To Die For Fries, with bechemel sauce and green onions, and it felt like eating french fried pasta. At Cassidy's house, at midnight on the new Wednesday, March the 7th, he gave me a Tree of Life tarot reading for my birthday while Braden slept on the couch. My significator was the Page of Cups, and the first card he laid down, the top of my spiritual triangle, was the Star. My intellectual triangle was entirely inverted, everything holding me back. Inverted in my emotional triangle was the World. I thought over and over of Pynchon, of Blicero:
His future card, the card of what will come, is The World.
on Wednesday it was my birthday. I ate Life cereal with strawberries and half a grapefruit, went to work late, skipped work all afternoon to go to the zoo with Braden and Carrie. Wearing my purple dress, I smiled at the flamingoes, the elphants, the tigers, the lions, the orangutans. It was sunny, and I wore my favorite shoes.
In the sunshine, watching the animals, everything was wonderful.