You started drinking long before you went to college, but you didn’t start going to class with a few drinks in you until your senior year. You don’t know why.

Your ethics professor is a humorless man of old albeit indeterminate age whose ratings on RateMyProfessors are rife with testimonies from female students claiming to have caught him staring at their breasts. You’ve disliked him ever since he singled you out for choosing to sit by yourself in the back row of his classroom on the first day of the semester. He tried to get you to sit next to the blonde girl one row in front of you, you refused to move citing unalienable rights, and now he’s as determined to insult your intelligence as you are to undermine his authority, calling on you for answers to questions he thinks you won’t know the answers to and making the hours you spend listening to him drone on all the more tedious to sit through. Of course, being as combative as you are book smart, you aren’t ill-equipped to fight a battle of wits - but in the same way any army has reinforcements, you have your blood alcohol content, and you find that mild inebriation does wonders for your temperament when going to war with Satan incarnate on a near-daily basis.

Today, in an unexpected turn of events, the blonde girl sitting one row in front of you smiles at you whenever you say something derisive to him. You deliver a one-liner in your monotone and she turns to look at you with fuck me eyes, biting down on her lower lip as the corners of her lipsticked mouth turn upward. You give her a nod of acknowledgement for each time she disrobes you with her gaze and go back to writing song lyrics on your laptop until the old man accuses you of not paying attention again, intermittently tipping the contents of a flask into the cup of ice left over from your lunch when you think no one is looking. You don’t know why the girl has chosen you of all people to smile at, but you don’t care. This isn’t the first time you’ve encountered someone as indiscriminate in their selection of sexual conquests as you are and it won’t be the last. You just wish you could fast forward through the niceties and get right to burying yourself in her.

After class, she waits for you in the hallway, hooking her arm around yours in a brave declaration of intent as you walk past her. You have to admire her for it. “Hey. Mat, right? I’m—”

“Don’t,” you say, hell-bent on embodying the saddest fucking cliché in the world. “If we’re going to do this, I don’t want to know what your name is.”

The girl raises an eyebrow at you, but seems willing enough to play along, forgoing her introduction in favor of leaning in close, as though you’re her boyfriend and she’s about to share a secret with you. Suddenly, you find yourself thinking about how you must smell - like someone who hasn’t showered since yesterday morning, like the cigarettes you smoked last night wearing the same clothes you’re wearing now, like the mustard on your shirt from the sandwich [____] made you eat before class, like—

“What’s in the cup?” She asks.

“Vodka,” you say, pulling one side of your unzipped jacket away from your body to show her your flask, which you’ve concealed in the inner pocket.

She laughs nervously. “It’s two in the afternoon.” You suspect she’s an underclassman.

You shrug. “It’s five o’clock on the east coast.”

“Well… I have something we could mix it with if you haven’t finished it,” she says. “Do you want to go out to the quad?”

“I guess,” you say. “I could use a cigarette.”

You walk with the girl in the quad. It’s raining and you’re freezing your ass off because your jacket, despite its reliable liquor pocket, has holes in it. Still, you light a cigarette and reluctantly hand over your flask, thinking that whatever she plans to do with your Smirnoff has to be less insufferable than her flirting with you. While you smoke, she pours the alcohol into a bottle of ambiguous “berry”-flavored seltzer water, the kind you imagine [____]’s middle-aged mother drinks, and swirls it around like a virgin giving a handjob.

“You should be a mixologist,” you say, smirking at her in between exhaling rings of smoke into the air.

“Ha ha.” She furrows her brow at you and twists open the cap, bringing the bottle up to her lips for a few swigs before offering it to you. “Try it.”

You try it. It tastes like your cheap vodka mixed with her cheap seltzer, like a poor man’s vodka tonic mixed by a bored sorority girl, but that doesn’t stop you from drinking it. Hell, you’d drink lighter fluid, wouldn’t you? “It’s okay, I guess.”

Things continue like this until she finds the courage to ask the question you’ve been waiting for her to ask. By the time she does, the bottle is half empty between the two of you and your mild inebriation is turning into public drunkenness.

“Want to come back to my res hall with me?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” you say. Your tone is as flat as it was when you accepted her invitation to ruin your vodka, as flat as the seltzer she used to ruin it, but evidently not flat enough to deter her.

You tell her that you don’t want to fuck her more than once, that you don’t want to cuddle, that you still don’t want to know her name, but when she kneels and puts your dick in her mouth, you stop caring enough to give her the terms and conditions. You push her hair out of her face and stare at the god-awful music posters on her wall until she tires of what she’s doing, then you let her guide you over to her bed. She undresses you despite what a wreck you are and you undress her with feigned enthusiasm, going through the motions of acquainting yourself with her body by impassively kissing and grabbing. After what seems like too much time, she straddles you, reaching down between her legs to align your bodies, and when she lowers herself onto you, you do what you’ve always done.

You leave your body in the stranger’s bed, letting her use it however she wants to, and go somewhere else in your head - an isolation tank you’ve been retreating to since you were fifteen, where you separate your consciousness from your physical being, where you detach. It would be an effective strategy if, at twenty-one, your isolation tank felt the same as it used to, but it doesn’t. There are cracks in your darkness now, and no matter how hard you try to prevent it, something sweet floods in through them every time you close your eyes, stealing your air. You remember a body much warmer than yours, warm hands, warm lips, and a heart to match. You remember what it felt like not to want to be somewhere else.

Remembering that night makes coming for Berry Seltzer Girl a lot more difficult, and when you do come, you feel unclean for reasons not at all related to your unwashed body or your day-old clothes on the floor. You feel sick to your stomach, like you need to vomit, and sick in the head, like the only way to stop your descent into madness is to keep fucking people from your ethics lecture until the right combination of substances and time makes your memories fade.

You don’t waste any time rolling out from under the girl. As she watches you dress in haste, your skin sticky with sweat and grime, you find yourself wishing you were drunker, wishing you could numb what you feel - the anger, the jealousy, the self-loathing, and worst of all, the dizzying, excruciating pull at the heart you didn’t know you had, like stress from a tether you’ve stretched too far ripping at the tired sinews that are holding you together. She doesn’t speak until your back is to her, your fingers closing around the door handle.

“See you later, then?” She asks.

“Sure,” you say, forcing yourself to look back at her with eyes as cold as the knot in your stomach. “See you.” Then, you go, closing her door behind you and taking off at an unsteady run even though you have nowhere to run to anymore.

You tell yourself you don’t know why you didn’t start going to class with a few drinks in you until your senior year of college, but maybe, deep down, you do. Maybe that’s the problem, or at least a symptom of it.