This is the third and last part of the story of a party I attended in my early twenties. In Parts One and Two, I leave home, decide to keep an open mind to new experiences, and accept an invitation to a party from Lindsay, a manic-depressive alcoholic prone to psychotic breaks. Catch up with the action in Part Three: The Worst Party Ever, or How I Got My First Camera.
By the time I hit my early twenties I'd seen the inside of a lot of crappy apartments. Cheap berber shag patterned with cigarette burns, peeling lino in the kitchen, cracks spidering across walls, a smell of rotten milk hovering around the fridge. I expected nothing less from Lindsay's place – he was, after all, living on assistance and certifiably nuts, a binge drinker who dressed in clothes picked from Goodwill bins.
Lindsay's apartment turned out to be a weird mix of boho chic, grandparents' garage and library map room. Metal file cabinets lined the living room wall, each containing folder after folder of documents and photos. A spare room was taken up with bankers' boxes and map cabinets, which held everything that had ever carried Lindsay's byline, pressed carefully flat and slipped into plastic sleeves. The furniture was Salvation Army stuff, faded patterns and soft-but-lumpy cushions. Propped up in corners rested framed prints, mostly amusing kitsch: reproductions of pulp novel covers, all bullet bras and square jaws. If Lindsay had been younger and hipper, plus not crazy, he would have decorated his walls with tin cutouts of old cowboys and neon signs salvaged from garage sales.
Plopped into the middle of this mess was Sheila.
She was perched on the end of an upholstered chair, bent over a crowded ashtray, her weight thrown forward onto the balls of her feet. She looked like she could spring up, run out the door and be gone from our lives in two seconds flat. Her back straightened when I walked in the room. Her eyes, pale blue pupils set in yellowed corneas, roamed back and forth between us. She seemed to blink at a fractionally slower rate than other human beings. I couldn't tell how old Sheila was, but it was obvious that decades of psychosis and medications had shrunk her personality to the point that there was little more than a poised shell.
Aidan, said Lindsay, almost skipping around the coffee table in his excitement, this is Sheila.
She put out her small dry hand for me to shake. Hello Aidan, she said, gravely allowing me to shake her arm a bit before retracting it back into her lap. It's nice to meet you.
Where's Doug? I said.
Oh, said Lindsay, waving a hand, he's coming.
Have you met Doug? I asked Sheila.
Excuse me, Sheila said. She sprung up and marched efficiently into the bathroom.
She seems okay, I ventured.
Oh, Lindsay said, she's a firecracker.
So far this wasn't much of a party, but I was more than happy not to meet any more of Lindsay's friends. We sat and talked and drank beer. Lindsay reminisced about the many characters that populated his past. Then he brought up the CIA and the Hell's Angels. Lindsay seemed to believe that both organizations were watching him, for reasons that he wouldn't divulge. Whenever I asked for specifics, he would shake his head and say, Oh, they know my name, they do.
After a bit Lindsay pulled out some of his photos, portrait shots of beautiful young men and women. There was a girl named Susan and a boy named Robbie, and I started figuring out that these subjects had once been his lovers – or so he implied, elbowing me gently and shaking his head as a new face would crop up: Now this one, wow... Sheila kept getting up and going to the bathroom, returning to smoke another DuMaurier Special Mild and have a few sips of beer.
Somewhere around our third beer and the fourth or fifth ex-lover, Sheila went to the bathroom and didn't come back. It took a few minutes for Lindsay's forced jauntiness to turn into low-grade panic. He started knocking on the bathroom door. Hello? Sheila? Hello? I'm coming in okay? I'm coming in, Sheila.
He went in and shut the door.
That was the exact moment that I should have stood up and left quietly and let those two lunatics alone with their evening. Instead I rolled a cigarette and tried to listen to what was going on inside the bathroom.
Low murmuring. Then shouting. Then Lindsay exploding out the door, all limbs and bugged-out eyes, with Sheila following behind and brushing strands of blonde hair from her eyes.
We have to call the hospital! Lindsay shouted. We have to call an ambulance right now!
Sheila sat down and selected another cigarette from her pack. She gave me a friendly smile as Lindsay ran around the living room.
Are you okay? I asked. She smiled again. I'm fine, she said. I took a bottle of sleeping pills earlier, but I think it's all out of my system now.
It seemed that Sheila, who had been committed in the past for spontaneous suicide attempts, had spontaneously attempted suicide and then changed her mind. At some point during the, um, party.
Lindsay had decided to call Sheila's father instead of an ambulance.
Hello, he began, Mr. Mackenzie? This is Lindsay Whelan. I'm here with your daughter.
That was about as far as he got before the person on the other end seemed to explode. I could hear a thin screaming that seemed to go on and on.
Sheila leaned in close. I saw the earnest, searching look in her eyes and the fine wrinkles on her face, and I realized I was looking at a ten year old girl in the body of a forty year old woman.
He shouldn't have called my father, she whispered. He's violating the restraining order.
Lindsay slammed down the phone. We have to get Sheila out of here, he announced. The cops are on their way.
I should have left at that point too. But the insanity of the situation, the sheer speed of its escalation, had pinned me to the couch. Craziness, I had discovered, possessed its own crushing force. Everything had slowed down under its pressure, time dilating like a drug trip. It would have taken me hours just to tie my shoes.
Lindsay wanted to get a cab for Sheila before the cops arrived, but none of us had any money. Sheila refused to go to the hospital. Lindsay refused to leave the apartment, for some reason. And then she gathered up her cigarettes and left. She was going to walk the rest of the drugs out of her system, she explained.
She shook my hand again. It was nice meeting you, Aidan.
As soon as the door closed I perceived that I was stuck in an apartment with a crazy man. Doug had still not arrived, and by this point I knew that he had not been invited. Doug had been, in Lindsay's mind at least, an enticement to get me into the apartment with him and Sheila. Suddenly things seemed even worse than they had moments before, when the cops had speeding to the apartment, sirens blazing, to rescue a whacked-out walking suicide from a bipolar bisexual drunk.
Lindsay crashed down on the couch, suddenly unconcerned with the prospect of the police.
Oh my God, he wheezed. She is just something, isn't she?
He explained that Sheila had decided to kill herself earlier that day, but for the sake of politeness had decided to throw up repeatedly and kill herself after the party. He laughed and shook his head, as if to say Oh That Crazy Kid. Then he gave me a camera.
It was a Canon AE-1 with a full set of lenses. I told him I couldn't accept such a gift, but Lindsay waved off my refusals, placing the camera around my neck and stuffing the lenses into my backpack. When I continued to refuse, he began to panic. The camera, he suddenly said, belonged to a Hell's Angel. I had trouble following his logic, but it appeared that a gang of bikers wanted to get him, and that they were after this specific camera, but it would be safe with me.
Then he asked me to stay the night.
I told him that I had to be getting home, that I had to go to work the next morning, that I had laundry to do. Some part of my brain kept screaming at me, Just fucking go, but I continued to stammer out excuses.
I have something I want to show you, he said, and abruptly walked into another room. I sat for a moment, considering my options. Slowly the sensible part of my brain took control of my motor functions, putting my shoes on, getting my jacket from the hook in the hallway.
Aidan? Come in here for a sec.
I ducked into the room. Lindsay had arranged himself artfully on the bed in a classic Burt Reynolds Playgirl pose, propping himself up on one elbow and gazing coquettishly at me. You never want to see a toothless grey-skinned man with heavy metal hair in that pose. Ever.
Sometimes, Lindsay said, I get really lonely and I need someone.
This was where the evening had been driving. The photos of past lovers, the bizarre beard that was Sheila, the camera that was still hanging around my neck - the whole thing had been the most whacked-out attempt at seduction I had ever witnessed. Somewhere inside that panicky knowledge, I felt briefly flattered.
Lindsay, I said, thank you so much for the party.
I left. And kept the camera.
The Hell's Angels never came after me, but several years later I sold the camera to a woman who drove a moped.