Preface: In recent attempts to write a sitcom pilot, I have been mining for characters in my own life. What has happened instead, is that I’ve found myself writing a number of personal essays about my past relationships, romantic or otherwise. Seems I’ve been blessed to share my time with a motley cast of characters. These are my stories.
I use to drink a lot. When I say a lot, I mean more than my body could handle. In hindsight, I am surprised that my friends stuck with me through that time. I would make blacked-out questionable decisions nightly, and anxiously await the story the next morning. I was my own melodrama, full of cliff-hangers, spoiler alerts and shocking twists. It was during this time when I met Conrad.
In my early twenties, my way of deciding on jobs was wanting to work places that I loved going to. I can remember, in high school, wanting to work at the mall and yearning to work at Starbucks because it’s where I hung out. It’s not a habit I outgrew, so when I moved to Chicago, I desperately wanted to work at the organic, café slash music venue, Uncommon Ground. Mostly because they had an annual Jeff Buckley night, that I of course liked because the guy I had a crush on was a huge fan. I emailed the owners, begging to work there. It seems they didn’t have a lot of people falling over themselves for employment so they hired me on the spot, the week of the afformentioned Jeff Buckley night. I took my dad and went to what was the most bizarre night of Jeff Buckley covers anyone should ever have to sit through. I awkwardly introduced myself to the entire staff as the new girl, on a date with my dad. I was sure these people thought I was stalking them.
I started working there the following week, as the evening barista. My job was to fill coffee orders in the evening, which just ended up being a handful of spiked hot chocolates. The night supervisor, Rudy, had recently been written up for drinking on the job. His solution was to drink out of to-go coffee cups. I followed suit and would get wasted behind my bar on Frangelico and Peppermint Schnapps. It wasn’t like I was busy doing much else.
I was put in charge of serving the few people who’d sit in the lounge area of the restaurant. It was my first and only time expected to carry a serving tray, and my first attempt at bussing a table found an entire place setting of dishes shattered on the floor. This was also my first and only attempt at wooing a vampire.
Conrad was all of 22. He was the head chef of the restaurant and had extremely fine red hair with a rat-tail braid that went all the way down his back which I, of course, thought was dreamy. He was aggressive both in the kitchen and with his flirting, often times attacking huge cuts of meat with his cleaver and me with naked pictures of his girlfriend, all seemingly to make me jealous. It worked. I looked so forward to shifts when we worked together, and would go out after work with the staff, hoping that he’d come along. Most of our quality time was spent in bars, explaining why the details are a haze as I was usually wasted. Most shifts I would arrive at work to him, twinkle in his eye, regaling me with what I had done the night before. One morning I woke up in a strange apartment, my glasses smashed beside me. I had a vague recollection of throwing up the night before. Turns out it was a work holiday party, and I had smashed my face on the toilet seat, Conrad having held my hair back. Seems being a drunken mess was my birth control. On another occasion, Christmas Eve I believe, we sat up and watched the entirety of R Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet. We slept on a coworker’s couch for a few hours and went to work in the morning.
Through all of this, I knew Conrad identified as a vampire. He was a transplant from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and thought himself to be a Lestat type. He spent a lot of his time at Neo, Chicago’s seedy underbelly bar of fetishes and goth kids, with his girlfriend, the supposed queen of the scene. I was also a Neo regular, with my goth-lite roommate, and would spend most nights getting drunk on ten-dollar long island ice teas and having bouncers carry me to awaiting cabs.
Every time we’d go, he’d be there with his girlfriend, Erica, but would always find me to dance with. He smelled amazing, and I still remember the first time we danced together, ironically to How Soon is Now by the The Smiths. You know, the one that repeats, “I am human and I need to be loved.”
One night he invited me to go out, just the two of us, to which I eagerly accepted. We sat and flirted in the dimly lit, smoke-filled bar, getting closer and closer to one another. As the evening waned on with not so much as a kiss, he leaned in and suggested that I let him bite me. After getting over the initial shock, and realizing my interests were piqued, I offered him my hand and let him do his thing. Me in my neon pink moon boots and white mini dress and him in his cloak and thick eyeliner. As with most of my early sexual escapades, it didn’t go much further than fooling around in the safety of a public bar. We shared a cab home and as we pulled up to my house and I went to exit the cab, he removed his fangs and secured them in a retainer case for what I assume was a kiss. I’ll never forget that moment. I took a moment to consider and instead exited the cab silently, deciding that I had experienced all I was intended to within the realm of paranormal romances.