Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Lit Salon: Loveboat by Hannah Pechter

Our very first entry! Hannah is a 21-year-old student at Wagner University in Staten Island.

It was 2:07 a.m. Saturday morning, and Michele and I were waiting for the Staten Island Ferry in downtown Manhattan. The financial district was deserted at this hour, but hundreds of us were gathered in the terminal that sits at the very edge of the island, waiting to go home. The ferry terminal was crowded mostly with students from Wagner College, the little-known private school nestled on top of a hill in New York’s least favorite borough. During the morning hours, as I commute into the city for my internship at Women’s Wear Daily, the ferry is all business suits and Starbucks cups. But on the weekend nights before the sun comes up, the ferry plays host to quite a different scene. The large cluster of college students who have trickled in from villages East and West forms to a rowdy booze cruise, and you can even buy yourself a pretzel and a beer.
Michele and I are in our final year at school, and both of us hail from the faraway land of Southeastern Pennsylvania. For the past three years, the late-night ferry has become a dreaded weekend ritual for those of us who consider our island to have a lacking nightlife. I decided to attend school on Staten Island to be near Manhattan and still live on a bucolic college campus that offered something that NYU and Columbia do not: trees and grass. I feel fortunate enough to participate in all of the cliché college experiences: being part of a sorority, laying out on the Quad -- and still be part of the glamour and chaos of Manhattan. But the perfect collegiate and metropolitan harmony that I’ve achieved feels slightly less so during the frustrating and interminable wait and journey across the Hudson.
The glare of the permanently bright and glassed – in terminal felt like being dropped in a fish bowl after we’d been bathing in the dim red lights of the tiny East Side bar where we had just celebrated Michele’s brother’s birthday, and the sins of our night were on display. My flat-ironed hair had relaxed into the tell – tale wave of a night well had, and the tears Michele had been crying had caused her mascara to migrate south.
Mingling with the slightly older crowd at the bar, who all had real jobs and real lives, I couldn’t wait to graduate, not only from college, but to a better and more convenient borough. As I sipped on my vodka-tonic, I was inevitably asked the dreaded “Where do you live?” question. As soon as I answered, I was met with the reaction I have gotten accustomed to: a grimace and a slow, disbelieving shake of the head. “You have to go all the way back to Staten Island tonight? Damn.” But then, a sly smile. “Why don’t you just stay over at my place?”
No matter how good (or bad) a night we’d had in Manhattan, the wait in the terminal and the subsequent ride across the water always induces a sort of hazy state of self-reflection as we all wait to get home and collapse into our standard issue extra-long flame-retardant twin beds. Am I bisexual if I always make out with girls when I’m drunk? Am I permanently damaging my liver?
But in the terminal that never sleeps in the city that doesn’t either, we were all trapped in a microcosm of college life. Over near the toilets and payphones, people were trying not to stare at that forever-feuding couple, the Seahawk’s half-back and a girl with a fake tan and nails. By the newspaper stand, the skanky sophomore theatre major and that week’s boyfriend sloppily groped each other.
I was busy reassuring Michele, who was causing her own scene. She was crying into the soggy bagel I bought for her as a makeshift condolence gift, making it even soggier. She and her boyfriend, Jake, had gotten into an alcohol-fueled argument back at the bar about something neither of them could remember, and he was sulking off somewhere on the other side of terminal. “I don’t know what to do, Hannah,” she hiccupped. “I just don’t understand him sometimes.”
I offered versions of “You have every right to be upset,” and “You don’t need a guy to be happy,” but it did nothing to subside her tears. Even though Jake and Michele’s relationship was as rocky as the boat we were about to get on, I wasn’t worried. I can’t even count the times I’ve fought with a boyfriend just for the reassuring thrill of making up.
Finally, 2:30 a.m. arrived, and along with it, the ferry. All aboard! The gates slowly parted and we were all herded onto our floating purgatory. The crowd shuffled on, and Michele and I headed for the upper deck, making sure to avoid several drunk native Islanders and the crazy lady with the light-up crucifix. A few sloppy girls from that other sorority were already folding themselves over the lip of the boat, emptying bellies full of cheap liquor obtained at a divey Village bar with their roommate’s sister’s best friend’s ID. A group of New England lacrosse players performed the requisite offering of the fleece North Face jacket to their shivering dates. Michele sobbed on.
I’ve found that relationships can begin as easily as they can end on these waters. During a more fortunate night on the ferry in the February of my freshman year, I locked eyes with a familiar face, someone I’d recognized as being a fellow student at Wagner. It had been a blurred, crazy evening. Abandoned by ‘friends’ who’d decided to go back to our Greek waiter’s apartment in Queens, I was alone and slightly terrified. Seth, with his baseball cap and endearingly scruffy face, wordlessly sat down next to me and held my hand, and we were together for two years.
I was hoping that Michele, still a drippy and drunken mess, would stop being stubborn and go find her boyfriend so I could abandon my responsibilities as babysitter. Jake, who was even more stubborn, had disappeared into the lower deck of ferry, I assumed, to hide out and practice some more pouting. Port to port, the ride was 27 minutes – and we had nothing to do but wait and see if this boyfriend of hers would just suck it up and come apologize. I forced optimism into my voice for Michele’s sake. “He’s just too proud to admit that he’s wrong,” I said earnestly, although in my head I wondered what it was exactly that he had done. She gripped her cell phone, waiting for the vibration of an apologetic text message.
The boat glided lazily past the Statue of Liberty and Governor’s Island. We were halfway home. A resolution looked less promising as we passed the swoops of the Verrazano Bridge. No Jake. As we reached the shore, it was clear there wasn’t going to be any kissing or making up.
Michele was devastated. “He doesn’t care about me!” she wailed. “And he turned off his phone!”
I hailed a gypsy cab back to the school. Stumbling back to her room, Michele immediately logged onto her Facebook account, seeing that the worst was confirmed: Jake had already deleted his profile, and along with it, the official Internet confirmation of their relationship. I’d never seen Michele so distraught, but what could I do? My supply of generic pseudo-feminist words of wisdom had run out.
I helped her into her bed, put a trashcan next to her head, and told her to call me in the morning.
When I didn’t hear from Michele for two days, I gave her a call.
“So, what happened with Jake? Are you guys O.K.?”
“Hey Hannah! Oh, yeah! It was just a big miscommunication. We talked about it, and everything’s fine now!”
I wanted to roll my eyes and remind her that fights and almost everything else are never real on the in-between world of the Staten Island Ferry, but I refrained, knowing that in the future there would probably be a time when I would need her to console me across the river.

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