Unfortunately, the events depicted in this article are not fictional.
So, as a disclaimer, I'd like to ask all family members, grade school teachers, and friends of my parents to stop reading this right now. I love the support shown on my page by family and friends, but it would actually be so creepy of you to read this. I'm really serious. If you don't follow my advice, it's going to be so awkward the next time we see each other and we will both know why. Don't shatter the illusion.
*Names in this story have also been changed.
I make like, a really big deal out of my birthday. Maybe because it's on the Fourth of July (which I never shut up about), it was destined to become a goddamn Broadway production every year. And thank God I have friends that are willing to go along with it. Anyone knows that it's not a Casey Daly birthday without fireworks, without a Gatsby-like blowout, without champagne, without me being far too overdressed, a 45-minute photo shoot, a moment where I drunkenly lock myself in the bathroom and cry about another year passing, only to emerge in an epiphany of self-actualization and onto more champagne. I like my birthdays to mirror the things I love most about my years: the aesthetics, the drama, the lightheartedness, and the company of good friends.
This year, two of my best girlfriends hosted a birthday party for me, and it was everything that I'd hoped for. Fairy lights, 12 different types of wine, an Edgewater rooftop, and a moment where my closest friends toasted to funny stories we'd shared over the years and I'd pretended not to love the attention.
And then, at the very tail end of the night, like tradition always goes, I sat on the cold tiles of the bathroom floor on a 30-minute phone call with my ex-boyfriend in which he told me all about his new, beautiful, blonde girlfriend. He told me we should talk again soon. I picked the crumbs off the last piece of vodka-soaked cake (gross), and scrolled through her social media: pictures of them at the Cubs game, at Ikea, at the zoo. And in the least self-deprecating way I can put this, this girl belonged on the cover of a J.Crew magazine: red white and blue shorts, straight white teeth, no crappy stick and poke heart tattoos, sitting off the edge of the freaking Kennedy boat. I felt like shit. I splashed cold water on my face and went out into the hallway to thank all my guests for coming.
There's something that's always been really sad to me about the end of the party. It's always reminded me of that small moment after you take a photo of someone and their smile drops back down again. I helped bring cups into the dishwasher as my friends squeezed me goodbye to head back to their parents' houses or to their boyfriend's apartments. Claire, one of the hostesses of the party saw that I'd lost some of the excitement I'd had earlier in the night.
"I'm gonna have my boyfriend over", she smiled at me while cleaning a mysterious stain off the counter, "Maybe he can invite some of his friends and we can party some more. You should invite a guy over to hang out!"
Claire and I scrolled through the feed of my Snapchat on a mission to find me some company on my special night. There were guys that I'd already hooked up with that continued to Snap me so I wouldn't feel used. There were guys that hit me up at three in the morning and always flaked on our plans. I realized that the majority of guys that I sent snaps to on the regular just didn't really give a shit about me. And then, of course, there were those select few guys that actually showed interest in me, which therefore disgusted me, because first of all I am psychologically damaged, and second of all, who is even nice these days? (Ew!). Man, the world is a weird place to live in.
"I literally have no one to invite over." I laughed half genuinely, half hysterically.
My heart dropped a little bit, like the whole night I'd been living in a made-up picture and now was the sobering moment that I'd come back to reality. I'm usually able to pride myself on my independence. I mean, I was born on independence day. I like to do things my own way, and I don't like the sort of relationships that are codependent and clingy. But I'd be lying if sometimes I didn't silently wish that I had someone to hold my hand or call me pretty or watch dumb movies with me.
"How about a Tinder guy?" It was starting to look like the only option.
Personally, I think I'm pretty versed in knowing how to work dudes on Tinder. The photos on my profile are pictures of me tanned, sunbathing, partying with friends, wearing short skirts and lots of makeup, my faded heart tattoo looking just the right amount of trashy. On Tinder, I'm sassy and clever, and I've never really had problems getting matches. But aside from rare occasions where I'd already met the guy in person at least once, I'd never hooked up with a complete stranger on Tinder. Tinder was more of an attention thing, an app for free compliments that I could log onto whenever I needed a pick-me-up.
There was this one guy I'd had in mind, that had actually messaged me during the party that he was in the neighborhood tonight. He'd invited me on a few dates, but I'd always politely came up from an excuse because I didn't think I was actually so lonely I'd meet up with a stranger from the internet. But tonight, the night before my nineteenth birthday, after too much vodka-cake, I was that lonely. I messaged him that I was down to meet up later.
And this guy was cute. Like, really cute. Let's call him Brad*. He looked like the kind of guy that belonged in L.A. or New York City. He made Hawaiian shirts look sexy. He got thousands of likes on his Instagram page. He went to lots of concerts and he had floppy hair and big, brown eyes. It was if someone from a dream I had, had somehow materialized into existence.
Claire's boyfriend ended up coming back to her house from the bar with an entourage: a few drunk suburban girls that were really fun, and some of his friends from school. We sat on the back porch for a minute, until we decided to move the party to someone's apartment ten minutes away.
I think the best nights out are the ones where you end up, sometime around three in the morning, walking through the city and singing loudly with the most random combination of people you could throw together. I breathed in the fresh air and watched some red fireworks crackle in the distance. Nineteen, nineteen, nineteen. I had my whole life ahead of me. I was going to be fine. I was going to be great. I asked the owner of the apartment if I could have a guy from Tinder over for a little while.
He stared at me.
"It's my birthday", I whined and gave him big, glassy eyes.
"Fine. But if he's weird, he's getting kicked out. I'm serious."
"He's not. He's really cool." I said it as if I knew him personally.
We sat down on the couches and watched reruns of the Sox game on a big T.V. while some of the girls danced and tumbled around in the kitchen. A message lit up the cracked screen of my phone.
Brad: Yo I'm here. Gonna take a minute to find parking.
Casey: Cool, meet me in front of the building.
Brad: You got a lighter by any chance?
"Does anyone have a lighter?", I yelled across the room, "Brad's gonna smoke us out." Someone threw a grey Bic lighter into my lap. Now everyone was going to be cool with him showing up. Things were all falling into place perfectly. I announced that he was here, and one of the guys, Drew*, told me he'd come hold the door of the building for me while I Brad in. He also said he wanted to make sure that this guy wasn't going to hurt me, and that he was who he said he was.
It was so late in the night, the sky was starting to turn dark blue again, and the birds were chirping. Drew and I sat on the steps of the building with the door half open while Brad struggled to parallel park a few streets down.
"You know, I've tried this before", Drew told me about Tinder, "It's not going to end well for you. I just know it."
I explained to him about the phone call with my ex, and that it was my birthday, and that I was running out of options at this point. Drew started to tell me that he didn't mean to be weird, but that he thought I was above something like this.
"You don't have to do this", he kept repeating. It was almost like he felt sad for me.
"Should I literally just... cancel on him?" Drew was right. I didn't actually want to go through with this.
"You should just go to bed at this point," he responded. He actually seemed worried about me. I realized what a complete and utter idiot I had been. Here was an actual, human guy, that was being nice to me and treating me like a girl with feelings. There were nice guys in the world, I'd just chosen to see the wrong ones. I wanted to go upstairs with Drew: not to sleep with him, or hook up with him or anything like that. I wanted to sit on the couch with him and make a frozen pizza and watch stand-up comedy on the T.V. and I think he might have wanted that too. But as I was typing a message to Brad to tell him I was "about to fall asleep", I heard footsteps.
Claire and her boyfriend had been standing outside of the fence of the building for a while, and they were the first to greet him.
"Are you the Tinder guy for Casey?" her boyfriend asked. It was sort of like an interview to weed out a potential serial murderer.
"Yeah, not sure if that's a compliment though. What's up. "
"You from around here?"
"What high school?"
"Uhh.. so I didn't really go to high school. I work with my dad at his business", not even specifying what he meant by "business". Was he a plumber? Was he a stock trader? Was he in the mafia?
I busted through the gate to end this conversation as quickly as possible. He was holding this ridiculously big speaker over his shoulder, even though he'd said he'd just come from home. We hugged each other awkwardly and I lead him up the stairs while Drew held in his laughter.
In person, Brad looked noticeably younger and thinner, and not like a thousand Instagram likes. His hair was almost longer than mine. He was really shaky, and so was his voice, but I decided to let him hang around for a few minutes.
He introduced himself, and everyone upstairs stared at me as if to say "Who is this skinny, awkward, boombox-yielding person you brought to the party?" Brad sat down, and I realized he had braces.
Oh my God. It clicked. He was probably sixteen years old. He started to play a crappy lo-fi Soundcloud song on his boombox and it made everything just a bit more strange.
And then, the last straw. Brad asked me again if I had a lighter and suddenly everyone's faces grew kinder.
"Yeah, you bring stuff?", I asked. Pot. I meant pot if anyone was wondering.
He pulled out two giant packages from his tote bag.
"I brought these, like lanterns from a lantern festival. We can set them off into the sky."
I felt my own face turn hot in secondhand embarrassment. I put my hand on his thigh, looked him in the eyes, and sweetly told Brad that I would be right back but I just had to do something very quickly. I sprinted down the stairs of the building, ran outside the gate to Claire and her boyfriend, yelling about the boombox and the braces and the stupid lanterns, saying that he had to leave. I didn't know if I was laughing or crying at this point.
Claire's boyfriend, who is at least 6'5" and plays college basketball, assured us that he'd be able to kick the kid out of the apartment and told us to go hide, just in case things got ugly. Claire and I ran to the back of the building and huddled under a dripping gutter, tears of laughter streaming down our faces. A rat scurried by in the alley, and I just thought to myself how hilarious my life could be at times.
After Brad was definitely gone, and we'd climbed up the stairs one last time, I burst into the door to a sea of applause. I was now the girl who got catfished. On her nineteenth birthday. Drew made me hot pockets as everyone cracked jokes about poor Brad. Brad sent me a message that was basically about me being a huge jerk, and I blocked him on everything. The Brad jokes didn't end for the entire night until the sun started to peek through the balcony windows and one by one, people dragged themselves into various bedrooms or fell asleep on the couch.
I woke up three hours later in the neon green birthday outfit I dropped $50 on at Urban Outfitters. Some of us jumped into an uber back to Claire's house and drank iced coffee out of crazy straws on her back porch. Friends from college, family members, and people from high school blew up my phone with birthday messages. My birthday wasn't over, it was just starting. I sunk into a cushioned chair, let the sun hit my shoulders just right, and ordered another uber back to my house where I'd get ready for more birthday activities. There is so much love in friendship.