Remember this: it was 1 am and you stumbled through slush, which was stained red by the clay gravel of Prospect Avenue. Somehow you ended up alone, which I think happens to everyone at least once, and which meant you felt colder than your body actually was. Your teeth were chattering, which they do freely when you’re alone. When you’re around people, they tell you to stop chattering your teeth because it’s not actually that cold and it’s just a mental thing you can prevent and you hate that, but you were alone and your bones felt thin and your back muscles were beginning to twitch, so you chattered away. The fur collar around your neck reminded you of a dog you once had. Rosie. You scratched it, sniffed it, searching for a smell you once knew at age four. Your shirt smelled faintly of beer and a slick wood floor. Your breath smelled of gin. Alpine and juniper and magnificent. But cold.
You were moved to turn left on Washington Road and walk into Terrace alone, which you had never done before. Without looking for a friend, acquaintance, or even a person you sit near in lecture, you took off your coat in the overflowing coatroom. You pictured what the coatroom would look like if it were filled from floor to ceiling with coats. A wall of coats. A pool of coats. Swimming in coats.
As you hung it not on a hook, but on top of a coat on top of another coat on a hook, you thought of the worst-case scenario: it not being there when you return. You remembered the dreams you’d been having recently, where you’re in everyday situations like shopping at Wawa or waiting in a car in a parking lot and your dream-self imagines a worst-case scenario—like getting mugged or shot or kidnapped—and then your dream-self chooses to ignore the thoughts and not act upon them, like your real self does in real life. (When you’re walking down the street and a car drives by you and you imagine what it would be like if the driver rolled down his window and shot you, you don’t run away. You keep walking.) And then, when your dream-self has let the thought pass, the worst-case scenario does in fact occur, you wake up, and you hate your dream-self for not acting upon her thoughts.
You stumbled onto a new, slicker wood floor and danced. Bass coursed up through your feet, boomed its own action potential through the atria and ventricles of your heart. You pictured the blue and red diagram you memorized in 9th grade biology, the class where you found out cutting open a frog’s guts does not in fact upset your stomach like you thought it would. Now your stomach turned, uneasy from smoke. Your head thumped.
You slipped your phone from out of your back pocket and unlocked it. Your face joined the few in the crowd that were lcd-lit, glowing and blue, as if they were peering into the surface of a lit, chlorinated pool at night. The time was 2:45 am and you decided to leave.
You moved into the coatroom and it was not a sea of coats but of bodies. You searched not only with your eyes but with flailing limbs, your feet and your fingertips, reaching for the fur collar that made you think of your old dog Rosie. Come here, Rosie, you thought. C’mere.
The moment came when you realized it was not there, and that you would not find it. Rosie was taken, stolen from you, euthanized because she barked at your mailwoman, and you’d wake up the next morning and she wouldn’t be there.
You saw a fleece on the ground and thought of picking it up, but some humanity in your drunken heart said no, you would not let another person walk home alone and coatless. You marched out proud and were sobered immediately by the cold that gnawed at your chest and rasped at your throat. You would have run but you couldn’t. The ground was a mix of ice and slush and the bottoms of your boots were new and un-scuffed—you could only shuffle. You thought you heard the bouncer say Godspeed, and with that you shuffled like lightning, like a miraculous sprinting penguin, wind whipping at your hair as the dreaded precipitation to which weathermen have given the euphemism wintry mix soaked your skin and seeped through the legs of your jeans. For a moment you fantasized about seeing someone wearing your coat and confronting the fucker. Then you remembered that no matter how hard you tried to care when you lost things or when they were stolen, it never actually worked. You remembered how you grew up with your parents paying for everything. How your parents paid for so much with money they got from their parents. And how the money they earned was money they received from following a path they were born into—a path someone penniless just as easily could have been born into but wasn’t. You remembered that this made you feel as though you didn’t own anything, that nothing was actually yours. That you weren’t actually that gifted, you were just lucky, and that going to Princeton wasn’t your destiny. You proxed yourself into your warm yellow room and laid on your bed. You let yourself contemplate the corners of your room and the archaeology of your bookshelves until you realized that you possessed none of it.