Broken By Those Nights / by Jessie Tseng

By Hannah Lillith Assadi

Hannah reading her essay at the Burn The Book premiere on April 19. Photo by Bridget Haggerty.

Hannah reading her essay at the Burn The Book premiere on April 19. Photo by Bridget Haggerty.

There was a crew my girlfriends and I became attached to at fourteen and fifteen who were years older than us and we liked them so because they had cars and because they would pick us up in the middle of the night and drive us to abandoned lots in the dark mountains where they fed us schnapps and forced blow jobs. Their parties usually entailed a larger group of boys, and two or three of us girls—booze bought by the 26 year old among them—where they took turns deciding which among us was the most desirable for the night, and when they were done, leaving us drunk and in tears without means of getting back into our childhood homes before dawn broke and our parents awoke to our empty beds.

In the video, I took a bold stance, an imagined stance wherein the younger version of me had the audacity to destroy one of those phantom boys who had taken advantage of my innocence, my lack of tolerance for alcohol, my youthful desire to fit in and impress. In reality, it took years for us to disentangle ourselves from that crew. And when we finally did, there was no ceremony. They likely believed they had done us no harm. There were plenty of girls, after all. We were dispensable. We were becoming boring. Their enthusiasm for alcohol and pot teetered into an enthusiasm for hard drugs. I chopped off my hair. We never saw them again. We believed it was only us girls that carried those nights with us into other nights, with other men.

On a whim, recently, I visited the Facebook page of the boy—now man—among that crew I had, for whatever reason and despite everything, believed I loved. In his profile picture, his face appears to have shrunken. He became a man I would not now look twice at. On the screen before me, after all these years, here he was. And behind him on his cover page was a memorial photo of one of the other boys of that same crew who passed away this last fall. I scrolled down through his wall looking morbidly for the cause of death and saw post after post featuring pictures of that crew when they were still boys, the boys we knew, smiling with the mischief of boys, accompanied by nostalgic captions of all the wonderful parties. There were no pictures of us, of me and my girlfriends, who were there many of those nights. Why would there be? We had not seen them in decades.

Finally, after reading through all the comments, I found it: the cause of the death of the one among them who had died so young. The one among them who last I saw him left us without a ride in the middle of the night so that we had to call a cab in the rising dawn. I can still hear his laughter and the laughter of the boy I believed I loved as they retreated from us, smoking, and spitting, and downing the last of the liquor, when they told us they were done with us. I puked violently that morning, not from the alcohol but from a primal disgust, an emotion I had never experienced before in my short fifteen years on the planet.

But that was then…here I was fifteen years later, and the laughter had vanished. The boy I liked and then hated had lost his best friend to a “long battle with opiate addiction”, one individual among the 115 on average, according to the CDC, who die daily from the epidemic. Their party was over. But, the seeds of it started there on those deserted mountaintops, for us all. Despite my lingering distaste for the boy, his dead friend, that entire crew of boy apparitions on behalf of my younger self, my empathy has always trumped my thirst for revenge. Perhaps we were all broken by those nights, each in our own way, each in our own time.

Hannah Lillith Assadi received her MFA in fiction from the Columbia University School of the Arts. She was raised in Arizona and now lives in Brooklyn. Her novel Sonora was a finalist for the PEN/ Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. This essay was written as a part of the Burn The Book project. Read more about it here