The Best Time I (Maybe) Got Rabies
by Lola Pellegrino
The August before I left for my freshman year of college, I received a letter containing my dorm assignment: a two-room double with a girl named Amy. All I know about Amy is from a five minute phone call. She’s from Lawrence, Kansas, and she’s willing to go half on a microwave. All she knows about me is that I’m from New York and can bring the microwave with me. What she’s going to find out is that I am fucking chaos, a fact that, as I prep to leave, all my petty criminal friends are excited about. “Lola, you are going to blow this girl’s mind,” they say, and I was like, “I sure am, I hang out with people who do HEROIN. Better go pack my REALNESS BOMB for tomorrow.”
On move-in day, my parents and I arrive early to make sure I snag the better, more private, room of the double. If you are thinking that is something I should wait and talk to her about before just putting all my shit down, you are WRONG. I’m way fucking cooler than a girl from Kansas and therefore need the privacy because I will definitely be getting laid more.
Amy comes in much later, having flown from Kansas with a single piece of roll-on luggage. She’s stuck with the outside room, which you need to walk through to get to the hallway. I offer her a drawer in my room (I also took the closets) and head to hang with my friends, who are juniors, because I already know juniors.
I come back later that night to see that, within six hours of her arrival off the plane, Amy is bad-breath-distance from some dude. Music is playing. Weed is being smoked. College is happening. “Hi Lola!” she says. “This is Tim. We met at the ice cream thing after dinner!” I run into my room.
The next day she beds another one. The next day, another. Every night, Amy’s dudes get more basic and, like freshman Scheherazade, her excuses get flimsier: I walk in to her in a bra straddling some dude lying on his stomach and she tells me, “We’re having a backrub party!” One afternoon I find a note on my bed, written in purple marker on the blank side of a piece of a Pall Malls carton: “Lola, Sorry for the sex. Love you, Amy”
I am emphasizing my roommate’s continued spiral only because it leads to a single individual.
A few weeks into the year, she finally settles on the most basic dude with the most flimsy excuse: “It was his room last year!”
One night, I’m trying to study, but they’re playing music really loud. “Could you PLEASE be quiet!” I yell.
I open the middle door between our rooms wearing only old underwear. Standing before me is a man who safely secures his wallet to his wide-leg JNCOS with a chain. He loves weed, his goatee, and ultimate Frisbee. Has a hamster. Wears fingerless gloves. Playstation. His name is Jake, he is the only white guy living in the African Diaspora program house, and I am going to have to fuck him.
When I came to college, I was the motivated kind of unhinged. I was deep in a post-abusive relationship “fuck the pain away” stage, which manifested as the relentless pursuit of terrible dudes I hated. Instead of saying I had post-traumatic stress disorder, let’s just say that my amygdala was throwing a rager. No time perception and no logical thought were invited to THIS party. This was a SAFETY DANGER party. Every man I had ever met, every man who had ever hurt me at each point in my life since birth, was invited to this party with a plus-one. I showed up to the party with a deep-seated, ancient, noble, yet tragically misguided, vagina-as-revenge-proxy justice mission.
Like most things, this is best explained ten years after the fact by a Gchat with an unrelated ex-boyfriend:
Nick: You said you had sex with men because you wanted power. Was that what you got off on? And now you don’t want that anymore?
Lola: Power for a while. With dudes, certainly power. I know that’s a super-trite narrative but there it is. It wasn’t power, like, white-dude-in-an-office-laughing-behin- a-mahogany-desk. Power like: you will have to be nice to me, you will have to consider me on your level, you will stop criticizing me. You will be required to apologize for what you have done. I will get invited to parties, I will be part of conversations. Validation, revenge, recourse, a way to get even. You know? I mean, you don’t know because you’re an able-bodied straight white cis man, but you can try.
I am instantaneously, flat-out, ass-up, end-of-the-world COMPELLED to fuck this dude. And because he also hates himself, fucking me represents to him a similar thing: justice.
It’s on. While Jake dates Amy, we engage each other in hate sex courtship, locked in a misandrist danse macabre. He’ll take time out of smoking weed with Amy to knock on my door, ask me what music I’m playing, and then tell me my musical taste is stupid (even though we both agree Tool is an amazing band).
Spring semester puts us in a writing class together. We sit next to each other and I draw pictures of him dying in my notebook. He draws Pokemon next to those pictures. He grabs my essays from the professor as he hands them out, checks the grade, and then passes them back to me with an eyeroll, saying, “It’s weird. I always get like, just a few more points than you.” He’ll even do me favors — drive me in to the train station in his Volvo, and when I thank him, he just says, “Of course. You fucking love it.”
It goes on for months. Jake and I will go to the mall together, where he tries to get me to tell him why I like him, or spend hours talking about things he knows. He tells me he liked that when he first saw me, when I opened the door to yell about the music, I was topless but never broke eye contact. That he was impressed with me, but not with other girls, who weren’t as smart as me. Like Amy; nice, but. Is Amy suspicious? No. She’s not suspicious because she is naturally trusting, and lovely, yes. But she’s also not suspicious because Jake and I actually hate each other.
One night, I’m in bed writing an essay when I hear Jake and Amy breaking up — some yelling, Amy crying, Jake leaving, Amy crying louder.
20 minutes later I get an I.M. from him like
phishhheadz: come over.
Beyond willpower, ethics, and deep in the land of “The Hysterical Is The Historical,” the only thing between Jake and I is pure logistics. To leave, I’ll have to walk through Amy’s room like a normal person. She’s still crying, because she just got dumped, and she would ask where i was going, and oh my god, I can’t. I know exactly what I’m about to do and I cannot face her before I do it.
So I call it a night and go to sleep. HAHAHAHA. I pop the screen out from my window, vault onto the balcony outside, swing my legs over, and JUMP down from the second story, for a dude described, by a concerned friend at the time, as a “mediocre 90s throwback who gets laid for no reason.”
I run across campus to Jake’s dorm and Jake meets me at the front door. He puts on Tool (Lateralus). We fuck. It’s extremely boring. I am relieved when we knock over a houseplant because it denotes some sort of surprising sex action. Afterwards, he sighed to me, “Put that one in the spank bank.”
I pass out immediately, wake up, get home after Amy leaves for class for the day and fit the screen back into the window. The perfect crime.
10 days later I’m sitting in my room studying and hear a scratching noise. There’s been a cold snap and I figure it’s the heat turning on again. Suddenly, a fucking ENORMOUS BAT flies out of the radiator RIGHT AT MY FACE AND STARTS BEATING THE SHIT OUT OF AND/OR SCRATCHING MY FACE. I’m screaming and trying to get it away from me and I run out of the room to get the R.A.
The protocol for assessing a bat for rabidity is to kill it and send its brain to a lab — the only definitive way to know. Instead, my R.A. releases the bat, because I go to Hippie Bat Releasing College. So I can’t know if I have been exposed to rabies or not. Google tells me the likelihood of rabies from a bat bite in the Northeast is very low and that the treatment for rabies is a rabies “morning-after pill” immunoglobulin shot, and then the vaccine, one shot a week for a month. Gnarly. Hate needles. So I was like “Nah I don’t want to get treated, I probably don’t have rabies.” For a week.
Then I was bored, procrastinating midterms, and googled what actually happens when you have rabies, and oh my fuck: turns out it’s only curable if you can catch the infection while it’s silently incubating — a period of about two weeks. Once incubation ends, the only medical care is “comfort measures,” because within 3 days you either die inside your brain while your body lives or die inside your body while your brain lives. I’ve already lost a week of incubation lead-time. In hysterics, I call my other boyfriend at the time, who listens empathetically and then responds, “Lola, that’s a dog’s death.”
I surrender myself immediately to health services, who transport me to the local hospital to initiate the full course of rabies post-exposure prophylaxis. The “morning after pill” shot is just as horrible as expected, and the RabAvert unexpectedly more horrible, as I do not have enough muscle mass in one place and thus each dose must be divided in four separate injections.
The year ends at a draw: I diligently return to the hospital infusion unit each week for my punishment, but I also get to email my professors demanding extensions “because I have rabies.” I never figure out whether or not Amy knows or not: I can’t tell when we talk if we are not talking about it because we’re not talking about it or if we’re not talking about it because she doesn’t know. The agony of that breakup pushes her to explore the on-campus Buddhist community, and she stops smoking weed, puts up a little Tibetan altar, and my post-shower walkthroughs now merely interrupt her silent meditation. She is free.
I am not so lucky. It will take me ten years before I learn that Jake is “not the cause but the occasion of my pain.” Jake and I never fuck again, not because the actual poor quality deterred me from going back for more, but because the weekend after we carnally bored each other he met his soulmate: a hot shrooms dealer with a Smashing Pumpkins tattoo. In a few weeks, I retaliate by seducing his kind, unsuspecting best friend with two X-Files episodes, and then making a post-coital showing at their dudes-only brunch.
My school covers the many-thousands cost of the shots after I convince them that the bat must have gained entry to my room via a vent or something because I have never even thought about unlocking the window for a minute, let alone for an entire evening so I could fuck the dude who just dumped my roommate without her finding out, and not even because I wanted to do it with him, but like, for a weird reason. It’s a long story. I don’t want to talk about it.
Lola Pellegrino has plenty where that came from. Invoke her here.