Last night was a night of many firsts all of which have blended and churned in the part of my stomach that violently wants to vomit everything away, but can’t because I haven’t eaten anything since Friday morning.
It’s that nagging weight that cycles between my gag reflex and my stomach that’s held me in a surreal haunting of undigested memories all day.
We were bored. Exhausted from a week of running camps for elementary school kids. Feeling entitled to a crazy night. So, lazing on the couch just after work someone suggests we go to a strip club. It hangs half joke and half adventurous suggestion until it lands with a certainty. We start making calls. Gathering a group. Googling nearby strip clubs and finding one where Friday ladies get in free. I’m in.
There are a few momentary hold outs. E begins stressing that we might see our bosses at the club. Or someone might recognize us. We’re all waiting for second year job offers to be announced on March 16. He doesn’t want to risk it. But he’s eager to get a beer. Maybe three. So he comes.
I offer to stay home with him – partly because we’re still new in our relationship and we rarely have time alone and this opportunity presents us with an empty apartment, but some part of me wants to stop being 22 and never having been drunk or in a club of any sort at all. There’s a small voice in me that promises to get drunk and alleviate the insecurities that are keeping me from sleeping with this boy. Tonight, it says. Go for it.
We get to the club, find our seats. 3 girls 5 boys. D, an apparent strip club veteran, warns us to leave our debit cards in the car. Cash only. I listen, but naively think it is to prevent thieves. Overspending — out of control spending, doesn’t really cross my mind. How many ones can you really throw at a stage?
E. brings his debit card.
I’m new to club prices. The drinks are expensive. $5 for a beer. E. had one before we came and starts his first rum and coke. I let him choose my drink. I’m shy and completely illiterate to this alcoholic jargon. I get a malibu with orange juice. I pace myself because all I’ve had to eat today was a Hershey kiss and two hot chocolates. I figure my 110 lbs is no match for the bar. And the night before, while E and I rolled around shirtless on my mattress we listened to my roommates stumble home and vomit in the bathroom that shares my wall. Attractive, I thought. Why do you do that to yourself?
The night is a blur. It’s not that I don’t remember it but that it is stored in my memory in three event blocks. Part 1. Strippers and Expensive drinks. Part 2. Girlfriend brings boozed out boyfriend home. Part 3. Vomit and Flashing Lights.
I’m watching my guy friends stare hungrily at naked women who I can not, as hard as i try, see as lusty objects. I like the friendly ones. The girl that takes off my glasses and presses my face into her chest. She puts my glasses back and grins, "Not so bad, right?" The girl who laughs as she dances. Says she doesn’t know this country song, hates country music, but smacks a pretend reign anyway. The silent girls make me uncomfortable. I start watching my friends instead. The boys’ goofy lusty looks. Their eyes trying hard to remember every detail to masturbate to later. I follow E back to the bar and he orders me a different drink. I don’t usually like hard liquor but both drinks I’ve enjoyed. And finished.
E. doesn’t really get that pervy look although I watch him curiously. He throws dollar bills at me to put on the stage. In retrospect, I realize he wasn’t having fun. Had no intention of having fun. He goes to the bar and comes back with more beer. I start talking to the girl next to me – I’m feeling my first drink, I’m happy and only slightly light headed. E. comes back with another hard drink. A stripper pushes his beer bottles to one side so she can extend her thong strap to him and i notice how many bottles there are. Four clink together.
We’ve been there almost two hours. I ask how much E’s had to drink. RP says "at least four drinks". Plus the beers. I ask to go home. I take a look at E. He’s wasted. He’s starting to say my name repeatedly in front of every sentence. Four of us leave. I escort E. to the car. Buckle him in. In the backseat he keeps saying my name and spilling things about his life he’s never spoken about. "You don’t know. I’ve bled. I’ve had a bottle broken over my head. You don’t know…my father…my brother who hasn’t worked in six years….my big brother who is supposed to be my role model…." He says my name again. draws it out in a way that he’ll continue to do the rest of the night and that in some way ruins my name on his lips. He says something about my father being a doctor and he what is he supposed to do with that. This stings. This has bothered him? I tell him my father hates being a doctor. This has nothing to do with you, I say.
We get home and I walk him upstairs to his apartment. He’s getting belligerent and he’s strong. He outweighs me by 80 lbs at least. This is a guy that until this moment I have always felt safe around. Safe just in his normally quiet, reserved, drawling presence. We get inside his apartment and he throws his keys and wallet at the wall. I tell him to call down, try and lead him to his room, but he keeps saying my name and talking about his father and gangs. I’m trying to listen to these confessions, the first time he’s really said anything truly gut deep personal, but they are not sticking in full sentences in my head while I try to get him into his room. I’m scared of him, just a little, upset, mostly not in my element. I’m not a drinker. My best friend in college was mormon. I never really experienced typical college drunken debauchery. I sit on his bed while he’s in the bathroom. I’m not sure everything I was feeling. Scared, sad, upset, perhaps shaken that this guy I’ve considered so safe and strong, confident and sweet is not any of those things right now. I ask his roommate if he’s ok if I leave.
I sit on their front steps for a few minutes. I can’t pin down any of my thoughts.
I go home, throw my keys on my dresser and my phone rings. E’s roommate asking how much he had to drink. He’s vomiting everywhere. I go back to the apartment. E’s fallen in the bathroom and thrown up everywhere. The sink is flooded. He’s curled up in the bathtub wretching and grunting. J and D, who were also at the club with us but had left after, were in the bathroom with him.
Eventually we move him to the non-flooded and clean bathtub. I pull of his pants so he doesn’t vomit on them. He curls up in the fetal position in the new tub. Vomits spit. I wipe his face. I sit on the tub and J and D and I are ready to take rounds spending the night watching E. But then he starts shaking. He’s cold to the touch and I remember googling alcohol poisioning. Hypothermia is a sign. D warms a blanket with hot water and covers E but it doesn’t stop the shaking. E’s other roommates are filming us, talking about what alcohol does. I keep my hand squeezed on E’s shoulder for what feels like an hour but was probably only twenty minutes. I’m checking to make sure he keeps breathing. When the shaking continues, D makes the call to911.
The 5-0 are not an unfamiliar sight at our apartment complex. But tonight, when I see the flashing lights outside the window I feel the absence of my usual curiosity. I don’t have to wonder why they’re here.
The EMTs are casual as they walk in and assess E on our bathroom floor, shaking and surrounded by young 20 somethings. This is a scene I’ve seen in every cop show. Every drama. Every high school and college health advisory. Don’t let this happen to you or your friends. The movies and posters, the cheesy dramatic tag lines float up to me. The EMTs, I think are too casual. They ask E if it’s ok if he goes to the hospital. E grunts then manages to say he "appreciates it". His signature cadence and vocabulary jar me as I watch them wheel him downstairs to the ambulance.
We wait for him in the hospital waiting room. D, J (my roommate), and I. D and J squeeze my knee and say everything’s going to be ok. I know he’ll be fine. But I can’t grasp any of my thoughts. I don’t know what I’m thinking or feeling. I can’t pin anything down. But worst of all – I can’t vomit. I don’t have anything to throw up.
Around 3am they let us see him. He’s much more sober. Talking. He keeps shivering and saying "shit…..shit…..this is not my first time….".
The nurse turns to us and asks "are you friend, friend, girlfriend"? She looks at me. "Friend." I say. I’m losing purchase again, on everything. Why is this changing things for me? I don’t know but it is. They leave and have E dress so he can be discharged. He’s embarrassed and still drunk. D says, "Just focus on getting better right now. " He does all the reassuring. I just stand there. I leave and go to the closet sized bathroom around the corner. I kneel next to the toilet which smells faintly of cleaned up vomit. I clench my hands together. It looks like I really am praying to the porcelain God. The tech that was treating E walks by and asks if I’ve been drinking too. I say "It’s not that, trust me…it’s not that." I wish I could throw up, flush the night down the toilet.
We take E home to my apartment. He tumbles into my bed and J and D and I huddle around the discharge papers. They’re useless and don’t really tell us what to watch for. They leave and I sit on the floor across from my bed. I try and keep myself awake by watching Hulu videos. By 5am I’m spinning. I set my alarm for every 30 minutes so I can check E’s breathing.
At 7am E wakes up. Asks for his keys and his phone. I’m barely coherent. I tell him I don’t know. I wake up J and ask him to walk E home in the snow. I feel bad. E is embarrassed and doesn’t want someone to walk him home, but I’m not letting him go alone and I’m too tired to do it myself. He tries to talk to me – "So………..looking out for me………" but I’m nauseous, exhausted, pissed and at the same time feeling nothing. I’m curt and tell him to go home. We’ll talk about it later.
I fall into bed immediately.
When I woke up, I had an empty pit in my stomach, filled with all of the undigested memories of last night. I don’t know what I’m feeling. I can’t cry. I can’t throw up. I can’t pretend this never happened.
I’m feeling guilty for leaving him to sleep it off. I left and he fell in the bathroom. Vomited all over himself. I’m feeling guilty for not watching how much he’d had to drink. Isn’t that what every health class has ever warned us? Always watch out for your friends. I’m feeling guilty for making him come with us. I’m plagued by the what if – what if he and I had stayed? I might have slaughtered him, again, in a game of war, we’d play poker, and watch Kite Runner. Maybe make out. Maybe my courage and opportunity would finally intersect and we’d sleep together.
I don’t know if I’m confusing this with Jackie. Boyfriend 1, whose father was a drug addict that constantly put his family in danger and debt. Jackie, who took everything upon himself, wouldn’t go to meetings (even with me), and set aside his life to cover for and care for his father. I felt inadequate. My grandmother is a pill addict, but she only harms herself. I had nothing to relate. I felt fake. He brushed off my offers to go to meetings with him or wait outside. I couldn’t be his only support system when I moved away. I couldn’t be his only support system while I was there.
Maybe I’m feeling guilty because I thought I found someone who is a Rock. But my mistake is thinking that anyone can be a Rock. Or wishing it. I don’t understand why I’m not rushing to E’s side right now. Why I’m not automatically as supportive as a girlfriend should be. Why I’m sitting here wishing the weekend would end without my having to see him right now. It’s selfish. Being angry. Avoiding him. Feeling….adrift. As if our relationship has suddenly become untethered. Or rather, my image of him.
All I want is a hug. A hug from the one person that’s thrown me from my perch. The person whose knock I won’t answer and calls I’ve pretended to miss.
He just texted me "Thank you for taking care of me. I’m sorry."
Why is my first reaction nausea? Why do I feel sluggish and lightheaded at the same time? As if some tragedy befell me. I know it hasn’t. And I should be there for him. Because he obviously needs support. He’s embarrassed, piecing himself back together.
But I sit here paralyzed on my floor.
Can’t go back.
At least, not yet.