‘m blind. Well, to be more precise, blinded. The sun is shooting through the inch-wide gap one of us insanely left open in the curtains of our bedroom. Judging from the angle and intensity of the searing blaze burning through my eyelids and incinerating my retinas, (I’m too weak to move my head out of the beam of death’s path of destruction), it’s past noon. If we’re lucky it’s roughly one o’clock or so because Sunday brunch isn’t quite the same if you eat it any later than two. You can try to fool yourself, but the mere presence of eggs and a Bloody Mary doesn’t make it brunch. And I love the ritual of Sunday brunch. Frankly, I love most rituals. They provide such a comforting feeling of predictability in our chaotic world. Particularly as the crowd I run with is hell bent on making the world as chaotic as possible.
I can feel my husband roll over in our bed somewhere behind me. He never sleeps late. Maybe it’s earlier than I think. I can’t judge his condition because the same affliction that keeps me from trying to avoid blindness has rendered me nearly paralyzed. There’s no way I can roll over to see what’s happening on the far side of the vast, white cloudscape that is our bed. I don’t really want to try anyway. If I do, I will inevitably drag my hair behind me as I turn to my other side. That cannot be risked. I am dishearteningly aware that every hair on my head hurts at the exact spot where it enters my scalp.
I’ve spent the better part of my teenage and young adult years having, suffering through, curing and enduring hangovers, but this one is exceptional. I have never before reached simultaneous near blindness, paralysis and follicular trauma after a night out. Regular old headaches, upset stomachs and everything else the Pepto-Bismol people say they can cure, I’ve had. The Tylenol and Excedrin people get their due too. But this is some new strain of hangover; like a super-virus it is clearly the result of my years of surviving the excesses of imbibing anything and everything. This hangover had figured out a way to come back stronger, meaner, and much more deadly. Death. Maybe that is the only way out of this one. Hooray, death. If I lie very still and let the sunbeam of doom burn its way through my eyeballs and to the back of my brain, I could die and have the whole ugly business over with. Is it possible to will yourself to die a vampiric sunlight-related death? If not, could I pray for the paralysis to set in even deeper and stop my internal organs from functioning? My final exit would come from total systemic shutdown. I quickly realize this is not a good idea. Systemic failure involves complete evacuation of all bodily fluids, products, solids and anything else totally vile you can think of. I can’t bear the thought of being found in a pool of horror. Scratch that plan.
Wait. Maybe this isn’t a hangover. It could be my old standby fear, generalized and indeterminate cancer. What if this is some form of alcohol-induced cranial cancer eating a hole through my brain at a breakneck pace? Can I use that new-agey mind-body connection to will my unnamed and unknown cancer to consume me faster, bringing my pain to a merciful conclusion?
Despite my deep desire not to be in blinding pain, I have now sufficiently scared the shit out of myself with this morbid line of reasoning. Paralysis notwithstanding, I am gripped with a terrifyingly desperate need to move around to shake my freak-out off. I have to trick myself into thinking about something other than my inevitable, if not immediate, demise. I don’t know why moving around stops my cyclical catastrophic thoughts in their tracks, but it does. I think the phone is ringing. I know it’s old school, but I must have a landline. Mine is an ancient ivory princess phone. Only my friends and family have the number so if it’s ringing I know it isn’t work or anything else that can give me agita, sudden onset muscle spasms or irritable bowel syndrome. The sound of that phone is currently the only sound that can break my paralytic Snow White spell and get me to move. It’s a friendly sound and I want to find its source. I roll from the edge of the bed to the floor, a pile of clothing breaking my fall, and sightlessly grope around next to the bed. This is where I usually leave the phone after my late-night chats with Theo. Theo is my other husband, my gay husband, the one who does everything that my delicious but hopelessly straight betrothed won’t or cannot do. Like gossiping relentlessly about everyone we know or pretend to know.
“Oh, Tabitha Bach? Didn’t she go to Spence? Wasn’t she the one who went down on that guy in the bathroom at The Mad Hatter? Sure, I know her. Do you?”
“Of course! We went to the Gold and Silver with the same group one year!”
This is all over the top ridiculousness meant to parody ourselves and the circle we grew up with (and we only leak any of it as genuine gossip if someone has done one of us an outrageous wrong). Yeah, it’s kind of a sick game, but part of the toxic industrial strength glue that keeps us together. We deeply, thoroughly, understand the depth and severity of each other’s damage and have no choice but to stand united.
By the time the fifth ring succeeds in drilling a hole through my temple, I lift my head about an inch off the floor and allow my eyes to crack open enough to spy that the phone is inches from my right knee. I pick up the receiver and resume a prone position. I absolutely can’t summon any more strength, certainly not the amount required to get off the floor so I stay there, wedged between the bed and the radiator. I hold the receiver to my ear and out of it comes a mildly disturbing chant from an initially unidentifiable male voice.
“I saw your boobies, I saw your boobies, I saw your boobies.”
No matter how madcap a girl may be, having an unknown man declaring intimate knowledge of one’s bosom is not the nicest way to wake up. Who is this pervert and how did he manage to visually molest my person, much less get my number?
“Excuse me, but who is this?”
“How many people do you know who can say that they saw your boobies?”
The answer to this question is rather considerable. I am not, however, in the mood to discuss it. And the voice is getting more familiar by the second. Likely a result of my brain cells begrudgingly coming to life, recognizing the chanter’s particular tone and cadence.
“That’s none of your business. Wait a minute, is this Jamie?”
“Excellent. Yes, gold star for you. How bad do you hurt right now? Do you and hubby baby want to get breakfast?”
“Theoretically yes, but I’m incapable of any serious movement at the moment. I have no idea if hubby baby is even alive. What time is it?” Saying this takes a lot of effort. I’m not sure if what came out of my mouth was either audible or intelligible. My head is throbbing.
“Two o’clock. If you get up you’ll see everyone else from last night too. We’re all meeting at Little Joe’s.” Seems I was both audible and intelligible. The odds of surviving my current hell just jumped a few points. How I am going to get to Little Joe’s diner is another story; I can’t vouch for my gross motor skills yet.
“That sounds crowded.” Another throb arrives that starts in my left temple then shatters the rest of my face.
“More like cringey. Considering last night’s bowm-chicka-bown-bowm.” Jamie sings this last bit à la porn soundtrack.
“Jamie, what happened last night? My brain hasn’t started working yet. Help me out.”
“You don’t remember anything?”
“I remember bits, but not the whole thing. It’ll come to me in a few I’m sure.”
This is true. Little flashes are appearing before me, a broken film reel of fun house horror mixed with porn. I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to shake these disturbing images. My head flops to one side and I am now looking directly under the bed. There is a hutch of massive dust bunnies crouching in the darkness beneath the box spring. I also find that I was right about the dangers of moving my head too much; dragging my hair behind me is, indeed, excruciating.
“If you need clarification, you’ll get it at breakfast. Get your man up and show your faces in half an hour.”
“I’ll try my best.”
“There is no try, only do. Oh, and by the way, I saw your boobies.”
I hang up on Jamie, less in exasperation than a desperate need to get all the pieces of the film reel spliced together in the proper order so I’ll know what our crew got up to, or into, last night. We have a habit of making most of our nights together memorable (there was The Absinthe Party, The Turkish Bath Party, The Russian Night Club party, not to mention The Come As Your Favorite Vice party) but it’s a little off the map to have an evening that simply can’t be remembered.
The promise of one of the nicest coffee shop owners in Manhattan bringing me endless cups of coffee, eggs, corned beef hash and toast is enough incentive to make me haul myself to a kneeling position next to the bed. From this penitent stance, I am able to lean on the mattress and then come to a state of affairs that passes for standing upright. Then it hits me. Last night was The Naked Party.
What’s a Naked Party? In this particular case, it was a group of friends who had too much to drink, snort, and swallow and wound up at the10th Street apartment of one of the group. And then they all took off their clothes. Then they had sex with each other in surprising numbers and combinations. Let’s be real with each other, ok? It was an orgy. No one planned it, no one ever said they wanted it, but happen it did. As the bits of film reel stuck together into one continuous spool in my head I was alternately horrified, mortified, fascinated and a little turned on. Why lie? I’m a visual person. Some of it was hot.
I am able to remember a few of my own highlights (letting Jamie arrange my breasts for what seemed like ages, getting head from my husband, straddling Kenneth on my friend’s shitty couch). I can’t decide if the withering shame I am experiencing is warranted or not; clearly I wasn’t the only perpetrator of this sexual mayhem, why be embarrassed? Oh, yeah, right, I’m embarrassed for ALL of us. Good grief. Last night was probably the end of an era. No group of friends can survive a bacchanal of that magnitude. Repression, religion, and repentance tend to creep into people’s minds the day after whatever the night before all about. That’s some heavy shit, even amongst the best of pals. I’ve seen it before, what comes next is The Big Drift. Slowly and methodically each member of the pack peels off and hangs out with new friends, or old neglected ones, and starts his or her social life over again. It shouldn’t be the case, but it is. Sex does a lot of things. Sex sells, sex bonds, sex comforts…all good things, right? But sex also divides. For reasons still being explored, sex is a slippery devil and can do pretty much whatever it damn well pleases to people, even the people who aren’t having sex, because not having a sex life is their sex life. It’s all-consuming and no one is safe.
I find a sundress in my closet that didn’t require buttoning, snapping or hooking of any kind and pull it over my head. No clean underwear, so a bikini bottom will have to do. I manage to brush my teeth and gingerly make my way back to the bed to check on my husband. I’mhoping he’s alive but also secretly hope that he isn’t so I won’t have to discuss anything that I did less than 12 hours earlier. Hubby is still no more than a lump under the sheets, but a solid shove rouses him enough to elicit a wobbly, “I hurt”. I sit on the edge of my husband’s little oasis and keep shaking his shoulder until he agrees to get up. I turn to look at him, hoping to gauge the levels of his disappointment, anger or disgust. As my beloved drags himself to a sitting position, his back is to me and I reach out to stroke his lovely smooth skin. Not so much. No lovely smooth skin to be found. My husband’s back is covered in scratches and what looked like rug burn. He’s also sporting some pretty tenacious lipstick kisses from the base of his neck to his tailbone. I know that lipstick. That’s last night’s hostess’ preferred shade. The color favored by my best friend and college roommate.
I know what I’m about to say isn’t fair, reasonable or kind, but sometimes life just isn’t that way. Adorable, oblivious Hubcap turns around to give me a cute little smile. I take a beat.
“I want a divorce.”