Wednesday, November 8, 2006

When the Hangover Strikes (Chapter 17)

Landlord fill the flowing bowl,
until it doth run over.
For tonight we’ll merry, merry be.
Tomorrow we’re Hungover.
     — Old English folk song


More and more often I was waking up in the morning with a terrible hangover. The first couple of classes at school each morning were getting unbearable because of how awful I felt. Kelly and I fell into a pattern of driving one another crazy and breaking up, sometimes for months at a time where we’d see other people, only to reunite with fantastic make-up sex until the next break up. This happened probably a dozen times over the next two years, until I graduated from high school and joined the Army.

Sex was never our problem. That remained terrific the entire time. She was equally as adventurous in bed as I wanted to be, and we rarely had a bad time between the sheets. It was merely everything except the sex that doomed our relationship to failure. I didn’t trust her, with good reason, and she grew to resent my jealousy. I began to stray, too, creating more trust issues between us. We were simply not a compatible couple. If the sex had not been so good, perhaps we might have been able to break the cycle. After a while I was beginning to feel as trapped as my mother must have, but I could do nothing about it, or least that’s how it seemed at the time.

One particularly bad time, perhaps the low point of my years in high school came after another of Kelly and my famous break ups. The following weekend she was with another guy at a party in Flying Hills, a well-to-do development on a golf course just outside Shillington. I was having a fine time with friends until she showed up flaunting her boyfriend in my face. I found a bottle of Southern Comfort and crawled into it, finishing it off in about an hour. I was about as drunk as I’d ever been and I probably made an ass of myself, I don’t remember too much after a certain point. I spent a good portion of the night outside puking in the bushes next to the house and trying to stand, which I could only do with some amount of effort. Eventually I felt a little less sick, and switched to beer. I rejoined friends inside but it didn’t last. Soon I was back outside the house, hugging the shrubbery.

One of my best female friends, ironically, was a friend Kelly who I met at the same time during band practice in the summer. Laura and I got along really well and are still friends today, thirty years later, even though neither of us have any idea where Kelly ended up. Laura’s parents became one of my many adopted families. Her parents were great and made me feel welcome and like a member of the family from the first time I met them.

That night she found me hiding in the bushes and in bad shape. I could hardly walk, much less drive my car home. She helped me to my car. The Camaro’s back seat folded down and I crawled in and lay down. She drove me home while another friend followed behind us her car. Laura parked in front of my house and left me there. When I woke up the next morning, the sun was shining and I was staring up at the trees along State Street that lined both sides of the street I grew up on. Inside the car, the sun through the glass had made it very warm and I was sweating. My head was pounding. I was losing fluids and had to pee like a racehorse. But moving my head proved trickier than I’d expected and new pain shot through me when I reached for the door. I contemplated a slow death by sunlight, feeling a bit like the bugs we’d tried to fry with a magnifying glass when we were little.

Eventually, I summoned the strength to flip the car door open and push the seat forward. I inched my body to the edge of the seat and allowed gravity to spill me out of the car, landing me on my ass on the strip of grass that ran the length of the block in between the street and the pavement. I sat there a while, breathing in the cool air and feeling how good it was not to be frying any longer. But as the saying goes, the pan was still waiting for me inside. While I had no set curfew, my mother did take a dim view of my staying out all night if I didn’t at least call and let her know I was all right. Worrying was one of the remaining emotions I allowed her without a fight, so I was expecting her to use that to provoke one when I got inside.

I managed to make it to the bathroom and took some aspirin. Luckily, it was Sunday and I could go back to bed in hopes of sleeping away the worst of this feeling. I stripped my clothes and fell into my bed, which was right next to the bathroom, before anybody saw me. If anyone heard me come in, they left me alone. The pounding of my temples made it hard to fall back to sleep easily, but my body obviously needed it and after a short while I did manage it. It was dark when I woke up. I glanced at the clock on my nightstand and saw it had not been dark very long. I took a quick shower and went downstairs. Only my mother was home, a relief, and she was surprisingly understanding.

I ate some dinner and made a few phone calls. I called Laura to thank her for getting me home in one piece. She was in a good mood. She asked me if I could come over, because there was something she wanted to ask me. I heard her mother in the background, calling to Laura to see if I wanted to come for dinner. Even though I’d just eaten, I said yes — I never turned down a meal — and told my mother I was going to Laura’s house. She called after me with some vague question about when I’d be back but I pretended not to hear her. That gave mo greater leeway should I need it later.

The venison Laura’s mom served was delicious, as usual. My own Mom’s food was good, but Laura’s mother was a really great cook. Laura’s father and her older brother went deer hunting every season and shot one deer, which they then skinned themselves and put in a deep freezer to feed their family for a good portion of the winter. It was the only kind of hunting that I came to find morally defensible. After dinner, Laura told me what she wanted to talk to me about. She asked me if I remembered going to the Wyomissing basketball game the previous week. I remembered being there, but I did not remember anyone there in particular, which was her follow-up question. Apparently Laura had a friend who went to Wyomissing who saw me at the game and wanted Laura to fix her up with me. Laura told me she was nice, blonde, and very pretty, but I have found women will sometimes lie or embellish to help out a friend. At least she didn’t tell me Jenny, that was her name, had a great personality, the kiss of death for describing another girl. As Kelly and I were currently in an off period, which Laura of course knew, I told her ‘d think about it. She gave me her phone number and I stuffed it in my pocket.

Laura’s parents had a great set-up in their basement, it was an ideal space for parties and over the years we had a few really good ones there. They had a ping-pong table down there, too. Table tennis was probably my all-time favorite pastime. I could spend hours playing it and sometimes did, much to the chagrin of dates hoping I’d spend more time with them. I’d come close to going home alone several times over ping-pong. But I didn’t have any worry with Laura, and we played several games to pass the evening. Her parents were more liberal than most, and so we had a few beers in the basement while we played. They seemed fine with it as long as we were quiet and not too obvious about it.

By the time I got home, it was after eleven, meaning my mother would have already left for work. That was good, but it would be even better if Eddie wasn’t there, too. The house was dark, so maybe my luck would hold, I thought. So I was surprised to see him lying on the floor without the lights on when I opened the door. I could see he was wearing the headphones, obviously listening to something on the stereo. His eyes were closed and the music must have been loud enough that he didn’t hear me come in. I could also smell the faint fragrance of marijuana in the air. I may not have done any drugs, but I’d been around them enough to be able to identify them.

My mind raced. It didn’t really surprise me that Eddie also used marijuana. At least, I reasoned, it would make him mellower and probably less violent. Still, it was a crapshoot and I tried to tiptoe quietly through the living room. The noise didn’t trip me up, bad luck did. Eddie simply happened to open eyes as I passed by. He sat up and took off the headphones, and said hello. Actually, he said something more like “hey, how’s it going.” So Eddie did sound more mellow, at least. It turned out he was listening to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” He told me it was his second time listening to it tonight, and he really liked it, which surprised me a bit. Eddie’s usual music choices were more Al Green, Elvis Presley or ‘50s oldies.

It was odd having Eddie discovering music from my generation and actually liking it. We sat and talked for at least an hour. I gave him some other suggestions of music to listen to, and he seemed receptive. The day before had been so bad that I was even more surprised when the next day started so badly and yet ended up having a potential blind date and amiably talked music, one of my favorite subjects, with my mellow, stoned alcoholic stepfather. All in all, a pretty good day.

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