Scintilla Day 1: Tell a story about a time you get drunk before you were legally allowed to do so.
I awoke, with a start, to my mother’s face hovering only millimeters above my own. The quick and cloudy accounting of the newly risen made clear that I was in my bed and that it was sometime after daybreak. In that moment, I knew two things for certain:
- That I had no idea what her deal that morning was and that
- I felt like shit. Shit of a kind I’d never felt before.
Images of the previous evening began flooding back to me as I tried to wipe away the confusion of having her in such close proximity to my face. She peered hard down into my eyes with her own brown ones, and said, with a quiet vehemence and clarity that I’d never experienced: “You’ve. Been. DRINKING.”
It was a clear and precise statement, void of anger or question, and I was puzzled. Context clues and ample experience with the worst of her rages were leading me to believe she wasn’t mad. It wasn’t computing. I began to respond, to test the waters, but she’d already gotten up and started to exit. As she reached my bedroom door, she turned around and said: “I’m making breakfast. Take a shower and come downstairs, you’ll need something to eat before work.”
She disappeared from sight, and with the sound of her receding footsteps, my senses began functioning in earnest. From downstairs came the unmistakeable aroma of frying bacon. The light streaming in from both of my two windows accosted my eyes and they narrowed to a pained squint. The sheets stuck to my perspiring skin and my mind raced. How did she know? Why wasn’t she mad? Wait, BREAKFAST? She NEVER makes break….And then, there it was, the fifth sense, taste, overwhelming all others as a torrent of bile and tequila began making its escape. Time went from slow motion to fast-forward as I clambered from my envelope of sheets and ran to the bathroom as quickly as my stumbling feet would carry me.
That was the first time I’d vomit that morning, and it was a violent assault that would continue for the next two days. Thankfully, by the time I showered, any solid pieces had left my stomach and all that was left washed quietly and in rivulets down the drain. Getting dressed was an ordeal, and though I found the $85 I’d won the night before for taking the most tequila shots (the very plurality of that word makes me gag, even from the safety of an almost 20 year span), it gave my head and roiling abdomen no comfort. I fastened the button on my shorts and perched on the edge of my bed in a moment of pause, an attempt, almost comical in its futility, to quiet my body’s attempts at a self-cleanse.
But this isn’t a story of an epic hangover or an uproarious retelling of the events preceding.
It’s a story about my mother.
In the world of my youth, my mother was a volatile and commanding figure. She had some things going on that made it difficult for her to regulate her temper, and as a result, punishments often took a hard and unfortunate physical turn. She was a smart woman, which compounded things and served to make her tongue as vicious a weapon as the metal spoons she so deftly wielded. It wasn’t hard to know when she was angry. Her emotions read openly on her face and in her flying words and hands. At sixteen, I’d done much and little to raise her dander, so though too big and fast at that point to beat, I expected to be verbally rendered for coming home drunk.
But it wasn’t to be.
The first thing you should know in order to gain the maximum impact of my tale is that Mother Yawps makes the most vile eggs in the history of all eggs ever made. Runny and gelatinous, they will ooze onto your plate and then jiggle off of your fork as if self-aware and giving you the time to Run, Run And Save Yourself While You Still Can. It is a heroic act to choke them down. Even now, it is a family joke. She would come home after work some nights and announce “Eggs for dinner!” out of a weary need to get SOMETHING on the table and we would plead “NO! We’ll be good, PLEASE no eggs!!”
And that is what I came downstairs to that morning. In horror, I surveyed the scene before me.
My brother, then 12, sat at the table eating a bowl of Cinnamon Life. He looked up, and with the slight smirk perfected by younger siblings everywhere, announced: “Mom made you breakfast.” And there she was, at the stove. In front of her, was the cast iron frying pan and inside it was a sizzling pile of bacon. And next to the bacon, in the grease, was a sizzling pile of eggs, and next to the eggs was a slice of toast, also sizzling. In the grease. With barely a word, she transferred all of this to a plate and set it in front of me with a fork and I knew, through the odd silence in the room that I can only describe as bemused, that I was to begin eating. And I did.
I was hungry. There was nothing in my stomach. I was 16, and a cheerleader and as if my diet of Pepsi and Swedish Fish weren’t enough to keep me in a constant state of ravenous desire, I’d just disposed of any and all contents of my stomach down the drain of the upstairs bathtub. I ate quickly and without regard to the border of butter and fat that circled the mound of eggs and bacon, scooping everything with the toast and shoveling into my mouth. My mother looked on from across the table, her face a placid mask that I couldn’t figure out. As I finished, she glanced at me and ventured one word: “Good?” And I told her yes, and thanks, still uneasy at how things were transpiring, but too fuzzy to pay particular attention.
“Good.” She said again. “Now come and tell me about your night.” My heart sank as I placed my plate in the dishwasher and walked back to the spindled Hitchcock chair. Here it comes, I thought, the serenity too good to be true. I popped the top of a Pepsi and slumped into the chair, ready to tell the whole truth.
It took only a second, for my stomach to turn, but as quickly as my butt hit the chair, it did, and I popped back up and beelined for the downstairs bathroom, just in time to release the lesson my mom had just begun to teach me. By the time I emerged, stomach empty, I was fully sweating and she was standing there with a flattened gingerale and 3 saltines. “Maybe bacon and eggs weren’t such a good idea, huh?” I thought I caught a glimpse of a smile. “Go clean yourself up, I’ll take you to work.”
“I’m not going. I’m going to call in…” I said, as I reached for the receiver on the wall. She took the phone away from me and, murmuring, said “Oh, you sure ARE Lady Jane” and placed it back on the hook. And there it was. The sharpest thing that was to be said regarding the entire incident. I looked into those eyes that only an hour before had woken me up, and knew that this was the No Questions moment, and that I didn’t have a choice. So this was my punishment.
That afternoon she drove me to work and, with no recourse, I stayed for my entire shift, taking frequent breaks to vomit and wipe the booze seeping from my pores.
Of course, we laugh about it now, and she will demur on the issue and never really say much, but that morning, my mother (at the time, a heavy closet drinker herself) taught me my first lesson about being a person who drinks: Do what you do, but what you do IS NOT allowed to get in the way of your commitments.