Candy Cane Vomit

C came over to my house after school. I was in the 10th grade and she was one year ahead of me. She was my only friend now. Strange that she would walk willingly back into my life after everyone else walked out. Any other year, I would be in the locker room right now tucking in my jersey and lacing up my basketball sneakers, but not this year. Not after that night. I lost everything that night, even basketball.

Everyone was coming out to the game tonight for the “6th man” where the crowd dresses in the team colors and gets extra loud and involved in cheering on the team. C and I were already decked out in our tight vintage orange and black Phys. ed. tee shirts and hip hugger jeans. We applied some shimmer to our eyes and took out our Sharpies. We each had a giant Orange Posterboard laid out in front of us and we wrote something like Go Gators! on one side and Brian W Riz-ocks! on the other side. Brian W riz-ocked because he had promised to bring us a bottle of vodka and escort us personally to the game. He was older, cooler and also…he was part of that other night. I know now that he was a player and even a curator of the violence I experienced that night, but at the time I felt like I owed him something. He had escorted me to that party. I was supposed to end up in his arms that night but that is not what happened. I could not believe that he had apparently forgiven me enough to invite me, again after all that, to hang out. I had no interest in this boy personally, but I saw him as an olive branch from teenage society. If he could give me a second chance, ,maybe everyone else could too?

…not the most important thing about this photo…but yes that is Vin Diesel on my wall…and if you could see the poster beside that one, it would be Ja Rule! Lol This is me at about 15/16 years old.

“Girls! Welcome! Come on in.” Brian opened the door to his mother’s van and C climbed into the back while I took the front seat beside him. “I have been working on this for weeks. I have something really special for you girls. Here.” He handed me the bottle first. “Taste it.” I had been drinking alcohol for some time by this age, but I had never drank liquor straight out of the bottle. Like most of my rural peers, I was mostly drinking cheap awful beer that I pretended to love and jungle juice supplied in excess to all girls at every party.

I tipped the full bottle back just a little. Brian was saying something but I couldn’t hear him. My eyes squeezed shut and my mouth was on fire. It tasted like peppermint. He informed us that he bought the bottle weeks ago and saved it just for tonight. He had even gone through the trouble to soak a couple of candy canes in the bottle to give us a festive surprise.

C was laughing at me. “Come on. Let me try it!”

I passed her the bottle grateful for a minute to let my stomach adjust to this heat before pouring more alcohol down my throat. I could feel the boy watching me as he drove. I looked out the window watching the lights flicker past. My cheeks were red and I was embarrassed. I knew he was thinking about that night. We had never talked about it.

C passed the bottle back up to me. We were all pretty quiet even though we had been rowdy back at my house. C and I had bought a couple of orange candy referee whistles to blow at the game whenever we wanted to cheer our team on. Plus, I had already digested the notion that it was my job to be sexy at all times and that drawing attention to my mouth with a candy sucker was an easy way to grab that attention from boys. For now, in that van, I kept it quiet in my hand. I did not want to make this boy think about my mouth like that. I did not want him to think about anything that would make him think about that other night.

“You aren’t drinking it! Don’t you like it? I made it just for you. Come on, isn’t it delicious?”

“uhm…um…yeah. no. thank you! This is so sweet that you made this for us!” I gushed and turned to C for encouragement. “Right, C? Isn’t this so good?” I wasn’t doing a good job of being appreciative. Especially since this boy was being kind to me after everything I did. I remembered my place. I shifted my weight just a little toward him. Just enough for him to notice. I took a deep breath and put the bottle to my lips. I tipped it back and this time I took a big swig of it. “Yummm! MMMM Oh my god, Brian. This is Sooooo good.” I was lying but boys don’t care if you are lying as long as you say the right words.

He grinned at me. I could feel my body melting from the heat of the sugary minty alcohol and the last thing I remember of the entire evening is this moment with the Christmas lights flooding the van and Brian saying, “Have you ever drank liquor before? No? Well, don’t worry if you don’t feel anything right away. Just keep drinking until you start to feel it.”

I know what happened after that. I know most of the details of that night, which is lucky actually. It is worse to not know. Everyone made sure that I knew every moment of the rest of that night for all of the remaining years of high school. They loved how fucked up I was. The kids at school. The ones destined for college, and marriage and security. They loved that I was so ruined. We pulled up to the high school just in time for the Varsity Boys Game. The gym was packed to capacity. Thank God my mom wasn’t there. She went to every game back when I was on the team, but now she spent her Friday nights at the Church boxing up her old medicine bottles to send to Missionaries in some other poor place. She would carefully tear off all of the medicine labels so that no one would know they were AIDS medicine bottles. Too risky to just smudge them out with a marker. She would sit in our living room for hours with a kitchen knife, scratching away at the dangerous labels. Then she would throw away all of the evidence and carry her prayers down the street to the church.

That is where she was when the police called her. But I am getting ahead of myself. At first, C and I were the center of attention. It was a roaring crowd, but we were the loudest. Maybe I would have been able to maintain my jovial spirit and avoid my unraveling if the crowd had stayed with me. But this crowd hated me. It did not take much for them to remember that I was vile and I was to be eradicated. I was apparently walking down the bleachers maybe headed to the bathroom to pee out some of the vodka, when my ex-best friend came up behind me and pushed me down onto the court. I landed hard on my face right in front of the cheerleading squad. “SLUT!” She said loud enough for everyone in the now dead silent gym to hear. She was trying to save herself from the shame of being my friend. She needed to publicly disown me. The gym was quiet now as everyone watched to see if I would peel my body off the floor. I laid there with the eyes of my whole community on me. No one stepped forward to check on me. The players were frozen in their spots on the court and a few of the boys started to laugh. Apparently this is the point in the night where C and Brian realized I was way more intoxicated than them and that I was going to bring us all down. So they left. By the time I brought my body up to my feet I was raging. I hated all of these kids. I hated them for hating me. I hated them for hurting me so badly and then blaming me for it. I hated them for being normal kids whose parents weren’t dying of AIDS.

Brian was wrong. He had been lying too. Liquor does not immediately hit you as you drink it. If you aren’t careful, you might drink too much and not realized it until it finds its way into your bloodstream. My blood was mostly just alcohol at this point. I stood up and directed my hate at the closest targets, the Varsity Cheerleading squad. I don’t know how they reacted. I don’t remember and their reactions didn’t make it into the many re-tellings of that night that I heard about. All I know is that I started spitting on them and then… I vomited all over myself.

I was escorted off of the gym floor by a teacher while the crowd erupted in laughter and taunts. By the time the police came I was barely able to sit up by myself. I laid there sprawled on the steps leading to the boys locker room. So fitting. I could not get the taste of candy cane flavored vomit out of my mouth and I was still spitting and spitting. I was told that I kept spitting on the police. So much spitting. I have never once since that night spit on anyone on purpose. I guess that night it was my only weapon.

By the time my mom made it from the church to the high school, I was out of police custody and being strapped onto a stretcher. This is where suddenly my memories come back. The last thing I remembered from that night was the Christmas lights, but the first thing I remember when I started coming back to life was the sirens. Sirens had always been so terrifying and triggering for me. Now they were blaring in my head and I could see the paramedics, this time here for me instead of my mom. How was I the one on the hospital bed and my mom was sitting right there?

I awoke also to my own voice. I was sobbing and screaming. “Nobody loves me! Nobody loves me! Nobody loves me!” over and over and over again while my poor mama watched in horror. The paramedics rubbed my back and told me, “your mom loves you. She’s right here. Do you see her?” but I was devastated. My mom did not know anything of the horrors that had been happening to me lately. she did not know about boys in tents or girls who abandoned. She thought this was my second time drinking alcohol. I had already been found out for my first time drinking when the Rite Aid photo lab reported inappropriate pictures that my friends and I took while playing strip poker and drinking her mother’s Drambuie. But my mom was insanely naive and really truly thought that I had only drank the two times that I had been caught drinking. I hated lying to my mom but she could not know this. I was her angel. She could not know how far I had fallen. It would destroy her.

I was 14 when I started drinking alcohol. Here I am that first time where my friend and I decided to invite a boy over and play strip poker. My oldest daughter is almost this age now, so when I look back at this picture, I see a child here and its hard to believe how grown up I thought I was. or that this is what I thought grown up meant.

Mom did not punish me. She wanted to and she even tried on some vague level to say “your grounded,” but there was no heart behind it. I think I broke her. She looked scared more than angry in that conversation back at home after the hospital had pumped my stomach, filled it with charcoal and tested my blood for drugs. The school punished me. The law punished me. My peers punished me the most. but my mom was too scared and too exhausted to punish me. We never talked about how I told the paramedics that nobody loved me but I know that she was deeply affected by it. I knew my mom loved me, but at that moment in life I did not think I deserved love. I did not feel love from any source outside of my mom to affirm that I deserved it.

An afterthought: I wrote a whole blog post one time about white privilege and still there were people who could not understand what I meant. This moment where I am drunk in public acting up and SPITTING ON POLICE and they take care of me and safely get me to medical attention is a moment that is clear to me that I experienced white privilege. I think of all of the young black kids who were acting out or even not acting out but just being typical teenagers and the police used that as justification to take their lives. I deserved to be handled with care in this moment and so does every child that is hurting and messes up. Black Lives Matter.

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