I woke with hair covered in puke, bangs stiffened from the glues of stomach flu. It hung down in two parted clumps, the dejected horns of a devil. I was nineteen and the night prior was one of my first times drinking. I could taste vomit and the hot aftermath of alcohol rising up from my gut. My insides a furnace burning logs of sick. The world spun each time I tried rising, then again when I clunked back down. Long hippie hair lay glued to my face with vomit, crusted with stink, a curtain hiding me from decisions made just hours before. These drapes were smothering, so smelly and sick. God damn this was gross.
I’d been drinking in a friend’s parents’ basement. My little group of friends hung there often after high school. We’d stay up all night watching bad infomercials, rednecks selling knives by the bushel. It was a fun place to be, a private space for people merging the worlds of youth with young adulthood. This night it was just my friend and his girlfriend. We were drinking beer, maybe more but I don’t remember. At this point in life I’d only drank a few times. The sips of Dad’s Budweiser when I was six. The scaredy cat whiskey nips to fit in for a treehouse party. The trip to Canada when we were eighteen to drink liquor and stare at strippers. I’d only been drunk once or twice and didn’t know my limits. Now I was slamming beers in a basement.
I don’t remember what we were doing or how it progressed. Most nights we’d play foosball, watch TV, sit around and bullshit. Just the casual lives of those young and unencumbered. Maybe more people were there and in time left. I just know we were sipping beers summoned up from the somewhere. Soon I felt sick and my friend’s girlfriend saw I was puking. She fetched a mixing bowl and pulled back my hair as I hurled. It was useless. My locks, so long and thick, dipped to the bowl like cod to batter. I sat with my face buried in soup, a meal of my own sick. Brown bile swirled with beer. Cheap beer. Warm beer. Too many cans of the good shit.
I puked ’til the bowl was full and sat in it for who knows how long. Too long. My head in repose as if this were prayer. My hair absorbing vomit like a sponge. I drank water and they took care of me. Fuck this felt gross. Once the liquid left me it brought some clarity but not much. The fumes of booze still filled my brain. Streamed through my blood like a virus. A quick thrill en route to poison and thorns. Wretches and puke. A head down in a bowl full of vomit.
In time, maybe hours, maybe less, I needed to go. It was winter and I had to drive home to my parents’ farm. The house I was leaving was on a back road with nothing but gravel ’til the destination. An empty stretch of land composed of fields and farmhouses. I’d rode these roads a million times, lived here my whole life. It was the path I took to town for high school. My friends asked if I could get rid of the cans. I tied them in a grocery bag and let them sit shotgun. If a cop was rambling through he’d catch me and that’d be it. Drunk. 19. Covered in puke with a bindle of evidence.
These country roads are littered with beers cans and bags of fast food. The remnants of a booze cruise. It’s common in North Dakota to pack a car full of friends and drive around drinking in the nowheres. My mom and I always clucked our tongues at these assholes who litter, leave their garbage strewn across the countryside. This night I was one of them. I drove down the dark road drunk, snow filled fields on either side. I grabbed cans and hurled them out the window, no idea if they hit the ditch or only the road. The next day I’d come look for them but they weren’t there.
Things were blurry but I only had a few miles. I got near home and saw a set of lights coming at me. Fuck. There shouldn’t be people here. It was the middle of the night. The only reason to be on this road is if you live in a house along it. Please don’t be police. The bargaining began. I’ll never drink again, won’t drive drunk anymore. Still the lights kept coming at me. They changed perspective as if the car split in half. One side went forward, the other dipped back. I slapped my face. Did all I could to maintain the wheel, stick to the road without slipping to a snowy ditch. Just hunker down now. Hang onto reality. The lights came and passed at my side from the field. It was two snowmobiles on the trail at night.
I got home to our farm, parked my car, managed to get inside and up to bed. I ripped off clothes as best I could then fell down to the mattress. Soon I was overcome with spins, unable to move, staring at the lucent stickers plastered to my ceiling. They spelled out S T A R T R E K. I felt drunker and sicker than before, stuck in warp speed to a place I didn’t care to be. The drip drop release of alcohol hit my brain despite no sips for hours. Fuck those cans. It was the first time booze made me sick. Put me drunk behind a wheel. But the lessons weren’t learned so it wasn’t the last.