Every time you crouch down to throw up in the toilet. Your head bobbing up and down like Wilson, floating on the ocean, whisked away forever from the hands of Tom Hanks in Castaway. I wince at the smell of your vomit. I am not warm or comforting when you are drunk. That person, she died in our junior year of college after I carried you on my back to the hospital, hoping to God that you would not throw up on my back, or worse, throw up in your own mouth, choke on your vomit and die…all still, on my back. My back rubs are light, and I more than wish I can extend the part of myself that is truly sorry about your condition. I wish I can draw her out from the deep dark place that is resentful of you every time you are in this condition, and flush her down the toilet along with the caesar salad and calamari you had for lunch at that awful Portuguese place down town. As we leave the ladies room, to the obvious disgust of the Nigerian bathroom attendant eyeing our dresses and you with that small chip of vomit on your mouth, which I can’t be bothered to flick off, because it is not my vomit, and it looked like leftover calamari. I hated calamari, even when it was not swimming in the toilet, spiraling to the bottom along with everything else you ate that day. You are still my friend. And as I link my arm around yours, weaving us through a night club were everyone is mouthing off like gorillas to ASAP Rocky’s ” Fucking Problems”, I realize then and there, that you had quite a few problems of your own. You drank too goddamn much, and I was a terrible person because at some time in our history together, trolling the bars in our drunken college town on tuesdays when we were 18, I had collaborated in something that was potentially a disease that could ruin you now that we are 24.
” I’m so sorry” you whimper. Your face scrunched into the ugliest, I have seen it yet. I make a mental note to start taking my polaroid every where I go. Perhaps you needed to see what we saw, every time you decided to go beyond your limit, your hands reaching across the bar, winking at the slightly amused bartender for that one drink , shot, glass of long island you knew would change the course of the night . Your face contorting like a drunk ventriloquist saying ” Guys I know!” every time we argued, “Nkechi you’ve had too much to drink.” Now that the memories are returning, breaking past the barrier of perfectly curated moments we have shared together, I realize that I am a terrible person. I can not shake the feeling as I help you walk past a group of smirking men. I can not shake the feeling as the girl at coat check points at the side of your mouth , reaching across her table to wipe the piece of vomit for you. I can not shake the feeling that as your friend, who had seen you at your lowest, a place not too far off from where we currently were, I had failed you.
“You always remember that one drink that fucks you up.” Kelechi says, as we sit on the stairs in front of the club, waiting for you to feel okay enough, so we can go home, because the night is done. “It’s like the point of no return, you remember who you were before it, you remember your mind telling you not to drink it cause it could change everything, and when it’s done, you don’t remember who you were after it.”
“Yup” I reply. I’m not in the mood to converse anymore, so I watch people huddle into taxis, and wish that magically we could be 18, and I could carry you on my back, back to our apartment because we would be wearing shorts and converses, and not heels and skirts.
When we get to your apartment in Harlem, Kelechi collapses on the couch with a “fuck yes.. I am getting way too old for this shit.” kicking off her heels and huddling underneath the covers makeup et al and I smile, taking my clothes off at the bathroom door, piling them by the laundry basket, while the tub fills with hot water and bubbles of eucalyptus soap leap over the surface. I step into the bath, the feeling of warm water suppressing my skin, enveloping me in comfort. You walk into the bathroom and crouch at the toilet to take a piss.
” Are you doing okay?” I ask, staring at your underwear, which you had someone how put on backwards. The front part with the print ” Tuesday’s bitch” appeared as a mirrored image.
” Yeah, Im fine. I’m never drinking so much again, I feel like death.” you reply, reaching for the toilet paper. I look away and give you your privacy, though this was not new for us.
” You need to see someone” I say, my voice low. I am afraid that you will be upset with me. What was the difference between 18, 20, 21, 22, 23 and now? Who was I to insinuate that you were an alcoholic at 24, after I had carefully led you to the table the lord had not prepared for you, your cup runneth over with shots of Bacardi 151.
” I know” you say breaking into tears. ” I know.. I’ve always kind of known, but it’s so hard to admit, this doesn’t happen to people like me, it doesn’t happen to us you know.. people like us.”I knew that when you said “people like us” you meant us.. Nigerians. I understood the pressure, the disappointment, the shame in admitting that you were struggling in the clutches of something that was not revered as a disease where we came from. This was a “western phenomenon”, and to explain it to anyone else, would be troublesome, problematic. If we told Aunty Ifeanyi, your mother, she might suggest something drastic like asking you to come back home, a place where I knew your own father drank to a stupor every night when he came home. Drinking to escape alcoholism is like fucking for virginity.
“You know Kunle, the one who used to work in Investment banking?” I ask, getting up from my position to drain the bathtub. You pass me a towel from the rack beside you. “Well , I went to a party with him last month, and he was beside himself, coked up in someone’s toilet, nose bleeding and everything.”
“Really?” you ask, your teary wide eyed expression, staring at me in wonder, and perhaps a bit of relief that you were not the only one we knew struggling with some form of addiction.
” Yes really.” I continue. “You know I feel like a terrible person, tonight … just made me remember what it was like at Rutgers. Two dollar tuesdays? How we kept up this tradition, when the whole time there was this thing living inside you, something you tried to fight. I used to encourage you you know, hey let’s have one more drink! hey let’s go to another bar! Hey let’s get trashed after finals, how could I have not known? This is also my fault.” I say, now crying, long dark lines dripping from my face like a vampire dying on True blood.
” You couldn’t have known.. you’re not a terrible person, you couldn’t have known.” You reply, now making your way towards me, hugging me around my neck.
” Wait!!!” I said between sniffles. “Did you wash your hands? Oh my gosh.. gross!”
So there we sat. You on your pink bathroom mat, which when I remember now may not have been particularly clean, and me on the ledge of your bathtub, which was thankfully cleaner than your bathroom mat, wondering how we would fix you, running through the names of all the people we knew, who knew people, who knew people who could help you. And I was glad, that I could be free of it, the burden that had suddenly crept into my head, while you threw up your guts into that toilet bowl, while the faint thud thud of Lil Wayne’s ” Rich as Fuck” played outside the ladies restroom. With my hair dripping all over the place, and my eyes still lined with mascara, because I forgot to take my make up off. I am glad I can be that friend to you. The one who would try harder if you slipped, and would come out of that deep dark place, knowing that we both knew what you were battling. One who was not a terrible person, but a person you could trust, as one who could be possibly be an alcoholic.