Issue 7 / Nonfiction

Nonfiction by Erin Jones

Places Ive Thrown Up

Mason’s backyard—that’s the first place I ever threw up from drinking too much. It was the August before my senior year of high school. I was sixteen, and my vomit was lime green.

Mason’s parents were out of town for the weekend. He had a group of people over and convinced his older brother to get us a few bottles of Captain Morgan. We’d all lied to our parents about where we were spending the night: I was at Hannah’s, Hannah was at Nina’s, Wallace was at Tom’s and Tom was at Joey’s.

After my second or third rum and coke Hannah poked my face. “Feel that?” she asked.

“Ow,” I said.

She handed me a shot and said, “Drink more.”

At one point during the night, Joey came out of the kitchen holding a box of Flintstone Push-Up Pops. I took a lime flavored one.

“I forgot how fucking good these are,” I said, grabbing for another.

Ten, twenty, maybe thirty minutes later I was hunched over, hands on my knees, heaving into the grass alongside Mason’s mom’s flower garden. That summer had been particularly dry, so the puddle of green puke popped against the scorched lawn.

 

I’ve thrown up in San Diego, New Haven, Houston, Dallas, Myrtle Beach, and Charlottesville, Virginia. But I’m proud to say I didn’t throw up in Vegas.

I’ve thrown up while camping along the Rio Grande.

I’ve thrown up after eating fried butter and drinking beer at the Texas State Fair.

I’ve thrown up on the side of roads, in public bathrooms, in alleyways.

I’ve thrown up on a subway platform in New York City at 2 am. I felt fine when I got on the train, but, as the dotted lights of the skyline rushed by outside the window, my stomach grew uneasy, the burn of acid crept up my throat. I held it in until my stop. I ran off the car, and tried to hide behind a metal pole so I could throw up in private. My friends chanted my name in approval.

 

My stomach doesn’t discriminate. I’ve thrown up Dubra. I’ve thrown up Grey Goose.

I’ve thrown up while dressed as Abraham Lincoln.

I’ve thrown up with a pirate hat on and shamrocks on my cheeks.

 

I’ve thrown up in a haunted hotel in New Orleans. I was on my third To-Go Vodka Tonic, when the ghost tour guide stopped in front of our hotel.

“Some freaky shit happens here,” the guide said, sweeping his hand towards the old building.

I turned to my friend Leah and said, “Did you know our hotel was fucking haunted?”

She laughed and asked why I thought our room was so cheap.

I woke up at four in the morning. A soft, steady drumming noise was coming from somewhere in the room. “The ghost!” I thought. As I lay in bed, listening to tap-tap-tap of what I’d convinced myself was an unfriendly spirit, a wave of nausea hit me—probably the result of my fourth or fifth vodka tonic. After I finished puking, I sat cross-legged in front of the toilet, and I heard the tapping again, looked up, and saw it was the dripping of the shower faucet.

 

English has many words for throw up. Wretch. Barf. Upchuck. Spew. Heave. Boot. Ralph. Hurl. Toss your cookies. Spill your guts. Loose your lunch. Hug the porcelain God. I’ve done it all.

 

And it’s not just alcohol that sets me off. I’ve always had a weak stomach and a hypersensitive gag reflex.

I was born with colic, and I cried for the first six months of my life. My mom once told me I’d wake up screaming.

“That must have been terrible,” I said.

“No, not really,” she said. She sat up a little straighter and it looked like she was going to say something else.

“What?” I asked.

She shook her head and took a sip of coffee. I didn’t push it; some things aren’t meant to be regurgitated.

 

According to my doctor, my stomach produces a lot of acid. My first AOL screen name was TumsRockMyWorld.

 

Physiologically speaking, throwing up is a survival mechanism. If you ingest something toxic your body needs to be able to expel the contents of your stomach.  Which, great, I get it. But what terrible thing was I being protected from when I threw up right before Nicole O’Brien’s 10th birthday party? Or was there a toxin present when I had to scramble to find the barf bag on my flight home from Tucson?

 

I’ve thrown up on the school bus.

I’ve thrown up on cross country courses across New England. My superlative at the end of my sophomore season was “Most Likely To Leave It All On The Course. Literally.”

 

Even the sound of someone else throwing up puts me in a cold sweat. The reason for this, I’ve learned, links back to when we lived as hunter-gathers. If one person in a tribe ate something poisonous, chances were, everyone else ate it, too.

I didn’t feel like part of a tribe when I was holding back my friend Crystal’s hair as she puked in the bathroom of a house party. I tried to distract myself from the noise. There’s this scene in the movie “Bubble Boy” where a young Jake Gyllenhaal tries to keep himself from getting an erection by saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

So, as Crystal puked, I closed my eyes and pictured an American Flag. I mumbled through the first few phrases, taking a deep breath between each line.

I think it was around “Under God” that Crystal missed the toilet and a few drops of vomit splattered on my bare legs. No amount of patriotism could keep me from puking.

 

I’ve thrown up in Paris. Twice. The first time was on Bastille Day. The second time involved a flare gun. I was 19 and studying abroad for the summer. My classmate Caroline and I were waiting for our train, when the crack of a gunshot echoed through the metro station. Someone screamed, and people started running towards the exit. I saw a man standing across the tracks holding an orange gun. A woman next to me spilled a handful of euros and they rolled under my feet as I ran for the stairs. Caroline was by my side. I looked back at the man with the flare gun. He pointed it upwards and a curve of light left the tip. The red flare arched like a rainbow before slamming into the ceiling. Sparks rained down on the fleeing pedestrians. I ran faster.

Caroline and I got to the street, out of breath but unharmed. Her face was pale, and I trembled.

We decided to walk back to our dorm. We barely said a word in the hour it took us to get home, but at one point she asked if I was religious.

“Not really,” I said. “Are you?”

“I kind of feel like praying,” she answered.

If she did pray, she did it silently. When we got back to the dorm, we hugged and went to our separate rooms. I sat down on my bed and started to cry. I couldn’t breath, and I choked on my sobs until I started gagging.

 

The word Nausea comes from the Greek term “naus” which means to be on a ship. I threw up over the railing of a boat once, in the middle of a man-made lake in Texas.

 

There’s a day in my life I refer to as either Mimosageddon or Mimosapocolypse. It involved an empty stomach, a two hour wait for brunch, a seat at the bar, and twelve dollar bottomless mimosas. I still can’t drink champagne.

 

On January 1, 2009, I rang in the New Year by throwing up at least twelve times in a 24-hour period. I still get text messages from friends who were at that party.

Happy 2012! How many times have you puked?

Or:

Remember when I had to pull over on the way to Dennys? Lol! Happy New Year!

For some of these people, this is the only time we talk all year. My throwing up: it keeps people together.

 

Naturally, I’ve learned a few things about hangovers. First, people are surprisingly nice, even when I point out: “I did this to myself!” Maybe it’s empathy, or maybe I just look really fucking pathetic when I’m laying on the couch, a pillow over my face to keep out the sunlight.  And second, everyone believes they have the perfect hangover cure: suck on an ice cube, chew gum, drink water, drink milk, eat greasy food, eat a salad. I’ve heard—and tried—everything. But for me, time is the only cure. And with some hangovers, that isn’t even enough. My stomach still turns at the thought of Bacardi Sour Apple or the smell of Goldschlager.

 

“What’s your favorite throw up story about me?” I recently asked Vicky, my roommate in Dallas who I lived with for two years.

“That’s a tough one,” she said. “It might be the time you yelled ‘The Kraken has been unleashed!’ after a shot of Fireball, and the next morning you came crawling out of your room moaning, ‘The Kraken has died.’”

“Or, wait no,” she continued. “Remember that time Will invited us to a Happy Hour event with an open bar? The next day you threw up in the parking lot of your work and in the garbage can of an empty conference room. Then during your lunch break you took a nap under your desk.” Vicky laughed, then added, “I was so proud.”

 

I threw up after the final for my Death, Dying and Bereavement class. It was my last final of undergrad, and my stomach was sour from too many Long Island Iced Teas the night before. Professor Munn—a tall, broad shouldered woman in her 70’s— brought in a bag candy. I grabbed a handful of Tootsie Rolls before starting my test. The sugar calmed my stomach as I wrote about the five stages of grief. I was the first person done, and when I stood up from my desk the sudden movement intensified my nausea. I went to the front and dropped off my test. And as I turned to leave Professor Dunn whispered, “Wait. I have papers to hand back.”

She thumbed through the stack in front of her until she found mine. I saw the word “Beautiful” written on the top. For the final assignment, I’d written about my grandma, Nonni, who suffered from dementia. I described what it was like to watch a women, who I once saw scare a bear off her property by banging two pots together, slowly forget her entire family. As I took the paper, Professor Dunn grabbed my hand and squeezed; her knobbed knuckles and waxy skin were comforting.

I left the classroom and booked it to the bathroom. My throw up tasted sweet, like Tootsie Rolls.

 

 

It was during a recounting of one these tales that a friend of a friend, who happened to be a nurse, said, “That’s hilarious, but it sounds like you have an allergy.”

A quick visit to Dr. Google, and then a visit to my real physician confirmed it; I had an intolerance to alcohol.

“It’s a poison, though,” I said to my doctor. “So isn’t everyone intolerant?”

He said I was extra sensitive.

 

The day after Mason’s party, the one with the neon puke, I woke up with my first real hangover. The temperatures were in the 90s by the time I started the half-mile walk back to my house. My head pounded and my sweat smelled like rum. “Don’t throw up. Don’t throw up, I repeated in my mind like a penance.

My parents were in the pool when I got home. My mom yelled to me from her inner tube as I walked up the porch stairs: “Hey, Erin! Put your suit on. Water’s great.”  I didn’t respond, afraid of what might spill out if I opened my mouth. My stomach burned; it was no longer a matter of if I was going to throw up, but rather if I’d make it inside. I threw up in the downstairs bathroom.

I drank some Pepto, took an Advil, and fell asleep on the living room couch for an hour. When I woke up, my head felt a little clearer, I no longer thought I was going to die. I put on my bathing suit and joined my parents in the pool; the water was brisk and refreshing. I relaxed on a blue plastic float, my arms hanging in the water, the sun beating on my back, and the remnants of a headache and upset stomach still lingering. It was at that moment I swore to myself that I, Erin Jones, would never, ever drink again.

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Erin Jones is an MFA fiction candidate at Emerson College and Marketing Associate at Ploughshares. Her work has appeared in Microchondria II and Rock & Sling. According to BuzzFeed she’s Bender from Futurama and Voldemort from Harry Potter. She can be found live-tweeting her mom @jonese9. Selected by Vanessa Martir.

Image copyright Jon Seidman via Flickr Creative Commons.

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