I feel like I have a hangover, without all the happy memories and mystery bruises.
-- Ellen DeGeneres
David groans in anguish. "I'm old enough to know better," he sighs, dragging the last syllable, eeerrrrrr, into another, longer groan. In a weak, whispered whine, I agree: "So stupid, so stupid." The afternoon sun pours in through the two windowed walls for which we have not yet purchased shades. The air conditioner pumps full force -- cold air is preferable to the stifling heat of direct sunrays. We lie on our backs beneath the down comforter, side by side, with pillows on our heads to shield us from the horrible light.
I muster the energy to echo David's words from last night in a childish, mocking tone of voice. "Hey, guys, come on up!" Returning to my exhausted, beaten state, I mutter, "Great idea, David ." It sounds like I'm spitting his name. But beneath my vitriol, I know it is unfair to put the rap for my hangover on my liquor-stricken lover.
David groans again and, in an attempt to soothe him, I reach out to find his arm and caress it. He's hurting more than me, the poor thing. A giggle escapes my lips -- as I witnessed both his unwise choices last night and the extreme misery he has been suffering as consequence, I realize my darling David has never been more endearing.
It wasn't supposed to be a late evening. Ollie had agreed to join us at a happy hour mixer. The plan was to walk to Baja Betty's (less than three blocks away from home), have a quick drink with some new people, chat with some old friends, walk home, and be in bed by 9 p.m. so we could wake up at the crack of dawn and hit the gym. Now, lying prostrate in pain, I half-smile, half-sneer into the pillow on my face as I remember one of my father's favorite aphorisms: You want to make God laugh? Tell him your plan .
Aside from the mixer's organizers, David, Ollie, and I were the first people to enter the back room of the flamboyant establishment. Sidling up to the bar, I ordered a lemontini, Ollie ordered a bourbon and Coke, and David got some giant Cuervo-thing, salted and on the rocks. Friends soon joined us and a second round appeared. Then a third. With an eye on my watch, I gestured to David that it was time to go home.
Jennifer, whose home is a few blocks farther than ours, joined us for the walk back. At this point, I was too distracted by my own buzz and inability to walk straight to notice that David's enunciation had become looser. We arrived at the fork in the evening's road -- the front door to our building.
I hugged Jennifer and Ollie goodbye, and was turned around to unlock the door when I heard David say, "Hey guys, come on up! I've got a 20-year-old bottle of burgundy I've been saving for a special occasion!" He had the same excited voice of a boy in a tree saying, "Hey, Mom, look at me!"
David had spoken in reverence about this bottle to me before; it was a 1985 Domaine Bertheau from the famed village of Chambolle Musigny. He had purchased the wine in 1985 for $50. It had traveled with him from Boston to Washington, D.C., back to Boston, and then to three different homes in San Diego. For 20 years, no occasion had warranted pulling the cork. Now, here, standing on the sidewalk in front of our building and not wanting the party to end, he pulled it out of his ass like a trump card. I stared at him in awe as our friends considered the offer. I noted the twinkling of David's shiny blue eyes, the pinkness of his dimpled cheeks -- the man was drunker than a sorority girl during rush week.
Once upstairs, Ollie, Jennifer, and I sat waiting while David lit candles and fetched the proper glasses. Still thoughtful in his giddy inebriation, David also brought out the port in case I didn't care for the burgundy. Glasses in hand, we each took a sip.
"I had worried about this," David said. He looked distressed. The rest of us, not as versed in wine as David, were confused.
"It's over the hill. I waited too long."
"No, it's fine!" we said in unison. But David, loathe to disappoint his guests, was already up and searching for a suitable follow-up.
Before the bottle of burgundy was empty, David produced a bottle of the Hitching Post's Highliner, one of the favored wines from the movie Sideways .
"Too bad we don't have any cheese to go with this," I said, ignorant of the ramifications of my simple comment. Without speaking, David was up again, rummaging around inside the refrigerator. When he returned to the circle, I was shocked to see what he held in his hand.
"You can't be serious," I said. Nodding, David dipped his hand into the bag to show me just how serious he was. I watched in wonder as his hand disappeared into his mouth. I gazed in bemusement as he chewed thoughtfully and then took a sip of the Highliner, swished the fine pinot noir around with his tongue, and then, satisfied, said, "Hey, that's a really good pair."
The fabric of my life was ripping at the seams, and I began to question reality. David, the man who has, more than once, insisted that painstakingly aged artisinal cheese be overnighted from New York so that it could be consumed at its peak of perfection, the man who had fresh wasabi root sent from Seattle to join with the oysters en route from an obscure but celebrated oyster rancher on Martha's Vineyard, was now pairing his wine with two-percent skim-milk Kraft shredded cheddar cheese in a bag. And he liked it. This was reminiscent of the scene from Sideways in which Paul Giamatti's character drinks the rare and expensive 1961 Cheval Blanc from a Styrofoam cup.
The bag was passed around and we all took our pinches. It turned out the cheese was also a pretty good match for both the port and the burgundy. Soon, the pinches grew to handfuls, the sips turned into gulps, and, as the candles burned down, the gossip became philosophical discussion.
I have seen David drunk three times in as many years. Every person has a drunk personality, that behavior which surfaces when his inhibitions are stripped away. I have watched alcohol transform people into belligerent assholes, weepy depressives, bawdy sluts, and incapable two-year-olds.
David happens to be one of the few, much cherished, "adorable drunks" in my life -- when all liquored up, he is smily, giggly, and gregarious. I hadn't yet realized that this was the drunkest I had ever seen him. After all, he was hardly slurring his words; I remembered one night in particular when he had tried to express his frustration at the lack of cooperation he was getting from his lips. Hearing him mutter messy words about slurring had me laughing, and then, when he reacted with a pout, I only laughed harder.
Jennifer and Ollie left before midnight, and it wasn't long before both David and I were snoring. I was jerked awake by a frightening sound at 4 a.m. Had a dog been hit by a car? Had construction on the building next door started early? There it was again, a guttural wail, and I followed the noise to the bathroom, where I found David on hands and knees before the toilet.
He looked up at me, confusion on his face, like a sick child unsure of what he did to deserve such agony. He had ripped the toilet-paper holder from the wall as he tried to balance himself; this was probably the first sound that had stirred me from my drunken slumber.
"I don't feel so good," he said in a pathetic whimper. Never in my life have I experienced the overwhelming maternal instinct that came over me then. I dropped to my knees on the shaggy bathroom rug and wrapped my arms around David's naked torso. Stroking his smoothly shaven head over and over, I whispered in his ear, "I know, baby, shhhh, I know." I wanted to do anything I could to take his pain away.
I maneuver my pillow again to block the sunlight's advance across the bed. Though David is still hurting today, my own pain distracts me. This morning, after David shared that he hadn't vomited in over ten years, I got up to get us some water. I hesitated to go downstairs, holding onto the hope that maybe everything after the bar had been a dream; that David had not busted into his burgundy just to find it had gone bad, that he had not wallowed in the depravity of over-processed shredded cheese in a bag.
But, as I reached the last step, all hope vanished. There, by the door, so far from where we had sat, was one small, dried-out cheese shred. I grabbed two bottles of water and, trying to avoid the additional cheese piles, empty bottles, and dirty wine glasses, I ran back upstairs and dove under the covers.