The night started so innocently, but don’t they all?
We’ve all taken part in an epic evening where the intent was (and remained) evil from start to finish, but this wasn’t one of those. No, the nights out with the most horrendous aftermaths have a lot in common with effective, successful serial-killers: it’s always the quiet, respectable ones you need to keep an eye on.
This was back in Sydney, toward the end of ’11. Some friends of ours had invited us to a one-off family celebration, a special night for a unique milestone : all three generations of women in the family were celebrating their thirtieth, sixtieth and ninetieth birthdays that year. For extra points, the ‘thirty’ component belonged to a set of non-identical twins, dear friends of ours for years. The roundness of those numbers — their pattern, their alignment — was impossible to ignore, especially for a family renown for bringing together their wide circle of friends and extended family to celebrate far less auspicious-looking events.
The clan leaders booked out a great restaurant by the harbour, and invited about a hundred people to what looked and felt a lot like a wedding (minus the happy couple). Multiple tables full of well-dressed people, many of whom didn’t know one another, all loosened up with the generous “bottomless” champagne and whites the respectable per-head had bought us.
Now, I know what you’re thinking : already, that sounds dangerous. And yes, you’re right: any event that can be compared to a wedding banquet in terms of the expected alcohol volume, and the whole ‘your glass is always full thanks to attentive waiters’ factor should have had us predicting some kind of fall-out the next day. We knew it too. Duh. I’d planned ahead. I’d eaten a big lunch. I’d thrown back a lot of water during the afternoon. I’d come up with a strategy (“Stick with champagne and white wine, only. No beer. No spirits. No mixing, period. Then, water every second drink”) that, by all accounts, remains a sound and worthy alcoholic mantra even today.
In short, I was prepared for the worst. Despite the precautions, it was never far from my mind that this was still, technically, a ‘family gathering’, and that such heavy preparation was likely overkill. The elderly were to be well represented at this party, as well plenty of children. It’s not like we were heading out on a stag night — there was always going to be a certain lid on festivities, no matter how heavy those waiters were going to pour.
The last thing I remember with any clarity was of the few minutes following the main course.
There were speeches. I think. There was definitely a piper — as in actual bagpipes — wandering around at one point, but even then that memory is a little watery. What I do know is that for the couple of hours prior to where the mental tape-recorder cut out, I’d stuck to the plan. White. Sparkling. Water. Very well behaved, albeit far too talkative.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I have a single-image memory of sitting in the back seat of a taxi in the dark, and of not being able to focus on anything outside the window. That, and another single-image flash of our bedroom, of trying to make an impassioned point, the topic of which I have no solid recall.
My next memory was of what I always start off a Sunday morning hangover with: that pounding headache that wakes me up (like clockwork) somewhere very close to 7am.
(Side note : there’s not much to be said about that headache. We all know that pain. It feels like death. It goes on and on. The only thing special about it and its attachment to The Most Disturbing Hangover I Ever Had was that none of the regular tricks and cures had any effect on it until much later than they would on any other Sunday hangover. No, not “after I finally ate something”. Not even “somewhere around lunchtime”. That bastard lingered all the way through until about 7pm, presumably the point where my liver had finally cleared enough debris to finally consider dealing with the paracetamol. Unheard of.)
I’m not one of those bed-bound hangover types. I get up. I jump in the shower. I pace around. I go for walks, breathe fresh air. Sometimes I even go for a bike ride. Nothing was different about that particular hangover. Yet. I got straight out of bed, wandered over to the other end of our apartment where the main bathroom was (the non-ensuite one). Cat’s definitely a bed-bound hangover person. I figured if I was rolling a classic 7am up-and-at-’em routine, she was probably rolling her standard static/grumbly/anti-social routine as well. Meaning : I needed to clear the room, fast. I headed for the bathroom at the other end of the apartment.
Words can barely describe what I found next.
The best comparison would be to an aftermath scene in any modern zombie film: walls, floor, mirrors dolloped and splattered in red (vomit, not blood), the intricate spray-patterns only broken by the long, chaotic smears of hand and footprints. The handprints were the most mysterious. Sick and hungover as I was, I took the time to walk into the room and take a good look around at them, to try and figure it all out. Hell, there were even prints smeared all over the back of the door. WTF?
None of it made any sense. I was certain none of it was my handiwork, as I’d been drinking white and champagne all night, waters in between. Nothing to explain the redness of the puke, in any case. Perhaps Cat? But no; she’d have definitely woken me up at some point, either to complain about being that close to death, or the sheer volume of the liquid cacophony that would have been echoing out of that room and down the hallway at the time. Surely I couldn’t have slept through that. Just how drunk had I been?
It wasn’t long before the stench overpowered me, my body stepping in with a not-so-gentle reminder that I was both severely hungover myself, and a sympathetic vomiter. However, during that intimate first trip to the toilet bowl, I noticed more curiosities. There was a massive splash against the wall beside the toilet itself, far, far away from anywhere someone could hit by simply ‘missing’ the bowl, no matter how sick or uncoordinated. Then, after I’d finished emptying my own mostly-empty stomach (clear liquids only – I checked), a further mystery appeared when I closed the lid to the toilet : red vomit all over the cistern and the top of the toilet seat, and more handprints. Bizarre swirls.
Finally, a picture began to form. I imagine it’s how those crime-scene investigators work; quietly assessing the scene, putting themselves into the mind of their imagined perp, reliving every action and reaction. Piece by piece I was seeing a chronology, a possible timeline, something of a sequence, the only one that all the jigsaw pieces would fit nicely into.
So far as I could figure, I’d passed out drunk not long after we got home, Cat fleeing the room, clearly unwell. She would have closed the bedroom door, cause she’s nice (and wouldn’t have wanted me to hear what came next). Perhaps she’d puked a little in the ensuite first, then, anticipating more, came down to the other bathroom, closing all doors behind her. By then she was desperate — she’d started the initial heaving just before she got to the bathroom (Exhibit: A – first spray of the floor just inside the door). The handprints near the light switch would have been the hand that covered the mouth as she ran, printing the wall as she switched the lights on. The ones on the back of the door? Her closing yet another door for sound-muffling purposes. The random spraying around the room between there and the toilet was explained by all this light-and-door business taking up far too much time. Yes. Definitely that. The footprints backed it up.
So far so good.
But then we get to the mysterious toilet/lid/wall combo. The only thing that fit that splatter pattern was this: upon making it to the toilet, now in a blind panic having started projectile vomiting over near the door, she was in too much of a hurry to notice the toilet lid was closed, puking anyway. The error would have been obvious immediately, though now deep into the heaving, she’d have been unlikely to stop the flow, open the lid, start again. She’d have kept spraying the whole time it took her to lift her head (hitting the cistern), turn slightly to the right to avoid being hit in the face on the lid’s way up (spraying the wall in the odd location), then finally aiming the flow back to the bowl itself (explaining the remaining splatter range).
From there, the rest was obvious : down on her knees, the foot and handprints indicated someone at the drunken end of their tether trying to pull themselves upright, clean themselves off a little under the sink at the basin, then stumble off back toward the bedroom.
I had plenty to mull over during the shower that followed this initial investigation. My headache had really kicked in by then, but at least I wasn’t feeling all that sick anymore. I took my time. A good, slow neck massage. Then, an attempt at some of the cleaning, before yet another shower after, to get that smell off me. Eventually I got into some fresh clothes and returned to the bedroom, to see what sort of terrible state Cat must be in. I mean, after all that, she must have been experiencing The Worst Hangover Ever herself.
Imagine my surprise.
Back in the bedroom, she wasn’t only awake, she was fine. Not sick at all. A little tired, perhaps. Slight headache. Not too worse for wear. Having taken that temperature, I decided it was time to address the mess she’d made of the bathroom:
“Are you okay? I mean, you made a pretty serious mess in there.”
A look of incredulity.
“Ummm… what do you mean, ‘the mess I made in there’?”
She was laughing. I wasn’t. That wasn’t my mess. My central argument had always been the white/champagne strategy, and that what I was just slipping around in back there was something like a bold, fruity Cab Sav. I said as much.
“Great theory, professor, except the part where you were running up and down the tables at the end.”
“Remember? You and Nando, throwing back the leftovers in everyone’s discarded glasses? I tried to stop you.”
I was speechless. Shocked, even. Funny, because that one detail was nothing — NOTHING — compared to the story that then unfolded.
It seems my clever alcohol consumption strategy had failed. This business with Nando didn’t sound like something I would do, but at the same time, didn’t sound like something I wouldn’t do, inebriated beyond a certain level. Given I was already certain I’d lost a few hours of memory (something that had only happened to me on a handful of occasions, ever), I was going to have to give her the benefit of the doubt, and accept her tale on face value.
According to numerous accounts of that night which I have collected since, the following happened during the three hour period (I’m assured I remained awake/conscious for) from the point where my memory drops out :
- I broke from the plan, and moved from white to red wine.
- Later, I moved from red wine to scotch.
- Later still, “water in between” was replaced by tequila shots.
- Once everyone was up on the dance floor, yes, Nando and I did run up and down the vacated dinner tables, throwing back whatever liquid we found in discarded glasses. (The way Nando remembers this, it was some kind of race.)
- I did not refrain from joining the others on the dance-floor. When the DJ put on the 80s classic, ‘What A Feeling’ (from Flashdance), I not only performed a passable rendition of the dance moves from the film-clip, but even finished it off with that iconic move with the chair. Worse, I didn’t skimp on the “pour ice water over myself” part either. The crowd had formed a circle around me.
- As this was a family function — someone else’s family, mind you — there was a moment where the entire extended clan tried to take a group photo (about forty people). The intention was for a ‘family-only’ shot. Apparently, I wanted to be in it too. Like, I really wanted to. Every time they tried to take it, I (physically, literally) dived into frame at the last second, ruining things. Eventually, they gave up trying to keep me out of the photo, and took a couple of photos with me in it. Then, all pretending things were done, Cat lead me away with a wink, whereby the entire family reassembled and took the REAL family photo. Those other shots with me in them survive. The expression on my face is another man’s, someone I don’t know.
- I allegedly caused a bit of trouble in the taxi as well, but Cat has never gone into great detail about it.
- Once we got home, I ranted for an hour about how much I loved this Australian horror film I’d absolutely hated sober. Wouldn’t shut up about it. Pacing. Lecturing. Cat just wanted to sleep. Sensing my audience was fading, I simply left at some point, turned out the light, not to be heard from (verbally) until morning.
- Cat did hear signs of liquid trouble from the other bathroom, but opted to leave bad enough alone. Wise.
Shameful. Absolutely shameful.
I was that guy at the party. You know? That guy. The one who’s funny for the first few minutes, but then after a while you just want him to go away, or pass out, or both. I’d never been that guy before. Or had I? I didn’t know anymore. There’s a lot about myself learned during that aftermath. I mean, who knew I’d memorised the entire choreography to the theme from Flashdance? Just who is that guy?
The questions of identity got even murkier several hours later, when another detail emerged. One that shook me to the core, and still does to this day.
Later that Sunday, Cat had finally convinced me to eat something, and do my best to keep it down. It was 1pm or something by then — I was in the Deep Deep Death stage of a brutal hangover. You know the one: the world was nothing more than a dark place that wanted to hurt me. My headache was terrible. My state of mind was so bad that I hadn’t even complained when she rented Sex & The City 2 on iTunes and made us both sit through it. (I take back what I said before about Cat being nice. Sneaking that film in front of my eyeballs was evil. So, so evil.)
After that was done, we’d gone out for a walk. Fresh air. I was whinging pretty hard about my headache, but overall, starting to feel a bit better. That is, until she hit me with a fresh, terrifying new detail from the night before:
“Oh, I nearly forgot. I have a message for you.”
“Yeah. From Drunk Demis.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, in the middle of that movie rant, Drunk Demis told me I had to give Hungover Demis a message from him later, at the point where Hungover Demis really started complaining about his headache.”
“Really? What was the message?”
“He said to say : ‘Whatever, fatty’.”
Now, at this point in time, Cat had never been part of that particular work-place in-joke. There was no way she could know the phrase, nor its relevance. I won’t bother going into to its meaning now, but basically, those two words proved that Drunk Demis himself had sent the message, and that she wasn’t lying. Also, the darker implication: it proved that I was no longer one person, but two. Worse still, it proved that Drunk Demis wasn’t merely a second, sentient, all-singing, all-dancing personality (with shitty taste in movies) lurking inside me, but he was also a something of a jerk.
(Well, not entirely. I noted later that Drunk Demis had the good sense to have taken off my expensive suit jacket before entering the vomitorium, folding it more perfectly than I normally manage at the best of times. Drunk Demis sounds like a bit of a kooky character on the whole, but at least the guy’s good at laundry.)
Every time I have gone out for more than one drink since, I’ve remembered Drunk Demis, the zombie movie, and the infamous Thirty-Sixty-Ninety party. I’ve had some pretty good benders in my time, but that one will always stand apart, not only for the severity of its psychological aftermath, but that a booze-only bender was capable of extracting from my depraved depths darker elements than any longer, crazier, druggier bender ever has.
The toughest part is that there’s no moral to this story. There’s no lesson to be learned from it, apart from the utterly stupid one that begins: “Step One : Quit Drinking” (…ha!). I was careful. I had a plan, and I thought I was sticking to it. The way I’ve tried to come to terms with it since is to think that yeah, sometimes, no matter how smart you think you are, how in control, shit sometimes happens, but even then, as a ‘lesson’, that’s a bit of a stretch.
If there was one thing to take away from the incident, perhaps it’s buried somewhere in that sentiment about keeping your eye on the quiet ones. I’ve never heard from Drunk Demis again. Not yet, in any case, but that’s not to say he’s not out there, lurking somewhere, practicing his jacket-folds, being oh-so-very quiet.