Previous entries in the DUI series can be found here.
Sara knew what she was doing. “The booze is gonna react with my pills, I bet,” she said in the passenger seat during the journey from Madison to Poynette.
Her nonchalant spirit sparked a rumble of excitement behind my heart. This was my first and only high school teenage Can’t Hardly Wait house party. We were gonna get “WOO WOO FUCKINGGGGGGGG WASTED.” Inexplicably, there were several juniors in drama who were cool enough to have house parties.
I’d asked Sara to come along, knowing that any invite expressed to me ought to automatically pass to her, unless I wanted to offend her. She eagerly accepted, which surprised me. After Saturday rehearsals, Sara would call me late at night to express how hurt she was that the play interfered with our together time. Emotionally exhausted from an entire day of half-assed blocking walkthroughs, I’d nod and “mmhmm” in agreement to her list of all the ways I was being a bad friend.
When she expressed excitement about the party, I was relieved. Sara was a hurting person, a constantly hurting person. I knew she saw a psychiatrist, I knew there were prescription medications involved — serious medications. But Sara was charismatic in a way like no one else I’d ever met. More importantly, she wanted to be best friends with me. I needed best friendship.
My parents disliked her, immensely. My dad, a social worker, laid down in the kindest, social-workiest way possible that he thought Sara was dangerous. I picked at his points, trying to make it seem as if he was biased against her because of her mental illness. When Sara suggested I break up with my first boyfriend because she loved me more that he did, I didn’t flinch. Who was I to reject the love of someone just because they are figuring shit out? Just because they are sick? Don’t those people need love most of all?
So when I made her happy, it was the best thing.
We arrived late. Already-inebriated friends greeted me at the door with hurrahs. Alexa, the party’s host, showed me and Sara to a guest bedroom with two twin beds, where’d we sleep it off before driving home in the morning.
I drank and cavorted. I laughed at jokes and told some of my own. I danced like an idiot to the New Pornographers, shaking my hair in front of me like I’d seen Kirsten Dunst do in the trailer for Eternal Sunshine. Drink after drink after drink. Or was it just two drinks? Certainly not enough to feel on par with the gang who’d arrived before me. At one point I jokingly demonstrated that I could, just like they did in the movies, touch my nose with alternating pointer fingers, arms outstretched. Urging myself to “catch up,” I slammed a inch of strawberry vodka from a plastic child’s water cup and made my way back to the music. I sought Sara ought, to check that she was having a good time.
I found her straddling Brian, sucking his life out like a Sanderson sister. Brian was so sweet-as-pie I imagined him like a Ken doll down south, no genitalia. I half-gasped. I was startled, because Sara’d never shown interest in anyone. Suddenly, Sara was inside my group of friends.
I’ve never felt so immediately, passionately depressed in my life. Sara so close to my other group of friends was orange juice mixed with milk; all kinds of wrong. These drama people, with their booming laughs, endless movie quoting and penchant for spontaneous singalongs, were my people. Sara was not my people, Sara was my project.
My friend Aaron interrupted my anger, hugging me from behind to say goodbye. He jingled his keys at his side. I needed to put distance between myself and whatever emotional epiphany I’d just had. My mission became to mom the fuck out about Aaron driving home so drunk. I thought everyone was staying the night, like Sara and I were. I couldn’t fix the Sara situation right now, but I could fix this. I didn’t know how much alcohol was in my system, but surely it was less than Aaron’s.
On the road back north after dropping him off, somewhere near DeForest, I pulled off onto a frontage road to burp and cry. I popped the stick into neutral. My beloved Honda Civic gently glided back across the gravel trimming the pavement and onto soft soggy spring grass As soon as the right rear wheel sunk into turf, I yanked the handbrake, click click click. I was drunk behind the wheel of a car. I cried out of shame for doing it. I cried because I was going back to Poynette, back to the party, back to her.
When I regained composure enough to drive, I rolled the tape of the night’s events over and over in my head, dreading the scene I’d come back to. Her tone changed in my mind’s retelling. “The booze is gonna react with my pills, I bet,” and then my brain’s version of Sara might as well have tented her fingers and cackled like Mr. Burns.
The house, lively with inebriated lawn makeouts and Neko Case songs when I left, was now dark and silent. In the 90-minute round trip I’d taken, the party died.
I found Sara passed out in the bathroom, head back, panties around her knees, toilet paper in hand. I yanked her up towards me by the elbows and pulled her panties back up. I dressed her in my pajamas because her skin was icy after laying against the bathroom’s porcelain and tile. I tucked her snugly into one of our paired twin beds. Sara woke up and whispered to me that she was cold. I laid with her a while to warm her up. She snuggled into the crook of my neck, the feeling of her breath against my skin brought a little vodka up into the back of my throat. I tried to contort myself out from under her arms: “I’m so cold, please stay.” I alternated the rest of the night crying in the hallway, holding Sara, and trying to escape to my own bed.
The next day, I kept it together, turning the night’s shock and bad feelings into cheerful hangover anecdotes. “I CAN’T believe you made out with Brian! Hahahaha.”
I was a liar, I am a liar, for not telling her friendship D-day had come and gone. I never churned up the courage to tell her. During one of our final hangouts, she pulled up the sleeve of her North Face fleece jacket and held her forearm six inches from my face. Dotting along the wrist, in perfect rows, were half-inch long razor marks. “I do this because of you,” she told me. I cried, hugged her. I apologized. I told her I’d try harder. I lied. I stopped trying at all, a coward’s exit.
Weeks later in homeroom, she told me her therapist suggested we “take a break” from our friendship. “He thinks we’re too close.” She left two beats of silence before adding, “also because you’re a bad person.” I turned around and pretended to attently listen to the morning prayer.
I’ve known what codependency was since before I could talk. My large Irish Catholic family had substance abusers aplenty, and my social worker father is 25 years sober. He quit eight months after I was born, and warned me of the dangers inherent in maladaptive coping mechanisms once I could listen. Even with the acuity to properly use the phrase “maladaptive coping mechanism,” I was dumb enough to end up best friends/codependent ball-and-chain with Sara.
Slowly we faded from each other’s lives, even though we ended up at the same college. No one can be loving, loyal and supportive all the time, nor can you be everything to someone. I rekindled affections with the friend I’d abandoned to join Sara’s world, and still apologize to her from time-to-time about drifting away. Yet I missed Sara terribly, I missed being intoxicated by her attention. I missed jumping naked off her dock into Lake Mendota. I missed driving her and her sister around town listening to the radio.
We ran into each other junior year of college, the first time I’d seen her since graduating high school. I was crying on the phone to my mother as I walked from class to class, when Sara’s waist-length brown hair and nervous gait slide into my periphery. She stood behind me as we waited for the light to change. I held my phone to my chest and turn around to address her, but she pretended I wasn’t there, or that she couldn’t see me. She looked right through my head to the crosswalk signal.
“You still there?” my mom’s voice echoed up from the phone speaker pushed into my breastbone. “Yeah, keep talking.” I turned and crossed the street.
This post is a part of Step Out Of The Car, Please, a recurring and unglamorous series about DUIs and drinking problems.
Maura Foley spends a lot of time using Excel and performing improv in Chicago. She complains about both on Twitter.