In the fifth grade I barfed for what was probably not the first time, but the first public time and man did I go whole hog with that one. Christmas Eve mass, sitting on the altar as part of the children’s choir and I would be the one who announced the hymns. All dressed up in my green and black sweater dress with the matching cardigan from the Misses department at JC Penny.
Every Christmas Eve afternoon my dad and I would scour stores for last minute extra gifts for my mom, and stocking stuffers at a huge pharmacy that had everything you could dream of in the way of trinkets, treats and actual necessities. I always got a few of the first two, and then we went out to lunch.
When I recount almost any story from my youth, or my life in general my boyfriend playfully teases me about the food memories. “How the hell do you remember what you ate when you were at a friend’s house when you were twelve?” To some of us, food is nourishing in more ways than one.
So here we are at this diner who’s slogan for as long as I can remember has been “Where good friends meet to eat” … over the years I would have gravy fries after prom, middle of the night burgers with friends after one too many drinks, and early morning pancakes with a heartbroken friend who couldn’t sleep. Today, this seemingly average weekend afternoon I am having a pizza burger with my dad. For a few years I remembered what I drank, and if I had to guess now I would say fruit punch because it sounds juvenile and like a bad idea when poured on a pizza burger.
We sit munching on our respective plates and talking about how to wrap the odd shaped manicure kit or heart shaped picture frame. I say we just tie some curling ribbon around the little bag of jelly beans or Brach’s candy by the pound we got for her stocking. I had had at least forty-five jelly beans myself because the sheer variety of flavors was overwhelming you couldn’t have just one, or twenty.
At 5 pm after the running around and the eating, we clean up and dress up and head to church. I’m on the altar with at least three other people; one of which is a boy a grade below me and his mother who is playing the guitar for some of our songs and maybe someone else. We’re sitting in the packed church and despite being December, it’s warm. It’s hot. Or I’m hot. I’m also nauseous from incense or something and I feel slightly dizzy so I tell guitar mom that I think I am going to throw up. “Oh, you don’t want to do that” she said. I remember that exchange so well because even with a pizza burger fighting its way back up my gullet and my fifth grade brain I thought, who the hell says that to a kid? Or to anyone? Of course I don’t want to throw up. Not ever, never mind here on a literal stage in front of my peers and community. I didn’t want to at all, that’s why I’m telling you lady, get me out of here.
I have to stand up to announce the next hymn and I must have moved in just the right way to shake it up. I felt every damn jelly bean coming up in a hamburger filled fruit punch sauce as I started to stand, so I sat back down.
Oh god, it was happening.
I threw up, violently, all over the lap of my sweater dress. On the altar, in the only moment the church was silent the whole hour. I don’t know who can see me and I can’t care, I have to get this pizza flavored betrayal out of my body. A few ushers and maybe parents from the front rows come up to help me, so this doesn’t turn into one of those chain reaction vomit fests you see in the movies. I don’t get up with their prodding because I can’t.
I can’t get up because while I was vomiting my fun afternoon all over my dress I was also crapping in my queen sized tights.
I AM A 150 POUND 5th GRADER WHO CRAPPED MY PANTS WHILE BARFING ON A CHURCH ALTAR ON CHRISTMAS EVE.
I’m in the back room off the side of the altar and some nice man who counts the collection money after mass is trying to help me clean up with a brown paper towel from the ancient dispenser – the kind that says pull with both hands but you always have to turn an awkward dial to really get it going. Another lady is there, maybe some more ushers, and they ask me if I can go back out and find my mom. I’m about 10 but I’m pretty sure my response was the 5th grade catholic school equivalent of “Fuck no. I am covered in my lunch and I have shit dripping down the back of my leg.”
If ever there was a time I needed someone to get my mom for me, this was it.
I don’t remember what part of the mass it was but I know my parents packed up my brothers and we all left, somewhat discreetly out of the side door.
I cried all three miles home about what turned out to be a stomach bug going around. “Don’t worry, you’ll feel better tomorrow. Santa will still come if you’re sick. Why are you crying?” my mother asked from the front seat.
“Because we’re supposed to go to Bennigan’s and now we can’t …”
I’ve always had a lot of heart, so I’m sure I was upset that I ruined everyone else’s good time; Christmas Eve tradition, my parents dinner out, my brothers missing their chance to drink root beer out of bottles and check the color of the soap in the restrooms and stopping to see our grandparents on the way home.
But when you’re sitting on a blanket in the car covered in your own vomit and poop and crying over not getting to go out to dinner… you have to assume my relationship with food was questionable since before I could even spell relationship.