"My Best Friend's Barf-lorette" by Sarah Wallin
My Best Friend’s Barf-lorette
It was while standing inside one of New Orleans’s famous, un-air-conditioned trolleys in early June that I was first aware of it. At first, I thought it might be the vibration from the ancient metal beneath my flip-flopped feet, or maybe the sweat from crowding too closely with others inside an all-glass hotbox.
But, then, the shift. A seismic second. From vibration to stomach drop. From sweat to fever. From ignorance to dawning panic that I had to get off this trolley right now, this second. Before my best friend’s celebration became known forever as her barf-lorette party.
I have a history of getting the stomach flu unexpectedly while out in the world. Once, it was into my car’s cup holder after teaching my first class of the semester. Another time, into the Blockbuster Video bushes right below the window with promotional posters. At the time — and I remember this clearly — it was promoting Erin Brockovich, a film that I (unsurprisingly) did not end up renting that night.
But for all the times I’d been struck suddenly with the flu, I’d never been more than a few miles away from home when it happened. Never in the middle of a city I’d just stepped foot in for the first time. Never with nine ladies and a guy I’d be living with that weekend, who were all acquaintances at best, apart from the aforementioned best friend.
See, this was one of those “destination bachelorette parties” that are now the standard. When I was getting married, back around the time that Bridget Jones’s Diary was being promoted in the Blockbuster window, a bachelorette party was a single, confined party. There was some drinking and eating, some light flirting and, in my case, some enthusiastically terrible dancing to mariachi music. But it lasted about six hours, and, then, we all went back home, happy, drunk, and done.
For 15 years after that mariachi moment, my best friend had been waiting somewhat impatiently to have her own. The fly in the ointment, of course, was that she hadn’t met the guy. While waiting, she’d received her master’s degree, her Ph.D. from Duke, and an Associate Professorship at a state university in New York. Then, she did meet him — and, by the time she did, bachelorette celebrations were a very different party animal.
These days, theknot.com notes that the average three-day bachelorette party trip is $1,400, and then details the least expensive party cities, a list that’s topped by the always exciting . . . Milwaukee. New Orleans has an average price tag of $1,256, a bargain compared to a city like New York, which tops the pricey list at $1,958.
I’d never been on a destination bachelorette party before this, a good 39 years into my life. My best friend, who for her entire 30s had attended these shindigs annually, was at least very conscious about the terrible financial burden they can be on friends without a trust fund, or, say, a 9-5 job. But even with her best intentions, the dollars I spent on New Orleans piled up and quickly felt like the most I’d ever spent on . . . well, on a party.
And now, I’d barely even gotten to see New Orleans before the flu hit.
I didn’t leave the trolley immediately. Of course, I wanted to avoid a messy scene on public transportation. But I stood still, clutching a pole to steady myself, and tried to smile through the sweat I could feel clinging to my temples. It’s hard to walk away from a best friend who’s been waiting 39 years have a big, blow-out bachelorette with her closest pals. A friend who’s been dreaming about falling in love with the right guy for as long as you’ve known her, which, at this point, has been 31 years. To walk away from her and the group meant not only missing out on the festivities, but not getting to share this experience with her.
But, pretty soon, it became abundantly clear to me that there was no option but to leave and stumble home to our Airbnb. I had no idea where I was, or where the Airbnb was, but based on the overall vibe of New Orleans, I had a feeling that no one there would bat an eye at a woman throwing up on the sidewalk, the gutter, or even into the tuba of one of the several street bands I walked past. The locals around me had the air of having already seen the worst offerings at the buffet of humanity. And, for that, I was grateful.
I would like to tell you that I made it to the Airbnb, threw up in an appropriate toilet, slept for 12 hours, and bounced back the next day, ready to roll with my gal-pal gang again. But that is not at all what happened. What really happened is that I spent the next two-and-a-half days in an unused backroom of our Airbnb that had a mattress on the floor and a toilet so far from any other rooms that no one could smell the pervasive stink of fluids erupting out of me every 20-30 minutes. Mercifully, there are no photos of me from this weekend, although I imagine my look was best described as buuuuuusted.
Well-meaning friends of my friend came back to check on me every so often. One asked me if I’d like some pizza, a question to which I had to choke back a bitter laugh (or maybe it was vomit) before answering. One inquired if I’d like to come out to the living room and watch a brand new season of Orange is the New Black, which had just dropped on Netflix. None of these ladies seemed concerned that my flu was all too ready to start partying with any unsuspecting immune systems. I found myself explaining to them, again and again, that no, I didn’t need anything except for everyone else to stay away so that I could let my flu flag fly, without shame. And, yet, they kept coming. Intent on bringing me back into the femme fold.
At one point, my best friend came in to chat, an angelic haze of sparkle and bride swag inside what had fast become my dark-night-of-the-soul sick bay.
“I’m telling everyone to leave you alone,” she said. “I know that’s what you want.”
I gave her namaste hands, international symbol of “thank you for defending me against well-meaning ladies.”
“I’m so bummed,” she continued. “We never get to see each other, and now —”
“I know,” I finished her thought, miserably. “I’m so sorry.”
Ever since high school, we’ve lived more than 2,000 miles apart. We live on opposite coasts now, me in California, her in New Jersey. We rarely get the luxury of hanging out in the same room together. And I felt beyond sorry that we were limited to this particular room at this particular time.
“Stop. This isn’t your fault, and you have nothing to be sorry about,” she said. “Shit happens.”
OK. So I don’t know if she actually said that. Did she make that brilliant double entendre about shit, or, in my delirium, did I just imagine her being brilliant while also absolving me in a tiara and bachelorette sash? I really can’t be sure. I imagined quite a lot of things that weekend, like, for instance, how excellent dying would feel.
When all was said and done, I spent hundreds of dollars to get to New Orleans to celebrate my best friend . . . and ended up inside, holed up in a backroom, eschewing all human contact, and regularly being checked in on by overly helpful, drunk ladies.
I made it out of the backroom for my flight, still fighting nausea. On the way to the airport, as I observed New Orleans fully for the first time in daylight, I secretly declared to never visit again. I felt it had conspired against me in unforgivable ways.
Over the next six hours, with two delays that had me on the very last flight out, I still managed to keep whatever I had in my stomach down. When I finally landed and walked outside through the airport’s sliding door, I’d never been so happy to see my own car. And, then, about a mile away from the airport, I grabbed my oversized purse and, with no time to empty the contents, threw up inside it — ensuring that I’d be carrying the baggage of that weekend home with me.
Sarah Wallin wrote her first story, "Christopher's Giant Egg," as a nine year old and hasn't stopped writing since. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Cal State Long Beach, and her fiction and nonfiction have appeared multiple times in the university's literary magazine, RipRap.
Headshot: Jhovany Quiroz
Photo Credit: Staff