(Not my actual family)
It was New Year’s Eve. But I was only eleven, so it would be at least two more years before I was allowed to attend a Real Party. The moment we stepped into my Aunt Fran’s suburban shoebox I was exiled to the Kid Ghetto: “Go play with your cousins, honey!”
The cousins my age were MIA, and the older ones were at Real Parties doing Inappropriate Things. So it came down to me, two eight-year-old girls drinking pretend tea, and four kids under five, not one of whom was interested in discussing anything remotely intellectually stimulating. On the other hand, the kid’s room was full of challenging games: stacking rings, six-piece puzzles, a smiley-faced telephone. Oh, yeah, and a spring-mounted rocking horse.
In short, “go play with your cousins” meant babysit. But at least there was punch. The punch in the bowl on the low table was syrupy and disgusting. The stuff in the bowl on the tall table looked better. But the adults were busy talking, so I helped myself. It was citrusy and fizzy and not half-bad. I drifted back into the Kid Ghetto and ended up reading picture books to a couple of tow-haired toddlers between trips to refill my cup. Strangely, the more I drank the thirstier I got.
Then I climbed onto the rocking horse. It was absurdly small. Which made me laugh. In fact, everything made me laugh. The more I rode, the funnier everything got. I kept laughing, refilling my cup, and riding the rocking horse, laughing, refilling my cup, and riding the rocking horse… At some point the room began to spin.
And then I threw up.
My parents were disappointed at having to leave so early. But when your kid is sick… “Do you think he has the flu?” Five minutes from Aunt Fran’s, we stopped at a gas station bathroom so I could throw-up again.
Eight gas station bathrooms later we finally made it home. Dad plopped me down onto my bed while Mom called the doctor. I was giggling between dry heaves. “Wait,” Dad said, “what punch bowl did you drink from?”
“The fizzy one.”
“Cancel the doctor!”
The next morning, I felt like I’d swallowed the Gobi Desert. With a chaser of death. And so it was that my party-hearty pre-teen lifestyle ended…
As abruptly as it had begun.