When your head is spinning and you’re seconds away from vomiting your brains out, your 4.0 GPA will not be there to hold your hair back. Your friends, if you’ve chosen wisely, will be there to hold your hair back, clean up after you and then lovingly remind you the next day how stupid you acted.
It all started two weeks after I told my friends, “Let’s do a drunken corgi themed waltz for my 21st birthday!”
On November 19th, the stage was set for a perfect 21st. My metallic party dress perfectly contrasted the black corgi decorations in my apartment and 25 of my favorite female friends were on their way to help me celebrate. My roommates pumped up the party music and I danced around my apartment throwing back peach JELL-O shots like they were alcohol-free (they definitely weren’t).
Once the party got going, my roommate Sara brought out the list of 21 tasks I had to complete by the end of the night. If only this list contained things like “learn how to knit” or “practice a new yoga pose,” the night might have ended differently. Instead, each item involved drinking large quantities of alcohol, including take a shot with a friend, design your own Carrie drink and pop your champagne. I looked at the list with a cocky smile; I knew could do it. After all, mama didn’t raise a quitter.
With the pop of the champagne came the pop of my judgment and the fizzing over of my sober sanity. I decided to give a “Kristen Whig in Bridesmaids” style speech to every girl at my party. Suddenly everyone became the “most beautiful, magnificent sunflower in the whole world.” After the toasts were made (and recorded), we headed to the bar for a night of drunken debauchery.
When we arrived at the bar, I immediately checked off three items on my list of 21 things, including dancing on the stage, kissing a stranger and yelling “I’m 21!” in a fake British accent. Several vodka shots later, my friends saw I was getting a little too drunk and tried to wrangle me in like Steve Irwin tackling a crocodile. Unfortunately for them, this croc wasn’t ready to stop drinking so I slipped back to the bar and consumed even more alcohol.
Finally, five of my friends managed to get me on the Night Nole and we headed to my apartment on one of the most nauseating rides of my life. When the bus finally screeched to a halt, we got off and I remember falling to the ground, wheezing and unable to walk. It felt like I vomited all of the contents of my stomach, plus an organ or two. I begged my friends to bring me water, thirst being my only sensation.
Curious onlookers who drunkenly stumbled by huddled around my writhing body like I was the best show on cable. I felt overwhelmed by the attention and lack of personal space and started hyperventilating while my friends tried to get the strangers to leave. The strangers shouted back choice words and claimed, “We were just trying to help!” before finally retreating.
From that moment, the evening blurs. I remember my roommate Claire standing over my convulsing body in the ambulance saying, “It’s ok, Carrie. We’re almost to the hospital.” I remember being angry at the nurse for not giving me water even though my throat felt dryer than Death Valley. Finally, I remember passing out the second a nurse put a needle in my arm to draw blood.
The next morning, I woke up in a hospital bed. If my life were a movie title in that moment, it would have been Dazed and Confused. I was still wearing my metallic party dress, only now it was coated in a layer of dried vomit. I was attached to the bed by a blood pressure machine and a sticky chest monitor pod. My head throbbed from dehydration and the fluorescent lights. After lying strapped down and immobilized for what felt like hours, the nurse came in and told me my friend was there to pick me up.
Never have I felt so glad to see Maria or the glistening glass of water she held than in that moment. After filling out the hospital paperwork, she drove me to my favorite brunch place where I nibbled on toast and reflected on my poor life choices with a distinct mixture of regret and gratitude. Regret because my “perfect” 21st birthday party ended so catastrophically, regret because of the impending hospital bill and regret for keeping my friends awake all night in Tallahassee Memorial Hospital (aka Hades).
Overshadowing the regret was a sense of overwhelming gratitude for the true friendships I’ve made in college. That night, my bad decisions gave me a whopping $2,100 hospital bill for my 21st birthday, but my friends gave me something priceless: The assurance they would be there to hold my hair back. I realized then that my friendships could withstand not only the grotesque messiness of a night of binge drinking, but also the messiness of life itself.