"I like having hangovers."
"No you can't mean it!"
"But I do. First you feel so bad that your brain stops working. You can't think about anything for a while. So you don't worry about any of the things you'd normally worry about. You reach a kind of Zen state. Then when you stop feeling bad you are happy to have survived. It's like a brain reboot."
These were some words I spoke somewhat rashly a couple of evenings ago.
I thought I was being clever. I also thought I meant it.
Yesterday I woke up on day two of really the worst hangover of my life.
I think I might have changed my opinion.
I should have seen it coming, when I fake-tanned my legs.
You see, four days ago, I bought a very fine dress in the soldes d'été at Isabel Marant. The dress is made from grey sweatshirt material which makes my pale legs look the colour of the belly of an uncooked fish. It is a fine dress. It just needs bronzed Mediterranean legs, like the legs of the dark heroines in Eric Rohmer movies. So I stop in at Le Bon Marché, buy some fake tan and dye my legs, failing to recall how the pain of a hangover is so frequently accompanied by the cooked-biscuit smell of chemical bronzer.
It had something to do with hope. And something to do with pride.
You see, I fake-tanned my legs to wear with the dress to meet a friend I hadn't seen for some time. He's a college friend. I see him maybe every five years. I want to impress him. With my dress, with my legs. I know I probably won't see him for another five years but I'm instantly at home with him - just as I was when I shared a house with him all those years ago. And we're having dinner at home in my apartment.
For some reason, I drink more at home than I do when I'm out. In a bar or a restaurant, I have my limit sussed. There's something in my subconscious which doesn't allow me to drink to excess. I am particularly proud of this skill. It has, after all, taken me years to develop. But at home, wedged between the wall and a collapsible table, my subconscious has an entirely different intent. It is occasionally impossible to fool it into ignoring the fact that my bed is really not very far away and I have no need to stay sober enough to stay upright on the metro.
My friend is here with his wife, whom I have met once, briefly, and their two children, the older of whom I last saw in a pram. He is a Labour candidate in a no-hope borough in the rural South West of England. I google him as I cook duck legs on a bed of carrots before he arrives. His face beams shinily from his party's website.
Is it true that everyone looks ten pounds heavier in photos?
About 10.30pm his wife takes the children back to their hotel. She is tired, she say's. She doesn't mind going to bed early. She doesn't return. We sit. And talk. And drink. Until when? I don't know.
The next morning. I wake up to find him sitting at my table drinking coffee out of a wineglass.
He looks at home. His upper torso is bare, white and plump. He used to be thin. I stare at it, fascinated. Each half is an unnaturally symmetrical mirror-image of itself, and it is unnaturally wide. It is so pale and wide and shining. It's all I can see. It spreads out before me, horrifyingly large, like the vast white wall of a n electro-hydraulic dam. It is making me dizzy.
This is when I realise I am fantastically hung-over.
I get up temporarily to make breakfast, but find that the action of sawing bread makes me nauseous.
Then it occurs to me to wonder why he is still here. I ask,
"Did you sleep on the sofa"
"Some of the time."
I put a hand up to my ear.
"I lost an earring."
"That was probably when you fell off the bed. You see, after you took all your clothes off and I'd tied your wrists onto your ankles, would insist on still moving. And then you rolled to one side and just fell off the bed. Plop."
I take a serious reality check.
"You are... joking, aren't you?"
"OK. So why did you stay?"
"Well, when you get drunk when you're younger you still have the energy to do something outrageous. But when you're older, you just go to sleep. I just went to sleep. At the table. Then I moved onto the sofa at, maybe, 4am, I think. It was getting light. Do you want some coffee?"
I can't drink anything out of a wineglass. Or maybe, I just can't drink anything.
"I'm sorry," I say. "I really just have to go back to bed."
My friend returns in the afternoon with his family. I remember that last night I had volunteered to take his children to see a movie.
How much did you drink? asks the eight year old.
"I don't know."
It's better that he doesn't. And, in any case, I'm not sure.
But he persists:
"One glass? Two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine?"
He continues without any apparent idea of stopping. I can see the glasses lined up, the wine inside them queasily swaying. I have to stop their relentless multiplication.
"Oh - um, definitely not more than six."
I have no idea whether this is true. But I don't want to give too bad an impression.
"You should only drink one glass of wine every day," say the five-year-old, sternly. "That's what my daddy says."
I take the children to see Prince Caspian. I find two hours plus of mythological beings beating the crap out of one another oddly refreshing. I eat most of the children's salted popcorn. I go home and immediately go back to sleep.
The next morning, I find I can get out of bed. I feel like I have a hangover. I no longer feel that something indefinable has happened to me which has shifted reality by a crucial 5 centimetres. It feels like day one of a hangover I might have had fifteen years ago in the days when a hangover lasted a maximum of twelve hours.
I look through the apartment for my earring and don't find it. I find a prescription bottle of Propecia, left by my friend. I Google it. It is a treatment for hairloss. I put it in the bathroom beside my bottle of fake tan.
I go out with a friend for coffee, which I find I can now drink. I notice I am trembling slightly as one poison replaces another in my system. I tell her about the evening before the evening before.
"It's ok. You only see this guy, what, every five years?"
But I can see the rings of damage spreading like circles of water from a dropped stone.
"You don't understand. These are my friends from college. There are loads more of them back in the UK. And they all know each other. Like family. And they all see each other like, every five years too. But if he tells one of them then, within around six months, they'll all know. And I only see most of them once every five years. I'll have the reputation of being a drunken slapper until I can personally disprove it to every one of my college friends. Which, mathematically speaking, could take," (I realise with horror as I calculate), "the next fifty years."
Will I still be around in fifty years, making my rounds of penance? I'm not young any more. Not young enough to drink like that. And maybe too old to live down the consequences.
"But didn't you say you drank a lot at college?"
I remember afternoons in the pub, matching the boys pint for pint. And worse nights when, for example, dressed in a scarlet turban, I attended a cocktail party and, after many glasses of something made from peach schnapps, ended up howling loudly in a bathroom several staircases away.
"But that's not me. I'm not like that any more. I haven't been for years. I didn't mean to get drunk. I hardly ever get drunk."
"OK, it may be better to look at it this way. You're reputation has not been damaged. It has just been... preserved."
As if in alcohol.
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