Social Lubricant Gone Wrong

Submitted into Contest #93 in response to: Set your story at a party that has gone horribly wrong.... view prompt

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Creative Nonfiction

Social Lubricant Gone Wrong

“Victoria, you’ve GOT to come to the party! Norm’s retiring!”

“I’ll try,” I hedged, hating the prospect of mingling with co-workers.

It was the last day of school. Depleted, burned-out, I wanted to retreat for the summer holidays and start my vacation by drinking the large bottle of wine that one of the parents had given me. I routinely wallowed in the melodrama of loneliness like a soap-opera star. Weekends were solitary, dreary, wine-hazed pity-parties-for-one, as I sprawled on my sofa to watch TV shows about serial killers. That’s the way I liked it.

But guilt got the better of me. I had to make an appearance. I’d dodged the Christmas party with a lame excuse. I couldn’t be rude and ignore our Principal’s departure.

One of the staff had volunteered to host the event. In contrast to me, she lived in a spacious, modern home in Scarborough. As I ruminated about having to make an appearance, I surveyed my run-down apartment. The sagging furniture, destroyed by my hyperactive pussycat, spewed stuffing, and was badly in need of a professional cleaning. I hadn’t hired a crew because I hated people in my home.

A recluse, I avoided the staff room at work, entering once daily to grab a morning coffee. Others, assembled and chatting, hushed their animated conversation. The sound of my rattling teaspoon prevailed as I added cream, tiptoed out.  They didn’t like me. I was convinced of that, so I always ate lunch alone at my desk.

The thought of attending the end-of-year celebration terrified me. Before leaving on the dreaded journey, I fortified myself by drinking the entire bottle of wine.

I assessed my condition before climbing into the car for the forty-minute highway drive. I could walk without wavering. I was fine. I’d pop in, and then leave as soon as possible. On the way home, I could replenish my wine at the LCBO.

 As I parked on the street across from the house, I saw that the front door had been wedged open. Music and conversation guided me along a stony path. I crept into an enormous living room, where groups huddled, laughing, at ease, happy. I didn’t fit in.

The pre-event bottle hadn’t helped at all. I still felt jittery, tongue-tied. A few colleagues acknowledged my entry with a brief hello before returning to their conversations. I escaped to the back garden, where more guests had gathered around a pool. Some were swimming, splashing, and bouncing a multi-coloured beach ball back and forth with roars of laughter. My throat tightened at the sound of their hilarity.

Off in a corner, a lone folding chair, unoccupied, beckoned me. It was conveniently situated beside a large barrel with a tap. Eureka!

I helped myself to a plastic glass, poured myself a beer, and gulped it down to douse my terror. Nobody was witness to my rapid consumption. I checked my watch, poured another, and planned to leave after an hour.

Someone positioned some speakers on the back patio. Salsa music blared. I watched as several of the younger teachers, bikini-clad, gyrated their hips while onlookers whooped. My cheek muscles ached from smiling.

Aware of feeling dizzy, I moved my chair closer to the barrel. That way, I was able to top off my beverage without having to stand and visibly stumble. A few people wandered over to fill a glass and nodded politely.

I watched as our retiring Principal meandered from circle to circle to converse with his staff. He was well liked and respected. When he spotted me, he waved from a distance. I returned the gesture, but remained glued to my chair, possessive of my alcohol source.

Two hours passed. It was time to flee. One more beer, I thought. Then I’d head for the exit, and hope that nobody noticed me leaving.

Suddenly, Linda, who knew that Latin Dancing had once been a hobby of mine, volunteered my services. “Hey, everyone, listen up! Victoria here knows how to do the cha-cha! She can show us the steps!”

Through the ever-thickening fog, I heard encouraging applause, watched helplessly as several eager-beavers assembled for a dance lesson. Linda grabbed me under the armpit and pulled me up from the safety of my seat. I stumbled up three steps onto a wooden platform and stood, exposed, wavering, before a congregation.

Santana blasted through the speakers, as I bellowed out slurred instructions… “One step to the right, one step to the left, one step back, three quick steps to the left, back, forward, two and three, four, one…”

WHAM! I’m lying on my back, staring up at the vast, cloudless, blue sky. The sun is setting. The cacophony of laughter has quieted, replaced by an agonizing silence. The gig is up.

Time stretches like elastic. I am paralysed. Three heads appear above me, eyes boring into mine. They are saying something in slow-motion. “ARE…YOU…ALL…RIGHT?”

Speechless, mortified, I lie mute. Arms pull me to my wobbly feet and support me as I stumble into the kitchen and collapse into a chair. I apologize over and over as the kind-hearted hostess assures me that everything is all right.

Through a haze, I notice that people are filing out of the house. I drink coffee after coffee, and morph into a hyper drunk. Fran, ever so kind, offers me a place to sleep it off on her couch. Shame suffocates me as I repeatedly refuse.

“I’m feeling better. Thank you so much. I’m sure I’ll be all right now. It’s very late. I really should go.”

Finally, my weary coffee-maker surrenders. It’s two in the morning! It takes excruciating concentration to put one foot in front of the other without toppling as I march toward my car. I know she’s watching every step as I open the driver’s door and attempt to ease into the seat gracefully. She sees me click my seatbelt into place and returns my wave.

I drive off down her street, not having a clue how to get home. Miraculously, after circling around side streets for what seems an eon, I glimpse a big green sign. The highway!

All I know is to head south, using the CN Tower as a signpost. It takes a gargantuan effort to stay in my lane. I steer down the DVP, then west along the Gardiner Expressway, my eyes riveted to the white lines on the road as they blur by. If I close one eye, I don’t see double.

It’s a miracle I made it home that night. A miracle I didn’t injure or murder another driver. I spent the entire summer vacation dreading my shameful return to work in September. The only relief from self-loathing was booze.

When classes started up again, my misdeed was never mentioned, at least not to my face. But oh, I was so sick and tired of being sick and tired…

Sometimes, horrifying events turn out to be gifts. Less than six months later, I sought help to recover from alcoholism. I found other people like me who had found a way out. They shone a light. The shackles came off, and a whole new world opened up.

The following summer, I attended another staff party sober. I mingled, asked people how they were, shared jokes and anecdotes, felt comfortable in my skin. What lovely people! And when I danced, I stayed on my feet.

I’ve been sober for nineteen years. In spite of life’s inevitable challenges, I remain grateful. 

May 09, 2021 05:25

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