About five years ago, I was at a terrific New Year’s Eve party (not always an oxymoron when you have amazing friends and amazing friends of friends!) when my pal Sara decided we should play the ever-popular “game” she likes to call “puke stories.”
This is exactly what it sounds like. Tell your best/worst puke story.
For that reason alone, NYE 20-whatever ranks as one of the funniest nights of my life.
This is in part because as a lifelong migraine sufferer, I’m a chronic public puker. Headache-related nausea has caused me to barf in more bizarre public places than I care to name.
I also couldn’t remember them all if you had a water gun to my head. My earliest memory is being roughly 8 years old and violently vomiting into the artfully distanced garbage cans that line the path to the Universal Studios parking lot.
When someone asked me to pick the very worst vomit tale of my LIFE?! Well, I was thrilled. My horrifying story would find an audience and perhaps acceptance.
And this is it:
I was speaking at a media conference in Detroit one summer in my mid-twenties. Over the course of several days, I bonded with a community organizer and former Black Panther over radical politics, good Mexican food, relationships (or lack thereof) within progressive movements, and bowling technique.
I suppose it goes without saying that I had profound respect for my new friend Ron and his lifetime of socially conscious work. He was the person I most wanted to impress and bond with at that conference because I was truly in awe of his wisdom and strength.
Turns out the feeling was mutual. The conference wrapped on Saturday night, and since my flight wasn’t until Sunday afternoon and we had so much to discuss, he had offered to take me on a personal guided tour of the city.
On that bright Sunday morning after brunch at a local Lebanese restaurant, we drove past historic spots only a local would know as I felt the familiar reflux creep. While we talked about white civil rights leaders, I silently panicked, knowing what seemed imminent.
You see, my headaches were far more common and ferocious back then. To keep that particular migraine at bay, I’d been popping sumatriptans and consuming copious amounts of caffeine for two days.
But I wasn’t getting better; in fact, my rebound headaches were fierce.
I wasn’t sure how to tell Ron that I might vomit in his car. Truth be told, I didn’t know that I would. And what do you say? “Hey Ron, Imma puke, pull over?” OK, actually, you do say that. I’ve had to say it to countless friends and cab drivers in the past.
Unable to gauge when I might get sick, we stopped at a pharmacy and talked my way into the employees’ only restroom. I may have said something charming like, “I can barf here on the carpet or in there.”
I thought maybe I could throw up there and continue on, but by the time I found the restroom, the churning in my belly had subsided.
I hung around the unisex bathroom for several minutes. I knew it was only a matter of time until I really did get sick, but I also couldn’t stay in there all day, waiting to puke.
Obviously, I should have, but I didn’t know what to do. I emerged still nervous, the acrid tickling in my throat never fully retreating.
Back on the road, listening to Ron’s thoughts about spirituality in activist communities, I barely knew what was happening when I suddenly heaved unfiltered apple juice and falafel chunks into my lap without warning.
The granny clothes I happened to be wearing -- a pale blue eyelet blouse and black pants -- were suddenly spattered with what looked like mashed, soggy graham crackers.
Moreover, I’m quite sure Ron had no idea what had been coming as he -- strangely calm considering his single man’s lack of experience with small children (let alone grown ass women) who violently spit up on themselves -- steered the car into the closest parking lot.
My suitcase was in the trunk for my eventual departure later that day, and too stricken to do anything else, my poor bewildered guide led me to the first spot he saw, a Korean nail salon in a strip mall, to change clothes.
I was too overcome by shame to even speak, so after he explained the situation to a nail tech holding an airbrush wand, Ron ushered me towards the bathroom.
The smell of acetone and formaldehyde nearly caused me to black out as I staggered past women in their bright Sunday best, completely shocked to see a disgraced adult woman, in broad daylight, walking in their midst, covered in her own sticky vomit.
I changed clothes, dazed from the shock of it all, and stumbled back out, muttering “thank you” without looking up. Back at the car, Ron was mopping up the brown chunky liquid from his seats with towels he had stashed in the trunk. (Dear Jesus, thank you for a Sunday blessing of leather upholstery and random rags!)
After we mutually agreed it was clean and dry, I sat back down in the bucket seat, and we resumed the tour as if nothing had happened. Ron dropped me at the airport about an hour later, and I managed not to vomit on the plane back to Boston.
I even went back to the same conference the next year and was greeted with a bear hug after Ron spotted me across a conference room. But I never got over the profound humiliation I felt every time I ran into my friend, even if he seemed completely nonplussed.
I mean, yeah, shit happens, but what about projectile vomiting in someone’s front seat?
Worst (or at least most humiliating) puke story, ever. (I’ll save the funniest one for another day.)