The Family Gathering

Have you ever gone to a party and thought would anyone really miss me if I weren’t here? I personally never have but I had to learn the answer to this question the hard way just a few weeks ago.

            Remember my failed attempt to write about Mom so I would no longer get invited to family events and lower my chances of looking like a loser in front of everyone? I guess Mom thought the right punishment wasn’t shielding me from public view but exposing me as soon as possible, therefore making me go to a family party of Mom’s father’s side of the family. I detail this sectioning because Mom’s side of the family is almost an entire town, so segmenting is essential.

            I was actually quite chuffed about attending. It was in a nice piece of land of some distant cousin, with a barn and horses and plantation fields. But it wasn’t just my love for fresh air and rural surroundings that triggered my excitement. This side of the family, which we’ll call the Villas, is a group that rarely gets together, therefore I barely know them and more importantly, they barely know me. They haven’t seen me make a fool of myself or display accidentally inappropriate social behavior. They haven’t yet referred to me as shy, or a wallflower. They had no idea what I was like.

The reason I am known by the rest of my family as just that girl who rarely talks and is somewhat dry with everyone is because my sweet and charismatic nature pales in comparison to Big Brothers dashing smile, good looks, and utter adeptness to making people like him. So when time came for people to talk to me and ask me what was up in my life, writing and being a Literature major just wasn’t as cool as stories of windsurfing or month long trips to Australia.  I never stood a chance!

Not this time, though. I decided it was my time to correct some ill fitting portrayal of my personality that had been established too long ago. I was going to demonstrate my fun side, get along with everyone, be the first to strike up a conversation and not wait to be approached. I was going to behave like the social butterfly Big Brother has always been credited with being. It was MY turn.

            However, this goal was placed on the back burner when more pressing issues developed. The farm, naturally, was a good few miles away from civilization including paved roads. It took a while and a few wrong turns to figure it out, not to mention rocky trails that were slowly murdering my car tires. This all might seem like little bumps on the road to success, where I’d demonstrate how irresistibly adorable I am, but the truth is when you’re as hungry as I was because supposedly I was on my way to a great feast and had decided not to eat in advance, all the small things like getting lost or feeling like the road is raping your new car tires become all the more annoying.

             Later than sooner, we found our way through the plantation to a large gazebo propped on the top of a hill, next to a horse stable and a field of plantain trees. I felt a tiny ripple of uneasiness as I saw the group of people chatting casually and laughing. This was my chance to be called a delight, a bubbly and alluring young woman as opposed to that girl who’s sitting over there alone. 

            It started off great. The few people I recognized knew me and liked me. The others seemed very glad to meet me and spend time with me. But as I was making progress I couldn’t ignore the loud growl my stomach was making. 

            Stomach: Who… the hell… do you think you are? Do I need to scream any louder?! Feed me already!

            In my attempt to be liked I had completely forgotten about the starvation mode I was inflicting on myself. I made my way to the refreshments table while still engaging in conversation with a few people around. Hungry as I was, I didn’t want to get full on crackers and cheese because the smells of a very promising lunch were lingering in the air. I only had a few whole wheat crackers and grapes and told Stomach to deal with it in the meantime. I was too excited about the progress of my social skills to worry about eating.  I was even asked if I wanted to go get a drink at the bar.

            Stomach: But…

            Me: Save it! Stop being a whiny bitch!

            If my stomach could’ve sighed in defeat, it so would have at that moment. But let’s not get carried away and start attributing personal characteristics to organs. That would just be stupid.

            We walked towards a beautiful spot where a large tree was encircled by rustic wooden benches. My companions helped themselves to cold beers from a cooler that was placed next to a table with aligned liquor bottles on it. I felt like red wine and thankfully, or should I said tragically, there was an open bottle next to the Grey Goose convincing me to try it. 

We sat down with our drinks and the conversation flowed. We spoke about school, politics, family... I was so pleased with myself, participating in a conversation that lasted more than three minutes with family members. I wasn’t worrying about hitting a dead end in a subject. I would keep asking questions about their lives and be genuinely interested. I figured people never get tired of talking about themselves.

            My plan was working magnificently until I felt a dull but persistent pain, like the glowing hurt of the aftermath of a punch right in the gut. I tried  to ignore it, thinking it was probably the hunger growling once again and it would soon calm down because lunch was about to be ready. But it intensified like someone had reached inside me and was squeezing continually with malicious intent. 

            It was then I realized I had made the biggest foul you could ever make at a party. I had started drinking with only crackers and grapes in my system, which is basically a teaspoon of carbs and an ounce of water and sugar. What the hell was I thinking? I was surprised at the amount of pain I was feeling considering I had only had a glass of wine, if that. I would understand if I had been chugging beer or doing shots after shots, but a glass? Was I that much of a rookie that a glass of cheap red wine was going to take me down without even experiencing the pleasure of tipsiness?

            Stomach: You know I’m sensitive!

            Me: You’re a pussy is what you are!

             I gradually stepped out of the conversation to just nod and laugh at everyone else’s comments. I controlled my breathing hoping it would tone down the pain but then a wave of nausea took over me.

            Oh, God no. Please don’t let me throw up in front of all these people. If there was anything worse than being known as the shy, awkward girl it’s being known forever as the vomit girl. There’s no moving past that. 

            I tried the logical route through my problem. I grabbed a bottle of water and drank it sip by sip, hoping it would dilute the pathetic amount of alcohol and I’d feel better. All I achieved was feeling bloated and consequently forming a visible bump that made me look like I was three months pregnant. 

            “Lunch is ready!” Someone yelled and everyone pretended to ignore it, waiting for the first four people who would be considered gluttons to get up and help themselves before the rest would follow.

            Like any helpless grown person would do after trying every possible solution to their problem and failing, I went in search of my mother and her endless wisdom. 

            I tapped her on the shoulder like a two year old would. “I don’t feel well,” I said groggily.

            Her brows instantly frowned in worriment. “What’s the matter honey?”

            “My… tummy hurts.”  I felt like an idiot saying those words, like I couldn’t handle it on my own; like after graduating college and having gone through puberty and early adulthood, I still didn’t know how to manage a tummy ache. But this wasn’t any regular tummy ache. This was the there-might-be-a-hole-in-my-stomach-and-there’s-excessive-bleeding-and-the-gastric-juices-are-digesting-my-own-blood kind of pain. I saw some sort of reenactment of something like this on the Health Channel when I was little and the person didn’t really feel much pain. Just felt tired and fell asleep and died. Okay, maybe it wasn’t like this but that’s what my seven year old brain absorbed and it has always stuck with me.

            Mom’s logical mind, of course, didn’t go anywhere near this assessment of mine. “Aw, honey. Why don’t you eat something? You’ll feel better.”

            Strangely, this made sense. I was almost certain I needed to eat even though my body was contradicting its need with this overwhelming nausea. But I had to give it a try. 

            I stood in line for the buffet and the smells that were appetizing just a few moments ago were now unbearable. The entrĂ©e was a roasted pig. Yeah, the whole thing just sitting there with its pained face all charred, its mouth open. Normally, this is not a sight that’s unpleasant. It means suckling juicy meat and crunchy fatty skin. These are all good things. Even vegetarians would be tempted. However, this was the first time I was ready to haul ass away from food. 

            Come on, come on, you can do this. Just a little food will do you good. I decided to get a few pieces of lean meat and anything else that hadn’t been cooked in fat would do me wonders. I saw a huge pot of white rice and felt relieved. That was until I lifted the lid. The smell of pork belly was so concentrated, I gagged. The rice had been cook with rendered pork fat. Keep it together.

            I settled for yellow rice. The line came to a halt and I overheard an argument in front of me. Little Brother was being offered a pig’s ear by a slightly drunk and obnoxious family member. Apparently pigs’ ears were the most delicious part and you couldn’t possibly turn it down. But Little Brother was no fool. He laughed it off and said no but it didn’t end there. Obnoxious drunk family member turned to me and said, “You! You’re not going to turn me down, are ya’? Come on! This is delicious!”

            Then you eat it! He wiggled the wrinkled piece of “meat” a few inches away from my face, the shiny, greasy cartilage poking out of the bottom. My plastic plate shook dangerously in my hands and it took all I had to not puke on his shoes. 

            I laughed nervously. “No, thank you.” 

            “Come on! You’re gonna love it!” he yelled in a somewhat menacing tone, probably wanting to say “If you don’t eat it now, I’ll stuff it down your throat!”

            Despite my nausea and pain, I still wanted to be liked by my newfound family members and make a good impression. I couldn’t refuse them or appear to be too girly or stuck up not to take a piece of dead ear. So I said, “Okay”, and ended up with a pig’s ear on my plate.

            I made it to a seat near some people. My plan was to eat incredibly slowly and follow it with a swig of water. Every bite was torturous. The movement of my jaw was mechanical as I chewed the piece of bland meat, feeling it roll on my tongue, chomping it from side to side in my mouth. After every monstrous swallow, I gasped for air and muted it with a drink of water. It was not a nice sight, I’m sure, for anyone. I went from being the pleasant girl to the possibly bulimic girl who was having trouble with a simple plate of food. 

            Last was the godforsaken ear, laying there disgustingly on my plate. For one split millisecond, I considered eating it in front of everyone. Maybe this would get me back in their good graces. Maybe they’d figure there was nothing wrong with me. Or maybe, I’d just be the girl who ate a pig’s ear for no good reason.

            Screw this. I was done with trying to eat and it wasn’t making me feel any better. I tossed the plate onto the trash, hoping nobody saw me not eat the pig’s ear and left the gazebo. I needed to lie down, collapse, throw up… anything but not in front of people. 

            I walked down a gravel path in the blistering heat, opened the door of my car and gently lied down on the back seat, the accumulated heat on the leather burning me for a moment. I left the door open so some breeze would come in and my legs could hang from the edge of the seat.
 Very soon everything went dark and my breathing was steady. I could only feel the strong breeze that would cool my perspiring skin every now and then and sound of crunching gravel as people passed by me. I wondered what they were thinking if they noticed me. I was lying there in a very unladylike manner with my legs dangling, my arms thrown back and my mouth opened. I must have either seemed like the most awesome party animal or just a pathetic drunk. Probably the latter one but I couldn’t care less. I was just blissful that the pain was slowly subsiding.

            I was waiting for the sound of footsteps to intensify in my direction and hear someone say “Are you all right? Do you need help?” But no such thing happened. I tried to excuse them by thinking they must’ve not seen me but it was quite hard to miss such a display. But the sound of steps faded and I was alone again.

            Slowly regaining full consciousness, I wondered how much time had passed. I limply lifted my left hand and saw from my watch that about forty five minutes had passed and no one had wondered where I was. I hadn’t heard my name being called or any alarming tone swarming the distant chatter at the gazebo. It didn’t bother me so much that other people didn’t care. They were probably relieved I wasn’t around. But Mom knew I wasn’t feeling well and had demonstrated genuine concern. Surely she would be looking for me, wondering where I was, and causing everyone to feel alarmed that her daughter was missing. 

            I laid there for ten more minutes, hoping that someone would come. Anyone. I didn’t care if it was the hyperactive ten year old that kept kicking a soccer ball and yelling ‘Gooooooooal’ with all his might or whining every time someone played better than he did. Someone had to miss me.

            There was no such luck.

            After those ten minutes, feeling much better apart from my bruised ego, I made my way back to the gazebo that seemed to be doing just fine without me. Did they not know I could’ve had a hole in my stomach and died in my car for hours while no one had bothered to find me? Some family!

            Amidst the small groups that had formed, I spotted Mom chatting incessantly with her cousins. I made my way to her and stood there like a creep until she took notice of me. And she had the nerve to look at me and smile.

            “Hey! Where have you been?”

            Her lack of concern was infuriating but at least she had wondered where I was. 

            “You were looking for me?”  I asked hopefully.

            “Oh, no!” Like that was the most charming, ridiculous idea she had heard all day.  “I just asked around for you but no one seemed to know where you were.”
            “That’s it? That’s all you did?

“Yup. Come and sit with us!” She said that like it was the most wonderful idea. But since I had destroyed any chance at making a real connection with anyone there, I sat next to my mother for the rest of the afternoon being awkward, shy and shadowed by Big Brother. As always.