When I returned home from college that first year, I had to explain to my mom and dad why I withdrew from most of my second semester. The truth wasn't an option (I'm gay, I was almost hit by a train, God may or may not hate me but the Christians certainly do) so I opted for the next best explanation (I had a nervous breakdown, maybe I should start seeing a therapist). This was an emotionally manageable story which dealt with my overwhelming, paralyzing fear of discovery but didn't resolve any of the turmoil going on inside me.
All of my energy went into managing a facade of normality; I wanted this to blow over as soon as possible. I knew that I wasn't going back to the Christian university, so I applied and was accepted at a large state school within an hour and a half drive of my parent's house. I reconnected with some of my best friends from high school and told them some of my experiences, but not everything. I kept the train and the doctor to myself, hidden, scars that I was ashamed to reveal to anyone.
I was determined and had convinced myself that Everything Was Going To Be Just Fine. The summer was speeding by. I was going to a new college in the fall and I was excited to forget the old and start over again.
Midsummer, a high school friend of mine threw a party at her house. Her parents were out of town, and my friends and I had the whole place to ourselves. The liquor cabinet was fully stocked; there were all types of hard alcohol and beer... I had little knowledge of alcohol other than a single beer and a few sips of wine, so it was a new experience. As soon as I got to the party, one of my friends poured me a mixed drink of Southern Comfort and orange juice. It was so good! As soon as I'd finished the one she'd given me, I headed to the kitchen to find more. There was a nearly full bottle of Southern Comfort that had just been opened, and the carton of orange juice in the fridge. I grabbed a big water glass out of a cupboard and filled it half full of juice and half full of the dark honey-colored Southern Comfort. It still tasted good, but had an edge of bitterness. I drank it all down very fast and then poured myself some more. Everyone was laughing and having a good time in the living room and outside on the porch. I started feeling flushed, slow, time moving slower and slower. I had never felt that way before; I was drunk! I thought it was funny, these strange and new sensations.
So I went back to the kitchen. I poured most of the rest of the bottle of Southern Comfort, straight, into a big plastic cup. I stood there in the kitchen and drank it all down in maybe a minute, maybe two.
I stumbled back to the porch where everyone was hanging out. The porch lights were bright and summer moths and mosquitoes swarmed around them. I remember thinking, fumbling over the words in my mind, wow, it's like, like everything is... receding but I'm still standing right here. Still standing. Right. Here. Then it all stopped, and I was stuck in static, hazy amber. Then darkness.
That's my last memory.
Snip. Like a film editor cutting out an entire scene and letting the celluloid strip slip to the floor, I lost about 16 hours of my life.
From darkness I drifted back up, gradually coming back to awareness. A dim, blind awareness, full of intense pain. All of my limbs were numb, my breath shallow, searing heat beating inside my skull. I could hardly move. When I managed to open my eyes I couldn't focus on anything. Suddenly I was bent double with violent nausea, but there was nothing left, dry heave after heave, my mouth swollen and the stench of vomit thick in the back of my throat.
I was in the den of my friend's house, on a pull-out bed. My friends had put me there, not knowing what else to do, not wanting to call parents or ambulances, not knowing how much I had had to drink. They'd watched me during the night to make sure I didn't choke on my own vomit... it's all they knew to do. And more disturbing to me, I found out later, they'd had a direct, all-access, ringside seat to view the contents of my subconscious.
Snip. After time stopped, my body still continued to move about of its own accord. With the marionette strings of my mind cut and my conscious, tightly-controlled demeanor gone, it was like a switch had flipped. Without my skin I was a raw nerve of pulsing fear. I screamed and cried and vomited, yelling that God hated me, everyone hated me, that I was going to Hell. I was utterly terrified and sobbing and inconsolable. And then I passed out. My friends carried me into the next room and put me to bed. It was a waking nightmare for them too. What had happened to their quiet, shy friend? What could possibly make someone be so afraid?
I was a lean, skinny guy, and had no alcohol tolerance. For the amount of alcohol that I drank, I'm not sure why I didn't die. We did the math. I drank the equivalent of 12 to 15 standard 1.5oz shots of 80 proof alcohol in about 20 minutes.
It took me well over a week to recover; I was so very sick and weak. There's nothing my parents could have done to punish me that hurt worse than what I had done to myself.
Except now I had this gap with no memory. Just the confusing details of what my friends told me that they had witnessed, the screaming and fear that I couldn't remember. But now I knew it was there. I knew that even if I went off to this new college and pretended everything was okay, that I was just pretending. That it was more than just the doctor and the train. There were memories I didn't want to see or acknowledge or name.
So I pushed it all down again, below the amber and the darkness. I stood on the squeaking lid and I jumped up and down and made sure it was good and shut this time, no flying open at awkward moments ever again. I was determined and Everything Was Going To Be Just Fucking Fine.