“You’ll have to clean that up. Just looking at it makes me want to be sick.”
I was six or seven and had just vomited on the carpeted staircase…
My mother, though a self-proclaimed feminist, did all the dirty work around the house. The toilet, for example, was often blocked, a foulness close to overflowing, clogged by the particularly noxious effluence of affluence. Worse, no one knew whose feculence was to blame. The toilet was blocked, and it fell on my mother to (gaggingly, snortingly) chop up the giant toilet-clogging turds with a dainty table knife she kept by the base of the toilet for that purpose. It was an old Edwardian house; the politely gulping flush system was ill-suited to cope with the copious evacuations of six gluttonous moderns. I was often the one to bring my poor mother the bad news (“Mu-u-um, the toilet’s blocked again”): she would groan, roll her eyes, roll up her sleeves, seize the dainty table knife and slice the recurring spanner in the works into more digestible pieces, or maybe her culinary instincts set in and she diced it; either way, it vanished into the vast and invisible sewage system that magics guilt and wastefulness away.
My mother was a tough cookie, like a digestive, or even a garibaldi, but she couldn’t cope with vomit. Her pharyngeal reflex kicked in and, survivor that she was, abider that she is, she wanted to vomit up the phantom pathogen. So while she took care of blocked toilets (she should have gone on strike or forced us to do it), I had to clean up the puddle of vomit I had expelled at the top of the staircase (having failed by a couple of seconds to make it to the bathroom). My mother apologetically lingered nearby. Perhaps she dispensed some useful cleaning advice from the sidelines. I don’t remember.
My next memorable vomit occurred when I was 15 (and what a vomitus it was).
Cecilia (I only remember her name thanks to the Simon and Garfunkel song) and I sat outside what everyone called the Salvatorian church but was really St. Joseph’s Church. Built in 1931, it barely registered in my consciousness as I passed it on my daily walk to school. It was sightlier than the surrounding wasteland of Wealdstone, and I appreciated its sturdy symmetry, but I was only too happy to sit on a bench by the entrance one weekday evening and drink a bottle of vodka with Cecilia (she later fell in with a gang of thugs who were said to have pushed a young man under a bus in a racist attack).
Woozy from Cecilia’s finding-its-form beauty, and intoxicated from vodka, I somehow staggered the short distance home at around 10pm and vomited all over the garden path. The next morning, feeling violently hung-over, my mother handed me a just-boiled kettle as soon as I came downstairs.
“You’re cleaning that up,” she said sternly (but with a hint of empathy – she could knock it back herself).
I liked that garden path. It was beautiful. I searched the internet to try and find a comparable example. My search was unsuccessful. But I was reminded of the pleasing elegance of tiled Edwardian paths, which reminded me, by a painfully circuitous route, of how an old friend of mine, whose house had just such a path, reminded me of J, who in turn reminded me of him, in a crisscrossing of paths that has led to this sorry point.
Vilnius is currently constructing a vast network of new paths. They are not beautiful but they do the job of smoothly conveying cyclists, joggers and pedestrians on their individual path to future happiness and self-fulfilment. They conform neatly with the cliché-strewn synaptic pathways that convey those paths.
I was off the beaten path when I crossed paths with a path-breaking path that led me up the garden path.
Personally, I suspected my sister was behind the clogged toilet.
A vaguely noteworthy emesis occurred in New York when I was 17 and still not very good at holding my drink. I was in a bar with a bunch of guys I worked with in a video store in Greenwich Village. After a few beers I began to feel nauseous.
“Excuse me,” I said. “I’m going to the bathroom to vomit.”
“Don’t be so fucking English,” one of them said. “Who apologises when they’re about to throw up?”
(My path had clearly taken me a long way from the boy who couldn’t make it to the bathroom by a couple of seconds.)
My most spectacular disgorgement happened when I was 20. My German friend had come to visit me for a weekend. He had £1,000 with him which he wanted “to blow” in one go. We took a black taxi from Harrow into the centre of London (roughly 20km). We took ecstasy. We went to one bar after another. I remember dizzily sitting down on the kerb of a crowded street and admiring how the lights from shop signs and street lights merged into a swirling aurora.
My temporarily flush friend (he had literally jumped ship a few days into a pleasure cruise he had signed up to work on for six months) suggested we try a bar in Covent Garden. It was a ridiculously trendy joint but my path had undeniably led me there. We entered – it was long and low – and took a stool by the bar. My friend ordered cocktails and chatted excitedly with the French barman; his dream was to write a book about cocktails. It was the multitude of perspectives that induced nausea. The bathroom was mirrored from floor to ceiling and revealed fragmented angles of myself I had never seen. It was too much perspective for my brain to process (I had only recently discharged myself from a psychiatric hospital). I took a sip from the thick sludge of my fourth cocktail, my face probably drained of colour, my eyes a burgeoning blackness, and vomited. I voided over the bar, the barman, a torrent of violent revulsion, a wail of rejection, splattering my friend, provoking mirrored murmurs of shock and disgust from all around that long low place. I wiped the stringy beads of vomit from my face and beat a path to the door.
There is an erotic fetish known as emetophilia in which people take pleasure in vomiting on others or being vomited upon. According to Wikipedia: “Some emetophiles practice the fetish by having their partner vomit from performing deep-throat oral sex. The penis pushed deep into the fellators (sic) throat can trigger their gag reflex and eventually make them vomit. This is becoming an increasingly popular trend in internet pornography for its shock effect and as a form of erotic humiliation or degradation. […] the sequence of “spasm, ejaculation, relief” in vomiting is erotically charged.”
My next eldest brother might have been the one clogging the toilet. He had a spiteful streak to him.
The thought of being sexually aroused by vomiting on people doesn’t shock me. I grew up in a verbally vomitous family. We hurled, spewed and retched words. Language is just another sticky, liquid, noxious bodily emission as far as I’m concerned.
I’d always dreamed that I would find a fellow vomiter and together we would create our very own pleasure-seeking vomitorium. We would share a love so all-encompassingly A–Z, so all in, that the verbalisation of misery and anger and indignation would be taken in the semi-comical spirit of cathartic vomiting. I belatedly realised, to my horror, that this was asking far too much of any rational, vaguely normal human being.
My last notable ejecta (of the gastric variety) happened about four years ago while B was visiting. I had drunk a record amount of beer with my Scottish acquaintance followed by a considerable amount of vodka the next day. When I met B for lunch the day after that I could barely touch my food or take a sip of beer. Nausea came and went in waves; I would feel fine and then run to the toilet only to bring up gasps of air.
As we were walking by the river I finally succumbed to whatever was wrong and vomited so much that I briefly felt like a human fountain. Thankfully the riverside path was empty at that moment but I was painfully conscious that I was in full view of the passers-by on the nearby White Bridge. I felt like a new man for about 20 minutes. Then I felt so bad I had to lie down on the grass in Lukiškės Square.
B puzzled with all her ingenuity over the cause of my mysterious ailment. She was leaning, for many hours, towards food poisoning, but by the time she put me to bed several hours later she had firmly concluded that I was suffering from alcohol poisoning.
“Let that be a lesson to you,” she said sternly (but with a hint of empathy – she knew where my path led).
Paths, a personal history of vomiting, it’s scraping the barrel, I know.
It’s 3°C outside. I will go to Panorama (nemesis of nemeses) to buy avocados. The 5-minute walk there should sufficiently lower my body temperature to prevent me from sweating during the whole 2– 8-minute operation.
I start sweating within 40 seconds of entering the place. I hadn’t factored in how warm it would be inside.
I feel nauseous just thinking about this self-made mess of messes.
I’ll clean it up.