Yeah, you saw inside the country. Inside a hair salon, inside restaurants, inside Balkan bars, cafanas, toilets, and a hospital.
You don’t remember well, naturally, as alcohol poisoning goes. You do recall hugging the toilet bowl, and Manon saying, “I’m going to pour water on you.”
“No… why? Why would you do that to me?”
“…Fuck you!” It wasn’t that you really meant it. It just seemed like the right thing to say after someone soaks you with water.
“We need to leave, Maria. The club is closing.”
“No! I’m not ready yet. Just leave me!” Couldn’t they? Please? Just leave you there in peace, with your toilet?
You were in bits. It was by far the most violent alcohol poisoning of your life, beating out that time you were 16, sleeping in a puddle of vomit outside in rain, and that time when you were 21, after having downed all that absinth and dunking your upper half into the swimming pool. Oh man, this was wretched.
But how did you get to that point? Aren’t you a little older? A little more experienced? Don’t you know any better yet? Honestly, you didn’t feel like you had consumed that much. But you’ve lost much of your affinity for alcohol, and your body, you suppose, is less accustomed to it.
Your host in Sarajevo, Burtint, might have been one of the wealthiest men in Bosnia, and though he dressed and lived modestly, he had no reservations when it came to treating his couch surfers every night. He shuttled you and Manon to bar after bar, bought you drinks or food, and explained the Bosnian culture.
On a Friday night, Butrtint explained that the jaw-dropped scene before your eyes was just a taste of the culture shock awaiting you on Saturday.
Barbie Dolls! Everywhere you looked…
“That’s the thing the Balkans are famous for: beautiful women!” exclaimed Butrint over the deafening music, “It’s like… you can’t not look!”
The women! The bodies! The platinum, flat-ironed hair, pouting lips, sultry eyes, and magnificent breasts.
“Where’s the rest of her outfit?!” you gasped, seeing a young women cross the street. Oh… apparently that was normal. The ratio of women to men was 4:1, and the place reeked of desperation. Women did their utmost to catch the attention of men, and the competition was high.
You were awestruck. “I can’t find one ulgy woman here. Like… nowhere.”
“And they’re all so skinny,” Manon added. “I feel fat here. I am the only woman here drinking a beer.”
That was awkward. You and Manon, in your frumpy, worn-out, filthy travel clothes, hair disheveled, and faces plain and tired.
“I’m not normally an insecure person, but this is ridiculous,” you said, smoothing the folds of your clothing over your ever-expanding beer belly. As an hour passed, you notcied that the bar was bleeding people. “Where did everybody go? Home to hook up?” It was midnight.
Butrint smiled his easy, toothy smile, “They have all moved to the next place, where the scene is livelier.” And so you all followed.
It was an… interesting night–Friday. You’d gone into it tired, unenthusiastic about drinking. You weren’t really having a good time, but the newness of the experience, the scenes before your eyes made it worth the effort of sipping your rakis, maintaining a low level of drunkeness (or tolerance) as you observed. You were, after all, in the company of three outstanding (by comparison), wealthy, tall men, and the women were working for it.
“Oh my god, you’re kidding!” you said, eying a woman perched on a stool, with stockinged legs crossed, tits bursting from her dress, round eyes and cheeks pleading for recognition. She deliberately dropped her hair tie onto the floor and beckoned a man from your party. You stared as her head and breasts swiveled to and fro, as her voluptuous ass wiggled, as her hands fluttered over her cleavage and clavacle. A hyper-sexed Betty Boop.
“The women here are so desperate!” said Manon.
“It’s like… something you see in the movies,” you replied. You grabbed your lighter and casually dropped it on the floor. “Oops! Tee hee hee, can you get that for me?” One of the guys in your party played along, and you giggled and flipped your hair and smooshed your boops together. Butrint got a good laugh.
“Wait until you see tomorrow night! Then you’ll get a real Balkan culture shock!” Butrint said. He’d ordered a bottle of vodka for the table. It was 2am, and you had no interest in drinking more. You were half asleep aldready–you had been the entire night, as you’d walked the city of Sarajevo that day for seven hours, absorbing an atmospher of juxtaposed wealth and extreme poverty, tourism, and local business.
Butrtint: “We’ll probably be out until 7 or 8 in the morning!” He was getting drunker, and his two friends were well primed for the next location. They soaking eyes and smiles radiated the enthusiasm of, let’s go get laid!
“Tell me he’s joking,” you whined to Manon, sinking lower into your seat, in which you were half asleep. “I’m so tired. I’m not cut out for this.” And, you actually had an appointment to get your Rainbow flip flops repaired the next day (you might be the first person to ever pay money to repair a pair of flip flops).
On the one hand, the atmosphere was new and stimulating. On the other, you were in no mood to party (it gets harder and harder to impress you, to will you to drink and stay up late). The environment, and the local behavior was too foreign, the women… too many Barbies there to shimmy before crowds of chauvenists.
Oh man… you remember when you puked your labret piercing into the club’s toilet… “Don’t flush it!” and you fished it out of the chunks of tomato and chevapcici.
“We have to leave now, Maria!”
“No! I’m not ready!” Moving would mean terrible discomfort–agony–nausea, and perhaps spasmodic vomiting.
“I’m going to give you one minute, and there we’re leaving,” Manon insisted.
“Just leave me!” Apparently you’d repeated those three words over and over and over again on Saturday.
But they couldn’t leave you. Poor Manon and a small, rich sonofabitch name Zucker, the millionaire who’d spent the evening dropping ice subes down your bra and filling your glass with vodka. They hefted your whole weight on their frail shoulders and practically carried you out of the place. Your head hung like a wet, filthy washrag, and your feet shuffled lightly over the steps, down which you were carried.
You couldn’t go in the car! What a terrible idea. You were sick as a dog.
“Does someone have a plastic bag?”
Like hell you were going to puke in the car. Those heaves were so violent, only the stability of the ground could support them (two days later, you would feel comprehensive inner-costal soreness, and your left oblique, which was strained months ago, feels like an overly-tightened guitar string).
“D0 you want to go to the hospital?” Butrint’s voice echoed.
No! Goddammit! You hated hospitals. You are always going to the hospital. You weren’t going to die–it only felt that way.
“Come on,” coaxed Manon, “Get in the car.”
How you pleaded for them to “just leave you!” How you wished you could crumple into the fetal position and puke your guts out in peace and solitude. But they wouldn’t leave you on a curb in Sarajevo at 4 in the morning.
In the car, there were two strange women, watching you in awe. You draped your wet, pukey body over Manon and stuffed your face into the plastic bag she held open over her lap. The drive didn’t last long…
“Stop the car! Stop the car!” you cried, urgently. The tossing, the wavering, the boiling of your guts… the plastic bag was nothing. Manon’s support was nothing.
The car pulled to a stop. Zucker opened the door. You launched yourself out of the vehicle onto the pavement, braced your palms against the ground as though you were trying to push it down to China, and you vomited. Splash! The chunks sprayed over your forearms. Manon and Zucker had you by the armpits, and you struggled. All you wanted was to hold the earth, and they seemed to be trying to keep you from it. “Let me go!”
Back into the car. Back into the plastic bag.
Two minutes later, you were shrieking, “Stop! Stop the car!”
And again, you crashed onto the ground, scrambled into your puking position, and let her rip.
…only this time, there was nothing. Bile. You’d hit rock bottom. But your body wasn’t convinced, and you began culvulsing, hyperventilating… gasping for air between uncontrolled expulsions of it. Manon held you firmly.
“Shit, this is really bad,” she said.
It really was.
“Should she go to the hospital?”
“I don’t have health insurance!” you exlaimed, sagging sideways, sucking air. Such an American…
Someone laughed. “This is Bosnia. First aid is free. You don’t need health insurance.”
“Maria,” said another voice. “Have you ever been this sick before?”
Are you kidding? You couldn’t even catch you breath, and it felt like your ribs were cracking from the effort. “Never… this… bad…” A hell of an admission, you must say, given your impressive history with alcohol abuse. You weren’t frightened. Not really. Maybe you should have been, but you’d had enough experience to know the ins and outs of alcohol toxicity.
But you accepted the plan for the hospital, because in the past years, between your septic infection and pneumonia, you have learned to say yes to medical care.
They put you back in the car, and just a few minutes later, you arrived at the hospital. For the third time, you made a leap of faith from the vehicle to the pavement and heaved and convulsed in a futile, noisy effort to eliminate the poison in your bloodstream. Screaming, heaving–like someone was skinning a cat.
Hahha… that was Saturday night. The night of the culture shock. But which culture was shocked? Butrint, on Friday, had seen yours and Manon’s reaction to the Balkan women in the bars. Saturday, he’d promised more. He’d introduced you to the richest man in Bosnia, who bought you 5 rakis without a word, content to do favors, as he owned half of the country. Your party later arrived at the crowded Hotel Bosnia 1, where you obtained a table simply by knowing the right people. The women were dressed up to the 9’s, and your eyes followed on the hypnotic movements of their hips. Everyone was a Balkan Shakira. You and Manon felt awkward and sorry for yourselves. These women were in cocktail dresses. You, in jeans that sagged and bunched at the hips, hiking boots, and a dirty workout shirt.
“Are you going to dance?” Butrint had asked, hours into the evening.
What the fuck. Why not? You had nothing to lose. And Zucker, after all, was dropping ice down your shirt to motivate you past your fatigue, stinging eyes, and pounding head. The room was hot and embraced by a thick cloud of cigarette smoke, which you suspect replaced all the oxygen.
You not only did a little of the hip shimmying next to your table, you were ballzy enough to march right up to the dance floor and break it down. Manon was drunk enough to join. The Bosnian women didn’t dare.
“Zucker said he is impressed by how quickly the two of you girls learned to dance Balkan style. He says you are putting these other women to shame.”
Shame… who was ashamed? In classic Maria Stevens style, you proceeded to make a complete ass of yourself, running from table to table, introducting yourself to the women as an American who wanted girls to dance on the floor with her. All of them declined, or promised to do so in a few minutes. They were too fearful. Too embarrassed. That wasn’t how things were done. Women were meant to wiggle safely in the proximity of their tables, but wouldn’t dare dance in front of the entire room. You were having a blast, pushing their limits.
Until you reached yours. You didn’t know it at the time. How drunk you were… hadn’t you only had eight drinks? Not the 17 or 18 it would have taken to render you so ill? You’d been so tired going into the night, just as you had been this night before. So tired, and the smoke in the room didn’t help.
It had been Zucker’s ice cubes the spurred you into action.
And now, there you were at the hospital. After you’d dove to the pavement for the third time: “No, no, Maria. Come inside the hospital. You’re so close.”
“…just get her onto that table.”
Fade in. A tiny, elevated cot.
Crash. Black out.
“…the other way…”
Like stop animation. Blink. Blink. You rolled onto your stomach, onto your other side.
Prick. A nice, welcome poke into your arm. Stick you! You love needles.
“…don’t roll like that. You have an IV in your arm.”
A minute later, bam, you were asleep for an hour. The bag emptied into your body, elevated your blood sugar, nourished you, saved you from a 72-hour hangover. They got you home, somehow, and good old Manon stripped your shoes, socks, and pants off you and put you to bed.
You can’t say you’re embarassed. Not really. Butrint and Manon have both been in that situation. Needless to say, with your waning enthusiasm for alcohol, the event gave you a great excuse to quit drinking.