Allergy by Patty Bamford

I take the subway from Central Park West down to Brooklyn. I’m headed to a party that some old friends from college are having. These are my chic New York friends who unintentionally make me feel like a country bumpkin. My winter coat didn’t look so boxy and my boots didn’t seem that scuffed until I arrived in NYC where style becomes more apparent. But I don’t care. I love the city at Christmas. I walk briskly from the subway toward my friends’ apartment, past the funeral home with the neon sign, past the Kennedy Fried Chicken. I am freezing, but I feel alive. I am in the middle of my first Christmas season without a drink.

I arrive at the party, ruddy cheeked and out of breath. I surprise myself by naturally joining in conversations. I have things to say! I confidently decline cocktails, wine, and beer, but at this point in my recovery, I have not yet put down the weed. I go ahead and smoke what is offered. I tell myself, Why not? It’s a party! But within half an hour, a mental fog rolls in and covers me in silence.

I bow out of the kitchen and look for a place to have a quiet cigarette. An old friend turns to me and says, “I know you’re not drinking anymore, but I don’t know what your deal is with coke. They’re doing it in the bathroom if you want some,” and she walks away. This is a punch in the gut. I know that doing that would surely lead to a drink. I have been nearly 4 months without one, and I won’t throw it away tonight. I scan the apartment and I feel inferior to all these fashionable hipsters, laughing, drinking, always finding things to say to each other.

Then I remember my plan is to sleep here tonight. I have nowhere else to stay, but I am done with this party. I enter my friends’ bedroom where the guests’ coats are strewn across the bed. Closing the door behind me, I collapse face down on top of all the coats, ignoring the fact that many of them are wool which I am allergic to. The skin on my face and hands winces at the scratchy fabric, but I lie still and hear muffled sounds of the party from the other side of the door. I feel safe on the coats, where I don’t have to attempt conversation or beat myself up for having nothing to say. My only concern right now is the increasing irritation of the wool against my skin.

I feel a light pressure on my back, tiny footsteps, and a soft meow. Oh no, the cats are in here! All three of them! I am horribly allergic to cats and am now surrounded by them. Almost immediately, I am sneezing, my eyes are burning, and my throat is so itchy that I want to shove the hairbrush resting on my friend’s dresser down my throat just to give it a scratch.

What a nightmare. I have a choice: I could head back into the party and risk the drink, the cocaine, the conversations, or I could stay in here with the cats and the wool. Either way, I am trapped.

I choose the latter. It’s a more manageable, safer kind of pain. I toss some pillows onto the floor and lie on top of them, allowing the cats to strut and traipse on top of me; there is no stopping them. When party guests come in to collect their coats, I pretend to be asleep. Before too long, I actually do manage to sleep a little. Tomorrow will be a new day.

Patty has worked in education over the past twenty years and has always loved creative writing. She writes with humor to describe what were once painful experiences.