Forty is not really that much different from thirty-nine, really. I didn’t see any new grey or white hairs in the bathroom mirror, my body doesn’t hurt more than it has been for a while and I’m no quicker or slower on my feet or my uptake (as long as I don’t have to try to understand Spanish spoken at 100 km/h)… At least that’s my experience so far.
Tequila! One of the things Mexico is (in-)famous for! Ajajajajajaj! There’s something strangely terrifying about traveling on your own and ordering a drink you know, through way too much experience, causes you to lose control, which is why I hadn’t had any, at least not straight, until this evening. What would happen if I got drunk and couldn’t get myself back to my hotel? There’s no one here who knows where I live or who would take care of me, so I am staying on my toes where alcohol is concerned (though it is strange how much more you can take without feeling the effects in a warm climate compared to at home). But tequila is a part of my birthday celebratory tradition as surely as strawberry birthday cake is part of my official birthday celebration in summer. It all started in 1999, when I turned 28.
1999 was a year of great upheaval for me. Having arrived, as an appendix to then-husband, in Switzerland in November 1998 I was climbing the walls for boredom in the early months of the year. At 27, childless and not very self-disciplined, I had far too much time on my hands and far too little to do with it. Admittedly I did learn a fair bit more German watching the endless soaps on daytime TV, but apart from that I was a ship lost at sea… Until then-husband gave me an ultimatum. Either I was to finish the final paper at university and get my diploma, or I was to look for a job. Switzerland was not then, nor is it now, a part of the EU and considering my modest take on the German language I believed it very unlikely anyone would want to hire me. More as an afterthought I included my ‘Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English’ with my other documentation when I sent out a total of six applications, and I was completely dumbfounded when I started getting calls for interviews. Going back and finishing my essay was then, and is still, out of the question. From what I remember I had three interviews and two job offers in the end. I ended up accepting one, and I never looked back.
As I started working it was as if I awoke from a dream. Somehow the people around me, the environment not only in the office, but in Switzerland and also my own feelings started to come alive. I had loved my then-husband and we had been married for four years, but I found myself questioning the me I was around him. I felt trapped, I felt tied down, and most of all I had the question ‘is this really what I want for the rest of my life?’ echoing in my head. By August I had decided it was not. By November I had finally told him. It was messy, to say the least, but by the time Christmas rolled around and we went back to Sweden to celebrate with our (separate) parents, things were starting to clear up. I had found a wonderful flat I could move into by the end of January, he was going to go back to Sweden by that time and I felt as if I could, somehow, start to breathe again. I will never forget the first night we slept in separate bedrooms… The first time in almost ten years I could go in a room, close the door and just be by myself. I took up writing a diary that same night.
When Christmas started getting closer I was pulled aside at work by a colleague, Madeleine, who had a question for me: Could I possibly cat-sit her flat and cat over the holidays? She was going to South Africa and would be away for two weeks… We had never been close at work or outside of it, so her asking was huge for me. I tearfully accepted, and knowing that I’d come back from Sweden to spend a week and a half on my own made my life soooo much easier. The flights to and from Stockholm had been booked months earlier, but since the separation was to be a fact soon then-husband went to his parents and I to mine. It was lovely! Returning to Switzerland we went our separate ways at the train station, and I settled into Madeleine’s apartment. It was pure bliss (for me)! But then there was the issue of my birthday, falling – as always – between Christmas and New Year’s. I didn’t want to celebrate alone! When I carefully started asking a few colleagues if they wouldn’t mind keeping me company for the evening, I was extremely pleased with the response, and in the end I believe twelve of us descended on the one Mexican restaurant in town that fateful 29 December.
I had had a rough couple of days coming back from Sweden. Then-husband was not well-pleased, work was full-on and I was tired so even as I left work that fateful Thursday I had decided I wasn’t going to have more than two beers that night! I also had to work the next day, so I was definitely not going to have more than two beers that night! By the time I took my seat in the restaurant there was already a carpirinha waiting for me, a birthday drink from one of my friends. I had my dinner and my two beers, and then another birthday drink appeared. And another… Then someone said ‘Do you like tequila?’ and that is what sealed my fate that night. I don’t know if I had ever had tequila before, and if I had, surely not more than one or possibly two. My then-husband had a ‘no more than two glasses of wine if you’re out without me’-rule, but I wasn’t with him anymore. I was free! I had one, then another one appeared before me and I had that… And another one… And – hick – another one… And then the colleague who had supplied me so far (kept pace with me and was driving home) started ordering more for himself and a bartender that he had befriended that evening… Since he was driving (and completely forgetting that he had previously tended bar and owned his own bar in Zürich) I felt it my duty to prevent him from drinking too much, so I kept stealing his. The night is a bit of a blur at that point…
My next memory of the evening is throwing up. Violently, embarrassingly and very much still at the table in the restaurant. By that time it was just me and one friend who had stayed behind to take care of me (though I doubt I realised that then). I was humiliated by my own weakness (throwing up in public is not something you do often – if at all – and definitely not when you are 28 years old!), and even more so when she helped clean up the mess and more or less carried me back to the apartment I. There are vague recollections of her dumping me in the shower, hosing me down and then just a black, twisting spiral of tequila infused madness.
When I woke up the next morning I was not even part human yet. Opening one eye hurt, opening two eyes hurt even more! Raising my head off the pillow was pure pain, but I knew – somehow – that I could not fail to show for work that day or I would be not only in trouble with my boss, but the laughing-stock of the entire company. Slowly, one limb at the time, I managed to get myself out of bed and into the shower. The front door was ajar, so there were a few panicky moments of looking for the cat to see he hadn’t escaped before the torture of a shower, dressing and setting off for work… When I reached into my handbag to get my buss pass I found a business card from the Mexican restaurant we had visited the previous night: ‘Don’t worry about your shirt, we will wash it for you’. Piecing it all together I realised that I must have puked not only over the floor of the restaurant, but also over myself… I was mortified.
Arriving at the office, probably looking more dead than alive, my boss took one look at me and asked if I’d had a rough night? Shamefacedly I nodded my pounding head and asked him to remind me never, ever, again to get into a tequila race with Peter K, the colleague who had supplied me with the shots the night before. My boss smiled and evil smile that should have told me I was a complete idiot, then promised he would go easy on me that day. He never, in my two plus years with him, ever worked me harder than he did that day, and I have since then always had at least one tequila on my birthday. But I have never gotten into a tequila race again, and I don’t ever plan on doing so either!
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