Allergy by Patricia 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 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 towards 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’s offered. I tell myself, Why not? It’s a party…, but within a half 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 gone nearly four months without one, and I won’t throw it away tonight. I scan the apartment and I feel a whole lot less than all these fashionable hipsters, laughing, drinking, always finding things to say.

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 friend’s 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 the 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. The cats are in here – all three of them! I am horribly allergic to cats and am now surrounded. Almost immediately, I am sneezing, my eyes are burning and my throat is so itchy that I want to shove the hairbrush on my friend’s dresser down my throat just to give it a scratch.

What a nightmare! I have a choice to make: I could head back into the party and risk the drink, the cocaine, the conversation… or I could stay in here with the cats and the wool. Either way, I am trapped, but I choose the latter. It’s a safer, more manageable pain. I toss some pillows onto the floor and lie on top of them. I allow the cats to strut and traipse all over me; there is no stopping them. When party guests come in to collect their coats, I pretend I’m asleep. Before long, I feel myself drifting off. Tomorrow will be a new day.

About The Author

Patty lives in Rhode Island, USA, with her partner and two children. She works as an advisor for recent high school graduates. Her passions include coffee, yoga and writing with humour to describe what were once painful experiences.

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