Laughing in the bushes
by Sarah Rose Cadorette
“So now it’s a CRIME to get DRUNK at your friend’s wedding?” I wanted to be sure this “public servant” knew I found this whole thing to be utter horse shit. He wheeled me through the hallways calmly, taking corners at an easy pace.
“No, Sarah, it’s not a crime,” he replied. “And you’re not at a police station. No one is arresting you. This is a hospital.”
“Oh, so NO ONE has ever gotten DRUNK at a WEDDING before?” I asked, flinging my arms out to indicate that I was a very, very big presence.
The EMT sighed, pushed the stretcher up against a wall, and came around to face me. “Do you know why we picked you up, Sarah? Hmm?” I shook my head defiantly. “You were laughing in the bushes.”
The bushes, I will admit, were lost to an abyss known only to astrophysicists studying dark matter and blackout-drunk wedding guests. What I did remember about Alejandro’s wedding was uncomfortably clear, up until … the incident.
I remember taking the F train all the way to the end, to Jamaica/179th St station, which was somehow still a merciless forty-five-minute bus ride and twenty-minute walk from the wedding venue, the oldest working farm in Queens. Though if you were to look it up, as I did just now to verify that it was, in fact, a working farm and not just the scene for some old-money-millionaire’s farmhand fetish to unfurl (“You know what the riding crop is for, Reginald!”), you would see that it appears as though the boundaries of New York City were literally redrawn to include this ill-begotten tract of Hell that takes one girl in a neon orange dress and flowery wedge heels almost three hours to reach, even though she started off from the same goddamned borough.
But since it was a warm evening, I took my sweet time walking from the bus stop, past families barbecuing in their backyards while kids splashed in inflatable pools and the parents stared at the traffic cone on heels waltzing past their lawns. I wasn’t too much in a hurry to get to this event, anyway. Alejandro and I had met in college and were close friends, but had majored in different fields and ran in distinct circles. Our mutual friend, who was supposed to be my date, had backed out last-minute, and I could not name a single person off the top of my head who I knew would be there. Well, we went to the same college, I must know somebody.
Nope. No one. Absolutely zero. It was comical how little connection I had to any of these people. Did I even recognize their faces? Nyet. Folding chairs lined the lawn next to a large, extraordinarily well-kept barn, and I took a seat at the back—far, far back—so no one would have to sit next to me and awkwardly ask how I know the bride and groom. Is she even friends with anyone here? A weird cousin? Maybe she’s…an ex? Let them think I’m some jilted girlfriend come to stand up at a time when no one asked for it and say, “I OBJECT!” At least then they won’t ask questions.
Thankfully, the wedding procession started, and Alejandro emerged from the barn confidently but with a crazed smile on his face, trying to make eye contact with both everyone and no one. I had unintentionally taken the seat in direct eye line of the doorway, and as Alejandro noticed me, I gave him two thumbs up. He chuckled, gave me a thumbs up, and continued walking, his eyes on the altar as seven—yes, seven—groomsmen followed in measured steps. Alejandro looked like the coked-out cult leader at the helm of a family he forgot he had. I guess that’s what love does to you.
Sylvia soon followed, looking poised and regal as seven bridesmaids trailed behind her. As the officiant began speaking about the importance of love and gratitude for Christ’s blessings, I scanned the gathered loved ones again, amazed that I knew not one human soul outside of—
Oh, wait. I know that motherfucker.
Yes, the single goddamned person I knew at this wedding besides the bride and groom was standing right in front of me, the sixth of Alejandro’s grooms-in-waiting, the revolting idiot who had once tried to rape one of my friends, only to be foiled by his own blood alcohol level. Everyone thought he was just a doofy drunk who had once stolen a taxi cab and drove it straight into a light pole—you know, college stuff!—but he was really a fucking creep.
There was no way Alejandro knew, I was sure, that one of his groomsmen had once attempted sexual assault. I couldn’t imagine Alejandro, who was the only man allowed on our five-woman “girls’ trip” to New Mexico, would count an assailant among his friends, let alone his wedding party, and as much as I wanted to stand up and scream, “I OBJECT!” (I knew that woman was trouble, Great Aunt Tildy would murmur), Alejandro’s wedding seemed like perhaps the wrong time to inform him of his friend’s crime. The only real option that seemed available to me was the godsend Alejandro had worked into his wedding: the open bar.
After a stream of young, attractive pastors finished delivering their sermons on the importance of including Jesus in your marriage (a much more polygamous ceremony than I was expecting), I sprang up and made a beeline for the door of the barn where, much to my relief, a champagne flute crowned every seat. I plucked one from a line of white-clothed chairs, and watched as convivial party-goers in twos and threes ambled into the barn. It’s okay, I thought, I’ll just walk confidently through the crowd, over and over, drinking champagne until I don’t recall what a pathetic thing it is I’m doing. I started my stride past the dinner tables, to the door on the opposite side of the barn (and then I’ll stare at the “farm” outside before circling back around the other way, yes, foolproof), when a wedding guest stopped me.
“I think the champagne is supposed to wait until the toast,” she said, smiling.
“Oh.” I stared at the flute in my hand, held up confidently like I was already making a toast to all of my hundreds of friends who had come to see me at Alejandro’s wedding.
“Don’t worry about it,” she winked. “The bar’s already open and like, no one is taking advantage of it. You can just go up and order another one.”
“Great idea!” I said, sincerely, and followed her to the bar. She was one of Alejandro and Sylvia’s friends from church, she told me. “So, let me ask you something,” I said, emboldened by my second glass of champagne, “how many people here are from your church?”
She looked around. “Well, the pastors, obviously…and then there’s that group…I guess most people. Not everyone, though,” she added quickly. I nodded. I considered trying to have an actual conversation with this woman, who had gone out of her way to show me kindness, but the only conversation I could imagine unfolding went like this:
NICE WOMAN: So, how do you know Alejandro?
ME: Oh, I used to make fun of his shortcomings and give him advice on porn.
NICE WOMAN: Uh, well, that’s very interesting…
ME: Yeah, I love the guy, but the first time he ever got drunk he just rambled on about Bill Nye the Science Guy for like, a full 45 minutes. What a doof. But, everyone’s got a fetish, right?
NICE WOMAN: [Looks stage left, as if searching for another person] Um…
ME: Nah, I’m just kidding. Anyway, what kind of Jesus are you into—the one who banged Mary Magdalene, or the one who loved tax collectors?
NICE WOMAN: Well, I—
ME: Sorry, I’m sorry, that was a weird question. Do you like drag queens? Because I just feel like New York is due for a prominent drag queen politician.
It seemed safer for everyone if I just dashed out now. Besides, that path around the barn wasn’t going to weave itself. I excused myself, and tried to walk like I had somewhere to be.
My social anxiety, something I thought I had overcome a long, long time ago and that had no chance of resurfacing just because I was dateless, was returning now with a roar, all because of this asshole. I had considered drinking only a little at first—after all, I did have a goddamned triathlon to complete just to get home—but now my options seemed to be: start sobering up now and face hours of uncomfortable social interactions, permeated by the fear that I’ll burst at some point and shout, “HE’S A FUCKING RAPIST!”, or get so drunk I won’t remember any of those things if they do happen. I made the only sane decision.
The next two or three hours were, according to my memory as well as Facebook’s, full of joyous, raucous dancing, wholesome lawn games, and surprisingly little drama for how much whiskey the bridesmaids had snuck into the venue, which is also the last thing I remember drinking. A very kind couple, finding me three drinks in and capable of holding a normal conversation, befriended me at one point, which all but erased my social anxiety and should have been a perfectly good reason to moderate. But, they had also befriended the bridesmaid responsible for the handle of Jim Beam. We declared ourselves to be BEST FRIENDS! who were going to head into Brooklyn and go DANCING! RIGHT! NOW!
I suppose, being as broke as a twenty-something with an hourly temp job can be in New York City, I had decided to meet them at the club by traveling on public transportation, back the way I’d come. “See you in three days!” I can only imagine I said as they drove away in an Uber, the fare for which I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t afford. Really all I know is that I somehow ended up sitting on the curb, staring up at an EMT who was asking me to get into an ambulance, shaking my head vigorously and saying, “Noooooooope.”
And yet my next memory is being on a stretcher at the hospital, glaring up at the EMT and saying, “I know my rights! You can’t keep me here.” He looked to be about thirty years old and very handsome, with a close-cropped haircut and kind brown eyes. But I knew better, and I could see this wolf through his attractive sheep’s clothing.
“Sarah, you should try to sleep,” he said.
“And you should try to let me go.”
He sighed. “Just stay here, okay? I’m going to go check you in at the nurses’ station.”
I nodded, and waited until he had disappeared around the corner before slipping my feet over the side of the stretcher, standing up, and walking confidently in the other direction.
I felt fine. Sure, my vision seemed a bit blurrier than usual, but I could still see the nurse up ahead, and could still veer to the hallway off my left, striding in my wedge heels, when she asked me if I needed help.
“No, I’m fine,” I said, smiling and waving my hand in a way that I felt made me look very well-traveled and magnanimous. “Thank you, though.”
There were two enormous double-doors underneath an illuminated EXIT sign, and I tried pushing one open to no avail. I tried the second door. They must be locked. But having told the nurse I was fine, I was determined to seem so. I turned around and kept walking right past her, as though she couldn’t see me. Her eyes followed. “Are you sure you’re okay?” she asked.
“Yep, I just forgot where the exit is,” I said over my shoulder, as though I came here all the time. I was an off-duty nurse, for all she knew!
“Sarah.” Ah fuck. I turned around. Hot EMT was standing with his hands on his hips. “Where are you going?”
“Home,” I said, then turned around and kept walking. He caught up pretty quickly, and lightly grabbed my forearm.
“Sarah, let’s go back to the stretcher,” he said.
“Why?” I whined, slumping back towards the bed.
“Because you need to rest,” he said. Sure, it seemed reasonable, if you didn’t care about your rights. This man was forcing me, against my will, to stay in this hospital. It seemed the only way out…was to outsmart him.
“Okay,” I said, defeat dripping from my voice as I climbed back up onto the stretcher. I thought it sounded sincere, but Hot EMT was unconvinced.
“I’m just going to wheel you up next to the nurses’ station, so they can keep an eye on you,” he said, steering the stretcher around the corner. I waited patiently for him to leave again, but after speaking in low tones to a nurse seated at the desk—which was right next to big glass doors that lead to the outside!—he returned.
“Can I see your ID so I can put you in the system?”
“No.” Yeah right, and let you and every other bro with a badge have access to my medical history? I don’t think so, pal.
“Sarah,” he said, hand outstretched, “I just need to record that you were here.” I shook my head fervently. “How’s this,” he tried, “if you give me your ID, I promise I won’t put your name in the computer. I’ll give you a fake name, I just need to check you in. Okay?”
I glared at him and pouted. “Fine,” I said, reaching into my lemon-yellow purse—how I kept that with me the entire night is a mystery—and pulling out my driver’s license. He gave it to the nurse, and a few minutes later, showed me the wristband.
“See?” he said, “It’s fake.”
LONG ISLAND JEWISH, GREECE was typed across the pale blue plastic. This is how I came to understand that the hospital graced with my presence was Long Island Jewish Medical Center, so my “last name” made sense. As for my “first name,” I can only conclude that the nurse was making a dark joke about how similar I was to the Mediterranean nation’s economy: despite our best efforts, forces beyond our control would not let us bail ourselves out.
I somehow believed that Hot EMT and the nurse had not recorded my real name anywhere, and that I would never see the bill for the ambulance ride and hospital stay that was easily two months’ salary. I was satisfied, and so was Hot EMT.
“Just get some rest, okay? I’ll see you later,” he said, and vanished into the labyrinthine halls of the hospital.
I was glad to be rid of him. This nurse didn’t know me, didn’t know what I was capable of. I could lay in wait, and as soon as she got up to administer an IV, swoosh—“There she goes!” the other hospital patrons would say, “The Great Citrus Wonder, on a roll out the door!”
Sure enough, the nurse vacated her post a few minutes later, and I pounced on the opportunity. I leapt off the stretcher, pushed open the door (finally, a door in this goddamned hospital that actually opened!) and marched out as quickly as my deeply dehydrated legs would carry me.
Ah, the night air! No more glorious feeling than vindication and mid-summer pollen caressing my—
“Sarah!” The hell! “Sarah, please come back inside,” said the nurse, very gently, as she ran up beside me. It was foolish of me to think Hot EMT hadn’t told her about my, uh, robust determination and go-getter attitude.
I threw my head back and let out an exasperated groan. I think I may have (though my memory has done me the favor of attempting to drown this moment in darkness multiple times) even stomped one of my feet, in a full-on temper tantrum.
“But I want to go home!” I whined.
“You can go home in the morning,” she said, “but right now you need to rest.
“Why?” I asked. “I feel fine!” I was lucid, I could walk (in heels!), and what’s more, I knew I had the right to check myself out of the hospital. Despite my childish histrionics, at the core of my actions was the knowledge that I should have been able to leave.
The nurse turned me around, and it wasn’t until my way back into the hospital that I realized we had been at the Emergency Room entrance this whole time. I uneasily lay back down on my stretcher, and tried to take surreptitious glances at the bed closest to me, tucked just inside the entrance across from the nurses’ station. Though the curtains were drawn around the bed, I could see a woman sitting in a chair at the foot, holding the left hand of the obscured patient. She looked to be middle-aged and extremely worried. The patient began coughing, an anachronistic, phlegmatic cough, something brought on by consumption or black lung. The middle-aged woman gasped, and then said something reassuring. But the first cough started off a round of progressively worse coughs, like a string of firecrackers.
This is ridiculous, I thought, and got up to tell the nurse so.
“Hi,” I said, trying my best to look friendly, but stern.
The nurse didn’t look up from her computer. “Yes?”
“This is an emergency room, right?” I asked.
“Yes,” she responded, still not looking my way.
“And that woman over there, she is an emergency,” I said. The nurse nodded. “No, I mean, she’s sick, like really sick.”
“Yes, she is,” agreed the nurse.
“I’m not sick,” I reasoned. “So you should just let me go. That woman needs your help, not me, and it’s a waste of resources to keep me here when you should be helping her.” There was no denying that logic. Bulletproof. “Wow!” I imagined her saying, “You’re right. For your relentless rationality and incorrigible charm in the face of institutionalized ineptitude, you have won the right to leave. Thank you so much for your heroism.”
Instead, she gazed up at me evenly. “We can take care of both of you. Now please, lay back down.”
“But,” I tried, “it’s a waste of time!” She didn’t respond. I huffed, then lay down on the stretcher.
Alright, time to regroup. Apparently hospitals in God-knows-where, New York had resources to burn, and could waste them on babysitting perfectly sober adults. I’d need to provide another rational argument …
A few minutes later, I was back at the nurses’ station, shoving my phone in front of her computer screen.
“I have the number for a cab company already dialed. If I can Google and call a cab, then you have to let me leave.” Could a drunk person make a phone call, let alone one they might regret later?
“Listen, Sarah,” she said, “if you can call a friend to come pick you up, I can let you leave. Otherwise, just sleep here, and you’ll be good to go in the morning.”
Call a friend? This was going to prove difficult: It was nearly three a.m. at this point, and everyone I knew lived in Brooklyn. I didn’t know where I was at the moment, but if I was truly on Long Island, then so help me god, no one was coming to save me.
“I…don’t have any friends,” I replied.
The nurse furrowed her brow. “You don’t have any friends?”
The way she said it, with such profound pity, made me feel like it would be devastating to be a young woman with sparkles all over her face and no one to extract her from the authoritarian clutches of the Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Plus, if I didn’t know anyone, she’d have to let me take a cab. I started sobbing. “No—I—just—moved—here—and—don’t—know—any—one—and—”
“Okay, Sarah, okay,” she said, “let’s breathe, and lay down here, okay? That’s good. Now, go to sleep, and in the morning you can head out.”
Shit. “Oh, well, there is one friend,” I said, gulping noisily.
“Okay, you try them,” she said over her shoulder as she walked away.
I quickly dialed Andrew, one of my closest friends since high school who was attending law school at NYU. This summer, he was interning at a major corporate law firm, and it seemed most of their “team-building” activities were meant to disqualify them from ever becoming liver donors. If he picked up at this hour, he would be very, very drunk.
Sure enough, he sounded like he was surrounded by circus ringleaders, and was nearly screaming into the phone: “Hello?”
“Where are you right now?” I asked.
“Uh, some like, immersive version of Alice in Wonderland. Why?”
I snorted. “Of course you are. Hey, can you pick me up from the hospital?”
Andrew was quiet for a moment. “The hospital?” he asked, his voice strung with more worry than I had anticipated.
“Yeah, but I’m fine,” I said. “It’s just a goddamned crime to get drunk these days.”
Andrew chortled. “Wait, you went to the hospital for being drunk? What are you, a frat boy?”
“Shut up, dude,” I said, though I was smiling like I had just sunk a shot in beer pong. “They won’t let me leave on my own because they’re fascists, but apparently I can leave if a friend comes to pick me up. So can you come get me, or what?” I asked.
“Uh, yeah, let me get a cab,” he said. “Which hospital are you at?”
“Long Island Jewish Medical Center.”
“How the fuck did you end up on Long Island?”
“I don’t think I did,” I said. “I’ll pay for the cab?”
Andrew sighed. “Alright, let me just leave this place…somehow. I’ll be right there.”
“Thank you!” I said. “By the way, when you get here, I’m in the E.R.”
“Oh, chill out, Andrew.”
From his version of events, Andrew took a cab for nearly an hour to get to the hospital, where the nurse checked that a cab was indeed waiting outside since he reeked of alcohol, then allowed him to wake me up—though in my memory I had closed my eyes for only a moment—before I was finally released.
“Oh my God, thank you so much dude,” I said, settling into the backseat of the cab. “You seriously saved me, that place was awful.”
“What happened?” Andrew asked.
The next morning, lying face-down on the couch, I was on my phone when I realized my Notes were open, an app I rarely used. I pressed it, and a message popped up, written at nearly 2 am the night before, with a string of numbers and what looked like a last name.
“What the…” I murmured to myself, and then suddenly remembered: Lying on the stretcher, looking up at Hot EMT who had asked me to lay down and not try to escape for possibly the fourth time that night.
Fuck you, I thought. This is an abuse of power, and I’m taking down your badge number. This was something I’d seen a friend do at a march, when a police officer started running into the heels of peaceful protesters with his motorcycle. Being robbed of my bodily autonomy because I was inebriated was, in my mind, just as grievous an action, and demanded the same accountability. I kept the name and badge number saved in my phone, wavering on what, if anything, I should do with the information.
About a year later, I started Googling the Hot EMT’s info, hoping to find a phone number, or maybe an address. But after several versions of the search turned up nothing, I reluctantly deleted the note from my phone. I never got to send him this card:
Dear Hot EMT,
I now know, after taking a course with several EMTs, that being unconscious is “implied consent” for someone to be treated. While I think this is kinda fucked up—someone who regains consciousness should have some autonomy—I can also see when it may be necessary to provide medical care to a passed-out drunk. Plus, there’s a possibility I would have been eaten by the neighborhood children had I slept in the bushes overnight.
Anyway, I know you chose a profession where you see a lot of trauma, presumably because you want to help people. I’m sorry for making your life harder; I was pissed at the patriarchy.
Thanks, and let’s hope we never meet again,
Sarah Rose Cadorette
Sarah Rose Cadorette is a nonfiction writer, whose essays have appeared in such publications as Meridian and The Massachusetts Review, and won second place in both The Southampton Review’s Frank McCourt Memoir Prize, and Blood Orange Review’s Inaugural Literary Contest in Nonfiction. She is currently working on publishing a book of essays that examine how humans seek power and control in even the silliest situations. Find her on Twitter: @mizzconnections
— Jacob Collins-Wilson
“We parked in front and I heard the music, felt the bass and my dad got out and told me and my mom to wait and I knew those kids were in trouble because that music was too loud and they better hope there aren’t any cuss words because my dad barged in when I was taking a shower and took my Slipknot CD because it cussed.”