We're very pleased with the winning stories. They are such different stories --- a dating disaster, a travelogue to a surreal land, a travel nightmare, and a mini trauma memoir. We've posted each here with an explanation of what we liked about them.
This winning entry from Celene Carillo stood out for many reasons — the hook at the beginning, the pace of the storytelling, the self-deprecating humor, the kicker we didn’t see coming. It’s one of those stories that invites the reader for a fun ride that finishes before you feel like you’ve had enough. We’re satisfied but want to hear more about this writer’s adventures in dating. Thanks so much, Celene, for sharing this entertaining tale of woe.
In the House of Vomiting and Despair
By Celene Carillo
It started with the e-mail.
I read it and felt like I’d been punched hard in the stomach.
Sure, two months isn’t a long time to be dating someone, but things were intense. For example, a few years ago I used to dream about a man who built a blacksmithing shop in his yard. I loved this man. I wanted to find this man. So you can imagine how it felt when Mr. e-mail told me he’d built one in his yard just before my dreams started. They even looked alike – these two men – taller, lithe versions of Jon Stewart, and for a while I thought hotter versions of Jon Stewart, which I now believe is impossible in reality.
But I’m wandering. It started with the e-mail, and by “it” I mean the vomiting.
It didn’t happen right away, which is something of a surprise, since immediately after reading the e-mail I stood, faced my friend Jenny and her husband, David, who had both been reading over my shoulder, and said, “I am going to vomit.”
I said it over and over that day and largely thought it was true. The e-mail was like a scourge that had found its way from Oregon, where I live, to North Carolina, where I was visiting my best friend and her family. Perhaps learning a little more about it will help explain why. Here’s an excerpt, paraphrased:
"I like being with you. You make me laugh. But for various reasons I do not
understand I hold people at arm’s length. It might be past relationship baggage or
poor organizational skills. I need to figure out which. I guess what I am looking
for at this point is to find people who are interesting, kind, comfortable and are up
for an activity now and again. I would still like to meet up to play backgammon,
or watch a movie, with no other obligations but enjoying that time."
These were not entirely in keeping with my man friend’s prior behavior, which had included, among other things, pursuing me; bringing blueberries and red wine to an outdoor performance of Shakespeare we saw; claiming full credit for making the first move; being my date at a good friend’s wedding; shooting me that goofy, misty-eyed, “I want to sleep with you” look when I’d go off on topics like plate tectonics or the lottery; and, as it follows, sleeping with me.
It made no sense that this fit, seemingly virile 36-year-old man could suddenly go so Mr. Rogers on me.
Jenny and I spent the evening mocking the e-mail. “Would you like to play mah-jongg?” she asked. “No,” I said. “I am too busy participating in a Parcheesi tournament at the assisted living center. But let’s meet up for water aerobics next week. That’s an activity I enjoy.”
It felt good to laugh at him, at his sudden, panicked retreat. It felt good to toss words around like, “eunuch,” “flaccid” and “emasculate.”
We’d pay for that.
The next day I read my weekly horoscope. It was about purification, and included an anecdote about how an addled Robert Downey Jr. once purged himself of drugs by eating so much Burger King he vomited.
Now, say what you want about horoscopes – go ahead, I understand – but later that night Jenny threw up spectacularly in one brief but powerful episode. She woke up the next morning feeling like she’d been steamrolled. We made no connection to the e-mail, or even the horoscope, and instead put the incident down to old rice.
But it wasn’t the rice.
Two days later the shit hit the fan. Jenny had more or less recovered, and it was supposed to be my last day there. Almost as soon as David left for work, their 15-month-old son puked on Jenny’s shoulder. Then he puked on the bed. We put the incident down to the fact that babies throw up all the time. But an hour later their three-year-old vomited in the bathroom.
As if on cue my stomach started hurting. I was convinced it was autosuggestion. I had just eaten a large portion of tuna salad. This could not happen to me. I had to go work on Monday and hear the results of my Myers-Briggs personality assessment, the thought of which unsettled me somewhat less than my gut at that moment. I had to go and deal with the shambles of a relationship.
Trying to pack proved to be fruitless when I realized I was not packing at all, but instead curled into a fetal ball on top of a pile of my clothes and breaking into cold sweat.
Then the tuna salad came back.
And so, it seemed, did everything else I’d eaten in the past several months. I hurled so hard and so many times I thought I’d lose vital organs. I scared the children. Jenny called David at work to tell him most of the house was vomiting. He felt nauseous the moment he hung up. He managed to drive home before throwing up in the bathroom – it’s the only one in the house, so we carried buckets around that night due to the demands placed on the toilet.
Traveling was impossible. My low point came when I was on the phone with a representative from Northwest Airlines, delirious as another case of the sweats was coming on. “I was calling…I have to make a flight change…to see if you have any waivers…very ill…in the morning can’t fly my stomach…can you please hang on one moment,” I said, and turned to my bucket and vomited in a manner I can only describe as theatrical. When I picked up the phone again I had been put on hold.
Throughout this I experienced ebbs and flows of clarity and cognizance. I remembered what I said about vomiting earlier in the week. I remembered my horoscope. I remembered that goddamn e-mail. Something about it seemed dodgy, like a Ponzi scheme, or like milk left out in the sun.
The only advantage to the virulence was its brevity. When it was over the next day I felt like I had been steamrolled. Jenny and I concurred that the e-mail’s monumental crappiness had somehow invited bad juju into the house. We cannot, of course, prove this, but we don’t feel like we have to. Everything fell into place too neatly – or rather, not neatly at all, but you get my drift.
But we never did stop mocking the e-mail. And neither did any of the other people I forwarded it to, which numbers somewhere in the dozens.
This man and I live in a small town. The first time I saw him after the e-mail he froze for a good 10 seconds before bolting like a prey animal. I imagine this will become par for the course. But maybe I can put it down to his being late for something. Like a game of shuffleboard. Or canasta.