There was a lot going on the week of January 13, 2013.
The project that I had given my life to at work for the past 18 months was going live the following Monday, requiring my staff and I to travel to New York, DC, Boston, and Chicago over a 10 day span to train a few hundred employees on a system we still hadn't tested. My sister - who lived in LA - was about to give birth to my niece and had asked me to be in the delivery room. Her due date - the 11th of January - had come and gone. I was drinking again after abstaining for two months, and was back into my old two-bottle a night routine. I had just met Gabby Bernstein for the first time, and I was on Day 12 of May Cause Miracles. My 34th birthday was that Saturday, the 19th of January.
I had arranged everything perfectly off of my sister's original due date - the child would be born on the 11th, I'd spend a few days in LA with my family, hop back to San Francisco to be with my team by the 15th, celebrate my birthday with a $300 haircut, some spreadsheets, and a bottle of Russian River pinot on the 19th, and I'd be on a plane to the East Coast on the 20th. So when the calls started coming in on the 11th, 12th, and 13th that said "not yet", I started to get panicky.
By the 14th of January, I had no choice but to head down to Los Angeles, where my family was patiently waiting out the arrival of my niece. From the moment I landed I wanted to leave. For me, at this time, it was a nightmare scenario. I had to fit what was normally executed in a 12-hour day from a full-functioning office into 6-hour day at the local Starbucks. I slept on a coach. I didn't have my pot or my cigarettes, and since I'd done that whole sobriety thing and told my family I might be borderline psychotic, I couldn't drink in front of them, either. I felt like an asshole every time one of them asked me when I'd be done working and I said "Never". I felt heartless and sociopathic for not giving more of a shit about what was happening around me. I felt MURDEROUS because no one seemed to understand that I WAS HAVING A BABY, TOO. Only mine had a budget, an 18 month gestational period, and instead of weight gain and bigger boobs, I had bulimia and alcohol addiction.
By the 16th, the situation felt hopeless and I took to driving around Pasadena in my rental SUV to smoke pot out of a broken pipe in between calls. By the 17th, no longer able to hold on to my sanity, I told my family I hated them, went to a Bikram yoga class, picked up two bottles of wine and $40 of McDonalds, rented a hotel room, binged and purged, got drunk, and called my product partner in a sloppy drunken rage-sob. He agreed my life was hard and my family were dicks. I hung up and smoked the resin from the broken pipe.
When the baby still hadn't made it's move on the 18th, we headed to the birthing center to induce. I stopped at a Wenchell's and bought donuts and coffee mugs, and pre-emptively purchased a flight out LA for that evening. I cared nothing at this point about being there for the birth of my niece. I cared only about not being seen as someone who cared nothing about being there for the birth of her niece.
My sister went back with the doctor to discuss her options, and we passed around donuts in the waiting room. When she came back out shortly after, she announced that the baby would be birthed via c-section. They had scheduled it for the next day, the 19th. As my family huddled over the decision, I stepped outside to reschedule my flight to that morning. I stepped back in and explained I could not make it another day, and I did the thing that I will probably never quite get over: I left before my Elia was born.
I screamed three times on the way to LAX, beating my fists against the wheel. I had stopped at a store and bought airline shots of Jameson, and I downed them as I drove. I listened to Spinning by Zero 7 on repeat, which had been the theme song of the week. I sobbed uncontrollably. I wondered if perhaps my flight would crash.
Were you falling through the ground?
I don't remember much of that night back in San Francisco, because I drank it away. I do remember the next day. That my niece was born on my birthday, that I was hungover, that my family wasn't returning my texts. I sent my mom and my sister a few hundred dollars worth of flowers.
As I had so carefully planned, I got my $300 haircut, and because I was feeling especially fucked up, splurged on two bottles of pinot. I decided that because it was my birthday and I'd just won the prize for worst aunt/daughter/sister in the world, that I deserved a huge meal from E&O as well. I stopped in after my haircut and ordered $100 worth of food, careful to ask for four sets of silverware. I drank a double Jameson at the bar. I was less than slightly attracted to the bartender, so naturally I left him my telephone number.
I got home, rolled three joints, poured the wine, took a bath, and got into my favorite pajamas. I carefully laid out the meal on a tray and moved it to my bed, set the open bottle of wine on my nightstand, grabbed the ashtray from the cabinet, queued up some 30 Rock, and I settled in for what I can only describe as heaven on earth for a woman desperate to escape herself.
Three glasses of wine and one joint later, as I sat mindlessly watching TV from my bed, I dropped a piece of Shaking Beef in my mouth, and swallowed it nearly whole. Except, I didn't quite swallow it. I inhaled it. And it got lodged in my throat.
Now, I've spent the better part of my adult life becoming intimately familiar with the gag reflex and the functions of the esophagus. I have consumed whole pieces of many things, and purged them back up with the aid of various instruments - my fingers, forks, toothbrushes, pencils - really anything long and thin. I have many a times choked through these rituals, and I have many a times scooped out the obstructing food without breaking a sweat. No big deal. But this, this was different. This was the kind of choking you see in public service announcements. The beef was not going down, the beef was not coming up, and every cell in my body understood that I would die.
Panicked, I stood up and walked towards the kitchen. I had no idea how to give myself the heimlich with a chair, but I had seen this in the movies throughout my life and decided on this course of action. By the time I got to my kitchen table, I realized I didn't even know how to begin, and I might die trying to figure it out. At this point I was gasping for air. I decided my only hope would be to walk into the hallway and bang on my neighbors doors. I turned and walked towards the entrance, but I didn't make it that far, and I collapsed on the floor in front of my closet door, which was ajar and which has a mirror on it. Sitting on my knees in hero pose, with almost preternatural sense, I began pumping my navel in, like I had the past 10 years in Bikram yoga - kapalbhati breathing, without the breath. Within a few seconds, the meat came up and out, a puddle of red-wine stained saliva and half-chewed beef on the floor in front of me.
It's hard to describe what this moment was like, but I'll try. I was on the floor of my studio apartment. It was my 34th birthday. It was my niece's BIRTH DAY. I was shaking very badly. I was bright red. I was drunk. I was covered in spit. On my knees. Staring at myself in the mirror. I wasn't quite outside of my body looking in. But what I was looking at in the mirror was distinctly separate from myself. As if we were two. Her, the mess. Me, the observer.
Unable to move, I began shaking my head at myself in the mirror. As if to say "what the fuck are you doing?" As if to say "are you really alive?" I remember thinking about the irony of almost dying how Liz Lemon is afraid of dying, while I was watching Liz Lemon, and thinking what a story this will make one day. I remember thinking the horrifying thoughts.
Like, what if I died and never met El? What would they, could they possibly tell her? She was born on her Auntie's birthday, and her Auntie died that day binging on mediocre Asian Fusion?
Like, what if I died in my apartment alone with my cat on my birthday, with red wine stains on my comforter, with purple teeth, with a ball of Shaking Beef in my throat, with 30 Rock reruns on in background, with a bed full of joints and enough food to feed a small family?
Like, how many times had I almost died at my own fucking hands? And how many times did I need to almost die at my own fucking hands before I got my shit together?
As I do - as I always do - I got over the shock quickly. I cleaned up the puddle with a paper towel like I would my cat's vomit. I changed into different pajamas. I washed my face. I threw the food away. I opened the second bottle of wine. I lit the second joint. I skipped to the next episode (literally, figuratively).
In New York a few days later over drinks, I told the story to a friend. In my typical Holly fashion, I presented it as a comedy, a piece of entertainment. I'd told it a few times at this point, I'd perfected the dramatic crescendos, the hand gestures, the punchline. It had gone over well with everyone else, I'd left them laughing. But this friend wasn't having it. He centered himself in front of me, grabbed my hands, stared into my eyes, furrowed his brow, and cleared his throat. "Please tell me you get it. Please tell me you understand."
I laughed. "Of course I get it Jon. God has clearly resorted to scare tactics."