This time last year I was at a friend’s birthday party in Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka, and I fell down a well.
After a year which had gone from (sort of) best to (sort of) worst (examined, in part, here) I accepted a friend’s invitation to attend his birthday party – a generous invitation as he easily could have overlooked me, inviting only the boys from the village, guys he’d grown up with and knew he had to continue to live with, through thick and thin. Nevertheless I was included, and I’m very grateful I was.
Sensitively, the man I had been dating, who had made his exit a couple of weeks previously, came to see me earlier that day and noted that I’d been invited to the gathering. We talked about it and discussed the fact we’d both be there.
I went along with a small swathe of female friends: Mary, Amanda, Lien, for some reason I don’t remember whether Ira, Anna, or Anne were there but all the boys were and it was hosted at Jacko’s place – the house in the village where the guys all gathered in the ‘off-season’ (so I was told).
There was food and there was drink. At the time I had really stopped bothering with food – which felt like altogether too much hassle in the position I was in (see a fraction of an account of that here) – and so I took the drink. And then more drink. Rum initially. I don’t know what else after that. Probably Arak. And more Arak.
It’s interesting isn’t it? I felt intensely awkward about the gathering given that my most recent ex was there, that everyone around knew the story – probably better than I did at that time or ever will – and that I somehow had to get on and appear to be myself and enjoying my evening.
That was certainly one reason I threw caution to the wind and drank as much as I was offered – which in that context was always a lot; this crew is incredibly generous with any kind of party magic they have to share (one of the many reasons I loved them all so, and will always love them all so).
So I was drunk, super drunk. Music blurring into faces drunk. The music was good. The faces were those of loved ones. It was a happier blur than the awkward awareness I’d begun the evening with. Blissful oblivion, or so I’d thought.
At a certain point of semi-comprehensibility, I declared to Amanda – my teetotal friend – that it must be quite annoying to be around drunk people (a truth I have become reacquainted with in the last year of not drinking anything alcoholic at all, largely attributable to this incident with the well), and she very good-humouredly agreed.
At some point in the evening I’d positioned myself half-sitting, half-leaning (and I’m sure increasingly slumping) on the lip of the well in Jacko’s garden. As many wells in this village seem to have, this well had a net thrown over the top. I don’t know whether I’d imagined it secured, a kind of safety net, or not – I don’t think I’d thought about it at all.
The ex asked me for a light. Only those present in my life at the time would have understood just how desperate I was to please this gorgeous human. The ex was on the other side of the well from where I was. I leaned over with the light. I didn’t pass it. I didn’t throw it. (In this town, if you lost hold of your lighter, you’d lost your lighter for good.) I struck the flint, ignited the spark and lent over the well.
And before I knew it, I was looking up at the party from the darkness.