Late last night I posted a picture of myself to a social media account. Not the most flattering picture, and a particularly ridiculous one: I’m standing in front of my bathroom mirror, phone clearly visible in my hand, and staring off at—what? The shower curtain? The radiator?—with a deliberately distracted air and the Flemish-Madonna mirror-face that my family has always mocked. Why, I didn’t see you there with the camera in your own hand! it seems to say.
I’d taken this photo because I wanted to send a friend a picture of my garment: a mod, nubbly green tweed coat—or maybe it’s a dress—from the early sixties, with a swing cut and two large pockets in the front. It zips up the back. The high neck chafes after a few minutes, and it takes all my flexibility to manage both the zipper and the buttoned half-belt (also in back). Ever since I bought the coat-dress in a California thrift shop, I’d been saving it for just such an occasion: a fashion event, where I needed something bizarre enough to make it look as though I know what I’m about.
Here is how I captioned the picture when I posted it online hours after having taken it: “HAHAHA within thirty minutes you will get food poisoning and vomit off the side of the West Side Highway near the Hustler Club and you don’t even know it!!”
All of which was true—things went downhill very soon after I took that photo, though I had been feeling a little off-color at the time. Already the memory of the lunch I’d eaten (mystery meat, hummus, some sort of dubious sauce) was starting to sit uneasily. I decided to turn around en route to the event; I’d thought taking a car might shorten the trip home. In the event, though, we hit very bad traffic, and with every start and stop my stomach began to rebel more. I asked if I could crack the window and leaned out into the cold. I tried lying down; I tried deep breaths. There is a terrible moment when you know you are going to throw up, when the acid starts to push against your throat and your heart begins to pound and the lights of a passing Dodge Intrepid flash by, and you smell the piña colada–scented pine tree hanging from your driver’s dashboard, and it is all too much.
First I threw up in my handbag. The justifiably alarmed driver pulled the car over to the side of the highway and I stumbled out and retched violently, my high heels crunching through the layer of icy snow. A part of me observed objectively that throwing up on ice is revolting in several ways I had never considered. I could see the logo of Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club in the distance.
When the kind driver had taken me home and I had washed off my wallet and keys as best I could and crawled into bed, I pulled out my phone and sent an e-mail to my host and gave that driver as high a rating as is possible. Then I found an encouraging response from my friend saying she liked the fashion costume, and she hoped I’d had fun. I felt a contempt for the old, cocky, vain me in the photograph; much like the small, corrupt part that scorns a naive former self after she has known infidelity. I could not get the coat off; I slept in it.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review and the Daily’s correspondent.