I have this weird mental game that I’ve played since I was a little kid. Odds are that if you’ve ever been around me, I may have played it with you.
It goes like this: while sitting around with someone, I sometimes wonder how my relationship with that person would change if I suddenly threw a punch.
Sounds like the musings of a psychopath, no? Well, it was created during my childhood, a time in my life when I was swirling in a Lord of the Flies-like maelstrom of violence, locked in combat with my fellow child-savages. The game certainly comes from a place of anger. Still, the game which I’ve just now named The Ponderous Punches isn’t about running around and smacking people in the face. It’s not about transferring my questions on the fragility of human relationships into any bruising reality. In any event, I’ve never played it to that point.
But I may have recently come close.
The Friday before last, a group of my various friends congregated at a house in the mountains at the edge of town. Our goals, beyond the basic one of being around each other for the first time in weeks, were to play board games and watch bad movies. Along with the awesome He-Man movie, I came armed with an especially heavy screwdriver, and I proceeded upon the path to an additional, time-honored goal: to Drink to Win.
I woke up in my bed the next morning, feeling bright and vibrant and ready to go to work. There was some confusion as I stumbled around, checking my things and making sure that everything taken to the gathering had returned with me. Besides a jacket I’d later reclaim, everything had made it. I remembered little beyond the point in the night when three of us had put on tutus and pranced about like idiots; the only flash of consciousness to follow happened as I sat in my backseat and had friends drive my car home and drop me off, after which I pranced through my doorway and grinned like a physicist. But I’ve long known that, even while balls to the wall blacked out, I’m kind of brilliant.
Work was not the usual desperate hangover fare in which desperate guarantees of good behavior are made to distant deities in exchange for metaphysical aspirin. It went fine. I wasn’t thrilled about walking through the rain to my friends’ house to pick up my car, but I made the trip well enough.
After my friends handed me my keys, I asked them if I had done anything too embarrassing over the course of the evening. Embarrassing, yes, they answered, but nothing too horrible. It was good enough for me. I drove home, wondering why I was such a joyful drunk.
It was a few days later when I logged onto the internet and found the first indications that this sense of joy might not have been entirely accurate. Entering the Facebook group page of the film group which encompasses most of the people at Friday’s party, I saw a cryptic, rambling, freaked out message from one of the members. It said that he wasn’t quitting, but that he didn’t want to hang out with us while we were drinking anymore. He also invited us to shut the hell up if we had any questions.
Almost at the same time, I sent a text to the party’s hostess asking what had happened and posted a comment on the page hoping that the poster was okay. Almost at the same time, I got responses from both targets. The hostess said that the poster had accidentally been elbowed in the face. In the five seconds between reading that answer and being instant messaged by the poster, I had a sinking certainty that I was responsible for whatever had happened.
The poster’s IM confirmed this. It also said that the hit was a punch, and that it hadn’t been an accident. My initial reaction was disbelief; the closest I’ve ever come to drunken violence before had been Three Stooges-style slapstick fighting with my friends. But as the story was told to me, I had gotten pissed and laid the poster out.
Apparently the more sober people among us had made the mistake of playing Jenga in a house full of raving barbarian drunkards. As I’ve heard it, my reaction to this architectural audacity was to rush over and knock them over at any opportunity. The poster, who doesn’t drink, was assigned the dubious honor of keeping us savages away from the playing field. After my last attempt at destroying the tower, he lured me away with false promises of seeing something amazing.
When he showed me a passed-out friend not doing anything amazing at all, my bullshit detector flashed on. Yes, I have a bullshit detector, even while blacked out.
“You don’t have anything to show me,” I said. The poster nodded. Without another word, I punched him in the face.
Standing over him, I apparently said: “That’ll teach you to lie.”
Nobody else witnessed this bizarrely principled explosion. When I asked about it, everyone – my victim included – said that the rest of the night was awesome, but nobody else saw me throwing a punch. The recipient told me that he went into meltdown, refusing to leave his apartment for days, but we talked it out, I apologized, and we are back to normal, I think.
Oddly enough, I proposed a get-together last Friday night, an affair with the goal of Drink to Achieve a Modest Moral Victory. The recipient of my blackout punch, who said he didn’t want to hang around us when we drank, showed up with a gigantic duffel bag full of liquor. I’m not sure what that means.
I didn’t throw a Ponderous Punch, but maybe I played the game, all the same.