The Best Time I Drank My Friend’s Contact Lenses

by Claire Zulkey

I spent my junior year of college studying in Italy in a program that encouraged us to travel as much as possible, so after a field trip to Naples, many of us made plans one weekend to tour southern Italy. After seeing the ruined city of Pompeii, three friends and I checked into a hotel in Sorrento. We were excited because our room, which had two sets of bunkbeds, had a miniature patio attached to it. My friend Chris and I posed for photos on said patio before we headed out to carouse with our other friends.

I wasn’t feeling well that night so we stopped in a Farmacia to find some cold medicine. My Italian wasn’t strong enough to discern whether my meds were the type one could drink on, but Chris, who I should mention was kind of an asshole, told me not to be a pussy and go ahead.

So, we drank several bottles of wine at dinner, and then we drank more afterwards at a bar with some friends. In fact, we all got pissed. I remember sweet little Iona, who hailed from New Jersey, going berserk when we met an Italian guy who asked us the following joke:

“What’s the difference between trash and a Jersey Girl?”

“Trash gets taken out once a week.”

It was on the way back from the bar that I realized something was wrong. I very quickly went from feeling buzzed to feeling very, very intoxicated. However, I was with a bunch of people who were also very, very intoxicated so nobody seemed to notice or care. There was a party in our room, everyone screaming and yelling, which was fine, until I suddenly realized I either had to go to bed or throw up and everyone had to leave. Immediately.

We tossed everyone out of the room which we needed to do anyway since we had to catch the hydrofoil to Capri early the next day. We all headed to bed, me putting on the hospital scrubs I used for pajamas and climbing up to the top bunk.

I tried to sleep for a while when suddenly it became apparent: I was going to throw up. It was imminent. It was just a matter of when. The problem was that Chris, the asshole, thought it would be funny to remove the ladder from the top bunk of the bed. I’d have to yell to him to wake up (hence waking up Iona and our other roommate Emily in the process) or jump down. However, there was no way I could hold my barf, jump down, and then make it to the toilet.

For some reason I decided to be polite at this moment in time: I held my shirt away from my body and vomited into it. ThenI jumped down. Everyone was still passed out, so my plan of being unnecessarily polite was working.

There was no way I was going to travel with a set of pukey pajamas, so I threw the soiled scrubs onto the patio we had earlier enjoyed so much. I wasn’t so clean myself, so I washed away my shame in the shower. Afterwards, I was spent and dehydrated, so I re-got ready for bed, gratefully gulping down some glasses of water that were on the sink.

Finally, I fell asleep.

The next morning we needed to hustle to catch the hydrofoil but I wasn’t feeling bright and alert, so I stalled as long as I could before leaving bed. Iona and Emily packed, and somewhere in the haze I heard Emily complaining about how she couldn’t find something, but my brain was a black hole and I couldn’t focus.

“Y’all, I can’t find mah contact linses,” Emily, who hailed from Mississippi, said again. None of us really paid attention.

“I had ’em right here on the sink,” she said. Then she told some story about how she couldn’t find her contact lenses case the night before, so had stored her contacts in two drinking glasses.

Suddenly it occurred to me. But I didn’t want it to be true. I liked Emily a lot. She had never done anything wrong to me. She was no Chris. And as a nearly-blind person myself, I knew how lost one could be without their lenses.

I scrunched down in the covers. “Emily?” I said. “I have to tell you something. This will be funny in several years, I promise.” I told her the story of the night before.

“You drank my contact linses,” she said, a statement more than a question. I don’t think she was even that angry, just amazed.

“How did you drink saline solution and think it was water?” asked Iona, and I had to explain that when you’re so sick that vomiting inside your own pajamas seems like a good idea, anything is possible.

Claire Zulkey is the author of AN OFF YEAR, published by Dutton in 2009 and selected by Indie Booksellers for the Autumn 2009 Kids’ Indie Next List and nominated as one of the ALA’s 2010 Best Books for Young Adults. Since 2003 Claire has run the blog, which has been mentioned in places like the New Yorker and USA Today. She is a television critic and contributor to the Los Angeles Times and AV Club. She lives in Chicago, where she hosts the literary humor reading series Funny Ha-Ha.