Sit on the cold, narrow edge of the tub in your cold, narrow hotel room, and try one more time to convince yourself to go back to sleep. When the futility of this quest finally kicks in just as the automatic lights shut off, decide to place your hands on your temples, squeezing them from either side. You do it to quell the growing beat of a thousand tiny drums, pounding their way out from the inside of your skull. In reality, this is only for effect, something you saw in the movies, a scene you don’t even realize you’re playing out. It doesn’t help. But keep doing it anyway, just in case.
Soft, thumping mallets are now sledgehammers, trying to whack their way out of the cheap particleboard of your head. Some unseen battle rages on in your floaty, pickled brain, and another is duking it out in your gut. You perceive this is happening. You should do something to make it better. You don’t have a single idea in your head.
Sitting there with leftover mascara flaking under your eyes, staring ahead and seeing nothing, stinking of Cava, artificial cherries and affliction, you at least look the part. If you can’t beat ‘em, drama-queen ‘em.
Remember that on your first, jetlag-casualty day in Barcelona you slept until four-thirty in the afternoon, the best sleep you’ve ever had except for that thirty minutes of anesthesia during your colonoscopy last spring. Feel a sliver of happiness to discover you literally cannot do the math at that moment to figure out how much money you threw away by missing an entire day of a painstakingly scheduled honeymoon. You can save that regret for later.
Decide you will get up and face the vacation. You are a martyr, an unsung hero, a stoic sufferer who will also not want your freshly minted husband to know you are in the throes of a twelfth-grade beginner’s style hangover. You are from Louisiana. You’ve done this before.
Make the dual mistake of standing too quickly and thinking. Shake, wobble and roll toward the sink as you use all of the mental strength you have – the sledgehammers, maybe – to suppress the images flashing like a strobe light and then the smells of first the wine, then the tequila shots, then the wine again, then the paella, and then oh God the Cava cocktails.
When your husband suggests breakfast on Las Ramblas, his eyes bright as sunny-side-up eggs, yours like day-old oatmeal, do your best impersonation of a conscious, cognitively enabled human and remark on what a great idea that is as you swallow a sour hiccup.
Say things like, “mmm hmmm” and “huh!” as you shuffle up the broad, bustling median of the wide boulevard, keeping your eyes down, focused on the dull pavement below.
Your husband says, “Can you believe we drank so many different kinds of alcohol last night? I’m starving!” You think it’s too early in the marriage to want so badly to kill him.
When he suggests the first sidewalk café you see, thank everyone in your head, even the tiny sledgehammer swingers, for the gift of a quick arrival. Well, everyone but the gods who allowed you to drink the Cava cocktails. You will cling to that grudge as tightly as your skull is now clamping around your brain.
Immediately order the fifteen-dollar diet coke and a plate of fries.
Take two sips of the trough of diet coke that has been placed before you, smile at your husband, offer another “mmm hmmmm,” and excuse yourself to the bathroom.
Instantly recognize the tactical error of choosing a table in the middle of the median of Las Ramblas, the busiest thoroughfare in all of Barcelona, when the restaurant itself is across the street.
Inside the restaurant and up two flights of stairs is the bathroom.
Curse the picturesque impracticality of a median-sidewalk café while you wait for car after car after car to whiz past, looking for any possible opening. Finally dart through, a perfect live motion portrayal of the classic video game Frogger, but you can’t think of that metaphor right now because the sledgehammers are working overtime trying to compete with some new low frequency buzzing that has recently taken up residence alongside them.
Work your way through the maze of tables, past the kitchen with its loitering wait staff, up the creaky, cracking stairs, and into the bathroom, an afterthought with an inexplicably foggy mirror and a door that doesn’t quite lock. Decide not to care. Vanity is for the living. Pace slowly, eyes fixed on the floorboards as you wait for the inevitable.
The inevitable never comes.
Curse the Cava gods as you descend the stairs, stumble past the kitchen and the staff, now twirling napkins and chatting away in that familiar yet unintelligible Catalan, and exit through the maze of tables. Watch the unyielding stream of cars, one after another after another, whizzing past. Wait for your opening.
Return to your husband and your fifteen-dollar diet coke to discover that your fries and his full American breakfast have arrived. As he devours a Spanish-ham-filled omelet even bigger than the bags under each of your eyes, slowly munch one fry, bite by bite, the steaming fluffy potato sitting in your throat like the insides of a fried throw pillow. Excuse yourself to the bathroom.
Cars, whizzing, Frogger. Maze, kitchen, bored staff, stairs. Don’t even bother with the lock this time. Wait for the inevitable. It does not arrive.
Stairs, staff, kitchen, maze. Frogger, whizzing, cars, table, sweetly smiling husband, a bit of oily sausage stuck to his wrist. Eat two more fries, bite by bite. Offer the rest to your husband as you suck down your fifteen-dollar diet coke. Salvation in carbonation.
For a moment, when the miserable meal has finally ended and you are shuffling back toward the hotel, things seem mildly settled. The ravages of war seem to be waning. You notice, for the first time, people walking to work, carrying their newspapers, wearing suits. They look so, what’s the word for it? Alive. You find this only slightly annoying.
As you turn the corner, your eyes lock on one of them. His suit is the color of uncooked fries, his briefcase a side of bacon you didn’t order. The war is coming to a head. Eyes widen then look away in horror. Women shield their faces. The delivery boy on the bicycle speeds past, and you swear he is laughing at you. You are giving back to Barcelona the remnants of three carefully chewed French fries and fifteen dollars’ worth of diet coke. Your husband can’t decide whether to hold your hair or pretend he doesn’t know you.
As for you, you haven’t felt this good since the colonoscopy anesthesia.
Marla Lepore grew up in Shreveport, La., and received a BA in English from Tulane University. As a Nashville-based writer, editor, and communications consultant, she pays the bills by making other people sound like themselves (only better). You can find her online at marlaink.com and follow her @marlaink on Twitter. In person, you’ll usually find her covered in dog and/or cat hair.