Yesterday, the pope put in his two weeks notice. Despite my uncharacteristically Baptist love of Lent, I am not Catholic, have never been Catholic, and do not plan to become Catholic anytime soon. But pope-deaths (or in this case, resignations), will always have a special place in my heart. Pope-deaths will forever remind me of the first time I got drunk.
The year was 2005, and I was just shy of my 18th birthday. A and I were pretty inseparable. My parents had gone to France to visit my sister, so I was living with A’s family for a couple of weeks. For the most part, we just came home after school and watched Gilmore Girls reruns instead of doing homework. At some point we’d have to go to my house and feed the cats, and occasionally, we’d ask permission to stay there overnight, sans parental units. We were pretty well-behaved kids, so our parents had no cause for concern. A was a perfect PK, and I was a bit of an uptight, pious bitch. We spent most of high school being a tad judgmental of our peers (me more than her), and as much as I hate to admit it, a little bit jealous. Why did these other kids get to make stupid decisions and always get away with it? Which is why one night (coincidentally, the night Pope John Paul II died) we went to my house, cracked open the liquor cabinet, and–
Wait, wait, wait. That’s not how it happened. First of all, the most rebellious we ever got was skipping school after AP exams to head to the beach… where we would study for more AP exams. Swiping from my parents’ liquor cabinet, which is mostly populated by ancient, nearly-full bottles collecting dust, was definitely not on. Second, we weren’t even home when the pope died; he died the week after Easter, when we were off on Spring Break.
In the grand tradition of Spring Break, Senior Year, there was a big trip planned for our class. I have no idea what the destination was, though, because I never had any intention of attending. Instead, A and I sweet-talked our parents into sending us to France to visit my Cool Older Sister. She was just out of grad school and living in a teeny apartment in Aix-les-Bains, a town for old people in the French Alps. Sister met up with us in Paris, where we did some sight-seeing.
The whole affair felt Very Grown Up. While our lame classmates were hanging out in some lame place like Myrtle Beach, A and I were galavanting around Paris, sometimes even unchaperoned, being awesome. Hell, it was even legal for us to drink there. Which is how we ended up (on the night the pope died), after a bit too much wine with dinner, meeting some cute French boys and ditching my sister to hop on the back of their Vespas.
Wait, wait, wait, that’s the plot of Passport to Paris, that seminal film starring Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen.
In all of my travels, I have never once been approached by a pair of attractive dudes on some variety of small, motorized vehicles. Clearly, I’m doing it wrong. Also, I would never be that irresponsible. Also also, French men are repugnant. (Then again, I’ve never been approached by a Vespa-riding, French accent-sporting grandson of Gregory Peck. That might be a game-changer.)
Regardless, we left Paris on Easter Monday, and the pope didn’t die till later in the week. That couldn’t be what happened.
Instead, we were in the French Alps. For most of the week, A and I were staying in the apartment below Sister’s, which my parents had rented for the month. Again, Very Grown Up. While Sister worked, we took day trips to nearby towns by ourselves, like Annecy.
(This is also the point in the story where I realize, with no small amount of horror, that neither A nor I have aged in the slightest since 17. No wonder I still get carded. Seriously, the only way you could tell that these pictures were not taken last week is that in wide shots, I am a) wearing trousers, which I no longer do and b) flat-chested. Former housemate CES once asked me if I had a rapidly-aging portrait stashed in an attic somewhere, and now I can see why.)
Anyway, with all this Grown-Up Activity, can you guess what happened next?
No. You probably cannot. Because here is what happened next, in what is surely the least-climatic First Drunk story ever.
One night, we decided to make fondue in Sister’s tiny kitchen. Tiny Kitchen looked a lot like this, except it was maybe half the size:
I added the wine, and A went to the bathroom. By the time she came back, the alcohol had boiled off, and I was suddenly very giggly and stumbling around the tiny kitchen.
Yes. That is actually how it happened. I accidentally got drunk off of fondue fumes during the brief interlude that A was in the bathroom. I am too cool for school.
Sister finally had the bright idea of cracking the small window in the corner to let in some fresh air. This is how we learned that the pope had died; upon opening the window, the kitchen was filled with the ringing of every church bell in the town. That night may be a bit fuzzy, but I still remember how it sounded with perfect clarity. It was beautiful.
Eight years later, another pope is on his way out. Strangely enough, A and I are both abroad again, still looking (apparently) exactly the same. But most things are different… I am in grad school in Scotland, while she and her husband live 5000 miles away, in Beijing. Instead of eating chips and salsa in front of the TV, we are both missing Mexican food over long video chats, just trying to keep caught up with each others’ lives. Hopefully neither of us is getting drunk off of fondue fumes anymore. But the important thing is that we have stayed in touch, in spite of our relationships or careers or time differences.
It’s weird to benchmark a friendship in popes, and yet, here we are. I wonder where we’ll be the next time this happens. I don’t think that either of us would have guessed our current paths a year ago, let alone eight.