Uh Oh, Where's Yolanda?
Growing up, sports were a double-edged sword that I didn’t have the coordination to pick up without hurting myself and possibly others. I loved sports. I loved the cheering, the anticipation, and the way it felt like justice was served when the underdog won. I loved the montage of a rag-tag bunch of misfits learning to come together, to hone their skills while becoming a family, gaining trust in the value of their part of The Whole.
Ok, I didn’t love sports. I loved movies about sports.
I wanted to be good, I wanted to be great, I wanted to embody the magic I had witnessed so many times on screen. I was ready to be Rudy. But I couldn’t catch. Or throw. Or skate. My only saving grace was that I could run pretty fast in a semi-straight line. So, I joined the lacrosse team because my best friends were already playing and I thought I’d look cute in that little pleated skirt. Thus were my priorities.
I liked lacrosse. We didn’t have a youth program so everyone started in 8th grade and the playing field was pretty level, so to speak. The naturally athletic of us rose to the top of the roster while some of us redheads were more focused on getting a too-big skirt so she could roll up the waistband and make it even shorter. We had this great coach during our freshmen and sophomore year, a Smith College graduate who was at that perfect age where she could command our attention, but we respected her cool. This coach was invested in us being kind to each other and having each other’s backs, and had zero tolerance for any bitchy teenage girl shenanigans that she was obviously on the lookout for.
So when an Uruguayan exchange student came for tryouts, my best friend Morgan and I jumped on the opportunity to impress Coach without having to actually work on our lacrosse skills, and we took Yolanda under our wing that spring.
In our hometown, Smith College does this event for their Alumni weekend where they string these gorgeous, multicolored Japanese lanterns with lights in side them to line miles of their extensive gardens. They light the pathways along the little lake and up through the greenhouses. Smith a capella groups sing in clusters all around the campus and the warm, soon-to-be-summer air is pungent with the thousands of flowers meticulously planted the year before. It’s a stunning welcome for the alumni, a picturesque setting for the entire town, and an awesome place for high schoolers to get piss-faced drunk. Which is what we did.
For an extra five bucks, someone’s older sibling would go to the liquor store for us and we would pour the booze into our lacrosse team water bottles, because we were brilliant.
We had recently discovered Zima and Mike’s Hard Lemonade, malt liquor drinks flavored like Capri Sun that went down like juice boxes and didn’t make your breath smell like beer. We drank these sugary, artificially- flavored cocktails at room temperature because, obviously, our parent’s refrigerators were off-limits. So, we were drinking some gross shit on a pretty fantastic night but that’s the thing about high school - details weren’t so important.
Illumination night was one of those times that we looked forward to for weeks. Winters in Massachusetts were long and brutal. The end of May is usually the first time that it’s warm enough to pull out the shorts and flip-flops and blind the world with our pasty legs. We would go to the mall and comb through the racks at Old Navy and American Eagle, searching for that perfect, it’s finally summer, outfit, paid for by waitressing jobs at Friendly’s or running the kiddie train at the local Park.
We met at the gardens to fill up our water bottles, trying to explain to Yolanda in our God-awful public-school Spanish that this was delicious and totally normal. We roamed the pathways lit up by magic, looking for boy groups containing one or more of our crushes and avoiding anyone who looked like our parent’s friends and might suspect what we were up to. It was great.
That night, Yolanda and our friend group had gotten permission to sleep over in my basement which had become the de-facto hang-out spot for our group. My parents were happy and took credit for creating this arrangement because they figured there were limits to how much trouble we could get into under their roof. They thought the old L-shaped couch, TV, and pool table were cool and exciting enough to make all of my friends want to come over and hang.
They were wrong.
The basement was the cool spot because of the sliding windows we could use to easily sneak out in the middle of the night. Or sneak in boys, depending on how exciting our social lives were that weekend. This weekend, however, it was just going to be us girls which sounds so innocent.
Once the lanterns were dimmed at the gardens, we walked back to the house, silly and happy and warm. We got down to the basement and into our pajamas, but we were still looking for something Hawaiian Punch-flavored to continue our buzz. I tiptoed upstairs to the liquor cabinet, grabbed the biggest bottle I saw, and rushed back down the basement, giddy with my score: a handle of tequila. A ‘handle’ was one of those big glass bottles with… a handle. We were a smart bunch.
Grossed out by the idea of drinking something without a colorful label that didn’t smell or taste like Country Time Lemonade, my girls were not thrilled with this bounty. Except for Yolanda. “You don’t drink, you shoot.” She explained in her broken English. Demonstrating by taking the top off of her water bottle, pouring in a sip of tequila, and then violently knocking her head back to take it in one gulp, she smiled. “You see? Easy.”
“How many do you take to get drunk?” asked the ever-cautious Morgan.
“Five.” Said Yolanda matter-of-factly. So, that’s what we did. And after three and a half minutes of passing around the Northampton Blue Devils' Water Bottle, we had each downed our prescribed number of shots. Then I passed out. Because I weighed 105 soaking wet and Yolanda lied.
I woke up the next morning to a basement that smelled like a Bath & Body Works store had moved in and a pounding on the back door.
“What the fuck?” I asked, kicking Morgan.
“Leave me the fuck alone, I was up all night cleaning vomit. Used all your body spray to mask the smell. Sorry.” Then Morgan passed back out and the pounding continued, now accompanied by frenzied doorbell ringing. I tried to focus my eyes enough to be sure that I was dressed and then headed upstairs to the kitchen, following the fucking orchestra taking place on our screen door. Standing outside were two of the most chipper adults I have ever seen at 6 am, dressed in full head-to-toe camping gear.
“Hi! We’re Yolanda’s host parents! Debbie and Donald! Didn’t she tell you that we’re going up to the Berkshires today?! Camping! We’re taking Yolanda camping! American camping!”
“Uh-huh.” I blinked hard, making sure that Debbie and Donald were real people and not ducks or a detailed hallucination. As far as I could tell, they were humans.
“So can you get Yolanda? We need to hit he road!”
I stumbled back downstairs to the basement to get our little Central American alcoholic and send her out to the wilderness to dry out. I pulled back the covers on the pull-out couch. Just Morgan and Mardy. I went over to another room, just Katie. I looked under the pool table for safe measure. No fucking Yolanda.
“Hey, guys, where the fuck is Yolanda?” No one is helpful. Morgan maybe farts. “I’m serious! Her host parents are at the fucking door and want their fucking exchange student! What the fuck did you guys do with her?” All the girls shrug. Tequila apparently affected their panic modes.
“Ugh, this is insane.”
I trudged back up the stairs to see the two crunchy campers still standing at my doorstep.
“Sorry, I guess she’s upstairs.” They looked at their watches impatiently.
I checked my room. No Yolanda. My sister’s room. No Yolanda. The bathroom, the laundry room, and under the pile of clothes on the floor by the cat’s litter box. No fucking Yolanda. Here’s something true to this day - fear is a great initiator of sobriety. As soon as you are scared, a smarter, much more competent part of your brain arm wrestles the Drunk Uncle of your brain and wins.
So there, while staring at the powdered Tide laundry soap of Consumer Reports’ recommendation, while the cat locked eyes with me as she took her morning cat shit, I sobered up. I took inventory:
I had lost the exchange student. I had stolen my parent’s alcohol, gotten a foreign national drunk, and then totally misplaced her. Coach Harvey was not going to give me a shout-out for being a generous member of the lacrosse team. She was going to kick me off and then not visit me in jail. And poor Yolanda. The public high school had failed her and her English was incoherent at best. She was probably wandering the city streets, maybe all the way to Holyoke, where there were gangs and heroin.
I could just imagine her, lost, confused, probably still drunk, trying to get home to Uruguay and out of this terrible country where the high school girls were lightweight, thoughtless, shitty lacrosse players. My stomach sank. The cat finished her business and, while covering her ropey poop up with speckled granules of grossness, looked at me as if to say, ‘Way to go, Jo, you’ve done it this time.’ Then flicking her last turd out of the plastic box and onto my bare foot, she left the laundry room without a care in the world. I’d never before been so jealous of Missy. And that’s saying a lot. She only had three teeth.
I took a deep breath, winced at the taste in my mouth, and tried to smooth out my Old Navy Valentine’s pajamas that said I HEART YOU all over the front. I walked down the stairs confused, disoriented, and sad; I was going to miss Yolanda, wherever she was. Now I was going to have to face the facts and tell her host parents the truth - or something a little bit like the truth - that Yolanda had ridden my bike to their house and they should probably go back and look for her and as soon as they were gone, we would all hitchhike to Morgan’s where we would go into hiding until this whole thing blew over. This made lots of sense. I opened the screen door, slowly, and cleared my throat.
“Hey. So, you see, so Yolanda had this thing, I’m sure she told you about it, but it was super important and I know that she had to go to your house and I know she wakes up super early so maybe---”
“Mami!” I turn. And there’s Yolanda coming out of GOD KNOWS WHERE, chipper as fuck.
“Yo, I was the best time with you! Gracias! Kisses! I see you at lacrosse! Bye-bye!” And she danced out, across the porch, down the stairs, with Debbie and Donald trailing behind. I watched her go...
“Bye Yolanda, come back soon.”