The Last Sleepover

Ellen Peterson’s slumber parties were always amazing. Although they usually ended in disaster, we eagerly looked forward to the next one…until the time we pushed our luck too far.

Ellen’s mother was the sweetest woman around, but we were all kind of scared of her dad because he had a gruff voice, looked like a sumo wrestler, and rarely spoke. Still, just as Ellen had promised, her first sleepover was incredibly cool. There was a terrific spread of deli-style cold cuts, lots of soda and even a chocolate cake. After the food, we got right to the real question of the evening: had Susan Merone really kissed Jimmy Frank on the night of the junior prom? Typically secretive Susan was certainly not going to reveal the truth easily, but we were insistent: the price of admission to the party was total candor. Literally backed into a corner, she grabbed the only weapon which was available: a plate of bologna and olive loaf. This quickly escalated to a full-blown food fight, in which, I take some pride in admitting, I did not actively participate. My only clear memories of the battle are of Jenny White picking through the remains of the cake for her lost retainer and the Peterson’s dog Millie licking potato salad off the wall. Ellen finally had it — she yelled at us for destroying her home and stalked off upstairs to spend the night in her room.

Someone should have gone after her, apologizing, but everyone was just having too much fun. We now felt completely unsupervised, and released any of our remaining inhibitions. We turned out the lights, cranked up the stereo, sang along and laughed wildly.

But then something totally unprecedented happened which floored us all. The door to the den opened, and a gruff voice cut through the noise. “Turn that stereo off! Ellen? ELLEN!”
Several moments of absolute silence followed, in which we were all near the edge of total panic. Finally I spoke: “Yes, Dad?”

“I want you girls to keep that stereo off, and I want you all to get to sleep, do you understand?

“OK,” I feebly replied. Ellen’s dad slammed the door. We slept. The next morning, we cleaned everything up, and pleaded with Ellen for forgiveness, which she granted.

That summer, Ellen invited us all to sleep out in the screenhouse in her backyard. I had come with my friend Lisa Lee, and contrary to tradition, which deemed a sleeping bag and pillow absolutely necessary, Lisa had decided to exercise her uniqueness and brought only a towel. This was completely absurd, but she explained that the towel was much easier to carry than a pillow. I kept silent, knowing she would learn a hard personal lesson that night.

I soon left the party to report to my theater ushering job for a few hours. By the time I returned, almost everyone was asleep and an aura of dread hung in the air. Ellen was pretty upset, mumbling words like “disrespectful” and “unruly.” Her father had a big barn-style garage out back, chock full of one of his failed inventions made of plastic parts. Apparently Ellen had given a tour of the inventory, and pandemonium had ensued. It sounded like the plastic parts had completely littered the backyard lawn in a mock religious ritual before Ellen’s mom came out and stopped it. So now all we could do was sleep and even that was questionable for me: at this point Lisa Lee was snoozing peacefully, snug on my pillow and inside my sleeping bag. Ellen refused to go inside for a blanket, her mom was so angry. So I ended up with Lee’s towel and a creaky lawn chair.

Never again, I vowed. But when Ellen announced six months later that she’d be hosting another sleepover, we were ecstatic. This time we’d be shunted to the Peterson’s musty, windowless, tile-floored basement, but no one could really quibble with any of that.

Ellen had only one condition: “You cannot act up,” she grimly warned. “My father swore that if we don’t behave, this is my last party. Ever.” As unruly as we could be at times, acting out was obviously an absolute taboo. This was clearly a test of our friendship, and we promised we’d be good.

The much anticipated night finally arrived, but on this occasion, no real food had been provided. Yes, there were popcorn, pretzels and soda. But no real food was served. No dessert. No cake. Looking back, this was the only oversight which would lead to the ruin of an otherwise happy occasion.

Things started rather typically: dishing personal dirt, Ellen’s boyfriend stopping by out front, spinning CD’s, the usual. And we even quieted down enough for me to fall asleep on the most coveted article of furniture — a rickety old couch. I was dreaming of a terrific thunderstorm, afraid of the noise, but frozen to the spot and unable to run away. Just as I was about to scream, I started waking up, but the thunder continued. I looked around and realized what was going on. A dozen or more of my closest friends were sitting in the darkened room, making farting noises. The chorus was nearly deafening. Most blew into their inner elbows or hands, but Kathy Walsh had a specialty and pumped noise through a fist wedged into her armpit. This was periodically punctuated by gasps of screaming laughter. Even so, the first phase of the evening ended innocently enough, and soon everyone was miraculously asleep.

I was woken in the wee hours by Lisa Lee. “I’m hungry. Want to look for some food?” It had been many hours since I had eaten anything substantial, and my stomach rumbled at the thought. We had never dared leave the designated party area before, but this primal need drove us to seek new territory. Quietly, we had cereal. Then we munched some celery sticks. But we wanted more. Lisa opened the freezer and we both instantly knew that we must have the “Big Man’s” serving of macaroni and cheese on the top shelf. It was a frozen brick; we popped it in the microwave and waited.

We recounted the events of the evening, and speculated on Mr. Peterson’s inventions, imagining his heavy figure straining the couch-springs in the cold, musty basement, while he came up with yet another unsellable idea. The scent of macaroni and cheese filled the air and saliva began to collect at the bottom of my mouth. Lisa insisted the meal must be piping hot, so we had to delay again and again.

Finally, it was ready. We had agreed that the safest place to eat would be the bathroom. Just as we tiptoed out of the kitchen with soup spoons and tray in hand, Kathy Walsh came up to use the facility; her eyes immediately lit upon the prize. She was not to be ignored, and we couldn’t afford to make any more noise. Lisa sat on the toilet, and I on the hamper. Kathy quickly grabbed the only nearby utensil — a comb someone had left on the sink — and we all began eating ravenously.

We almost got away with it. But Ellen had woken up and sniffed out our trail, and we were caught with cheese on our faces. “How dare you!” she shouted, “There was plenty more popcorn!” We apologized profusely, except that then she saw the box.

“Big Man’s Macaroni and Cheese? That was my father’s!” she shouted accusingly.

Lisa, Kathy and I looked at each other and immediately had the same ironic thought. Kathy whispered, “Big Man’s?” and the three of us collapsed in convulsive gales of laughter. Ellen grabbed the remaining macaroni and stomped out. Littering, food fights or loud music were one thing; defamation of parents was quite another. This time, we had gone too far, and Ellen never did ask her folks if she could have another party.

© Karen Christino – All rights reserved.