I was in my last semester of graduate school at the University of Arkansas and still married to my first wife Gail.
Our best friends, Toni and Terrence went with us to Chalmette to celebrate Mardi Gras. Terrence was an animal husbandry major and we spent a day and night in Ferriday, Louisiana where Gail's father was the foreman of a large cattle ranch. We enjoyed a personal tour of the ranch and some of Gail's mother's gumbo before heading to Chalmette.
Gail had four sisters and two brothers. Each regaled us with drinks, dinners, and frivolity, all leading up to Mardi Gras Day. That Tuesday morning we awoke early and headed downtown. Drinking on the street was perfectly legal and we began imbibing by ten in the morning. We watched every parade we could get to, and along the way, we continued drinking.
We tried to pace ourselves, eating hot dogs and gumbo from various street vendors. All we really succeeded in doing was sobering ourselves for an awkward moment before plunging back into the depths of drunkenness. Somewhere around ten that night we finally stumbled to the car and headed north to Fayetteville.
When we reached Jackson, Mississippi, we stopped at a Denny's for breakfast. My stomach felt like hell, but still slightly better than my head. We reached Fayetteville at six the next morning, hardly time for a shower before I had to take a final test at eight.
Don't ask me how, but I aced the test, perhaps the best score I ever had in grad school. A few months later, Gail and I moved to Oklahoma City and never saw Toni and Terrence again.
I've never really thought much about that Mardi Gras, my lost friends, and a failed marriage. Maybe because youth is a strange encumbrance whose weight you never really feel until you're no longer young.
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