Most kids my age would be planning clandestine keggers while their parents were away, but me? I was ironing out the final details for my first real dinner party, and a vegetarian one at that.
It was going to be so perfect.
I was a senior in high school that September in 1996, and opted out of my family’s weekend trip to Tennessee. If you want to get technical, I think it was more that I just wasn’t invited because my step-dad and I hated each other. My mom didn’t really have a problem with me staying home, especially since her sister Sharon lived two houses up the street and we all knew that Sharon would be popping over in regular intervals of excess.
My dinner party was scheduled for that Friday night. I stayed home from school in order to get a head start on preparations, and by that I mean I was trying frantically to learn to cook. I had a few recipes torn out from Vegetarian Times and, aside from all the ingredients I couldn’t pronounce, it seemed like it was going to be a breeze.
Apparently, in the mid-90’s, being a vegetarian wasn’t the cool thing to do yet; I had a horribly difficult time finding nori flakes and tempeh, and truth be told, I didn’t even know what those things were. Most of my day was spent calling around to various markets, trying to not only locate these ingredients, but explain to the confused employees what it even was that I was asking for, and setting the dining room table with my mom’s good dishes. I was stressed. Harried. Frazzled. A good bit of the pumpkin puree for my soup was splayed across the backsplash like the arterial spray of a grisly gourd murder/suicide.
By the time Lisa arrived at my house after school to take me on a wild nori flake chase, I was down-right furious with a tinge of self-pity, and on the verge of calling the whole thing off.
“It’s going to be a disaster,” I wailed to Lisa, slouched down in the passenger seat of her Jeep. “No one’s even going to eat this shit!”
But then we found the nori flakes and tempeh at some frou frou health food market in one of the yuppier parts of town, so I started to have hope again.
Lisa dropped me off and left to get ready. She was bringing a date with her to my dinner party. His name was Jon and he went to a local Catholic school. A mutual friend of ours had hooked them up and it was going to be their first date. Even more pressure for me to make a perfect dinner and tone down the crazy.
By 8:45, everyone had arrived. The guest list included: Janna, Keri and her boyfriend Dan, Sarah, Angie, Lisa and Jon.
My unassuming guinea pigs sat around in the family room for social hour while I put the finishing touches on the pumpkin soup. I was still in panic-mode and unable to properly entertain everyone like I had wanted with trays of hors d’oeuvres, clove cigarettes and scantily-clad virgins performing parlor tricks. I felt bad that Jon, a perfect stranger, had found himself sitting in a rocking chair in some maniac girl’s house in the suburbs, waiting to eat a crap dinner made of pretentious faux-meat ingredients and inadequacy.
The entree, something called a Layered Tofu Supreme which I’m sure was actually just a glorified meatless lasagna, had finally been slid and slammed into the oven, and I was ready to start serving the soup. Everyone took their places around my family’s barely-used dining room table and stared at their small glass bowls with upturned lips and scrunched noses.
“That looks disgusting,” Keri scowled, creating persimmon peaks with her spoon.
“It’s just soup!” I yelled. “Made with pumpkin! It’s not disgusting, it’s fabulous.” I stamped around the table, firing my homemade croutons into everyone’s bowl, like angry yeast torpedoes. Clearly, this was sometime before basic white girls made pumpkin food popular.
And the pumpkin soup was fabulous, much to my surprise. I honestly wasn’t expecting it to be. But it was thick and rich and full of hayride-memories and cornstalk maze-dreams, and well, pumpkin patch-reality. It was the perfect starter for an autumn dinner.
Dan liked it so much, he ate Keri’s too. Her palate was clearly too pedestrian to handle such an elegant waltz with flavor.
It happened during the salad course.
While everyone picked around the tempeh strips and nori flakes in the “sea-sar” salad (which I actually really happened to enjoy, thank you), the phone rang.
It was Sharon, and in true Sharon fashion, she sounded frantic.
“Did you see that car that just pulled into your driveway?” she asked, her voice strained with concern. I had in fact noticed headlights, but saw that the car had turned around just as quickly. “So, that wasn’t someone coming to your dinner?”
“No, it was probably just someone turning around,” my reply was packed with teenaged attitude. I was trying to host a dinner party, not get a Neighborhood Watch detail from my tightly-wound aunt. Plus, every time the phone rang, my heart would race because I was hoping it was my true (and verboten) love Justin who said he was going to “try” to attend my dinner that night.
I hung up and returned to the table in hopes of coaxing my guests to give my salad a chance. I found it to be quite delightful and couldn’t imagine why they were rejecting it.
“What exactly is tempeh?” Jon asked, spearing a strip with the tines of his fork and holding it up to the chandelier.
“You want a jeweler’s loupe for that?” I asked scornfully. Really, I had no idea what tempeh was, other than it was a bitch to procure and these ungrateful fuckers were going to eat it and like it.
The stacked tofu extravaganza was still baking in the oven, so I filled the gap between courses by breaking out a bottle of 1986 Sutter Home White Zinfandel I had been hoarding since I was seven. It was a Christmas gift from my cousin/godfather Chris, who had attached a tag that read, “For the girl who has everything.” And it was true. When I tell people about this, they usually say, “What a stupid gift.” But to me, that bottle represented my future. I kept it on my desk for years, and couldn’t wait until I was old enough to open it.
That late September night of 1996 seemed like the perfect occasion. It was my first taste at being an adult, having a real dinner with my friends that wasn’t served by a waitress at Denny’s. It was a glimpse at living on my own, away from parental supervision. It felt good.
But then came the ensuing fuckarow of trying to open the wine bottle, which sent my feel-good coming-of-age moment straight down to Hell in a shit-and-tempeh-coated pipe. Jon was ready to break out the samurai sword until Dan finally ripped the cork from the neck of the bottle in eighteen crumbly pieces. We had just toasted and were about to pretend to be teenage sommeliers, swirling the Zinfandel in my mom’s wedding glasses when the phone rang again.
“That car was on the lane again!” Sharon shouted. “I stopped them this time.” (What was she doing, sitting on the street with night goggles? Probably.) She went on to say that she asked them what they were doing and they said they were looking for me. “I told them they don’t need to be going to your house, then I think I saw one of them in a bush!” Sharon added, filling me with a dread that I desperately did not need right then.
My family lives on a private lane. A little ways past my house were two more houses, and then a dead end. People didn’t usually just drive up and down my lane, and any time this happened it was alarming because there are some big houses on that street. My house was surrounded by woods on two sides. It didn’t take much more than a creepy car casing my house to put me on edge.
I hung up and was explaining to everyone what Sharon had said, when the phone rang again. Everyone jumped, and then laughed. A male voice was on the other end.
“Hello, Erin,” he said. I still had hopes of hearing from Justin that night, but this wasn’t Justin.
“Who is this?” I asked, calmly at first.
“A friend,” he answered in a deep monotone that implied the absolute opposite of camaraderie.
“Who the fuck is this?!” I screamed, because there is no keeping calm and carrying on with Erin R. Kelly. And then, from the living room window, I saw headlights. A car was idling at the end of my driveway.
Phone still to my ear, camcorder dutifully recording in my other hand, I ran out of the house, shouting, “Who are you? What do you want?” while everyone else was trying to get me to come back inside and STFU.
“They could be dangerous!” Angie cried, tugging me back inside. Meanwhile, it turned out to just be one of my neighbors, pausing at their mailbox before continuing on down the lane. (They were previously privy to my crazy rep, so I’m sure they thought nothing of this latest public outburst at 120 Gillcrest.)
Still, the phone calls had been enough to encourage Jon to retrieve a tire iron from his car, and Dan was pacing around the house with a knife.
We all crowded back in the dining room. In all the commotion, I hadn’t heard the oven buzzer and the tofu crap souffle had all but burnt down the house. And then a dish towel went up in flames on the stove that I forgot to turn off. It was all too much, and I ran up to my room to pout, after hurling my camcorder into a corner. I mean, I’m naturally dramatic on regular nights, but throw in some mildly threatening phone calls and a failed salad course, and the crocodile tears and butt-hurting are out of control. Dan followed me to my room and took this as an opportunity to put the moves on me, which he was always trying to do every time Keri had her back turned. Yes Dan, there’s a maniac casing my house and prank-calling me, please fuck my fears away. I won’t tell Keri.
That only angered me more.
“My entree is ruined! No one liked the salad! My vanilla rice milk tastes like shit and Justin obviously isn’t going to come tonight!” I sobbed into my pillow.
And then the phone rang again.
“It’s them again!” Keri called up the steps. I rejoined everyone in the dining room, with the plates of wilted salad and flutes of warm wine, and snatched the phone from Keri.
“Nice little dinner you’re having there,” the voice. “Is the wine any good?”
“Whoever it is can see us!” I hissed, hand covering the receiver. Dan and Jon picked up their weapons and went into the backyard. “What do you want?” I asked again, trying to think of who I had pissed off lately at school. This guy Damien had been acting weird toward me, and he knew about my dinner. I added him to my mental shit list.
“Your dog’s not really all that tough, you know,” the voice went on. “All I had to do was feed him some of my fries and we’re best buds now.”
I ran to the front porch to find my German Shepherd, Rama, smacking his lips next to an empty bag of McDonald’s fries. Great watchdog.
While I was on the phone with him, Sharon came screeching to a halt in my driveway. “Those fuckers drove past again,” she said, marching up to the house.
I waved the phone at her and whispered, “They’re on the phone right now.”
Yanking it from me, she started screaming into the receiver some spiel about this being private property. Then she paused and asked, “Are you threatening me?” Meanwhile, Jon and Dan were walking along the perimeter of the property, like they expected to see the culprits perched on a tree bough.
“I’m calling the police. This is ridiculous,” Keri muttered after Sharon hung up. So Keri was on the phone with the 911 dispatcher while Sharon told us that whoever she was talking to was somewhere watching us, because he knew we were all standing out in the driveway, and apparently at one point, he threatened to kill my sheep. (My family had pet sheep. Don’t judge.)
I went back in the house and stood in the kitchen next to Keri, who was still on the phone with the police. My private line rang and at this point, I was ready to murder a fool. In lieu of standard telephone salutations, I yelled “WHAT?” into the receiver.
“Mrs. Kelly? This is Sergeant Hanson from Pleasant Hills,” the man on the other end said. I felt like an asshole for yelling and quickly put on my sweet little girl voice.
“This is her daughter,” I said politely.
“I just wanted to inform you that we’ve been receiving reports from other residents on your street of potential burglars in the area. Whoever it is could be armed and dangerous, so you should remain inside and keep all the doors locked.”
I was just starting to explain to the officer that we had been receiving threats when it dawned on me that he had called my personal, unlisted phone number. Why would the cops call that number and not the main house line. BECAUSE IT WASN’T THE COPS AND I WAS A FUCKING IDIOT.
Just as I started to say, “Hey—wait!” the fake cop disconnected the call. I was less creeped out and just really fucking pissed off at this point. Because the real police were on their way thanks to Keri, I had to pour all of my wine into the sink since I wasn’t sure if they would be coming inside the house, and if they would even take note that a bunch of underage kids were imbibing alcohol.
All that wine. All those years of dreaming of the moment I’d finally get to savor this gift from my cool godfather.
All down the fucking drain.
This was the impetus; this is what set me over the edge. I grabbed a cleaver and ran into the backyard, with Angie and Lisa trying to stop me. Everyone knew that if this was a real life horror movie, I’d be the first bitch to bite it.
And while I was out there, cutting the night sky with a cleaver, screaming threats to my hidden harassers, the real cops arrived. Sharon spoke with them first, out in the driveway, while I waited impatiently for my turn to speak.
They said they would search the area, that they would report back in a few hours.
That was pretty much the ultimate party foul, so everyone left after that, except for Keri, Dan and Janna, who decided to stay the night with me so I wouldn’t have to be alone.
I cried about it for awhile that night. The fact that my tofu entree had turned into an inedible brick of charred vegetarianism. That I never had the chance to prepare my baked apples for dessert. That I hadn’t succeeded in converting anyone to the meatless side of life.
“Hey, that pumpkin soup was really good,” Dan reminded me. It was really good. Somewhere in between the harassing phone calls, flaming dish towels and threats to slaughter my sheep, I had forgotten all about that damn soup.
And what a great first impression for Jon, this poor unsuspecting guy who was just being introduced to me. Somehow, he stuck around for the next five years. Every once in awhile he liked to remind me that I still had his tire iron.
“Oh look, Halloween 6 is on,” I said. And that’s how we ended that scary, Scream-esque night. Watching a goddamn movie where people get stabbed to death by a psychopathic stalker.
Big surprise, the cops never did follow up.
About a week later, the truth came out. It was Janna’s boyfriend Matt and one of his friends. Matt despised me back then, certain that I was getting Janna to do drugs and have recreational sex with bait shop owners. So he did all of that to scare Janna into leaving, because god forbid she was spending a night doing something without her crazy-possessive boyfriend.
And how did that work out for you, Matt?
He did eventually apologize, and asked how he could make it up to me. But all the wine in the world could have never replaced that one special bottle.
(l to r) Janna, Dan, Lisa, Sarah, Jon, Angie and dumb old me in the front.