Saturday, March 3, 2012

Beer for Breakfast

We pushed all our bottled into the middle of the room. It was December and around the holidays. I was a senior in college. Before leaving for home, my friends and I thought it would be a good idea to drink all the liquor in our rooms. Our logic was that we needed to clean our living space and we would start by emptying the alcohol down our throats.

It was a friendly evening of drinking and talking. The vodka made us into world-class storytellers. The rum made us laugh. The gin made us a captive and engaged audience for each. I felt like I was in a Hemingway novel. We were all so macho, confident, and at east with recounting tales from childhood, trying to outdo each other while the bottles slowly drained.

Around 2 am, there was a momentary pause.

It's getting late.

Let's just finish these bottles.

Can't argue with that.

I felt jovial and at ease. I can't believe how amazingly funny we all sounded that night. It's like we've known each other our whole lives. Only a few people pushed back, called 'uncle,' and trudged off to their rooms to sleep. Otherwise, we were all in until the bottles were empty.

It didn't start to hit me until around 4 am how much I don't like liquor. But I had already started something so why stop. Around 5 am when someone poured me a shot, the sight of the liquid in the glass made me shiver. I stuck my tongue in the glass and licked the surface like a kitten. Everyone laughed. I am so funny!

When the sun began to rise I started to feel a twinge of regret. I had to get on a plane that morning. Another drink: to the morning sun. My glass was refilled. When I looked at the brown rum in my glass I felt as if I was staring down a bottomless well.

I'm never doing this again. 

Agreed. Can't argue with that. 


I fought against every impulse in my body to finish off that last drink. To wash it all down, there were still a few beers left. In comparison to the 7 hours of hard liquor, the beer tasted like water. The bubbles trickled down my throat. My stomach imploded with an acidic belch and settled back. I found myself talking to the beer.

You're so good to me. Why did I ever leave you?

So cold and smooth. You complete me.

More laughter. Apparently I had said those words aloud. One of my friends turned in his bed while moaning. I decided it was time to leave. Now was not a time to show weakness. I gathered up my willpower and stood up. I wasn't going to wobble or slur my speech. I tucked my chin in and steadied myself. Taking a deep breath, I walked to the door. I waved goodbye. I heard a chorus of moans.

There was no time for packing. I didn't have the concentration. I balled up some underwear, pants, and dirty t-shirts. I shoved the wad into a small suitcase and called for a taxi. I wondered if anyone would be able to tell.

The taxi cab driver didn't seem to say anything. I staggered through O'Hare Airport. I ran into an old friend from high school. She greeted me and asked what I've been up to. I smiled and gave what sounded like an articulately vague answer about college.

Before departing, she move in closer for a hug. For a split second, her mask slipped and she made a face. Like she just smelled something. I became aware of the thin sheen of sweat coating forehead and neck. I probably smelled like a brewer.

By the the time the plane landed I was completely miserable. But sober. I decided against throwing up to cleanse my system. I began focusing my mind on various things, objects, memories. The effects of the alcohol seemed to subside and shift. I decided to put all of liquor in the pit of my stomach and allow it to concentrate itself like a pill. Amazingly enough, there seemed to be a transformation. My stomach hurt like hell but I was no longer sweating rum from my pores. My eyes weren't blood red any more and the follicles in my scalp didn't feel like needles.

For the next six months I couldn't even think about drinking. Looking at a bottle would make me physically nauseous, and recounting that evening would make my body convulse. There was a visceral post-traumatic stress reaction, as if the body had been poisoned.

Up until that fateful night, I had been a jovial drinker. I had passed out at a few parties, woke up with another person's shirt on once, and discovered the magic of rum. I wasn't an alcoholic because I didn't even think about liquor unless it was placed in front of me. And most drinks I found distasteful, including the excessively sweet ones. But I figured an artist and/or serious thinker must drink, so this would be an acquired habit.

Neither one of my parents drank. I think I saw my mom ordered a pina colada once and she didn't even finish it. One time when my Dad ordered a beer at a sports bar and grille, my eyes bulged. He might as well have been ordering crack-cocaine. He sipped the beer throughout the dinner and barely finished it by the end. It felt like he was trying to do something different, playacting the role of a guy at a sports bar.

I think everyone deserves a few hard nights of drinking when they are young. I have certainly used up all of mine. I was looking for my vices and what better use of teenage and young adult years then to search for the darkness that excites us. A few months later it was the end of the winter quarter at school. I was invited back to a cleaning-out evening. I sat in the room while drinks were passed around. I sipped a beer. After an hour or so, I left. I heard they had a great, wild time the whole night.

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