[Dear Readers: You wrote in and we listened! For the next two weeks, we will be featuring a variety of pieces on “firsts,” based on your suggestions. Want to participate? Just fill out this very short, nine-question survey and enjoy!]
The first time I got drunk, I was 13-years-old. I was hanging out with some “bad kids,” skateboarders who went to the local high school. They were older and so glamorous; the purveyors of all things cool from my middle-schooler’s perspective. The group was mostly made up of boys upon which I placed varying degrees of misplaced affection and a couple of gal pals from my middle school. I’m not sure whose idea it was that this would be the day we would all become intoxicated with each other and for us youngins, the first time. But that day was the day.
There was one older girl who lived in a house with her brother which would provide us with a place to hide away from any serious authority figures. Perhaps this was something that this group did often and now we were being brought into the fold. It was a momentous day and not one I wanted to pass up. I wanted to be a part of them, to be one of the “crew,” to be cool. Plus, I was curious as all get out.
Someone must have been old enough to buy the Mad Dog 20/20s at the neighborhood liquor store. We all waited nervously outside, out of the car, as if our presence provided support to the person inside making the purchase. Strawberry, like the color of her hair, was the older girl’s favorite flavor and this is what she chose for the rest of the girls. She was so thin that her bones stuck out under her tank top and board shorts and this made her look gaunt and punk rock. She had that enviable heroin chic demeanor that was so popular in the early 1990s.
My middle school gal friends were intimidated by her and wanted to be like her, so detached about hanging out with the objects of our affections. I’m sure if we looked hard enough, we could see the yellowing of her fingers from the cigarettes she constantly smoked, but this only added to her ultimate, untouchable coolness. Unlike us, this older girl was unquestionably part of “the crew,” she had proven herself worthy to be respected and above reproach, and it seemed like she ran things a bit, which was exciting in an atmosphere with many unknown and rigid rules of behavior.
We got back to their house and the girl put the alcohol over ice in these big plastic tumblers. The group huddled together in a bedroom with scruffy couches and the tv on. The liquid tasted like bitter Kool-Aid and the older girl had a red ‘stach from drinking it, which made her seem slightly more childish than we had originally thought. Thinking back on it, she probably wasn’t much older than 16, but at the time, imagining our lives past 20-years-old proved to be an exercise in futility.
We drank from our tumblers and waited to see what would happen next. Someone procured a blunt, dipped in honey. It was sticky sweet and we all took our turns. I remember feeling so heavy, so heavy that I couldn’t hold up my head. My arms felt tingly and lay limply at my sides. The squishy cushion at the back of the couch wasn’t enough to keep my head from lolling around on my neck. I’m sure that I looked like the freak in this room full of cool kids.
The girl’s brother took me into their living room that had black light posters on the wall undulating with pictures of fictitious lands, flowers, fungi, and repeated unidentified objects. He played with a fluorescent green plastic Slinky while I stared and stared and stared. “Cool, huh?” is all I remember him saying. I could hear the skater boys in the other room cracking jokes and insulting each other with the word “poseur.” It seemed apt that I was in the living room, on the outside of the action, wondering if the skaterboys thought that I was also a poseur, which was the worst insult they bandied about, not becoming a part of their crew.
Somehow, I had to prove to them that I could “hang.” I had to show that I was as cool as the older girl or even cooler, if I could manage that. I wasn’t the antithesis of their identities, my neighborhood wasn’t far from theirs and we both would have been seen as kids from the wrong side of the tracks. But I also came from a rare two-parent household filled with love and support. I went to Catholic school my whole life and wasn’t always privy to the things that they experienced in the local public schools. I found them fascinating and just for that, I would have deserved to be called a poseur.
Eventually, it was time to go home. Thankfully, I arrived safely in someone’s car. My cousin was there and saw that I wasn’t quite myself. I told him everything immediately and realized that I hadn’t spoken in what felt like hours. Finally, I was somewhere familiar where I wasn’t worried about being called a poseur or about making a wrong move that would open me up to relentless teasing and derision, or about revealing something about myself that was unforgivably uncool. I was home. And even though I had just done something that was so against the way I was raised, I was relieved to be somewhere safe again. My cousin made me drink some weird milk concoction to help sober me up. He told me to tell everyone I was “just tired” and to lock myself in my room and sleep it off until the next day. I was too young to make some false promise to myself that I would “never drink again”. I would definitely do it again. This first time gave me a small taste of the many more drinks that were to come but I will say that I never ever drank Mad Dog 20/20s ever again.