I’d always adored alcohol. I appreciated the way it enhanced my presence at any party. Rather than letting my extensive catalogue of insecurities keep me from being social, I’d accept help from my most generous friend, Jim Beam. With his support, I’d magically transform from an awkward geek into a breathtaking beauty queen, just in time to dazzle the crowd with my mastery of small talk. For hours, he’d blessed me with a pleasant disposition, a charming laugh, and a swanlike grace. And later in the night, when I’d reliably land face-down in a crosswalk with a broken heel and bloody knees, Jim was gracious enough to erase any recollection.
I thought back to my very first drink at Jess’s house during our sophomore year of high school. School had been dismissed early because of a phone call claiming there was a bomb planted in the Science wing. Thrilled, Jess and I headed to her house to study for our SATs, where we were greeting by a glorious silence and the realization that her mom was still at work. An empty house is about as good as it gets at 15. An empty house with an unlocked liquor cabinet is about as good as it gets, period.
We sat cross-legged on the dining room floor in front of the open cabinet, uncorking a bottle of crème de menthe.
“I think this means ‘French Mint.’”
And just like that, I wrapped my lips around the bottle, threw my head back with more force than necessarily, and poured the syrupy liqueur down my throat. I felt the molten liquid ooze down my esophagus, warm and gooey. It was like drinking cough medicine, which had always been my favorite feature of getting sick. I remember the concern on Mrs. Bailey’s face when I announced in my seventh grade Health class that, if forced to choose, I’d rather drink a bottle of Robitussin than have a week off from school.
In just four chugs, I finished half of the bottle. Immediately, I felt happier. Like the whole world had changed. Any worries I had been harboring emerged to the forefront of my mind and then dissipated, like shapes made out of cigarette smoke. Tommy Manning didn’t invite me to his Prom? His loss. I was failing Biology? I’d gain extra credit. Heather Haverford “pantsed” me in front of the entire school at last week’s Fire Prevention assembly? I’d burn down her house while her family slept inside. No big whoop.
I was incredibly Zen. And this was before Being Zen was even a thing, so it was real. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that everything means more if you discover it before mainstream culture does. As soon as the masses get their grubby little hands all over your something – be it a music genre, diet craze, or feeling of internal peace – it becomes uncool, and also becomes grounds to berate others for their inability to magically know things without learning. So, for proper reference, drinking crème de menthe on the floor of your friend’s parents’ house against their permission was completely and incomparably cool. You’ll never know anything like it.
It was as if all these years I’d been knocking on the door to the party, desperate to be let in, completely unaware that the key was in my pocket.
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