I don’t know how old I was.
Isn’t that how we start things, when we don’t know how to start things?
I haven’t written in a few days. I should have. I told myself I would. I stopped just short of making a promise to the air and the coffee mug in front me. I should have written something this week, yesterday, at the latest.
But, I didn’t, so we are doing this, because it just occurred to me.
Let’s see. We lived on the south side of Denver until I was 11, thenwe moved to the country. We moved back to the city when I was in the eight grade. So…
I had to have been at least 14, maybe 15. We were living in the house on High Street, red with white trim and patchy lawn we couldn’t get to grow evenly because all the kids on the block and the surrounding neighborhood thought my house it was the place to congregate and didn’t believe my mom cared what her front yard looked like, or what the neighbors thought about her. It was me, my mother, three sisters and my brother – and sometimes my stepfather, and he may have been living with us that day.
It was afternoon, not evening, the sun was still out. Wasn’t it? Well, the adults were having some sort of…
No. It was on High Street, but not at my house. Two houses down, where Victor lived with his parents. Yes. That was it. I couldn’t figure out why my mother and her friends were drinking in the afternoon. Victor and his parents and their friends and family did all the time.
Victor was epileptic. He had seizures regularly. Regularly enough for me to have seen half a dozen episodes in under two years. The first one in the middle of the street during a game of touch football. Victor was in his mid to late 20s, and the quarterback on my team, I think (it was over 35 years ago), and even though his arms were shorter than normal and permanently bent at crooked angles, he could throw farther than any of us kids and teenagers and with greater accuracy. Thirty-five minutes into a close, competitive game, that was heating up noticeably and probably head for a fistfight, he fell over, and went into spasms.
I digress. That memory came out of nowhere. I don’t remember the sounds exactly, but it was gurgling and choking. His mother or father ran out of the house, after someone banged on the door, and stuck a wooden stick in his mouth; they kept his head from banging on the asphalt concrete until the ambulance came.
It was awkward for weeks, for him and us.
My first drink happened sometime after the first seizure, and before I witnessed a second one. The awkwardness had passed, and we were back to rough horse play with Victor and hanging around in his house. I only did it when my mother wasn’t home. She had some sort of deep suspicions about people who let other people’s kids play at their house, or offered them food. I missed out on quite a bit.
It was a Saturday. Me and a few other teenagers were in Victor’s back yard, doing something. Victor’s parents were day- and afternoon-drinking with friends and a few family members, snacking on processed food and few home-cooked comfort dishes, like potato salad and fried chicken, and feeling music from back-in-the-day.
We wanted to play touch football in the street with Victor and whoever we could scare up from surrounding blocks. No one asked Victor if he could play, or if he was okay, or if he thought he could do it, or even if he should NOT be playing with us. But we all wanted to. We talked about it often enough in his absence.
But we were in the backyard and his parent and their friends were in the living room and we couldn’t just troop through the living room while they were there and disrupt their fun. We had to wait until they finished or there was a break in the fun. Victor poked his head in, every now and then, to see what stage they were in. It was his house; he could do that; he had a perfectly good reason to open the back door.
Finally, there was an intermission. I don’t remember why. But, the adults left the house altogether and went out to the porch for some reason. I knew the reason back then and it made perfect sense, but now, I can’t imagine why they would all be on the porch without their drinks.
And they had left them, as we could all see as we quickly trooped through the kitchen and dining room into the living room. Sodas, tall, fizzly glasses, sweaty, with fresh cubes of ice, floating, cracking, and melting on top of various liquids. I could identify colas. Bottles of beer.
Snacks. We quickly grabbed something to eat that fit easily into our front pockets as we filed for the front door. I was trailing in the back of the line, maybe eight people, when I was seized by some powerful impulse.
I wanted a soda. I wanted one of those bottles of Coke, but I couldn’t get one out of the house in my pocket, and I couldn’t drink it when I got outside without everyone seeing me. I wanted to grab one, stuff it in my shorts, then go home when we got outside, to “use the bathroom” and drink it once my front door was closed.
I didn’t try it. I asked Victor if I could use his bathroom instead. He pointed me towards the right door, and I picked my way towards it as everyone hurried outside. As soon as they were all not looking at me, I swiped the nearest Coke can. It was empty. I put it back and went to the bathroom, for a couple of seconds.
Then, I left, looking for a better opportunity. There was a tall glass, filled to the brim with clear liquid and ice, bubbles running to the top and fizzling refreshingly. I practically stuck my nose in it and sniffed as I passed it. 7-Up. Not my favorite soft drink. But…
It was free and no one was looking, and the adults hadn’t come back in, I was alone in the house, and the glass was full, and clean. No lip prints. It hadn’t been touched.
I picked it up quietly, smoothly, hoping to drink as much of it as I could before I could reasonably be expected to be outside.
It was definitely someone else’s drink. I was that kind of teenager. Leave an open bag of chips on a table for a half an hour and come back to chip crumbs and innocent shrugs.
I poured it down my throat, taking huge swallows, trying to ignore how cold the liquid was…
And spat it up on the living room carpet. I sat that glass on the coaster, trying not to cough and gasp and get caught.
It smelled like 7-Up but it was liquor, hard liquor, gin is my best guess, with a splash of 7-Up, for I don’t know what reason. Not for the sweetness or the taste, because the liquor obliterated both of those. You wouldn’t have known there was 7-Up in the glass, if not for the smell.
I can only imagine what my face looked like as I stumbled to the front door, gagging, and trying to look innocent and like my normal self.
What a nasty surprise. Who did that?
A deep, long chill racked my body, and I shuddered with it as I stepped into the sunlight, evil, innocent-looking adults on the porch and front lawn, kids and teenagers in the streets, fishing stolen treats out of their socks and underwear, picking teams and completely unaffected.
Uggh. I am sick now, just thinking of it. Gin, scotch, whichever it was, takes likes a chemical. Utterly disgusting. I don’t know how anyone drinks it. It’s not the taste.
I thought if this because I was in Walgreens on my way home from work, standing at the photo booth counter, staring at the liquor on the shelves against the wall, thinking about buying some Jim Beam Apple and mixing a shot or two with apple juice – in a tall glass stein.
It’s how I get during this time of the year. Cold. I only drink when I’m miserable. I want to sip on something with the faintest bit of kick and other things that will make me happy. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes (from Costco). Beans and rice. Chili and crackers. A work-from-home job.
Thanks for reading.