[In an earlier version of this post, I shared that I had first tasted alcohol when I was given a small amount of SoCo while teething to rub on sore gums. However, in the words of so many politicians, I apparently misremembered the circumstances surrounding my first taste of alcohol. It was my sister who was given this medicinal SoCo and I who stuck a curious finger in that cap when no one was looking.]
There were probably tastes of wine at the dinner table, sips snuck at backyard picnics, and slugs of warm beer while helping mom “clean up” after a barbecue, but no specific drink stands out until the age of about 12.
Then I recall a first sense of fitting in that was strongly tied to alcohol. I was an awkward kid; I skipped a grade and was always last to join a circle of friends. Never quite right, I seemed simultaneously older than and younger than my peers. Once alcohol entered our “tween” social scene, though, I found my niche.
In friends’ basements, I drank beer that must have been supplied by older siblings. Early on, it was clear that drinking was something I excelled at. I could go beer for cheap-ass beer with the boys, which seemed to make up for a lot of the other ways in which I fell short. Soon I came to look forward to the parties and get-togethers where I knew there would be beer. Literally everyone was doing it and this continued without major incident throughout high school.
But the night before my high school graduation, I got really drunk on screwdrivers. My best friend, who was a year older and had already spent a year in college, was giving the party and one of his friends mixed the drinks, 50% vodka and 50% OJ.
The next morning, I was as hung over as I can remember ever being. Between trips to the bathroom to vomit and back to my bed to moan, I told my parents that I had eaten some bad jujubes (I continue to be a very, very bad liar).
Standing upright was the opposite of what my body needed to do, which, to be specific, was to lie perfectly still on the cold tile bathroom floor next to the toilet. Standing upright while wearing a cap and gown seemed impossible, especially since I had to face my mother, a teacher in my high school who was to personally hand me my diploma.
Standing in line to graduate, I threw up in my mouth. My body was in utter rebellion and I had nowhere to run. I swallowed, mounted the stage, received my diploma from my grimacing mother, and descended, breathtakingly ashamed.
That was my first taste of the dark side of alcohol, a full 16 years before I decided to stop drinking. A high price to pay to fit in.