Learning to drink

Having learned about sex mostly from my parents’ small stash of pornography, they weren’t much help when it came to drinking. There was rarely alcohol in the house. I had tried alcohol, of course, a swig of my sister’s wine highball, a sip of my brother’s apricot brandy, but I really learned to drink from my friends in senior year of high school, a practice later perfected in college where I continued my education on binging and discovered the elusive three day hangover.

I was a reclusive, nerdy teenager, driven underground by a pockmarked puberty. My mother complained that I never went out with friends. I took her to heart and started skipping classes to play poker with a couple buddies. Probably not what she meant, but I was the kind of kid who could ditch class and still be an “A” student. Then I bought my first heavy metal cassette (remember those?) – Judas Priest’s Defenders of the Faith. Sounds kind of religious, doesn’t it? In a way it was – guilty pleasure that brought me to life with its pounding drums and driving dual lead guitars more than any hymn sung on a Sunday morning.

However, skipping classes and heavy metal music didn’t teach me to drink. This was small town northern Michigan. If you wanted to socialize, you went hunting or drinking. I already knew how to hunt so I learned to drink, an experience left to me today as a series of disconnected, vague memories.

There was the party at my cousin’s cottage on the lake. I brought a 12 pack of Meister Brau (that and Goebel’s were our beers of choice back then). I no longer recall how I actually obtained this bargain of beers and the party’s details have faded as well: cloudy visions of adult want-to-be’s milling about; peeing and puking outside next to a tree; waking to my aunt and uncle arriving, not happy – a car had been parked with tires on the roadway and the sheriff called, demanding it be moved. Later that afternoon I dropped by my cousin’s house and the same aunt and uncle noted my blood shot eyes and said they were glad I had spent the night rather than drive home. There was no pretending, just letting stupid kids be stupid. Not like today when all anyone seems to worry about is legal liabilities. I hid the leftover beer in my bedroom closet.

Looking 28 instead of 18, I was convinced to try to buy beer but the clerk didn’t fall for it and I never tried again. It was safer and easier to find someone 21 to buy for you.

There was the party in the adjoining hotel rooms where I stood on a dresser to get a better view (or whatever). It felt like a good idea the first time – and a pathetic attention-getter the second time. That was the evening when the room cleared except me, another guy and a girl. I was asked to leave, too. In my defense, I wasn’t a voyeur. Just too trashed to think.

Once, after I had arisen late after being out the night before, my mother asked what I had drunk. Typical teenager, I told her, “Kool-aid.” I assume she understood the real answer: it’s none of your business so let’s just pretend I’m still the best little boy around, ok? I could be an ass if I wanted.

There were still other parties. In the woods somewhere beyond the cement plant, I mostly remember zoning out near the stereo speakers in the cabin, letting my love of Judas Priest and new fondness for drinking converge. There was pot at that party too, but I saved that education for college as well. Then there was Senior Skip Day – another party in the woods, but I didn’t drink much as several of us left around midnight to make the two a.m. bus for the Honor Society’s trip to Cedar Point.

Once, drinking at a friend’s house, I wandered away from the crowd and into a bedroom where a guy was drunkenly resting on the bed, feet on the floor. I don’t remember who it was but I do remember that when he noticed me he gestured toward his crotch. I paused, proverbial deer in the headlights. A trap? Good natured teasing? A genuine offer? I laughed it off and drifted away but I still wonder: what if? What if I had come out at 18 instead of 30? I knew I was gay by then even if I wouldn’t admit it to myself. I had figured it out years before when the Sears catalog came in the mail and I happily skipped past the women’s bras to linger over the men’s briefs. And I was 18 when I had my first crush. I knew I wished we were more than friends when he told me about his date the night before and I suddenly felt truly jealous for the first time. But when I was 18 the men who were rumored to hang out in the restroom at the boat harbor were perverts, and I didn’t want to be a pervert. But what if I had been a bit drunker that night? Would I have thrived? Would I have survived?

I learned to drink in high school. I knew I was on the right track when my mother complained that I never stayed home.

©2019 Kenneth W. Arthur