I live a “say no” life — as to drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol. Yet on my twenty-first birthday, I deviated from my rule and, with a group of fellow graduate students, sat at a bar and imbibed one celebratory drink after another. I cannot remember what the bar looked like, but I do recall that it was loud — filled with voices and music — and that it got progressively louder with each drink I had. I cannot remember what I wore on that warm August evening in Evanston, Illinois, but I can still feel the clamminess of my skin as the alcohol began to take effect. I also cannot remember how I got back to my apartment; the next morning I found myself atop my bed, my shirt stained with drops of saliva and bits of vomit.
I like to be cognizant of my surroundings, but drinking blurs the environment. I like to be in control of my words, but drinking lifts all inhibitions. I do not like when my head feels like a top that spins and spins without any intention of stopping. I do not like when my stomach rebels with unusual noises and uncomfortable cramps.
Though I abhor alcohol and its effects, my paternal grandmother’s second husband embraced them. He was an alcoholic who rarely showed love to his son or to my father, his stepson. While he did not physically abuse any member of his family, his drunken words left scars that never healed. I knew him only a short time, but I understood even as a child that I did not want to be him.
I do not need alcohol to celebrate — books and theater bring me joy. I do not need alcohol to drown my sorrows — naps and writing calm me. My twenty-first birthday, then, introduced me to alcohol and made me forever avoid it. And that’s just fine with me.