On Turning Forty

colt 45

Chapter Four: Acts of Wanton Recklessness

Like most people, I imagine, my relationship with alcohol began with a desire to have fun. Having an older brother who was apt to partying, I was introduced to booze at a rather young age. I have a handful of high school drunken stories, but I didn’t start drinking with any regularity or earnestness until I went to college. I saw undergrad as an opportunity to totally reinvent myself, a project that went horribly awry in the course of two years,but one that meant I was to become a walking contradiction. A guy who partied four nights out of the week but who was on the Dean’s List and made the freshman academic fraternity. The Dean of Housing, who dealt with disciplinary issues, said to me: “We don’t know what to do with you. You don’t fit the profile.”

I was busted for pot smoking one hour into the first day of college. My Dad had barely left the campus and already I was written up. Mind you, I was not smoking; one of my five roommates, a guy who I would later that year see attack a girl for a nitrus balloon, sparked up without even lighting incense. When we were discovered by the RA, I refused to say who was smoking. I said that I was not, but wouldn’t fink. I assumed the other dude would fess up when it turned out that we both got written up, but such was not the case. I would be busted for weed twice more before I left the school, both of the times taking the rap for everyone else in the room. I know that I was trying to make up for incidents in the past, but that is another chapter. I just don’t want you to think that I’m bragging on myself. I wasn’t always a stand-up guy, and even now I sometimes fear if I will stand up or not when it really counts. I thought a lot about that after the Virginia Tech shooting, back when I was in the classroom.

But drinking was where I distinguished myself. When I first arrived on campus, I would catch a buzz off half a beer. By spring quarter, on any given night I was drinking two 40s of Colt 45. Generally a group of us, a mix of computer nerds and children of hippies, would pool together our money to buy a quarter bag of weed, which we would smoke in one or two sittings. For five bucks, you got all the weed you could smoke. The 40s were two for a dollar on weeknights. My pink lungs and liver were just beginning to encounter the damaging abuse I would unleash upon them over the years. Cramped in a dorm room inside of a suite, nearly ten of us would hotbox the room, listening to Beastie Boys and shooting the shit. We had a bong, and a joint was always going and another was being rolled. People would float in and out, a fan sucking the smoke out of the room, and drop contributions into the hat. The nights rolled one into another.

I was taking Latin III and struggling; I was afraid of losing my GPA if I slipped below a B+, and the nights in the hotbox probably weren’t helping with the development of neural nets. I remember that I had been studying in the library for the whole weekend, forgoing any partying, preparing for a test that we had coming up. Not the final, but the last big test before the final, which included a sight translation. I walked out into the warm air from the library and made my way down the hill; Kalamazoo College’s campus is on a hill. I was living in one of the dorms at the bottom, near the edge of campus, and as I used my keycard to buzz myself into the building, I thought: I should just go straight to my room. I shouldn’t stop off on the second floor. No luck. I’d like to say that I was summoned, that someone caught me in the stairwell and dragged me into the hotbox. But I doubt it. Knowing myself, I quickly said Fuck it, and walked straight into the party.

What I do know is this: my brother was there, an unusual occurrence for him. Steve was four years older than his classmates with whom he would graduate in a few weeks, and nearly eight years older than my friends. But there he was, toking away with my friends. I don’t recall exactly what happened, but I do know that my friend Kevin Barry was always razzing me about not really being Irish, which for some reason was a simple way to get a rise out of me; he was taunting me in a similar fashion, in between smoking the three joints that were circulating within the room. Before I knew it, I said, Oh yeah to the querying of my Irishness, and I cracked open a Colt 45 four-by-five, a real steal with an extra five ounces for the same price, threw my head back, and commenced to chug the entire thing.

I imagine if I had stopped there, I would have been okay. I was young; I bounced back well. I had never really had a hangover; I’d feel a little rough, but after an hour or two in the library I was fine. But I didn’t stop. I cracked open another bottle and did the same things. Unprompted. The first one had shut Kevin up; he was a waif of a thing who could step his body through a tennis racket, a talent he used to win money from drunken football players who bet against him, and my challenge for him to follow suit had gone unanswered. The second bottle was total ego. Completely unnecessary, and has become probably the best puking story I have, and unfortunately that is not a slim file.

I lived in a single within a suite; I had my own room and it was across from the bathroom, which I shared with my five other roommates. The beds were also dressers, with a prison thickness mattress on the wooden structure. By this time I had invested in foam eggcrate pads to lessen the pain, but nothing could change the fact that the bed was a little high for me, and I had drunkenly fallen off of it and failed to get on a few times. This night, after getting lost in the stairwell going from the second to the third floor, I was more intoxicated than I had ever been in my life. Luckily, the halls were rather empty, and I was able to get into the suite to find it unoccupied before falling. I crawled to my room and somehow managed to crawl up on the bed. My instinct was to put a foot on the floor to stop the spins, but the mattress was too high. Within two minutes I knew that I had only a matter of second before I was going to vomit everywhere.

Now, this was certainly not the first time I had to puke from over drinking. In fact, I had a system that I had perfected over the course of three quarters. I knew that from my open door, it was “step, step, kick” (if the door was closed), step, pivot, step, step, step, [kick if the door was closed] lunge, barf.” I was going along well until I messed up on the pivot, and by the time I lunged I went straight into the shower and commenced puking. My slightly digested cafeteria supper was in our shower. I stripped down naked, turned on the shower, and tried to push the vomit down the drain with shampoo bottles. Failing this, I took a towel I hoped to be mine (it was), and scooped all the vomit I could and pushed it into the corner of the bathroom. I crawled naked back into the bedroom and passed out, somehow making it into the bed.

A fervent knocking awoke me far after my alarm clock should have, had I set it for the Latin test that I had missed. Pulling on boxers, I opened up the door to see one of my flatmates. His thick glasses made him look like an alien. He said, “Was that you who puked last night?” I nodded, squinting at him despite the fact that the hallway was dark. “Can you clean it up?” “I did,” I muttered. “No,” he said. “I stepped on something sharp.” This took me aback. Am I vomiting machine parts? I cleaned up as best I could, put on clean clothes, and for the first time I can remember, lied as a result of getting too drunk the night before. I played sick, which was believed. I took the test the next day, with a penalty, and earned a B+ for the year.

By sophomore year, my partying had gone to new levels, so much so that my family did an intervention on me. I’d like to say that did it, that I quit drinking and stopped using drugs. I didn’t. You see, while I started drinking and abusing drugs as a way to have fun, after awhile I did it to self-medicate. Not drugs. I quit those with relative ease. But drinking. It was my go to. To feel something. To not feel something. To forget things; to remember things. To celebrate. To commiserate.

I celebrated my fortieth birthday without a drop of alcohol, and while others were drinking, I had absolutely no problem. It was joyful to see others responsibly consuming, and to feel that I was as fully a part of the party as were they. I don’t know if I’m not drinking for the rest of my life, but right now I have no desire. I mean, when you have a protocol for how to properly puke, you might need to reconsider your relationship with alcohol. But that’s just me.

All I know is, Colt 45 does the trick, every time.

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