Spring Break was looming and some of my friends were going out of town for the week. I would be staying home. A few friends of mine and I decided that it was time for me to get liquored up. I’d never been out drinking before and I wanted to see what the big deal was about. Since I was hanging out with more people this year I saw a lot more people drinking and I was always entertained by the antics of my friends when drunk.
Lake Lanier was the place of choice. If you don’t go out of town then you went to the lake. Only there was just one problem with that, and I’ll let you know what that was in a minute.
Charles and I had become much better friends as the weeks went by. Kent, the dude from my Lit class and our Chemistry class, also became good friends with the two of us. We’d go watch movies or go to Burger King or whatever; just hang out.
Charles had also taken a job at Kroger just before Christmas; we were both baggers and were the lowest men on the totem pole. Both of us got to know and befriend many of the people who worked there at the front end, i.e. the cashiers and other baggers. One guy that always cracked us up was this dude named Troy. He was always cutting up during work so he fit in with us perfectly. Our main problem was that none of us could legally purchase beer. That problem was solved when one of the cashiers allowed Troy, who was eighteen, to buy the beer and coolers that we wanted.
To tell you the truth I had never really been that big of a beer drinker. I couldn’t stand the taste of it and the smell was almost as brutal. Later people would go the whole “it’s an acquired taste” route with me, to which I always answered, “I imagine that you could get used to eating dirt, too.” Let’s face it: you don’t start drinking alcohol because you’re dehydrated. I wanted to enjoy what I was drinking so we bought some coolers, which were relatively new on the market at that time.
Troy and Charles were to spend the night at my house and we’d be leaving bright and early in the morning to pick up a couple of girls that we knew. One was named Carol; she was in our grade. The other one was a friend of hers named Cathy who was a sophomore. Neither one quite date material, at least for the straight guys.
The next morning we all got up and headed over to pick Carol and Cathy up at Carol’s house. I’d invited Don but he’d declined. Actually I think I pestered him about it because after I asked if he was sure that he didn’t want to go the fourth or fifth time he got a bit irritated that I wouldn’t just take “no” for an answer. I know, I used to be a bit of a nudge, but what can I say. Finally I took the hint. I think the main reason he didn’t want to go was because he really didn’t hang out with any of the other people, other than having luch with Charles and I.
We picked the girls up and headed up to Lake Lanier. Gonna booze it up! Gonna lay out and get drunk on the beach! Gonna have a trippin’ time on the lake! Right?
We go to the gates and the attendant informed us that the beaches weren’t open for the season yet. Well shit! Who’s fucked-up-ass ideas was this anyway? Oh yeah, it was mine. Crime in Italy! Well the park was still open so we just drove around to look for some picnic areas. We found a deserted parking lot not too far from the edge of the lake. You would have had to hiked down a kinda steep hill to get to it, but hey, at least we were at the lake!
I cracked open a wine cooler. Ewwww! Citrus. Booze it up, baby! I drank one down and then cracked a Coors. Bitter Beer Face! Ugg, I was reminded quickly why I didn’t like beer. As my grandmother used to say, you can put it back in the horse. But I proceeded to drink…and drink…and drink. I think that we brought chips or something like that. I don’t know pretzels. You know the drill. Considering I weighed only around 120 (if I fell into a puddle of water) it only took about two seconds for me to start feeling a buzz.
So THAT’S what the big deal was! The buzz!
My world was spinning. Do I have any idea what we did? Nope! I just remember saying that I wanted to head down the hill and go swimming in the lake. I was just being a drunk but had gotten to the edge of the woods near the end of the parking lot when Charles came over and grabbed me from going to far. I kept doing goofy drunken crap like heading back towards the woods. Finally he picked me up and threw me over his shoulder, then walked me back to the car. I was laughing my ass off. The music on the radio was blaring and I climbed onto the roof of the car and passed out. I must’ve woken up an hour or so later because my entire backside was sunburned. I had a hard time walking, but everyone else was ripped. Along about this time I had sobered up quite a bit but we still hung out there for a while. I had a hangover. God, that sucked.
Finally it was getting late in the afternoon. More accurately it was getting close to rush hour and we were about an hour from home. Okay so I’d gotten drunk for the first time. No big whup. I understood why people drank. Plus I’m Irish so it’s in my blood. Now there’s some inappropriate humor for ya! The ride home was torture because of my goddamned sunburn. Everyone else seemed to get a kick out of that.
The next day I was sitting in the den and my mom was in the kitchen.
“Mom, there’s something that I want to tell you.”
“Yes?” she replied.
“Well, yesterday when we went up to the lake I wanted to see what it was like to have a few drinks, so I did.” I couldn’t believe I was telling her this.
“Well, I’m not sure what the big deal is; why people make such noise about getting drunk.”
“Hm. Well, I appreciate that you felt you could tell me about it. I’m not exactly thrilled that you took my car to do it.”
I had nothing to say to that.
“How did you even get the beer?”
“Oh, one of the cashiers at the store sold it to us.”
“Do you know how much trouble you could’ve gotten him into?”
“Her,” I corrected.
“Whatever,” she said. Mom wasn’t really pissed, she was just trying to make a point.
“Hey, like I said, I saw that it was really not a big deal and don’t plan on doing it again anytime soon.”
“Well, anytime you want to tell me anything I want you to know that you can always be honest with me. I might not like what you’re telling me, but I just want you to feel free to communicate.”
“Thanks Mom,” I said and turned back to watch Another World.
The next day at work I walked funny because of my one-sided sunburn. What a maroon. A couple of people asked me if my shoes were hurting my feet. Nope, it was the sunburn. Ahh, the remnants of drinking and passing out drunk on the roof of a car. Don was working that day.
“Hey man, how was Lake Lanier?” he asked.
“Closed,” I said.
“Do what?” he asked, chuckling.
“The goddamned lake was closed, so we found an empty parking lot to hang out in.”
He paused for a moment before bursting out laughing. You would’ve thought it was the funniest thing he’d heard. Well, it was kinda stupid. He shook his head, still laughing, and walked over to his register.
The rest of Spring Break flew by, and then the new Spring quarter started the following Monday at school. I wasn’t really thrilled about this quarter. You see, we were required to have four quarters of p.e. to graduate; two in eight grade and two in ninth. Only problem was that I only took one p.e. in ninth grade and took geography in place of the second one. That meant I had to make up the other p.e. during Spring quarter. No more class with Don.
Or so I thought.
I should’ve known better, though. Ever since that January night when he opened up about his parents he and I spent a bit more time on the phone. One night during Winter quarter he asked me what classes I’d be taking in the Spring. I mentioned to him about the p.e. and that I’d be dropping the computer science class that we shared. All he’d said was “that sucks.”
The odd thing about the p.e. class was that it was made up entirely of ninth graders. I guess they had all chosen to take the class when they were supposed to, unlike me. Coach Frank was only really interested in working with weights. Great. I was skinny as a rail and was extremely uncomfortable even wearing shorts, let alone lifting weights in front of anyone. About twenty minutes into the class I looked up. I couldn’t help but smile.
Don had come into the weight room. He had a great big smile as well, which showed off his dimples. Oh…woof! You could’ve knocked me over with a feather.
“Hey buddy, what are you doing here?”
“I didn’t need that computer class anyway,” was all he said.
“So you dropped it?”
“Yep,” he said.
Over the next few weeks Don and I were practically inseparable. One thing that made me really respect him and look up to him was how he helped me during workouts. I was basically a limp noodle and he was a buff baseball jock. I’d spot him during his bench presses and he’d do the same. After about two months I was able to press around 120 pounds. No big deal to most people, but to me it was like lifting a mountain. And he never laughed at me; never made me feel funny at all. He was always right there, coaching and motivating me all the way. I had really fallen for this guy. I felt safe around him. I felt protected.
Just before Spring Break his friend Carl had gone off to boot camp and Don started talking with me more. It seems that Carl annoyed the piss out of Don because he was really arrogant (which I already knew) and was unreliable as a friend. He’d always say he was going to do something but either wouldn’t show or just wouldn’t do it, and this drove Don nuts.
Spring quarter flew by and it was only a couple of weeks before school was out for the summer, which meant that Don would be graduating. God, I was hating how quickly time flew. Then one Friday afternoon as school was letting out Don came up to me in the cafeteria.
“Hey man,” he said. Something seemed wrong. He kept looking around the place and seemed fidgety.
“Hey. What’s up?” I asked.
“Nothing. I gotta go,” he said and then turned to walk off.
“Uh…bye,” I said.
He turned back around. “You don’t work tonight do you,” he stated more than asked.
“No, I’ve got tonight off.”
“I thought so. You wanna go off and have a beer with me tonight?”
“Yeah!” I said, almost too eagerly. “When?”
“I’m not sure. Elizabeth broke up with me.”
Sucks to be her! Elizabeth was some girl that Don had been dating for a year; maybe less. She didn’t go to our school so I’d never met her. He didn’t really talk that much about her. Fine with me. I mean, if she did something that affected him then I was concerned, but otherwise I could care less.
“Yeah man. Just come by anytime. I’ll be home.”
“Cool. See ya, buddy.”
I wondered if Carl were still here would he have asked him or me. I guess it was senseless to think that, because he’d asked me. I was looking forward to going out drinking with Don for the first time.
* * * *
He brought beer. Christ. After the Lake Lanier trip I actually loathed the stuff. I couldn’t even smell it without gagging. They were these little tiny bottles. I don’t know what you’d call them, and he chugged his down pretty quickly. I, on the other hand, was having a very hard time. I’d take a swig and choke the stuff down. Blah! We actually ended up going to a house that was under construction next door to Carl’s. Well, there were three houses being built and we just picked one then went out onto the back deck.
“You okay?” I asked him. He was standing there with his arms on the railing, holding his beer.
“I guess I just don’t understand girls,” he said.
Well I sure didn’t. “What happened?”
He finished off a bottle and chucked it into the woods. I didn’t even see where it landed he threw it so damn far. Taking another bottle from the cooler he opened it and sucked that one down too.
“She said that we just weren’t good together anymore.” You could tell he was irritated.
“What’s that supposed to mean.”
“That’s what I wanted to know. She said that now that she’d be going off to college in the fall…basically she dumped me. I said some things that I probably shouldn’t have.” Then he turned to look at me. “Can we not talk about this?”
“Sure,” I said. I tried to take another swig. Ugg. I hate beer. Don just laughed at me.
“Dude, you crack me up. So beer’s not your drink. That’s okay. We’ll have to fix you up with something else.”
“God, anything but this…swill.”
He laughed at that. “Come on, let’s go.”
“Where to?” I asked.
“My house.” I looked at him funny. “My parents should be gone by now. They’ll never miss any liquor.”
“Let’s do it,” I said.
We drove over to his house. Once we got there he fixed me a really simple drink made with Coke and peach schnapps. Yum! A few of those and I’d be nekkid!
“So where are your folks tonight?” I asked as we sat down in the den.
“They’re at some party, getting drunk I’m sure,” he said, downing another beer. By now he’d had five, but again they were pretty small. “So how come you don’t date, Paul?”
I blew some of my drink out of my nose which seemed to entertain him. “Dude, who’d date me? Look at me. I’m some skinny bean pole.”
He just smiled and laughed. “You’re a nut.”
“Whatever. So how are things with your parents?”
“You know, I actually got into a fight with my mom last week.”
“You,” he said evenly.
“I was laying here, minding my own fuckin’ business and my mom starts in on me how I’m always on the phone, or I’m never here anymore. I told her she was just drunk and to piss off.”
Damn, I couldn’t even imagine what that kind of life was like.
“So how did I get brought into it? I haven’t done anything.”
“No, she was just drunk. She said that she didn’t understand why I was spending so much time with that ‘skinny thing’, as she called you,” he said.
Don continued. “I jumped up off the floor and shouted at her ‘that’s my friend!’ but as I was getting up I ended up hitting her with my forearm. I didn’t mean to; it just kind of happened. She started swinging at me but I just grabbed her arms and stopped her.”
“Damn man, I feel bad.” Plus I really felt awkward. Here’s my friend’s mom wondering why he was spending so much time with me lately. I hadn’t done anything wrong.
He snorted out a laugh. “Dude, it was just the liquor talking. She probably didn’t even remember it the next day.”
“But dude, you defended me.” I was somewhat awestruck. Maybe surprised is a better word.
He looked up into my eyes and said, “You’re my friend. Of course I will.” He opened up another bottle and took a long pull from it. Setting it down on the table he said, quickly, “I love you like a brother, man,” and stood up.
Excuse me? Did I just hear that correctly? Nobody had ever told me that. God damn I felt…shit. I don’t know what I felt. The drinks were catching up with me and I didn’t want to say anything stupid.
Walking towards the living room he said, “You’re into music, man. Have you ever heard this?” He put on Evita and started playing “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.”
“I’ve heard the title, and the melody sounds familiar, but I’ve never really sat and listened to it.”
“She’s got an awesome voice!” I think he was starting to slur his speech a bit. My head was starting to spin, too. Oh, I was enjoying a nice buzz.
“You’re a good guy, Don Keller,” I said, my own speech getting thick.
He looked over at me and smiled. “Those are good drinks, aren’t they.”
“Oh baby!” I said, laughing. “What else ya got?”
Going back into the kitchen he started fixing something with gin. “Ever have a Tom Collins?”
“Well aren’t you a regular bartender?” I laughed.
“When you have as much to drink in this house as we do, well…” and he let it go at that.
* * * *
I decided that night that I really loved Mr. Collins. Being so skinny it only took me a couple to get really looped. Don and I just sat around drinking and listening to music. Mostly the radio. Oh we talked, too. He’d talk a bit about Elizabeth, then his parents. Then we’d bitch about work. All the while solving the world’s problems. By the time I’d had a couple of Coke and schnapps and two Tom Collins he’d had around ten beers. The drinks he fixed for me were small but they packed a punch to a novice drinker like myself.
I was sitting on one end of the couch and Don had just gone into the kitchen to get another beer. I leaned forward and flipped through a magazine on the coffee table as he sat back down in his chair, which was at an angle to the couch. He ruffled my hair a bit and said “Cheers!” rather buzzed.
“Backatcha!” I slurred, fixing my hair. I noticed that he was staring at me with a look in his eye that I’d never seen before. I cocked my head a little bit. “What?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.
He took a deep breath and blew it out through his nose. “You got a haircut, didn’t you.”
I laughed. “Yeah, last week.”
He just kept looking at me with this funny look in his eye.
“Cheers,” I said again. Even in my intoxicated haze I was feeling uncomfortable, but had that whiskey muscle. I didn’t want to use it and say something that I might regret later.
Don kept looking at me. Uh oh! “Cheers. To good ffrens, buddy!” he slurred.
I winked and slammed the rest of my drink. “Oh dude, how the shit am I gonna ‘splain this to my parents?”
“You don’t have to, man,” he said.
I furrowed my eyes a bit. “Hmm?”
“Why don’t you spend the night,” he said, taking the final pull off of the beer. He looked back at me with that same glint in his eye. “I really like your haircut.”
We sat there for another few seconds looking into each others eyes.