I remember my first drink vividly. It was in high school, and a fellow classmate had procured a bottle of vodka from her big brother’s stash. “You should try some,” she encouraged. “Here, it tastes bad, so I’ll mix it with Coke.” She filled half a glass with soda, topped it off with the Smirnoff, and handed it gingerly to me. I cradled the glass, sipping my first ever cocktail.
Eechhhhhhh. I gagged. It tasted like sugary hairspray. “It’s supposed to taste like that,” she said. I shrugged. It was time to go home, so I took a few more sips and hitched a ride back with a friend.
As I enjoyed some late-night grub and television in my pajamas, I began to feel giggly and lightheaded. Whatever was on television at the time was immensely funny albeit increasingly blurry. A warm blush crept into my cheeks. Out of curiosity, I glanced into a mirror. I found myself staring directly at a raven-haired tomato.
“I’m so red!” I laughed aloud. “Omigod, am I drunk?”
In Vegas, it’s the curse of beginner’s luck. If you win money the first time you play a game, you’ll spend the rest of your days trying to replicate the success of that first lucky strike. Thinking back, I should have seen the warning signs that the odds were against me. The immediate dizziness, the bright red flush — all after a few sips of vodka. But all I could think about was that goofy, ridiculous grin on my face.
It would the first in a long line of fruitless attempts to enjoy drinking.
Like any intrepid college student, I was privy to the importance of booze in campus life. In the sport of college drinking, there were the heavyweights, the beer bongers and keg standers and shot gunners that filtered alcohol like water through fish; the welterweights, who could hold their own against the best of them; and the lightweights, mostly girls whose voice pitches would go higher and higher after a few cupfuls of jungle juice.
Then there was me. The runt. The watergirl. Desperate though I tried, I failed to keep up with the lightest of lightweights. I’d barely make it through a half-cup of any sort of alcohol before I began to feel sick to my stomach. Friends and classmates, all self-proclaimed drinking experts, gave me every piece of advice they could. “Don’t use sugary mixers.” “Just stick to beer.” “Eat bread.” “Take a Pepcid AC.” That last one came via my dear friend Lo, who discovered that Pepcid kept her from getting the common “Asian Red Face” affliction.
I tried all the suggestions. Turns out that no amount of antacid medicine would prevent the red-face, the dizziness, the awful migraines and nausea that I almost always experienced after drinking. Over time, I began to drink less and less. I hid my shame by proclaiming that I was tipsier than I really was. It was easier than friends insisting that I was not drunk enough and needed to catch up. At bars, I would order a cocktail or beer just to have something in my hand so that generous young men wouldn’t offer to buy me a drink.
There was one instance in which I had determined to finish an entire beer. I had learned that a full stomach kept me from getting too sick, so over the course of the night, I had devoured some thousand calories worth of junk food in order to temper the Heineken I was drinking. Four hours and several bags of chips and Funyuns later, I tasted the flat, bitter swill of victory. It was gross.