The path of every great beer (or wine; or whisky) drinker is strewn invariably with horrific, head-and-belly destroying hangovers. And chances are, that first hangover is the all-time worst hangover.
Take for example New Year’s Eve, 1998. I had turned 15 just one day prior, and this was my first time getting drunk. This was the plan. My crew of high school friends were celebrating at Mack’s East Vancouver townhouse, in the most predictable ‘90s-teenager way possible: with a case of beer; two-litre bottles of Growers “cider”; a half dozen bottles of Smirnoff; and a playlist consisting of Marcy Playground, Harvey Danger and Third Eye Blind, among others.
By 9pm, the living room is crowded with two-dozen high school kids, red of cup and red of face. The kitchen floor is sticky with Growers. I hijack the stereo with my KoRn CD and there’s Melissa, who’s swaying in what looks like slow motion. She waves me over and shouts forcefully me in to my ear, “The real person comes out when you’re drunk, you know!”
Well, I’d never considered that before. I take a grand old sip of my cider, and like what I taste. I drink and I drink and there’s Dan sitting between the couch and the wall, drinking a can of beer. “Would you like one?” “Why not!”
And then I’m swaying and laughing and everyone in the room is laughing too. Rene is sitting in the corner of the room with headphones on, clutching a copy of Mechanical Animals, a bottle of Smirnoff cradled between his thighs, swinging his head violently back and forth to the beat. Take it easy there, Rene!
And look, there’s Caitlin, writhing on the floor. Looking kind of silly there, Caitlin, with your head in that bucket!
And I drink and drink and –
– I wake up on the floor. My vision is watery but I don’t think I’ve been crying. People are crowding around me in a huddle, staring. My head is in someone’s lap.
“He’s wet his pants!” someone says.
“He needs some water!” says another. “Get him some water!”
Rene pushes into the crowd and hands me a red cup. I drink half the water before it burns and I cough and I choke and notice the bottle of Smirnoff in Rene’s hand, and his manic grin and –
– I wake up outside, in the front yard, on a pile of snow. It’s dark. I’m shirtless and shivering. My urine-soaked pants have frozen to my thighs. My bones are cold. My head feels like lemmings have been digging tunnels in there and are frantic to escape. My stomach – oh god, my stomach.
I crawl to the front door. Inside, everyone’s asleep. The carpet is strewn with more barf than I’m capable of truly noticing at this difficult time. Someone’s punched a hole in the wall. I crawl to the nearest bedroom. I lay my head down –
– I wake up and crawl to the bathroom, but I miss. If this is the real me, I don’t like what I –
– I wake up to Mack’s mother holding a cold rag to my head. Sunlight filtering through the curtains. Has she been here the whole time? Mack’s standing behind her. He’s pissed in just about every way. I’m in his bed now, I see. I lean over and retch into the bucket she’s holding up, but not before thinking, That sure is full!
And as much as my body wants it, nothing comes up. At this point, it’s very clear to me that I’m going to die. There’s no way life can feel like this. My esophagus is grasping at air at this point, my whole body tightening and scraping for something anything to come up, and I’m just heaving at nothing at all. Until finally, this bright green liquid like the ooze of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II brought forth from the deepest depths….
“I think he has alcohol poisoning,” says Mack’s mom.
“Should we call the hospital?”
“I don’t need the hospital,” I croak. “What happened?”
Turns out, the “cider” had done me in and I fell down drunk and pissed myself. While I was down, I chugged a cup of vodka, mistaking it for water. I made a mess right there in the living room, got up, then staggered to the stairs. I made a larger mess at the foot of the stairs, after sliding headfirst down them. Mack put his fist through the wall in a rage and, with the help of hulking teenagers Greg and Martin, tossed all 110 pounds of my deadweight outside. Out of sight, out of mind. (I’m still not sure when I lost my shirt.)
My dad comes to pick me up. Greg and Martin bring me out, hoisting me between them, my feet dragging like some propped up corpse. Which, in many ways, I am.
They fold me into the front seat of the car. My dad’s angry, obviously, but later, both parents come to my room to stare at me in bed, into which I’ve planned never to leave again. Mom’s beaming, as if I’d finally proven to her the one fact she’d long suspected, but I’d been denying her the proof of: That her son is, in fact, a moron.
“You’re a moron,” she says.
And bless their hearts, they stare at me with knowing faces, clearly amused and no doubt thinking back to the time when they were 15 and their parents stared goofily at them from the doorway of their bedroom, reminiscing on their first hangover.
They weren’t that amused though. I was grounded for three months. The hangover was one of those multi-day affairs I wouldn’t experience again until I turned 30.
I didn’t touch alcohol for over two years. And now I’m a beer writer.
Happy holidays, everyone.