I remember this one girl's sweet 16 birthday party, where her parents bought all the alcohol. I gave her dad a 20 and he brought back a case of wine coolers. It wasn't until my parents picked me up that I realized the act of stumbling around someone's backyard was not normal or acceptable behavior for a pre-teenager. They could tell I was drunk when I got in the car, but they let it slide. When I got home and in my room, I tried to walk in a straight line like I saw people do on Cops, and when I failed, I giggled to myself. Even if it was on wine coolers, I was bona fide drunk. It didn't make me feel like an adult. My parents had given me sips of beer from a young age to either develop my taste for it or make me hate it (which I did for many years, until I discovered good beer; they drink Coors Light mostly), I'm not sure which one they were trying for. Being drunk simply made me feel a little less young, having crossed some imaginary time line that I would never be able to retract.

Another time around the same age a family friend's daughter or granddaughter came to stay with us for a week or so over the summer. She convinced me to steal some of my parents vodka from their elaborate bar and make screwdrivers. We snuck out of the house early in the morning and sat out on the beach, on top of these blue wooden boxes where people who rented beach chairs and umbrellas stored them until the tourists starting coming out. We sat there sipping the mixture from square generic Tupperware containers, watching the sun slowly fill out its form before us. I didn't pretend that we had been up all night, like some bar hoppers did in my town. But I did feel a little rebellious, at least, since this time I was sneaking, I was doing something not kosher with my surroundings. That part of me would never reach full speed as I grew up, since as reckless as I may have seemed, I didn't want to disappoint or hurt my parents. Even though they let slide things I wished they didn't, they always had the final say on who I hung out with and how far I could take things.

I had a job working at a pizza parlor at too young of an age; I started at 12 and worked several of the stores on the island until I went off to college at 16. So I was around mostly high school kids and college students or beach bums around that age, and they could never guess my age. They always assumed I was a little older and often I'd get invited to employee parties. At one of them I remember passing out in a boat that was docked at a little pier behind the hostess' house. My true age always surfaced at odd moments like that.

By college, I still had no sense of what my tastes were, not that it mattered, since the goal in college is to get drunk, whatever way is easiest for you without always being the one in the backyard, throwing up a day's worth of mac n' cheese or ramen. For me it was Zima's and Hornsby's and Peach Schnappes, or Milwaukee's Best (Beast) when I wanted to get the drinking part of getting bombed over with and out of the way. Even though I was never popular enough to attend keg parties, my guy friends were and so I would find myself fighting for a place at the tap, my plastic cup pressed in the small circle where the beer may come my way. At one kegger I remember I was walking around with a bottle of Goldschlager in one hand and a Coke in the other, doing chasers. Well, what did you expect? I got what I asked for when someone bought our stuff at the ABC.

In college, I learned a little of the art in drinking that I rely on even today. The slow sipping in the dorms, crying to whatever memories cheesy songs by Journey would dredge up, the sloshed bonding sessions when someone had hit a particular low in their self-discovery. The drinking you do after you have a fight with your SO, who at that time means the world to you and you see yourself already sharing the rest of your life with them. Drinking as celebration of even the most mundane occurrences: birthdays, mid term burnout, Earth Day, when the power went out from an ice storm, or simply because you were through with classes for the week. When you live in a pseudo reality, you don't even need legitimate reasons to escape from it on a regular basis, as long as you can stay off Academic Probation.

Then I move to New Orleans, and a lot of what I'd been learning about drinking didn't apply. I was not of legal age to drink the whole time I was in college, so I could never go to the bars my friends went to. I turned 21 right before I moved here, not that being of age was an issue here, but it felt like I again had passed a time line. I was legal now, with a city of bars to entice me, even though we mostly drank at home to cut costs. After I broke up with the boyfriend I had moved here to be with, the bar scene became for the first time a playing field, a place where you made your attempts to socialize and/or get the recognition of the potent, sexy and available person I so wanted to be at that point. I don't need him, my drinks would echo. I don't need anyone.

And now again, drinking has changed in purpose for me. I seldom frequent bars and when in them I never expect much more than my own face reflected back at me from the mirror behind the bar. I feel that for the first time, I am drinking for the right reasons, if I should need reasons. I'm not drinking to ease the discomfort of being around people I don't know, or to drown my problems or escape reality. I do drink sometimes when I don't want to think so much, but I drink coffee to do that too, a sort of quiet reflection with a drink in your hand. And now, I have found my tastes and limitations. I like red wine, when I used to hate it. I drink beer, but beer I like, not beer that is cheapest. I savor what I drink, and I enjoy it more than the buzz it emits. I have drinks over dinner with friends, in good company, and while I may allow myself to get tipsy from it, it's not as big a deal as it once was.

When there is no longer the rebellion attached to it, and in a place like this where drinking in public and even in your car is allowed by law, it can be a place to learn responsible, mature drinking, or in most cases, the worst place, depending on what system you brought with you when you moved here. I am glad, to a point, that I didn't attend college in New Orleans, and that I was not of legal age when I was in college. That would have been too much for my impressionable mind. To me now, there is little that I enjoy more than sitting with friends over a few drinks, talking. I don't get to do it much, but I relish it when I can. Life really can boil down to moments like those when you can get time to reflect, to not do anything requiring movement or even real conversation topics. That's when you know you have a life worth reflecting on, worth coming back to, worth mulling over with a glass of wine. And sometimes, as in life, you have to make an ass out of yourself as you grow to get to that point of reflection. Drinking as you age instead of drinking aging you.

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