Kristen / Bye Bye Beer
Do you remember digging a hole at the beach, intending it to be your own personal swimming hole?
You dug it as close to the waves as possible because you wanted the water to rush in. When it did, and let’s say two big waves hit in close succession, water flooded the hole and hovered at the brim, maybe with a bit of sea foam on top, whatever that is. Your swimming hole resembled a green root beer float and sweet success. But sand holes are as thirsty as human souls and the water got sucked down and was suddenly gone, even though it came back around to lap at your heels.
THE YEAR OR SO BEFORE I FOUND BOOZE, I tried to fill that hole with God and boys. For both, I attended church youth group run by a pudgy, smiling minister and his child bride. Dan and Karen. She wasn’t really a child, but she was smaller than me and wore no makeup and her hair straight and long. Rumor had it that Karen had been a wild, untamable teenager until Dan came along and saved her. He looked nothing like the Jesus hanging in our church hall. Jesus had long flowing hair and a full beard. Dan wore his hair in a John Boy and had a wispy mustache, nothing to cut those chubby cheeks.
THERE WERE ABOUT FIFTEEN OF US from a handful of middle and high schools. I was grateful for the chance to reinvent myself. Once a week, I wore my coolest clothes, but made the fatal mistake of bringing myself. The popular boys still went with the popular girls. I tried an edgier boy, quiet and serious Ian who went out of his way to ignore me outside of youth group. I tried a nerdy boy, Jim, until I heard him tell the corniest, unfunniest joke at Talent Night and learned he liked serious, god-fearing Paula anyway. Then there was Glenn, who every girl liked until she realized he liked every girl. It was still fun drinking in that cocktail of hormones and possibility once a week.
A COUPLE OF TIMES A YEAR, we loaded into the white church bus and went on retreats. In summer, we camped in tents, often in pouring rain. On the third morning, when the sun finally came out, we stuffed our musty, swollen sleeping bags in trash bags so a chaperone could drive them to the nearest laundromat while we played Capture the Flag and drank bug juice from a beat up, muddied cooler. In winter, the bus took us to the mountains. Once we stayed at a resort with snowtubing and Glenn hurt his back when he hit a bump and flung spectacularly through the air. All the girls watched solemnly as the ambulance drove off with our best shot at happiness.
THERE WERE OCCASIONAL, actual God moments that had nothing to do with boys. Dan and Karen led us in song, Dan with his acoustic guitar and eyes closed, Karen beside him in a folding chair with eyes open wide. Usually I lip synched, horrified into silence by the sound of my own voice, though when I did sing the door cracked open just enough to let a little light in. Or I felt something shift when we walked under sweet pines or canoed through a clip of marsh grass with the busy chatter of life inside. It was spirit, I guess, but I was too busy looking for god in group prayer, when we clasped hands, shut our eyes tight and tried not to giggle.
THE VERY LAST RETREAT I WENT ON, one of the popular girls smuggled in booze. During free time, three of them passed around a bottle of schnapps in our cabin and got impossibly, rip-roaringly pissed. They all put their hair up in Pebbles ponytails and Melissa took her shirt off and smacked her head on the ceiling above the top bunk. Michelle with two l’s had the sense to pass out. The last drunk girl, Michele with one l, sobbed over her boyfriend Tommy. I just love him soooo much, she cried, electric blue mascara trailing down her swollen, red face so that for once in her life she looked kind of ugly. She was crying loudly, drawing attention to our cabin, and the only thing we feared more than watching these popular girls get away with it was fearing they might not. I ran the gravel path to the field where Tommy played touch football with the other boys. You have to come with me, I begged. It’s Michele. He didn’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation, even when I explained that she’d had too much to drink. He finally begged off from the game with an eyeroll, possibly questioning his taste in women.
ON THE BUS RIDE HOME, someone pulled out a hand copied poem called The Class Ring. It was about a boy who loses his girlfriend in some horrible, yet undisclosed manner that I always assumed was a car accident. As they lower her casket into the snow, a silent tear runs down his cheek. Yes.
OUR CHURCH BUS DESCENDED THE WINDY MOUNTAIN PASS, and the pieces fit together in a way they hadn’t before. I knew what was missing from my life. I was missing tragedy, I was missing booze.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
KRISTEN has been sober and in recovery from alcohol since June 2011. She lives in Southeast Pennsylvania with her husband and two daughters. In her free time, she loves to write and connect with others in recovery.
Read more from Kristen at her blog, Bye Bye Beer.