Drunk Girl is cool. Drunk girl is confident. Drunk Girl is hot. Drunk girl can’t lose.
Drunk Girl remembers nothing of shy, nervous girl. Drunk Girl is the blossoming of someone much less interesting. Drunk Girl is who’s been hiding inside boring girl all along.
Drunk Girl thinks, “This is fun!” and studies the new, unusual dizziness weighing down her limbs. She tells her friends, “It’s like waking up every second,” and they laugh at Drunk Girl’s newness.
Boys love Drunk Girl. They look at her and tell her about high school, their favorite TV shows, how cute she is. Smart, witty words always fall right out of Drunk Girl’s mouth without her even having to try. Drunk Girl’s lips are magnolias waiting for the bees to come and suck them dry. Boys kiss her and she feels like she deserves it, like at long last she is seen. In the morning she is nervous, quiet girl again but at night Drunk Girl is in charge and without fear.
Drunk Girl will never be like her mother, who has been sober 16 years. Drunk Girl is stronger, has more will power, just isn’t like that. Drunk Girl drinks because it’s fun and feels good. She would’ve started drinking sooner if she hadn’t been so terrified of getting caught. Drunk Girl feels sorry for her mother, who couldn’t handle just one drink and now hates going to bars.
Drunk Girl is nineteen and living in New York City for a little while. She is afraid of walking the six dark Williamsburg blocks to the Food Bazaar, so she takes shots of vodka before leaving.
In this city everyone thinks Drunk Girl is older than nineteen so they let her buy alcohol and welcome her with open arms into neon-lit bars. When the bartender with the biggest boobs Drunk Girl has ever seen asks her what she wants, Drunk Girl panics then asks for a gin and tonic even though she would really love something fruity. In that club she kisses a boy who tastes like chicken wings and holds her face. A few days later they go on a date where he doesn’t pay for her coffee or ask her any questions. Drunk Girl loves to tell the story of making out with a stranger in New York City, especially during drinking games with friends.
Drunk Girl buys bottle after bottle of wine from a smiling man in Midtown just because she can. As soon as she gets home she opens the treasured vessels ceremoniously, oh-so carefully. She is amazed. Some nights Drunk Girl splits the bottle with her roommate and some nights she drinks until the world becomes padded and pillowy and quiet. On those nights she lies in bed and marvels at the paralysis of everything: her body, her thoughts, her worries, her cares. Nothing anyone says to Drunk Girl can hurt her when she is insulated so. Rose, Chardonnay, Zinfandel; it all goes down bitterly divine. Soon the taste fails to matter. Just get it down.
Back at school, Drunk Girl loves making all the mistakes she has never been allowed. One by one she crosses them off the list in her head: fights with roommates, boys who push too far, hangovers that consume whole days. One night she is throwing up in the bathroom stall, swimming in and out of consciousness, sobbing hard and fast. She does not know what she is crying for, but she knows that it hurts. She thinks maybe it is everything. Drunk Girl is sorry for everything. Her friends find her lying on the floor, tears dripping onto the blank white tile. They put her to bed.
In the morning Drunk Girl calls psychological services to ask for help because she is scared of what’s inside of her. The voice on the phone asks her if it is an emergency. Drunk Girl says “no” because she is mostly not thinking about jumping out the window, but cries into the receiver.
Drunk Girl is put on anxiety medication. The little white pills taste bitter and hopeful.
Drunk Girl goes home for the summer and she and her friends enjoy their new grown-up game together. Movie nights become parties; everything becomes a party. Under June, July, August sun everything is given new meaning; anything can be made more fun with a flask and some carelessness. Wine coolers are stolen from basement refrigerators on a regular basis. Raspberry, lemonade, peach, lime. These taste good and sweet and go down without resistance.
Drunk Girl never has enough alcohol on hand. She starts taking beers from friends’ houses and storing them in her bottom dresser drawer, for emergencies. On bad nights she fills an opaque cup with ice, pours beer in and watches the foam. She drinks it on the front porch, looking out at the other houses in the cul-de-sac, temples to delusory gods, and waits for the warmth to spread.
Drunk Girl prefers root canals to family functions. She would take an aching mouth every time over barbeques, baby showers, birthdays. Now, though, if she can find the cooler full of beer she can stand to listen to her uncles talk about engines that no longer run and grandparents who allocate their eternal disappointment. Drunk Girl is one hundred percent convinced that chugging four watery Miller Lites in the bathroom of a public park is poetic. The buzz between her ears makes every pointed comment softer, more gentle. Everything is a joke and the punch line is that none of it matters. The only downside, Drunk Girl thinks, is that time moves no faster when you’re drunk. The world is kinder but the party is never over any sooner. She wishes things would end sooner.
Drunk Girl asks her older cousin to buy her two handles of vodka and a box of Franzia. They meet in the mall parking lot outside a Dick’s Sporting Goods store. Drunk Girl tells her cousin that this isn’t just for her, oh no, she and all her friends are going to share. But that is a lie. The two girls share a forced laugh, make a joke about being alcoholics, and go their separate ways.
Now when Drunk Girl gets home from work at 4pm the fun can begin. Her parents are not home, so she mixes drinks at the kitchen table. Anything sweet will do: Diet Pepsi, orange juice, Gatorade. By the time Drunk Girl’s parents come home she is off somewhere else, floating all alone. Day after day this repeats. Some nights one of them will take Drunk Girl to the grocery store or out to dinner, and the blurry world is all brand new. As long as you can keep your balance, Drunk Girl thinks, no one even notices.
Drunk Girl hates being sober, can’t stand it actually, so by August most days she just drinks. No one knows.
Drunk Girl has to drive into town, even though she is drunk. After little contemplation she decides that this is okay, that she can take the back roads and be fine. Drunk Girl knows she is not drunk driving. That’s what middle-aged men do after bar time ends; this is very different. She is fine.
She is fine until swerving onto the gravel shoulder too quickly, yelling, “shit shit shit!” Stopped on the side of the road, Drunk Girl looks all around, but there are no other cars.
Back at school guilt swirls around Drunk Girl like flies: loud and biting and dark. She can never find the words to tell other people how this hurts her. She is guilty of deserting her parents, costing them every cent they’ve ever made, making her mother cry over the phone. She is so sorry.
On a Friday night, Drunk Girl loses her virginity. She is wasted and sky high but it still hurts. Three days later the boy tells her It’s Not Gonna Work. She is sorry then too, for being so young and stupid. The next night Drunk Girl drinks seven beers, throws them up, then drinks two more. She tells her friends, “I can’t even feel it.”
Drunk Girl loves weekends. For her they start on Thursday night and go ‘til Monday morning. She learns that if you start in the afternoon, as long as you take it slow the buzz lasts until bedtime. She learns which liquor gives her the worst hangovers and which brands are cheapest. She learns exactly how much to drink so that no one can tell. It all comes down to patterns, formulas, to paying attention. It also comes down to waiting: when she can buy more, when she can mix the next drink, when she can get out of her head. By now most of the time she just lies in her bed with a bottle of cheap wine. One glass, two, three, four. Oops, all gone. Are you drinking? The roommates ask. Just a little, just a little. Monday nights are hard, okay? So are Tuesdays, Wednesdays. Then it’s the weekend. Why wouldn’t you want to feel good all the time, if you could?
Drunk Girl does not feel like going to class, but she can’t afford to miss another. It’s 3:30 and she just wants to be able to come home and relax (drink). In the fridge is a 5th of shitty vodka and half a bottle of blue Gatorade. The thought crosses her mind that she could take a sip before class, just to loosen her up. Drunk Girl hates how self-conscious sober her always feels, hates feeling wrong all of the time. She pours the liquor into the bottle and shakes it around to mix. She sips and tastes metallic. She sips again. Not drunk—just loose. More relaxed.
In class her mind can’t hold onto words being said by the professor or anyone else. She looks at the faces and wishes someone, anyone would look back at her, but no one does. Drunk Girl feels suddenly desperate. She screams, but only inside. She is terrified of being called on, just wants to leave but is glued to her cold plastic chair. She resolves to never do this to herself again. But she does.
Drunk Girl can’t talk to anyone. She watches the others around her and marvels at the way truths fall out of their mouths like it’s the easiest thing in the world. No matter how hard she tries to let the things that hurt her out, the words she says feel empty, hollow, false. Drunk Girl is shielded from the rest of the world, but slowly realizing that the barrier works both ways, and she is trapped inside.
When Drunk Girl is really drunk she can’t worry about saying the wrong thing so she says everything. One October Sunday night her mind throbs with all the things she wants to say but can’t; they are poisoning her from the inside. They are gnawing at her brain, killing her, begging to be let out, so Drunk Girl steals vodka from her friend’s room and chugs it down quick along with Dr. Thunder soda. She drinks until she can’t see, can’t remember her name.
Drunk Girl stumbles to her friend’s room, fat wet tears streaming down her face. Drunk Girl can’t remember what she said then, if she said anything at all. In her mind she was yelling for help, just like she had been doing silently for months, maybe years. Help me, she cries, falling onto her frightened friend. I Need You To Help Me.
Drunk Girl is very sober at a Monday night Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Her friends told her she should go and since she doesn’t want to feel so sad she is here sitting in the stale classroom, wondering how everything went so wrong. Also at the meeting are one transfer student, a junior boy, and five or so old white men from town. Drunk Girl’s knees shake and her hands fold in and out of each other repeatedly. One of the men reads off information from a laminated piece of paper and then come the infamous twelve steps. The Only Requirement to Be in AA is the Desire to Quit Drinking. Drunk Girl has no idea what she desires, or even how she got to this room. She is twenty years old. She cannot possibly be an alcoholic.
Sober Girl doesn’t touch any alcohol for a week, just to be safe. She listens to the old men’s stories and makes it two weeks without a sip. She does not go to parties, she goes to bed. She does not tell her parents or anyone else besides the friends who sent her there, who don’t understand but at least pretend to.
It’s not fair, Sober Girl often thinks. Everyone else can drink and she can only watch. She’s still not even 21. She should’ve been more careful, she was so stupid. She never even got to try most of the real, adult drinks. She will never order at another bar. She will not have a glass of champagne at her wedding. She is unarmed against the sterile, awkward world.
Sober Girl is notoriously un-fun. She will now have to tell people that she doesn’t drink and be the girl that she always rolled her eyes at before. I don’t want to be this, she desperately wants to tell them. She wants to be Drunk Girl again more than anything. She wants to get out of her mind that worries and calculates and sees every little thing. Sobriety is a life sentence. She is now trapped, forced to be present 100% of the time. She has lost her ability to escape. Sober Girl is forced to feel it all, and it hurts. The world is so sharp in places that she can hardly take it. There is no longer any place to hide.
At one AA meeting a beautiful blonde woman somewhere in her 40s comes and talks about boat trips her family always took. Everyone was drinking, she says, they drank all day in the sun. She says she has been sober for less than a year. She says she couldn’t stop drinking after the boats docked again. Night after night, bottle after bottle, she says. Her eyes are wide as she looks around the room. She is crying. “I wasted so much time,” she says.
“I’m proud of you.”
“I’m happy for you.”
“You’re really strong.”
“Good for you.”
Everyone tells Sober Girl.
Sober Girl has had no alcohol for months now. She goes to parties and sips soda, juice, water. She calls her mom on bad nights, which have been less and less frequent. No one gives her a hard time, if they even notice. The world makes no great shift, but inside of Sober Girl certain storms have finally subsided.