Before I was in college, before I learned the difference between gin and genever, before I learned that wine coolers weren’t really filled with wine, before I learned that drinking was what the cool high school kids did, I learned that drinking was something that I should never do. Not because I was young. No, not because of my age, but because of what it did to people, what it drove people to do, both things that I couldn’t understand at that time. But my mom said it was a bad thing, and that’s all it took for me to never want to touch it.
Before I learned any swears, before I learned how to shoot the shit with my friends, before I learned how to not fall asleep in class, I learned through a little program called D.A.R.E. Most people my age will remember it; a police officer would come into your classroom or your auditorium or your gym or your cafeteria or whatnot and teach you everything bad about alcohol and drugs. Learning about “The Dangers of Drugs and Alcohol” and how to “Just Say NO!” and how “Winners Don’t Do Drugs” and all sorts of singsong catchphrases that would get us to understand that the world of alcohol and smoking is not one we wanted to enter.
Before I learned how to be confident in myself, before I learned that school is more than just a place to go learn, before I learned that beer tastes absolutely disgusting, I learned that “Drinking and getting high? Why, all the cool kids are doing it!” I learned that somehow, even kids could get their hands on alcohol. Ranging from the make-you-vomit-your-brains-out Fireball to the tastes-like-warm-piss-water-and-looks-like-it-too Bud Light, all sorts of things could show up at high school parties. I even remember kids coming to school hung-over. And I was in Honors.
Before I learned how to take care of a hung-over friend, before I learned how to pour a shot of tequila, before I learned how to mix a killer margarita, I got a little more familiar with alcohol. The summer after graduation, I got a job. Nothing life-changing, no impressive internship, no phenomenal writing position.
The liquor store was my first job, and it was there that I learned how to run a cash register. It was there that I learned how to pack liquor boxes, how to organize shelves, how to pull bottles for pull orders, how to reorganize the warehouse that held case upon case of the same substance I had renounced for so long. I learned the difference between vodka and gin, where the tequila was located, which rums were smoother than Bacardi. I learned that scotch whiskey, bourbon whiskey, and Irish whiskey were each their own special whiskey and no two were alike.
But it wasn’t until my second summer working there that I learned what I had struggled to comprehend all those years. We had a regular customer at the store. I’d see him nearly everyday that I worked, whether it be in the morning or at night. And every time, without fail, he would buy the same thing. One Natural Light and one shot of Deep Eddy Ruby Red. Small paper bag for the Natural Light, no bag for the Ruby Red. Every day, multiple times a day, same thing, sun up, sun down, the same can and Ruby Red. He never wanted more, never wanted less. He memorized how much it would cost and always gave exact change. And soon enough, I learned it cost him much more than just $4.25.