Salsa, Smirnoff, and the Regret of Playing It Safe

The guilt set in on a cool fall night my junior year of high school.

My friends and I had been at a basketball game, cheering the mighty, mighty Mustangs to victory in the pep-band. When the game was done, I put my cowbell and triangle back in their cubby and headed to Emily’s car. We jammed out to Cobra Starship and Taylor Swift until we reached our destination-the parent and sibling free house of Emilie. The time had come. That night was the night we would all drink together for the first time.

Of course I had consumed a sip of alcohol here and there during family parties, but this was different. Mom and dad weren’t there. No one was waiting on me as I took my first sip, extending a restrictive arm out to take the bottle back. This green apple flavored Smirnoff Ice was all my own.

All seven of us sat down in the living room, tore open the party pack, and settled in for what we predicted to be a really wild time. Very quickly, things started to happen. Kaitlyn, having consumed a little less than half of her bottle, announced that she was too tired to go on and shuffled off to Emilie’s bed. After that the rest of us started to get very giggly. This sensation didn’t last long though. The longer we sat there and the more I drank from my second bottle the worse I felt. The hot, yellow tinted lights above the couch were beating down on me like the July sun. The salsa and chips that had been so wisely paired with our beverages was causing my stomach to do the cha-cha. Overwhelmed with the heat and ill feelings I decided to call my dad to pick me up now, rather than in the morning. No good could come from continued participation in the evenings planned festivities. I pulled my phone out, saw there was no reception, and headed outside to try for a connection there. The five second walk took it out of me though, and I slumped down onto the bench right outside the door.

I had never felt so ill in my entire life. As the cool wind blew leaves past me, I only began to feel hotter. My arms and legs ached. As I lay down across the bench my belly and the stars began to spin in unison. My mind raced from worry to panic, and I immediately thought about the high school’s varsity volleyball team. Only two weekends before, they went to the beach after a game and drank so much that one of the girls had to get her stomach pumped and was hospitalized. I thought I would be next.

No, I shouldn’t call my parents. They were a 30-minute drive away, and I would be in major trouble. I then thought to call Julie, my best friend of ten years and my moral compass. She, having wisely elected to stay home this evening, was only five or so minutes down the road. She could take her parents’ car, come get me, let me stay with her, and, if need be, take me to the hospital. No one at the party would have to be involved. But her parents would. And if I did go to the hospital my parents would too. How would we explain my presence at her house anyways? And we weren’t in a John Hughes movie. How would she get the car out of the garage without making a sound? With no way out of it and no end to the pain in sight, I once more took out my phone and, now having a faint signal, texted my dad. I said I felt kind of sick and didn’t want to spend the night anymore. When he said he was on his way, I sat up and took some deep breaths. A few minutes passed and so did some of the pain. It was time to head back inside.

I woozily walked down the hall and flopped on the couch, greeted with the tired eyes and toothy grins of the girls. Everyone else seemed to be having a great time except Erin. Erin could be heard retching and heaving from the bathroom. Nevertheless, she eventually returned in high spirits. I still felt a little sick though. Why did I have such a terrible reaction? Why wasn’t I able to join in on what was seemingly a really fun time? It didn’t seem fair that I should have such an adverse reaction to something that was supposed to be a great rite of passage for every American teen.

As I waited for my dad to text me that he arrived, I observed the frivolity with growing sadness. My gross feelings that I felt became less physical and more emotional. When my phone lit up I made my goodbyes and headed for the car. I made up some flu-like symptoms when my dad asked what was wrong and then remained silent and still all the way home. My bed greeted me with a warm blanket cocoon, and I drifted to sleep thankful no pumping was needed after all.

That was six years ago and I now see how unexciting that fall night was. I didn’t miss anything by not spending the night and it was more likely that I would have ended up with a doctor for a panic attach than an upset stomach. I slowly learned through trial and error how to prevent a repeat of that night, but repeat we all did. As the years have gone on we have wisely moved from nights of wild dancing and shots with no chasers to evenings of board games and wine with ice. The feelings never change though. We are all still the people we were that night. Kaitlyn still taps out early and Erin still pukes then rallies.

And I still get sick. And feel guilty.

It makes no sense. I’m twenty three; I have a car, a small job, and most of an education. I haven’t been to church in four years and, sorry to my brother, but I am the favorite child. With no God to worry about and a mom who trusts me with everything, where does this guilt come from? Why can’t I have fun? It’s because I made a mistake.

Mistakes are tricky though. It isn’t that I drank in high school or any of the other things I did. It was never an action that caused me to be this way. It is all the things I never did. Caring was my mistake and caring never really got me anywhere. I always overthought every little detail and blew everything out of proportion. I was worried what strangers, my friends, my parents, and God would all think about me. I needed to be the perfect person, the golden child, and I would let nothing tarnish my image. But what did it leave me with? Nothing. I don’t hate my life or regret my actions. I regret my inaction. Because of my inaction, I have nothing to write about. That is why you are now reading about this sad escapade rather than something truly wild. I never really made mistakes and nothing really went wrong because I played it safe. All my stories have silver linings and happy endings, leaving me with nothing more than unsolved existential teen angst.

And a hatred for green apple Smirnoff.