I wrote this on May 11, 2017, but it is about something that happened decades before that. This piece of writing is about something that happened at a party with my relatives when I was 12 years old, which would put it in the mid-1980s.
I read “My First Alcoholic Drink” in episode 18 of my Words of Jen podcast.
I was 12 years old when I had my very first alcoholic drink. It was handed to me by a relative, in front of my mother. The majority of my relatives did not seem to think this was unusual.
I remember we were at a party with some of my mother’s relatives. I can’t remember what this party was about, only that we had to attend. I was a kid, and my parents never told me much of anything about why were were visiting relatives.
My father never got along with my mother’s relatives, so she had to really bug him about going to this party. I don’t think we stayed for very long.
The party was held in… I think it was a community room at an apartment complex, or something like that. There was a fireplace, and thick carpet on the floor, and everyone was sitting in folding chairs at card tables. At the time, this seemed like a very fancy, and clean, place to be.
There were drinks – including sodas for the kids and alcohol for the adults. I think there were little plates of snack food. I’m fairly certain that I didn’t eat anything there because it was safer. Little did I know at the time, but I wouldn’t get diagnosed with food allergies until about five years from then. All I knew when I was 12 was that I often got sick after eating.
I was sitting at a card table with my mother, and a relative I’d been told was my great aunt. He name was Margaret, and she was the sister of my mother’s mother (or, my grandmother). They were talking, and I was tuning most of it out because I was 12 – and I was bored.
My great aunt Margaret hadn’t seen me since her sister’s funeral. I was 7 years old at the time, and I remember looking up at her. Now, we were the same height, five-foot-three.
I tuned back into the conversation when I realized it was now about me. Typical 12-year-old, I suppose. My great aunt Margaret asked my mom: “How old is she?” My mother answered, “12”.
My great aunt Margaret nodded her head, knowingly. She slowly stood up, and walked away. I remember my mom and I looking at each other, confused. It seemed like an abrupt departure.
Great aunt Margaret returned with a plastic water cup that was filled almost to the brim with wine. I looked across the room and noticed a large “box wine” on the mantle of the fireplace. Great aunt Margaret filled this cup from that box. It said White Zinfandel on the side.
Great aunt Margaret placed the full plastic cup of pink wine in front of me. “You’re old enough for this now. This is for you.”
So, I drank some. It tasted great! I drank it slowly, in small sips, while I listened to my mother and great aunt Margaret bicker over whether or not it was ok for a 12-year-old to have wine. The only thing I clearly remember was great aunt Margaret telling my mom something like, “Oh, c’mon. She’s not going to get into any trouble with all of us here. There’s nothing to worry about! Let her have her wine.”
I remember that I’d emptied the glass before it was time to go home. A warm, fuzzy, calmness settled over me. Nothing hurt (which was a big deal for a 12-year-old who often had horrific stomach pains after eating food that – years later – it turned out I was allergic to.)
My mom announced to the room that we were going home, and I remember waving at everyone. At some point, my father had gone back to the car with my younger siblings. I had no idea how long they had been waiting for my mom and I to leave the party. He had a tendency of just going back to the car with my siblings as a way signaling to my mother that he wanted to leave.
After my father started driving away, my mother told my father that I had a glass of wine at the party. He started yelling at her about that, and she yelled back (and blamed great aunt Margaret for giving me the wine). For the first time in my life, I did not get super stressed out by their loud arguing.
Eventually, my father started screaming at me – while driving. He insisted that I was going to get sick, and that I’d be sick tomorrow, and made some vague threat of bodily harm if I threw up in the car. My parents were both abusive to me, so I had no doubt that they would hurt me if I got sick.
The thing was, I didn’t feel sick at all. Not then, not later, and not the next day. I have never in my life been hungover no matter how much I drank or what it was.
12-year-old me didn’t know that yet, though. All she remembers is not feeling intensely terrified while being trapped in the car with her arguing parents who were looking for an excuse to take their anger out on her – and that this floating calmness was thanks to the wine that great aunt Margaret gave me.
I have always enjoyed wine.
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