It was my seventeenth birthday and the first time I’d ever celebrated such an occasion. Having been raised a Jehovah’s Witness, of course, birthdays were a no-no and here I was anxiously awaiting a small party in my honor to begin.
I want John the Baptist’s severed head on a silver platter, I thought. Of course not many folks would really know what such a request meant. Mainly those who’d been raised the same way I had been, and potentially a few stragglers knew the inside joke.
A light rapping to the rhythm of “Shave and a Haircut” came from the apartment door. I opened it to find our neighbor, Chris, holding an open Budweiser.
“Happy Birthday, Bek!” he said, walking over the threshold.
I smiled, having no idea how to respond since it was my first birthday celebration. “Thank you.”
“Where’s Dean?” he asked as I closed the door.
“Down the hill to get me something to drink.”
“Down the hill” meant a walk to the Xtra-Mart for cigarettes and either a six or twelve pack for Dean, depending on the day.
Since I had no desire to drink from a can with the slogan “The King of Beer” scribbled across it—I don’t like beer, not since my dad let me try a sip of the bitter-tasting swill at four-years-old—Dean went down the hill to find something palatable for me.
One by one people began showing up at the apartment, which felt like any other day when the ne’er-do-wells in town stopped by to drink or toke. The only difference this day was that all eyes were on me, more so than they had been on any other Thirsty Thursday.
And at this time, I wasn’t particularly interested in anything that altered my mood or behavior. Having spent most of my childhood and adolescence quite sheltered, being at Dean’s was more than enough to awaken all senses, keeping me heightened for days. But Dean said I needed a drink; he was adamant about us toasting to my special day.
Scene, Take One
Dean barreled into the apartment, excitedly holding a twelve pack of Bud and a paper bag.
“Hey, Peanut! I got you something!” He was beside himself over my birthday, much more excited than I was.
“Is it the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter?” I said, snickering at my own joke.
Everyone except Dean (who got the joke) looked at me quizzically.
“No, better!” he said, brushing past my joke.
He pulled a champagne bottle out of the bag like a rabbit from a top hat. I was both curious and excited about the contents of this bottle. It was sleek, slender, and gorgeous. The tiny beads of condensation teased and trickled their way down the neck of the bottle which held pink and bubbly liquid. The label looked classy. In a bold, shadowy, sexy font it read: André. The accent over the é was very intriguing to me. Underneath André it said, California Champagne. Very classy indeed.
“Let’s get this birthday party started!” Chris said, slapping his palms together and rubbing them with excitement.
In the kitchen, I watched Dean fiddle with the wire fixed to the top of the bottle. He twisted it loose and said, “Stand back.” With that he flicked the cork free with his thumb, I heard a loud pop, the cork flew across the room, and the mysterious pink liquid oozed down the neck of the bottle, spilling onto his hand. “Quick! Get your cup!”
I grabbed the 3D Daffy Duck cup Dean had given me for my first Christmas and caught some of the spilling champagne. I loved that cup.
On many occasions, I’d sit holding it and find great pleasure in squishing Daffy’s 3D, bright orange bill between my fingers. I did it when I was happy, excited, anxious, stressed. Daffy’s bill had tiny half-moons all around it that I’d dug with my fingernails. This was the first time Daffy held alcohol. He normally cradled juice, water, or soda.
Time to Pay the Piper
I stared into the cup and saw the bubbles dance with elation. It’s as if they were saying, “Drink me! Drink me!”
“Happy Birthday, Bek,” Danny said, holding up his can of Bud.
Everyone raised their drink to toast and shouted, “Happy Birthday!”
As they swigged their Buds, I looked into Daffy’s plastic well before drinking. I remember the bubbles hitting my nose before touching my lips, they tickled and I almost sneezed. The champagne smelled like sweet, diluted gasoline; light but heavy. I let the pink drink tease my lips for a split second before allowing it to pass. A tiny sip moved into my mouth; it tasted fruity, like strawberries. The bubbles were cool swishing in my mouth and a bit rough sliding down my throat. It sat warm and heavy in my chest before slipping into my belly.
“Good?” Dean asked.
I smiled and nodded, not understanding why I wanted more of what I already didn’t particularly like.
As the night continued and people took turns refilling the birthday girl’s Daffy Duck cup, I started to feel incredibly woozy. I recall many rounds of raucous laughter and the repeated sound of Budweiser cans being opened with that familiar hiss. The last thing I remember was staggering to the back bedroom and lying on the bed.
I watched the ceiling shadows sway while mocking me. The room spun and my head felt like it weighed a hundred pounds. My eyes drooped as if there were Looney Tune anvils attached.
I heard Dean’s voice from the doorway. “Peanut, you okay?”
I released a slight whimper then heard him shuffle around the bed and prop something on the floor.
“Here’s a bucket in case you need to throw up. Happy birthday.”
What Goes Up Must Come Down
I don’t remember when or how many times I threw up; I know I blacked out for a good portion of the evening. What I do recall about throwing up is this: the bucket Dean placed beside me had a bit of water in it. From what, I don’t know. Inside the puddle of water were gum wrappers. Again, I don’t know.
But these weren’t just any gum wrappers. They were Cinnaburst (with flavor crystals) gum wrappers, swimming in a small pond of tepid water. With each heave that came from my rocking stomach and every retch making it up to my throat—forcing an entire bottle of André’s California Champagne to shoot violently from the holes in my face—all I smelled were those fucking cinnamon flavor crystals. Which made me feel worse.
Cinnaburst was discontinued, and that’s fine with me. Just seeing those gum wrappers in my mind’s eye activates my olfactory system and makes me want to hurl. I wish I could say the same for alcohol but it would be many years before I’d see booze the same way I see a Cinnaburst wrapper.