Today, my friend—I’ll call her Jane—woke up with a terrible hangover. A hangover so bad that she missed the traditional village beer festival she had planned to go to, that she stayed in bed most of the day, that she barely dragged herself out dancing with us tonight (and then only on the promise of fresh air at the beer garden and the hair of the dog), so bad that she had terrible stomach-ache on the tram on the way home. I wanted to ask her about this, but after fending off the drunken Slovenian at the tram stop by telling him we spoke neh český, nein Deutsch, and no English, while continuing to converse in English amongst ourselves, I forgot.
Then again, what should I have asked?
Jane, why are you wasting your days in Prague on hangovers and your nights in a drunken fog?
Jane, why don’t you drink water when you drink?
Does the fact that beer is only a dollar here mean you have to drink five in a row?
But these questions are only the icy surface of my superiority—my smug, teetotaler’s ego coming to the fore whenever someone says (and they often do), “You’re seeing and doing so much in Prague! How do you manage it?” I always respond with something about brochures and walking a lot, but what I’m thinking is,
I don’t drink.
I have never had a hangover. I have never been drunk, or even buzzed. I don’t know what it feels like to be three sheets to the wind, on a bender, or part of the crowd at the bar. I have never liked the taste of alcohol, and in high school I was unpopular enough that learning to choke down beer wasn’t going to help. My first drink: mistaking my father’s after-work vodka for a glass of water.
Watching sunglassed American grad students staggering into the Carolinum for morning lecture, clutching their coffees and the slippery patina of the stone banister, I say to my roommate Monica that I’d teach my one-day child to sensibly handle alcohol, offer them wine with dinner at home in their teens, teach them that beer is a beverage and not a party. I imagine myself stern but fair, driving to pick up a drunk child but not lecturing about it afterwards; saying to them lying on the sofa the next day, “I’m not mad, but I don’t feel sorry for you, either,” like my husband’s mother once did.
My questions for Jane, my prudish judgments are the frozen sheet, and Ego the dark water showing through (the ice is thinner than I think). But deeper still, fear curls through the water-weeds and boils in the depths. Three generations of alcoholics on my father’s side and two on my mother’s. My brother needing half a bottle of Scotch to get drunk at thirteen. My father in the restaurant, shouting happily about niggers, over-tipping, and sliding behind the wheel of the big white Lincoln Town Car (surely if he was going to kill someone, he’d have done it by now?).
The sum total of my drinking is half a glass of Bailey’s in Paris, three shots of tequila in Mexico, and the rum cake my mother-in-law makes at Christmas. But the alcohol I've known would fill a distillery. And in the oaken casks, lined up and stacked in a dim, pleasant cellar, so much cooler than a July afternoon in Prague, there would be the proof: my brother, shaken, sending back the Bloody Mary that should have been virgin; my sister in the open coffin that none of us wanted; and my father’s laughing face.
whipchick occasionally attempts to appreciate wine. Anyone for a nice Reisling with two sugars?