Dad let me drive the final stretch over Wright Memorial Bridge up Highway 12 on a sultry August evening. I wanted to open the windows and smell the sea air, but the road through the reedy grass was swarming with grasshoppers that sprang aimlessly even into the car. So we pumped the minivan air conditioning and rode to our vacation bungalow like a rolling hotel ice machine.
At that time, alcoholism was a bubble on a multiple-choice test in my quarter Health class. I never wondered why a family with two legal drinkers needed a handle of Smirnoff for a week of relaxation. Liquor store excursions at the dinner hour would be a big production, made worthwhile because I got to drive, and everything beyond our rented time-share seemed clean, colors bleached out by the sun, worn smooth by the sandy winds, and dusted with a fine coat of sea salt.
Despite the threat of existential boredom, stranded at land’s end with my nuclear family, we all managed to indulge our usual pursuits with exceptional abandon. By day four, I had chased my nine-year-old brother through the house with a pair of barbecue tongs and cornered him on the 2nd floor. Without my really provoking it, he climbed over the banister and launched himself onto a pathway of wooden planks below. I was immune to him screaming, but the THUMP when he landed stopped my heart. I ran downstairs. I told him he was crazy. Why did you do that? My mother was first on the scene and she took me to my father who gave me several sharp left-handed smacks on my posterior and the hands I used to cover it. I was embarrassed for him, having to awkwardly spank a fifteen-year-old. Just like that, I’d exhausted the potential for torturing my brother.
I sought refuge on the beach, and wouldn’t you know, there was a comely pair of teens stranded at the property next door. I wasn’t shy or oblivious to my charm so, after a day of surveillance and sit-ups, I introduced myself. And what the hell, it’s summer vacation, so each time before I ventured onto the beach in their purview, I’d guzzle what my parents kept unlocked in a floor-level kitchen cabinet, just like at home.
First, the caustic swill searing my esophagus, then the numbness. That summer, I was just discovering the comforts of drunkenness. I’d knock my fist against my chin, bite my tongue and cheeks until they bled, feeling invincible, while talking to myself in the mirror. Who doesn’t remember the furtive thrill of standing over the toilet bowl, swaying, nearly toppling, clutching the toilet by its tank and spraying piss all over the bowl, walls, and floor? At some point I was ready, and stumbling across the coarse sand, waded into the ocean, facing the shore so as to see the girls when they emerged from their private access walkway.
To impress them with my daring, I drifted out beyond where my mother and sister swam, past my brother boogie boarding with his hairline ankle fracture, past my father and other sister on a sit-on-top kayak, past the wake of motorboats, past the bi-planes trailing radio station ads, until all the objects on the shore were gray-colored fuzz. Too far, perhaps, even to cry for help, I thought and a violent shiver seized me as I rolled upon the waves.