Lessons in Shotgunning

I was nineteen when I shotgunned my first beer. I was at the park with Hayden and his friends. It’s not like there was anything else to do on a Saturday night in this town. Hayden spun into the little sapling beside him after he took his turn.
“I’m so drunk right now,” he said.
Dylan and Wes laughed, having successfully finished their own. I thought he was play acting, it was just one beer. I punched a hole in the bottom of my can with the can opener on Wes’ keychain. I think it was Molson Canadian. I pushed it to my mouth and pulled the tab. The cold liquid started a quick rush down my throat and I swear I almost died. From choking, that is. How embarrassing would that be? Being the older sister I had a reputation to keep.
When Hayden was done dramatizing he turned around to ask me how I felt.
“You don’t feel anything at all?” he said.
“No.” Was I supposed to? “I feel exactly the same.”
I could tell he was impressed and I won’t lie about how proud I felt. Shotgunning a beer without getting drunk felt medal worthy and I’d do anything to earn my brother’s respect. I leaned back against the picnic table, deciding to do another one. This one hit me a little harder and my head started to buzz. I drank the last one normally.
“We need more beer,” Wes said.
I kicked the empty case. I guess a 12-pack didn’t last long when there were four people shotgunning them. I hopped off the table and wobbled a bit.
“Okay, now I’m feeling it,” I said.
Maybe I should have felt guilty walking to the liquor store to buy alcohol for me and my underage brother, but I didn’t. Better me than some stranger off the street offering more than just alcohol. I knew he’d be out here drinking with or without me.
I bought a 4-pack of Mike’s Hard lemonade and grabbed two tequila shots. What the hell, they were only ninety-nine cents each. We walked to the elementary school, since it was closer, and sat on the blue metal benches near the playground. Wes, Dylan and Hayden drank more beer, and I drank my lemonade; entertainment courtesy of Wes as he tried and failed to cross the monkey bars.
“These bars are moving,” he said.
“Just keep telling yourself that,” Dylan said.
Hayden ran over. “I’ll hold your legs.”
It seemed like a good plan until about halfway when Hayden tripped, Wes lost his grip and they ended up in a heap on the rubber ground. I laughed as they staggered to their feet. I don’t remember Wes going home; I guess I was pretty drunk by then. Before we left the playground I grabbed the plastic shot glasses and handed one to Hayden.
“What’s this,” he asked.
“Tequila and Butterripple Schnapps,” I replied.
“You guys are crazy,” Dylan said.
I laughed. “Whatever, it’s only one shot.”
“I don’t do tequila since last year’s camping trip when chewed up hotdogs ended up in the lake,” he replied.
“Too much detail bro,” Hayden said.
“You mean all them little garbled up pink fleshy pie—“
Hayden pushed Dylan’s shoulder. “Seriously, that’s so gross.”
I shrugged. “At least they were cheap.”
We pulled off the foil wrap. “One, two, three.” It burned the whole way down. I wanted a cigarette after that. Don’t ask me why, because I never smoked before, it was a weird craving. Dylan offered me a stogie, but it made me gag and I gave it back to him. We stumbled down a path between pink stucco houses, the street lamps casting shadows through their darkened windows, and continued past Cheungs Market, yelling and laughing along the empty streets. I don’t remember where we ended up. Somewhere in that small town, along the chain-link fence of a basketball court, my brother got sick.
“Just let it all out man,” Dylan said.
I bent down beside him and rubbed his back. “It’ll be okay.”
“I’m really glad you’re here,” he told me.
“Where else would I be?” I replied.
There’s something about standing beside your younger brother as he pukes up a nights worth of alcohol into the grass that makes you evaluate life. Maybe it was weird that I didn’t want to be anywhere else, but it felt like we shared a moment and I knew I always wanted to be the person he felt safest with. When we were kids we only had each other to rely on; we knew the darkest parts of ourselves and I wanted him to know I wasn’t afraid of his.

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