It’s strange how many things I remember so vividly from that night, when there are so many other things I can’t remember at all. For example, I can perfectly recall standing at the vanity in my friend’s dorm room, pouring shots of Bacardi Limon while Lady Gaga blasted in the background. I remember what I was wearing: a fuchsia American Apparel figure-skating dress, black tights, and black flats that I haven’t seen since. I can remember everything that I drank later at the party. But then at some point, a black curtain descends and my memory clicks off.
Freshman year was a great one, but with it came challenges. I was suddenly independent of my parents, in a new group of friends, in a new place, with a previously unknown type of freedom. I was never sheltered or overly protected as a kid, and I did my fair share of rebelling in high school. Drinking wasn’t new to me; drinking to get drunk wasn’t either. But at college, I no longer had to worry about being sober by the time I got home to my parents or lie about sleeping over at my boyfriend’s house. There was nothing holding me back and I ran with that freedom.
I came to college still in the final grips of a relationship that I now know was extremely emotionally unhealthy. I was desperately trying to get away from an ex-boyfriend who made me feel responsible for his self-destructive habits, claiming he turned to them because I hurt him first. Stupidly, I threw myself into a new relationship with someone else, a sophomore named Alex* who was so rational and stable that I thought I could be happy with him without addressing any of the old issues that still hung over my head and made my stomach turn. I was having a hard time shaking the mental image of my ex cutting himself because of our fights – being with someone who would never act like that seemed like a great way to move forward. Alex was safe and steady, older and more mature. But it didn’t matter – when you’re in a relationship with someone, your emotions are linked, and I wasn’t ready for someone to be dependent on me in that way again.
On this particular night, Alex and I were in our usual rough patch. He wanted a normal, committed, happy relationship and I wanted an open one, free to do what I wanted without having to be responsible for his feelings. For over six months we’d been in this tug-of-war, constantly pulling at each other, both too stubborn to give in, and both too attached to walk out. I had invited him to the party, but in truth, I didn’t want him there. I didn’t want to spend the night tied to his side, acting like a girlfriend, pretending to be part of a relationship I didn’t want. I wanted to be myself, talking to everyone, flirting with whoever I wanted, and having as much light-hearted fun as possible. Alex wanted to have a serious discussion about our relationship and “where this is headed,” all of which was way too heavy for me to think about.
So I drank Bacardi Limon shots in my friend’s dorm room beforehand to get my spirits up. Then I had a rum and coke at the party to be social and drink with my friends before Alex arrived and wanted all of my attention. Then someone proposed a drinking game, and I jumped right in.
It wasn’t much of a game, really. It consisted of a circle of people, a passing bottle of Goldschlager, and some sort of chanting-clapping pattern. When the chanting ended, whoever was holding the bottle chugged. I ended up holding the bottle last at least 3 times. I remember the burn of the cinnamon flavor sliding over my tongue and down my throat. It was disgusting, as if someone had liquefied a pack of Big Red gum, but I’m competitive, so I kept drinking. When the game ended, my head felt as if it was floating above my neck, and a pool of fire was sitting directly on top of my brain.