"Let’s celebrate the Fourth with a Fifth."

I think this was the first time I ever associated liquor with humor. It had just been a nightmare in my house for so long, and yet here was my best friend making a joke about it.

We told our parents that we were spending the night with each other. I wonder how many times this lie has been told to how many parents? In fact (of course) we were spending the night on the hard ground somewhere with a makeshift campfire and a couple of bottles of Ezra Brooks. I guess we were around fifteen.

I had tried to drink beer a couple of times before, but it had just not worked out. I wound up pouring the beer out because it tasted so rank. This evening's entertainment, brought to me by my buddy, was to be sanctioned by the god of bourbon whiskey. His older brother had told him that this was the road to take when beer held no attraction for the young wannabe drinker. I was intrigued.

The third party to our suburban crime was the only one old enough to drive. His name was Durrant Hembree. Why would I mention his name? Only in memory, I guess. Durrant was one of the first of us to die. He moved to Australia after high school and somehow died mysteriously on a ship there. ToasterLeavings was just a wee sprat at the time, so I don't blame him. But it has been a mystery for all of us just what went wrong Down Under, oh so long ago. Have you ever known anyone named Durrant?

So Durrant picked us up in his yellow Studebaker and acted all so charming with the parents, as we were to be taken to this cold, hard square of soil for our first taste of John Barleycorn. I should have realized that my mom wasn't buying this shit for one second, after what she'd gone thru with my dad's little "situation" with alcohol. But I was so caught up in the moment that reason had left the building.

We drove to the site and built a fire. Durrant, Johnny and me. We were men now, by God. And men deserved to drink firewater, didn't they? So let's have that bottle 'round, boys, and tip it up and let it do it's will. We didn't even chase it with Cokes. We just drank it straight out of the bottle, like little men are supposed to do. Like our daddies before us. Like a bunch of fucking idiots.

The daze comes on softly at first, and then accelerates. As you know, if you've been through this ordeal, you go from rational human at 00:10 to mindless beast at 00:40.

I have no idea what happened between 1:00 AM and 6:00 AM when my mom found me walking along the side of the road back to my house. I do know that she attempted something that she'd never done since my dad had left home a year before: She got a belt and tried to whip me like he used to. It was a feeble attempt. And I was still drunk. It didn't hurt me, but God only knows how much it hurt that poor woman.

Every Fourth of July, I'm reminded of my friend Johnny smiling at me at school that afternoon, so long ago, and saying casually, "Let's celebrate the Fourth with a fifth!" And how eager I was to go along with that idea.

And how much trouble I've been in ever since.