March 23rd, 2013 - Colin Brightwell
Drew’s dad watched us haul wheelbarrows full of sticks, logs, and anything else the old man could think of. Working out there, all I could think about was what my first-grade teacher said about March: It starts like a lion and ends like a lamb. Bullshit. That March sun thought it was the last day of July. The heat sucked sweat out of our muscles so fast we couldn’t move. But we didn’t care. All we cared about was the stash of beers we ripped off from both our dads – must have been forty between the two of us. We watched Drew’s old man eyeballing us, making sure we didn’t fuck up some delicate system he had in his sad backyard, sipping a Hamm’s. That made our mouths water. We would have traded the hundred bucks payment we were getting just to have a sip.
I was eighteen, my first taste of beer already years behind me. But Drew and me, we wanted to go hard. We had worked all week for spring break at his dad’s house: pulling weeds, cleaning out the garage, throwing out relics that could have been from the Stone Age. Scrubbed the basement floor until our palms blistered. We worked like our fathers: hard. Our young bodies getting a taste of labor. Saturday was the grand finale, and Drew schemed up a way to get drunk. Shitfaced he said. Every muscle in my body wanted to feel numb.
We finished the day’s work at sundown, and then March decided to get cold. Drew’s dad gave us the thousand-yard-stare of a blue-collar worker with a few too many swimming in his bloodstream, the realization that he’d have to go back to work after one more day hanging over him like a hammer about to drop. He gave us our cash and passed out in his room, dead to the world. Once that door was shut, Drew looked at me like we were about to rob a bank.
“Get the cooler,” he said.
I hauled ass to my car, pulled out the cooler I buried under blankets in the trunk. I dragged it to Drew’s backyard where he had a fire going. On top of his cooler filled with treasure was an old CD player. He already had Weezer’s Blue Album going. We sat back in lawn chairs, popped open our first cans of the night, toasted a hard week’s work and pay, and turned Weezer up until it owned the night air.
The first beer went down like water. I can’t even remember what it tasted like, but it was smooth as honey to an eighteen-year-old. We crushed cans like we thought real men did – by hand or on our foreheads. Chugged down one after another and burped.
Rivers Cuomo screamed from the stereo, lamenting that someone left a cold one in his icebox. Like that was some earth-shattering, existential crisis for him. I listened closely, thought that he must have strained his vocal cords to their limit recording that song. We must have played it twenty times that night, shredding on our air-guitars and straining our voices along with him. We were drunk on our dads’ beer and didn’t get it. Didn’t get what was so bad about finding your dad’s beer stash. Didn’t get why beer was such a heartbreaker. Didn’t get how seeing a beer bottle could awaken some ancient feeling. Like father, Rivers howled, the son is drowning in the flood. I howled with him. Those beers made me feel like I could do anything.
The next morning, Drew’s dad found us passed out face-down in the grass. Rivers had stopped singing on the stereo. Puddles of our puke waited by our bodies like a public shame. Forty empties surrounded us like fallen soldiers on the battlefield – crush, broken, beaten. He must have called my old man because I woke up being dragged into his car. He never said anything on the ride home. Drew texted me, said he felt like he was half-dead. I had to agree.
My dad never gave me some grand lesson, no father-to-son moment. No “so you wanna be a man” talk. No “here have something stronger, see how you like it.” His silence was all I needed to be scared. Like he wasn’t disappointed that I got drunk, that I snuck his beer. More like: My son is too much like me.
There have been other puke puddles, other times I’ve been dragged by the collar of my shirt, other dozens of empties. Somewhere, Drew’s still got that Weezer CD. Ten years later and we’ve lost touch, though I’m sure that night we promised we wouldn’t. Call it a drunken promise, never meant to be kept. Rivers is trapped forever on that song, trapped forever trying to understand what that cold one in his icebox means.
These days beers don’t hit the same, and I don’t know if that’s because I’m older. Or if it’s because I lost a friend. Sometimes I wake up the next day and tell myself no more. Sometimes I think about texting Drew, ask if he remembers anything about that night, or the many that followed it. We spent that whole summer howling along with Rivers and chugging down Busch or Hamm’s or High Life. I never do text him, though. I’ll type something out at the bar, finish my drink, and turn it off. I’ll blast “Say It Ain’t So” on the ride home and howl with Rivers again, just like old times. Maybe one day I’ll get it.
Colin Brightwell is a Kansas City, Missouri native. His work has appeared in Reckon Review, Flyover Country Literary Review, BULL Magazine, and Cowboy Jamboree. He currently resides in Oxford, MS. He listens to Bruce Springsteen daily.
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