My first beer was forgettable, but I still remember it. It’s funny how the brain works like that, recording and preserving moments and milestones regardless of how they’re being experienced in real time. I was 13. It was Halloween night. We were gathered around a bonfire. Somebody passed me a Natty Light.
Eighth grade had just started, my 14th birthday was precisely one week away, and I was feeling good. We were the upperclassmen of middle school, whatever the hell that meant. My buddy Josh and I got invited to this party by a few of our friends who were a year ahead of us. Technically, it was our first high school party, which was undeniably cool.
My costume that year was a mechanic. It was kinda last minute. I wore one of my dad’s big, blue, oil-stained jumpsuits with a dirty red rag in my back pocket, and I carried around the biggest wrench I could find.
Josh lived a street over and the party was on the street that connected mine to his. It was all outdoors in a backyard/no man’s land near a little wooded area. There were lawn chairs all over the place in every color and pattern and state of disrepair imaginable. A number of picnic table benches were scattered about, though there were no actual picnic tables in sight. Off to the side was one of those Little Tikes toddler slides and a trampoline.
Both the party and the bonfire turned out to be bigger than we’d expected. There were about 25 or so people there when we arrived. A dozen or so were gathered around the raging fire, which, thanks to a steady diet of lighter-fluid-soaked cardboard and legit logs, was maxing out around eight feet tall. The other half of the folks were huddled in smaller groups at various stations around the yard.
There were some familiar faces—a few other folks our age—but also a lot of older kids who I vaguely recognized as a sibling of so-and-so and others I didn’t know at all. Walking toward the fire, time slowed down a bit as I took it all in. I would later come to understand that to be my Dazed and Confused “Pink” moment.
We got settled in and tried to pick up on the vibe of things. Mostly, people were just shooting the shit. A few were grilling hot dogs over the enormous open flame or seeing how close they could get without singeing their eyebrows off. Fewer still were getting stoned. But almost everybody was drinking a beer.
Alcohol had not been a consideration heading into the evening. It just wasn’t something that had crossed my mind. But there were a couple handfuls of torn-to-shit Natty Light cases strewn about. Some had beers left in them. Others didn’t. There was at least enough left to keep the party going for a bit.
The sudden and somewhat paralyzing realization that I’d likely be offered a beer hit me like a slug to the chest. I tried to play it cool, but there’s a zero percent chance I pulled it off.
Sure enough, not 10 minutes later, they started passing one of the shredded cases around the fire. As it made its way toward me, each person reached in and pulled out a can. I started to wonder/hope/fear that there would be none left when it got to me.
When it finally got to the girl sitting to my left, she reached in, dug around for a second, and pulled out the last two cans. Then she promptly threw what was left of the cardboard box into the fire. I panicked. I wasn’t sure if they were both for her, or for her and someone else, or if she just wanted to get rid of the box, or if there was more coming, or if I was just gonna die on the spot, or what.
Then she just handed me one.
I can’t imagine exactly what my face looked like in that moment, but I know for a fact it didn’t look like, “Yeah, this is cool and totally normal for me.” But I took the can and stammered out, “Thanks.”
I nursed that first beer for a while. The taste was new, but not entirely unexpected. Like I said, forgettable. Drinking it was just something to do while everything else was going on.
[Editor’s note: GBH neither condones nor promotes nor encourages underage drinking. Thirteen-Year-Old Kyle was most certainly a Bad Kid.]
I ended up finishing the beer on the trampoline. I was there, laying flat on my back with six or seven other kids, staring up at the stars in the autumn sky, not really saying much of anything. It was the only beer I had that night.
I couldn’t tell you the name of a single teacher I had in eighth grade if you put a gun to my head. To be perfectly honest, there’s very little I remember clearly from that time in my life. But that night I remember with perfect clarity—my first beer.