Hey Nineteen!


When Ian was a baby, he had reflux apnea. He puked, and stopped breathing twenty to forty times a day. He was hospitalized sixteen times before his second birthday. He was attached to a breathing monitor (that sounded an alarm when he stopped breathing), and took medication four times a day. It cost $600 per bottle, four bottles per month…

When he was twenty-months-old, he had surgery to correct the faulty valve between his stomach and esophagus. The doctors cautioned me, “He will no longer be able to vomit.”

I reasoned it out, breathing for vomiting. Seemed like a fair trade to me, I accepted. I didn’t think about any of the future ramifications of this choice; I signed on the dotted line and happily moved on. Stomach flues are a scary prospect as Ian is tormented by dry-heaves, and possible trips to the hospital. But he has not thrown up once since March of 1994.

Ian is nineteen. His friends are all involved in typical nineteen-year-old behaviors. He has, wisely, surmised that drinking-til-you-puke is not an activity in which he should partake. He has never been drunk. He took hydrocodone once for a broken bone, but didn’t like it at all. Thirty minutes after ingesting it, he stumbled into the livingroom and said, “I feel all bendy and leany. I don’t like this. I like my arms and legs to go where I tell them to.” It was a pretty funny moment—we still laugh about it. A lot, actually. I don’t think he would like being drunk.

He has tried beer with his brother and doesn’t like the taste. His buddy D. gave him a glass of bottom shelf whiskey mixed with iced tea. Ian tells me he sipped it and asked his buddy, “Why would you drink that? It’s awful!”

D. assumed that Ian would get beyond the taste—to the drunk part. I think D. was somewhat confused by Ian’s response. So, he gave Ian a glass straight-up. Ian told him that was worse and that he questioned his sanity. He put the glass down and didn’t have any more.

But curiosity gnaws at him; that nineteen-year-old desire to explore the adult world and all of its dangers. Ian came to me, “Will you buy a bottle of your whiskey for D. and me to try? Your whiskey tastes good, right? I want to get drunk, here at home, so it will be safe. I just want to try it.”

By “my” whiskey he meant top shelf Irish whiskey, Black Bush. It’s a rich sipping whiskey. It starts at $40 a bottle. I arched an eyebrow.

“I just want to try it!” he said. “All of my friends drink—and I can’t because I can’t throw up, because it could be really dangerous for me.”

I conceded. He and D. made plans to come to the house and have an evening of drinking good Irish whiskey. Ian was going to teach D. how it is supposed to be done, or at least how it is supposed to taste. We had D’s dad’s permission. So, yesterday, I went into town to buy said whiskey – there is only one liquor store locally that carries it, twenty miles away. I bought the Black Bush and a bottle of Disaronno ( Amaretto, so good with coffee and whip cream).

But, D. couldn’t come. Ian was curious about the Amaretto, “You put it in coffee? What does it taste like?”  He was incredulous.

I told him to go ahead and open it, have a sip; it was good straight. He was suspicious. He opened the bottle, smelled it, and had a taste.

Wait! That tastes like candy!” He read the label, “Caramel? Caramel in alcohol? Whose idea was this?—it is genius.”

I started coffee and made whip cream.

Ian continued to examine the bottle of Amaretto, the whiskey adventure completely forgotten. “It’s Italian, right? What would make anyone think to add candy to alcohol? Did they just add the random ingredients in front of them?”

“There are people who drink for the flavor, Ian, and the buzz is just a happy side effect. Wine is like that too, you are drinking for the flavor.”

He looked skeptical, but faced with the Amaretto as evidence, overwhelming evidence; he had to concede the point. “Why would anyone drink stuff that tastes horrible?”

“Well, in the United States, drinking is a forbidden activity when you’re young, so temptation leads kids to buy—get what they can afford. Something under ten dollars—bottom shelf choices. And they think this is what it is supposed to taste like, they aren’t drinking for the flavor. They’re drinking because it is a forbidden activity, they are drinking to prove they are in control of their own lives – by getting completely out of control.” I said as I mixed the Amaretto into our coffee.

“So they can get all bendy-leany.” He still plans to share good whiskey with D., but I think his perspective is somewhat … sobered.  “That’s stupid. This,” he said raising his coffee mug, “is brilliant.”

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