Fair point, young person! Right now, you are 21 and unstoppable. You shoot well whiskey and eat cheese fries and have all the sex. Terms like "two-for-one," "last call," "bottomless mimosa" -- these are rallying cries. Hangovers are just speed bumps on the highway of life. You probably recognize that as a cliche and secretly believe it anyway. You can handle the heat, and will remain in the kitchen. The juice is worth the squeeze. A beer in the hand is worth two in the bush, but you’ll drink all three, because you are 21 and unstoppable.
You are getting older, and everything is, imperceptibly, getting worse. Hangovers are getting worse. Those mid-morning thunderclaps of headachey nausea that you cakewalked through as an undergrad? They’re about to become life-shattering alcoho-tastrophes, feverish psycho-sentimental tsunamis that’ll fling you face-first into near irrecoverable tailspins of self-loathing.
I should know -- I’ve been there, right at the booze-soaked bleeding edge of it all. One night at 24, I drank a few light beers and went to bed buzzed. I thought nothing of it; I’d done the same thing a hundred times before with no ill effect. But at some point throughout the evening, the cakewalk ended.
When I woke up the next morning, I was no longer 24. I was like, a thousand, give or take. It felt like a large Estonian bodybuilder named Aleks had kicked me repeatedly in the skull. My mouth tasted like the ashtray at a motel that false-advertises free HBO and rents rooms by the hour. From my knees, to my back, to my eyelids, every part of my feverishly sweaty body throbbed with the same biblical ache.
This, I remember thinking as I futilely searched for the courage to retrieve a Gatorade from the fridge, is not good. And it wasn’t. But the worst was yet to come. A new, electric apprehension coursed through me. Some faceless dread wrapped around me in an unremitting grip of terror, and for the first time in my modest drinking career, I felt it.
See, you may be able to handle the physical toll of a hangover. Anyone can, for a time, even a wimp like me. Chug some water, crush a breakfast sandwich, and start day drinking your way back into the galaxy's good graces. So what, your head feels like a balloon full of dirt? Buck up, fucko, and drink this Bloody Mary! Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Et cetera.
The fear will lock jaws around whatever makes you anxious, and never let go.
Somewhere on the loud, sad boulevard to 30, though, the toll goes up. Sure, there's the whole dirt-balloon thing, plus your stomach is dissolving in its own bile, and you’re 40lb overweight. But you’ve budgeted for those surcharges.
No, this new consequence is a bridge too far. It’s a glimpse into the void; a liquor-borne flicker of unflattering light; a sharp stab of self-awareness. When your cakewalk ends, like mine did, each hangover will deliver unto you the blunt, vast, and unremitting distress of adulthood.
(Plus vomit. There’s always gonna be vomit.)
Having never in your young, smiley life encountered such a sinister force, you’ll have no fucking clue how to deal with it. As such, the fear will crush you.
It will rattle around your booze-addled brain, prodding its walls, grasping at straws to gain a foothold on your troubles. Did I send that email to my boss? How much money did I spend last night? Oh no, did I really hook up with Stephanie again?
The fear will demand answers to questions you’d rather not be asked at the moment, or any moment. It’ll remind you that you’re an adult now, and you really need to think about opening up a 401k. It’ll nag you for eating pizza at 3am instead of hitting the gym at 3pm. It’ll dredge up memories of errant text messages and embarrassing make-outs. The fear will lock its jaws around whatever errant flotsam of concern it can find in the wake of last night’s fun, then mercilessly exploit it against you, the sack of tequila breath and lactic acid laying prostrate on an unmade bed.
So. Young person. This is a begrudging carpe diem bit of bullshit. Enjoy your half-speed hangovers while you can. Embrace the hurt now, if only because you know it's only a matter of time before the fear shows up with it.
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Dave Infante is a senior writer for Thrillist, and remembers his first beer. Follow @dinfontay on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.