After the way I carried on in my teens, my 21st would have had to have been a five-star, red-letter, first taste of Veuve Cliquot, bike ride with Pee Wee Herman, sex with Judd Nelson, front row tickets to Letterman, black Firebird with a giant red bow, ride to the moon on Pegasus' back orgasm to have made an impression.
Bless their hearts, my friends tried. There was no way they could have secured those tickets to Letterman. I mean in 1986, he was the hottest thing in town. They did, however, decorate my dorm room and arranged two nights out. The first, the appetizer, so to speak, involved Chi Chis, a plate of nachos and a couple of big as a baby's head frozen strawberry margaritas. This was exactly midnight of my birthday.
The next day, the guy I was dating gave me a bottle of Liz Claiborne perfume. I'd pretty much already decided we were through after he stood me up to go to a fraternity rush party, but I couldn't be an ass, could I? I thanked him, spent some time being nice and sent him on his way. Probably to another fraternity function. I didn't inquire. I had plans and he wasn't twenty-one yet.
Another young romantic went to the trouble of chalking a beautiful birthday message on the sidewalk leading up to the dorm. He scattered rose petals and gave me a single red rose. I'd met him at the student union a couple of days before. He was sweet, a great conversationalist and good looking. He also had severe acne scars.
I ran downstairs and gave him a hug and thanked him. We took a short walk and he gave me a poem I've since lost because my understanding of what held real value wasn't fully formed even at twenty-one. I remember he had these green eyes. Uniquely green. We kissed and he said he'd call me. And he did. And did and did. And I was always busy. I was so shallow.
Shallow and still recovering from heartbreak. Ethan and I ended our relationship in June and this was only October, after all. I was still looking for him everywhere, walking around with this huge hole in my heart because I'd lost not just my boyfriend and roommate. I'd lost my best friend. And that sucked so hard.
But my birthday was about fun and celebration. It would not be about waiting around for the phone to ring. I told myself this over and over. So. My friends planned a progressive celebration. We shared a large, decorated chocolate chip cookie in the dorm hallway. Very wholesome. We grabbed our IDs and strolled across campus to Kirkwood Avenue. The real heart of Bloomington, Indiana. Some people think Assembly Hall is the heart. They've obviously never sat on the wall of People's Park reading Vonnegut.
We were treated to a round of the traditional Long Island Iced Tea at Kilroy's. And beer at Hooligans. And more Long Island Iced beers at Nick's. Beer and wild dancing with the pale, black-clad Collins folk at Second Story. And more Gilligan's Island Iced Icees at the Blue Bird. Happy birthdays and kisses from strangers at Jake's (where one year later, I would proposition the hot guy who would become MathMan). Shots of this, shots of that, something that would feel like a shot to the head a few hours later. And somewhere in there I threw up. Which meant I had more room for a coke. Loaded with rum.
Because my friends were the responsible types, they waited until I was half a drink away from requiring a piggyback ride home before we headed toward the dorm. We had to make a pit stop at the library. You know the gorgeous limestone library from Breaking Away? I may have desecrated a library carrel there. The stories conflicted.
My friends wished me one more happy 21st and then left me to the guy I had a crush on. He removed my jacket, shoes and jeans, poured me into my bed, kissed me on my forehead, curled up next to me and let me drunk snore in his ear until we were awakened by my friend Mary Moss who was banging on my door because we had a date to go tour Nashville, Indiana.
Clearly, I'm an optimist. Otherwise, why would I agree to a long, curvy drive in a fifteen passenger van? When we were little, our mother told us that roads like State Route 46 were made by throwing a snake on the ground and following its zigzag path.
I tried not to think of my mother and her zigzagging snakes as I sat with my head pressed against the cool window and hoped that I could hold off being sick until we arrived at our destination. Someone in the van smelled strongly of garlic and I made the mistake of squirting myself with some of that Liz Claiborne cologne to cover up the smell of alcohol seeping from my pores. I may have wished for a speedy death somewhere in there.
Thank goodness there was a huge tree behind which I could hide while I gulped in breaths of fresh air and castigated myself for thinking that drinking legally would make me impervious to the withering effects of alcohol. Oh youthful naivete.
I'm reminded of those days because today we're celebrating another twenty-first birthday. And I'm having a hard time believing it.
Your twenty-first - partying like it was 1999, rockin' around the clock or more like one of Mary Richard's parties? Or can't you remember?