Badassery was something that eluded comic Amber Tozer as an overachieving teen. But as this excerpt from “Sober Stick Figure” reveals, she’d find a way—with a little help from her friends.
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I wanted to try alcohol again. I wasn’t a kid anymore taking baby sips of my uncle’s beer; I was 13 years old and ready to party my training-bra tits off. It was the summer of ’89, and I was with my friend Tammy-Lou. She grew up in the country, so that’s why her name is like that. She was a real tall girl with rich and cool parents. I loved her family. Tammy-Lou and I lived in the same neighborhood, went to school together, played sports together, and my stepdad was friends with her dad. I liked her because she was so much fun and laughed a lot. And if you did something stupid, she’d get a kick out of it and even encourage it. A perfect friend to have—tall, fun, funny, rich, sporty—and she enabled stupidity.
One night, Tammy-Lou was staying the night at my house, and we made a plan to sneak out and meet some boys we went to school with, Jason and Peter. These were the days before cell phones, so our plans consisted of one phone call to a landline and a lot of faith.
My house was super easy to sneak out of, especially on the night Tammy-Lou stayed over because my parents weren’t even home. Mark was working an overnight fireman shift, my mom was working late at the Do Drop, and I don’t remember where my siblings were. Hopefully, I didn’t leave my little sisters home alone. Anyway, we could have just walked out the door, but I made Tammy-Lou crawl out a small window.
I loved the feeling of doing something my parents would not want me to do; it was an adrenaline rush. The nagging dark side of me that wanted to be bad was finally being fed and the wrongness felt right. Even though sneaking out would be a mild thing to “bad kids,” it was a huge deal to me. When you’re an overachieving three-sport athlete who spends a lot of time making your hair perfect, sneaking out feels like you’re committing a felony.
As Tammy-Lou and I walked in the dark, down the dirt road that led to the tennis courts, we could see Peter and Jason standing by the net. They were both tall, thin, and blond. Jason was a troublemaker; he was always doing crazy shit and getting in trouble. I liked him because he didn’t give a fuck and wasn’t intimidated by authority figures, or at least that’s what it seemed like. Peter, on the other hand, was a good kid. Sort of like me, but not as needy and way more kind. Jason and Peter were best friends, probably drawn to each other because they were opposites.
As Tammy-Lou and I got closer to the courts, I got another burst of adrenaline. The thoughts in my mind were very staccato. We. Are. Sneaking. Out. To. Meet. Boys. And. Drink. Alcohol. SO. BAD.
We reached the tennis-court entrance and greeted the boys with our awkward pubescent ways of communicating, which I’m sure involved a few insults. Maybe Tammy-Lou and I said something like, “Hey, dummies.” And the boys said something like, “Hey, fatties.” But I don’t remember what we said. All I remember is Jason pulling out a huge bottle of Jim Beam from the inside pocket of his jean jacket and drinking it straight from the bottle. I could not believe how much he did not give a fuck about shit.
Peter was next. Jason passed him the bottle, and we all just stared at him waiting for him to take a drink. It was the rawest form of peer pressure. Eyes on you, Peter. Whatchya gonna do? He put the bottle to his lips and took a big swig, no big deal. I was pretty sure these two boys had done this before.
Then it was Tammy-Lou’s turn. I knew she would be able to handle it because she was so tall and athletic. She took a swig, scrunched up her face, yelled “UGH,” and passed the bottle to me. I could not wait to taste this disgusting beverage. I took a big drink real fast, wanting to get it over with. It tasted like something the devil made, but I enjoyed the warm sting as it traveled down my throat into my belly.
We continued to pass the bottle and drink. After a few more swigs, I was officially drunk and experiencing the psychic transformation that alcohol provides. It was like I had just poured a solution to all my problems over my mind.
I felt like a superhero, like a very hyper, athletic, sexy, smart, courageous, teenage superhero. I ran around hurdling the net and climbing the fence. I didn’t know if I was showing off or trying to get my friends to worry about me. I liked the idea of being so crazy people worried about me. Then, I thought maybe I should kiss one of the boys, but I had no idea how to flirt, how to communicate, and my way of connecting with people was impressing them. But on this night, I realized all that shit didn’t matter.
Tammy-Lou, Peter, and Jason stood in a huddle talking or whatever they were doing. I didn’t know and I didn’t really care because I could not contain my energy. Jason was usually the one to act like a nutjob, but on this night, it was my turn. I finally saw him as my equal. Jason was nothing but another kid on the planet. I was just as crazy as he was, and I would no longer hold him on a pedestal for being a bad kid who didn’t give a fuck. I was the bad kid who didn’t give a fuck. It was an incredible transformation. The nerves I had just an hour before were briefly drowned out by the voice of Jim Beam. A voice that I felt like I had been waiting for all my life.
I was feeling incredible and thought I should probably drink as much as possible so I could get MORE of those incredible feelings. I guess feeling drunk wasn’t enough; the darkness that lurked inside of me kept telling me I needed MORE. I went from experiencing my first drunkenness to experiencing my first blackout in less than a couple of hours.
All I know is that I was at the tennis courts trying to be crazier than Jason, and the next thing I know I’m in my basement with Tammy-Lou and my mom having somewhat of a normal conversation. Apparently we had rushed back to my house, making it just in time before she got home from work. She brought us some pizza and asked us why we had our coats on. We couldn’t say, “Oh, because we just got back from binge-drinking whiskey with some bad boys at the tennis court, and we didn’t have time to take our coats off before you got here,” so I said, “We’re cold.” Tammy-Lou chimed in, “Yeah, it’s cold in here.” And that was it. Mom was sort of like “Huh, okay” and walked away to get ready for bed. She didn’t know we were drunk AND she gave us Do Drop pizza.
DRUNKEN SUCCESS STORY!
Reprinted with permission from SOBER STICK FIGURE © 2016 by AMBER TOZER, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group
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