There is a moment in drunkenness, markered somewhere between the vague mileposts of sloppy and rip-roaring, when both time and truth come temporarily untethered from their stations. It is the first sip of a third Cuba Libre, the carafe of red wine hitting the empty stomach, the quick-spreading warmth of a molten double shot: A joyous vapor that sets the body reeling as it fast recedes from the reaches of the brain.
It is perhaps best understood as a Moment of Obsolescence, for in this brief span of time, the irrelevance of All Things crystallizes flawlessly. Suddenly, every word is the right word. Suddenly, all one’s heavy unease flies away so complete and effortless that a person could nearly just float up off the barstool. Powerful, immortal. Clocks bang out the tremulous hour and all is right in this huge, rotting earth. The world, as it should be.
As the senses are impaired, they become receptive to subtler machinations: the tinny ring of a child’s laugh, the rash impossibility of a purple-orange twilight, the heady glow brought on by a long pull from the first cigarette of the evening. The colors shade themselves into the softest hues of rose and violet and beauty escapes from the filthy undersides of every single thing.
Drunks are intimately acquainted with this moment, but remain powerless to grasp its temporality. Suffragists who care not to see the world tilt on such an ecstatic and unlikely axis call it a pathetic hallucination, a parlour riddle that indicates nothing. Less than nothing, even.
Me, I find it fascinating that a feeling so mercifully life-affirming can also get away with being so cruelly brief. What is the meaning of such a lark? What is being communicated to us by the universe through this ostentatious and short-lived display of obsolescence? We are afforded a glimpse into a world where everything that matters too much suddenly matters not at all, and then the curtain is snatched back down and we’re staring bleary-eyed into the indifferent heart of Things As They’ve Always Been, seltzer water in hand.
I’ve had ample time to consider the implications: I’m only 28, but already, my drunken times have been legion. Irish blood allows me to consume copious amounts of hard liquor without becoming ill, while a panache for self-indulgence and a low-grade inadequacy complex conspire to verily guarantee that I will be drunk in the company of others more often than I am not.
A particular Moment of Obsolescence I feel compelled to share: I was 21, and at the butt-end of a long, difficult semester studying French in Paris. In a quintessentially Parisian gesture, my teachers, classmates and I celebrated the fin du semester by laying out a lunchtime repast of cheese and bread and pastry across our abandoned desks and cracking open a long row of wine bottles.
As the party kicked into gear, I stationed myself near the wine. I’d been cast out from the group for heckling their shopping trips and expatriate café clatches, insisting instead upon Heavy Drinking and Meeting Boys as essential extra-curriculars. I’d sassed my teachers. I’d skipped classes to explore monoliths perched at the edges of German hamlets and to embark on three-day clubbing benders in London. But the ends of things tend to soften our assessments of What Is, and as the party progressed, I began to feel somewhat shamed by the memory of my behavior during the five months previous.
And so I drank. Nervous and giddy, I drank with a bold, exhausted impunity. Blame it on the nosedive my personal life had taken (Life lesson: don’t fall in love with your host brother) or perhaps on the months of rash indiscipline that lay both behind and before me, but as the wine took hold, I got loud and joyous.
I toasted my classmates, chiding them for boringly refusing to drink with me at 12:30 on a Thursday. I toasted my professors by apologizing for being “The Student From Hell,” only I jumbled the worlds and instead called myself “The Student of the Opposite,” to the utter confusion of everyone around me. I even sidled up to the program director, Ed, and asked after his kids, although it was clear to both of us by this late hour that the deep well of disgust and disdain bubbling inside of each one of us when we came face to face was entirely mutual.
The rest of the party is a blur in my memory. The next moment I recall clearly is me sitting on a park bench on the Boulevard Saint Michel, just outside the ecole, digging into a fresh pack of Gauloise cigarettes. It was close to 2 p.m. Rivers of cheap red wine were flowing through my arms and legs. My blood felt purple and entirely shot through with the stuff. The world read blurry and narcotic as I lit my first cigarette. I thought for a moment of the very first time I’d sat on my smoking bench. It had been the summer previous, on the first day of my arrival in Paris, in fact. I’d flitted down to the street in a long brown skirt and sandals, so full of hope and fear. Now I was bundled in a ski jacket. My hair was ratted into dreadlocks. But I was still Me, wasted on this park bench in the Latin Quarter puffing a cigarette, a ridiculous kid far from home with too much cash to burn and too little sense to scare herself sober. I felt such perfect freedom.
Within an hour, the world would go back to its aching. My eyeballs would swell and my throat would shrivel in a thirst so interminable only three cans of Orangina could sate it. My host brother would still spend dinner tracing his finger along the pattern of his monogrammed napkin instead of meeting my eyes.
The litany of cigarettes would ooze formaldehyde into my blood until the stuff was coursing through me, a yellowy elixr that spoke of everything wrong just as loudly and unmistakably as the red wine rivers spoke to me of everything right. But I wasn’t thinking of that there, then. And I’m not thinking of it here, now. In fact, I don’t recollect a second of it.
It’s a funny thing. I can always remember with astonishing clarity the way it felt to be me, drunk, in some particular Moment of Obsolescence, all the sensory bits and the thoughts that went spinning through my body, the way the world pitched and rolled in pure joy at my feet. And yet I can never remember the way it felt to be me, atrociously hung over, in the moment that came inevitably after. I think that’s telling something.
On second thought, “The Student of the Opposite” has a nice ring to it. In fact, it sounds just about dead on.