Lychee juice

I've never forgotten this exchange I had, perhaps fourteen years ago, with a classmate from college.

"You drink alcohol?" she asked.

"Oo!" I answered.

She wasn't having any of it.

"Ano, wine?"

The first time I ever had an alcoholic drink was when I was in high school. Third year? Fourth year? Late by your standards - and perhaps mine, too, but I was just never the guy you'd invite for drinks. So when a high school classmate invited me to his home for drinks - it was his birthday - I was surprised, and then I made sure I was ready.

He lived pretty far away from my place, and I didn't know how to drive, so I had my parents drop me off, and pick me up later that night. (It's why I have an indelible memory of this song. I heard it in the car.) I made sure I didn't drink much, not because I was being a killjoy, but because I didn't want to be drunk - simply because I lived so far away and didn't want to be a burden to my host, who probably knew what to do, and my parents, who'd be worried sick. (It's why I have an indelible memory of that song. I didn't go home drunk.)

Some time that night, a friend one year above me tried to make me drink brandy. "Lychee juice 'to, p're," he said - and, to be honest, I almost bought it, but then it was a darker color and it was in a shot glass, and why was he making me drink brandy anyway? In hindsight, I would've had the shot and nothing more, but back then, I really didn't want trouble. I was in unexplored territory.

Okay, that wasn't the first time I ever had an alcoholic drink. I did have wine before that, on special occasions, and sanctioned by my parents. It was midnight, it was the new year, and I was outside, which was unusual because I'm an asthmatic and always spent the new year inside the house for fear of inhaling all the smoke from the fireworks.

If I'm to be honest, it was... not really memorable beyond the circumstances. I never went, I got to have more of this stuff! I never felt deprived of alcohol. Sure, it's likely we had cheap wine. It's more likely I did not know how to make my way around any form of alcohol. I tend to approach these things like a food critic. What does it taste like? I had no means of articulating what alcohol tasted like. I just drank it when the situation called for it, and then not a lot of it. I never went home drunk, although some might argue I've gotten tipsy. I don't think I'll ever know. I just know I'm having a headache.

The most I've drank in one sitting was seven bottles of San Mig Light in Cebu. Peer pressure, that one. I definitely had a headache, but I now think it's more because it's almost one in the morning and I badly need to sleep.

I've had hard drinks, too. Not often, but I think if you'll make me drink liquor, it's got to be whiskey. All right, I think it's because I'm spoiled by circumstance, because my first ever glass of whiskey was Blue Label at an event I attended. At least I'm armed with preferences around Christmas, when my relatives bring out all these bottles of whiskey, but even then I can't always be bothered to have a glass.

When I look back at that history, I always remember that conversation from fourteen years ago. She did not believe I drank, and mocked me for drinking wine only - which she assumed, and wrongly, at that.

"Ano, wine?"

I could never move on past that. It reminds me - reinforces my belief - that people never took me seriously, that people never take me seriously.

Right now, well... if I'm to be honest, things have not gone so well these past few years. It's this cocktail of burnout, of anxiety, of past traumas preventing me from moving forward, of people telling me that the only way out of this malaise is getting a therapist, of realizing that therapists are prohibitively expensive, of me being angry at the world as a result. Could things have gotten better if I drank more? Would I have forgotten all my problems away? At the very least, would I have attracted more people? Would I have gotten respect from more people?

Well, I'm overthinking again. I always do. I have a critic's mind when I approach these things. It's why, whenever I'm abroad, I make it a point to drink the local beers - not the hipster ones, but the ones everybody else will tend to have. It's why I can tell you Malaysia's is the most tepid, understandably. It's why Thailand's somehow jives nicely, why Taiwan really jives nicely. Or perhaps it's the memory of me having a can of Taiwan Beer - the premium one - at a night market, having pig's blood cake, handily sanitized by my hosts as "rice cake". But I've always liked dinuguan. This isn't weird to me.

But then I spend a lot of time just thinking about why people look down on me by default. Would those thoughts go away if I drank a little more?

But that's not my default. I don't hate alcohol, but I won't reach for it first. Sleep. Sleep works for me. I forget everything, I wake up, and I remember everything again. Not even beer can make me escape that cycle.

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