I recently found an old photograph of five boys, myself included. It was taken during the summer of perhaps the most pivotal of my teenage years, and is uncommon in how well it has been preserved over nearly three decades.
I remembered the camera was on a timer, so there was nobody, nothing but blank air staring at the five of us, at how we’d positioned ourselves around the picnic table with practised nonchalance.
“Try to look hungover,” we’d said, just before the shutter clicked, stealing some of the light that shined on our anxious youth.
Looking hungover seems an odd thing to strive for, and to say, considering we were hungover as fuck. If there was ever any doubt it is dispelled by the fourteen bottles of hard liquor, displayed proudly on the table-top. On the bench we’d arranged the husks of several dozen beer cans we’d used as chaser.
“Try to look hungover,” we’d said, worried about capturing the moment accurately, even though we were hung like death after a week of booze and beach. It’s oddly unsettling for me to consider—as a sober, slightly depressed 44-year old man—this teenage version of myself, and the dreams he nurtured.
First it giveth, then it taketh away.
I’m most curious why it was so important, so relevant, that we look as beat down and washed out as we could, like life had done a hard number on us (which it would) after we’d heeded nothing but our own simple urges for days on end. We’d followed our various thirsts—for wisdom, for that wobbly omnipotent understanding that booze sometimes bestows. Mostly our urges led us towards girls who stood or lay on the beach, teens our age who were a safe distance from their fathers. We were motivated by their tanned bodies, their scents, their frustrating indifference to us, and the idea that someday, somehow, some of them would be interested in letting us have them.
The mere notion of pussy was enough to commandeer our young bodies and minds, and it marched us dutifully in full parade, tromping for drunken miles up and down the shore behind our sweaty semi-erections. We paraded under a cartoon sun, stepping barefooted towards liberty, or at least release, which came only for an instant—and usually in stolen moments of shameful solitude as we blorted into our own cupped palms.
“Try to look hungover,” we’d said. For most of us, it was our first real beating as part of a brotherhood, and our eyes look almost hardened by the experience that just one good drink-up can give, and the price it extolls the next day, and in the days after that.
For me, that sudden erosion of innocence is evident, like the detritus in the aftermath of a festival, where one realizes we've taken a beautiful thing and made it look like garbage.
In my own eyes, behind the thin veil of pride, I can glimpse the wake of false hope surfing on a deeper fear; any wonder that I’d already, at such a young age, shut down all my options to anything but that.
That fear, I realize, is still with me. But I am transmuting it into something else every day—sometimes creation that moved me forward, sometimes behaviour that sets me back on my heels.
It took this long to see it, and how naive and heartbreakingly beautiful to think one can choose his own time to become a man, or even a god, through something as simple as a word, a breath, a paroxysm of semen, or even—as with us in the photo—a few stiff drinks.
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