Story Shots started off as an ode to tequila—that golden liquid that impairs us so perfectly. While tequila seemed to be a party liquid that made us think of margaritas and concerts, vodka has a very different relationship with our writers. Vodka for some is a social lubricant, but for others, it has a much darker connotation.
“Are you from Los Angeles? You look like you’re from Los Angeles,” he said.
“I don’t know if that’s a compliment or an insult,” I replied, taken aback by his strange, intuitive remark. “How did you know?” I asked.
“You look like you put thought into your outfit for tonight,” he replied with his voice flat.
Your outfit looks premeditated, too, I thought to myself. He wore an Arab keffiyeh around his neck, a black and white checkered scarf, and a thin layer of eyeliner beneath his eyes with his hair perfectly coiffed to the side.
I shifted my body from the awkward tension.
“Again, I don’t know if that’s a compliment or an insult.”
“It’s an observation. See, that’s exactly what I mean. People from Los Angeles are always worried about what people think, or what they mean. Who gives a fuck? I used to live there. That’s why I moved here.” He glanced around the San Franciscan apartment and returned his eyes to mine, as if summing up his statement. I didn’t see the conversation going anywhere further. Wherever he was, I didn’t want to be. He had a point that I didn’t want to mull over, in fear of losing my buzz.
I walked into the next room, which was supposed to be the dining room. Instead, the oak dining table had been converted into what looked like a mountainous collection of red Solo cups.
Someone whispered into my ear, gently tingling the soft fuzz around my skin. When I turned to admire my boyfriend, I was abruptly startled by the crass voice of one of the roommates making an announcement: “Seriously, no one wants to fucking play?”
“What are we playing?” said my boyfriend.
“Oh! So you’re in! It’s just like beer pong. You know the rules of beer pong, right?”
“You just throw the ping pong ball into the cups?” he replied.
“Yeah, sorta. Except we’re using vodka.”
I chimed in, “Vodka? Are you kidding me?”
“We don’t have enough beer. The cups are empty. No one wants to drink from a cup with some nasty ping pong ball that just fell on the floor. You score, we remove the cup and drink a shot of vodka. You can chase it, if you’d like.”
I looked around the room, spotting my flattering, yet undercutting scarf-wearing friend, and shrugged, “Alright. I guess I’m in, too.”
“She’ll drink for my shots!” declared my boyfriend.
Again, I shrugged the declaration off, assuming we were in the game to win it.
He missed the shot. In fact, we both missed all the shots. The other team, like some dauntless heavy weight champions made every single shot and I, as a result of poor ping pong throwing skills, drank all the vodka. In the morning, my nineteen year-old frame laid stiff on a deflated air mattress due to my inability to figure out how to use the air pump in my drunken stupor. I managed to stand up, twisting my back from side to side, becoming increasingly nauseous with each movement. I stopped, seemingly, while the room kept moving. And when the room settled and I was on the brink of hating myself for venturing out with enough brazen confidence to play a vodka-pong tournament, I inhaled and thought to myself, “Who gives a fuck?” Then, all sudden-like, that rumbling feeling, like an internal landslide, loosening age-old gravel, free from it’s tightened and rigid past. A moment of invigoration. All at once. And then I puked.
I was nineteen. I shouldn’t have been drinking, so my drink of choice at the costume party was simply vodka and cranberry juice. The party wasn’t very intense—it was a bunch of twenty-somethings, plus one nineteen year old, drinking and watching scary movies. That all changed when there was a knock at the door. The party had officially been crashed.
These uncostumed men were older and cousins of someone living across the street. I was dressed like an angel—irony, I thought, because of my atheism. It wasn’t a sexy angel, either. I was wearing a long white robe, sandals, and wings.
After my third drink, I had to pee. I went to the downstairs bathroom only to find it occupied. That was fine. I wandered upstairs. One of the men followed me up while the rest of his crew stayed downstairs and turned the music up.
I was a little fuzzy, so as I was washing my hands I splashed a bit of cold water on my face and looked up. I was makeup-less. I was wearing a baggy white sack. I was there with my bros. The night was a little scary with the new additions to the party, but they weren’t bothering me any so I was fine. Or so I thought.
I opened the door and he pushed me back into the bathroom and closed the door behind him.
“Hello,” I said, confused.
“You’re pretty,” the drunk, probably thirty year old, said.
“Thanks, I guess,” I replied as I went past him and to the door to unlock it and leave.
He pinned me against the sink counter and tried to kiss me. He started clawing at my chest.
“No,” I breathed.
He ignored my words and my struggle and continued to try to kiss me. I wiggled out of his grip and walked towards the door again. This time he pushed me into the large bathtub. I continued to push him off of me and fight his advances. As I struggled against his large body, I felt it. His gun. He was armed.
He didn’t reach for it, though. Maybe he didn’t remember that he had it. Maybe he genuinely thought I was playing hard to get and he wasn’t trying to rape me. I got away once again and got to the door before him. I ran downstairs. He followed, casually, and found his friends had left.
“You missed it!” my friends cried.
“What?” I said while eyeing the man that had assaulted me in the bathroom.
“Dude, the cops came and one of the crashers pulled a knife on him. The cop slammed him down and arrested him. The rest of the guys left.”
“Fuck,” said my assailant. He walked out the front door.
I took off my wings and sat on the couch. I stared at my sandals.
“Vashee zda-ro-vye!” and our glasses clinked.
It was always smooth, cold vodka in those little shot glasses. I think we were speaking Ukrainian, or possibly Russian. It meant “to your health.” At least, that’s what I was told it meant.
“One more round!” cried the hostess, Danny.
She was everyone’s alternate mother. She was really Dylan’s mother. Every holiday this family of atheists got together and celebrated religious holidays like Easter and Christmas with copious amounts of food, vodka, and company. Their house was never empty.
One more round turned into three or four rounds. Once the vodka was put back into the freezer, we thirsted for beer. Borscht cooked on the stove. It was the color of nuclear bubblegum and tasted like vegetable stew.
As the years went on, the company at the parties thinned. Danny’s alternative children grew up. We went to school. We got married. We had our own families. We moved away. Some of us trickled in and out and took a shot of vodka or two, for old time’s sake, but rarely did we stay into the wee hours of the morning like we used to.
Dylan started having issues with alcohol. What to everyone else was a holiday-only drinking style, Dylan started to do on weekends and even during the week. He got a DUI. He slipped alcohol into my sixteen-year-old sister’s drink and told me to lighten up when she got violent and drunk. He got another DUI.
I ended up being one of the few of Dylan’s friends to come to this year’s Christmas party. Vodka was pulled out of the freezer. The glasses were filled and put on a tray. There were too many glasses and not enough people. I was offered two shots.
“Vashee zda-ro-vye!” Danny cried.
“Vashee zda-ro-vye!” I repeated.
“I can’t believe it’s you,” Kat said, throwing her thin arms around my neck. I had left Mark in the middle of the dance floor, pressing the sweating glass of cranberry juice and vodka I had been sipping on into his big hand. Three drinks in and my feet were already feeling lighter as I passed through the crowd towards the back of the bar, making my way to the restroom. I leaned back against the wall as I stood in line, tapping my fingers against my thigh as I waited. When I heard Kat’s voice, I looked up, my mouth opening and a brief “Hi” escaping my lips before they closed again. I pressed my head into the crook of her neck as she held me, and when I looked up, I saw him. She stepped away and his blue eyes met mine. He leaned forward, and my body fell into his hollow chest like a baseball into a worn glove. But then I tumbled out. “What are you doing here?” Kat asked, stepping back in between us.
“I’m with a friend,” I said, pointing my chin to the dance floor, my eyes looking past Kat, at his blonde head of hair bobbing in and out of view, bent down as he talked to the others. “Is school out already?”
“Well, it’s spring break. A few of us came back home so we decided to go out.” The line moved forward, and she pulled me into the restroom and into an open stall. “Is this the first time you’ve seen him?” She pulled her skirt up and sat on the porcelain seat. I looked up at the ceiling, wishing I had stayed home. For four months, I had been talking myself into going out. One night, I’d even gone to a friend’s. We had a plan. A few glasses of rum and coke and then take a taxi downtown, but at the last second, she brought me into her bedroom and I told her everything. All of it. The kind of word vomit that comes with being an extrovert with rum burning a hole in you.
“You don’t have to go,” she said. She had her hand resting on my knee, and even after she moved it, I could still feel it there—the pressure and warmth of it.
“I know, but I want to,” I said. “I need to.” And I believed it, just her and I, there in that room, but then the others arrived, and it wasn’t just us anymore. The room felt small—the air dense—and she looked at me with her small, brown eyes.
“I get it,” she said. What were the chances, I thought, that the one night I made it out of my house and past the bouncer would be the one night he decided to come back to town. And that in that town, filled with many bars, this was the one he would end up at.
Back on the dance floor, Kat followed me to the bar. I scanned the room, looking for those blue eyes, but I didn’t see them. Mark stood with his friends, my glass in his hand, and I reached for it and downed the last few drops. I introduced Mark to Kat. Kat this is Mark. Mark this is Kat. Repeating the steps throughout the night as the others slowly drifted back, but not him.
“He’s here,” I whispered in Mark’s ear.
“Where?” he asked. I turned around, looking out at the strange faces in the crowd, a rainbow of light falling across their skin as they threw their hands in the air and moved their hips to the beat. At the other end of the bar, I spotted him, standing next to a friend and giving a lanky bartender his order.
“There,” I said, pointing my finger in his direction. “The blonde one.”
“Oh, that’s him,” he said, his voice a bit incredulous as he eyed the subject of many late-night conversations. “You know, we could just kiss. That would make him jealous.”
“Yeah, because that move’s worked out for so many people.”
I’m a mix of two extreme families—both lovers of God, both blue-collar Republicans, both builders of walls, but both opposites in nature: One can’t ask for what it needs while the other takes what it wants.
My mom’s family is a tribe of followers without the confidence to choose a restaurant. It’s packed with musical talent and no showmanship, which means the talent sits dusty until their God prods them into squawking out an embarrassed tune on Sundays. In that house, there’s plenty of laughter and no bones to pick with anyone, anywhere. Herding them into a family picture, however, is like yanking lambs with low-self esteem and mousy hair to the slaughter. Good people, happy people, humble people. Mild, like cranberry cocktail—sweet, sweet, sweet, but not that interesting.
That’s half my blood.
The other half, my dad’s family, is loud. There are usually several brawls and people seething in the corners, but there are always lively debates and lots of storytelling. There’s laughter, too, but much more slapstick and usually at someone’s expense. In that house, there’re too many voices and frank opinions, members scrabbling to be alpha dogs. Though most members would rather be shot than touched, there’s a certain amount of pride in photographs, a great sense of clan and family (you belong here, damnit, whether you want to or not). We’re abrasive, like our name. Like a shot of vodka.
And me? I’m an opinionated Lacock with questions, some musical ability, and my mom’s hips—a Cape Codder, with more vodka than juice.
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