Great Escape

Love, Loss, and What I Drank

From escaping with alcohol—to escaping from it

Kristi Coulter
Published in
14 min readAug 2, 2018

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Illustrations: Teddy Kang

The Toddler Years

Southern Comfort, 1971

While your parents watch 60 Minutes, you sit on the floor and page through Time magazine, stubbing your finger on any page with a bourbon ad: Daddy drink! Your parents find it funny but hide the magazines when your no-dancing, no-drinking Southern Baptist grandparents babysit. Your grandfather still snoops, and one day he confronts your parents by flinging open a kitchen cabinet. What do you call this? he demands. I call it cereal, your father says, because in his indignation, your grandfather opened the door next to the one with the liquor.

The Teen Years

Hi-C, 1974–1985

You maintain sobriety through 11 years of book reports, choir practices, family fights, and humid Floridian Christmases.

Bartles & Jaymes, 1985

The boy looks like a surf bum version of Paul Westerberg from the Replacements. It is much easier to talk to him when you’re slightly numb from the waist down, an off-label effect of strawberry wine coolers. Rolling around with him on the sand at midnight, you realize you’re actually pretty good at this: the drinking, the rolling, the ocean peeing.

Long Island iced tea, 1986

Your prep school ID is your ticket into the gay bar where you can dance in your skimpy dresses without feeling hunted. The bartender says, Try a Long Island iced tea, honey. It has everything in it but doesn’t taste like any of it. The place is a carnival of coke and amyl nitrite and synth pop. Erasure is playing tonight, but you spend the whole concert kissing your friend Michael on the balcony. The music’s boring and kissing isn’t, you tell him. True and true, he says. Later he’ll push you into the pool with your clothes on.

Arak, 1987

The liquor cabinet is stuffed with untouched bottles of arak and raki, anise-flavored Christmas gifts from your dad’s Middle Eastern grad students. Untouched until you realize they are there. Then you sneak arak to parties in jam jars…

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Kristi Coulter
GEN
Writer for

Author of “Enjoli,” NOTHING GOOD CAN COME FROM THIS, and the forthcoming EXIT INTERVIEW, a memoir of ambition, work, and Amazon. www.kristicoulter.com