The Best Kind of Drinking Buddy

For our buddy series, we have invited some of our contributors to share a drinking-related story–an incident, an experience, a conversation, a relationship–that has been memorable. We hope you will enjoy reading these stories as they appear each Monday.

by Leah Odze Epstein

Jen* and I were drinking buddies of the best kind—we always had fun, and it never got ugly. When she got tipsy, or even drunk, she never lost her aura—she became even more upbeat, full of laughter, and prone to shouting things like “Woo hoo!”

A healthy New England girl, raised in a heavy-drinking seaside town, Jen was the kind of girl whose favorite phrase was “buck up,” who’d waitressed in haunted taverns since she was 14, whose father took her outside to greet a crackling thunderstorm instead of ordering her down to the basement to take cover. I was the anti-cheerleader, the one-toe-in-the-water-girl who didn’t learn how to drive a car until my late twenties. I reveled in Jen’s ability to plunge in; I soaked up her positivity like a vitamin in which I was deficient.

For Jen, drinking was an expected part of life, like eating or breathing. I came from a house where alcohol was forbidden. Even though my mother had been sober since I was nine, I always felt that she was on shaky ground, and that alcohol was dangerous. And maybe it was—for her—but I was tired of ruling out that pleasure for myself.

Jen and I met while working as news assistants at a large metropolitan newspaper. She had journalistic aspirations; I didn’t. She took her job seriously, and worked hard, moving up the ladder to eventually write her own pieces.

At the paper, they had a newsletter called “Winners and Sinners.” We knew we’d never make the cut for that one, so we invented our own imaginary newsletter, “Boozers and Losers.” We didn’t take anything too seriously, yet. We didn’t have to. We were making decent salaries, and the weight of responsibility hadn’t kicked in yet. Drinking every night went along with that laissez-faire attitude.

I swear, I never believed in auras until I met Jen, but she had a bright yellow light around her, always. Her mood was infectious, and she never failed to lighten me up. It wasn’t like her life had been so rosy. She’d had her share of hardships–a family history of depression, divorce, suicide and alcoholism–but she was wired to focus on the brighter things—cooking, eating, drinking, exercising, hanging out with friends and family.

Jen and her sister were inseparable, and—lucky for us!—her sister worked at a hip watering hole in the city where we lived. We spent many a night drinking together, hooting and hollering at the bar where her sister worked, or at parties. We also spent our share of nights commiserating about men at Dollar Beer nights in our neighborhood bar. We talked about books, writing, movies, politics, our families, guys, and our dreams. But mostly we just shot the shit. She must have saved her angst for when she was alone, because I rarely saw it.

Eventually, though, as we matured—Jen got more serious about her career and I moved in with my boyfriend—our drinking habits changed, too. And this is the part of our shared drinking story that I love best.

Every night after work, I would call Jen, and she would head to my new apartment. Sometimes she supplied the wine; sometimes I did. Red in winter; white in summer. Gato Negro because it was cheap. Ca’ Del Solo because we liked the bottle. Drinking with Jen was like the hug at the end of the day. Was the friendship the hug or the drinking? I’m sure it was both.

We’d turn out the lights and sit, sipping our wine, staring out the row of windows at the glittering lights of the city, talking about our writing dreams, waiting for my boyfriend to get home so he could join us for the last glass. And then the three of us would go boldly into the night, arms linked, in search of a delicious meal.

There couldn’t have been a better threesome. We all brought out the best in each other; talking for hours, waving our hands, conjuring up some crazy scheme or other for my boyfriend’s business or our writing careers.

But eventually, it had to end. Three became four, as my boyfriend and I got married and had a baby. Jen moved to the opposite coast to be near her sister and pursue her career.

I still miss Jen and those carefree days. The last time I saw her, my husband and I were staying in a hotel on the West coast with our then toddler son in tow. Jen drove down to see us. For a few hours, we sat together in the heated pool, sipping margaritas and talking and laughing as the sky turned shades of orange and pink.

When you’re drinking the right alcohol in the right amount with the right friend, the whole world seems to take on a rosy glow.

Leah Odze Epstein is the co-editor of Drinking Diaries. You can follow her on twitter at @Leaheps.

*name has been changed

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