Antisocial Behavior, Authentic Blackness, Black Masculinity, Blackness, Busch Beer, Coping Strategies, Crush #2, Disidentification Hypothesis, Drunk, Internalized Racism, Invisibility, Jealousy, Lothrop Hall, Misogyny, MVHS, Phyllis, Pitt, Self-Discovery, Self-Loathing, Self-Reflection, Sexism, Underage Drinking
As the son of an alcoholic father (the latter who’s been on the wagon for more than seventeen years now), I have almost always maintained control over my own alcohol intake. I’m always the designated driver, and rarely will I have three beers in one year, much less in one evening. My favorite drink is cranapple juice mixed with Disaronno, followed by Angry Orchard hard apple cider.
I have also always believed that I should be the same person, sober, buzzed, drunk and otherwise. If I’m generally a feminist on my best behavior in the classroom or at work, then I should be the same way at a dive bar on my second screwdriver. My low tolerance for bullshit — including and especially my own — should always be on display.
Both of these strands of how I’ve lived my life met a weekend of contradictions on this day/date twenty-eight years ago. In the wake of my Phyllis (Crush#2) crash-and-burn obsession and subsequent depression, I began hanging out with dorm mates at Lothrop Hall who were already dropping out of college socially by Week 11 of the Fall ’87 semester. That was a mistake of epic proportions.
My downward spiral was made worse a week earlier with a burglary on a Monday night at the end of October. While I took a bathroom break at the computer lab, someone stole my Calculus textbook. I felt violated, especially since it happened at work. It made me more distrustful of the people I worked with and of Pitt students in general. And after Phyllis’ wonderful response, I all but stopped going to class. I missed most of my classes the month of November, only showing up for exams or if my mood had let up long enough to allow me to function like normal. The weekend before Thanksgiving, I allowed my dorm mates to cheer me up by getting a couple of cases of Busch Beer. These were the Pounder type, sixteen-ounce cans. After getting Mike to get us the cases, we went back to Aaron’s room and started drinking. I downed four cans in fifteen minutes, and was drunk within a half hour. I started throwing around the word “bitch.” Anytime anyone mentioned Phyllis’ name — or any woman’s name for that matter — one of us said the B-word and we’d guzzle down some beer. I was drunk, but not so drunk I didn’t know what was going on around me. That night, my geeky acquaintances started calling me “Don” and “Don Ho,” since I was the life of that illegal party. I would’ve been better off smoking some cheap herb with Todd and Ollie. I recovered from my bender in time to go home for Thanksgiving, but I was in a fog for the rest of the semester.
This was how the end of my 2.63 first semester at Pitt unfolded. But that was hardly the only thing that came out of last weeks of ’87. For a long time, I was angry with myself. About Phyllis. About allowing Phyllis, my dorm mates — anyone, really — affect my emotions, my thinking, and actions over any significant period of time. So for about three months, I put everyone in my life into two categories. Men were “assholes, women were “bitches,” and I was done with humanity. And all by my eighteenth birthday.
I wasn’t just being sexist. I was being downright antisocial. I had internalized issues, about where I fit in this new world of college. I would never be man enough, Black enough, “White” enough, smart enough, athletic enough, or cool enough. At least that’s what I thought in late-November ’87.
I look back at that time and realize how stupid I was twenty-eight years ago. To think that I could go out in the world, attend a four-year institution, and not have my assumptions about the world, about people, and about myself challenged. That’s like going overseas to visit some ruins, but never meeting the people who live there (Or, in this case, like rich White Americans doing Sandals and other brown-skinned service-based vacations).
Phyllis and my dorm mates at Lothrop Hall weren’t even the first step of that process. They were the last step of a process of controlling and protecting myself from my years of living in the shadows in Mount Vernon, New York. The coping strategies I had honed for five years to survive 616 and Humanities and MVHS had barely worked. By the end of my first semester, they were completely useless. I came to realize that a strategy to seal myself up from all criticism and praise, to keep humanity out of my life, was doomed to fail. There was no way to keep the world from forming a first impression of me, no matter how many layers of invisibility I attempted to wear. But there was a way to reshape how I saw myself and the world.