It’s interesting that as I get older I re-visit some experiences and recall those memories with total clarity—no matter how long ago they happened. This life experience was one that made such an impact I’ve carried it with me for almost 40 years.
Getting a little tipsy used to be fun.
Even though the legal drinking age was 18 when I was growing up, sneaking a couple beers from the fridge for my friends when we were only 16 gave me as much of a high as actually drinking the stuff.
I remember how my heart raced with anticipation whenever the “gang” got together. I was a “closet rebel.” To most of the adult world, I was sweet, innocent and a bit of a geek. I was the trustworthy one and always did the right thing. Of course, when no one was looking, my wild child side came out. It was amazing to hang with the “cool kids” and stealing some booze from a dad that would never notice elevated me to a position of admiration among my rowdy peers.
It was ironic that I never really cared much for the hoppy flavor the boys seemed to crave. And even though I wasn’t the prettiest or most sought-after girl in the group, I earned their respect as the risk-taker.
Reminiscent of “That 70’s Show,” I remember hanging out night after night on worn-out furniture in our basement retreat. The heavy base sound of our “too loud” music was always pounding in the background, while the guys talked about their super-charged engines and the girls shared the latest gossip. There was always plenty of cold beer and cheap wine to go around, so we all drank. It’s just the way it was.
Even though we all knew the dangers of drinking and driving, we all did it anyway. There was no such thing as sobriety checkpoints or breathalyzer tests, so as long as you stuck to the back roads, you’d be fine – or so we thought.
In addition to feeling immortal, kids seem to believe that bad things can’t happen to them— until they do. That’s how I felt, so at 18, when my boyfriend and I were hit head-on by a drunk 23-year-old and his equally blitzed friend, I was shocked. Thankfully, we had the bigger car so were able to hobble away with a broken ankle and a wrecked-up knee. The party-boys weren’t so lucky – the driver never regained consciousness and died three months later; while his friend suffered major internal bleeding that caused him to lose his spleen and a kidney.
I suppose I should have been outraged at the driver’s stupidity of getting behind the wheel that night, but I wasn’t. What I really felt was the senseless loss of two young men who were just out for a good time. If only they had called a cab.
While my dad never condoned underage drinking, perhaps watching him casually drink (and drive) had desensitized me to its horror. By the time I had the accident, I was “legal” and had stopped drinking to impress. I no longer felt pressured to chug down a beer to fit in with the crowd, so our date that night consisted of hanging out at a local restaurant, eating chicken wings and drinking pop.
While I wasn’t as angry as I should have been at the reckless behavior displayed that awful night, I did recognize just how very close to death my boyfriend and I had been. Even though the wreck happened 39 years ago, I can still see those blinding headlights barreling toward us, hear the earsplitting sounds of shattered glass and twisted metal, and feel the terrifying panic that we might not survive. Even worse than that, on any other night, it could have easily been me that had caused the accident.
Just hours after the crash, as we sat in the police station recanting the night’s events, I remember feeling a pang of guilt as the officer praised us for being so responsible. I actually wanted to defend the driver of the other car when the cop said, “Finally, the drunk got what he deserved. Usually, it’s the innocent ones that suffer the consequences instead.” I felt neither responsible nor innocent that night. However, I did feel grateful that I had been given a chance to change things.
Ironically, it was my dad who insisted that I get in the car the next day to face my fears and drive by the accident site. He was determined that I become stronger for having lived through it instead of being stuck inside my anxiety. He was right to push me to regain control and never let my fears of what “might happen” dictate how I live.
It only took me six weeks to heal from my injuries, but it’s taken a lifetime of making good decisions to make sure I didn’t waste my second chance. While kids may complain about having to wait until 21 to drink or about strict DWI laws, I’m happy they’re in place. Hopefully, by making it a little more difficult for our young people to over-indulge, they won’t have to learn life’s lessons like I did – the hard way.
I still enjoy a glass of wine or a mixed drink once in a while, and on a hot summer day, I’ll steal a refreshing swig of my husband’s ice cold beer. What I won’t do is drink and drive. I grew up fast that night. I learned that no one is invincible, that not everyone gets a second chance to make things right, and that I wasn’t willing to pay the high cost of having too much fun.
What about you? Did you experiment with alcohol before you were “legal?” Do you think DWI laws are overkill or just right? This message seems to be timeless. So, if my story inspired you to think for a moment before drinking and driving, I’d appreciate if you’d share it.
Raising a kid is challenging. I thought I was home-free once my daughter had become an “adult.” Boy, was I wrong.
I wrote this post a few years ago, but I know this is a topic many Women Over 50 have struggled with or are still sorting through. I wanted to share my story to help others see that they’re not alone and that “this, too, shall pass.”
Take a look. I’ll bet you’ll find yourself nodding your head a few times as some of my experiences may sound pretty similar to your own. Enjoy!
When my husband suggested three years ago that we invite our only child’s boyfriend to move in, I think I must have been high on cleaning product fumes, because I said, “Sure. Why not?”
At the time, our girl was three weeks shy of 21, and her guy had reached that milestone into true adulthood six months before. Lanie and Jay had been dating for almost a year and were already getting pretty serious. She was commuting to college and working toward a nursing degree. He was living with his mom and not-so-nice stepdad over an hour away. He had no job, no car and no one willing to help him get either one. While it wasn’t a parent’s dream match-up, they were gloriously happy, and he treated her like his princess.
Three days before my husband’s now infamous question, we got a frantic phone call at one in the morning. The kids were driving down a newly graveled country road out near Jay’s house, when a deer jumped out in front of them. Lanie swerved to avoid hitting it and rolled her SUV three times. They ended up in a ditch upside down, wedged between two trees. The fact that they survived with only minor bumps and bruises was my sign that there was a bigger plan for these kids and that something had to change.
I can truly say, at that moment, I probably would have agreed to shave my head and become a Buddhist monk if it meant my daughter would stay safe. The next best thing was to have Jay move in so they wouldn’t have to make that hour-long trek every other day. In hindsight, it was the best decision I ever made, but it was also the most naive one.
Did you know that boys masquerading as young men are crazy? I do now! I also found out that it’s contagious and that their love-struck girlfriends will follow them blindly into Crazytown no matter how well you’ve raised them. Our always agreeable, respectful, considerate child became an alien with entitlement issues and a major attitude. And while Jay was appreciative of our willingness to invest time and money into his future, he just didn’t understand why I went ballistic when he brought home three pet mice and a puppy. For reference, the only pet Lanie was allowed to have was a goldfish named Urkel.
Pretty quickly, hubby and I agreed that we needed to establish some ground rules, or we were going to be on trial for murdering both of them. The first rule was that they had to have separate bedrooms. We had set up our spare room with all the amenities a guy could want – a comfy futon for sitting or sleeping, a smart TV for video games or web-surfing, a dresser and bookshelf for all his “stuff”, and easy access to the bathroom just a few steps away. Lanie already had a Barbie-pink room of her own with everything she needed – or so we thought.
After weeks of trying and failing to chaperone, listening to my husband rant about them “shacking up” in his house, and enduring my parents’ snide remarks about my lack of control, I was DONE!
For me to get to that point was a monumental feat. I’ve always hated confrontation and would do anything possible to smooth things over to avoid it. That day I learned something about myself though. I learned that it was time to set aside Debbie, the mom, and bring out Debbie, the woman. I had done a great job at raising my daughter to be a thoughtful, caring, intelligent, independent woman. I was so caught up in trying to keep the peace, I didn’t notice that things had changed. My little girl was grown up, and she had chosen the man she wanted to be with. And whether I agreed with every decision she made or not, they were her decisions to make.
We’ve had a lot more bumps and bruises to endure over those years, and we still struggle at times to get along, but I’ve learned that they need their own space. While we share the whole house, those two rooms upstairs are theirs. It’s funny – when I started treating them like adults, they started acting like adults.
My next job…to get my husband to loosen his grip on all HIS power tools. This ought to be fun!
Do you think I’ve totally lost my mind for continually trying to play referee to grown children or can you relate? I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. I’d love to hear your thoughts – for or against?
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