Tomorrow is my 21st birthday.
Although most of you have eagerly awaited the coming of full adulthood with thirsty joy and fantasies of spotting the love of your life while perched seductively on a barstool quaffing overpriced drinks wih suggestive names, I face this birthday with nothing but sobriety and wistful bitterness.
You see, although born with an addictive personality and a marked inability to find healthy ways to cope with my problems, I am one of the millions of hapless Asians who was also born without the enzyme required to process alcohol. So while my disposition suits me perfectly for a lifetime of mildly tragic but tragically glamorous alcoholism, I cannot partake of even a few drops of wine without immediately flushing a mottled purple. After a few minutes, nausea sets in, followed by full-body itchiness and an almost irresistible urge to pass out, discolored and disappointed, on the cold bathroom tiles.
And all of this before I can start experiencing any benefits from booze.
Having been one of the less cool kids in my younger and more vulnerable years, I didn’t discover this personal deficiency until Camp Harvard. Along with a marauding band of fellow ingénues, I arrived in a Mather suite eager, like Lisel von Trapp, to taste my first champagne. Somewhat serendipitously, it came in the form of a cheap vodka shot handed to me by a particularly urbane senior boy with whom I fell immediately and irrevocably in love. But alas, breaking out into hives does not a good seduction tactic make, so I woke up alone in the morning, regretful, excuseless, and still slightly itchy.
I tried a few more times to indulge in this most common of collegiate rites of passage, but too often, the pre-game became the game as I consistently fell asleep post-libation at 9:45 p.m. on Friday nights. Sometimes, my friends would be kind enough to drag me to my Hurlbut single before promptly forgetting about me. Happily inebriated, they galloped off in search of adventures as I snored and smeared mascara on my sheets. The next morning, I would meet them for brunch, resentfully devouring stacks of waffles as they complained smugly about their hangovers, reeking of debauchery and feigned regret.
Pretty soon, I couldn’t stand to see my college career plod on in sobriety, and I continued to experiment with ways to imbibe. In the meantime, I developed a debilitating online shopping addiction. But what deepened my drinking despair was the discovery of another problem: although my body violently resisted alcohol’s advances, my mind, speech, and motor skills were all too happy to desert me at the slightest whiff of the poison. My DAPA Nalgene tells me that 78 percent of Harvard students count how many drinks they have, but it’s much harder to keep track when all it takes to go from being flushed and tipsy to flaming and totaled is five-sixths of a beer.
I can count the number of times I’ve gotten truly, blissfully wasted on the fingers of one hand, since I can only reach that state of nirvana with the right combination of Pepcid AC, napping, prayer, self-delusion, and entire bottles of Shiseido concealer. Due to both the rarity of my escapades and the inconvenience of carrying around a pipette and graduated cylinder to measure the miniscule amounts I can drink, I am only slightly more experienced at being drunk than the most sheltered of pre-frosh. Perhaps as a result, every time that I’ve cleared the hurdle of staying awake past pre-festivities, I wake up the next morning to realize that I’ve done something horrific during the actual festivities. Last May, I threw a drink at the president-elect of a large campus organization, then announced to the room that he regularly wears women’s jeans. This Halloween, I spent two successfully inebriated hours trying to take a friend’s shirt off—not because I wanted to seduce him, but because I just really disliked the way it fit. Perhaps most disastrously, I once made out with the quasi-love interest of my best friend, leading to my removal from her gchat, her phone, and her heart for several lonely weeks.
I also learned that there is a strong positive correlation between how red my face is and how many photos of me pop up on facebook the morning after, so no matter how sloshed I got, I always remembered to set my alarm to 8 a.m. to wake-up, de-tag, and promptly pass out on my keyboard.
But why such effort, you ask? Why not just man up and face a dry lifetime? After all, there are worse enzymes to lack. I could be unable to process chocolate. Or wheat.
Well, to put it honestly and rather unflatteringly, I am one of those people who could really use a drink now and then to smooth out the sharp edges. Always self-conscious and tongue-tied at critical social moments, I imagine that a martini might mitigate my wallflower fate, or at least give me something to do with one of my hands. In addition, I will never have a convenient excuse for questionable judgment. These little advantages that the acetaldehyde dehydrogenase-endowed take for granted are to me like warm rays of social salvation, without which I have become etiolated and uninteresting.
Perhaps there is still hope for me somewhere down the road, in the form of a pill that cures Asian glow or enough money to buy hard drugs. In the meantime, I can only indulge in my substitute addiction.
—Nan Ni ’10 is an economics concentrator in Eliot House. She will be spending her 21st birthday swiping plastic online and drinking orange juice.
Tomorrow is my 21st birthday.