Beer PTSD

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I don’t drink beer. Actually, I can’t drink beer.

When I was 20 years old, I was at Camp Lejeune, NC doing my bit with the Marine Corps. It was the Friday prior to Labor Day, and I was leaving the following day to go home to Kingsport, TN to get married on Labor Day afternoon.

In 1971, military folks could drink beer on military bases at the age of 18 and up, while, outside the base, the age was 21. The military figured that, if an 18-year-old was old enough to go to war, he was old enough to have a beer.

My squad bay (barracks) mates discovered two things: (1) that I was getting married, and (2) I had never drunk a beer or any other alcoholic beverage in my life. It was hastily decided that the guys in the barracks would hold a “beer bust” that night. That’s where one drinks beer until they “bust” or until they run out of money to buy the beer. I decided that I was not only going to have my first beer, but that I was going to get drunk for the first time.

My first sip was terrible. I do not know (thankfully) what horse urine tastes like, but that was my first impression of that first taste of beer. Gamely, I held my nose and proceeded. I made some discoveries. I learned that, after four beers, the taste buds, mine at least, quit working so I could let go of my nose. I also discovered that, after seven beers, it was hard to keep count of how many beers I had consumed, so someone else took over the counting duties. I don’t remember much after that.

I do remember that, about 0200 (2:00 a.m.), I woke up in the shower, ice cold water splashing on me with one Marine holding me down and trying to keep me from slugging the guys, another Marine manning the water, and a third with his fingers in my mouth forcing me to throw up. I also discovered that I was in my underwear, I don’t remember how that happened either.

Eventually, the shower was turned off and my fellow beer drinkers escorted me out of the shower building and headed back toward the squad bay. Along the way, they became distracted by something and left me leaning up against a telephone pole. After looking at the top of the pole, I, naturally, decided to climb up the pole.

I had made it halfway up when one of the guys noticed I wasn’t leaning where they left me. Then he saw me climbing the pole and grabbed the others who ran over screaming at me to get down.

All that clamor was heard by an officer who came out to investigate. When he saw where I was, he shouted, “What the %@#& do you think you’re doing?” “A reasonable question,” I silently mused.

So, I gave him a reasonable answer, “Why, I’m guarding my post, sir.” It was not a happy man who shouted, “Marine, get your (deleted) off that (deleted) pole and get (deleted) down here right (deleted) NOW!”

Irritated Marine Corps officers have such a colorful vocabulary. Being an obedient enlisted man, I saluted him and said, “Aye, aye, sir!” and let go of the pole. I hit the ground like a sack of wet flour. It’s a wonder I wasn’t seriously hurt. I was certainly feeling no pain.

The officer yelled at my entourage and ordered them to get me back to the squad bay, put me in my rack (bed), and make sure I stayed there. Which they did, wet underwear and all. At 0400, I briefly woke up and remembered a lot more about that night than I would in the morning.

I drifted back to sleep, still apparently drunk, thinking, “That was fun. I might do that again.” When the wake-up call went at 0600, it felt that an ax had been buried deep in my head and that someone had poured acid down my throat. Every cell in my body hurt. Even my eyes hurt. Every footstep of boots on boards sounded like an artillery barrage.

After I staggered out of bed unto legs that I wasn’t sure would hold me up, I received shouts of congratulations and slaps on the back. It was then I learned that the night before, I had consumed eighteen beers. And, as bad as I felt, I didn’t even have a clue about how much worse the rest of the day was going to be.

(To be continued)

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]

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