Photos courtesy of the author
The night a stranger bitch-slapped me at Burger King wasn’t very different from other nights. I kicked off the night by pounding down toxic amounts of vodka, yelling over top-40 remixes at a nightclub, and snapping “candid” selfies of myself dancing on couches, and then I went to my usual after-hours spot—the Burger King drive-thru.
I sat in a car with three other drunks: an Asian club promoter and aspiring actor who would be lucky if he starred in a straight-to-DVD American Pie sequel; a drinking buddy from high school who was now an aspiring model and actress living on the bankrolls of her parents and various men who “took an interest in her career”; and another aspiring actor guy who was really a math tutor.
Why was I at a fast food joint at 3 AM with three people I barely knew, liked, or respected? Well, because hanging out with binge drinkers involves engaging exclusively in activities that make you hate yourself. You eat crappy food, drink past your limit, and wake up to discover startling bar tabs and overdraft fees.
As we pulled into the drive-thru, the club promoter turned the volume dial all the way up, blasting our anthem for that night, which was presumably a song by Flo Rida, the Black Eyed Peas, or another insufferable musician who records music specifically designed for middle school dances. We probably seat-danced and fist pumped. I don't remember; I was drunk.
The car behind us, having a difficult time ordering their Whoppers over our public display of mediocrity, honked and yelled for us to turn the music down, but we didn't care, because we were having so much fun. Then one of the car’s passengers appeared at my car window, slapped me across the face, and turned on her heels.
My friends opened their car doors and jumped out. They were ready for a confrontation, the restaurant's employees threatened to call the cops, and the car behind us fled the scene. But I didn’t move. I laughed uncontrollably, thinking, Well, I probably deserved that, and then, Oh my god. This is going to be such a good story. And, finally, Where's my camera?
The road to the drive-thru was a very long road. In high school, I started drinking because drinking was the only thing teenagers did in Delaware, besides playing field hockey and tattooing misspelled Beatles lyrics on friends’ rib cages. I developed a drinking habit in the ninth grade, which is an early time to start drinking, but I was responsible in all other facets of my life. I was at the top of my class, kept a clean record, and cashiered pizzas for my own money, because I wanted to be “someone” later in life. Of course, later was later—I still had a few years to burn before college. After I watched The Fast and the Furious one too many times, I found partying appealing. Drinking was fun, but I enjoyed having stories to tell more than partying. I loved saying, “I hid from the cops for three hours in a bush” and “Remember that time we went mailbox bowling with a trash can?”
These stories were pretty harmless, but they made me feel unique. In retrospect, I realize these stories weren’t very special. (You probably know someone like me, or you actually are someone like me.) I wanted to have a wild party girl image, although I knew better. Alcoholism ran in my family, and I had career goals at odds with an alcohol-saturated lifestyle. But I continued drinking after I gashed open my hand, my chin, and my knee—countless little scars that still speckle my body.
When I was 17 years old, I boarded a plane to become a somebody in Los Angeles. California was beyond intimidating. Everyone around me gave off an aura of beauty and success, and I saw myself, in comparison, as an incompetent, subpar-looking girl with little direction or talent. I no longer had my family or drinking buddies to fall back on in times of loneliness, so when anxiety and depression surfaced, I turned to the bottle to have drunken tales of debauchery that could validate me. I kept collecting stories, like the one about the time I swam in a fountain in Las Vegas and the night I made out with a convicted felon.
I felt special in nightclubs, because clubs try really hard to make their four walls feel exclusive, although their customers are all aspirers: aspiring actors, producers, writers, executives, philanthropists, and models. People who drug vodka with ecstasy and revel in being a “Pill Poppin Animal” like Lil Wayne. I was a full-blown aspirer, only pursuing my long-term goals in theory. I felt worse and worse about myself, but, because of my low self-esteem, giving up drinking wasn't an option. It brought out the only part of me left that I liked, the only part that I could still recognize. What would staying home alone have solved?
Then I got slapped at Burger King.
I understood that the woman who slapped me was probably trying to get a vapid blonde girl to shut the fuck up, so she could order a Whopper, but I think she also saw that I was a young woman who needed a serious time out. After we left, my friends told the story again and again and again. As usual I was pleased to have another bizarre story in my repertoire, but this time the adrenaline rush wore off quickly.
Instead of relief, I felt hollow, like my liver had disintegrated into dust and only my ribs and skin were left to fill the space. I had nothing but drunken stories to show for the past couple of years, and I looked back on my past with concern. Why did I deem drunk moments an essential part of my personality? I don’t know if there are good reasons to drink, but I do know that drinking for a “good story” is not one of them.
I wasn't angry with the girl who slapped me, because I wanted to hit me too. I was the girl who couldn't stand being alone long enough to make it through a line at a fast food restaurant. After the Burger King incident, I stopped partying—staying up past 11 is a triumph these days—and I ex-communicated enablers from my life. I’m no longer the loud, drunk girl who is too caught up in her twisted Instagram-based lifestyle to move the fuck out of the way when other people are trying to get their combo meals.
Thank you, bitch-slapping queen. I owe you a Whopper.