Once upon a time, in my younger years, my parents took a quick trip to Vegas. While they were away, I had a buddy over to do what I would describe as “light drinking.” We took a bottle of vodka—the expensive stuff my father bought in bulk in Brooklyn—the size of my torso and set it down on the kitchen table. We took out two oversized shot glasses. We got some pomegranate juice as a chaser. We turned the speakers and sub all the way up. And we started to drink Three Olives while Frank Ocean played. Of that night, I remember very little, but I do remember putting my head down on the round wooden table and praying to God.
I think drinking is a funny thing. It gets us in and out of trouble. It makes us feel better and worse. It can ruin our lives or lead to our best memories. It’s a dangerous thing that’s bigger than all of us. And it’s literal poison. I also think drinking, more than anything else in my life, brings me closer to God. As I sat there with my head on the table and my next shot in my hand, I began to pray, because I wanted God to protect me as I harmed my body. I didn’t know it at the time, but drinking was my premiere vehicle for self-harm. A big part of me wanted to get sick, to wretch. I wanted to puke and punish my body. For so long, I thought I deserved the pain and nothing else. At least drinking was a fun way of getting there.
Anyway, we took 11 shots in 30 minutes that night. I made a God-promise never to drink again if I didn’t wake up hungover, and God did not believe me, and she shouldn’t have. I woke up miserable and close to self-imposed ego death. I was young and foolish and looking to feel. I was likely heartbroken and trying to prove I was above my feelings, though now I know my feelings are always leagues above me. When Earl raps, “Close your eyes to what you can’t imagine,” I think of closing my eyes and resting on the table, and the room spinning in every direction. Close your eyes, and catch whiplash. I think of the stench of vomit and the smirk on my face. How I knew it would always come to this end.
This is supposed to be a piece about Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids,” from his 2012 debut album channel ORANGE, and I can tell you with certainty that the song played during our binge. I can tell you we sung along and rapped Earl’s verse. I can tell you we felt Frank’s begrudging tone on our spirits. Too, I can say we looped it back one time. I can tell you we were merry—we were the picture of happiness, two kids, and a big ol’ bottle of gasoline. I can tell you we were flying too close to the sun, and the next morning, where we played more Frank Ocean, burned so good. I can tell you we relished the sickness, and we found ourselves in the hook: “Too many bottles of this wine we can’t pronounce… Parents ain’t around enough.”
The bridge of “Super Rich Kids” always sticks out to me. Searching for real love—a real anything—has always been my favorite pastime. When Frank belts, “Oh, real love,” I feel the weight of all of my selves. My younger selves and my future selves, and the mass that is my present self—I see them all in a perpetual state of pining. That’s what drinking gave me: Some feeling to work towards. Getting drunk was the apparent goal, along with hurting myself, but there was also the truth of drinking opening me up. How many of us have had our most important conversations the opposite of sober? How many I love yous have we all exchanged under the influence of the bottle? How many nights out ended with us thinking: Now, this is someone I can tolerate.
I was drinking so much because I was searching for real love, duh. I was drinking so much, because I was confident that real love could not happen upon sober Donna, nor did I believe sober Donna could love herself. In the self-hatred gameplay loop beguiling my past life, drinking was essential to stepping into the person I now know myself to be while sober. Frank’s “Super Rich Kids” is a sardonic window into another world, and drinking was my window into a better life with myself.
But let me tell you, I found real love that night. Sitting across the table from my buddy—we had just gotten in from dinner and a movie—I had never felt so close to someone. The Three Olives was warming me up and cracked me wide open. That’s my brother, I thought to myself. And, again, I felt closer to God. I believed in divinity that night, if only because I believed some higher being had to bring us together. It was too sweet a match to happen on its own accord. After that night, I wrote a poem entitled “At The Kitchen Table With God,” where my buddy plays God, and we both throw up. Talk about real love.
So much of “Super Rich Kids”’ impression on me comes on the third verse, too. Taken out of context, when Frank’s character talks about never jumping off the roof, but always talking about it, I think about the passivity of suicidal ideation. How living in this body previously made me so sick, I would always romanticize the moment I could separate soul from skin and bones. I didn’t even believe in an afterlife; I just believed in myself even less. When the character falls off the roof, I think of all the ways I have crashed in my life. I always imagined some writerly and dramatic end for myself. Drinking would get me there. Not only was the vodka my gateway to real love, but it was my gateway to a real conclusion.
“Real love, ain’t that somethin’ rare,” goes the outro of “Super Rich Kids.” And Frank is right; it’s rare. I think, lately, I’ve stumbled into a real love of self. I think I’ve worked my way up to a real love between myself and a few key people. For the first time in my life, I wake up every morning excited to be alive. I don’t have long-winded fantasies about having one too many whiskey neats and toppling over my make-believe typewriter, never to be heard from again. The drama of my life is slowly seeping out, and I am gradually welcoming in the sunlight.
Frank ends “Super Rich Kids” in search of something greater than himself, and the night I took 11 shots, I was searching for something, too. But all these years removed from that experience, I can say I’m not looking for anything anymore. I’ve come to a place of contentment. I’m happy—truly happy—for days at a time. Weeks even. I’m shooting for a month next. And I don’t need the binge anymore, either. All I have is myself, and I’m more than okay with that revelation. Ain’t that something rare?