The Small Part of You That Dies When You Turn 21
Why some memories are best left unremembered.
By Sara Marie Seidel, University of Colorado at Boulder
You know how in Mean Girls Cady says, “Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it”?
Well, the same can be said about your 21st birthday, except that instead of giving you indemnity for slutty clothing, your 21st birthday is the one night of your life that you can get belligerently black-out drunk and no one can say anything about it.
There’s no foolproof “How To Turn 21 Like The Classy Person You Are” guide, which is because it’s common knowledge that by the time you go to the bars at midnight, you’ll have already forgotten your name and dignity at home. You might ask, “How do I make sure this isn’t me?” The honest answer is that you can’t.
When it’s all said and done, there are five distinct stages to turning twenty-one. Make your way through all of them and you’ll end up on the bathroom floor. Skip one or two and you might not. Might not.
1. You’re Shaking With Excitement
You may even squeal as you put the sash that says “Happy 21st Birthday” in glittery cursive over your clubbing attire. Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing sinful about being excited. But when you’re too excited, things get problematic.
In fact, it’s proven that the more “I’m 21, everyone look at me” memorabilia you wear, the worse your night is going to be.
It may seem like I’m just aiming stage one at girls, (because I am), but boys get really excited about turning-twenty one too, they just express it differently. More specifically, they express it with stage two.
2. Pre-pre Drinks
This stage is why you haven’t even made it to the party and you’re already drunk. If you have cool friends (and I’m assuming you do), they’re having a party for you wherein other legal/illegal drinkers hang out till midnight—when you’re officially of age—and then go to the bars with you.
A pre-pre drink is when you drink before this pre-drink event. A pre-game pre-game, if you will. Chances are you’re excited and want to start drinking now that you can, so cracking a few beers or taking a few shots before you head to the party won’t hurt.
But unfortunately, you’re not going to keep in mind that you still have a million shots to go. Tomorrow morning when you wake up you’ll realize that it was the pre-pre drinks that did you in, but you don’t know that yet. After tossing back a few drinks and getting a little drunk, you’re ready for stage three.
This is where you should’ve started your night, but your eagerness has already cost you your sobriety. This is the most fun stage because it’s all about you. Everyone at this party is there for you! Which is great, but it means that everyone wants to take a “birthday shot” with you.
You adjust your glittery sash, and then pull the pink shot-glass connected to the necklace dangling around your neck to the lip of the bottle of semi-cheap vodka (it’s a special occasion so you splurged and spent $14.99).
Or maybe you shotgun another can of beer, crushing it with your fist and yelling as you throw it to the ground.
Stage three is risky, as you’re still twenty years old for at least four more hours. A brush with the police is always dreaded, but tonight it’s extra dreaded. Can you imagine explaining to your friends and family that you got an MIP in the last hours of being twenty? You’re practically there, so don’t mess this up now.
Stage three is the most lethal to your night in another way though, aside from a run in with the police. By now you’ve most likely taken a birthday shot with each of your closest friends, as well as a birthday shot at midnight, which means you’re probably seeing in cursive.
There are a few ways your night could go from here: 1.) You’re done, cut off for the night, and making your way to your designated puking place. 2.) You puke and rally (unlikely). Lastly, 3.) You’ve somehow managed to stomach all the alcohol and are ready for stage four (even more unlikely).
The chances that you make it to this stage are slim, but let’s hypothetically say you’ve made it. When you finally stumble to your first bar with your friends in tow, you make sure everyone knows it’s your birthday.
The bouncer takes advantage of this and stamps your forehead, making it known that you’re ready to make a fool of yourself. You make your way through the crowd to the bar, where you get to order your first legal drink.
Instead of ordering something, you receive a free birthday shot, which makes you secretly relieved because you have no idea what the name of any drinks are.
The birthday shots differ from bar to bar, some better than others, but it doesn’t even matter: Your ability to taste left with your ability to see straight.
But don’t think you’re only drinking a free shot from the bar; no, your friends are now obsessed with buying you, the freshly minted twenty-one-year-old, some of their first legal drinks. Unfortunately, they cackle when you ask for water, so you change your mind and ask for whatever they’re having. This happens at all the bars you enter tonight, so at this point your memory flees and joins your taste buds and ability to see straight.
Most things that happen during stage four are extremely hazy and will most likely never return to your memory, which is a good thing because memories of you throwing up on a pool table or dancing on an actual table are better left forgotten. Now that you’ve entered the black hole that has become your night, it’s time for stage five.
5. Waking Up
This is the most complicated stage to explain considering half of stage four (and maybe even stage three) is missing. Stage five can occur anywhere: The sidewalk out front of the Boulder Theater, the park next to your house (you were so close, you’ll get em’ next time), on a friends couch, or—if you’re really lucky—you’ll wake up safely in your own bed.
Waking up is extremely hard because there’s a chance you’re still drunk. This becomes problematic because you only have a short amount of time until the hangover from hell hits.
The clock is ticking and you need to be somewhere with a trashcan to puke in and a bed you can burrito yourself into. Once you’re wrapped up into a cocoon of sickness, it’s time to hear stories about how horribly drunk you were last night.
If you start at stage 4 you can avoid some of what turning twenty-one entails, but that wouldn’t give you the full 21st birthday effect. In all honesty, there’s just no tasteful way to turn twenty-one.