For many years, I did not drink beer and then, suddenly, I did. Before that, before I drank beer, I drank wine. For many years when I was asked at a party, at a gathering, at an event, if I wanted something to drink, I would opt for wine, not beer. Before that, before I would accept wine, I drank nothing alcoholic at all. This was because I was raised not to drink, was part of a religion that forbade it. But I outgrew that upbringing and with it that religion, and then I began to drink.
Back when I drank only wine, I almost exclusively drank red wine, though I would drink white wine if there was no red. I started drinking beer because I had a friend, F., who was co-owner of a brewery. When we ate at his house, he would offer beer pairings with each course. There were wine pairings as well, but, perhaps because he was co-owner of a brewery and was writing a book on beer pairings, I felt I should drink the beer.
Last year, F. sold his stake in the brewery. He still sometimes drinks beer, but he drinks wine now as often as beer, perhaps more often. I can still drink wine and sometimes do, to be polite. But my tendency now, when I have a choice, is to drink beer.
So, I used to prefer wine to beer and now I prefer beer to wine. Why? I don’t know. I simply used to crave wine and now I crave beer.
I do not crave coffee. Coffee was also forbidden by the religion I abandoned, along with wine and beer, but I have never craved coffee. Though I sometimes drink coffee socially, to be polite. I would rather drink coffee than explain to someone who offers it to me that I do not drink coffee.
I used to drink beer as well to be polite, and now I crave it. Perhaps someday I will crave coffee as I now crave beer. And yet, no matter how far I try to look into the future, I cannot imagine myself craving coffee. But, to be honest, back when I craved wine I could not imagine I would ever crave beer.
Am I now the same person I was when I craved wine? Am I the same person I was when I did not drink at all? Will I be the same person if I start craving coffee?
The answer is no: I have never been the same person and never will be. I have only ever been a series of persons who are vaguely related because they keep elbowing the person that came before them out of the skin they occupy in turn. Some are sober, some are drunk, some crave one sort of drink and some another. Most are only fractionally different from the one they elbowed out, but sometimes there is a decided break. I do not understand the person I was when I refused to drink beer, nor do I understand the person I was before that, the person who did not drink at all.
But if I am completely honest with myself—which I am inclined to be since I have just had a few drinks—I have to admit I do not understand the person I am now either. How did I become a beer drinker? Where did this come from? I sometimes think, seeing the can in my hand. What stranger am I holding this beer for?
And then I remember that I am holding it for the stranger that is myself and take a sip from the can in my hand.
Brian Evenson is the author of more than a dozen books of fiction, most recently the story collection Song for the Unraveling of the World. Other recent books include A Collapse of Horses and the novella The Warren. He has been a finalist for a Shirley Jackson Award five times. His novel Last Days was the 2010 ALA-RUSA selection for Best Horror Novel. His novel The Open Curtain was a finalist for an Edgar Award and an International Horror Guild Award. He is the recipient of three O. Henry Prizes, an NEA fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. His work has been translated into Czech, French, Italian, Greek, Hungarian, Japanese, Persian, Russian, Spanish, Slovenian, and Turkish. He lives in Los Angeles and teaches in the Critical Studies Program at CalArts.
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“A Report on Forbidden Beverages” appeared in TLR: Contents May Shift (Summer, 2020)