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A good night out with good friends can be a hard thing to come by. As you and your group of friends get older, the icy fingers of life and time will pry you apart. People move away, get married, have babies, get sent to jail for perjury, get trapped in a computer simulation, or whatever. Your group, which once rolled into bars and clubs seven or eight deep, is diminished to a crew of four or five at most. Before you would own the building and command space at the bar for the entire night so that the river of alcohol would never be interrupted. Now you take your whiskeys, vodka sodas, and beers and slink away to be undisturbed at the corner table.
You may pack those youthful delights away while you sit outside at barbecues, baby showers, or kids birthday parties day drinking, but those wild nights remain, biding their time. They wait for long-lost–but never forgotten–friends to return to their old stomping grounds, or for them to reveal new virgin lands to be conquered. They wait for reunions, bachelor parties, championship celebrations, and weddings when reminiscing and catching up on lost time will extend into the wee hours of the morning. They wait to be unleashed upon the world in a blaze of glory, announcing to all who are there to bear witness that you are not done living.
And their calling card is the half-drank beer left behind.
It’s an odd signature to the night, but its subtle significance is everything. For you see, if you chug that last beer you ordered, it means one of two things. Either, you have not had that much to drink and are able to comfortably kill your last beer, or you are so drunk that you drink the rest of the beer despite pleas from your stomach to stop. Either you didn’t imbibe that much, or it was a wild night that is sure to end in a blackout and crippling hangover. Those are your two options when you drain that last beer.
But if instead, you leave behind that last beer with liquid still sloshing around inside, that means you drank enough that you got a good buzz but were able to stop yourself before drinking that one drink that puts you too far over the edge to recover. Drunk enough to want greasy pizza, not so drunk to text your ex fifteen times. The perfect balance. The Baby Bear of nights out.
In your younger days, you wouldn’t dare leave a drop of precious alcohol behind when you packed up for the night. You’d chug that bottle of Bud you’d just ordered before dashing off to another bar, or order a final round of shots to cap the night. To leave behind a drink, bought and paid for but left unconsumed, was to invite mockery. It was almost an understood rule of your early 20s–unless your friends needed to care for you to prevent vomiting, passing out, or arrest, you keep going.
But as you advance in age, maturity, and the wear on your liver becomes more pronounced the understanding shifts. Sure, you can leave behind that barely drank beer you just bought. After all, you have responsibilities. Work on Monday, maybe a kid, or some other obligation that stays your hand. It doesn’t mean you’ve lost that feeling, that person you once were, but eventually, your edges are dulled down by age.
On the rare nights when you unleash the beast and revert to your youthful ways, the floodgates open. Shots flow freely, beers are ordered a clip so brisk you lose count of how many rounds you’ve had or who you owe money to. Lost in a sea of laughter and music, you’ll drink whatever is thrust into your hands, and buy another round for your dear friends without a care in the world.
Then it ends.
It ends not with an arrest, with a bouncer asking you to remove your friend who fell off a barstool or the lights of the bar going from dim to bright. The night ends with that look amongst your group. A look that should be pushed aside on these nights, but which even the resurgence of youthful glory cannot restrain. A look of tiredness and feeling that the night is winding down.
With the look comes the closing of tabs, the ordering of Ubers, the stumbling from bars onto darkened streets, and the hugs goodbye. The din from the bar and the youths who are partying it up can still be heard. There may be pangs of the memories of the days that you were like them, finishing that last beer without a care in the world. But now, you leave that half-full bottle behind, the ending to a perfect night. .