Beer Money: A Memoir of Privilege and Loss

Beer Money: A Memoir of Privilege and Loss by Frances Stroh

Book: Beer Money: A Memoir of Privilege and Loss by Frances Stroh Read Free Book Online
Authors: Frances Stroh
broke into ecstatic, wide-eyed smiles. We were living a cultural moment, absorbing her palpable aura of celebrity, metabolizing a cocktail of gorgeous chemicals, chanting “ Hare Rama , Hare Rama , Krishna , Krishna , Hare Hare . . .” We had finally arrived. Annie was stunning, younger than we would have thought, and, amazingly, a real person. Her voice converged with ours like a train escalating to the heavens, echoing off the baroque, gold-leafed ceiling of the Fisher Mansion ballroom with the rapturous beat of life itself.
    After the meditation class, my friends and I popped codeine tabs to soften the landing, then trudged through the snow back to my father’s car.
    The roads were thick with ice; the overcast January sky hung low like the dark concavity of an overturned bowl. I started the engine. Road conditions never worried me, even in blizzards. I could drive on ice blindfolded. I accelerated quickly, skidding against the curb.
    “Whoa!” everyone shouted, laughing. They smoked and debated the age of Annie Lennox, seat belts still unbuckled.
    The lawns were buried under filthy old snow. No other cars on the road. I accelerated again, feeling the pedal give obediently beneath the stiff leather sole of my right cowboy boot.
    Brick houses whipped past us in blurs of reddish brown.The car heater roared with cold air. I pulled a Marlboro from my pack. No one could find the lighter, so someone in the backseat just held out a lit cigarette. I turned around and leaned into the back, my left hand still on the wheel, my starved lungs drawing on that fragile point of light with mighty focus—the last burning ember within miles—but my cigarette didn’t catch right away, and that’s when it happened.
    We slammed to a stop with a great exploding sound, our bodies thrown backward as if from an electric shock. Then everything stopped again.
    A telephone pole, I saw, stood inches from my face, just beyond a windshield web of shattered glass. The front of the car was an accordion of crushed steel. I was still in the driver’s seat. We were all still in our seats.
    “SHIT ,” everyone said at once. We were alive, though.
    My father put his lens back into the side pocket of his camera bag and buttoned it shut.
    “What kind of dog did you say it was, again, Franny?” He asked me, still amused.
    I picked up the Dust-Off and blew some air at the back of his head.
    “Hey—Stop that!” he shouted good-humoredly. He glanced around. “Where the hell did your mother go, anyway?”
    “No idea,” I answered. My mother’s mysterious absence was hardly unusual; she had been out even more since my father quit his marketing job at the brewery after a fight with my uncle Peter.
    I poured a Coke over ice and went into the library, whereWhitney sat watching the music video of “Burning Down the House.” David Byrne’s absurdly blank expression bobbed around on the screen as flames consumed a suburban dwelling.
    In the weeks that followed the car wreck, my parents hardly mentioned it. I had been expecting consequences, like being grounded from driving, but there weren’t any. The huge splotches of blood they saw on my fisherman’s sweater when they met me at the hospital—the steering wheel had saved my life, but done a number on me in the process—had subdued them. Thankfully, my friends had all walked away unharmed.
    Then February brought the distraction of good news: I’d been accepted to Duke on early decision. My spotty career as a boarding-school-castoff-turned-public-school-lawn-urchin had finally ended; I’d made the grade. My parents were thrilled.
    After that, I’d spent the last months of high school skipping classes more often than usual, drinking beer on the lawn of the War Memorial or getting stoned in the parking lot of Angel Park. I figured I’d earned it, and Mr. LeMieux, the assistant principal, still gave me a big hug at graduation when he handed me my diploma. South High was the first school where the

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