568: When You're Young You Always Take Too Much

568: When You're Young You Always Take Too Much

568: When You're Young You Always Take Too Much


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

One New Year’s Eve a very long time ago in Sonoma, I spent the last few hours of the year drinking with my friends in my parents’ apartment. We were probably drinking various alcoholic beverages, anything we could get our hands on, but that’s not the point. The point is, that what I remember most about that evening, was that at one moment, we all started talking about our moms.

We went from wild tipsy reverie and hysterical laughter to such seriousness, such earnestness. One friend would tell a story about how much his mother gave up for him and another one would chime in with a story about his mom and soon we were all shouting, oh I am sure we were shouting, “A toast to our moms! We love our moms!” It was drunken silliness for certain, but it was also so true to us, so real. We were near tears, with love, we were drunk...with love.

In today’s honest poem we get to witness that switch from delightful intoxication to the powerful realization that life has an importance that we can’t always comprehend.

When You’re Young You Always Take Too Much
by John McCarthy

As if life had drawn some predictable divide between
the driver and passenger sides, two boys and two girls
each occupy half of the car. The four of them fill 
the cabin with that naïve sense of youth that believes
it can usher everything lost or dead back into existence
if they drive around long enough in the freezing light
of January. They take turns one-upping each other, 
sharing stories about family who have died
on their own or for causes they didn’t believe in.
The ending always involves needles or bullets
and a graphic depiction of the body’s humiliation.
Their faces contort and give way to a grim silence
before telling a dark joke, laughter breaking out
with the undeserved assuredness that they will always
be able to grow their hair long in the name of 
some indescribable anarchy. Even now, as they park,
crack the windows, and pull the glass pipe to their lips,
exhaling a cone of smoke into the frost-bitten air
where it disappears upward like the music they love 
and sing to each other at night because they lack
full personalities—and where the snow covers
a field that, in the spring, will turn into oilseed.
They take turns passing the bowl as the sun falls through
the naked trees like someone startled by the piercing
of skin. For a few minutes, everyone loses themselves,
staring at the muted fields that look like a future
that hasn’t become anything yet. It’s this thought
that brings them hurtling back to a self-consciousness
and fear that causes one of the boys to panic. 
He says I need to go home now, and the other three look
at him as if his statement was the most important story
ever told. The other three force a laugh, trying
to save the mood that is now silently out of control.
It’s left unsaid, but they all want to go. The other three
are glad they didn’t have to be the ones to say it.

"When You're Young You Always Take Too Much" by John McCarthy. Used by permission of the poet.