How We Learn To Be Small

Laura Milligan
2 min readDec 6, 2021

My boyfriend’s mother got me drunk for the first time. I was sixteen. It was a Friday night. We sat in a warm, dark dining room awaiting a “family dinner” — me, my boyfriend, his mom, his dad, and his popular older brother. Filling my wine glass with red, she hovered the table, pouring the cool crimson in each person’s cup. Afterwards, she sat down at the head of the table, bowed her head — a hint for me to bow mine, too. “Bless us oh Lord, and thy gifts which we are about to receive, from thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord.”

Then, she passed me the potatoes.

With a plethora of winter foods on the table, foods like mashed potatoes, foods I’d be grateful for later as I pondered whether or not to vomit in the first-floor bathroom, I lifted my fork.

In my sixteen years, I’d never seen my parents drink more than two glasses of wine at a dinner. If the party wasn’t at our home, my step-dad declined a drink, with a small wave of his hand. “I’m driving, no thank you.” Chardonnay was and still is their drink of choice. Even on the coldest New England evening, my parents choose a small glass of white wine over something more potent.

At sixteen, sitting adjacent to the mother of my much-cooler-than-me boyfriend, I drank the glass the way I guzzled a Gatorade after a field hockey game. With no idea of an etiquette — a “how to” — when it came to drinking wine, I certainly didn’t expect someone to refill my glass after I’d finished it. Clinking her silverware on her plate, she looked down the mahogany table, passed the fake fall center-piece, at her husband, who blankly stared at his steak. “Honey, pour Laura another glass. She’s just finished.”

Quickly, I felt slower. I wanted to cry. I wanted to call my mom. I wanted to leave. Instead, I fell silent.

When dinner ended, I excused myself to the bathroom where I considered sticking my finger down my throat. Queasy, sitting on the cold, white-tiled floor, my back pushed against the brown baseboard heater, my eyes focusing on the toilet’s rusty rim, I learned how to be small.



Laura Milligan

Laura Milligan is a teacher and writer. On medium, she often shares personal essays.