Nothing brings out weakness like drugs. Apply a liberal amount of alcohol, marijuana, or whatever other intoxicating substance to a human being and the flaws in their frame will reveal themselves. I’ve seen it for myself: it was the summer after I’d graduated high school and I was going through a McDonald’s drive-thru, stoned.

I was a late bloomer. My friends Aaron and Rick had started smoking earlier than I had; they were getting high when they were 16. I disapproved at the time for whatever reason, because doing drugs is bad or something. Now I was 18 and I’d finally come around. Why not? They had successfully converted me along with my other formerly sober pals, Connor and Mart. Now the four of them were filling the seats of the minivan that I was trying my best to navigate through the golden arches.

I pulled up to the machine you shout your order into and rolled down the window. Everyone tells me what they want, but I’m having a hard time remembering all the numbers they’re giving me. A number five here, a number two there, extra mayo for some thing or other? I tell the person on the other side of the giant walkie-talkie that we’re going to need a minute. They couldn’t care less; it’s 2 AM. We simplify our drink orders: root beer for everyone except Aaron. Aaron wants Sprite with no ice because caffeine gives him a headache or something. Whatever, as long as it’s not any more complicated than that.

I approach the first window, mentally preparing to deal with someone who’s not as high as I am. Looking back, that was a stupid assumption to make about someone working the graveyard shift at a Mickey D’s. Aaron and Connor pass me a ten each; Mart doesn’t have cash on him, Rick never has money, period. I cover the difference; no big deal. I hand the money to the man in the window, trying desperately to act like I hadn’t just smoked a blunt as I stare at him with red eyes, reeking of that skunky substance that must be familiar to anyone working such a shift.

We sit at the last window for what feels like forever. Rick starts messing with me, telling me that I’m too close to the window and that I’m going to hit the side of the building. For a moment I believe him and start to freak out. Laughs all around. You got me! Eventually, the window opens and the girl on the other side shoves our bags through. Yes, we’re going to need a drink holder…how are we supposed to hold five drinks without spilling them when we’re this high? Oops, wait, she doesn’t know that. Or does she? I peel out as soon as we’ve secured the sodas, just in case she had figured out the big secret.

Mart’s house is our usual hang-out spot, and where our feast would commence. I park the car, take a step out of the door, and as soon as I hit the ground, I realize that my legs have become tingling tubes of jelly. I can barely walk; how was I just driving? Best not to dwell on it when there’s a pile of fast food inside getting colder by the second, so I make my way as best I can to the basement door.

I go through my burger and fries in seconds flat, taking huge gulps of my drink in between bites. I can barely taste any of it, but it tastes amazing all the same. Connor and Rick finished almost as quickly as I did, while Mart and Aaron were taking their time. Aaron looks a little dissatisfied… a rare feeling for a pothead with fast food in front of him to have. Something is missing. His eyes scan the room intently, eventually landing on me.

“Has anyone seen my Sprite?”

Everyone says they don’t know where it is. I shake my head; I certainly hadn’t seen it. My drink was right in front of me, and I’d already finished it. Wait a minute…why is there a drink beside me as well?

No. It couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible. I look at the drink beside me. It’s brown. And there’s no ice in the drink I had just finished. I look around the room: Rick’s got his drink, Connor’s got his, Mart too. My heart starts beating loudly in my ears, my face turns white, my blood runs cold. Had I really drank Aaron’s entire Sprite while not once realizing that it tasted nothing like root beer, which very well might be the polar opposite of Sprite flavor-wise? It was impossible, yet it was the only explanation. I try to convince myself that I hadn’t done it, that somehow his Sprite was around here somewhere and that we just needed to find it, but in my heart I know that it was I who had committed this heinous crime, this truly evil offence against my brother.

We sit there in silence, staring at each other, but they know it’s me. They’re looking at the cups next to me. They know what I did. All the evidence is right there in front of their faces. I try to tell myself that they don’t know, that somehow I can talk my way out of this. I also know what I should really do: just come clean. We’re all high; they’ll understand. Just say “Aaron, I’m sorry, I’m so high, I’m so messed up, I drank your whole Sprite without even realizing it wasn’t root beer, isn’t it funny how dumb I am? I’m so stupid, man. I’m so sorry, dude. Next time, the Sprite is on me.”

But for some reason, I can’t make those words come out of my mouth. I can’t just own up to my mistake; instead, I try to convince them of a lie when the truth is already laid out in front of them and plain to see. Sorry Aaron, I don’t know what happened to your Sprite, honest. Yeah, there’s an empty cup in front of me and I have my root beer right here, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything. Maybe you left it in the car. Maybe the McDonald’s people filled up all the cups with root beer. Maybe your Sprite grew wings and flew away. Eventually we drop it and move on, and Aaron goes the rest of the night without his Sprite. After an hour or two, I’ve already forgotten about what had happened and I fall sleep, ignorant and content.

It all comes rushing back to me when I awake. For the next week, before I was to hang out with my boys again, I feel an acute amount of shame for what I had done. I keep seeing their faces staring at me, piercing right through my lies with their knowing eyes. I had been high enough to drink Sprite thinking it was root beer, but they weren’t nearly high enough to believe that I hadn’t. Most of all, I’m disappointed in myself: why couldn’t I just admit it? What was wrong with me? What IS wrong with me?  The Sprite with no ice was having its revenge, sucking me through a straw slowly.

The next time we were at Mart’s, I made my confession. Aaron, I’m sorry man, I was the one who drank your Sprite, I don’t know why I didn’t just admit it then. He tells me that they all already knew. Joke’s on you, Aaron, because I already knew that you already knew. Besides, this public apology was barely for you anyway. I couldn’t go another day letting them all think that I thought that I had gotten away with my soda heist, but more importantly, I couldn’t go another day without being able to forgive myself for my idiocy and impotency.

To this day, they’ll still tease me about the “thinking Sprite was root beer” incident, and I laugh along with them. It’s a funny story, after all (isn’t it?). I don’t touch weed now, but I suppose I have it to thank for revealing the cracks in my character, showing me where my weaknesses lie and where improvements needed to be made. Or maybe I should be thanking the Sprite. Either or, I guess.

Now that I think about it, isn’t root beer usually caffeine-free anyway? But I digress.