When I was a little girl I had no idea that my father was an alcoholic. I don’t think any of us did, well… not then anyway.
He was pretty happy-go-lucky when I saw him… but then I rarely saw him without a drink in his hand. Upon returning home ( usually late) he would immediately head for the ice box as he prepared for his evening ritual getting his martini just right, or perhaps a scotch on the rocks. Terms like “Beef Eater”, “with a twist” , and ” strait up,” were household terms, and I often modeled my father’s mannerisms in my play by dressing up in one of his suit jackets and patting the front pocket of my button down shirt as I blindly searched for my Pall Mall non filters. I could mimic his facial expressions expertly as I placed my drink order with the bartender (my brother) who usually could never get it right the first time, meaning it would have to be sent back and returned to me for final approval. “Now thats a good martini” I would say to my imaginary dinner guest as I smacked my lips together fishing around for another smoke. His very presence fascinated me and I studied him with intense scrutiny.
Usually by the time he got home each night and was out of his suit and into his cocktail I was fast asleep upstairs in my bed. No harm, no foul.
As I got older ( five or six) I got more curious about my Dad and really looked forward to our time together over drinks (mine a glass of milk or ginger ale) and had figured out that if I could stall bedtime just enough, I could even be ready to receive him in my pink footed pajama bottoms. I’d place his empty cocktail glass on the table with ice… waiting, and sometimes watching the ice melt a few times over in protest to the warm chubby hands that clutched it’s heavy bottomed design. There I would sit, and wait, in the warm kitchen with the warm Cim-in-on colored lim-o-li-um ( as I called it then) floors. The dishwasher would sing it’s gentle chuggling lullaby and I could sometimes catch myself as my elbows slipped to the side – my eyes heavy. Can’t I just stay up till Dad gets home? Would be my repetitive plea trying my best to look fresh and awake.
Those nights he guest appeared are forever etched in my brain like shining diamonds on the bottom of a tinder box. I was in heaven as he told me stories of his life and “when I was a kid”; and do you believe he could buy a whole bag of licorice for only a nickel at the corner store?! I was simply mesmerized by the veins in his hands that stood out like a map to somewhere, and the twinkling lights in his eyes that flashed their brilliance at me and the gruff tenderness with which he would tousle my hair and then swat my bum sending me up to bed. ZUBEDGAN!! he would say ( and told me that’s what people said in some other language that meant that it was time for bed, and my Dad was really smart like that…)
Sometimes in the morning rush as he was seated behind the newspaper I’d vey for his attention wondering why things felt so … distant. When he did look at me I felt a Beatles moment coming on….
When I was in my early teens I realized that unless I got to him before a certain time he’d repeat his stories to me – as if it was the first time he was telling them to me. It was also when I was older that I’d have to kind of gently guide him up to bed after he’d “fallen asleep” in the armchair downstairs. When I caught my sleepover friends snickering as my father stumbled around the kitchen trying to make his way upstairs I finally clued in that something was different about my Dad. I’d just always assumed he seemed different because he was “old” well- he was fifty when I was born so he’d always seemed – you know, like when he came to girl scouts for the father daughter night the troop leader asked me to introduce my grandfather. Not cool.
When I turned fifteen my father retired from his position as Chief of Vascular Surgery at St. John’s Hospital in Detriot. There was much to celebrate and our home was a revolving door of retirement and going away parties as we readied our wagon for Kennebunk Maine. We were moving.
My Dad (bless his heart) was not used to life at home with his wife and children but did his best to accomodate us by beginning cocktail hour around noon each day. I grew very close to Dad after my mom moved out of the house and next door. She was “Impossible” and I wasn’t to “stir the mud” with any of my teenage antics. Dad bailed me out of a few scrapes – silently and with pursed lips with a warning look that said – “Don’t upset your mother.”
For my part- I wasn’t sure anymore what the hell was going on between them- only that my own grasp on reality was sandwiched between terse family dinners and the occasional blow up. It wasn’t uncommon to hear a thump in the kitchen ( floor, meet Roast Beef) followed by a string of profanity and in an instant, our Sunday night dinner spirit would be dampened by the empty chair where my mother usually sat as co-pilot to compliment her chef.
By then I had long declared war on my Mother. I could not understand her behavior and felt righteously bonded and protective of my Dad. She could be very difficult- he’d told me, and I’d witnessed it myself first hand- I mean, who sits at the kitchen table in the dark just waiting for their daughter to break curfew so she could catch me and parent me. A little late for that aren’t we? I’d turned rude and petulant and could barely stand to be in the same room- the air was thick with judgement. When she came to me – finally, crying to ask for my help- I was utterly in shock.
“He’s sick Monica” she’d say.
“It’s called Alcoholism… I need you to help me….” she pleaded
and I told her to go to hell. Repeatedly.
She’d wanted me to be part of something called an “Intervention.”
“OOOh no you don’t” i’d think to myself. It had taken me my whole life to have a relationship to my Dad and she was NOT going to ruin it with this alcohol malarky.
I started to watch him more closely… taking notice of his movements… counting his drinks, his timing, his mood swings. The unease that was already alive and well in my chest grew to gargantuan proportions. I began to have anxiety attacks regularly. The weight of the world seemed to press my shoulders into the ground and I felt constantly rattled. My inner fears turned to rage and my uncertain world took dark winding turns through reckless sex, drugs, and wild adventure. I wanted out of this crazy place and yet the paradox became more evident over time that the only way OUT was IN.
( To be continued… maybe… I’m not sure why this came out of me today or even where it’s coming from but It’s just coming out – finally i guess… on paper so we’ll see if I can keep the thread going with another post another time…thank so much for reading!)