I woke up the next morning with a headache, which told me that I’d drunk a lot. Also there was an empty bottle of vodka on the kitchen table and my mom was passed out on the couch, so those were more clues. I could only guess at the events of the previous night, but it was an educated guess. II took what evidence I had and pieced the night together as best I could.
I figured I’d probably rolled in around 1 a.m., found my mother passed out on the couch next to a partially drunk liter of vodka on the table, and then finished the liter.
Or that’s what I allowed myself to believe had happened, because it delayed the realization that my mother probably drank the entire bottle. If she had drunk the entire bottle she probably wouldn’t remember. If she didn’t remember drinking the bottle she may demand that I go get her more. This was a regular occurrence. Sometimes I would fight her about it, refusing to get the vodka, sometimes I would fold.
These arguments, the craziness in them, made me chuckle to myself on a regular basis. I would categorize these chuckles under the word ‘bitter.’ The worst chuckles came when she said that she had finally kicked it, meaning her alcoholism, and poured out all the vodka in a flash of self-righteous masochism. “I poured it all out because I know that I deserve the pain of withdrawal, but now in the harsh light of day, I realize that I could sure use a drink.”
I chuckle when I think about it, and imagine I could write a funny sitcom about an adult son living with his alcoholic mother. Maybe I could call it “Beans and the Wheeze.” “Oh mom, you’re such a drunk bitch!” (laugh track).
If I showed her the receipt proving that I had indeed purchased vodka for her just two days previous, she would either call me a liar and a forger, or start sobbing and promise never to drink again. Living with an alcoholic is a bizarre experience.
Years ago, I remember thinking that my mom was probably an alcoholic, but I wasn’t gonna say or do anything about it, probably because I was scared. I told myself that she felt it was her life, and she was seventy-eight, so what business did I have telling her anything? That was what I told myself, but I think the real reason I turned a blind eye to my mother’s alcohol abuse was sadder and more troubling than that.
Honestly, it’s sad to say, but I probably figured it was as good a way out as any for her. I know it sounds cold, and it is cold, but she didn’t have much to live for at the time. I mean whenever the two of us were alone together talking seriously, which happened rarely in those days thank god, she would launch into wailing and gnashing her teeth about this or that.
Sometimes I got really mad at her because she was such a bummer to me. If she wasn’t a generator of constant trouble in my life she was certainly a beacon to it. Trouble constantly patrolled her sphere of influence, but I couldn’t be anywhere else because she was my mother and I loved her.
Even then though in many ways our mother/son relationship had flipped over on itself, she still held a lot of authority over my emotional life. I wanted her to be okay, all the time, and when she wasn’t it pained me. Paradoxically, it seemed before the drinking took hold, anyway, she was likewise emotionally chained to me. If I was sad she was sad, so I preferred to gloss over my fits of loneliness.
Sometimes I would lie to her about some new gal from Ohio I’d met at the library and had a date with that night, but then I’d just go see a movie or something. There were even a few times when there’d not been a movie I wanted to see, so I just went home, saying that she stood me up. My mom would hug me and say “At least you’re trying,” which was the most depressing thing for me to hear for a variety of reasons.
“HuhWHOA!” through the wall I heard my mother’s morning groan, followed by a series of thuds indicating that she was clumsily pulling herself together. Her bedroom door flew open, making the doorknob slam into the indented section of drywall behind it. “Bright in here, huh?”
She was still drunk, it seemed, but barely. She opened her door with enough gusto to slam it into the adjacent wall when she was tipsy, a level of intoxication that indicated she was either on her way to or coming from a full drunk stupor.
I was laying on the couch watching a political roundtable, paying no attention, of course. “Sure is, Mom. Whattya want for breakfast?”
Her eyes softened, “Oh I couldn’t put ya’ out, I’ll just have a bowl a’ cereal.”
There wasn’t any cereal, and I knew there wasn’t any cereal, but I preferred for my mother to figure that out on her own. After hearing drawers open and close through the wall separating the kitchen from the living room for what felt like long enough, I finally spoke. “Find the cereal?”
“No, I guess we’re out,” before she spoke her next words I could see the game she was playing. She was gonna find that we didn’t have any cereal, and she would need to make a quick trip to Dominick’s to pick up some more.
Along with cereal, the Dominick’s near our house also sold vodka, which I assumed was her true aim. I knew that if I let her go for cereal, and even if she promised not to, she would also get vodka. So before she even suggested it, I jumped up. “Yeah I was gonna go anyway,” I said pulling my shoes on and heading out the door. “Goin’ to Dominick’s, I’ll be back soon.”
Whenever I went anywhere I once felt an intense need to tell someone where I was going and when I’d be back. I used to tell a lot of people these pieces of information all the time. It had even become sort of an inside joke some of my close friends had with one another.
They’d get up to go to the bathroom and they’d say “Hittin’ the shitter, be back in five,” and everyone would laugh.
The thing that’s kinda weird about this, I guess, is that I only actually did this when I was a little kid. When I was a teenager I was just doing it because it made people laugh. It got embarrassing though, so I stopped.
After my dad died I started telling my mom where I was going and when I’d be back every time I left the house, just to remind her of something cute I used to do when I was little. I think it helped us through a difficult time, or I like to think that, anyway.
It was a behavior pattern my mother had instilled in me starting from a very young age, though she didn’t pay much attention to my announcements anymore. I can’t exactly remember her telling me to always keep her informed of my plans, but I imagine she began this tradition from the first words I spoke.
Things between us had devolved quite a bit since then. Thee to five days a week she just drank and sat in silence all day. It was definitely unsettling, and probably would have been fully disturbing if it happened less often than it did.
When it did happen, she’d fix herself a few stiff screwdrivers, drink them, and sit on the couch staring at the wall for as long as two or three hours. When she’d stared at nothing for what I supposed was long enough, she’d lie on her side and close her eyes. Living with my mom while she was spiraling downward wasn’t really any fun.
That’s not to say there weren’t positives to my mother’s drinking, because there were. Sunday mornings had become considerably more pleasant for me since my mother didn’t bother so much with church anymore. There were no more shaming glances at me as I stretched out on the couch instead of praising His name and begging forgiveness. Forgiveness for what? For acting just as He designed me to act? Fuck that.
Anyway that’s the point I came to way back in 6th grade, and I’ve never looked back. Whenever people talk about the heavenly father or the way they are imbued with celestial purpose, I roll my eyes and make the ‘jack off’ motion with my right hand. Like get a load a’ this guy, you believe this?
I had to stay stealthy about my agnosticism all through grade school and the start of high school, just to keep the status quo stable. Eventually I told my mother that I no longer believed, and her response was less negative than I had anticipated. My my mother held out hope that I would come back to the church on my own.
Sunday afternoons were quiet in my neighborhood, most people are in church. Outside it was pretty sunny, pleasant and empty. It was the type of day I might have enjoyed had I been in a better mood, but I wasn’t. All noises were annoying and light pulsed in from every angle. I just wanted to go to the store to get cereal, probably a little candy, and maybe a little vodka.
I was gonna get Raisin Bran Crunch but I got distracted by all the options, so I just stood and stared. As I stood still in the grocery store, I heard a familiar, unexpectedly timid voice. “Um, hi, I don’t know if you remember me but. . .” her voice shrunk and disappeared as she approached me. It was Sonia, from the night before, and she held her hand out fearfully as if warding off an aggressive dog.
I wanted her to go away. “Listen I’m sorry, but—“
“You’ve got nothing to be sorry for, really, I—“ she seemed to be considering what to say next, silently mouthing some words and rolling her eyes to the back of her head. “—I was just such a bitch, and I’m so sorry, you don’t deserve that.”
Now that she seemed to have pulled herself together, or maybe I was just seeing her through sober eyes, she was cute. She had thick, soft, curly black hair. Her eyes were shiny and soft, and through her smile I could see all the sweetness that had ever existed or would ever exist.
Oh shit, I thought silently to myself, here we go. I had a crush on Sonia. “It’s no problem, I don’t even remember anyway.”
This was a lie of course, as I did remember and had been thinking about the insult she’d paid me the previous evening, but she apologized, so why should I tell her that I’d been insulted? She hadn’t requested that information and I didn’t feel like providing it.
Sonia rocked back on her heels slightly as she kept her hands in her pockets and looked at the ground. “O—okay. I’ll see you around, buy you a drink.”
I raised my hand just above eye level as I smiled and nodded slightly. I then hurried away in a way that I tried to make not look like hurrying, over to the candy aisle. As I looked over the candy deliberately not looking behind me, I was very curious about what Sonia was doing back there.
Sonia had probably gone on to whatever she had to do next in her day. I always reminded myself that other people’s lives do not revolve around me, and everyone’s got their own stuff to deal with. I turned around just to reassure myself that she wasn’t there, and she wasn’t.
All right, I told myself, that’s fine. I didn’t even care, and it just would have made me scared anyway, if she’d been back there waiting for me. I picked up a little bottle of vodka, just in case my mom got really crazy that night, I’d have something, at least, to soothe her.
I did a complex set of moral gymnastics for me to justify buying my mother vodka on Sunday morning. In the end I landed on a simple reason to buy the alcohol: it is necessary.
It was necessary for me to get vodka because if I didn’t there was a chance I wouldn’t have any when my mother wanted some, and that would spell trouble.
So I got the liquor, and I was feeling pretty guilty about that as I stomped away from Dominick’s in a huff. When I was about to get to the corner where I’d make my turn for home, next to the turquoise Abraham Lincoln statue, I heard Sonia’s voice call after me. “Havin’ a party?”
I startled so sharply I almost fell down, and raised my arms up as if to defend myself. “W-what?”
“Are you having a party?” She advanced on me, “I mean vodka, candy, cereal, kinda weird.”
I was stunned for a long moment. It took me a while to turn around because I wasn’t sure how I should react. I was supposed to get back to the house soon with the cereal, and mom would probably demand liquor once I got there. On the other hand, Sonia was intriguing.
Sonia waited near the exit of the Dominick’s, having come out of the store just after I did. “Oh-oh I don’t mean to insult you.” I stopped and turned around to see Sonia looking very embarrassed and holding her hand in front of her mouth. “Sorry I just overheard the cashier tell you your order. Maybe I was following you a little too close in there, and, I don’t know, I’m an asshole I guess, sorry, ignore me.”
When she spoke her last two words I wondered if she realized how ridiculous they were. I couldn’t ignore her anyway, if I tried. “No no, I just—you surprised me is all.”
“Didn’t mean to,” she said, letting her hands drop toward her sides. “I just wanted to apologize, for the way I acted the other night, It was just—“
“—no I don’t, there’s no need. Sorry, I—” I raised my hands up, palms forward, and shook them left to right, warding away Sonia’s embarrassment.
She coughed with purpose, just to shut me up. “Don’t apologize, stop it.” As she spoke these short, crisp words, her aspect seemed to soften. Her left hand slowly wrapped its fingers around my right elbow and held them there, not grasping my arm but hovering near it, touching it only lightly. “I’m trying to say that I liked you, and I know that I was weird about it, but I saw you bought some vodka, do you wanna party?”
I was terrified, horrified, and more excited than I’d been in years.