The memories come back to haunt me far more often than I like. I could be doing the dishes, driving, or be mid-sentence, and something just triggers them, like a flash of lightning. Sharp and bright, streaking through an otherwise black blank space and shattering that existence with its jagged edges.
It almost always takes a second for me to come around and refocus. But, to me, that second feels like an eternity. A different lifetime that I keep pushing away as if it’s not my own but it keeps emerging at times when I’m not strong enough to keep it buried.
“Mama, what’s wrong?”
“What are you doing?”
“What’s daddy doing?”
“He’s got a gun?”
“What’s drunk?? ”
“Why is he shooting the stoplight?”
“Oh Mama, Daddy is mad. He’s angry, real angry. He didn’t like that you dumped out his brown paper bag.”
I can still remember crying at the window watching my father run down the city street as my mother screamed she was calling the police. He was my father, and I loved him with all the love a 6-year-old little girl could give. When the police arrived, they pulled my tear-streaked face from the window and made sure I was okay. They did the same for my brother as another one inspected my mother’s bruises. They also inspected the half-inch in diameter holes upon the wall, made from the bullets as they ripped into the drywall. Not aiming for anyone but my mother’s china cabinet, my father had shot the gun inside in his rage, thankfully missing anyone not made out of porcelain or crystal. Thankfully.
You see, my father was an alcoholic. You may also share this far too familiar story, of a family member afflicted with addiction and the turmoil it has on a family. Alcohol killed my father, but it also consumed all the happiness in his life and killed my life with a loving father. My father loved alcohol too much to love anything else, or perhaps, in the end, my father was too tired to fight against alcohol’s love for him.
My mother divorced my father. I was so angry with her at the time. I thought it must be her fault that my daddy wasn’t around more often. As I grew older, I eventually came to realize that alcohol was the one to blame, and the hand that was holding the bottle, that hand belonged to my father. Yet how do you explain to your children that their father chose a lifetime of alcohol over his children? That his addiction ran too deep, and that he could not be trusted to keep us safe? My mother certainly didn’t know how to explain it, and so we spent a lifetime avoiding talking about it at all.
My mother did set up visitations a couple of times, but it was under strict orders that my father could not drink while supervising us. I was so excited that first day my father came to pick us up. His eyes lit up when he saw my little brother and me, and he said “I missed ya!” and gathered us in a great big hug, our giggles the very definition of happiness. We jumped in his little blue car and we were off for a fantastic day with our daddy at the turtle ponds. We were so excited and bursting at the seams happy, the anticipation building as my brother and I smiled at each other in the backseat.
“One quick stop and we will be on our way!” Daddy smiled from the rearview window as we pulled up to an Expressmart.
He quick darted into the store as the heat produced sweat along the windows as well as our foreheads, but he was back in just a moment’s time. In his hand, he had a brown paper bag. It was a familiar sight, and seeing it to this day still puts a pit in my stomach, a wound that just doesn’t seem to heal. Small bag, but its crinkled along the top, wrapped around a bottle holding it tight. Covered so you can’t see what’s inside, but I know what it is. It’s the drink. Daddy is drinking. He tells us not to tell mommy and we say we won’t. My brother and I look at each other with nervous eyes but with a silent promise. We don’t tell mommy because she’d not let us see Daddy anymore, and we’ve waited so long.
That promise fell flat for us that day. Daddy’s girlfriend had come up to the turtle ponds and they had gotten into a fight. She was an older lady and she was mean. She was drunk like daddy and she yelled at us and we yelled at her for yelling at our daddy. We were small, but we had already spent our entire lives defending our father. She left us on the side of the road, my brother and I, when my father left angrily, and she told us to find our own way home.
Alcohol that day took our happiness and like a fire consumed it until nothing was left but ashes. There was nothing left to save. An innocence taken from our lives that day as we saw what happens when addiction drives and it’s you in the backseat.
My mother was furious, but I wouldn’t say she seemed surprised. It took some time after that for another visitation to be set up. By “some time,” I mean 5 years.
I was 12 years old and I had just emerged into young adolescence and no longer had that naive innocence of a 6-year-old little girl, but I still had some hope. I knew my daddy was a drunk but I missed him and I still loved him. I sat on a hill in front of our house waiting to see that little blue car emerge down the street to come swoop us up. I imagined my dad’s smiling face and those bright eyes as he proclaimed “I missed ya!” and swooped us up again. I could feel the happiness of all of us being together. My mother watched me sitting on that hill from the window probably knowing and hurting. As a mother, I can’t even imagine the pain of watching your child sit on a hill waiting for their daddy to come and watching the disappointment on their face as it grew dark. Daddy never came.
I didn’t see my father again until I was an adult and the circumstances were grim. I used to like to pretend that he had moved out of state or somewhere equally as far but he remained in the same city as I did. I knew the exact trailer park he lived in and it never changed. Every time someone with brown hair and tan skin passed me on the street I’d turn and look but if it had been him what would I have said? As an adult myself, I have had my own trials, my own hardships. Estranged from my step-father and mother at the time, I was a young adult who struggled to make a path for herself. My upbringing certainly didn’t lead me down a path of opportunities and as a young adult I struggled with depression and trying to find a place to belong. This lead to hanging out in the wrong crowds and partying nonstop. I’ve abused alcohol, the very thing that tormented my life from the very beginning. I have found myself using it to cope, to run away from my problems in the same way that my father did. To this day I have to monitor myself, where a good time can quickly develop into a need. However, somewhere along the way, I made a choice. I made a decision that was stronger because I made it stronger. I chose to love
My husband and child are the biggest blessings in my life. I named my son after my husband, my husband being my saving grace. He has been and he is, everything I’ve ever wanted and everything I’ve ever needed. He is a pillar of stability and patience. A man that took on a woman who felt broken and helped her to realize how strong she actually was. He is a man with open arms always willing to hold me. A happiness that never ends and is always giving. That love gave me something, hope and motivation to create a life I wanted instead of the life I was given. I was able to grow as a mother, a wife, and build a career that I could be proud of. There’s something in knowing you can overcome. You can keep going long after you think you can’t.
I never got to say to my father how sad I was that he missed being in my life. How sad I was that he couldn’t choose to fight for us. Maybe he couldn’t, I know how deep alcohol addiction can truly be. Perhaps it was the biggest regret in his life. We could have given him so much love, my brother and I. Grandchildren, with infectious smiles and non-stop energy, could have filled his heart until it felt like bursting. He could have walked me down the aisle when I married the man of my dreams, given me away to a better man. He could have been the man I called when things broke down or taught me how to change a tire. I could have spent my life searching for a man like my daddy, instead of searching for just anyone to show me love. I’m thankful that God sent my husband to me knowing exactly what I needed.
My father died on November 11, 2017 at 57 years old. It is the last time I ever saw him. He was not aware I was there along with my brother and my father’s entire family. He suffered from liver failure from the damages of a lifelong abuse of alcohol. His body was swollen from the internal bleeding and he was jaundiced, with a slight yellow tint to his skin. Tubes with blood lead from his body, and ventilators were the only thing at that point keeping him alive and breathing. He was unrecognizable to me. He died later that day. They gave us condolences and told us that they had done everything that they could do. We all knew silently that there was no way they could have done anything to save him, his life had ended a long time ago, he had just been hanging on.
With my father’s death came a lot of anger. I was so angry at the way I was feeling. I wasn’t just grieving the loss of my father, but I was grieving the loss of a man I didn’t know. That I should have known. I was angry at what alcohol had taken from me, had taken from him. I’m still sorting through these emotions as I think anyone would. It’s taken me a long time to forgive all the people around me and a long time to forgive myself for almost following in the same path. I’m so thankful that I saw a light in the darkness and let it lead me to a life worth living. I did forgive him. The last thing I did before I walked out of the room was I laid my hand on his, and I told him I forgive him and that I love him. My brother looked at me, those eyes that had so badly needed a father, and did the same. At the time I don’t know if I believed it, but it was the only thing at the time that I could give. A lie that eventually turned into truth, if not for him, then for myself.
We all need a way to move on and forgiveness is a part of that. We cannot move forward if we are still stuck in the thorns of our past. It may be a part of who we are, like scars from a battlefield, but it need not define our entire lives. It’s just a small part of our story. My husband is the perfect father to our son, his love for him shines like nothing else. My son is blessed to have such a role model in his life, someone whom when he looks back he will remember as funny and providing. A stand-up man. He will always be someone he can reach out too for guidance and for support. Someone that I can lean into when this world sometimes feels too much. I am blessed and despite it all, my memories serve me every now and then that image of a wavy-haired man, bright eyes, big smile. He’s holding a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag.
My dad, whom I love.