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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I Complete Me

Gene Dall was almost four hours late for supper.  Each time I heard the Pelham Express go past, I zeroed in on the end of the block, praying for him to appear. Staring at the empty street, my little kid mind wrestled with all sorts of nebulous, grown-up worry.
"Please, God.  Send him home.  And don't let him be dead.  I promise I'll be good."

Prompted every few minutes by the screeching and hiss of the train's air brakes, I repeated my intention and continued the vigil.  Sometimes, I would concentrate so hard, willing him to step out of the next subway car.  On particularly quiet evenings, I could hear the bells chime as the doors opened and shut.  I imagined him falling down the stairs of the elevated platform and started listening for the ambulance that would arrive to whisk him to the hospital.

Finally, there he was.  As he turned the corner, Dad stumbled toward the house.  I could tell right away that he wasn't just a little loaded.  He was blind drunk.  A few strong steps and then, a sharp curve to the right, as if an invisible person had appeared from nowhere and pushed him.  He reached his hand out to either brace himself or wave something away.  Steady.  Steady.  He reeled forward again, this time, listing to the left.  My stomach lurched.  The sight of him filled me with both relief and shame.

I yelled through the screen door, "Mommy, I see him."
Big Mare shut the water off at the sink, drying her hands on the pockets of her smock top.  She reached the porch and looked up the street, just as Dad sailed into a cluster of large shrubs on the easement near the curb.  From the window, I heard a woman's voice holler, "Hey, buddy.  Are you all right?"
"Jesus Christ, go get that dumb bastard," my mother snapped.  Her voice was angry, but she looked shaken.  Mortified, she retreated into the kitchen.  "Hurry, girls.  Just bring him inside!"

Judy and I ran toward the spot where my father had toppled over.  I retrieved his glasses from the sidewalk.  One of the arms had snapped off, and it took me a few minutes to find it.  My sister helped him to his feet.  Dad's face was full of scrapes from the branches that had broken his fall, the front of his  jacket flicked with dirt. Together, we guided him past neighbors who looked away and pretended not to notice the shape he was in.  What else could they do, really?

It was always amazing how Gene Dall could find his way back to the house, given his near lethal levels of intoxication.  Despite a lack of social conscience, he possessed a somewhat highly developed homing ability.  It might take him a few hours longer every now and then, depending on just how badly he got himself turned around.  But ultimately, he'd return to us.  Well, most of the time.

My father could be anywhere when the drinking began.  He never seemed to require any plan or preparation, with no forethought of consequence.  Just him and a switch that got flipped whenever  he and alcohol bumped into each other.  We never knew what to expect, and this is how we lived.

I couldn't imagine what had gone on during the course of my father's day to render him so utterly incapacitated.  From what I understood, cops fought crime.  And apparently, they also drank themselves half crazy.  Granted, my grasp of employment as a concept was limited when I was a child, but this much I knew… He was supposed to be working.  So, how'd he get like this?  And why can't he just stop?  Doesn't he love us enough?

These were some of the unanswered questions that plagued my thoughts and filled me with a strange longing.  This dull ache grew deep inside of me and became a persistent, unfulfilled need.  Looking back, I can almost see the gray hole where all of my emotions disappeared.  I heard them hit the water in the darkness, swallowed up by the problems that existed in our family- problems that none of us ever talked about.

Once inside the house, Gene Dall allowed himself the luxury of physical collapse. He groped his way along the hall and flopped into a chair in the TV room. Generally, he remained pretty docile; no doubt, exhausted from his drunken commute.  He presented with the resilience of an unarmed opponent.  If capable of eating, he sat quietly at the kitchen table, shoveling macaroni into his mouth and occasionally gagging on his food.

Big Mare couldn't help but square off against his inebriated condition.  Hours of agonizing panic takes its toll, and she tore into his carcass like a frenzied animal.
"I hope you choke to death," she told him.

Of course, she didn't mean it.  She loved her husband very much.  She'd just spent half the night on the telephone, desperate to find him.  She called everyone within a fifty mile radius who might have seen Dad within the past 18 hours.  She said novenas to all the holy representatives who dealt with sons of bitches like my father.  St. Monica, the patron saint of alcoholics and housewives, covered a lot of ground on Big Mare's behalf.

"I can't even look at you," my mother said.  "You disgust me."
Mom's frustration was heartbreaking.  Her marriage was a bitter pill to swallow. She thought she had found a decent partner.  She'd started out with the best intentions.  I bet my father did, as well.  But somewhere along the line, Gene Dall developed a taste for the booze, and it systematically fucked them both up.

Mom decided she wanted my father to be a different man, and her demand was non-negotiable.  She knew goddamn well this was never gonna happen, and I think that's what made her so furious.  She routinely positioned herself for disappointment, knowing two things full well:
     1.  He would never change.
     2.  She would never leave him.
My parents' relationship was classic codependency, and I was destined to join the ranks.  It's almost as if I read the Codependent Owner's Manual and followed each set of instructions with the zeal of a scholarship student.

*******

Periodically, I have to remind myself that I'm no expert at any of this psychological stuff.  Yes, I do a little reading here and there.  Legitimate research helps inform my own writing, so I try to incorporate  facts into my stories without sounding like a windbag.  Occasionally, I come across information that enlightens my emotional path.  I discuss these revelations with my therapist.

"Oh, my God," I say to Kara.  "I totally did all of these underhanded, manipulative things!"
"It's okay," she replies very gently.
And it is okay.  I take full responsibility for what I've done.  We can discuss these details honestly and refer to them as opportunites for growth.  And here's another thing - I know my folks weren't perfect, but my mistakes were not their fault. Admitting this helps me be kind to myself, gentle with my dad and loving toward my mother's memory.

Addiction will always fascinate me.  I'm hopeful that I'll be in recovery forever.  I continue to learn how to keep my compulsions in check so I can make smart choices and have a decent life.  I want to stay healthy and do well.

I always thought circumstances provoked me to reach for the wine and the drugs.  I had tons of reasons and excuses for heading to the liquor store and all my dope spots.  When I tried to correct these conditions, my drinking went bananas and I became an alcoholic.   I blinked twice, and I was an addict.  It never occurred to me that I should change my own behavior to improve situations.  That's some intriguing shit.

*******

Whenever I get anxious, I head over to Legacy Heights and spend some time with Gene Dall in Memory Care.  We always have a lovely visit.  I do most of the talking, and he's cool with that.  It doesn't matter what else is taking up space in my head or on the calendar.  As soon as I see him, I automatically feel better.  I think it's because I really like knowing where he's at.

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