Friday, December 6, 2013

Poor, Poor Pitiful Me

"I'll never be like him," I swore to my eight year old self.  "He ruins everything," I thought.  I sat at the top of the stairs, reading the TV Guide and willing myself to see his shadow at the front door.  It was dark outside, and Gene Dall was late again.  He should have been home hours ago.  Big Mare stood by the kitchen window, smoking and worrying.  "Why can't he just have a few beers and come home?" I asked my sister, like she'd know.

"I'll never drink," Judy would say.  "I hate everything about it."
"Not me," I'd reply.  "I'm just not gonna act all stupid when I do."

Over and over, I watched booze transform my father from this quiet, preoccupied guy into something unrecognizable.  Why is he like this?  How could he forget what time it is or how to get home?  What can I do to make things better?  I wondered why he couldn't hold his liquor, like other men.  I barely even knew what that meant, but it made him seem like a weakling.  I hated feeling that way about him.  I wanted to love my Dad.  I knew I was supposed to, but I resented him when he drank.  I tried not to consider that he didn't give a shit about any of us, but that's what it looked like. And when she was angry, that's what my mother told us.

My father was never a social guy, and he engaged in conversation only when necessary.  Gene Dall was a machine of efficiency.  So when he tied a load on, it was difficult to detect at first.  Until he got off his stool and hit the wall or fell down a flight of stairs.  Every time my father drank, he seemed determined to kill himself, one way or another.

When he was hungover, the situation became even more stressful.  With all that worry out of the way, Big Mare turned full-time furious.  And very often, her rage made her thirsty.  I wished I could side with my mother because I understood how upset she was. But she treated my Dad so cruelly, I couldn't help but feel sorry for him. Unfortunately for me, he had no use for sympathy.  He wanted to be left alone.  I felt lost and ineffectual.


When Judy and I were little girls, our house was Party Central.  There was never anything fancy planned, but Big Mare was a gracious hostess and everybody loved her. My aunts and uncles would come over on the weekends and holidays, and they all partied their brains out.

My cousins were so much fun, but man, they were wild.  I couldn't believe how exciting life was when they were around.  Unfortunately, I was a douche and a tattletale, so the kids would tire of me quickly.  I'd come downstairs, crying and climb into somebody's lap who wasn't sitting near an ashtray.  I pulled out my crayons and drew pictures of horses and dogs, living together.  I'd eat potato chips with onion dip, fetch beers and light matches.

I didn't mind hanging out with the grown-ups.  Uncle Mike, Aunt Joan and Big Mare were as thick as thieves. They turned the stereo on and blasted their favorite music really loud - Glen Campbell and Linda Ronstadt.  They sang at the top of their lungs and lovingly teased one another.  They told stories I'd heard many times before and finished each other's sentences.  How wonderful - the conviviality and friendship that seemed to come with sharing a few beers.

I savored those moments when everything felt so intimate and comfortable.  I fell in love with drinking right there at Big Mare's kitchen table.  I didn't care that this night would end like all the rest, with someone falling, crying or having to be carried to the car.  None of those details mattered.  I knew I just wanted that feeling.

1 comment:

  1. Have always loved that song...You are wonderfully articulate and I so can relate to the first half about how it felt to wait for your dad to just come home, the resentment and not being able to say out loud that it meant he didn't give a shit about any of us. Love you for sharing this Mare!