Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, my parents were alcoholics, and I didn't know the difference. Until that one Christmas, when our lives came crashing down. Then, I knew what alcohol abuse could do to a family.
The strains of "Please daddy, don't get drunk this Christmas, I don't wanna see my momma cry" wound their way throughout the house. For some reason, my mom always played that song at Christmas. My dad always used to laugh uproariously as it played, singing along with the lyrics, and usually swigging a can of beer at the same time. Mom would laugh at his antics, and play the song again. Other kids could sing "Silent Night" or "O Come All Ye Faithful," but I could sing every verse of "Please Daddy" by the time I was four, it seems.
I always thought the song was pretty funny, and I thought my dad was pretty funny, too. That he often smelled of beer and cigarettes didn't really matter to me when I was little. That was just dad. He and mom would have friends over on the weekend; they'd play cards and get a little "wasted," as they used to say. I didn't know what that meant. I just knew that after I went to bed on a Saturday night, I'd hear them out in the dining room, laughing loudly, singing, and sometimes yelling at each other. After a while, it seems like some of the friends stopped coming around. I didn't understand; I was just a kid. I do remember that often on Sunday morning, I'd have to be really quiet and tiptoe around the house, because "Mommy and Daddy weren't feeling too well, they had big headaches." I never thought much about that either, until much later when I was a lot older and understood a lot more.
Those memories are a lot more meaningful to me now, because I understand what they meant. Back then, I just knew my family was different somehow, but I wasn't quite sure why. For instance, my mom didn't work, but she didn't take much part in school activities, either. She was on the PTA one year, I remember, but then she didn't join again. She made some comment about some of the other mothers being a bunch of "snooty do-gooders," and I didn't think too much about it. Kids didn't come over to my house much after school, either. By the time I got home from school, my mother would be on her second glass of wine at least, and I guess the other kids didn't much like being around her, but I didn't think much about that, either.
As I got older, I began to notice that my parents had pretty much stopped socializing or going out much. My mom was an afternoon and evening drinker, and by the time my dad got home from work, she'd be "feeling no pain" as he often said. Dad was an evening drinker, and could always polish off a few beers before he went to bed. Now, I wonder how they managed to function as normally as they did. Dad never really had problems at work, and mom always managed to keep the house clean and good meals on the table. They just drank a lot. I thought all kids parents did.
That all changed though, when I experienced my first sleep-over at my friend's house. A bunch of us kids were outside, grilling marshmallows over the glowing coals of a barbecue. We'd had grilled hot dogs and hamburgers for dinner, and now we were roasting marshmallows for smore's, and looking forward to sleeping in a big tent in the back yard of my friend's house. My friend's mom and dad were really cool. They helped us make smore's, and then they set up a bit light on the patio, and we all played Old Maid around the picnic table. We stayed up late, ate too much, and really had fun. What I really noticed, though, was that my friend's parents didn't drink. They passed sodas around to all of us kids, and that's what they drank, too. Their breath didn't smell funny like my parents, and they enjoyed playing games with us kids. They laughed a lot, and we laughed a lot, too. They seemed happy together, and when they went inside, the dad had his arm around his wife, and he kissed her on the cheek as they closed the patio door and turned off the lights.
That got me thinking about my parents. When I finally settled down in my sleeping bag in the big tent, I thought about the evening, and how different it was from my own house. My mom and dad were rarely affectionate with each other, and sometimes, if my dad had enough beers throughout the evening, they'd end up yelling at each other and even throwing things. Mom and dad never sat down and played games with me after dinner. They hustled me off to my room to do homework and then go to bed. They had read me bedtime stories when I was younger, but now, they simply said "goodnight" and turned out the light. They didn't seem to talk much to each other either. My friend's mom and dad asked us questions about ourselves, and talked about their day with each other. My mom and dad didn't really do those things. I began to wonder if there was something "wrong" with my mom and dad, or if they were under some evil influence. Later, I realized that evil influence was kind of like a wicked witch hovering over them and darkening their lives. It was alcohol, and it would almost ruin our family and our lives.
It all came to a head one Christmas Eve. Our tree was up and decorated, and I could barely sleep for the excitement I felt. There were already many presents under the tree, and I was sure more would appear on Christmas morning with my name on them. They always did. Mom had made an early dinner, and she seemed a little tipsy -- something I had begun to notice more and more lately. We ate, and dad had several beers during and after dinner. They told me I had to go to bed early to give Santa plenty of time to deliver his presents. Then, when I was safely in bed, I heard that song start up -- the "Please Daddy" song. There was some laughter, and then there was quiet. I dozed off I guess, but I awoke to the distinct aroma of smoke.
I rushed to the living room to find my dad passed out on the sofa, flames shooting from the oven, and my mother looking dazed and confused in the kitchen. Somehow, I managed to get through the fog of alcohol that surrounded her and get her to help me drag my dad out the front door. I ran back in and grabbed the fire extinguisher in the kitchen, and tried to put out the flames. A neighbor had called the fire department, and the firemen showed up in a few minutes, and confined the fire to the kitchen. It was a total loss, but it could have been much, much worse. It seems that my mom had gotten the idea she should bake Christmas cookies, but had forgotten the cookies in the oven. She had drunk so much she simply forgot, and when they caught fire, she was so confused she didn't know what to do. She and my dad ended up in court for child endangerment because of the entire accident, and I was in a foster home for a while.…