Cunning, Baffling, And Powerful
By Samantha Loesch
As we fill up our cups with suds and sit and play in our fish-tiled bath tub, I hear the nerve piercing thump of the back door shut. I cannot tell if I can hear him yelling or if it is just the different pitches of the crashing water falling into the tub against the whispered hum of the ceiling fan. My stomach hurts, the muscles in my ears are about to burst trying to listen. I do not want to hear them fighting, but I need to know if they are fighting. Frightened, we will sit here as the water turns cold and our fingertips begin to pleat, until one of them comes.
Statistics say that alcoholism and drug addiction affect nearly fifty percent of American families. The nine years that my parents were together gave me a front row seat to the heart wrenching drama that the disease imposes on a family. At the time my mother would try to explain why he was the way he was, years later I would research alcoholism and befriend other people who were exposed the same trauma that I was. The experience provided me with an intellectual forgiveness for my father for the way that he treated my mother, however, would never explain the ambiguity of my Daddy.
The trail of a lit cigarette brings me back to late August mornings at the White Sands Inn, Truro, Massachusetts, somewhere in the early to mid-1990s, on one of Daddy’s good days. The burning tobacco reminds me of a memory of a good day with the good father, which my mother will tell me are the kinds of memories that I need to hold on to. The father who had the answer to any question I asked, the man who filled the living room with colorfully wrapped boxes of every shape and size, evenly distributed for his two daughters on Christmas Eve as we slept. He was the handyman who could repair anything broken and the guardian who taught us the Lord’s Prayer.
My mother’s hazel eyes with their ever constant tint of angst seem to glisten when she begins to tell the story of when she met my father. There were supposed leaves falling in the autumn air as she cantered along the dirt path atop her beloved mare, Duchess. She accidentally rides upon an old red Victorian style house to find him meticulously polishing the chrome on his Harley Davidson. As he rose to his peak, 6 feet 2 inches, his dark hair blew in the breeze and his eyes smiled brightly, “ride for a ride?”- I doubt the fairy tale, man-of-your-dreams moment proceeded with a horseback or a motorcycle ride, however the fairy tale feelings, I am sure, resided. They married on horseback in January of 1990 and I was born the following summer.
Daddy shared his past with my mother, including his years spent in prison, his struggles with a heroin addiction, and his rebellious, regrettable behavior as a teenager in the 1960s. He claimed reform, and as most would, my mother believed this handsome, well spoken, powerfully built, motorcycle-riding guy. Soon after my younger sister was born, my mother said her new husband started to drink at night; he said, he “needed to take the edge off.” Maybe having two young children was too much pressure for him, maybe it was the marriage, maybe it was financial stress. Whatever it was was evil, slipping its way like hot lava through the cracks of this ungrounded attraction between the two. My earliest memories of childhood are not those of cliché family vacations, but rather the events that marked the progression of my father’s substance abuse.
Before his arm met the needle again, his companion was Jack Daniels. When I was four of five years old, the first stop on the way home was the Mobil station where we would pick up the sports drinks and potato chips that Mom could not know we had before dinner, then it was Mike and May’s liquor store to get Daddy’s drinks. We walked in through the “employees’ only” backdoor and Daddy had to bend down under the low ceiling.
We will not browse around the store, but rather go directly to the front desk. May’s liver spotted skin and wire like, gray hair pressed against our cheeks and her thin arms and frail torso hugged us tightly. Mike stood in back, as if a part of the framework of the old building, his skin as red as the pack of Marlboros in his front shirt pocket. With no hint of a smile, he grabbed the four, sometimes five miniature bottles of Tennessee whiskey. While they spoke about what they spoke about last night and what they will surely speak about tomorrow night, Ally and I gazed at the light blues and sea glass greens, the hourglass shaped, bubble like bottles, the thin and fragile glass carafes on the shelves. “Come on girls, let’s go.” Daddy’s swollen hands crinkled the brown paper bag; May offered her basket of candies.
I sucked on the twist top of the lemon lime Gatorade and crunched on the cooler ranch Doritos during the ten minute ride home. Maybe he took longer to come inside, maybe he drank them when we were not looking, maybe he drank them when we were walking out of the liquor store, but the little bottles were empty in the pocket of the door that slammed as Ally and I raced up the shifty rock stairwell.
Somewhere between the dinner that I could not make room for and when we were supposed to take our baths, it starts. My palms are pressed so tightly against my ears and the moistness running down my cheeks, onto my lips is salty and warm. When I look up I can see the bubble gum that Ally and I have stuck under here on happier, rebellious days. The bickering started slowly, I hoped against hope that it would not be a bad one, but I knew the fate of the evening when I heard Daddy say, “you lying sack of shit,” the tone and volume of his voice was as stinging as the pain in my stomach. Duke, who has also been on the receiving end of Daddy’s angry hands, inched toward us under the table, after we shook from the thud of Mom hitting the floor. Ally is sobbing and pushing against her ears too, she does not really understand what is happening, but is following her big sister’s lead. Only once or twice have I not been too afraid to yell, “Stop it!” Tonight was no exception.
After he leaves, Mom sits on the couch breathing heavily with her head back and eyes closed. We sit next to her, one on each side, with dried trails of tears down the sides of our faces. I can smell the leftover abuse in the air. She has something on her face, it looks like what pain and disgust would look like if they could take physical form, but I think it is something from the ground or the broken chair. The dodge’s engine fires up with an eerie sound and out the window I watch the two red lights disappear into the dark.
During the days of the alcohol fueled violence, Daddy’s path took a fateful turn when an accident at work would fracture multiple discs in his back. The resemblance that the painkillers given to him had to the drugs he battled years ago was overpowering. It did not take long for them to win again.
There was a long lasting pattern where my mother would throw him out and take him back and throw him out again. At the start of the final year of their marriage, I was eight or nine when he came back and there were not any fights for what I recall to be a satisfying amount of time. This time the house changed significantly because Daddy changed significantly, there were family dinners, outings, we never go to Mike and May’s anymore, and the last few trips to Cape Cod taught us why there were graded strips of pavement on the side of the highway.
On one of these trips, I feel the uneasiness of the double yellow line slowly move towards the center of my field of view. I look over and Daddy has, what our naïve minds called, “crazy eyes.” “Daddy….. You’re falling asleep again!” The car behind us lays on their horn, “woooooooops,” the truck balances out to the correct side of the road. Ally and I giggle; do we understand the severity of what just took place? Are we laughing because we are covering up how scared we are? Are we laughing instead of scolding him for fear of the temper, which we know lives inside of him somewhere?
I was starting junior high school when Daddy went away for twenty eight days. When he came back Mom ceased the pattern and told him to find a new place to live. He had lost his job and could not pay the insurance on his truck. For a while, on Wednesdays he would ask me to take him to a doctor in the nearest city, early in the morning. He always brought a black case with him, that he hid in his jacket pocket. I knew that he would never be honest or open about his problem, so I pieced together information and eventually found out that he was having me chauffer him to a methadone clinic, a government funded establishment where heroin addicts are supplied medication to help them wean off the drug
Today, as a twenty two year old college student, on the downhill slope of a relationship, I wonder every day how the events of my childhood have affected and will affect the different avenues of my life. Will I ever be in a successful, healthy relationship? Does the current relationship I have with my father have the potential to ever be completely honest?
I speak to him every day, he usually tells me I am the only person he speaks to throughout the day. Each time I call, I am unsure of who will be on the other end of the phone, I always hope it’s the Daddy who spoiled us on Christmas and took us to Cape Cod. He is alone and has been for the past ten years, alone with the regrets of his past. He spent his life escaping reality, into a world of substance induced bliss. Today he is no different, for he spends his days escaping into the two hour world of a given movie, and breaks every so often for a camel cigarette.