As I write, I continually try to balance segue with chronology. Since my last post on the subject of Christmas, I have decided to stay on that topic just a little while longer, even if it does deviate a bit from my story’s time line. With the holidays still fresh in our hearts and minds, writing about my worst Christmas ever will resonate more than if I’d write about it in, say, sultry July.
As I indicated last time, the holidays overall were an ugly time in our home. One Christmas, in particular, really reared its ugly head for all to see. The situation had finally reached a boiling point. What is the unofficial definition of insanity? It’s doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result.
Well, years of verbal bouts between my parents, my father’s endless nights of wild drinking, and a mother who wanted something more for her children couldn’t go on forever. Something had to give. One can only forgive so long before change, at times drastic change, has to happen. And it all culminated in my parents separating.
As a prepubescent boy old enough to comprehend what was taking place, a parental separation was a blow to the gut. Not us. Not our family. How humiliating! At school, I’d hear about unhappy homes that ultimately resulted in divorces, but I never thought it’d happen to us. At the time, it was embarrassing; looking back now, I don’t know why or how it didn’t happen sooner. I give my mother even more credit for her loyalty and bravery, trying to make our family work despite all the odds against her.
I remember the morning my father left for good. It was somber and surreal, a real pinch-me-I’m-dreaming moment. It was a time when print classifieds were still used, and my dad was scanning the local paper in search of an affordable apartment. He assured me it was temporary, and then poof! He was gone.
Later that year, he called to tell us that he was going westward, hell bent on visiting his brother’s family in Seattle. With a little travel assistance from my uncle, we thought it a good idea. My father having safely arrived in the Pacific Northwest, my uncle phoned to tell us that my dad looked horrible (this we knew) and that, short of a body bag, my father would not be returning to Wisconsin any time soon. We were not only thankful for the favor but also relieved that someone else could see the disaster my father had become.
My uncle and his family took it upon themselves to attempt what we had done for so long: get through to my dad. They assumed control of his money so he couldn’t buy alcohol, as well as his medication so he couldn’t get into trouble. My father also got a small, menial job with my uncle’s travel agency (it was more about teaching responsibility and earning my uncle’s trust than making money), and he secured a place to live, rooming in a modest apartment with a family friend.
That Christmas, my sister and I got the unusual opportunity, thanks again to my uncle’s travel assistance, to visit my father in Seattle. He missed us and longed for the opportunity to play host. He also wanted us to see how well he was doing. I remember getting off the plane in The Emerald City and seeing him for the first time in months. After an initial embrace, I couldn’t get over how incredible he looked. I was shocked, thankful, and in denial all at the same time. Is this really my father? Is this what he looks like clean? My father is a good, decent human being who can act normally? I probably would’ve cried for joy if I hadn’t been completely tired from flying.
We spent the next several days enjoying the holidays, touring the city, and hanging out with family. On Christmas Eve, my uncle would pick us up at my dad’s for a morning of last-minute shopping at the mall. We were excited, having left our sense of tradition back home in Wisconsin. This was all new for my sister and me.
I walked into my father’s room to wake him up (my uncle would be there any moment). My dad stirred but did not arise. A few minutes later, I, acting like an impatient father waking a child in time to board the school bus, woke him again. Nothing. I really lost patience the third time, so I pulled back the sheets to startle his body to the cold Seattle air. There, under the cushioned padding of the soft blankets, was a half-empty bottle of wine. And after a little more searching, more empty bottles were discovered hidden around the corner of the bed.
It couldn’t be. Had he really thrown away all the progress and our renewed trust with a few bottles of wine? Was there no hope for this man? Irate and aghast, I phoned my uncle, who said he was nearly there. Upon his arrival, we were escorted to his vehicle and driven to the local mall, determined not to let my father’s poor choices ruin our Christmas. But they already had, just as they had so many Christmases prior.
My sister and I couldn’t forget, and it was obvious as we sat in church later that night. We insisted on stopping back at my dad’s apartment for a quick check on how he was doing since we left; he disgusted us, but we still cared. He had gotten out of bed but was now sitting in the dark on a living-room chair. In his hand another bottle of vino, and around his feet a sea of wine bottles. I attempted to wake him; he looked at me with drunken eyes. With slurred speech and obviously no conscience, he tried muttering something, but I wasn’t having it.
We left for my uncle’s house, where we opened gifts and shared in each other’s company, no one daring to address the elephant in the room. At the conclusion of the Christmas Eve festivities, my uncle drove us back to the apartment, not to sleep there but to check on dad again. We walked up the stairs and down the long corridor. There, at the end of the hallway, was a busted door with a handwritten note from an angry apartment manager. It read something like, “See me about paying for the door.”
To make a long story short, my father had continued his night of consumption by impressively finishing off more wine than I had ever seen consumed; unfortunately, the wine was part of an expensive collection my dad’s roommate had amassed as a wine connoisseur. This was a new low, as his actions now affected more than just our family, and my dad didn’t even care for wine. (After the fact, apologizing for my dad’s behavior was something I couldn’t do without the weight of embarrassment and shame. I knew nothing could replace the value of those precious bottles. I knew that some people drink for other reasons than to ruin their families and to get drunk, and my dad had robbed this man of that in-moderation pleasure.)
At some point that night, dad decided to get suicidal … again. Upon a midnight clear, he walked out onto the apartment’s patio and threatened to heave himself from the ledge. Concerned neighbors came to the rescue by issuing a 911 call, that ultimately concluded with the police breaking through and busting the apartment door. After talking my dad down from near death, he was whisked away and admitted to a local Seattle hospital, where my sister and I spent Christmas.