Saturdays we walked to my dad’s house, me and my brother Todd. There were five of us kids that belonged to Vic Everly but the others either weren’t old enough to cross Broad Street or didn’t care to be there. Dad could be frightening sometimes. More often than I was comfortable with that’s for sure.
Todd and I were maybe 15 and 16 then. Irish twins born 10 months apart. It’s not that we were used to our father’s drinking. I’m not sure anyone ever gets used to it. But we could read the signs better than the younger ones and we knew when the switch flipped and when it would be a good time to leave.
It was summer. I remember that. My hair was long then and I wore aviator sunglasses in an attempt to be cool. I had the confidence that is only granted to teenagers and I’ve always believed that it’s the kind of confidence that only applies to survival. Some people call it fight or flight. I think that’s appropriate when your parent is an alcoholic.
It was the kind of confidence that didn’t translate to other areas of life somehow. I was still afraid of most things, afraid to drive when everyone else couldn’t wait, afraid to try, afraid to aim higher than what I was given. A lot changed for me that summer. Reality can be a bitch slap sometimes.
Our dad was a musician, a big fish in a small pond. And an even bigger fish in the stories we invented in our own minds to reconcile what he really was offstage in that little house across from the confectionery.
There are many things that come with age. Wisdom and perspective gain you valuable insight into a disease like alcoholism. But not when you’re 16.
All you see then is a man who never took you for an ice cream cone or came to the father/daughter days at school, a man who lived almost as a hermit but who was also incredibly social. The caveat being that his interactions came to him. Including the ones with us.
He was on the phone with a friend that day. Alcoholics, in my experience, are very good at finding co-conspirators in their efforts to tie one on, especially in finding those with money and beer. “Let’s jam this afternoon,” he said.
Dad wasn’t too bad as long as it was just us. He’d nurse a beer or tinker with his gadgets and let us fool around with the instruments that were always set up in the tiny living room. But it usually spelled trouble when his friends dropped by.
They were a mishmash of types, truck drivers, football players, sleazy bejewelled entrepreneurs and outcasts that seemed to find a place to roost at dad’s. I was the subject of more than one unwanted pat on the ass or prolonged hug scented with cheap cologne, beer breath and cigarettes.
We’d missed our window. That was the mistake. One after the other his friends filed in, each with a 12-pack tucked under their arm. Nowadays you could make a fortune off the empties alone. I remember the cases stacked up against the wall and down the cellar stairs, where neither my brother nor I ever ventured.
Dad was having fun. He was the king of his domain. He pulled out the guitar and got that devilish twinkle in his eye showing off for his friends who got louder and louder along with the volume on the amplifier. I was ready to leave.
I went outside and Bob Boyle had pulled up in his GTO. Bob was a hobbit of a man and for some reason dad thought we’d be a good match. Which tells you a lot about where the lack of self confidence comes in post survival, if that was the best he thought I could do in my life.
My brother was and is a car guy. He brought dad out at the rumble of the engine. The three of them stood around the car, dad swaying slightly and thinking he was being clever, my brother subconsciously emulating every move. I was doing my best to hide under the branches of the willow tree.
He’d switched to whisky by then. How did I not see it? “Where’s my drink?” he said jovially. He started scouting around muttering to himself. “Hey! Any of you ugly mugs seen my whisky?” It was sitting right where he’d left it, on the trunk of Bob’s car. Neither Todd nor I said a word.
What had he poured 3 fingers? 4? Both my brother and I had learned to read dad’s sign language at an early age, mixing the water to whisky ratio appropriately. But I had lost count. “You’re so goddamned worried about your goddamned rye!” I blurted.
The look he gave me was a curious mixture of shock that I knew the truth, shame that he’d been found out and utter fury at being challenged. Not when he was king. Didn’t I see all his fans waiting for him inside? I did actually. I saw it for exactly what it was.
He told me to leave, to get out. I did. I didn’t go back for, I don’t even know how long. And when I finally did all he said was, “she gets it now.” But I didn’t. I didn’t get it at all.