It’s 12:30pm and I’m about to head in to work. I crave the taste of a beer. But there’s no time. Should I worry about this desire? Let’s see, I’ve had three – no four – beers in the space of four days. Though I can’t remember the last time I had one before then. Surely four beers does not an alcoholic make.
My mom used to worry about this too. “I’ve had one martini a night for five nights in a row. Does this mean I’m addicted?” she’d fret. “Your grandfather was an alcoholic, you know? We have to be careful. They say it runs in the family.”
“Mom, grandpa was your step-father. You couldn’t have gotten it from him,” I remind her.
“Oh. Right,” she says.
She doesn’t remember her real father. He was French, and his trucking company was seized by the Nazis during World War II. The last time he was seen alive was behind the fence of a concentration camp. I don’t think either of us ever asked grandma about his proclivity for a cocktail or two.
My mom’s step-father, my grandfather, was indeed an alcoholic. He had his very own tap installed in his make-shift bar on the back porch. I remember him wheeling in kegs on a dolly, bought just for that purpose. I remember the way he smelled, always a mixture of booze and after-shave, and when I catch that same smell on other men, it still brings back loving memories. Eventually my grandfather existed in a perpetual state of drunkenness, and when my grandmother became very ill, he took out his service revolver and shot himself. That was some time ago, while I was in college; I couldn’t sleep for weeks without all the lights on.
I saw a man outside the neighborhood bottle shop debating whether to enter. At first he stood with his back against the building chewing his nails, staring hard at the ground. Then he paced the sidewalk and made his way right up to the door. His hand almost reached the handle, and then he turned back around. He did this again and again. Eventually he walked inside. I wonder what has happened to him.
I know that both my mother and I are healthy and well, but I feel deeply for others who suffer from this disease. It hurts so many people around them. For a truly excellent book about one family’s struggle with their daughter’s alcohol addiction, please read George McGovern’s Terry.