the true stories
Some people drink because they have tragedy in their lives. Some people have tragedy in their lives because they drink. There are worse things than drinking and some reformed drinkers have merely replaced their drinking with another addiction. As long as the dopamine crosses the neuron gaps, life goes on. Modern colleges have bars right on campus.
Drinkers can be guilty of ruining and endangering the lives of others but that is only if others allow it, with the exception of children. I had a step-father, my first of two, who drank like a galley slave. He had been at it quite some time when he came into my life. He was in his latter thirties when I met him and one drunken night, after we had polished off the ales, the wine and the Aquavit, we were musing on life.
He pulled an old card-board box out of the closet and rummaged inside. He extracted a newspaper clipping with an Oregon masthead. It was dated nearly two decades earlier. There was a photo of a young man in a hospital bed. He was in traction, wrapped in layer upon layer of bandages and a half body cast. There was a small inset photo of another young man with an accompanying obituary.
The story told of two young Danes who had come to Canada to receive jet pilot training in the Royal Canadian Air Force. The boys were also accomplished tennis players and my step-father was a dab hand at jazz piano. The pair were authorized to represent their base in these two capacities and traveled around to competitions by plane and by car.
On these excursions there was much prodigious drinking engaged in by the boys. My stepfather had been driving along the highway that runs through The Dalles. He was three sheets to the wind and lost control of the vehicle. His best friend was killed and he was crushed, particularly his two legs.
He woke up just before they took the picture in the paper. He is smiling in the picture and hadn't been told the news about his friend yet. When he rose from that cot, he began to punish himself and continued this until his death, several years ago. I believe I was the only person to receive his story since the tragedy happened. He never spoke of it again.
After my mother divorced him, I saw him only once. He was living in a funky dilapidated house with raccoons and squirrels running across the keys of a broken piano which a friend had gifted to him. He broiled a steak for my new wife and I and fell asleep in a urine soaked chair.
One of his friends, another Dane, was a car mechanic. This man had a brother who was a disheveled falling down non-functioning drunk. The mechanic had a son whom I ran with for a while. The mechanic was also alcoholic but the functional variety. His booming business kept him in the dough and he had a nice house, a strong wife and expensive clogs. As an auto mechanic, I found him to be less than honest and not overly talented.
One day, I was having some work done on one of my clunkers and I saw a secret. A customer had brought in a big luxury car that had an undiagnosed problem. The shop-owner pulled his his indigent brother up from a chair in the back and gave him some liquor. These two got in the car and went for a drive. They were back in ten minutes.
While they were gone, the customer, another Dane, intimated to me that the sloppy drunk brother had an incredible talent which the other brother was able to use. The delirious one could ride in any vehicle and by using his incredible sense of hearing and knowledge of mechanical things; he could diagnose with 100% accuracy what was the problem with any car. Then the functioning brother would perform the work and write the bill. Other than this, the gifted addict was shunned by his family.
When my ex-step-father passed away, I was invited to a wake at the Army and Navy Club in North Vancouver. It would be a Viking binge to be sure. I declined to attend for two reasons. One was because he had made my mother and baby sister miserable for many years. The other reason was that I had ceased drinking alcohol three decades earlier. The friend who phoned me with the news has never spoken to me since that time.
The night of the wake, I went out onto my front porch for a smoke. I was instantly and completely enveloped in a choking cloud of alcohol fumes. There was no visible source and I knew within a minute what was up.
“Lasse, I know you have come to say goodbye. I bear you no ill-will and I know you will understand why I didn't come tonight when you sober up. You will have to go on your way, you are dead now.”
I went out into the yard and cut a cedar branch and lit it up. I wafted the smoke around the yard, the porch, the doorway and also the interior of my apartment. To put it simply, this act gets the attention of those stuck between realities and signals them that they may continue saying goodbye to others in this world. The person doing the smudge has acknowledged their presence and has waved farewell. The smell disappeared as rapidly as it had come.
Several years into my second marriage I took on a mortgage. I paid ten thousand dollars down after saving the proceeds of daily overtime I worked at the Post Office. I built closets, stripped six layers of wallpaper, painted, gardened and repaired. I had my first-born son strapped onto my chest in a baby harness as I did all these repairs.
The boy was in his first year and loved the contact. He soon grew used to the noise and sawdust. Like a Yanomami mother, I had him with me unless I was sleeping or at work. When I got to the point in my endeavors where some carpet laying was to be done, I phoned a tradesman. It was a task I had never done on my own and I lacked the little tricks of that trade as well as the special tools.
A fellow came over to estimate the job and I chose the color. The next day a carpet layer pulled into the driveway and we had a brief meeting whereupon I showed him the rooms to be done. I was busy dry-walling, changing diapers, fixing bottles and baby meals. The man who was about my age by the look of it, shook hands and patted my boy on the head.
For the balance of that day we worked at our various tasks and passed each other in the house and in the yard. I had to rebuild some stairs in the bedroom so he could finish laying the underlay. We parted ways that afternoon in the driveway and he said he would likely finish by the next day. I was thrilled at the prospect of seeing the end of a long hard year's work of renovation.
I had a week off from the Post Office and was already up with my son strapped in when the carpet guy pulled up in his van with the royal blue carpet I had chosen. We had coffee and talked about my son and then both got to work. About noon, the fellow came to tell me he was missing some items he needed to complete his job. He said he would just pop back to the warehouse and pick them up.
He didn't return that day. The next morning he showed up at eight AM and told me a complicated tale of a day gone wrong. We had coffee and talked about sons. Then we got to work. At about noon, the carpet layer showed me where he had done half of the hallway and had run out of staples and such. He said he would run out to the warehouse and grab some. He didn't return that day. Nor the next. I phoned his number and left multiple massages which were not answered. My wife was furious and called me a fool. The hallway was half bare and one other room to be done was clad in underlay only.
After a two days absence, I saw the familiar van pull up bright and early. The carpet guy jumped out whistling. His plaid shirt was clean and he had shaved. He called me over to the truck and lit a cigarette. I walked over with my ubiquitous baby chest-pack. Daniel, my son was chewing on an animal biscuit.
“Mike, lookit, I'm sorry for the delay. To make it up to you, I fixed this paperwork so you get the underlay for free. You're just gonna pay for the carpet and half of my time.”
“Wow. OK. You don't have to do that. I know it is hard to keep several jobs on the go at the same time. Happened to me when I was retro-fitting oil-burners.”
He looked at me hard in the eyes, his expression tightened up as if he was wincing in pain and then it softened like when a man is holding a baby in his arms.
“I gotta tell you the truth... What it was, was this. I got married a few years ago and we had a little boy. He's got to be just the same age as your Dan there. My wife took off with him and got custody. They left town and I ain't seen him since. When I saw you with your boy, I couldn't bear it. My trips to the warehouse were trips to the bar. I'll finish up right now and I'd appreciate it if you'd work outside til I'm done.”
He did an extra special job and the carpet was laid with perfection. Dan and I wished him well and watched him back out of the long driveway. Less than a year later, I was standing in the street out front of that address. There was a huge mud hole in the ground where heavy equipment had wrecked the house. I saw a scrap of blue carpet poking out of the debris and thought of my son, whom the Court had ordered into the custody of my estranged wife. I missed him with a pain like a root canal of the soul. I remembered the carpet guy and knew I wasn't alone.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.