Ever since my older brother gave me my first taste of hard alcohol when I was barely twelve years old, I knew that I liked to be drunk more than just about anything else in the whole world. Learning how to drink, or developing any arguably detrimental habit at a younger than normal age is not especially abnormal for people with older siblings. At least that’s what I’ve told myself time and time again to keep from harboring unresolved resentment for my brother since that first swallow of cheap gin from a Dixie cup while standing in the laundry room of the house I grew up in. I often try to imagine how my life might have played out if I had never innocently walked in on my brother raiding my parent’s liquor cabinet that day. I imagine that my curiosity about drinking alcohol and how I would assimilate its intoxicating effects into my life might have taken a more natural course. Unfortunately, imagining a life devoid of a relationship with alcohol is next to impossible for somebody whose solid memories started taking form only a few short years before that first fateful encounter. I remember wanting to impress my brother at any cost as he assured me that I would like it once I got used to the taste. I also remember how badly the liquid tasted as it burned my mouth and throat as I fought to keep him from seeing the fearful tears welling up in my eyes. When he finally offered me a can of fruit punch soda to wash the liquor down, I was already feeling my head begin to swim with startling euphoria. As scared and confused as I might have been in those moments following my first drink… my body already knew what my mind was struggling to learn. I loved how alcohol made me feel.
The adolescent years that followed my premature introduction to alcohol under my big brother’s less-than-watchful eyes were filled with what would amount to a lifetime of learned deceptive practices and rituals for a seasoned alcoholic of advanced age. I successfully drank regularly and often to excess throughout my younger years, and was caught in the act only once by my parents. This happened many years later after a particularly nauseating experience with cheap, fortified wine at a high school graduation party after I had missed my curfew by several hours, to finally come stumbling loudly into my parent’s house where I was discovered incoherent and vomiting into the kitchen sink. By then I had already been accepted into college and my parents thankfully recognized the futility of trying to punish me for the infraction. Yet, after my mother sent me to bed with a disappointed glare in her eyes and angry words on her tongue she happily dragged me from bed at daybreak several hours later to gleefully watch me try to eat a plate of half-cooked, soggy, room-temperature pancakes she had obviously prepared hours earlier while rehearsing a poorly-timed, late-arriving lecture on the dangers of alcoholism and my genetic disposition to such a fate. Sometime between choking down my second forkful of revoltingly sweet, sickeningly squishy pancakes and the conclusion of my mother’s dizzying lecture I ran from the kitchen table to relieve my churning belly of its negligible contents. My mother simply watched me quickstep from the kitchen with smug satisfaction.
By the time I was making plans to acquire the final credits of my first bachelor’s degree I was functioning admirably well as a full-blown alcoholic with aspirations to graduate and find my place in society. In college it was easy to ignore the warning signs, as I associated primarily with students and academic types who shamelessly exhibited my kindred careless attitudes towards the oceans of alcohol and the arsenal of illicit drugs at our disposal. After graduation it only took a few short months for someone close enough for me to care about to point out the flaws in my lifestyle. By then I was well beyond helping myself and a long way from asking anybody’s advice.
Sitting alone in the house I had shared with my wife until recent events had prematurely initiated the ‘til death do we part’ clause in my marriage and reminiscing about my lifelong struggles with alcohol and drugs seemed like a maliciously effective way to torture myself during the brief hours of lucidity I endured between the longer stretches of time I was spending in drunken oblivion. I would fade in and out of consciousness, periodically regaining my bearings when I awoke in some strange corner of the house only to search frantically and without regards to my surroundings for the rapidly diminishing supply of alcohol that my sister-in-law had seen fit to supply me with during the aftermath of my hallucination at the county morgue.
I couldn’t accurately try to estimate how much time had passed since I had returned to the house. My fleeting assumption that it hadn’t been longer than two days was only reasonable to me because I hadn’t yet finished the second bottle of liquor with which I had been supplied. The dull glow of sunlight that was pouring in through the windows offered me only frustrating confusion as I briefly concerned myself with whether it was mid-morning or late afternoon.
Currently, I was lying face down on the laminate floor of my kitchen. As I rolled onto my back I was at first mildly amused by the realization that my jeans were unfastened and my cock was pulled through the front of my boxers. I then became nauseatingly aware of the large pool of piss that my arm had come to rest in. Apparently I had mistaken the kitchen floor for a toilet, or had failed to give a damn when I had chosen to void my bladder of its contents. I pushed myself into a sitting position with my dry arm and began shaking my piss-dampened, opposite arm in an attempt to dry it while shamefully cursing myself and examining the mess.
Standing up was a challenge as I was immediately reminded that I was still very drunk and uncoordinated. I kicked my shoes off of my feet and dropped my pants, which were also damp with piss, into the center of the puddle. Using one foot I attempted to maneuver my jeans through the liquid like a mop. After satisfying my futile desire to try and erase the evidence of my drunken piss-party, I left my jeans in the center of kitchen and stumbled towards the living room, coming to rest on the couch. I wiped my damp arm on the cushion and sighed pitifully.
Somewhere under the twisted pile of blanket I was sitting on, I heard the muffled sound of the phone ringing. I slid off of the blanket and searched the folded plush fabric for the handset. When I finally located it, I saw my sister-in-law’s name and number on the caller ID. I drew a deep breath and pressed the talk button.
“Hello?” My voice was deep and dry.
“I’m glad you answered, I was only gonna call a few more times before I came and checked on you.”
“I’m here, but a little pissy at the moment.” I paused briefly, anticipating laughter, but then realized that I would be the only one who could possibly find humor in the comment. I grunted.
“Never mind… bad joke. What’s up?” I was just going through polite motions. I quickly began to regret picking up the phone.
“Do you want me to tell you about the arrangements over the phone or should I make a trip over there to talk to you in person?”
“No, no… don’t make any special trips. What do you need to tell me?” My head pounded with each word I spoke.
“The whole thing is going to be handled by Clementine Funeral Home in Ft. Justice. Viewing, memorial service, internment…” her voice faded.
“I mean, you guys didn’t have a church… right?”
“What do you think?”
A silence began, and before it became awkward I began again.
“I guess my next question should be… when?”
“The viewing is scheduled for the day after tomorrow from five to seven at night. The memorial service will take place afterwards at seven…” I could tell that she had stopped talking before she was done with her thought.
“And…?” I urged vacantly.
“Well, you’re her husband… I guess we’re all kind of wondering…”
“What?” I was getting impatient.
“Well, dammit…” she growled, “everybody’s wondering if you’re going to want to say something at the service? Personally, I’m wondering if that is something that you’re capable of doing.”
“Oh fuck… really?” My body began to feel numb.
“What do you mean, really?” She asked. “Really, like we’re wondering if you intend too, or do I really think you could pull it off?”
“Who is included when you say ‘we’ and ‘everybody’?”
“Well… me, your step-daughter, my kids… the relatives and dad, I guess…” She hesitated awkwardly.
“Don’t bullshit me… your relatives and your dad have a pretty good idea about what it is that I have been into. They know pretty well why the hell I wasn’t living at home for so long…”
“Be that as it may, I don’t give a damn about what they think they know, or what it is that they have in their head when they go into this, okay? All that matters is what you do or don’t provide in words as a memory for your wife and my sister.”
My head was throbbing now. The dull ache was cascading through my head like an angry ocean.
“Right now I feel like my presence would only serve to tarnish her memory with your family. They all probably think that this is my fault.” Tears began to dampen my heavy eyes and my throat tightened.
“So what does that mean? You’re not going to go at all? I know that nobody wants that.” She sounded frustrated.
“I don’t know what to do anymore.” I gasped at the words and began to weep. “I have to go.”
Without waiting to hear her protests I hung up the phone and sobbed heavily. I pressed the handset to my mouth and felt the moan building deep in my chest. The rumbling moan grew to a scream in my throat.
“I DON’T FUCKING KNOW WHAT TO DO ANYMORE! WHAT THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO DO NOW??”
The clear glass of a half-emptied bottle of liquor on the floor glimmered in my field of vision as I wiped tears away from my face. I slid from my position on the couch onto the floor to retrieve it.
This work is the intellectual property of Jerome J. Panozzo