Twelve Year Old Shoulders

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I remember the day I found out that he was an alcoholic. I was twelve. I was babysitting for Steve, our ex-alcoholic, ex-drug abusing, single-biker-dad neighbour.  Steve was nice, a solid guy. He was hard, but soft at the same time. His face decorated with weathered lines of time and strife, his eyes filled with knowledge from the School of Hard Knocks. Knowledge that can only be gained from life itself. First hand knowledge of struggle, loss, loss of oneself, and loss of control. Steve knew loss. His eyes told a lot. 

Steve lived with his 1 ½ year old daughter Jessie, and his younger brother Jeff. It seemed strange that two men in their thirties could take care of a baby by themselves… But they did. I never asked what happened to little Jessies mom, but I concluded that Steve had made some positive life changes, that she was not capable of mirroring. Obviously him, being the more responsible (and sober) of the two, was granted custody of little Jessie. He wasn’t a perfect dad, but he loved that little girl to no end and would sacrifice anything for her, and she would grow up knowing that. 

Jessie was sleeping soundly in her crib, and I was watching television, when Steve and Jeff came home, around 11. He handed me my pay as I put my shoes on. I could tell that he wanted to say something to me, he was having trouble finding the words. He disappeared quickly into the kitchen and returned with a brochure in hand.  “Give this to your father” 

“What is it?” I asked  “Look… Your dad has a problem. I used to be an alcoholic and I know one when I see one, I know the signs. Life will be much better for him and your family if he gets some help. Alcohol and drugs can ruin lives. I know. They ruined my life. I almost died a few years ago in a major bike accident. I don’t want to see your family in shambles. Just please, give him this brochure. Tell him he can come and talk to me if he wants to. I will even go to a meeting with him.”  I glared at the Alcoholics Anonymous brochure with tears in my eyes. I felt the whole weight of the world fall on my twelve year old shoulders. I felt sad and helpless. I had never really considered whether his drinking was a problem before, and certainly nobody had ever said that it was. I just thought it was normal for adults to drink. It didn’t seem abnormal to me, until Steve told me that it was abnormal. Suddenly things that I hadn’t given much thought to started becoming glaringly obvious. Of course he was an alcoholic… That’s why his eyes were always bloodshot and droopy, and that’s why he sometimes slurred his speech, and that’s why he sometimes seemed angry for no reason, and that’s why he fell asleep every night by the glow of the television in the dimly lit basement. It all made sense. 

I went home $30 richer, but feeling like the poorest kid in the world, the kid who’s family was “in shambles”. My dad was supposed to be my security net, my strength, my tower of courage… Suddenly he seemed weak, irresponsible, and out of control. I folded the brochure in half and wiped the tears from my cheeks as I walked into my house and yelled “I’m home” before darting up to my bedroom. I never came out of my bedroom that night. I just crawled under the covers with the brochure, reading it over and over again, until I could recite every word. I fell asleep with my clothes on, and an intimate knowledge of alcoholism and it’s effects on families, children, and relationships.  

I never did give the brochure to my dad.

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10 thoughts on “Twelve Year Old Shoulders

  1. Thanks Poobah! It’s always hard to write “these types” of pieces… you get that fear of judgement and fear of someone finding out that you maybe don’t want to find out. Nevertheless, it was one I had been recalling in recent days and wanted to write.

  2. Wow, what a post here lingo. It made me very sad for you- I never had to deal with parents who drank (I was fortunate in that area) but I did have an uncle who was a mean drunk- beat his wife, my moms sister, and they both are alcoholics now but no one has ever stepped up to try to help them like the friend who gave you a brochure- not even me.

    I hope your family didn’t end up in shambles. Thank you for sharing that piece.

    I do have one question though- curious- why didn’t you give the brochure to your dad?

  3. Handing over the brochure cements the admission that Dad has a problem. Without handing it over, there’s no problem.

    What do I know, here in my (armless)chair?

  4. Great post Lingo.

    Really puts things in perspective. Denial is often the only tool kids have of empowerment. Out of curiosity … do you still have the brochure?

  5. “I had never really considered whether his drinking was a problem before, and certainly nobody had ever said that it was. I just thought it was normal for adults to drink. It didn’t seem abnormal to me, until Steve told me that it was abnormal.”

    I hear some sobering up going on with these words…sounds very much like the words of an alcoholic when something life-changing happens that snaps him/her back to reality…was it dad who’s drunk? or the girl? i say both…

  6. Justordinary: Thanks! I think my family is better than some families affected by alcoholism… but it definitely affects everyone. We are all close, but we all wish that we could shake some sense into him at the same time. We know that his alcoholism will be the cause of his death, his health isn’t good. I think I just didn’t want to believe that he had a problem, that’s why I didn’t give him the brochure that day… And I guess I feared his response as well.

    MrCorey: You’re right. As I mentioned above, I didn’t want to believe it, because before that evening, I had a “normal family”, or at least in my eyes.

    Mion: Did I leave some cookie crumbs on your computer? 😉 No I don’t have the brochure anymore. I kept it for a while, but then I threw it out one day because I didn’t want anyone to find it.

    Barrabas: Well it’s interesting that both my father and I have struggled with addiction. They do say there’s a hereditary gene. Thankfully, I no longer do and am sober and clean. I wish I could say the same for him though.

    Chico: You know how I love to chase truth with the ink from my pen! Unfortunately the chase leaves me exhausted and emotionally worn at times. Nevertheless we do it, as writers, because it must be done. I also appreciate your steadfast truth seeking writing Chico.

    RT Cunningham: No he didn’t and i’m 28 years old now and still feel just as helpless.

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