She was one of those weird cat ladies, you know, the ones who have like 11 cats and their house smells like ammonia and dust, but they see no apparent problem. I always got freaked out when I went to visit her, but I felt sorry for her, so I had to.
She was a veteran alcoholic, hardcore to the 3rd degree. I probably wasn’t a very good friend to her because I sat down and drank whiskey straight up with her until she could barely speak anymore. Thankfully, she always had a head start on me. She started her day religiously with a smoke and a shot of whiskey. And that was before she even got out of bed. I was a little more of a girl guide, not quite the bitter seasoned alcoholic like her, but with every potential of becoming her.
Sometimes, we’d have some really intense conversations and get pretty fucking depressed. She was a downer to be around for the most part. Not one of these wild fun alchie women, she always gave off the sort of vibe that lead you to believe that she was slitting her wrist in the washroom if she disappeared from your site for even a moment.
I can’t really blame her though. She had a rough life. She married an abusive Italian man who’s family couldn’t stand her and reminded her every day how inadequate she was, meanwhile, he beat the shit out of her if she even looked at him the wrong way. It took her 20 years, but she finally built up the strength and courage to leave him. Their son, who was in university at the time completely supported this decision.
Unfortunately, in leaving him, she also left the money, the security, the home, and the safety net. She had been a stay at home mom and a homemaker all of her life, that’s all she was allowed to do. So with no skills, no education, and no home or support, she was pretty hard up. Eventually she got hired by a tool and dye shop to be their secretary, and she worked there for years and years until her alcoholism escalated to the point where she was no longer employable and had to go on welfare.
One afternoon with a tear in her eye she looked at me and said “I thought I would have been more than this.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that, and the naive young optimist in me said “But Susan, you still CAN be more.”
She gave me a nasty look as if to say “you don’t know what you’re talking about kid”.
When she was married, she never used to drink. Her husband would come home wasted all the time, and I guess that sort of turned her off. She spent years and years completely sober and level-headed. I guess when she lost it all, she just said “fuck it” and started to drink her life away. Her son used to visit every weekend, and stopped because he was tired of showing up and finding her passed out on the kitchen floor in her underwear, or barely coherent in front of the television watching Price Is Right. It’s sad really.
I felt kinda like her adopted daughter. It was weird how we met too, totally an unusual situation. I was at the grocery store picking up a few things and she bumped into me in the aisle, naturally (as we all do here in Canada) I said “sorry”. She said nothing…
So we get to the checkout, and who’s in front of me… her! She’s checking out her stuff and whips out a dozen or so coupons from local papers. The store was one of those “we’ll match any competitor price” sort of stores. Upon seeing this, I got antsy and said “excuse me miss, I just have some milk and eggs can I go ahead of you?”
“Like hell you can” she said.
I could tell she wasn’t one to be fucked with. The lines on her face told me a story of a hardened woman who wasn’t going to budge and had no reason to be nice to me or anyone else in that store.
I left the line, realizing that it was going to take forever, and went down a few aisles. When I was walking to my car… who backs out and runs me over with her 1991 rusty Tempo?! You guessed it, Susan!
Anyway, after some yelling, swearing, and a lot of insult flinging, she invited me over to her house for a drink, where she also told me she would write me a cheque. I never did get the cheque, but I got an earful and felt like I had earned my degree in psychiatry.
Ever since then, I made it a point to visit her every week. We would smoke and play cards and polish off a bottle of whiskey between us. It wasn’t the healthiest of relationships.
One particular day, I will never forget as long as I shall live. I showed up with a big bottle of Gibson’s Finest. The door was unlocked, so I let myself in. The house was quiet and eerie. I put the whiskey on the table and peeked around the corner into the living room, she wasn’t there. I called out her name… no answer. I figured she was just passed out or something, so I went downstairs to her cellar to grab a pack of smokes from one of her cartons and saw something I wasn’t prepared to see.
She hung there lifelessly from the rafters of the ceiling, head slumped forward, toes 6 or 7 inches from the ground, and a stool that had been kicked to the side. I sat on the stool before her and cried my eyes out. I thought about her life and how it didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to. As I wiped my eyes and stood up to look at her one last time, I realized something very unusual… A smile. The thought of her life coming to an end actually made her smile in her final moments before death.