I have always felt like an orphan, even when I had both parents. My mother was a wonderful woman, don't get me wrong, but she had a terrible disease: alcoholism. My father was not a nice person, so I barely feel any conflicts with him, except for the nagging, "Why didn't you like me?" sort of things. But his voice is still there, "Because you're dumb." My mother though, never said very many unkind things about me. She really wanted to have kids, but my father didn't. She had one. He resented it. My mother told me that having me was a risk she was glad she took, but it came at a horrible price: her marriage. Heavy stuff to hear when you're, say, 11.
I was reading on some thread about "what chores did you have as a kid?" and I wanted to reply, "My life." Honestly, though, that's pretty dramatic and boo-hoo of me. So I tried to think literally. What were my chores? Well, it's pretty much what drove me to a state I am in today. My chores are to clean up after people.
I must have been about eight or so when I recall my mother's drinking got bad enough to realize that something was wrong. This would have been 1977. I am not sure how bad it was before then, and I have often wondered if something happened then that changed her, or something changed in me and I began to notice. My maternal grandmother always held to the belief that it the drinking started when my mother was in Italy. The water where she and my father lived was so undrinkable, that they were forced to drink wine with everything. That sounds apocryphal, but she was right about so many things I thought were wrong, that now I am not sure what to think. She predicted I'd be into computers when I poo-pohhed her with, "Oh, grandma, that's just a hobby. The only people who get computer jobs are mathemeticians with 8 years of college or something." So maybe she was right about the drinking. But from about age 8, I started to take care of of my mother. In Alanon, they called in "enabling the behavior," because I did the classic textbook stuff: I covered up for her, took care of her, and tried to live the lie that everything was okay.
First it was a few times a year, then a few times a month... and the worst it got was about once a week, on average, with binges lasting up to ten days or more. By the end, she was so brain damaged that even when sober, she was sitll kind of in a daze. My mother was the local drunk, and I was the guy who picked up after her. My father didn't, and I don't fault him for that, because it was a terrible job I wouldn't wish on anybody. The cleanup, the apologies to people she called at random, and dealing with what was essentially my ward took up a large part of childhood. Part of the cover-up was housework.
See, I learned that when housework didn't get done, my father's anger got worse. I surmized it was because it reminded him that things were NOT normal, and his control fetish fueled his anger more than anything else. So when my mother was in her "weeping drunk" phase (just before the target "pass-out" phase), I cleaned up her vomit, kept clothes on her, picked up the stuff she knocked over, and tried to keep her from the head of the stars (where I feared she might fall down and get hurt). It was like taking care of a very large toddler. At first, I wasn't allowed to have a key to the house, but after neighbor protested I kept showing up at their house, hungry, I was given my own key by age 10. I got home around 4pm, and my father got home by 6pm. In my head, I can still hear the sounds of the sqeauky suspension on his 66' T-bird. That meant showtime!
From 4-6, I did what chores I thought made the house look like it was cleaned. I mean, when my mother was sober, she did a great job doing what used to be called "housewife duties." But when she was three sheets to the wind, I basically went through the motions, not really having much of a clue what I was doing. I cringe to think of the jobs I did. I ruined clothes by washing the wrong kinds the wrong way, I was terrible at vacuuming, I never dusted, and I ruined a lot of plastic stuff in the dishwasher. My mother never really taught me how to do it right, either, because then she'd have to admit I had to take care of her. I also used to have a chore, sometimes requested by my father, of "find the bottle." My mother got real good at hiding liqour. She hid it in teapots, vases, in bedside lamps, boxes of paperwork, old winter coat pockets, toilet tanks, hollowed out areas in walls and in the mattress, and places you'd never believe unless you also lived with an alcoholic. It was always good when you found the bottle, because sometimes, you'd just find the alcohol, and you'd have to figure out how to pour it out of whatever it was in.
When I heard my father's car bouncing up the driveway, I ran to my room, and hid. I never knew what was going to happen. Most of the time, nothing happened. He came home, went right to his den, and locked the door. Or went to his recliner in the rec room, and read the newspaper or a magazine. Sometimes he'd make this weird burping noise with his lips, a nervous habit he had. Sometimes I'd hear the electric hand massager go on for a few minutes and then go off. I never really knew what he used that massager for, but he also subscribed to Playboy, so I kind of made assumptions. The burping or massaging was a good sign. He would not come for me today. But if my mother was still in the weepy/rage stage of drinking, it was like being under fire in the trenches. How angry would she make my father? Would my housework be good enough? Did I get his shirts ironed right? Did he notice I accidentally washed one of his silk ties, ruining it, so I hid the evidence? You never knew. So many times I was scared half out of my wits when my father would burst into my room, fuming, and scream at me about something he thought I'd done. He was usually right, he never accused me of much I hadn't done, he just was very opinionated about my work. Always in the negative. Always had to bring up how stupid I was until I discovered by playing really stupid, like going "duh" and "I don't know" and hanging my head in shame actually placated him.
My father never wanted to buy a mower, so we hired a local kid to do yardwork. I occaisionally raked leaves or shoveled snow, but not often. I had no brothers or sisters to babysit, just my mom.
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000075.html