Earlier this week, a man called me from another city, a friend of my father’s. I’ll call him Joe. Joe has thirty days sober — made it through the holidays — but was having a bad day, full of anxiety, and was afraid he was going to drink again. He couldn’t find my father, who has been helping him, and felt too nervous, he said, to call some of the other people who might help him, but who he didn’t know very well. For some reason, although we’ve never met in person and only spoken once before on the phone, he thought he could reach out to me. We talked for a while, and I tried to convince him to call a man we both know who lives in Joe’s town and who had offered his assistance in the past. We talked about what alcoholism had cost Joe in the past — it was a long list, as it is for all alcoholics. And we talked about what he thought he’d find in the bottom of the bottle this time, and what he’d feel like when he woke up, IF he woke up, tomorrow morning after having lost his sobriety.
We’d been on the phone for maybe fifteen minutes when Joe’s daughter’s voice called out in the background. She needed her dad to drive her to work. She needed her dad. Joe said okay, and then talked to me for a few more minutes before she called out to him again, and he said he had to go, but could he call me back. I said yes, but that I wanted him to call our local friend first, and arrange with him to get to one of those meetings where people with similar problems help each other. He said he would. He never called back, so I don’t know whether he did, or whether he drank, or if he’s still alive. Some people die pretty quickly when they start drinking again, or end up in jail, or in a mental institution.
How about this?
I hope he made the call and got the help he needs. I hope that no only for him, but for his family. For his daughter, who I have no doubt has paid a pretty damn big price for her father’s disease, one no child should have to pay. I know, since my father was an alcoholic too, and since, as an (childless) alcoholic myself I can certainly attest to how selfish, twisted and untrustworthy we can be. I thought about how little attention she paid to her father on the phone, struggling to stay sober the next hour. It was clear she’s been down this road so many times she’s grown pretty numb. And that’s not good. Not good at all.
Or this? Think she planned to end up here?
And then, the next morning, I received an email from a woman I know from numerous phone calls, although we’ve never met either. Her husband is out there, drunk as a gin-swilling rat, working his own special magic in the world, creating a tornado of grief and trouble in her life, and the life of their two children. In this email, she said things were going pretty badly, and he just wouldn’t get sober. She also included a letter her eighteen-year-old daughter had recently written to a judge now involved in the situation.
I was, and am, deeply moved by this letter and so I asked the young woman’s permission to print it here, in the hope that someone, perhaps Joe, would read it and realize what he’s doing, not only to himself, but to his family, to his beloved children. The young woman, whom I’ll call Caitlin, which means ‘courage and purity’ in Irish, kindly gave me that permission, and so, here it is:
There are millions of people in the world. People are not perfect, some make mistakes, some try their best each and every day to succeed. And some are addicts. Addicts don’t realize that they have a problem. They think they are fine, it’s normal; addicts think that you are crazy for saying that they have a problem. Some need help, hope and faith. I may only be 18 years old, but I have gone through a lot in life so far. I know a lot.
My father is an alcoholic. He lost his job in New York City by drinking all the time. He drank his dream job away. Since then his drinking has gotten worse and worse. It’s been crazy and scary. Sometimes I’d come home and my brother would be locked in his room and my dad would be downstairs sleeping. Or, hey dad, what’s for dinner? Then I would get yelled at for saying what’s for dinner, he would tell me I suck at life, I am a horrible person. I didn’t take it personal because you could smell the alcohol on him. I was kind of used to it. I love my father, he’s my father.
But I do miss those days, going shopping with him, working on the car, working on projects for the house. Playing basketball. Doing all those father and daughter fun things. And I want it back. His drinking is out of control. I always imagined my senior year perfect, having the family, being happy, coming home from school and everything being perfect. Sitting down at the dinner table and being all together. I never imagined child services coming to my school and talking to me.
I thought I would never be that girl. But I am that girl. I never pictured having no money. Being on welfare. Sometimes can’t afford to buy food. I would lock my door at night sometimes when my dad was drinking a lot. My mom would be out of town and dad always drank. When my parents were fighting and my dad was drunk I would keep a dull kitchen knife in my pocket just in case my drunken father made a move to kill my mom. I would always worry about that. Isn’t that sad, thinking your father might kill your mother; my dad did choke my mom once. Yes, I called the cops lots of times when he was drunk. I would sometimes hide in the cornfield when my mom wasn’t home. I would have the phone with me at all times. The cops show up, they always say, what’s going on today? Then my dad would come out and say O officer everything is fine here, she justdoes this sometimes. You can leave. The officer says sir have you been drinking today? No officer I haven’t. When the cops left that was when I was really scared, then my dad would yell so much I would sometimes unlock the back door in case I had to escape. I could run and he couldn’t get me.
June 3rd is the day probably everything turned. You have your records right in front of you. Look what happened on June 3rd. He was so drunk he couldn’t even take the trash out. He forced me in my car to go to gymnastics practice. My dad couldn’t watch my 5 year old brother. Right? Well so I called the cops. The cops actually told me to go away with my brother, somewhere safe. I went to my friend Alex’s house. My dad was so mad at me. Later that day he was pressing charges on me for kidnapping my brother. I heard he called the state chief of police. They put my father on restraining order. Look on your records, did he follow them? Well sorry to say nope. He called, he contacted. He still e-mails us to this day. He showed up at our house on November 11, 2008. Drunk of course. Hitting the door saying I have lost my car keys, please E——, help me, all I want is my keys. At least he didn’t drive to our house. He took a cab. I wish he had an accident. Then it wouldn’t have happened. I grabbed a bat and dialed 911 once again, my brother hid under the table, and I gripped my bat so hard ready to smack him in case he broke down the door again. On June 13th someone broke into our house and stole jewelry. I wonder? There were droppings of jewelry to the train station. Where was my dad at that time? Princeton Train station, my dad was still on a restraining order. Figure that one out.
That night when he showed up drunk, we had to go to a safe house in Trenton because it wasn’t safe at home. Women there are so battered up, some wouldn’t say anything, some would limp around, some would cry at dinner. Sometimes it was hard for me because I am a teen who’s living in a shelter in Trenton. It was so hard. But it was a great experience; real people are facing the hardest battles in their lives. Some people don’t realize that there are people who are facing these things out there in the world. I never knew.
I feel like I am a stronger person, that I can do anything now. That I can face any battle that is out there in the world. I mean what could go wrong next? All I want is my father to go to rehab, admit he has a problem, and get better and I really want my family back. I don’t really want to move. I like my house a lot. That’s the one thing he cannot take away from me, is my house. My backyard, our house is in foreclosure. Like I never thought this could happen. Make my dad get a job. Make him go to rehab. He broke so many rules he should be going to prison. I am sick and tired being depressed missing everything, being scared all the time. Looking out the window, sleeping with a bat at night. He needs help, and if you can’t do anything about this problem, you shouldn’t be a judge. My parents have gone to court a lot, and things still remained the same. If you really cared you could change something. Change is good. Make him better so my family can have a meal at dinner and on summer days eat lunch outside. Please.
If you read this, and if it makes a difference in your life — and really, how could it NOT? — I wish you’d let me know so I can pass your message on to “Caitlin.” It would mean
a lot to her to think she may have saved someone else’s life, even if it may not be the life of her father.
“Caitlin” — thank YOU, dear. And be brave. You are not alone.