Sammy was only eight, and most of the time, I took the blame for what Sammy would do when dad got home. It was no place to raise one kid and definitely not a place for two. But seeing how momma took off and left us with him, we got nowhere else to go, so we stayed. Now we live in hell, but at least we are together, always talking to one another about what happens here when dad isn't around.
His anger came almost all the time now. Predominantly after he had tipped the bottle back one too many times, so it was Sammy and me. We took care of the house and ensured that everything he needed was right where he needed it when he got home. We were afraid of the consequences if things weren't correct. Sometimes even if everything was perfect, he would holler and scream at us anyway.
I would be so busy washing clothes and making beds and lunches for school that I wouldn’t always get a chance to pick up before dad got home. He would talk to me like I was a child and scream about stuff that didn’t matter. I usually tuned him out and did whatever needed to be done. But I always protected Sammy.
The day daddy came home and asked for chicken, I almost died.
“Chicken? George, we don’t have any chicken. That costs money. We never get to buy things from the grocery store like that,” I said.
I didn’t know how he expected us to come up with chicken out of thin air. He handed me a twenty and said, “go get some.”
I gave some thought to Sammy and said, “come on, Sammy, we’re going shopping.”
“Leave the boy. I can watch him. I am capable, you know.”
“Then maybe you should get the chicken yourself, Mr. Capable.”
He started to come at me. I stood my ground. I knew this was my moment; all those Ju Jitsu lessons better pay off right now. He grabbed me, and I waxed off and put him down on the ground. It happened so fast that I almost felt sorry for him; he fell like a lead balloon. There was nothing to him whatsoever anymore: He was a big charade. The bully had been put down by his daughter, who was fourteen.
He cried while he was down there on the floor. Sammy looked at me, and I gave him a look like, oh no, you don’t – this is the man who torments us every day so severely that we sleep together and lock our bedroom door – look.
Dad’s the reason I took martial arts in the first place. The instructor did a presentation in our gym class. I was lucky enough to catch on quickly and win free lessons. I was no longer afraid of dad. I was teaching Sammy too. Now we didn’t need to fear dad anymore.
We left him crying on the floor. We ate our chicken together at the restaurant and then got his to go. When we got home, all his bottles were in the garbage – the full ones too – I gave him his chicken.
“Thank you,” he said.
I had never heard that word from his lips before, nor did I ever expect to. Something changed with him, and I wasn’t sure what or why. He almost looked presentable. After dinner, he asked if I had homework or if Sammy had any. He offered to help both of us. We saw a different dad this time but were cautious because we knew how bad it could get. We are nobodies fools.
After homework was done, we went to bed.
The morning came quickly, and we awoke to eggs and bacon. He must have gone grocery shopping because we didn’t have bacon or eggs yesterday. We even had milk and toast with jam. I was afraid to ask, but I had to do it.
“Dad, what is going on with you right now?”
“I realized when you put me down so quickly that you were ready and waiting to do that for a long time. It made me think about when I was a kid, and my old man was always drinking and unpredictable. I hated it, and then I became just like him. I am sorry.”
Sammy and I looked at one another and said, “apology accepted.”
Sammy asked, “does this mean you don’t drink anymore?”
“No, I don’t choose to drink anymore, not that I can’t.”
“But you are done with that for now, right?” I asked.
“Yes, yes, I am. I’ve wasted enough time missing out on your lives. I’m not about to waste anymore.” He smiled and said, “come on, I’ll drive you to school on my way to work.”
It was one moment in one day. We wondered how long it would last. We knew well that he never kept his word and was weak. He had no resolve, and half of what came out of his mouth was shit talk meant to appease for the moment.
When we got to school, he leaned over for a kiss from Sammy and me; we obliged.
I asked the teachers who give you guidance about what happens when somebody quits drinking cold turkey. They gave me cards of places you could call if you needed help. I knew a lot, but I had never heard of Al-Anon before. I decided that I would go and try to get dad to go too. Maybe there would be sessions for him, Sammy, and me simultaneously. Wouldn’t that be nice?
I looked up the closest places to where we lived, and there was a meeting in the basement of the church on 9th Street, which is literally around the corner from our apartment. At dinner, I mentioned it to my dad. He seemed interested and started looking at the literature.
I thought it was going to come any second. His wave of fury and his abusive talk about how he didn’t need such a place and whatnot. But he surprised me.
He said, ”why don’t we go tonight?”
Astounded, I said, “we’d be happy to.”
As we sat there, we heard person after person stand and say they were an alcoholic. I figured my dad wouldn’t say anything. But I was wrong.
“Hi, my name is George, and I’m an alcoholic.”