Saturday, April 12, 2014


Dan meets us outside his mum’s house. He looks like a depilated bear gone punk, hair in spikes, a Damned t-shirt stretched over his belly, paws stuffed into a pair of rotten Converse All Stars, studs in his ears and nose and lip. Every bare patch of his skin carries a tattoo – ghostly figures, flaming pumpkins, a headless horseman, glaring skulls, all amongst a general tangle of black roses, Celtic knotwork and ivy.
‘Thanks for coming,’ he says, carefully lighting the cigarette he’s been rolling. ‘I thought I’d better give you the heads up.’
His mum is an alcoholic, he says. She’s been in and out of rehab, not doing too badly but gone off the rails this past week.
‘She’s started seeing things again,’ he says, flicking the match away across the drive. ‘Hearing voices. I phoned the unit and they said to call you.’

He takes us inside.

The bungalow has been built villa-style, with arches leading off from the main room, terracotta tiles on the floor, rugs here and there, and in the centre, an alcove with a statue of a saint raising his hand in blessing. The whole place should be flooded with sunshine – it’s a particularly bright afternoon – but all the blinds are drawn, and whatever bands of light make it through the slats only serve to accentuate the soupy darkness.
‘Through here,’ says Dan. ‘It’s a bit of a maze.’
He leads us through a sequence of rooms, each as gloomy as the last. He knocks on a bedroom door and we follow him in.

Mary is still in bed. She gathers the duvet tightly around her as we say hello.
‘It’s okay, mum. It’s okay. It’s just the ambulance. You remember I said I was going to call them, like the people at the centre told me? They’ve just come to see how you are.’
She scuttles back in the bed, rising up on the pillows into a semi-sitting position, and stares at us.
‘Be a love and open the window,’ she says. ‘He’s hiding over there in the curtains.’
‘Who is, mum?’
‘The man. The one I was telling you about. The one who’s been going on and on at me to drown myself. If you open the window he might go out in the garden and we can talk.’
Dan looks at us, then goes over to open the window.
‘There’s no-one here, mum,’ he says as he lifts the latch and pushes it open.
‘Can’t you see him?’ she says. ‘Really?’
She looks at me.
‘What about you?’
I sit down on a stool just off to the side and try to look as non-threatening as possible.
‘I can’t see anyone there, Mary. I think it’s probably one of those hallucinations you’ve had in the past. Do you think that’s possible?’
She roughly presses the heels of her hands into her eyes to clear them, then peers at me more closely. After a moment she reaches out to her bedside table and produces an alcometer.
‘I’ve been good,’ she says. ‘I’ve only been drinking enough to keep me on the level. Look.’
She shows me the screen, but the device is switched off.
‘That’s great,’ I say. ‘But these hallucinations are a bit worrying. Dan called the team at the unit about it, and they said to take you to hospital. Would that be okay?’
‘I’m fine,’ she says. ‘I can’t see the point.’
‘You need to go in again, mum,’ says Dan. ‘You’re not well.’
‘Aren’t I?  I don’t know. I’d be fine if it weren’t for him.’
She looks over at the window, as we all do. And just at that moment a sudden breeze fills the curtains, gently rolling them in, and then back, and then in again.


Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

My heart stretches to reach people who suffer like Mary does. Somehow doesn't seem fair and yet, what is fair, really ?~? Thanks for sharing Spence, I always get a bit of uplift from your tales of the road.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Lynda.

I was struck by the disparity between how Dan looked - quite scary, actually! - and how much he loved & cared for his mum. It was a difficult situation for both of them, but probably even more so for him, having to look on as she drank herself into such a state. Alcohol, hey? Great in moderation, but otherwise wow, the problems...!

tiptoes said...

Having lost a relative to alcohol abuse two years ago and watching his decline over the years, it still maddens me when you see people bragging how they are going on benders, if they could see the end stages of this "illness" do you think it would stop them?

Spence Kennedy said...

So sorry to hear that, Tiptoes.

And no - I don't think it would stop them. Probably because whilst it's easy to think you're stronger and more resistant than other people, it's just as easy to end up drinking too much, day on day, until you find you have to drink just to feel level.

I don't know about other countries, but here it's a real problem. Pricing would help (even though I'd chafe at spending more), but there's no political appetite to do it. It's definitely an illness, though, something that quickly goes beyond a mere effort of will - and it's all the more devastating for its deep social roots.

Thanks for the comment, T. Really appreciated.

Cassandra said...

Alcohol is one of the most destructive yet socially acceptable drugs… I'm quite glad that my meds don't allow me to drink, and that I despise the taste of most fermented things. I will indulge in a super girly frou-frou wine cooler type drink every once in a long while at home with friends, but it's a special occasion thing and very rare. Alcoholism has put my mom and my siblings and I in some very scary, very awkward, very creepy, and very perverted situations over the years and I have no love for it. My friends all know that our home is a no-drinking zone as I am totally uncomfortable around drunk people, and it is considered the highest honor for me to allow someone to drink alcohol around me. Fun fact: completely of his own free will, my 28 year old husband has never had so much as a swallow of alcohol in his entire life outside of recipes where the alcohol is all cooked away anyway, like beer chicken.

I just really don't get the appeal. Especially when I see stories like this. I know that not everyone ends up an alcoholic, and some people really like to indulge and can do so totally within moderation and enjoy themselves and that's great. I just don't get the appeal. It's not for me or my husband, and that's fine. More power to those who can pull it off, and more power to us who choose not to.

Also, way cool that scary punk teddy bear guy takes such good care of his mom and obviously loves her. I've found that the scary punk devil worshiper looking dudes are often the nicest people ever, behind the appearance. Again, back to the door to door work, some of my favorite people to get answering the door were the legitimate hard core gangsters because they were so polite. The born again Christians could often be snotty or rude, but the gangsters were very courteous, polite, and respectful so long as you were respectful and nice to them as well. Loved those guys. (Didn't hurt that I was cute and pretty, either. Heh.)

Spence Kennedy said...

Hats off to your husband, Cass! I'm still too much of a coward / addicted to stay off the stuff completely like that, although I don't think I'll ever be in danger of alcoholism. When I'm having a drink I pass embarrassingly quickly through warmth, exhiliration and inspiration to sleep - and that's just the first glass. So a cheap date, all n'all.

Absolutely right about the fiercest looking dudes often being the kindest / most gentlest (and vice versa, like you say). I suppose the nightmare scenario would be a born again christian gangster, with his pants round his ankles - but at least you could run and he wouldn't catch you. Although if he had a good arm he might catch you before you made a block with his big bling bible...

Cassandra said...

Bahahaha! New meaning to the term "bible thumpers", eh?