Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Memories from Bolotzky Court


My eyes shot open from the deep child’s sleep I’d just been comfortably enjoying. I couldn’t see what was going on in the dark. What had awoken me?

“What are you doing?!” my mom’s voice came in a futile half whisper from the hallway outside my bedroom.

BANG! BANG! The noise was inside my room beside the door. “Get away from there!” Mom spat disgustedly. “Leave them alone!”

My brother stirred next to me. I tried to understand what was happening. Something about this was familiar, but in my grogginess I couldn’t place it.

BANG! The light suddenly blinded me with this last explosion of noise. My eyes slowly adjusted to find my dad and mom both standing in the doorway.

“Your mother’s an asshole,” Dad said.

“Ugh, don’t listen to him. He’s drunk!” Mom responded with contempt. It all began to get clear in my head now. This HAD happened before. The loud banging against the wall of my bedroom was Dad attempting to turn on the light switch in drunkenness and anger with the palm of his hand.

His bloodshot eyes softened as he looked down on me in the queen-sized bed next to my brother. “I’m sorry, Honey,” he slurred. “I’m an asshole. But so is your mother. She thinks she’s too good for me. She’s probably got some new boyfriend somewhere. Your mother’s a jerk.”

In my nine-year-old mind, I ignored his drunken words. Mom didn’t have any boyfriends. This was just another of Dad’s strange insecurities. Like Bruce Springsteen after “Born in the USA” came out, he’d jealously accused Mom of being in love with the rock star. Even I knew the ridiculousness of Dad’s accusations.

“I’m sorry, Honey,” Dad said again. “I’m just a jerk. Your Dad’s an asshole.” He was swaying in the doorway of the room. Mom had gone off and I could hear her clinking and clanking in the kitchen, probably cleaning up some mess Dad made or something. He liked to throw things when they fought.

“It’s okay, Dad.” My voice croaked heavy with sleep. He came stumbling around to my side of the bed.

“I’m so sorry, Honey.” He smiled. “I love you, Little Darlin’.”

“It’s okay. I love you too, Dad.”

“Come out of there and let them sleep,” Mom admonished from the doorway again. She turned off the light to encourage him.

“Daddy loves his girl,” Dad said one more time before making his uncertain way out of our room. I gratefully sank back into sleep.

My brother had either slept right through it again or just kept quiet. He and I never talked about it in the light of day. To us, there was nothing to talk about. As kids, we just accepted things the way they were. There was no defiance against our unconventional childhood with an alcoholic father.

Thanks to Mom, I’ve always believed I had a “normal” childhood. She made sure there was food on the table – even if it was porridge for dinner – and the house was always clean. We bought school clothes every August, and our Christmases were always magical – even when all the gifts were second-hand and donated.

Looking back now, I realize that my childhood was far more unconventional then I ever realized. I remember when I found out that the dark spots on the couch were burn marks from Dad falling asleep with a lit cigarette at night. For months after, I would wake to the sound of him coming home, and then lie there waiting for him to get quiet so I could sneak out and put his cigarette out. I had nightmares our house would burn down with all of us in it.

I recall another time, Mom swooping into my bedroom, closing the door behind her, and asking me to hide a handful of money. “Don’t tell me where it is. Just hide it until your Dad leaves.”

I also remember running to the neighbour’s house. “My mom asked me to come get you. My dad is drunk and he’s punching holes in the wall.”

We lived on a cul-de-sac that boasted several alcoholic homes and wayward, scrappy kids. We all stood around with our mismatched bikes and our dirty faces as an ambulance came to get one kid’s old man after his wife stabbed him in the middle of the afternoon. We also watched an ambulance come to the same house when the eldest son tried to commit suicide by hanging himself. Some kids had it much worse than I. My childhood was a cakewalk compared to the kids who lived in that house.

I know what happened to many of the kids who lived in that Rutland neighbourhood. I heard that the one who tried to commit suicide grew up and came out of the closet as a gay man, even though I’d blushed from his flirtations as a teenager. His younger brother inherited some violent tendencies and I remember quietly defending him to others when as a young adult he was abusive to his girlfriend.

I’m not totally sure what happened to the two kids from the house where I ran when my dad was freaking out. But their dad, who had come to our rescue that night, was murdered a few years later. No one knows why. I attended his funeral.

My best friend who lived on the next block lost her father the same year that I was nine years old. His alcoholism had led to severe illness. His wife worked, kept the house, cared for the children and him, while he slept on that couch. I never saw him doing anything but sleeping on that couch. One day, the kids were told to wake him for supper and he just didn’t wake up. The daughter who was my closest friend died as a young adult. There was something about her death but I can’t remember now – was it suicide or a drug overdose? One of them.

The boy whose name I wrote over and over again, had the biggest crush on, who lived across the street from me and used to show me people getting changed in their houses with his binoculars – he grew up, developed a severe drug addiction, got in with criminals in Vancouver, contracted HIV, and died as a young adult.

I’m not sure what happened to the rest of the kids in that neighbourhood. But I grew up, graduated from high school, went to university, dated a drug dealer for awhile, had an abusive boyfriend for awhile, had an abortion when I was 22, and became a stripper when I was 23. I turned out okay.

My brother was overcome by drug addiction in his early 20’s, started to get in trouble with the law, got beaten and tortured almost to death over a drug thing, and finally got his life together after his daughter was born almost three years ago. He turned out okay too.

Our youngest brother turned out the most okay of us all, so far. He’s getting married in a month to his high school sweetheart, never got into junkie drugs (as I like to call the real addictive ones), and plays semi-pro soccer.

Mom split with Dad when I was 10 or 11. She grew up and became a high earning executive. Dad still drinks heavily and it shows on his face like a badge of dishonor.

I went through many stages in reaction to my Dad’s alcoholism as I grew up. Fear that he would die without me even knowing it – he was absent so completely after he and Mom split up. Anger for his absence and resentment for growing up without a father even when he was there. Pity for the man he had become, the life he had wasted and the relationships with his children he would never get back. And now, I’m back to where I started with acceptance.

“It’s okay, Dad. I love you.” A nine-year-old’s words still ring true.


Steve said...

this is such a powerful story.

it should be told at an alcoholics anonymous meeting.

may i?

Annie Temple said...

Be my guest. :) And thank you.