The Weekend Alcoholic
I hear other women talk about their mother being their best friend. This concept has always eluded me; I can't quite grasp it. I mean, I've seen moms and their daughters strolling through the mall on a Saturday afternoon, lattes in hand. I mean, I know they help each other pick out clothes, giggle over silly hats and sunglasses, chat over lunch in the food court. I mean, I get the gist, but I just can't understand how they could be friends, real friends, bosom buddies.
You see, my mother was an alcoholic.
I know that I'll never get to the place where I let my guard down, confide in my mother, tell her about my life. Instead, I keep her at arms’ length, on a need to know basis. I know I'll never get to the place where my mother is my best friend.
Even though my mother hasn't touched a drink in over twenty years, the past still taints my every interaction with her. I'm always on edge, have nightmares about her falling off the wagon. My mother makes a completely innocent comment and I explode at her for no reason. The rage is still there. A faded stain that refuses to disappear.
I have no memories of my mother from before I was seven, from before she started drinking. She may have been the mother I've always longed for, but everything before that age has been obliterated by her decade of alcoholism.
Nobody talks about the drinking, it's just what they do, the women in the tiny claustrophobic village, hemmed in by steep hills on three sides, the ocean flanking the other. Booze is their escape. They go from house to house on Saturdays, children in tow, get drunk in a haze of purple cigarette smoke. One day Mummy spills her glass, I watch as she grabs a straw and sucks up the yellow liquid from the plastic tablecloth. Cackles erupt around the table.
Sometimes, I beg her not to drink. We go to her parents' house on a Friday night, her sister from the city is visiting. She agrees to my request before we get there, promises to stay sober. But within 10 minutes she has a rye and water in hand.
I remind her.
"Just one," she says.
But soon she's slurring, leaning into the counter.
When she's drunk, Mummy tells me things that make my stomach feel yucky. Her sister had sex with a priest, another one got pregnant when she went away to work, gave the baby up for adoption. My best friend’s father is having an affair.
In the evenings, Mummy gets me to curl up with her on the couch. Holds me close, slurs out her take on the birds and bees. My parents didn't have sex before they were married. I was planned, a product of love. If I ever get pregnant, they’ll kick me out. Don't become a lesbian, it's disgusting.
Boozy smoky breath in my face.
I can’t get away.
During the week, Mummy is a tyrant, always in a bad mood, roaring and screaming. Chores have to be done just right. Imperfection has consequences. Amidst an impeccably clean house, Mummy spots one dish left out on the counter, begins her usual litany: "You're so stupid, useless, can't do anything right!" I can never find my hair barrettes before school, offer up a handful of mismatched accessories, she snaps, hoarse morning voice, "You can't keep anything tidy, I bet you Catie Russell’s mother doesn't have to yell at her. I bet you Catie Russell never loses her barrettes."
Sometimes I wonder which mother I prefer... the weekday mother, the bully, or the weekend mother, the drunk.
I can never make up my mind which is better, which is worse.
I take refuge at my grandparents' tiny saltbox house whenever I can, my father's parents, daydream in front of the TV, read on the daybed in the kitchen, follow Grandma about the house, help Grandpa repair his fishing nets in the shed.
In the summer, I sit between them on the front porch under lilacs in full bloom, the sweet taste of vanilla ice cream cones lingering on my tongue, breathe in the brief North Atlantic warmth, watch butterflies, birds, people coming and going at the end of the lane.
My grandparents are my safe haven.
I’m reading at the bottom of their stairs on a drizzly Saturday afternoon. A listener calls in to the radio advice show, describes his drinking problem. The host tells him he's a weekend alcoholic. I’ve never heard of this, but suddenly, something clicks in my brain. Mummy has a problem. It has a name.
Mummy is a weekend alcoholic.
Except I can't tell anyone. Nobody would believe me. They'll all say I’m wrong. I keep my secret to myself.
One day Mummy and Daddy show up at my grandparents' house while I’m there. My two worlds collide. Mummy is drunk. Sits in the rocking chair and babbles nonsense. When they leave, my grandparents shake their heads, wonder what was wrong with her. I tell them she's an alcoholic, has been for years.
A trap door opens and I fall through, grasping helplessly at air. Somewhere in the distance I hear their denial, their betrayal. “No, sure that`s not right. She must be sick”. They don’t believe me. Don’t want to hear the truth.
I can hide here, but I have no allies.
I’ll have to make it through another seven years of silence, choking back the anger and loneliness, longing to finish high school so I can leave.
Years later I’ve finally come to terms with my mother's alcoholism, with my lost childhood, with the person it’s made me. After years of therapy, I learned that I was right all along, that the way I felt was justified, that it was wrong for the adults in my life to abandon me, to never defend me.
I made peace with my mother, out on a summer's walk by the ocean. A few days after I told her I was pregnant. I needed to finally talk to her about it, needed to make things right - for the child inside me, for my inner child.
She's crying. I'm crying. She didn't know it was wrong at the time, was caught up in the spirit of the village, then it became a habit. She feels the guilt. Every single day. Remorse haunts her.
I hear other women talk about their mother being their best friend. This concept has always eluded me. I still can't quite grasp it, but having a baby girl of my own gives me hope. Hope that one day my daughter and I will stroll through the mall on a Saturday afternoon, lattes in hand, giggling over silly hats and sunglasses. Hope that she will know the kind of trust, security, and closeness I never did. Hope that I will know what it’s like to be my daughter’s best friend.
About the Author
KELLY-ANNE MADDOX is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. A creative nonfiction writer based in Ottawa, Canada, her flash nonfiction piece “Scarborough” appeared in the December 2018 issue of Blank Spaces. She previously contributed to the Local Tourist Ottawa Blog, and wrote a monthly political satire column for Off-Centre Magazine. She holds a Ph.D. in French Literature and is currently working on a memoir.