Category Archives: the road

Road Dog

Of all the folks in my bio-family, my Grandma Dottie (Dad’s mum) and I are the only ones with black hair. On top of that, we have an uncanny facial resemblance and an equally spooky penchant for beach living, coffee, and writing long, pissed-off letters. Her mother passed away in childbirth in 1930 when she was 13, a tragedy that continues to reverberate to this day. With her father’s subsequent remarriage a few months later, she went to live with her own Grandmother and was forced to become exceptionally independent at quite a young age. Part of that independence was a special license to drive a car at the age of 14. The photo here is of her at age 15 at her graduation with her car, a gift from her father.

Whenever I tear down the California freeways, stomping on it at 95, I think of her, driving fearlessly through the canyons from Beverly Hills to what is now Watts to attend school. During WWII, her husband enlisted and ended up on ship in the South Pacific while she kept the home fires burning. A true Rosie the Riveter, she lapped pistons onto planes until 2am, after which she and her mates would go bowling to wind down. I love the idea of my 26-year-old grandmother driving through 1940s Los Angeles in the dead of night, illuminated by streetlights, pulling into a bowling alley parking lot at 3am.

One night when she was on this shift, she got a phone call from her husband (whose location had remained undisclosed), telling her he was up in the Bay Area getting ready to ship out probably the next morning and could she please come now. She began to weep because she didn’t know if she’d ever see him again and she didn’t have enough gas ration coupons to make the trip. Her coworkers rallied, pooled together their coupons, and gave her enough to go. She ran home, got the baby (my Dad), and drove through the black of night from Los Angeles all the way up the vast emptiness of early 1940s California to the Bay. 400 miles. No cell phone. No callboxes. No nothing. Just her faith and an abiding sense of trust that it would be all right.

“What was like for you, that night?” I asked her recently, “Did the 5 even exist then? Weren’t you scared?”

She paused and said, “You know, you just didn’t think about it. When you want something so badly, you’re so focused and you just do it, you make it happen, and I did.”

So I think of her, and that night, whenever I traverse the now-populated corridors of the 101 and the 5, holding her faith and trust close to my own heart and hoping that I can be just as brave, just as resolute, and that strong in faith that it will be all right.

Loving An Alcoholic: Loneliness Defined

Last summer as I headed down a dry, rocky ribbon of freeway towards Mexico with my homegirl of 13 years in the passenger seat, we stumbled upon what I call a Topica Non Grata – any of an assortment of subjects of which one ordinarily simply does not speak; this time, the raging alcoholism of two men we loved – my boyfriend and her father. So taboo was this topic that only after over a decade of being tight friends were we able to be forthright about it with one another – the secret is that shameful. And yet, like abortion, addiction is so widespread that I believe one would be truly hard-pressed to find a single individual whose life has not been touched by it.

When one is the family member, friend, or lover of a problem drinker, one develops a power of observation and an instinctive understanding of the alchemy of alcohol that would make any NIH-funded scientist proud. You learn, very quickly, what types of booze, in which combinations, consumed on which day or at what time of day or in certain situations or with particular foods all brew into what is almost inevitably trouble. You learn that Dad can drink beer but not spirits, or clear spirits but not dark ones, and the first four beers he’s fine but that fifth one, that’s the ticket. Or as long as Mum has a bite to eat before she hits the wine, she might be okay……and the boyfriend, well, so long as he stays away from tequila or Jim Beam he might be all right, but then again, probably not.

Recalling this recently to an Irish friend of mine while we – perhaps ironically – enjoyed a pint at our local, she told me she remembers kneeling on the floor at seven years old on Christmas Eve, below the framed photos of the Virgin and the Baby Jesus on her wall and praying, “Please God, don’t let Daddy go to the pub tonight (incidentally, her father also managed to drink the family business away),” and my own lover’s brother once told me he essentially grew up waiting outside the bar for his parents.

We laughed bitterly about how every holiday is automatically an excuse to drink – is it your birthday? The dog’s birthday? Jesus’ birthday? New Years? Groundhog Day? The Macy’s White Sale? 80s Night at The Roxy? The third Thursday in August with a quarter moon? Time for a drink! Similarly, any mood can be a trigger – good day at work? Got a raise? Salut! Bad day? Got sacked? Bottoms up! Any reason at all seems to do. We spoke of the terrible loneliness of it: one learns that sometimes declining an invitation or withdrawing from social situations is far easier than dealing with a drunk or performing damage control. Your alcoholic loved one makes the most of any special occasion whilst you train yourself to miss out on life’s milestones and rituals. You become closely acquainted with disappointment and you make good friends with low expectations. You soon find that even when you’re in the company of your loved one, you are well and truly alone.

These are not bad people. On the contrary, alcoholics and addicts can often be some of the sweetest, most intelligent and interesting people one could ever hope to meet. Most genuinely love their children, families, and significant others, and they’re often deeply sensitive souls and a joy to know. But any relationship or marriage in which one or both partners is an alcoholic/addict is essentially a love triangle. I teased my boyfriend once that the drink was ‘the other woman,’ and I never worried about him being unfaithful to me with anyone but the bottle. My mistake was in thinking that the bottle was his mistress, when in truth that was my role – a bright distraction, a stolen moment of happiness – and in the end, he would always go back to the liquid-filled wife he married a long, long time ago.