Tag Archives: alcoholism

No Guts, No Glory

When he drank, my husband became an overwhelming monstrosity. One drink was one too many, ten never enough. The more I tried to be supportive, the more he was in denial, declaring, “I can quit anytime I want.”

Emotions carved a hole in me like the machete Donny used to slice at the shrubs, vines and lurking snakes. I hated seeing my husband in a drunken stupor, losing touch with reality. But when he was sober and in his right frame of mind, I became goo-goo eyed, in love with him all over again.

The paradox of my heart.

One foot in front of the other—that’s how I kept my sanity intact. Much too encumbered to mull over my plight, I tended to my girls and even began thinking about babysitting other children for extra income.

By then, Donny threatened much, delivered less. I tried to ignore his childish ways whenever he became too tipsy to do anything but slur and stumble about.

Except for maybe once . . . or twice.

I opened the door and knew full well what to expect. Glassy-eyed, with his newly grown mustache over a silky smirk, Donny was swaying back and forth. My Prince Charming had turned into a frog. He mumbled and staggered in. His pores reeked of booze and a sour odor permeated the air.

“Where have you been all night?”

A snicker and a sneer, his only response.

“You’re drunk as a skunk,” I said in disgust. I watched him trip over his own feet and throw himself on the sofa. “Do you know what time it is?” I persisted.

“Shut up, woman!” he slurred, rolled over and sprawled on the couch, out cold.

Enough is enough. I’ll show him. I’ll teach him if it’s the last thing I do! 

I went into the bathroom. Donny’s shaving-kit beckoned.

Images of a masterpiece ran wild in my head. With purpose in mind and a razor in hand, I stood over my prince-turned-toad, still snoring. Most likely, he dreamt he was a young Nimrod, back in Antigua chasing skirts, for all I knew.

Ever so cautiously, I leaned forward and began to give him a wee bit of a trim . . .

Come morning, I sat across the kitchen table from Donny, my gaze fixed on his slouched frame, forehead glistening, eyes blood-shot, hands trembling with white knuckles as he gripped the coffee pot. Suffering from another painful hangover, I observed while he poured.

I glared, poker-faced, amazed by my own bravado. Suspense was killing me.

“How’s your mustache?” I asked.

Nonchalantly, he brushed his fingers over his lip and started to rise. “It’s fine,” he croaked, and downed his coffee. He refilled his cup and headed out, slamming the door behind him.

Oh well . . . I did try to clue him in. I went into the kitchen to make breakfast.

An hour later, I answered the phone to the anticipated call. “Hello?”

“I’ll give you this one,” my husband retorted. “You’re getting to be a gutsy broad. I’m getting picked on here by all the guys at work.”

I snickered to myself. “Kinda surprised you didn’t notice anything this morning, Donny.”

“Well, you got me. Have to admit, this is a good one.”

I placed the receiver down and sat back on the recliner. A smile twisted the corners of my mouth as I replayed the events of the night before . . .

I’d bent to my task but had frozen when he stirred and muttered something. I backed away and ditched the idea of finishing. I left him asleep in the living room and crawled into bed.

Over coffee this morning, I figured he’d take a hint. Instead, he went straight to work with half a mustache.

I confess: such rare acts of sweet revenge gave a natural high.

(excerpt from Running in Heels – A Memoir of Grit and Grace)
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© M.A. Perez, 2017, All Rights Reserved

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Filed under Memoir, narcissist

Heaven, Hell or Hoboken – Part II

1965

Out in Jersey’s bitter cold, the moon full, the trees rustled. Mama and I spent half the night shivering, huddled together on a bus bench—my head on her lap.

“M-Mama,” my teeth chattered. “I’m cold.”

“I am too. Now stay still.”

“But I’m hungry.”

“I know, Mary. Close your eyes. That bum. Where is he?”

We would have frozen if a kind woman hadn’t invited us up to her place to sleep on her sofa overnight.

Whenever Mama cornered Jimmy in a bar, drinking his pay away, after bickering over dinero, she’d remain with him. If I happened to be around, they sent me away, or Mama left me at home by myself. It saddened me how she preferred being with him than with me. Often they’d stagger home and pass out in a stupor. Only then did the arguments cease and the fights end.

More often than not, I’d gone to bed with the sound of my stomach rumbling. Mama and Jimmy routinely barged in from a night of carousing.

“Mama, I’m hungry,” I mumbled, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.

“Why are you awake?”

“Can you fix me something to eat?”

“Oh, for goodness sake. It’s late.” She turned on the hotplate to fry a hotdog. A few minutes later, she’d have one for me rolled inside a slice of bread. “Here. Sit up.”

“Fix me one, too,” Jimmy demanded.

“Hold your horses,” Mama snapped.

As soon as I finished, I laid back down, my eyelids heavy. Eventually, the bright lights in the room faded. My parents’ fussing drifted away as sleep overtook me, but not before hearing familiar sounds. A can popping open. Cursing. A slap. Sobs.

Unsure as to why, one evening Jimmy overturned the bed that Mama and I slept in. We tumbled onto the hard floor. As Mama struggled to rise, Jimmy pulled her by the arm and shoved her into a windowpane. Jimmy became aware of my presence and after he flipped the bed upright, he ordered me back into it. I faced the wall sniffling until I fell asleep.

The next morning, I awoke to the sight of a blood-spattered Mama hobbling on crutches. I ran to help her.

“Mama, what happened?”

“It’s nothing, Mary. Stop crying! I tripped, that’s all.”

I couldn’t help to wonder, Why did she think I didn’t know anything?

I knew some things. I hid loose change and planned to save enough money to take care of Mama one day. In my childish mind, I knew that one day we were going to live in a big house, have plenty to eat, and Mama wouldn’t ever have to worry again.

That afternoon I heard cursing and knew it wasn’t good. A rattling sound carried around the wall like something whirling in a container. Then to see Jimmy shaking my pink, plastic kitty-bank upside down in mid-air, my pennies, dimes and nickels clattering onto the floor, made me weak and sick inside.

I followed the coins that rolled under a chair and dove for them. I looked up, my eyes darting between Mama and Jimmy hoping she’d do something. Mama called him a “jackass,” but that didn’t stop him. He couldn’t care less that I knelt there sobbing. He expressed zero shame as he scooped the scattered change into his pocket. My coins.

Later, Mama told me that Jimmy was just thirsty and to stop sniffling. “He’ll return the money soon enough,” she said. I knew that wasn’t true.

On my knees, I gathered up the broken pieces of my kitty-bank. With no more tears left, I seethed, thinking, maybe Mama can take care of herself. And maybe I’ll never talk to her again. Or to Jimmy. And maybe I’ll run away . . . to my real daddy.

(Excerpt from  Running in Heels – a continuation of Part I)

© M.A. Perez 2014, All Rights Reserved

 

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May 28, 2014 · 7:20 PM

Into the Shark Tank – Part Two

An hour later, reluctantly, I arrived at the clinic holding the door open, ushering the girls inside. I noticed there were no other kids or parents scheduled at the same time as we were. I wondered if they had opened just for us. I rang the bell at the counter, took a questionnaire to fill out, and plopped in a chair. My girls busied themselves exploring their surroundings, investigating all the toys and books a-plenty.

The waiting room was kid friendly but cold like a funeral home. Cushioned chairs lined the walls plastered with billboards regarding child safety laws. Small toys scattered on the gray linoleum, bookshelves crammed with picture books and stuffed animals. A small fish tank rested on the counter, and a yellow Legos table sat in the middle of the room. Above the sign-in window hung a large round clock.

I wanted to flee but rang the bell again.

A petite, white-coated woman emerged behind the counter. She looked odd wearing glasses too large for her narrow face, with an over-exaggerated smile as wide. She held a clipboard in her hand and glanced down, skimming the pages.

“The gangs all here?” she inquired.

I nodded. “Yep.”

“Right on time. I will be calling your girls one by one to go into the examining room.”

“Do I get to go in, too?” I asked.

She answered with a phony grin.“Won’t be necessary.” Then, she turned and called in a sing-song voice, “Anna?”

She and Anna Marie disappeared behind the door. I glanced at the clock.

I flipped through pages of a magazine. Diana tossed a picture book on my lap she wanted me to read. Glad to occupy some time, I made up the words and pretended to read to her.

Minutes passed before Ms. White-Coat with her fake smile and tone returned. Anna Marie skipped by, chewing gum and joined her sisters.

“Diana. You’re next,” Ms. White-Coat chirped. Diana glared at her suspiciously, but when White-Coat produced a piece of candy, Diana’s face lit. They vanished behind the door.

My mind scrambled as I paced.

What questions are they asking Diana? She won’t understand nor will be able to answer properly. They’ll trick her or have her to repeat whatever they want her to say. What if they ask if her Mommy ever spanks her? Or takes things away? Or sends her to her room?

I wanted to drill Anna Marie about what Ms. White-Coat had asked, but feared the room might be bugged.

I stared at the clock, unseeing. The tick-tock of the second hand turned. I peered out the curtain and watched an ant crawl along the windowsill, carrying a big crumb in its mouth, too heavy of a load for such a tiny thing. Like I sometimes felt.

Diana wasn’t kept long. The door burst open, and she scampered out with a balloon in her hand and a grape BlowPop in her mouth. I smiled. She’s no dummy; she got what she wanted. I hope Diana gave Ms. White-Coat-Goodie-Two-Shoe a run for her money.

“Okay, I guess we were finished anyway,” she said out of breath. “That leaves you, my dear. Angela, right?”

My baby girl held onto my leg shielding her face. “Mommy, no,” she pleaded.

“It’s okay, Angela. Mommy will be right here waiting,” I said.

White-Coat held a doll and in her ever-so-fake-sweet voice coaxed my daughter to going in with her.

Once the examination finished, another woman came out to talk with me. She introduced herself with a last name I couldn’t pronounce. I read her name tag: Gretchen. She told me that the physicals went well. The tests came out clean and she saw that my girls were happy and that I cared for them. Yet, account of our history of alcohol and violence, she deemed our home an unsafe environment for the girls.

Here it comes. I held my breath and stared at the floor.

“We understand your dire straits; however, due to your present condition”—I cradled my belly— “and financial situation, you have expressed you haven’t any other place to go. For this reason, we must remove the girls from the home today into a more stable and suitable environment.”

A wave of nausea washed over me.

She rambled on. “Before the girls can return home, you must provide a safe place for them to return to, or . . . your husband moves . . . .”

Lost in my thoughts, my mind spun; her voice faded in and out.

“. . . recommendations . . . ,” “. . . counseling . . . ,” “. . . seek professional . . . ,”
“. . . proper care . . . ,” “. . . unfit . . . ,” “. . . temporarily . . .,” “. . . so sorry . . . .”

Stability, I thought. Where were these jokers when I was a kid?

My baby kicked. I went back to the waiting area, feeling light-headed.

“Girls, Mommy has to go away now.” On bended knee, at eye level, I struggled to control my queasiness and hide the devastation in my voice. This is the darkest day of my life!

“You will be staying at another place for a short time . . . until you can come back home again. . .” I felt my composure slipping, and didn’t want to say too much and alarm them.

“You’ll have fun.” A tear escaped my eye. “Remember, Mommy loves you so much. . .” I felt I might freak out at anytime, bawl in front of them and never stop.

“Give Mommy a kiss. Mommy will see you again soon. I promise.”

Anna Marie focused more on the toys in her hands than in what I struggled to convey. She nodded when I gave her a kiss and a tight squeeze. Diana repeated, “Bye-bye,” hugging her balloon instead of me.

But my two-year old Angela, clung to me tightly. She wouldn’t let go and began to cry hard. Somehow, she understood. She felt my pain.

After kissing and hugging the girls, I trotted away as quickly as possible, leaving them behind with a CPS worker. Sobbing in the elevator, I couldn’t breathe. My heart ripped from my chest. Seeing black spots, vigorous waves thrashed about in my head. I felt like a drowning child again, greedily grasping for air; only this time, CPS sharks encircled me, and I, the bait.

I was five-and-a-half months pregnant. I cradled my belly, holding my unborn child in the safety of my womb. They won’t take this one away from me!

I numbly attended a brief court session and had to consent to relinquish temporary custody of my daughters to foster care. I went through the motions of that ordeal alone, but remembering the details afterward remained a blur. When I arrived home to the empty apartment, the quietness jarred me. I imagined my girl’s chatter and giggles. My head echoed in what a failure I was. Hadn’t God given me three innocent beauties to care for? My own heart felt like I’d surely die from brokenness. And guilt.

“Where are the girls?” Donny demanded after he came home and looked around.

“Where do you think they are?” I growled. The look of shock on his face drove me onward, with rage. Before he uttered another word, I lashed out, “CPS took them so they can be someplace safe. They have a right to a healthy, normal childhood I never had. You’re not going take that away from them!” I ran from his sight, locked myself in the bathroom and bawled my eyes out.

“Mary, come on,” Donny pleaded. “Whatever it takes, we’ll get them back.”

He almost sounds like he cares. “Go away.”

“You’re going to get yourself sick. I promise I’ll make it up to you.”

“Leave me alone.”

“You’re going to have to come out sooner or later.” His voice trailed away.

“I can’t stand you!” I shouted.

But I hated myself even more.

(Although more in the book, this completes the excerpt from Chapter 32 “Running in Heels – A Memoir of Grit and Grace.” To read Part One of this chapter go here. In posting this for you my readers, the emotions of those three dreary months as a young struggling mother were one of the hardest I’d ever gone through. Prayer sustained me. God’s Grace got me through.)

© M.A. Perez 2014, All Rights Reserved

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Filed under Memoir

Heaven, Hell or Hoboken

Jersey, 1965

We moved to New Jersey when I was six. The term “upper class” didn’t mean us. Neither did the term “middle class.” We didn’t move up in the world, but we did move way down. Down into a hellhole. At least that’s what Mama often said. Our residence: a drafty basement, at the bottom of a five-story building. Pipes covered the walls and ceiling; we even had a boiler room.

Hoboken seemed to beckon my step-dad, Jimmy, for its bar on every corner. A stand-up bar nearby served steamed clams, the shells tossed onto sawdust-covered floors. Those delicacies accompanied a tall glass of beer. Known for being a man’s tavern, women and children were unwelcome. Yet, as I remained by Jimmy’s side, no one appeared to mind. He gave me my first sample of clams, a bit salty but tasty.

In those bars, women and children sat in the back, the front reserved for the men at the counter on stools. While Mama and I waited for Jimmy to satisfy his thirst, he ignored us while throwing down drink after drink, joking with the fellows around him.

“That louse,” Mama mumbled, drumming her fingers on the table, glaring at him from across the room.

The jukebox played my parents’ favorite songs one after another: Frank Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night, Eddy Arnold’s I Can’t Stop Loving You, and Nat King Cole’s Rambling Rose. Jimmy waved his hands as he sang along but never in tune.

Peanuts were plentiful, the shells scattered about on the floor. I didn’t care for the peanuts. I preferred pickled eggs in the large jar. The bartender brought over a sandwich and chips for Mama and me to share. He placed a bottle of cola in front of me and winked.

“Mama, why does the bread have seeds in it?” I asked, sniffing it after the man left.

“It’s rye bread, Mary. Just eat it.”

I took a bite but couldn’t swallow. I grabbed my soda and knocked it over.

“Oh, for heaven sakes, wipe that up,” Mama huffed and reached for my plate, still eyeballing Jimmy. “I’ll eat this if you’re just going to play with it.”

My step-dad’s singing and laughter echoed across Hudson River to Manhattan. Mama’s eyes narrowed, her face turning red. “I oughta go over there, smack him in the face and take his money.”

She was mad enough to do it too. But Mama being co-dependent, tolerated Jimmy’s out of control behavior. Despite my young age, she griped and complained to me but seldom knew what to do. I listened while my mama rambled, until I’d fall asleep at the table with my head on my forearms.

*   *   *   *

Mama never cooked. Jimmy knew how to throw anything together and make it edible. I even saw him once gather fistfuls of snow to make a pot of rice because we lacked running water. One time he even threw out a quick cooking lesson to leave me to prepare a meal.

“Break the spaghetti in half,” Jimmy began his instructions. “Put it in the pot after the water boils,” he continued. “Then drain it like so . . .” He deftly held the empty pot with lid over the sink . . .

I wondered how I might lift that heavy pot to drain the water and keep a lid over it.

“. . . toss in some tomato sauce, a dab of sugar . . .”

What if the spaghetti spills out all over the floor?

“. . . season it with a pinch of salt, pepper . . .”

My head swirled with visions of one big mess.

“And,” Jimmy added with a wink, “don’t forget to stir.”

The instructions over, my parents headed out for a nightcap. A few days later, I stayed home alone as Chef Mary to attempt my hand over the stove, kneeling on a chair, trying to remember the difference between a “dab” and a “pinch.” 

Sometime later I awoke to voices and the clanking of dishes. It wasn’t unusual for my parents to come home squabbling in the wee hours of the night. Through my sleepiness with my chin resting on my hands, I watched as they devoured my cold pasta creation, unmindful that the noodles were chewy or the sauce soupy.

“You’re a quick learner,” Jimmy said.

I beamed with pride before dozing off.

In general, my step-dad was good to me, but Mama often called him a two-faced. I don’t recall when he started hitting her. But I’d hear her crying and saw marks on her jaw.

Jimmy thought himself wise and became philosophical whenever he drank. He routinely came home in the middle of night, long-winded. After he flipped on every light-switch and opened all the windows, he cranked up the radio, blubbering to songs like Winchester Cathedral.

Once I was awake, Jimmy often called on me to listen to him rant and rave about everything and nothing. He’d sit on the windowsill, peered up toward the sky and rambled over mumbo jumbo stuff about the heaven, the moon, and the stars. He repeated adages like:

“Nothing tells the truth like the mirror.”

“Never let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.”

“No two leafs on a tree are alike.”

I never wanted to miss a word but couldn’t keep from yawning. I tried staying alert, but my eyelids grew heavy, my mind foggy as Jimmy’s voice faded in and out:

“. . . or get off the pot . . .”

“Die . . . pay taxes . . . go to jail!”

(A short excerpt from Running in Heels)

© M.A. Perez 2014, All Rights Reserved

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Filed under Alcoholism, Memoir