Let’s talk about ALCOHOLISM

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My grandparents on their wedding day.

Look at that sly gleam in his eye. He was a damn good-looking man indeed. And she, whew!!! She was a FOX!! This is for sure where I got my stunning good looks from. I kid, I kid. I was blessed with not being completely ugly. In fact, the whole of my family missed the ugly branch on the tree.

Both of my grandparents were rather smart as well. My grandfather, Grady Doyle Miller, was a lawyer and would later become a Municipal Court Judge here in Bakersfield. To the best of my recollection, my grandmother was a medical librarian. My grandfather went by Doyle. He and his family came from Texas. Again, this is all from memory. I have my ancestry books somewhere, I will dig them out later and give you all a full description, trust me… it is insanely interesting. My grandmother, Janette Gay Van Netta (Miller), came from Wisconsin, where her family settled when they immigrated from Norway. I used to hate my slanty, almond-shaped eyes. Then I learned that I was Norwegian and my eyes were a trait of my ancestry.

Like I have mentioned before, my grandfather died when I was a baby, so my memories of him are limited. My grandmother did not move back to San Francisco until I was about 6 or 7, so I have some memories of her. I remember that she would tickle my back and my belly upon my relentless requesting. She pulled the flathead needle from my knee when I got it lodged there whilst crawling around under the living room table. My knee was stuck, I couldn’t open or close it, until she pulled that sucker out.

I also remember her love of liverwurst sandwiches and split pea soup. I learned to love green olives from her too. She would pull them out of her drink and give them to me. Sometimes she would mix her drink with orange juice. Vodka. Bottles and bottles of vodka. My mom came home once, there was a fight and a giant plastic jug of vodka was thrown against the wall. It may have broken and spilled everywhere, or it may not have. But for drama’s sake, imagine clear liquid cascading down the wall and across the living room.

One night, she and I hopped in her VW bug to pick up my mother from somewhere (I faintly remember that it may have been rehab). We made it down the street and then ACROSS the major street, through a fence and into a building. There were no seatbelt laws then, so I hit the seat in front of me, luckily I was in the back seat and was not hurt. My grandmother’s face was a patchwork of colors the next day, maybe it was a few days later because looking back, some of the bruises were faded green when I remember seeing her after the crash.

Later she would move to San Francisco. I would visit her once. She developed Alzheimer’s, perhaps it was dementia….a result of long-term alcoholism. She died years ago. I don’t remember when. By then I was living a different life and was rather detached from that previous life.

She was not the only one who suffered from alcoholism. My grandfather was a rather famous drunk. Remember he was a judge. A drunk judge. I have heard stories about how he got picked up for drunk driving, the police who picked him up had to be in court, so they took him with them. Guess who the judge was supposed to be? That’s right. My grandfather. Now this is the story I was given. That’s not the story the newspaper gives. So who knows which is the truth?

I always knew that I had a “predisposition” for addiction. That is such a big word for an eight year old to know. But I knew it. I knew that it was in my genes. I knew I should stay away. But that didn’t keep me from my foster mother’s mom’s wet bar. I would sneak drinks of the tequila or Kahlua, filling the rest with water so no one know that I was drinking. Mind you, I didn’t drink enough to get drunk. I was just doing it to do it. Addiction would find its way to me eventually. More on that later.

As I sit here with my beer…I ponder if I am an alcoholic. I took an online quiz that told me I’m at risk. I have vodka in my kitchen. I think of my grandmother when I look at it. It’s in my genes to be an alcoholic. My grandparents and both of my parents were. Is it possible to have a drink or two and not be an alcoholic? How can we dodge what seems to be our fate? How can we stop the cycle? Or can we? Is it hopeless?

 

Mommy and Me

Teri Garr

 

This is my mom. Not really. Really it’s Teri Garr who happens to look like she could be my doppelgänger and since I don’t have any good pics of my mom at the moment so this will have to do. Besides, since Nick Nolte was my imaginary dad, why not Teri Garr be my imaginary mom?

      My mom was the middle of three sisters. Born to my grandfather who was a local judge and my grandmother who, as far as I know was a medical librarian. I didn’t get to know either of them well considering my grandfather died after I was born and my grandmother moved to San Francisco around the time I was 7. More on them later. From what I have been told, my mom was brilliant. She excelled in math. She and her sisters were dancers. She graduated from East High. It was the 60’s so you can imagine what was going on. Drugs. Drinking.  The usual. My sister was born in 1969. I am not sure if my mom was married to her father or not. I just know that my sister’s relationship with her father was as nonexistent as mine. It seemed my mom had a knack for running men off.

My favorite times with my mom were at Hart Park. Years ago it had a water park, peddle boats, the water was clean and the craw daddy catching was good. The weekends there were filled with Harley’s and Budweiser cans. Mom hung with a “biker gang” which shall remain nameless. It’s not PC to call them a gang, now they are “motorcycle clubs.” Ha. Anywho. This is was the norm for me. Bikes. Beer. Tattoos. Oddly enough, it’s still the norm for me, except the bikes don’t have motors. If you know me, you know how true this is.

My mom was constantly trying to get sober. So in later years, I spent many hours at the local Alano Club or the meeting place at 106 Lincoln St that had egg crates on the ceiling, the room was filled with smoke, members served others by serving them coffee. I knew the Twelve Steps, even if I didn’t understand them. “It works if you work it.” “One day at a time.” The Lord’s Prayer. The Serenity Prayer. The time I kicked some grown man in the balls for whatever reason and he about knocked me on my ass. I could bat my cute little eyelashes and my mom’s friends would buy me cookies. They sold Merit cigarettes in the vending machine.

I don’t know how serious my mom was about her sobriety or if she was just serious about trying to find a boyfriend. They came and went. There was beer in the house for most of what I can remember. And if you recall, the night of the fire, I knew she could always be found at The Matchmaker- which was a bar. I remember walking in on my mom doing coke once. I was 7. How I knew it was coke, I have no clue.

When I was older, I learned that my mom had borderline personality disorder. Which is very similar to bipolar disorder but it can be changed with work. She never worked on it. She always had an ailment- sore neck, knees buckling, back going out, invisible seizures, bronchitis. Her house smelled of cats and cockroaches. She could grow plants out of avocado seeds. To this day I still can’t . I’ve tried and failed. She saved everything. Papers, used plastic containers, pictures, notebooks and they all were covered with cockroach shit.

This is how I remember my mom from my younger years. Don’t get me wrong, she was a looker. I don’t think she had trouble getting men. She just couldn’t keep them. One night, she was getting ready to go out. She must have been 36 or 37, she was wearing white pants and a white sweater, taking the hot rollers out of her hair. She must have been having a hard time with it because she told me “sometimes you just have to let your hair do what it wants.” That’s probably the best advise she ever gave me. Actually, many years later she would unknowingly give me the best advise that probably saved me much more pain and possibly my life.

Now that I’m grown, 39, just a few years older than she was when I got taken away, I have the ability to look back at her through adult eyes, through a mothers eyes. I am much more understanding of how she was. She just wasn’t made to be a mom. Some of us aren’t. Sometimes I’m not. But kids don’t see that. Our children think we should have our shit together because we are adults. But we don’t. We are just winging it. Making it up as we go. Faking it until we make it. Sometimes it finally falls together, sometimes it falls apart. Because of this, I have to extend grace to her, just like I hope my kids do me.

Daddy Issues

Where was my dad in all of this? Apparently he was in Klamath Falls, Oregon. My mom and he got divorced shortly after my birth. I never saw him, heard from him, got a letter, gift, phone call or even child support. They say that children can’t recall memories before the age of 3, or even the age of 7. That’s complete crap. I clearly have a memory of my father holding me above him as he laid down, much like fathers do. I remember his white shirt and beard. This “memory” can be discarded as something my very clever brain made up. However, I recounted this recollection to my mother, only I elaborated to describe the room, furniture and a distinctly recall feet walking with crutches. That was my grandfather. He died the November after my birth. My mother estimated that this memory took place in August of 1977, which would have made me two months old.
So I never had a dad. Not a step dad. Just a few of my mom’s boyfriends that came and went, never staying. I had no idea what my father looked like. In later years I would imagine that he looked like Nick Nolte. Crazy right? Nick Nolte was a pretty handsome man at one time, so cut me some slack.
It is safe to say that I have daddy issues. Boys need their fathers but girls do as well. Growing up not knowing how to be treated or loved by man, not have reassurance that I was loved, left me floundering my whole life. Look up “signs of daddy issues.” That’s me. Mostly it was fear of abandonment. He left me, so why wouldn’t every other man?
Fast forward to when I was 19. I’m jumping ahead a lot, and leaving out some details, but I will fill those in later. My youngest sister, Lacee who is my father’s youngest daughter, ran away and found my mother and I (again, I’ll give the details later). It was through her actions, that my father and I were finally reconnected. He had spent his life an alcoholic and heroin addict. He had at least three other wives besides my mother. Through him I had one other older sister and the younger sister.
We finally met around the time of my oldest son’s birth. He came to visit me. I went up to Felton, California where he was living to visit him. By this time, he had settled down. His health was deteriorating. He had osteoporosis, kidney issues and major heart trouble. He had moved into a home in the mountains and became a well known ham radio operator.
I never outright asked him why he didn’t come around. I didn’t have to. Maybe it was guilt that made him give me his reason(s), maybe he knew he may not have another chance. He told me that he and my mother could not be in the same room. She was crazy and all they did was fight. Ok. Yeah she was nuts, I get that. So I accepted that reason. Why didn’t he come get me after the fire, when I went into foster care? He knew I was in a better place, he did not want to disrupt my life (this is a bit foretelling about what happens after the Jamison Center). Again. I accepted that. It made sense to me. I understood it. It did not fix the damage that was done or did it stop any further unraveling of my life later on, but it did allow me to forgive him.
In 1999, I got a phone call while I was at work. My father had died. He had just had heart surgery. Several days later, it was evident the surgery did not cure him of his heart trouble. For not having a strong relationship with him, I sure did lose it when I got the call. I would have liked more time with him. But I am grateful for the time I did get, and the chance for a bit of healing.