So many people have it so much worse. I lived for many years with a man who abused alcohol and it wasn’t fun, but my uncle was in fact not truly an alcoholic. Which means that when he decided to, he could give it up for quite long periods. I don’t believe he was ever actually dependent on it. He could behave like an ass when he was drinking, and he was verbally very abusive, but not physically.
It always went in phases. After being on the wagon for a while, Ray would decide one summer day that a cold beer would go down well, and then it would be a six pack, but beer was never really Ray’s tipple. He would usually graduate to vodka, and for Kay and I this was manageable because we would siphon off half the bottle and top it up with water. He never knew the difference.
There were times when I thought I might become an alcoholic myself, as the state of my nerves was often ameliorated by a couple of strong drinks. I found, also, that when I was writing a term paper, the words flowed much more easily when I was relaxed by alcohol. But I didn’t often have more than two drinks. The handful of occasions when I had a bad hangover were more than enough to cure me of over indulging and Kay was the same.
There was a notable exception to this generality, isn’t there always? It occurred at Thanksgiving one year and I have always detested the holidays since that time. We never drank in front of Ray if he was on the wagon, but that year he had fallen off it once more and was into scotch, which was always bad news because it made him nasty.
Kay and I could only afford cheap booze and that particular time we had selected a bottle of blackberry brandy with which to celebrate the holiday.
It never took much of anything to make Ray mad, especially when he was drinking scotch. He always had to have everything his way and if you disagreed, it was at your own peril. He was also obsessive-compulsive.
Ray spent a lot of time in the kitchen. He sometimes cooked but even when he didn’t he was always there making a snack, or coffee, or cleaning up. He would not tolerate a single spot in the sink, or a single thing out of order. He spent his time constantly wiping and cleaning.
Which was only a problem when he got angry about some minor infraction and if Kay wasn’t in the mood to listen, suddenly we were at war with shouting and yelling and name-calling and slamming of doors. The air became poisonous and something like this happened that Thanksgiving Eve.
Kay and I looked at each other. She said “let’s get out of here!” and as she grabbed the dog leashes, she added “and bring the brandy!” “Already got it!” I replied.
We stormed out of the house. We were obviously not quite as exposed to the elements as in this picture, but that November it was in fact quite warm.
We accelerated away with dogs madly barking. They didn’t like it when there was a fight, but going for a ride was probably their favourite thing.
We went down to Bayville and parked on the beach. We took our shoes off and paddled briefly in the water, then we sat on a log and drank the bottle of brandy. I don’t think either of us had eaten all day.
After a while it got dark and a bit chilly but we were in no mood to go home. So we drove over to the Tides Motel and I was dispatched to see if they had a room available. Perhaps it would have helped if I had put my shoes back on. But from the look I got, I don’t think they wanted anything to do with two drunk women and their noisy dogs.
But we still weren’t going home. I was driving, and we were very lucky that there was no traffic and no police about. I was going very fast and I was quite drunk.
After we had parked for some considerable time behind the supermarket, the car was all steamed up and we were slumped in a semi-stupor when we heard a knocking on the windshield. I cranked d0wn a window causing the dogs to howl and perceived a police officer looking down at me.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
I told him we had had a fight at home and gone out for a drive.
He must have asked me to get out of the car because he said to me “well put your shoes on and go home!”
But still not complying, we drove around behind the doctor’s office, whereupon I became voluminously sick.
And then we went home, creeping in like thieves in the night. Ray had already collapsed in bed. I fell into mine and Kay probably slept on the sofa.
Remember, I said a couple of hangovers cured me of ever drinking too much? This was one of them. To this day I cannot abide blackberries.
Usually, after a horrible fight like that Ray would be repentant. Often he would go and get Kay flowers. That Thanksgiving we were all just hungover and I am not at all sure the turkey even got cooked.
The holidays were always an excuse for drinks and inevitably this led to fights and I am sure it is why I find the period from Thanksgiving through the New Year so difficult.
When Ray drank vodka he would just get silly and end up falling down. It was embarrassing, but you could cope with it.
But scotch lit a nasty fuse in Ray that was extremely obnoxious. He seemed to completely lose his mind. He was often childish and annoying but under normal circumstances he was not out of control.
When my mother visited one time, Ray made reservations at a favourite local restaurant. As usual, he got us there a bit early. Normally this was so we could have a drink before sitting down, but it happened to be a Saturday, and there was a wedding party wrapping up. Kay and my mum and I would have been happy to wait outside. We should just have run away. Ray completely lost his temper, saying loudly so that everyone could hear “when this fool and his party get out of here, we can have a drink!”
The fool in question happened to be the restaurant owner.
Most scenes were thankfully not so public, but after a few of these Ray would hit bottom which coincided conveniently with Kay’s reaching the end of her toleration. I guess Ray always knew when he had gone just a bit too far. He used to get mad at me and drove me crazy, but he seldom said to me anything as vile and horrible as he said to Kay.
I think it was because Kay never really allowed Ray to dominate her. It fueled the frustration and anger from his unfortunate childhood experiences with his mother who had dominated him.
Would Kay have left if I had not turned up? It’s something I often wondered, but at the end it looked as if they had some sort of co-dependency. Ray developed dementia and was hospitalized. Every day Kay dragged herself there to be abused by him. When I heard the things he said I told her she did not have to go, that most likely he wouldn’t even realize, but still she went to listen. Then she would call from home for more.
It was terribly sad to witness, in particular because I did not know what to do to help. I could only listen to Kay’s anguish and search hopelessly for words that would comfort, but I could find none.
Kay’s story ended much more sadly than this. I have never been able to get through the telling without breaking down. I wonder if I am there yet…