Crocodile Mouths

I am 22 years old and already it has been quite a journey. Four years ago, I was expelled from university. A year later I moved from my family home where both of my parents could be found either drunk or asleep to a shared house of my own. I’ve tried talking to them about quitting, telling them how awful it made me feel. They would apologise and say that they tried but it was just too hard. “It’s just how we are.” They would say.

On the day I leave for my new home, my mom doesn’t say “Goodbye” – instead she tells me “You’ll be back – you won’t be able to manage it.”

Two years after that a chance encounter on Internet Chat introduced me to Sage – the woman I will spend my life with. And just four months after that the two of us moved out of the shared house and several hours away to the Boston suburbs – a huge step in independence.  

I still get drunk-dialed by my parents once or twice a day. If they’re in a good mood it is bearable. If not, it’s a slog. I struggle not to hang up on them. Sometimes I succeed. But now, as my brother enters his teens I get calls from him as well. Sometimes I hear about school or I talk about how our life just outside Boston is going. But other times I hear about his own struggles with being the only sober person at home. I’ve moved out of their home but it has followed me hundreds of miles away making me cringe every time the phone rings.

Unsure how to deal with all of this I do some research and learn of an organization called Alanon – an organzation for people whose lives have been affected by alcoholic family members. Sage joins me and I go to a meeting. I am emotionally exhausted, but hopeful. I heard so many stories of other’s experiences just like my own. I’m not alone. It doesn’t make the situation any better but I feel much more equipped to deal with it.

The first thing I do is call my brother. “There is this great organization I think will be useful for you. It’s called Alateen and it’s for teenagers who are dealing with alcohol abuse in their families. I think you should go to a meeting. It’s so good to be able to talk to others who understand what life is like at home. You will see that there’s an end to it and maybe learn some things to cope better.” I tell him.

He is interested in the idea but he’s got a challenge. He lives in a rural area and won’t have a driver’s license for at least three more years. And I live 200 miles away. So he has to not only find a meeting, he has to find a way to get to it. He’s excited and hopeful and we both look forward to having a bit more of a support network.

Fifteen minutes later my phone rings. It is my dad. I hear him breathing hard. After years of living with him I can tell he’s already had about five drinks.

“Our life is none of your business,” he tells me. And I tell him that though I haven’t lived there for two years, I’m part of the family. I tell him I care for my brother a lot and know the pain he’s facing having lived with it for most of my own life.

My dad is having none of it, though, interrupting me every four to five words to tell me to shut up and mind my own business. “Don’t you know that they could call family services on us?” he shouts. I remind him that there’s a much easier way to avoid that possibility – to quit drinking.

Finally, he screams in to the phone “You need to get your crocodile mouths out of our business.” Part of me laughs at the ridiculousness of the image. But the part in control of my body slams the phone down. And then I cry.

My partner holds me and listens. The next time the phone rings, I let the answering machine get it. It is always my parents – we still haven’t any friends in this new city. After a few weeks the calls come less frequently but every now and again there’s a drunk message from my mom.

A year after we move to Boston, a corporate recruiter calls me to tell me about a great opportunity in New Jersey. We move to Pennsylvania a month later. We give our new phone number and address to Sage’s relatives. We send it to a couple friends from University and High School and that is it. Nobody in my family is notified. I have all but completely disappeared. The exception is my brother who sometimes receives a call from me at odd hours of the day when I know my parents have gone to sleep. When he is old enough to get his own driver’s license, I drive up and we meet for a meal or a hangout and as a result our connection fades a bit. We are not on bad terms, but with nine years difference in age and a history consisting mostly of quick phonecalls and furtive visits means that to this day we don’t talk often. He has his family life and I have my own.  

It’s been nearly 30 years. Looking back on that decision, I think it was one of the most changeful things in my life. It represents a point where I said “This is enough. There are standards of behaviour I expect of people in my life.”

On the flip side, it has also created some positivity in my life. For reasons that should now be obvious, I don’t drink, nor does Sage. But the experience has also inspired me to set a high standard for my own behaviour as a partner and father. It isn’t just about not drinking, it’s about continuously looking at my own behaviour and when it doesn’t meet the standard, working on fixing it. For me there is no such thing as “It’s just how I am.”

8 thoughts on “Crocodile Mouths

  1. A very well written post, Todd. I am so glad you took a decision to leave the family behind though it sounds strange one has to move forward and start a new life. I know what it means to deal with difficult issues in family. I respect you for what you are today.

    1. Thanks, Rupali. It is a little strange but it helps a lot to have had other support. Doing this alone, with no other family would’ve been so difficult. But I had Sage, her family, and later Daegan so it made things much easier.

  2. I too walked away from my family. They followed through on the ever present threat of disinheritance. They really thought money was enough of an incentive to stay entangled. It wasn’t. Sanity is priceless.

    1. This is a true thing. It was a bit of a rough ride at first, especially around the holidays but in the end it was such a good move.

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