I was fifteen years old the first time my dad bought me a case of vodka coolers. It was December 31, 1999, and he had seen no harm in allowing me to have a drink or two to celebrate: after all, he reasoned, it was New Years. He glanced at the percentage of alcohol listed on the bottles.
"More than beer, eh? I don't know about this, maybe I should keep them." He looked torn. My dad was never one to disappoint me, often giving me and allowing me to do things he didn't feel comfortable with.
"Don't worry, dad. There's only four bottles, it's not like I'm going to get drunk or anything." I pulled the case out of his hands and went to the living room.
My home life hadn't been easy. Eight years prior, my mom had walked out the door, leaving our family emotionally robbed. My sister had gone to live with her in another province, and my dad could no longer handle my oldest brother, so he went to live with another family. All that was left was my dad, myself and my brother, Andrew. While he and I had gotten along well as children, as teenagers, all it took was one sideways look to start a fight. Through all of our trials, drinking had become a way of life for us. We drank when we partied, we drank when we ate, and we drank when we needed to run away from our problems. In my short fifteen years, I'd already had my fair share of emotional problems, and I had no idea what to do with them. So, I drank to ignore them.
I wasn't born an alcoholic. It developed over time. As a child, my dad would let me sit on his lap, while he visited with his buddies, and sip from his beer bottle. Often I'd ask, even though I hated it's bitter taste, just to see what "drunk" felt like, again, it was something my dad saw no harm in. By the time I turned 14, the innocent sips had turned into a bottle or two at the neighbour's house. Then, it was a few more bottles, and maybe a shot of whiskey to chase it down.
I wasn't a social drinker, so most of my time under the influence was spent at home alone with a case of beer and bottles of whiskey and Pepsi. The friends that I did have at the time only encouraged me to go further - take another swig, one more bottle wouldn't hurt, what's the worst that could happen? They, too, looked to the bottle to ease their pain. I spent many hours at a resort near-by, getting wasted with grown men that I had just met. I hated my life as it was. I wanted to end it so many times - but the urge was washed away as the liquid haze swept down my throat.
That night I wasn't going to get drunk, but it would be the last time I ever laid my lips to the bottle.
My dad left early from the New Years party he was at, and came home with some of his buddies. I knew all of them, and was very close to them, we treated each other like family. We spent many nights together, playing cribbage, talking sports and fishing, and of course, drinking. They pulled out the half-case of beer from my dad's room, and by the time one o'clock rolled around, they had the whole thing finished off. Since it was New Years, I decided to take some pictures to commemorate the time. Laughing and joking and holding up bottles of our favourite brew, we took snapshots of each other.
Finally, after all the alcohol was gone, it was time for them to head home. Two of the guys lived nearby, and the other (I'll call him Dan) lived about 13 miles away. I was particularly close to Dan. His wife and I worked together at a local restaurant, and he was one of my dad's best friends. I wanted to tell him to spend the night. He was in no condition to be driving a snowmobile. He went anyhow, and my father and I went to bed.
Early the next morning, Dan's wife called - he hadn't come home, and she was wondering if we had seen him. My heart was instantly ripped out of my chest. Where could he be? Was he alright? In the twenty-some years that Dan and Jolene had been married, he had always called home if he wasn't going to make it. My dad jumped into action, getting dressed and instructing me on who to call. Within minutes, he was out on his snowmobile and on the trail looking for Dan.
They found him, but it was too late. Dan had crashed head-on into a dock when he was crossing a near-by bay. The cops were called. The ambulance came. Dan was gone.
I felt responsible. When my dad got home that afternoon, I could tell by the look on his face that Dan hadn't made it. A sickness flooded my stomach. Never in my life had I felt so - lost. My dad and I sat down on the couch, and for the first time in our lives, we cried together. I don't know how long we sat there, but we were shaken out of our sorrows when the phone rang. I picked up the handset.
"Happy New Year!" My mother's cheerful voice rang through.
"Ya," I said. "Happy New Year."
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