But the impulse to make something out of the old blue-and-white box in the pantry struck me unexpectedly, the other evening. Just as I put the pot of salted water on to boil, the phone rang.
The pot sat neglected, water boiling, as my stepmother told me of my father’s latest missteps.
“I could see it coming,” she said, defeat and resignation punctuating her words.
It had been more than six months since I had received a similar phone call, at sunrise the morning after my dad had been taken to jail for a DUI. Similar crisis-management mode. Similar facades of sad indifference. But like any other crisis, the incident forced action – and out of that, a plan: Detox in jail. Rehab in Denver. Counseling back home. And throughout, hopelessness warily blossomed into something lighter; a narcissus cautiously reaching out of the frozen soil towards the light.
For those six months, I became acquainted with someone I had never known: My father, sober.
He had peered through the lens of his fancy camera, clicking photos of my kids during a trip here this Christmas. Snapshots of two little girls I had promised wouldn’t become acquainted with alcoholism, because to know it is to be hurt by it. I needed to protect them from the disease’s devious distortions, I had told him. They need shelter from the bewildering ways it changes the people we love into people we cannot trust, the ways it warps their pictures into unrecognizable things.
He took his granddaughters’ photos, seeing them through sobriety’s clarifying lens, understanding the consequences that existed in the dark places lurking beyond his viewfinder.
But despite the clarity at Christmas, despite the sober promises at rehab, my father’s alcoholism remained, festering like a cancerous tumor. It hid away in those dark places, gathering strength, plotting a comeback, unconcerned with the consequences.
The signs, my stepmother said, had been there. The missing bottles of wine. The excuses for skipping his meetings. Those things we find too prickly to touch, too uncomfortable to acknowledge. So we pretend we don’t recognize them. But then the half-drunk bottle of vodka taunts us from beside my father’s armchair.
Hope withers easily, a spring flower smothered beneath the crush of wet snow
Merely a bump on the rocky road to recovery? A slight detour? Or a full-blown U-turn? I can’t know, and it’s maddening. Is recovery a linear path? Step one, step two…or does it meander like a river, rushing in on itself in the torrent, but eventually continuing on in the right direction?
“I don’t like it,” Elle had said, sliding the viscous mound away from her towards the center of the dinner table.
“Yeah, we’ve never really had grits before, have we?” Craig commented, pushing them around on his plate.
My dad always made grits. And they were good, when he made them. But I don’t know how to make them. They don’t come out right. I wanted to tell them about my dad’s grits, how he used to make them for me, that they were good. Grandpa Jerry is good at making grits, I wanted to say.
But I didn’t say anything. I threw the old blue-and-white box away, even though it was still half-full.
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