A Sobering Incident
36 Years of Sobriety as of March 8, 2016
Walking down the hall and coming out into the living space, Andy’s surprise at finding 4 County Sheriff Deputies in the space between the living area and the wood stove who greeted him cordially, shocked him out of his drunken reverie.
“What are you doing here?” he asked. “What’s happened?”
“Your wife asked us to come over, and take you somewhere away from here,” said the deputy closest to Andy.
“Why? What have I done?”
“Apparently, Mr. Towel, your wife is fearful you might be violent with her and your boys.”
“You’re not serious are you Bobbie?”
“You need help, Andy,” she said with a tremor in her voice. “And we are either getting a divorce or you are getting sober. You can come back when you agree to get help.”
With those words ringing in his ears, two of the deputies escorted him peacefully out of the house.
Andy, when not drinking, could be counted on as a decent fellow. He loved his boys, his wife, his work, the house they had recently built together and the life they shared. Living in a former corn field, his favorite way of telling people where they lived when asked, was a piece of heaven.
“Where can we take you, Mr. Towel,” the deputy in the passenger seat asked.
“It’s Toll, like toll bridge, or toll gate, or life takes its toll,” Andy said with some irritation. “Just call me Andy, it’s so much easier.”
“Where can we take you, Andy?” the deputy responded.
“My parent’s house. They live in Fort Atkinson.”
“Can you remember how to get there?”
“Yeah. I’ll tell you where to go when we get into Fort.”
Arriving at a dark and empty house, Andy sighed in relief. Telling his parents what had happened would have been a shameful failure. We may be adults, but we are still children to our parents.
The driving deputy turned around and said, “We’ll wait here, and make sure you are safely in the house. Do you have a key?”
“Yeah, I got a key for the garage door.” Andy said.
The passenger deputy unlocked the car door and led him up to the garage. Andy turned the key and activated the automatic door.
“Thanks for the ride,” Andy smiled and waved as the door went back down. But the cop car didn’t move, it just idled in the driveway, waiting.
“Oh, shit,” he said. “They’re gonna wait until I go into the house and settle down.”
Andy trudged into the kitchen, turned a light on, walked through the dining room into the living room, turned another light on, threw his light wind breaker across a chair and turned the t.v. on. Standing by the living room window he waved to the vehicle.
Flashed lights from the car signaled their departure.
“Thank God,” he said with relief. “Now I’ll just wait a couple of minutes and then start back to the house. I gotta talk to that woman.”
Andy’s shock at what had happened at the house froze his mind and the only thoughts even remotely passing through were: She turned on me, she finally had enough, what am I gonna do? Mom and dad can’t find out. Oh my god, I can’t tell them. It’s too shameful, too much of a failure. Now everyone will know, I’m a drunk, an alcoholic, I’ve become my parents and I have to admit it. I can’t do that. I’m a decent guy. I work. I like my work. I have a nice house, good kids. I’m an abusive bastard, I drink to unconsciousness so I don’t have to deal with anything that remotely resembles responsibility. Maybe I should hang myself in the darkroom like I planned. Shit, Bobbie found that noose and took it down. What am I gonna do? I can’t be thrown out. I’ll do anything to keep what I have. God damn that bitch, she had to bring it out into the open. I gotta get out of this. I gotta talk to her, I gotta get back to the house. What does she have in mind? She must have a plan. I know Bobbie, she has a plan. I hope I can talk to her when I get back to the house. I can’t leave it like this. There must be a way to fix this. i’m going back to the house. Something needs to be worked out. I’m not gonna tell mom and dad. We’ll fix it, we gotta fix it. I’ll do anything to fix it.
A 20-year-old memory surfaced. Andy remembered a vow he made to himself when he at 14 and just new to high school. His parents had come home drunk, falling all over him and Ron with affection and money and drunken I love yous. He hated it. The smell, the blurred, blood shot eyes, the too big smile and overly affectionate dad, who never hugged or said anything complimentary to him otherwise.
He vowed he would never get drunk, never touch alcohol. His lips, his body, would always be virgin to the hateful brew. He would never stoop to the pathetic behavior he had seen so often.
Like all alcoholics he had succumbed. He had tasted. He had fallen off of his own pedestal, and crashed mightily to a vomit-soaked floor and slept in it more than once. His hate for himself grew and he drank to forget.
Waiting for cars Andy reflected on Bobbie’s speech earlier. So, she sees our time together as dreaded weekends, an unbearable two days with a drunken jerk. Driving to and from Milwaukee during the work week, spending an abusive weekend with me is beginning to wear her down. As a surgical nurse she has enough blood and guts reality. And now, I’m picking on the boys, with mean language and threatening to hit them. No wonder she thinks I’m a burden.
By the time Andy had walked to the edge of Fort Atkinson, he was sober. He realized if he didn’t get a ride pretty soon, a 20 mile walk on a dark highway could be a dangerous journey. But, life is full of little comforts: just then, a driver stopped, rolled down the passenger side window and asked in a drunken voice,
“Where ya going buddy?”
“Hey, me too!” came the joyous reply. “Get in. Maybe we can have a few beers at ‘The Feed Bag’ .”
“I don’t think so,” Andy said.
“Ok, just trying to be friendly. My name’s Larry.”
“What’cha doin’ out on the highway at this time of night?” Larry asked.
“Fight with my wife.”
“I’m not married anymore,” Larry said. “She said I drank too much and if I didn’t quit she’d leave.” Larry laughed and almost hit the mileage sign for Watertown, Jefferson and Lake Mills, as the car careened off the side of the road and back over to the opposite lane.
Any vestige of alcohol still in Andy’s system had just dissipated in a sudden rush of fear.“How about if I drive?” Andy asked.
“Nah, I got it under control. I drive drunk pretty often. I’m experienced.”
“I really don’t need a ride all the way to Watertown,” Andy said. “You know where the Pine Cone restaurant is?”
“Yeah, sure,” Larry slurred. “I go there for coffee sometimes to keep my eyes open when I wanna go to Watertown and hit the bars there.”
“Well, I live about 2 miles past the restaurant and you can drop me off on the highway when I tell you to slow down, ok?”
“Sure,” Larry said.
Andy got out of the car, watched Larry drive away and looked down Hwy 26, as the hum of the vehicle faded on its way to Watertown. The highway hum reminded him of his current journey, their lives and what might change if he kept up his current pace of drinking.
Bobbie and Andy worked in Milwaukee at different hospitals. She at Mount Sinai as a surgical nurse and he as a medical photographer at Children’s Hospital. The drive into the metro area from Johnson Creek took about 45 minutes and the drive into the crunch of cars of Milwaukee’s downtown took another 45.
As a binge drinker, Andy loaded up on alcohol Friday night and didn’t stop until some time Sunday afternoon, if he was still conscious. His meanness, verbal abuse and threatened violence started to escalate. The only time Bobbie got a decent break was when Andy lay on the sofa in a drunken stupor.
All alone out in the country, if Andy turned on her in a moment of uncontrolled violence, the isolation was dangerous. Her choices narrowed as time pushed Andy closer to violence. HIs actions of abuse, both verbal and physical, flooded him with shameful images he knew belonged to him.
Andy looked up the hill of Emerald Drive and took a deep breath. Virgin territory approached. He and Bobbie had had a few disagreements in their eight year marriage, but never a confrontation. He felt sober, scared, a little angry, and apprehensive about what might take place in this apprehensive future.
All the lights in the house blazed as Andy walked up the 100-yard-long driveway. Did Bobbie expect me to return? Andy wondered. He walked quietly, slowly to the front door and stole a quick peek in the slit of glass next to the front door. He saw Bobbie toss the remaining toys into their box.
“What the hell time is it?” Andy whispered to himself. He looked at his watch, 1:30. She must have talked to the boys and explained what had happened. He knew Joshua would ask questions.
Zak would’ve listened and absorbed everything.
Andy stole around the house and looked in every window. He felt like a burglar casing the joint.
Zak lay curled up with his blanket, but Joshua’s light filled the room. Andy peeked in the window. He too had surrendered to sleep.
Andy breathed easier. He didn’t want them awake if this turned ugly. He tried the front door and amazingly, it opened. He slipped quietly into the house.
Bobbie came down the hall and saw him standing there. She stopped, her body rigidly still.
“What are you doing here?” she said.
“You have my attention.” Andy said. “What are you going to do?”
“It’s more like, what are YOU going to do?”
“What do you mean?” Andy asked.
“Andy, no more games. Answer the question.”
“What are my choices?”
“I don’t care, anymore. Well, I do care. I love you, but you must choose. If you quit drinking, get help, and stay sober, I will support you and we can work this through. But if you fail, even one time, we are done.”
Andy stood in the living space, where two hours ago a shock of reality brought a drunken mess of a life into focus, not moving, not talking, not anything.
“What do I need to do to stay sober?”
Bobbie walked over to him crying, hugged him, gently sobbing into his chest.
31 years and always an alcoholic. Will Andy ever drink again? It remains an open question, answered one day at a time.
Andy went into a Jefferson County sponsored alcohol program. He joined AA, attended meetings, and spoke about his problem. He also modified his behavior and substituted running for drinking. After a year of solid, sober behavior, Andy decided to manage his life on his terms and only rarely attends any more AA meetings. There are still days of desire. For some, it never leaves.
Bobbie and Andy weathered this storm and stayed together for many years, but eventually their lives discovered other paths. They divorced, but have contact occasionally through Joshua and Zak. Both remarried and still live in Arizona.