I’m just now realizing what happened. That’s the problem with being drunk most of the time. Lapses of thought and memory that come back to sucker punch you when the alcohol finally wears off.
There was a party, a wedding reception. My cousin’s wedding, I think. Lots of drinking. Dad telling me I had too much. Put the kids in the car. Did I even fasten their car seats? Driving away. Crash.
Then the most awful silence. And I couldn’t get myself out of the car. But they were so quiet.
A small voice, “Mama?”
“It’s going to be okay, baby,” I lied.
Whimpers, sobs, screams. Sirens.
Ambulances take them away. The kids who I should have protected. Who I didn’t, in fact, buckle in. Broken bones in their arms and legs. Scrapes on their faces. Smashed nose, knocked out tooth.
I should never have become a mother.
The seat belt I managed to strap around me, the airbag that went off in my face kept me from injury. The Police officer tugged me out of the car, smelled my breath and slapped handcuffs on me. She gave me a good lecture all the way to the station.
“You know you could have killed your kids,” she said.
“I know. I’m sorry,” I said.
“What were you thinking? Getting drunk like that and driving with them. Do you even know that it was wrong?”
“I don’t know.”
“Your children will be taken away. They will be put in foster homes. You’re going to have to go to court. And I’ll be there, too.” She made eye contact with me through the rear view mirror. “I will personally make sure that they don’t get to go home with you.”
“It’s better that way.”
I was fingerprinted, photographed, processed. Questions to answer and forms to sign. Escorted to a cage.
Sobering up in a jail cell was a surprisingly dull feeling. Maybe it’s the neon lights or the drone of voices bouncing off the concrete walls. Or it’s that the soul gave up.
“I need to make a phone call,” I said to the guard who walked past the door.
“You’ll have to wait,” she said.
“But don’t I get a call?”
“It ain’t like that. You gotta wait.”
“Isn’t it my right?”
She laughed as she moved on.
And so, I sat there. Trying to figure out how I let myself become such a drunk. Why couldn’t I stop?
How did having one on the weekends turn into this? Vodka in my coffee cup, little sips here and there, then big gulps several times an hour, hiding the empty whiskey bottles in my cupboards.
And there, on that thin mattress and in the stark cell, I tried to figure out how I’d get out to get a beer. I knew it was about to get real ugly, real fast if I didn’t have something. It felt like I was dying, the fuel that kept my body going, the booze, gone.
I never understood drinking mouthwash before. Or vanilla extract. Or rubbing alcohol. But I did in that moment. There’s no way they just hand that stuff out at the front desk of central booking. That much I understood.
“Get up,” the guard said.
“Somebody bailed you.”
My mom stood in the lobby. She had a jacket for me.
“It’s gotten pretty cold outside,” she said.
She was still wearing the dress she bought for my cousin’s wedding. Lavender with little pink flowers all over. She had her hair done special, got a manicure. She was really excited for that wedding. And I messed it up.
She drove me to her apartment, the one she moved into after she left my dad. He left because of me. Because my mom would keep giving me money and a place to crash. Yet another thing that I destroyed.
We walked in the door.
My whole family was there. Sitting in a circle. Looking at me.
“We’re worried about you.”
“You need help.”
“It’s the booze or us.”
Their words swirled and mixed and clinked in my brain. And all I could think of was how I could get to the kitchen for a drink.
“You almost killed your kids tonight,” my sister said.
“What was that?” I asked. The cold air of her words startled me. “What did you just say?”
“You almost killed your kids.”
“But they’re okay.”
“They’re in the hospital. Lydia has a broken leg and collar bone. Brody’s going to have to have surgery on his arm.”
“Are they going to take them away from me?”
“Yes.” My sister’s sadness was thick. “They’re coming to live with me.”
“Then I’ll still get to see them.”
“No. You won’t.” She locked eyes with me. “Unless you get help.”
“What do you mean by help?”
“Rehab. There’s a program…”
“But I’m going to jail. Right?”
“Yes. But you need help before that.”
“It’s not like I can get any beer in jail.”
The room was quiet. My dad’s head down. He looked at a piece of paper.
“Listen,” I said. “I’m sorry that I’ve done everything wrong. Sorry that I’ve ruined all your lives. But I can’t go to rehab.”
“You will never see your kids again,” my dad said, not looking at me. “And you’ll never see us again.”
“Well, I guess that’s life.” I was trying to make an excuse to rush out of the room and chug down something. “You know, if you can all just write me out of your lives that easily.”
I stood up.
“Sit down.” My mom’s voice was hard. Like nothing I’d ever heard from her before. “You sit in that chair and listen to what we have to say.”
The seat felt hard. I knew that something was about to happen. I mourned the changes that I was going to be forced to make.
(to be continued)