For our latest essay series, we are inviting men to share a story, an episode, or an experience that involves women and drinking. We hope you will enjoy reading these stories as they appear each Monday.
by Corey Mesler
My relation to demon hooch is a meandering one, like, say, my relation to British costume drama films. The last time I was drunk I was 16. It made me sick. I stopped doing it. Later, when I was married and unhappy with my wife, I took to drinking nightly Bloody Marys, but not to excess. Only to numb my sadness.
These days, what with my tricky gut and the antidepressants I am on, I cannot drink at all, which is just as well. Only occasionally do I miss Bloody Marys or Kahlua and Creams. I don’t need any more numbing, having married happily the second time, and, of course, already living with the numbness of legal prescription drugs.
But what I want to talk about is way before either of these marriages. I want to talk about my childhood. I grew up in the verdant suburbs of Raleigh, Tennessee, which, at that time, was a remora on the dark, gray side of a whale called Memphis.
It was a golden time. I was surrounded by many children my own age and we were free to wander our burgeoning suburb, with its myriad construction sites, where pop bottles could be found to turn in for cash, where wood and nails could be borrowed to build tree houses in the many lots where there were still no concrete foundations but instead 50 trees of varying kinds and strengths and heights. It was practically a paradise– like where Tarzan’s son Boy wandered. We were as free and unfettered as the neighborhood dogs. There were few fenced-in backyards at the time and, if there were leash laws, they were certainly ignored. We were on speaking terms with dozens of beautiful mutts.
And manning these homes like captains of house-shaped Enterprises were parents, two to a home, all well-off enough to live in a new suburb and all with working dads and stay at home moms. Ah, the 1960s.
Someone told me my parents were “functioning alcoholics.” I am not sure if this is the correct nomenclature. I am not even sure if the person who told me this was right. All I know is that back then booze was all around me.
Some of the braver kids—ten year olds!—said they snuck drinks, but my peers, for the most part, were more interested in playing army, corkball, dirt clod fights, street football, driveway basketball. And trading cards and gum and candy and army men and magic tricks and little metal cars and Slip-and-Slides and Easy Bake Ovens and Creepy Crawler makers and Monopoly and Risk and Chinese checkers and card games like Crazy Eights and Go Fish.
But, it seems to me, that that whole generation before us–what we now call The Greatest Generation–the one that raised all us kids, did a lot of boozing. My mother, who was born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, was one of sixteen children–eight boys and eight girls. The family reunions, in Canada, where we went almost every year, were lively gatherings. There was swimming, and eating, and swearing, and badminton, and lots of good food, especially if cooked by my mother’s mother, a German woman who was used to preparing food in large quantities. I can still taste her frosted molasses cookies to this day. Yes, I loved my mother’s brothers and sisters. They were all so much fun, and so funny, and, seemingly, to a child’s eyes, happy as heroes after battles won. All her brothers were big, strapping men, lumberjacks (literally in some cases) and hockey players. And, at these gatherings, the booze flowed like the streams of time.
So, it was something of a revelation to go back to one of these reunions as an adult, and to see the cracks in the beautiful surface of the family I loved so much. Simply put, alcoholism and depression and strained marriages were all around me. I could not see it as a child. Or I didn’t want to. Every one of my aunts and uncles drank like there was no tomorrow. I am not sure why. I am not a sociologist. What about that generation caused so many of its members to take refuge in the bottle, even if only socially? I am not saying that I now find my large family sad or debauched or to be pitied. I love them as fiercely now as I did then. I guess the difference is that now I see them as flawed humans instead of gods.
So, alcohol: it’s always been around me. It’s always touched my life. I dated a few women who later ended up in rehab. This is not uncommon, I am sure. And I have friends and family members who have really struggled with it, or are struggling still. But I do not drink myself. And, as all parents do, I pray my children don’t either. W. S. Downey said, “Strong drinks are like wars, making cripples of some men, and sending others to the grave.” Some survive the wars. I am not a brave man, nor a strong man, but I seem to have skipped the addictive personality traits that my large family wears like leis, or chains.
Corey Mesler has published in numerous journals and anthologies. He has published four novels, Talk: A Novel in Dialogue (2002), We Are Billion-Year-Old Carbon (2006), The Ballad of the Two Tom Mores (2010) and Following Richard Brautigan (2010), a full length poetry collection, Some Identity Problems (2008), and a book of short stories, Listen: 29 Short Conversations (2009). He has also published a dozen chapbooks of both poetry and prose. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize numerous times, and two of his poems have been chosen for Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. He also claims to have written, “The Martian Hop.” With his wife, he runs Burke’s Book Store, one of the country’s oldest (1875) and best independent bookstores. He can also be found at www.burkesbooks.com.