Every addict has a moment when she truly bottoms out, when she finally reaches the lowest of lows. For me, that was Thanksgiving 1973: the morning I looked out my bedroom window and saw the dog having a boxing match with a lawn chair.
That was where my mind was that morning—nowhere it was supposed to be. Not with my husband, who I later learned had stumbled back to his barber shop after O’Gara’s closed and tried to kill himself by drinking a jar of Barbicide. Not with my kids, who I realized had become desperately insecure as I’d retreated into a drug-induced haze over a period of years. Not with my mom, who was expecting us for Thanksgiving dinner at the condo she’d just bought with her fourth husband Rod.
I don’t even remember what happened the night before. It was probably a night like any other: kids left to their own devices while I shot up and passed out fantasizing about Bill Cosby in Hawaii Five-O. All I know is that I woke up with a raging headache, and the first thing I noticed was that there was still a healthy shot of vodka left in the handle on the nightstand. I tossed that back, and only then did I notice that it was a gorgeous autumn day.
When I saw Snoopy wrestling with the lawn chair, I decided I wasn’t ready to face the day yet, and I went back to bury myself under the covers. The doorbell rang, and I wondered who it was. I vaguely remembered the phone ringing, several times. Charlie must have picked it up. That little round-headed kid tried so hard to manage the house when I was on one of my benders. God knows he got no help from his sister, who was a total asshole to him. She’d become obsessed with the neurotic Van Pelt boy, the one who still carried his blanket everywhere.
I heard kids out in the yard, and I dragged myself over to the window to look. Charlie had put a tablecloth on the ping-pong table, and the kids were sitting around it arguing about something. They had plates full of junk food, but the only one eating anything was the dog. The black kid was sitting alone on one side of the table, and I thought dear God, my kids are growing up without parents. There’s no one to tell them to stop being racist, no one to tell them to stop wearing the same grungy clothes every day, no one to sit them down and tell them the story of Myles Standish and the first Thanksgiving. As soon as Charlie hits puberty, I thought, he’s going to get that fast little jock girl pregnant.
None of the kids looked up. What would they have seen if they had? A skinny, half-naked middle-aged lady with track marks up her arms and hair like a bird’s nest. I collapsed into bed and cried. That was it, I decided. That was the end. I flushed the rest of my stash down the toilet—I’d deal with Carl’s rage later when he discovered what I’d done—and took a shower.
When I came downstairs and into the kitchen, I meant to say, “Charlie and Sally, I love you.” I meant to say, “I’m sorry.” I meant to say, “Please forgive me.” Instead, all that came out was, “Where the hell did all these toasters come from, and why does it smell like burned dog ear in here?” The kids all just looked up at me—no one answered. I’d totally lost them, I realized. Whenever I opened my mouth, all they heard coming out was, “Blah blah blah blah blah.”
Charlie meekly told me that my mom had said the whole gang could come over for dinner, and I said, “Whatever. Get in the back and let’s go. We’re already going to be late. I hope you didn’t eat all that crap and spoil your dinner.”
As we pulled away, the kids all started singing. It sounded fucking awful. I turned on the radio, and jacked the volume way up so I couldn’t hear anything else. The Carpenters were on, playing “Top of the World.”