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underthe influence by Scott Russell Sanders

underthe influence by Scott Russell Sanders
Academic Lee Bachelor
reference book wake tech english 111. under the influence by Scott Russell Sanders.
My father drank. He drank as a gut-punched boxer gasps for breath. as a starving dog gobbles food-compulsively. secretly. in pain and trembling. I
use the past tense not because he ever quit drinking but because he quit living. That is how the story ends for my father. age sixty-four. heart
bursting. body cooling. slumped and forsaken on the linoleum of my brother‘s trailer. The story continues for my brother. my sister. my mother. and
me. and will continue as long as memory holds.
In the perennial present of memory. I slip into the garage or barn to see my father tipping back the flat green bottles of wine. the brown cylinders of
whiskey. the cans of beer disguised in paper bags. His Adam’s apple bobs. the liquid gurgles. he wipes the sandy- haired back of a hand over his
lips. and then. his bloodshot gaze bumping into me. he stashes the bottle or can inside his jacket. under the workbench. between two bales of hay.
and we both pretend the moment has not occurred.
What’s up. buddy’?” he says. thick-tongued and edgy.
Sky’s up.” I answer. playing along.
And don’t forget prices.” he grumbles. “Prices are always up. And taxes.”
In memory. his white 1951 Pontiac with the stripes down the hood and the Indian head on the snout lurches to a stop in the driveway: or it is the
1956 Ford station wagon. or the 1963 Rambler shaped like a toad. or the sleek 1969 Bonneville that will do 120 miles per hour on straightaways: or
it is the robin’s-egg-blue pickup. new in 1980. battered in 1981. the year of his death. He climbs out. grinning dangerously. unsteady on his legs.
and we children interrupt our game of catch. our building of snow forts. our picking of plums. to watch in silence as he weaves past us into the
house. where he drops into his overstuffed chair and falls asleep. Shaking her head. our mother stubs out a cigarette he has left smoldering in the
ashtray. All evening. until our bedtimes. we tiptoe past him, as past a snoring dragon. Then we curl fearfully in our sheets. listening. Eventually he
wakes with a grunt. Mother slings accusations at him, he snarls back. she yells. he growls. their voices clashing. Before long. she retreats to their
bedroom. sobbing-not from the blows of fists. for he never strikes her. but from the force of his words.
Left alone. our father prowls the house. thumping into furniture. rummaging in the kitchen. slamming doors, turning the pages of the newspaper with
a savage crackle. muttering back at the late-night drivel from television. The roof might fly off. the walls might buckle from the pressure of his rage.
Whatever my brother and sister and mother
may be thinking on their own rumpled pillows. I lie there hating him, loving him, fearing him, knowing I have failed him. I tell myself he drinks to ease
the ache that gnaws at his belly. an ache I must have caused by disappointing him somehow. a murderous ache I should be able to relieve by doing
all my chores. earning A’s in school. winning baseball games. fixing the broken washer and the burst pipes. bringing in the money to fill his empty
wallet. He would not hide the green bottles in his toolbox. would not sneak off to the barn with a lump under his coat. would not fall asleep in the
daylight. would not roar and fume. would not drink himself to death, if only I were perfect.
I am forty-four. and I know full well now that my father was an alcoholic. a man consumed by disease rather than by disappointment. What had
seemed to me a private grief is in fact. of course. a public scourge. In the United States alone. some ten or fifteen million people share his ailment.
and behind the doors they slam in fury or disgrace. countless other children tremble. l comfort myself with such knowledge. holding it against the
throb of memory like an ice pack against a bruise. Other people have keener sources of grief – poverty. racism. rape. w
to determine who has suffered most. I am only trying to understand the corrosive mixture of helplessness. responsibility. 0“““e ‘ ‘3’3’73311 SUPPI am forty-four. and I know full well now that my
father was an alcoholic. a man consumed by disease rather than by disappointment. What had
seemed to me a private grief is in fact. of course. a public scourge. In the United States alone. some ten or fifteen million people share his ailment.
and behind the doors they slam in fury or disgrace. countless other children tremble. I comfort myself with such knowledge. holding it against the
throb of memory like an ice pack against a bruise. Other people have keener sources of grief – poverty. racism. rape. war. I do not wish to compete
to determine who has suffered most. I am only trying to understand the corrosive mixture of helplessness. responsibility. and shame that I learned to
feel as the son of an alcoholic. I realize now that I did not cause my father‘s illness. nor could I have cured it. Yet for all this grownup knowledge. I am
still ten years old. my own son’s age. and as that boy I struggle in guilt and confusion to save my father from pain.
Consider a few of our synonyms for drunk: tipsy. tight. pickled. soused. and plowed: stoned and stewed. lubricated and inebriated. juiced and
sluiced: three sheets to the wind. in your cups. out of your mind. under the table: lit up. tanked up. wiped out: besotted. blotto. bombed. and buzzed:
plastered. polluted. putrefied: loaded or looped. boozy. woozy. fuddled. or smashed: crocked and shit-faced. corked and pissed. snockered and
It is a mostly humorous lexicon. as the lore that deals with drunks-in jokes and cartoons. in plays. films. and television skits-is largely comic. Aunt
Matilda nips elderberry wine from the sideboard and burps politely during supper. Uncle Fred slouches to the table glassy-eyed. wearing a
lampshade for a hat and murmuring. “Candy is dandy. but liquor is quicker.” Inspired by cocktails. Mrs. Somebody recounts the events of her day in
a fuzzy dialect. while Mr. Somebody nibbles her ear and croons a bawdy song. On the sofa with Boyfriend. Daughter Somebody giggles. licking gin
from her lips. and loosens the bows in her hair. Junior knocks back some brews with his chums at the Leopard Lounge and stumbles home to the
wrong house. wonders foggily why he cannot locate his pajamas. and crawls naked into bed with the ugliest girl in school. The family dog slurps from
a neglected martini and wobbles to the nursery. where he vomits in Baby’s shoe.
It is all great fun. But if in the audience you notice a few laughing faces turn grim when the drunk lurches onstage. don’t be surprised. for these are
the children of alcoholics. Over the grinning mask of Dionysus. the leering face of Bacchus. these children cannot help seeing the bloated features
of their own parents. Instead of laughing. they wince. they mourn. Instead of celebrating the drunk as one freed from constraints. they pity him
as one enslaved. They refuse to believe “in vino veritas”. having seen their befuddled parents skid away from truth toward folly and oblivion. And so
these children bite their lips until the lush staggers into the wings.
My father. when drunk. was neither funny nor honest: he was pathetic. frightening. deceitful. There seemed to be a leak in him somewhere. and he
poured in booze to keep from draining dry. Like a torture victim who refuses to squeal. he would never admit that he had touched a drop. not even in
his last year. when he seemed to be dissolving in alcohol before our very eyes. I never knew him to lie about anything. ever. except about this one
ruinous fact. Drowsy. clumsy. unable to fix a bicycle tire. balance a grocery sack. or walk across a room. he was stripped of his true self by drink. In a
matter of minutes. the contents of a bottle could transform a brave man into a coward. a buddy into a bully. a gifted athlete and skilled carpenter and
shrewd businessman into a bumbler. No dictionary of synonyms for drunk would soften the anguish of watching our prince turn into a frog.
Father‘s drinking became the family secret. While growing up. we children never breathed a word of it beyond the four walls of our house. To this
day. my brother and sister rarely mention it. and then only when I press them. I did not confess the ugly. bewildering fact to my wife until his wavering
and slurred speech forced me to. Recently. on the seventh anniversary of my father‘s death. I asked my mother if she ever spoke of his drinking to
friends. “No. no. never.” she replied hastily. “I couldn’t bear for anyone to know.”
The secret bores under the skin. gets in the blood. into the bone. and stays there. Long after you have supposedly been cured of malaria. the fever
can flare up. the tremors can shake you. So it is with the fevers of shame. You swallow the bitter quinine of knowledge. and you learn to feel pity and
compassion toward the drinker. Yet the shame lingers and. because of it. anger.
For a long stretch of my childhood we lived on a military reservation in Ohio. an arsenal where bombs were stored under-round in bunkers and
vintage airplanes burst into flames and unstable artillery shells boomed nightly at the dump. We had the feeling. as child Online – Contact gripportThe more he drank. the more obsessed Mother
became with stopping him. She hunted for bottles. counted the cash in his wallet. sniffed at his
breath. Without meaning to snoop. we children blundered left and right into damning evidence. On afternoons when he came home from work sober.
we flung ourselves at him for hugs and felt against our ribs the telltale lump in his coat. In the barn we tumbled on the hay and heard beneath our
sneakers the crunch of broken glass. We tugged open a drawer in his workbench. looking for screwdrivers or crescent wrenches. and spied a
gleaming six-pack among the tools. Playing tag. we darted around the house just in time to see him sway on the rear stoop
and heave a finished bottle into the woods. In his goodnight kiss we smelled the cloying sweetness of Clorets. the mints he chewed to camouflage
his dragon’s breath.
I can summon up that kiss right now by recalling Theodore Roethke’s lines about his own father:
The whiskey on your breath Could make a small boy dizzy: But I hung on like death: Such waltzing was not easy.
Such waltzing was hard. terribly hard. for with a boy’s scrawny arms I was trying to hold my tipsy father upright.
For years. the chief source of those incriminating bottles and cans was a grimy store a mile from us. a cinderblock place called Sly’s. with two gas
pumps outside and a mangy dog asleep in the window. Inside. on rusty metal shelves or in wheezing coolers. you could find pop and Popsicles.
cigarettes. potato chips. canned soup. raunchy postcards. fishing gear. Twinkies. wine. and beer. When Father drove anywhere on errands. Mother
would send us along as guards. warning us not to let him out of our sight. And so with one or more of us on board. Father would cruise up to Sly’s.
pump a dollar‘s worth of gas or plump the tires with air. and then. telling us to wait in the car. he would head for the doorway.
Dutiful and panicky. we cried. “Let us go with you!”
No.” he answered. “I’ll be back in two shakes.”
No!” he roared. “Don’t you budge or I’ll jerk a knot in your tails!”
So we stayed put. kicking the seats. while he ducked inside. Often. when he had parked the car at a careless angle. we gazed in through the window
and saw Mr. Sly fetching down from the shelf behind the cash register two green pints of Gallo wine. Father swigged one of them right there at the
counter. stuffed the other in his pocket. and then out he came. a bulge in his coat. a flustered look on his reddened face.
Because the mom and pop who ran the dump were neighbors of ours. living just down the tar-blistered road. I hated them all the more for poisoning
my father. I wanted to sneak in their store and smash the bottles and set fire to the place. I also hated the Gallo brothers. Ernest and Julio. whose
jovial faces beamed from the labels of their wine. labels I would find. torn and curled. when I burned the trash. I noted the Gallo brothers’ address in
California and studied the road atlas to see how far that was from Ohio. because I meant to go out there and tell Ernest and Julio what they were
doing to my father. and then. if they showed no mercy. I would kill them.
While growing up on the back roads and in the country schools and cramped Methodist churches of Ohio and Tennessee. I never heard the word
alcoholic. never happened across it in books or magazines. In the nearby towns. there were no addiction-treatment programs. no community mental-
health centers. no Alcoholics Anonymous chapters. no therapists. Left alone with our grievous secret. we had no way of understanding Father‘s
drinking except as an act of will. a deliberate folly or cruelty. a moral weakness. a sin. He drank because he chose to. pure and simple. Why our
father. so playful and competent and kind when sober. would choose to ruin himself and punish his family we could not fathom.
Our neighborhood was high on the Bible. and the Bible was hard on drunkards. ‘Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and valiant men in
mixing strong drink.” wrote Isaiah. “The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink. they are confused with wine. they err in vision. they stumble in
giving judgment. For all tables are full of vomit. no place is without filthiness.” We children had seen those fouled tables at the local truckstop where
the notorious boozers hung out. our father occasionally among them. ‘Wine and new wine take away the understanding.’
Hosea. We had also seen evidence of that in our father. who could multiply seven-digit numbers in his head when sober Oniine ‘ Com-311i- SUDDC

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