Chapter 1: Room 243
He sat outside, alone in the motel gazebo. He looked worn out in his old green hooded sweatshirt and dirty shorts, like life had turned on him. His face was scruffy, as if he had forgotten to shave the past couple days; or maybe he didn’t forget—maybe he just didn’t care. I slowly approached him in his white wooden shelter. He looked at me confused, with his greenish hazel eyes; the same color eyes that I always wished I would have gotten from him, the same eyes that looked at me proudly at my high school graduation.
He was searching my eyes and his mind dumbly for something. Anything. In slow motion, he pulled the blue and silver Busch Light beer can to his mouth, tilted his head back, and started to chug. Flowing like a river, Toxic Liquid rushed down into his body. I watched as the current washed away any sober memories that might still be lingering around.
And finally he asked, “Do I know you?”
At first I thought that he was just trying to be a jerk. I didn’t bother to call him on Father’s Day, or his birthday, which was only a month ago. But then I realized that he looked disturbed. He was upset, yet at the same time, bothered that this unfamiliar young girl had interrupted his escape from reality. I realized he really had no idea who I was.
That man is my father, and he has a disease--he’s an alcoholic. He tried to beat it, but it always comes back. Like a good friend, never leaving his side. It has followed him through three marriages, three children, and endless jobs; it is the same reason my brother and sister do not call him on Father’s Day either.
Alcoholism is a chronic, life-long disease that is indicated by a progressive addiction toward the intake of alcohol, despite the negative consequences. It is an addiction. My father is an addict, even if he only drinks beer. He has never tried another drug, or so he says, and won’t even drink liquor: Just Beer. Beer to him is like water to anyone else. He has to have it. He needs it to function. But it also makes him not function.
In most cases, a disease is diagnosed by a doctor, someone with credentials. But at age seven, I had diagnosed both my parents. Maybe I should have gone to medical school. Now, fourteen years later, after seeing my father attempting to drink himself to death, to the point where he didn’t even recognize his own daughter, I made the decision to force him to get help.
He was confused at why I was still sitting there, since I was a stranger to him. He continued to discuss how it was all over and in a couple days it would be done for good. He had planned to drink himself to death. I tried to act as the stranger he thought I was and ask questions:
“What about your family?”
“I don't have any family”
“Well what about kids? Don't you have children?” And the hurtful words came out of his mouth, “No I don't, once I did, but I don't anymore.” I tried to bring up the names of my brother and sister, but he looked at me with so much disgust and confusion, like I was this stranger who had all this secret information on his life that he never wanted to be reminded of.
Since he didn’t even know who I was, it wasn’t easy starting the intervention. The hospital across the street seemed convenient. I walked back inside the motel and stomped all the way back up to the front desk. Each and every step that brought me closer, only made me feel like I was a child throwing a temper tantrum. I rolled my eyes as I informed the motel attendee that he needed to call an ambulance along with the cops. “He won't go willingly” I said.
Five police cars pulled up to the front of the hotel, but I really only needed one. Six cops stood around, listening to me put in plain words the situation as I puffed on my cigarette. In my anger, sarcastically and bitchy, I added, “Oh and there’s a warrant out for his arrest.” Their reactions were all different: some confused some in disbelief, and some concerned. This probably didn’t happen too often, I thought. As they were walking to approach his room, one tall officer stopped me. “You stay here…let us check out the situation first.” Frustrated. I knew he was trying to protect me from any more emotional damage. But he didn’t realize the truth. This was normal to me. This was all I’d ever known. This was my whole life.
Although this was all second nature to me, it was sad that my father wasn’t even willing to walk forty feet with his own daughter, his youngest biological child. To him he would be walking forty feet with a complete stranger who interrupted his one man pity party in the gazebo. The reason why five police cars surrounded his motel. The reason six cops knocked on 243, his room number, the door to his new home. The reason he was forced to end his party before the booze even ran out, only to take a trip to a place called reality.
This is a time when an alcoholic is in a supervised setting, allowing the addict to withdraw. Across the street at the hospital, my father lay in the hospital bed. He cried. He yelled. “Six cops Jessica, really? SIX?!”
To ease the tension in the room, the nurse pulled me outside to talk privately. She informed me that he had come in a couple weeks before. He had fallen, banged his head pretty bad, and his alcohol level was high, but he told her he was planning to go to detox. I began to think, he did go to detox, on his own, without anyone helping him. And at that moment, I was proud. Proud as if your child just learned to tie his shoes, all on their own. A sense of relief came over me: He did want help.
I didn't have a relationship with my father, yet I still helped him. He had no one else. I didn’t have time to debate in my head what I should do. I automatically acted, as if my body was on autopilot. The painful fact that I had no one three years ago when he kicked me out of his house, didn’t run across my mind until I finally had a chance to breathe and think about the situation. I could have just left, continued on with my own life. My brother and sister might not have gone to the same extreme that I did. Sometimes people just need a reality check, that’s what my father needed. And plus, I really didn’t want to deal with death anytime soon. I thought forcing him to go to rehab, was me doing something great. That plan was quickly crushed. He doesn’t have to.
Forcing someone to go to rehab is nearly impossible. You cannot do it. Some might like to say that nothing’s impossible, but they must have never tried to force someone to go to rehab. If an alcoholic doesn’t want to go, legally they don’t have to. They have the right to continue to drink themselves to death and ruin the lives of all those around them.
What could I do, let him go back to his new home, room 243, just so he could re-start his pity party? Calling my siblings for help seemed pointless. Their relationship with him was similar to mine—nonexistent. Not only hadn’t they called him on Father’s Day, I didn’t know the last time they had even called him at all. I couldn’t call my mom; I don’t even really talk to her either. Since they divorced when I was three, the two of them acquired a deep hatred for each other. She would get to much satisfaction out of his weakness.
I couldn’t call my stepmother, either. She was the reason why room 243 was his new home. My father had been kicked out of the house after she had found someone new, at least that was his story.
The hospital, the doctors, the police—none of them could do anything.
They released him.
I drove him across the street back to his motel room. Although it was his new home, he hadn’t brought much with him: only some clothes, toiletries, the ticket from his DWI, and an AA meeting schedule. I searched the room for his stash of beer, which was not hard to find. Sure enough his best friend, Alcohol, didn’t leave once the party was busted by the cops.
Alcohol was his best buddy, like family. Even years ago, when I asked him to choose: alcohol or your daughter, he made the wrong decision. His buddy held all the perfect qualities. It never left his side. It was always dependable no matter what the time or place. It never disappointed him. It was always there to help him get away from the real world.
Seven silver and blue beer cans had been waiting for my father’s return, hoping to pick up where they had left off.
They didn’t realize that their hopes of more bonding time with my father would soon be interrupted. I poured all seven cans of beer down the drain. And to think, if I was doing this in my apartment at college with my roommates right now, we would be saying that this was alcohol abuse.
I made him promise that he wouldn’t drink anymore that night, and that he would call me in the morning when he woke up. I realized that’s all I could do. Take it one step at a time.
He crawled into bed to finally go to sleep, and as I tucked him in, all that I could think about was how my whole life I wished my father had been there to tuck me into bed, and now I was tucking him in. Like a concerned parent, I waited till he fell asleep. He looked like a child, sleeping there helpless, curled up in pain. I knew, realistically, I couldn’t do anything. All I could do was watch this child, who was my father, Worrying. My whole childhood, I always wondered if he ever worried about me; now I was the one who was worrying about him.
I searched the room one more time to see if I might have missed any of his silver-blue friends who might still be hanging around, waiting for him to wake up. I shut off the light, and closed the door. I stood outside the motel room, just staring at the closed door. Room 243. I just kept reading it over and over again. Room 243. I’m not even sure why, it is not like it’s a hard thing to remember, and I know I’ll never forget it. Room 243.
I stared at it and wondered—did I do enough?