It could have been worse.
It was New Year’s Eve. My family and I were gathered around a bonfire in my mother’s backyard, celebrating the imminent calendar change as well as my fast approaching 25th birthday. Even though it was a joyous occasion and the youngest members of our family were safe with us, there was an underlying tension in the air. There was tension while we were taking care of my cousin’s children for the evening because she was incapable of doing so herself.
My cousin Susan is an alcoholic. She isn’t just the kind that drinks every night to combat self-diagnosed insomnia; Susan goes on benders. She is the kind that does not care about herself or others, no matter the relation. The kind that has been to detox and rehabilitation centers numerous times. The kind that only cares about hurting herself.
Two days after Christmas, we started to see signs. We were opening presents together for the first time in fourteen years. Well, almost all of us. Two people were missing: Susan’s mother, my aunt Catherine, who was still in rehab for alcoholism, and our grandmother who doesn’t particularly care for clusters of people. As we were opening presents with the kids—Anna and Joseph, Susan’s eight-year-old daughter and four year old son—we started to notice that Susan was a bit more animated than usual and her pupils were the size of quarters. Searching for a splash of liquor, she would occasionally take a sip from someone else’s drink. We knew something was off, but none of us wanted to ruin the night for the kids, who have both seen and heard more than any adult ever should. We figured she started drinking again because her boyfriend recently cut ties with her. They had been “dating” for eight months although, he explained from the beginning that he did not want kids and was not going to stop drinking around her. At least we could pin down a reason.
The next day Susan told us, “I don’t want company.”
Her excuses went along the lines of being tired, sad, and wanting to be alone with her kids. History has shown that this is a red flag. Janie, Susan’s older sister, has been the one to help her through detox and take care of Anna and Joseph during those times. We asked her to call Susan and check to see how she was really doing. Whatever Susan said, Janie believed her, and there was a collective sigh of relief.
December 30th: Two days until my twenty-fifth birthday. I reserved a table for eight at our favorite Irish pub and paid $80 deposit for a table to witness a live Celtic band that night. Naomi, one of my childhood friends whom drove down for the festivities, arrived around 9pm that night. At 10pm, my mother and Aunt Cindy arrived at the meeting point – Janie’s house - with news that Susan and Aunt Catherine had locked themselves in a hotel room, were drinking like fish, and waiting to die. All the while, Anna and Joseph were with them, playing in the background; hopefully not knowing what was happening. At least Joseph is too young to understand or remember any of the events that transpired. At least Susan thought about their safety and decided to stay in a 5-star hotel during the New Year’s holiday and charged it to our grandmother’s credit card.
December 31st: Janie, Naomi, Janie’s friend Chandra, and I drove to the resort where Susan, her children, and mother were staying. Naomi and I took the kids to Olive Garden while my mother, Aunt Cindy, Janie, and Chandra staged the intervention with Susan. All the while, my second childhood friend Charlize drove down for the festivities was waiting at Janies’s house.
It could have been worse.
At least Susan didn’t succeed in trying to end her life that night. At least she decided that she wanted, needed, and was going to accept help.
Later that night as we all sat around the bonfire and there was a moment of gratitude towards the universe. We were drinking champagne, telling the kids every story they wanted to hear, and counting down till midnight. Thank God we had the kids for New Year’s and they weren’t with their addicted and abusive mother. Thank God we had help from real people, whom we all got to call friends in the end. Thank God we all had each other, because the day would have not worked out as well with less hands on deck.
This was not how I pictured spending my birthday, but it could have been worse.