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Dipping One’s Toe Into the Honesty Pond

SMS Member Submitted Essay

Francie Aylward-Allen

My father was an alcoholic. My mother divorced him when I was about four. So perfectly matched were these two damaged souls that, had they placed an advertisement, they could not have found a better fit for their broken places.

My mother was my dad’s fifth wife, and he was her third husband. They both stopped getting married after this—I suppose when you’ve found your perfect match, there’s no point in continuing to search. After the divorce, my mother moved my sisters and me back to Kansas to live with her mother and grandmother. Within a year, my father had committed armed robbery and landed himself in the penitentiary for nearly a decade. 

I learned very early that my mother was there to provide food and lodging, but couldn’t be relied on to comfort, console, protect, or nurture. Consequently, I became my mother and was hyper-vigilant about raising myself to be well-behaved. I expected good grades, observed that I chose appropriate friends, and as I reached middle school age, I kept a close eye on boys who might have impure intentions where I was concerned. This wasn’t easy because my mother seemed determined to undo my efforts. There was the 18-year-old lifeguard who charmed that foolish woman into giving him permission to invite my 12-year-old self to a pool party. I took the bull by the horns and indignantly told that boy that I was 12, and I was not old enough to date. My mother’s response to my fury was what her response would always be when she cavalierly threw me to the wolves, “I trust you, Francie!” But of course, it was not I who was the problem.

When I was 14, my mother sold all of our possessions, and with two suitcases each, we boarded a Greyhound bus and moved to Los Angeles, where my older sisters lived. Although it was 1969 and the summer of Woodstock, the Manson murders, and Chappaquick, I was undeterred in the strict parenting of my younger self. I managed to graduate high school without smoking, drinking, or experimenting with the drugs that were ubiquitous, and I did not permit any foul language either! Good lord, I did not even allow myself to attend a Led Zeppelin concert with my boyfriend, as I was concerned about drugs. Lest you think that I was an enormous nerd, I was not! I got invited to parties and sometimes attended but did not imbibe. Perhaps one would assume my mother was prideful at such a paragon of virtue. I am confident she had no idea I even resided at 4426 1/2 W.168th because my oldest sister had gotten herself involved with bikers and drugs. So, my mother was caring for my little nephew, and I would come skipping home from school to Harleys in the yard, and assorted stoned friends of my sister’s crashed in our little two-room house. 

You must be thinking, “Wait just a minute, sister! This is supposed to be a confessional about drunken revelry, uncontrolled debauchery, hitting rock bottom, and we feel tricked. No one wants to hear about your mothering skills—and frankly, you would have sucked as a mother! Talk about a buzz-kill!” 

I’m getting to that, but I only have 800 words, and stories must develop. Okay, so I will cut to the chase. I got divorced at 27 and was a single parent to two little boys. Finally, I discovered wine. I can trace the decades of my life by which white wine I drank. Blush wines took me through the 80s. Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio were my pals in the 90s. But Sauvignon Blanc was my constant companion for roughly 20 years if we subtract the five years I did not drink between 2010 and 2015. I more or less had a handle on my drinking until my sons flew the nest in 1998. Then, all bets were off. It was the Wild West.

So as not to disappoint, I assure you there were blackouts (more than I can 

count) and self-loathing, running out of my classroom to throw up, and ugly fights with my significant other. My hands shook. I developed a tremor. I was an asshole more often than not with the people who loved me most. I became a shut-in so as not to drink and drive. My pride (which my mother always cautioned me about) kept me from being honest with anyone. Yes, Virginia, our secrets do keep us sick. And did I mention the self-loathing?

This piece is an abbreviated version of a memoir I’ve worked on for years. I’ve chosen to take a lighter approach to what are severe topics because I have always preferred to find humor in my outrageously fucked up family. My aforementioned pride acts as a protective shield against the dreaded pity of others. Please know that while I refuse to plunge into the depths of despair regarding myself, I am full of compassion for the suffering of my fellow humans.

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