That Smell

by Stephen

That fucking smell. Now every time I have that taste on my lips I’m snapped back in time. To his clumsy attempts at parenthood. To his casual small talk that made me want to explode. To all the nights spent in my grandparents’ basement and to the nights I cried myself to sleep.

I don’t remember a time when my dad wasn’t drunk. So many of my childhood memories are either blank or shrouded in the sickly sweet smell of Budweiser. He constantly reeked of it. Even with his brief stints of sobriety that smell clung to him. It was in his hair, his clothes and his soul. When I was younger and more naive I just thought it was how he was supposed to be. The smell, now, is closer to him than I ever could be.

My father didn’t start off drinking.  He wasn’t always like this. I know that for sure. He was once a strong man. Someone to look up to and cherish. Dad came into my mom’s life in her time of need. She had a two year old child from a man that abandoned her. He adopted my brother Ryan and supported his new family. He worked his ass off. Everything that he could do, first a maintenance worker, then eventually an EMT/volunteer firefighter. After failing the test to become a paramedic, he worked as a medical examiner. I cling to that job. It is one of the most important stories that I have left of him. My father worked there for a few years, and in those years he grew disgusted with how the bodies were being treated and his working conditions. So he gathered enough evidence and went to the Boston Herald. He told the whole world when he saw something wasn’t right. He cared back then.  At family gatherings I would catch brief glimpses of this caring man and I wish I could have that again. With a smile always on his lips, he was surrounded by laughter and cheer. Though, life grew to be too much for him. My dad couldn’t handle the stress and the death that had surrounded him over the years. The responsibility of being a father and provider only added to this and eventually became too much to bear.

I’ve often wondered what I would be like if that man raised me, but that’s not who he is now. He is just another alcoholic. Not like the Aunt Suzy “alcoholic” – the one who has a few too many drinks at family dinners. No, he’s the depressing homewrecker kind that destroys two marriages and forever taints his children’s lives. The kind of alcoholic that makes you feel scared when he comes near. The kind of alcoholic that makes your family always ask “No, how are you really doing?” The kind of alcoholic that makes an eight-year-old boy need to go to therapy.

Because of him, I was a lost kid growing up. All throughout my middle school, I secluded myself. I almost failed my classes in 8th grade, and I was absent for several days at a time. I was depressed and suicidal. I would refuse to drink wine in church fearing that one taste would turn me into him. Every single moment of my life I was nervous and scared. I didn’t want to be him, and I hated to be around him. I feared his touch and his presence, fearing it would break what little composure I had. I overate, covering my feelings in the excess food. I stopped talking to the few friends I had made. My hair reached to my shoulder, long enough to hide from the world.

Yet, I powered through. The summer before 8th-grade graduation came up I was determined to make a change. I was done with being that kid. No longer was I going to be a loner. I decided to go to a summer program and go to a new high school. I buzzed my hair to rid myself of the burden on my head. I decided to change myself.  I was giving myself a fresh start and I was going to surround myself with people I loved and trusted. People I knew I could be myself with; whoever that was. I still had my insecurities and doubts but I learned to ignore them. I reasoned with myself. Trying my hardest not to be anti-social when I knew I could just isolate myself from the world. I stopped focusing on myself and started working on the outside world.

My new friends replaced what I missing in my life. These people, Josh, Danny, Olivia, Michael, Dylan, Cheeko, Marissa, Rizzo, Evan and many more, all knew who I was. They knew my backstory and accepted me for it. They knew that sometimes I’d have problems. They knew not to talk about it in front of me, or they would join me in joking about it which helped make me feel normal. It’s an amazing feeling to find people who get it, to bond over these awful depressing jokes because they too feel that pain. Some of my friends even had similar experiences to me. Michael, Cheeko, and I would always joke about our dads. Alcoholism was commonplace in some families, and we connected over it. These people help save me just as much as I saved myself.

Since entering college I have started to drink. It seems unavoidable. The temptation from alcohol and alcohol culture is overwhelming and yet, I have made my choice. I wish I could say it was a calculated risk, but it isn’t. I know that alcoholism is a hereditary trait and in my mind, I always thought that alcohol would send me over the edge and that I would end up like my dad. No motivation, living off the kindness of my family, taking advantage of their love and using them to provide for me. I understand some of my dad’s reasons for drinking, for fun and enjoyment, but over time something changed, and as I participate in college drinking I fear that what happened to him will happen to me. No matter how innocent it starts I never want to be that man.

Like father like son, my identity is a tattered mess. It was formed out of a broken household filled with misplaced anger and growing up too fast. I am still working on myself, just like my father, who can decide at any moment to try and go sober, which he has for the past few weeks. I do know that these events will stay in my mind throughout my life and will forever affect my choices. I know can never truly be free of my dad’s influence or that scent. I have to face this fact, but I do have control over who I want to be. Who my inspirations are and what I want from this life. That’s all I  can do which is to try to help my future self and give myself the best possible life by making the right choices now. That’s what I aim to do. Will I succeed? Time can only tell.