Parenting Blog

Why I Don’t Drink

We were a few towns over, driving empty streets towards a dinner we’d soon let slip our minds. Maybe the place was shaped like an airplane, propped up like a roadside museum piece weathered inside and out. A Smithsonian reject, doomed to live out its string in a suburban nowhere. But then again, maybe not. That could’ve been someplace else, somewhere else. Another town, another meal no one remembers.

I was alone in the backseat and the radio was on, traffic and transit on the twos. My parents and I gave the station 22 minutes, as requested, and they in turn gave us the world. A promise kept. The world that the local all-news doled out on that unseasonably warm November early evening, with its stereotypical mid-80’s AM crackle and hiss, something we’d consider rather charming now, was rougher around the edges than usual for a 9-year-old boy just starting to figure himself out, far more dire than the tense Soviet / U.S. relations usually dominating news reports of the day. The world for that boy, for me, back then, would change in ways I would not be able to internalize until much later. Like now, here.

When our Cadillac sedan deville coasted down our home’s 25% grade driveway 25 minutes earlier, the world I knew was elegantly framed and double matted, hung above a hearth still warm. It was G.I. Joe and He-Man on plush carpet. It was Bermuda shorts in the summer and a hockey team clad in orange and black all winter long. A few towns later, a half of a blink of an eye from where I stand now, the world was a newscaster solemnly announcing that a car had smashed into the wall of New Jersey school. Pelle Lindbergh was dead. Before he was dead he was drinking. Then he wasn’t. And then he was gone. Liquid confidence and a fast car conspired, as the dynamic duo have so many times before and since, to take a son away from a father, a brother away from siblings, a husband away from a wife, and a daddy away from children too young to understand why he will never again sit on the edge of their bed, atop a smoothed out patch of Hello Kitty comforter, next to a pile of plush friends, gnashing his terrible teeth with exaggerated humor while reading Where The Wild Things Are for the 3rd consecutive time.

My childhood sped up a few mph in the backseat of that car. A 45 second news report, a box of photographs dumped into my head of the goalie gliding effortlessly between the crease, smiling while posing with fans at the annual player’s wive’s carnival, his eyes peering out from a virgin white mask, and a fictional snapshot, an artist’s rendering quickly sketched, of his red sports car, shattered glass, an empty bottle and a sturdy wall that still doesn’t give a shit.


The stuff that happens to us age 9, 10, and 11 — the stuff we see along the side of a road and the stuff we hear on an all-news radio station, that’s the stuff that defines us, builds the core of us, forms the connective tissue that will inform future decisions, fuel future passions. It is a collection of soundbytes and short films and after school snacks and broken toys and presents under the tree that will mold us into who we will become, eventually, when we cobble together the resources to complete the process externally.

My relationship with alcohol began, and in a way I guess ended, with a goalie and a drink and a Porshe and a wall. I was just a 9-year-old boy seated in the backseat of a Cadillac on the way to an early dinner with the radio on.

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