I guess for a lot of people the first two questions are: What is a coal bin? followed quickly by, Why would anyone want to hide in one? The picture on the left is the closest I could come to. I never took a picture of the one at our house, but I can tell you that it was smaller, and a lot scruffier than the one you see.
More important, is what it looks like when you’re inside. It’s really small. It’s complete darkness, and you sit on hunks of bituminous coal. Why? Because it was the one place my father never thought to look for me, when he’d get drunk.
Like most bins, ours had a door on top right-hand side that you raised up and a little tiny door on the bottom. When I’d hide, I’d take it one step farther… just to be sure. I’d climb in, pull the top down and then hide in the back left corner so that even if he lifted the door, he might not see me. And yeah……... sixty years later, it’s still really, really hard to write this paragraph.
My dad was a freelance writer as well as a novelist. People would come to the house and say, “You must be SOOOO proud of your father!” I’d nod, smile, and keep my mouth shut because it was pretty much of a bitch living with a truly nasty alcoholic.
It’d usually start this way: Dad would have a bad day behind the typewriter. When he came in to dinner, he didn’t talk much, but his eyes were different… slittier, almost serpentine. We all knew we were screwed if and when my father would disappear into the living room and the record player would flip on. Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, The Andrew Sisters, Tommy Dorsey, would come on and a bottle of Teachers Scotch would appear from out of nowhere. (Dad had bottles hidden everywhere. That’s the dead giveaway of an alcoholic. )
He would dance alone, unaccompanied by anyone or anything other than a high-ball glass filled with amber liquid. After half an hour or so, he’d come out. Mom would disappear or sometimes she’d try to cajole him. This never worked. Never. And then he’d come looking for one of the kids… usually me, though I’m not sure why. Maybe because I was the youngest, or littlest. And so, I learned to hide.
He kept finding me in the basement so I abandoned that. Those times were really bad. Ultimately, the coal bin was my safe haven. There was even a knothole in the front, and when he’d go outside to the barn (where he did his writing) I’d watch him through the knothole till he was in the barn. I’d wait a few minutes and then sprint for the house.
Why am I telling you this? Because alcoholism is still a destroyer of people, families, little kids, pets, businesses. No one has come up with a pill to fix you up and solve the problem. This is addressed to anyone who thinks their alcoholism is cute or cool, or funny, or not interfering with your family. It interferes. It really, really does.
As I grew up, I disliked my father a little more with each passing year. Bringing girls to the house on a date was often hideous. He’d either hit on the girl, which was terrible for everyone… particularly my mom, or he’d just get nasty. When he died, I didn’t shed a tear.
If you or anyone you know or love has a drinking problem, show them a blog such as this… if you aren’t too afraid to. When you drink, you hurt your kids and you hurt your family. There’s no such thing as a functioning alcoholic. That dad-part of being a dad… doesn’t work at all. Sixty years later… I’m still disgusted.
Anything good come out of it? Yeah. My dad was a terrific role model for what NOT to do to my wife, my family, myself.
If you think that just maybe this might apply to you… just a little, go ask your family and look if there’s fear in their eyes as you say the words.
AA wasn’t around when I was growing up. It is now! If you need it… use it. Alcoholics Anonymous can work. What you may not know: Even if the alcoholic member of your family won’t go… you can. And they can inform you of many ways to help… and many options.
P.S. My mom and dad had three kids: One is a member of AA. One is on psychotropic drugs, and then there’s me. I was the “lucky one.” FWIW, I don’t have any pix of me as a little kid. This was the youngest I could find.
P.P.S. This went a little dark and heavy. That couldn’t be helped. Got a more cheerful one in mind for next week. Thanks H.