First off, let me say that I am beyond thrilled that the Scintilla Project is running again this year. Powered by some of my favorite women on the internet, it gathers us disparate bloggers and unites us in a fortnight of story-telling. I am blessed to call these women friends and to get to share in this endeavour.
I was nine years old. My sister was ten. A family from our church had just called our Mom. Couldn’t she come and just watch her for a few hours during the day? You trust her at home alone, right? There were tears from both of us. My sister in not wanting to do it alone, in realizing the gravity of being asked to watch the child of another person. Mine in not wanting to be left out, in frustration at knowing I could handle it. It made the decision easy for our Mom, we would do it together. Our very first babysitting job. We charged three whole dollars an hour that we then split and we reveled in our wealth.
The little girl we kept first was adorable. Her grandmother was the organist at our church and she and her husband lived on the same property as the little girl and her mother. They just couldn’t keep up with a toddler for any length of time. Which made it a perfect first gig as there were adults who could be called for if something went wrong. And once, it so nearly did.
It was a lazy Texas summer day and we were playing in the pool together. Our charge had a swimsuit with a built in flotation ring. She’d thrown a toy out of the pool and my sister and I were fetching. She lunged to grab another toy and flipped upside down. Her perfect little flotation ring, sewn into her swimsuit so she couldn’t slip out of it, pinned her upside down. I remember my sister lunging up the steps to the platform by the pool, it was above ground. I remember just grabbing the sides and hauling myself up and over. We got to her while she was thrashing and were able to flip her back over. That was the end of swimming that day. That was the confirmation that working together was the right call. We grew up that day, faced with terror and the realization that any hesitation or inaction could end a life.
I was the 13 the first time I was offered an alcoholic beverage. It wasn’t from a peer or anyone trying to get me drunk, it was from a family member trying to educate me on the potency of alcohol. Alcoholism, and indeed addiction in most forms, runs rampant in my family. We try to keep well adjusted attitudes while acknowledging that there is clearly a gene in our pool that runs towards addictions. Thirteen and offered an icy cold amaretto sour, blended with frozen pink lemonade, as part of the family dinner happening that night. I accepted and had my first drink with no fuss and no buzz, much less a hangover or drunken antics.
As I aged, drinks were offered at other special occasions or big family get togethers. Never more than one per event. Never anything strong. Just a drink and an education on what responsible drinking looked like. It held over into my collegiate years. Booze in moderation was good, drunkenness was bad.
The funny part to me is that drinking is considered such a milestone in the American culture. You have to wait until you’re 21, so of course everyone sneaks around, gets drunk, and sometimes make tragic choices. But it is the hallmark of being an adult, this ability to shed responsibility under the excuse of drunkenness. I’ve made that excuse many times.
I only kissed her to get free drinks and because I was already drunk. I know I didn’t behave well, but it’s because I was drunk. I can’t help being this way, I’m drunk. He didn’t know what he was doing because he was drunk. We only said those things because we were both drunk.
It’s funny that I grew more from rescuing a little girl in a swimming pool than I ever have from a single instance of drinking alcohol. It’s funny that babysitting taught me more about life than having hangovers. The truth is that I have been struggling recently with my relationship to alcohol. Many times I am the “un-fun” DD. Sometimes I am the fun drunk. But I never stay there. I always end up as the in tears drunk. Always. Which makes me think that it’s time to become the former drunk. At least for a little while. Until I can remember how to have fun without being drunk. Until I can drink without crying.
I never expect to go where these prompts lead me. I certainly didn’t expect to be staring sobriety down an empty wine bottle after being prompted to write about a drunken escapade or a work story. Yet this is exactly where I need to be right now. Sober. Sad about my relationship with alcohol. But finally wiser from my experiences with it.