Friday, December 4, 2009

DADDY LIVED THE BLUES

Mrs. Holiday. I interviewed Sonny Rollins two years ago. I asked about his influences. He talked about Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. I asked him about the saxophonists excessive drinking, The question irritated him, but he answered:"everybody has to do something to get through live". I think about his adage often. I used to believe addicts were weaklings, but I don't anymore. Mrs. Holiday, I read your autobiography Lady Sings the Blues.It took me awhile to finish it. There was so much pain in it. I couldn't read it in one sitting. The racism you endured trying to earn a living with you're God given talent would've pushed most strong willed people over the edge. When you talked about the time the Southern sheriff called you a black bitch, I wanted to jump inside the book to defend you. There were other stories equally appalling and dehumanizing. You had a hard life. Reading your book helped me to understand what Mr. Rollins meant. I know a thing or two about addiction. I've never been hooked on drugs or alcohol, but my father was a big drinker. He died at age 51 because of it. Sober dad was a sweetheart. On the other, hand he was meaner than a Pit-bull with a toothache when he was drunk. He never abuse his family, but I heard him a few times verbally abuse his girlfriend, who was also an addict.

Dad was 6'5" tall. He weighed 275 pounds when healthy, but cancer ate away 100 of those pounds. My parents divorced when I was a toddler. Mom never talked about him, but grandma did, especially When I criticized him. Although my parents split up, dad and grandma remained friends. She wanted me to love him unconditionally, which I eventually did. His drinking got worse. His binges lasted longer. Dad always knew that he needed help. Midway through a binge, he'd check into a detoxification facility. When he'd sobered up, he would call me. I'd give him a ride home. He would never talk about the binging.Not even on his deathbed. He never lectured me.

Last month, I asked my mother about his drinking. She wanted to know why. I said I'd been reading your autobiography, and it made me think about him. Mom hates reminiscing. She said your life was much harder than my dad. I kept pushing, and she opened up. In the mid-60's they're students at Northern High School. Back then, for some drinking was a pastime. Dad was a basketball player and smart. Four colleges offered him full athletic scholarships. After school, my father and his friends would get hammered. One day, he showed up to school wasted, and he threatened a teacher. Security searched his locker and found several bottles of cheap wine. Dad was expelled. The incident was a big deal. It made both daily newspapers. The colleges withdrew their offers. His drinking led to a series of mental breakdowns. He lived in halfway houses until he got his act together

He got a job at the United States Postal Service sorting mail. He moved to a studio apartment, and he joined Alcoholics Anonymous, My older sister and I talked to him often. We offered to go with him to some AA meetings. He declined. Attending the meetings didn’t help him much. He kept relapsing, and the binging increased. I was fed up, and severed our relationship. I excepted he was going to drink himself to death. My aunt kept in touch with him. She'd called me periodically to update me on his condition. One day she call to tell me he needed my help. Dad was living in a rundown Hotel and he was in bad shape. I hadn't seen or talked to him for months. The chambermaid convinced him to go to the hospital. She took me to his room to gather his belongings, two black baseball caps, a large plastic comb with some of the teeth missing, a portable radio without batteries,a pair of navy blue slippers, and a 3.75oz tube of Vaseline. I stuffed the items into a black 30.oz garbage bag, and drove to the hospital.

Dad had cancer. When I saw him stretched out in the hospital bed, a oxygen mask covering his mouth and nose. His size 15 feet dangled over the hospital bed. He was skin and bones. He was so thin I could see his heart beat. It looked as if it wanted to jump out his chest. The cancer had spread throughout his body. A doctor told me he couldn't pinpoint where the cancer began. I broke down. I asked dad why was he living in that crappy hotel. He said God told him to go there to die. I whimpered. He asked me to leave, noting that my crying wouldn't make things better. Mrs. Holiday, I was so upset it took me nearly an hour to get out the hospital's parking structure. The next day, his doctor took me into a conference room and gave me the bad news. Dad's condition was terminal. I had to put him in hospice. His days were number.

My father was the youngest patient at Northwest Nursing Home. A hospice social worker helped me find the nursing home, and make dad's funeral arrangements. She told me what stages he would go through. I forgot the name of the cancer he had. The name was long and seemed to contain every letter in the alphabet. The social worker said my father would pick up weight. He gained 20 pounds, A few times he called me at 11:00pm. He wanted me to bring him some hamburgers from White Castle. She said my father would appear to be recovering. Then he would experience dementia. One day, he woke up talking crazy. He was convinced someone had come into his room while he slept and stole his mattress. That was the final stage. Two days later, he died.

He was in hospice two months. I was with him everyday. I wondered if he thought about his life, and wish he had made better choices. I wondered if he regretted allowing the drinking to get out of hand. I wondered if he felt relieved knowing his troubled life would end soon. I didn't have the nerve to ask. Oddly, Mrs. Holiday, I learned more about myself in those two month than about him. Friends tell me I'm sarcastic. He was that way. He was generous. So am I. Mrs. Holiday, you're probably wondering why I told you about dad's life. Your autobiography made me think about my dad's drinking problem. At 19, my parents married. They had two kids three years later. Trying to support a family at that young age probably made him drink more. Mrs. Holiday, Sonny Rollins adage helped me understand why some people need drugs and alcohol to cope.
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