“Come on dad please! Let’s go fishing!” My brother Cord was relentless with asking our dad to go on the boat. He was obsessed with…
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“Come on dad please! Let’s go fishing!”
My brother Cord was relentless with asking our dad to go on the boat. He was obsessed with fishing, boating, and camping. Our dad was obsessed with fishing, boating, and alcohol. Cord connected with our dad through fishing, no matter what state dad was in-drunk or sober. It was a way to feel like the family was normal. Fishing was a way that made the sloppiness of an alcoholic seem tolerable. Fishing couldn’t embarrass us.
“Stop asking him!” I whispered to Cord. I gave him the look, which he knew what that meant. Dad is drunk already and you shouldn’t go out anywhere. Cord was younger than me and didn’t understand. I was so angry with the state dad was in and with Cord being pushy about leaving. Cord wanted to have fun that weekend. I wanted dad to be sober. Our worlds had different goals even though we were just two years apart. Dad decided to take Cord out fishing and had announced in a drunken manner “Jussss for an hour!” He swayed so much he bumped into the wall.
Dad had two boats. One of the boats (he assured me all the time) was not his and he was just “boat sitting” for a friend. The smaller boat he actually did own was named Brass Rings. The “borrowed” boat was named La Nicki. He wanted to make sure I didn’t tell my mom that he had two boats since he could barely pay the child support. So he often reminded me that La Nicki was not his. I’ll never know the actual truth about it.
Dad tried to ask me normally “The besss fishin’ happens at dusk. You sure you donwanna come?”
“I’m not going.” I said with contempt. I felt in charge of my decision and relieved I had a choice.
“Don’t tell…. Jen we’re goin’ on La Nicki. Jusssss say Brass Rings.”
They left. I felt strange about it. I knew deep down I did something wrong. I ignored my racy thoughts and distracted myself by watching TV.
My stepmom Jen woke me up on the couch abruptly. She had come home around midnight from a night out with friends from work. “Trish!! Where are they?”
I shot up from the couch and the adrenaline began pumping. I was sure my heart was going to explode from beating so hard. They aren’t home. Why?
I told Jen they went out fishing on Brass Rings before it was dark and they promised it would only be one hour of fishing. Jen called my dad’s cell phone. When my dad picked up I can tell by her face that this time of dad being drunk was different.
At this point dad was so intoxicated he was blacked out. Cord went on the phone and I heard Jen tell Cord to get his life vest on and that help would be on the way. She told him she loved him. This was bad. Jen rarely told Cord she loved him on a normal day. I spoke with Cord on the phone too.
“It’s so rocky. I think a storm is coming. We are drifting fast and we can’t see where we are headed.” Cord told me this in a tone that was surprisingly calm. I think he was in shock.
After hanging up Jen called 911 and explained the situation. They immediately notified the coast guard who had asked for a description of the boat. Because dad told Jen on the phone they were on Brass Rings, (I had originally lied and told her this too) Jen started to describe the wrong boat to the coast guard. I didn’t want her to be mad that they were on La Nicki, a boat that was much larger, nicer, and “not ours” to use. My thinking was distorted because my dad wanted me to lie for him.
I told Jen the truth about which boat they were on. Jen was pissed. She called the coast guard back, gave them the real description of the boat they were on, and then immediately called my father. She yelled, “Why are you on La Nicki?!? You should not be on this boat!” All I could think to myself was why is she mad about that little detail and not the fact that he is drunk on the water with my little brother? It seemed wrong and it confused me. Why weren’t we allowed on this boat?
“The coast guard was on their way.” I told Cord on our next call.
“It’s so dark. The waves are crashing over the boat. I think a storm is coming.” Cord exclaimed. All of a sudden the phone hung up. This was the point where I realized how bad this situation really was. Jen called my mom in the middle of the night to inform her of what was happening. I felt sick. I felt weak. I couldn’t imagine what my brother was going through.
I was mad at Jen. I was furious. She left us for a night out! But I couldn’t show my true feelings. Never show my true feelings. What if someone doesn’t agree with my feelings? What if those feelings are wrong? Or worse, what if my feelings hurt someone else’s feelings? At times I didn’t even know what my feelings were. I was always anticipating the worst growing up with an alcoholic dad.
He taught me how to love a person who needs the type of help I can’t provide. He taught me how to feel the feelings of others. He taught me how to only feel the feelings of others. If you were happy, then that means I’m happy. If you were sad, then I’m sad. But Jen taught me a lot too. Jen taught me to accept the things in life that one should never need to accept.
She taught me to hold on to empty hope. She taught me to have an “it’s not that big of a deal” attitude towards everything. I sat in the living room worried about everyone else. How will my mom feel? I felt sick because I actually could feel her, even though she was an hour away. Will she be mad at me? I know she will be mad at me. I let them go. This was all my fault. I should have stopped them. Jen usually told us that dad took too much medication and was dizzy the night before from it. That was a way to cover up his alcoholism. She was in denial. What story can she fabricate from this?
We sat in silence. Waiting. Feeling our feelings. What was happening on the boat? It’s 1 in the morning, it’s dark, dad is drunk, and Cord is alone. Cord was only 10 years old. I know that people say alcoholism is a disease, but at this moment I couldn’t agree. It felt like the night had so many choices that went sour. Cancer is a disease. People don’t choose to have cancer. But my dad absolutely chose to drink until he blacked out. We only see him on the weekends. Why can’t he just not drink two days out of the week?
What I didn’t know was that this was the moment that we would forever refer to this situation as “the boat incident.” This was the moment that changed the path for Cord. This was the moment that switched the bipolar and addiction gene on for Cord. This trauma triggered the beginning of his end.
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