Drunks are everywhere, though they don't usually choose to identify themselves -- "Hey, I'm a lush, whaddya think?" -- not unless they've reached those wispy strategic climes where brilliant defensive games are played on empty courts.
"Sure, I'm a drunk. Yeah, sure I'm gonna die ... yeah ... right ... well you're gonna die too, no? Maybe sooner than me. Maybe you get hit by a bus on the way home and I don't. Who knows? Maybe you got cancer right now. Tell me again what your point is. I think I missed it."
When he needs to protect his drinking, there isn't anything a drunk won't say. And, in fact, there isn't a dime's worth of difference between the barroom hassle during which anything may be said and the endlessly ignorant and cowardly cruelty that streams out of our media as if an aggregate man were beating an aggregate soul to death with a tire iron.
Cowardly, of course, because it's largely directed against the defenseless. This is, perhaps, the controlling lie of our species -- that those without money or power are always responsible for the failures of money and power.
The drunks notice this stuff but they don't much care, not really, because they like to think they cast cold eyes. They brood sometimes about the children with the confused eyes, but when it comes right down to it, an addict will walk across the bodies of ten broken children to get to what he needs.
So if the kid is crying at home, or will be crying when home is finally reached, well, that's how humanity is, and the problem is universal and insoluble -- kind of like terrorism, like the government says..
But you know what the horror is, and will be? It's that you were once a kid who wanted to be a loved human being, and you remember, and There's no wretchedness like remembering when all you wanted was a smile, or a held hand, or a moment of light when everyone and everything seemed together, sweet as love. But then there's the present in the dark, and God it hurts. Everyone, not just the drunks.
The drunk might have a better chance at finding a quiet place in the frenzy because at 3 in the morning, with 20 years of a chemical wearing off, not working, and life at the window like a hungry beast's mouth, there's no getting away from the truth.
The children are asleep in the other room, hoping for something better in the morning. Just like who? Hoping for what? A smile from Mommy like she wants them to be there, a soft word from Dad, a piece of love for the day?
The feelings hurt like hell, but they don't kill, and it's possible to learn to say what you need to say. I can say now things I once thought were humiliating. Like "remember when everything was good that day, and we all loved each other?" Other stuff, too, because as long as there's a place in my head I'm afraid of, I'm on my way to a drink. It's a set-up -- "If I have to go there, I'm allowed to drink.'
I worked as a counselor in a residential program. I saw a kid leave and get killed because his secret line had been crossed and that allowed him. I saw a woman lose her children because she'd been threatened with losing her children, and that was her line to be crossed -- the one that let her give up her children for a bottle and a motel room.
So I start this column to tell you that there is nothing to hide, and that if you're a drunk there's nowhere you've been that other drunks haven't.
And that if you're human you have no grief that isn't common to other humans, across the board, and that the brightness of who you were once is still a brightness, and still your soul.
There are things that can be done. One life can be made better and less misery passed on than received. The misery shrinks that way, arithmetically.
Larry Kearney is a writer in Larkspur, Calif. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. This is the second in a series.