Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Sober Irishman

The Sober Irishman
By Michael Cannata

           He walked past the pub where the match of the week was being played. He could hear his old mates screaming in both joy and agony as they urged their team onto victory.

            The urge to join them was almost magnetic. He could smell the bar from the other side of the street. The side he always took on his way home, keeping as much distance between him and the door.  He loved the place, but going there was dangerous. He always felt welcome but never felt safe there. And home was the safest place he knew at this point.

            The kids would still be up, fighting for every extra minute of time on the computer or watching the telly. It was a bedtime ritual that had contributed to the increase in his drinking in the early years of his marriage. He always headed to the pub while his wife bedded down the kids. He would drink until he had to go home or risk being tossed. But the last few years had been a lot better.

            He had started going to meetings… support groups to help him deal with the issues of drinking and domestic violence. The meetings helped him learn to control his anger… and control his drinking as well. He knew, now, that it was his friends, the pub, the game; it was all those things that ruined his family life. His life with his friends, the environment they created, was what gave birth to his troubles at home.

            In his drunken stupor he saw the end of the evening, the end of the game... as an unwelcome responsibility. It was the time to go home that served as the trigger. If only he didn't have to go home! He hated seeing the apprehension on his wife's face, the change in his children's demeanor. He could hear their happy voices from the street. Their laughter rang down the small alley where they lived; they lived in small flat that he hated with every fiber of his being. The laughter would stop as soon as he walked through the door.

            His wife would have his portion of supper still warm waiting for him. He always felt a pang of guilt every time he ate her meals, which usually meant a beating was in order. The way she looked when she cooked his meals before he started with the group, was one of fearful anticipation.  She knew when he came home drunk that, the better the meal, the safer she was.

            It was the domain of a failed man. He was just another tired, sorry face doing his best to stay afloat against a tidal wave of debt and depression. He’d considered suicide, but when a friend at the bar with a sympathetic ear invited him to a group session, everything changed. The group saved his life.

            Now, his wife always had a genuine smile waiting for him to go along with the evening meal. There were times she went a little overboard but he understood her need to please him. He hadn't hit her in years now, but, her fear, subtle, yet ever present, still motivated her to do her part. She had even started to welcome him into her bed again, where she would lay stiff and cautious while holding him tight waiting for him to finish. Every time he came home sober her enthusiasm always seemed to grow.

            The group had helped him focus on his troubles in way he had never done before. His friends, his games, his entire life was out of control.  He had to sacrifice them if he was ever going to live the sort of life that would bring him the happiness his family sought.

            He wasn't drunk now. He had spent the last five years passing by the pub and thinking about the life he had led there.  A life he had loved more than his own family. He had come to the point where he knew what was important for him and for his family. He knew what had to be done. There was one final change he needed to make before he could be happy too.  He had made his decision on the walk home.

            He knew his wife believed she could keep that “good part of him” away from the “bad part”, the part that belonged to his life in the pub. But she was wrong. It seemed the less he enjoyed his life, the better they seemed to think their lives were. He had spent five years sober, sacrificing his entire social network; the circle of friends that the pub and the camaraderie the games represented. He was home and he felt more alone every night. He had been doing it to save his family… but now it was clear that it was slowly killing him.

            He stood by the door and picked up the axe that leaned against the shack. They had all made mistakes. He was tired of playing the role of a sober Irishman. Tonight, the wife would be the first to see the error of her ways.  Then the kids would get the whipping of their life.

            Once the family was out of the way, he just might have time to make the second half of the match with his friends at the pub. He could almost taste the ale he had been craving for five years.

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