"Hey Mom, can you take me to the library now? You said you would yesterday," she asked.

Pause

"Hello? Mom? Library?"

I look up from my book to see her leaning against the door, arms crossed, purple sweatshirt draped over them, tapping her feet, eyebrow raised questioningly. Damn, I had forgotten about that.

"Can I take you tomorrow instead?" I say.

"But you promised" she sucks in her breath sharply as her eyes fall onto the table beside me. I pretend not to notice.

"Don't be ridiculous, your mother is in no condition to drive", he spits out with disdain as he turns the corner into the room behind her. "You're better off taking your bike and going yourself. At least that way I won't find you wrapped around a pole later on."

I look at him not bothering to hide my anger. It's always like this, he criticizing me. I chug down the remainder of my wine glass. I don't see HIM offering to take her.

"You going to drink yourself into oblivion again today dear?" he asks coldly before picking up the empty Burgundy bottle. "It's not even lunchtime yet and you've polished off this one. What's that? Five? Six glasses this morning?"

So, he's counting now, just lovely. Something else for him to hold over my head and rail at me about. I hop up from my chair, grabbing my keys, ignoring him. Silence probably being my best defense.

"Come on Chelsea, I can still drive", I say as I walk towards the door.

"No you can't. Will you just listen to yourself? You're slurring. I won't let you."

He grabs my arm pressing his thumb into the bruise already there. "When are you going to admit you're nothing but a drunk?"

"Leave me alone" I yank my arm back. He doesn't understand how tough it is. "My child needs me" He seizes the keys out of my hand and throws them across the room.

"It's OK Mom, never mind. I need the exercise anyway." She shoves her hands into her pockets, looking away, uncomfortable. She sees another battle looming.

"You asked me to take you so I'm taking you"

"Chelsea, Go. Get out of here now"

"But Dad.."

"NO" stern voice "take your bike and go - now"

She starts to say something, bites her lip and runs out the door slamming it behind her. I watch her out the window flying down the road, pedaling fast.

"Was that really necessary?" I snap

"Yes, it was. I will not have you hurting the kids"

"I'm not hurting anybody"

"Yes you are and it's time you faced up to it"

"You are mistaken".

I scoop up my book, head into the kitchen, swoop up another bottle and move outside to the deck. I shrug my shoulders as he slams the door behind me. Oh well, at least he's shut up quickly this time and I can relax in peace.

I settle onto the lounge chair opening my novel. The paragraph looks vaguely familiar. Have I read this one before? Frustrated, I throw the book down. I pick up my glass, swirl the red liquid around, holding the glass up to the sun and take a sip. Mmmmm, nectar of the gods. I don't know what he's talking about.

I do not have a problem.


I am the child of an alcoholic. Scenes like this were very common growing up in my household, constant fighting, constant arguing, constant battles. I learned to shut up and say nothing. What was the point? Often these fights ended with flying pots, pans, or other utensils. I learned how to duck quickly. I never knew what the mood would be. I heard every excuse in the book. I had a hard day. It helps me to relax. I can't sleep. My head hurts, this will help. More often than not, she would pass out on the couch. These things I noticed and said nothing about. I do not even know if she realized I saw this. At that time, she probably didn't really care.

It came to the point when I was eighteen, that she started sending me to the package store to pick up her fix. She would go into a rage if I showed reluctance. It was easier to go. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I was helping her sink deeper into that black hole. I was angry with myself for not being strong enough to tell her. NO. ENOUGH. The best escape from her mood swings was to disappear, hide in my room, take my bike and fly away. Anywhere was better than here. Being the child of an alcoholic sucked, plain and simple. I am ever aware of the statistics. Children of alchoholics are four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves. It runs in families. No matter how stressed my life may get, I refuse to become one of those damn statistics. I will NOT put my children through the same hell I went through.

I don't know what finally caused her to see what she had become. It was not my father's anger with her. It was not my youngest brother's acerbic tongue. I did not ask. She did not tell. I only know that she finally sought out help long after I had married and moved away.

At that time, she could not accept responsibility for her drinking, she was not capable of it. No one could tell her this is what you've become. She had to discover this for herself. She had to find her own way home. It was a long time in coming. I'm just glad that she finally did it and found her way back to the living. Alcoholics Anonymous was/is the best thing she ever did for herself. Now I can say to her...

Mom. Good for you. You've made me proud.


Calls would come in from the time I logged on duty until I decided to quit for the day. Sunday as a cab driver in a town where the liquor stores are closed: There’s nothing quite so profitable or so depressing.

The dispatcher and we drivers who felt like working on Sunday had a system so that anyone listening in (like they actually would) to the dispatches would not have concrete evidence that we were, in fact, just ordinary bootleggers for one seventh of the week.

I would buy a case of bourbon, a case of vodka, and a case of cheap white wine and put them in the trunk of my cab. Shorty, the dispatcher, would call me on the radio and say, "Number 25, we’ve got a white package delivery over at 2536 Hawthorne." That meant that someone at that address needed a bottle of vodka and they needed it quick.

What I could never understand, being the son of an alcoholic father and one who is quite fond of liquid forgetfulness himself, was this: You have been doing this for years. You know that every Sunday you are going to be out of booze if you don't stash some away. You know that you're going to pay me a fortune to get a bottle on the Sabbath. Why do you keep doing this every damn week? Week in and week out? For years?

I could make enough money on a good Sunday to let me take the next couple of days off. I never felt a whole lot of guilt about the deal. They made their beds; they could lie in them, eh? The bottles cost me around five bucks. I'd sell the bottle to them for ten, and I'd charge for the fare from wherever I was to their house and back to wherever I was when I started. So, if it was someone out in the burbs, it could run them a total of thirty bucks to get a bottle that cost me five. But when I'd see their shaky hands reaching through the half-opened doorway to pay me, the amount in question seemed to be the last thing on their mind. I felt no guilt whatsoever. None at all. Until one summer afternoon.

Shorty came on the radio and said, "Number 25, we need a package delivery at 6593 Stonehenge." When he didn't qualify the package as brown or white, it meant the cheap wine. This seemed strange because that neighborhood was the upscale part of town. I assumed it was a kid home alone who was getting away with something while mom and dad were at a church picnic.

It was around 1:00 PM. I rang the doorbell, holding a bottle of the cheapest wine California has ever offered for consumption. I think the alcohol content was around 20%. A small middle aged lady in a bathrobe opened the door.

"How much?" she asked.

"Ten for the wine and fifteen for the trip. Twenty five total."

She handed me a fifty dollar bill and said, "Keep it."

As she started to shut the door, I felt a gush of emotion as I caught the sight of a grand piano in her living room. I said, "Do you play the piano?"

She seemed in no mood to talk. She wanted to uncork that horrible liquid and down it as soon as possible. But she also had manners. She said, "No. But my husband did."

The door widened just a bit; just enough for me to know that she really did want someone to talk to.

"Is your husband home?"

"He died back in February. You want to come in? I would like to drink a glass of wine, and I don't want you standing in the doorway."

She was twice my age and not a pretty woman. You could tell that she'd never been pretty. The bathrobe was old and worn, but the house was elegant. Dust had piled high on expensive knick knacks and bibelots. I sat down in a Windsor side chair and she hurried off to the kitchen to get a glass. She did not offer me any of her expensive purchase, but I'd been drunk on cheap white wine several times in my youth and I would not have accepted had she done so. I imagined her bowels as a tormented place where no food would find purchase for any length of time. The entire scene was making me weary of life and my temporary career as well.

She came back with a tumbler filled up with half the bottle and two cubes of ice. The look on her face as she took the first sip was one of despair more than joy. One could, however, sense the joy hiding somewhere in the background of her face.

"So, you drive a taxi for a living. What is that like?"

"It’s just a job. I'm working my way through graduate school. I think."

Within two exchanges, she had drained the tumbler. She stumbled back to the kitchen for the next half of her lunch. When she came back and sat down again, she drank in sips instead of gulps. I knew that she could not have lived like this for long. The trappings in this house were way too expensive to be afforded by a common lush.

"How did your husband die?"

"Horribly."

"He couldn’t have been that old?"

"He was fifty seven. I am fifty two. I don't plan on getting as old as he did."

"Don’t you have some other family? Children?"

"We couldn't have children," she said as she polished off the bottom of the tumbler. "Do you have another bottle of this in your cab?"

"Yes. But I'll have to charge you the same price."

She handed me another fifty dollar bill and I went out to the beat-up Yellow Cab and brought her another bottle of wine that cost me around three bucks.

She stumbled into the kitchen and poured another half a bottle into the tumbler and put three more ice cubes in it and returned to her sofa.

I could see it all so very plainly now. He had taken care of everything. He had balanced the checkbooks, paid the bills, cut the yard, and she had collected on a very large life insurance policy. She was sitting in an empty house with a barren womb and paying me a fortune for shit that a sailor would not drink.

I told her that I needed to use her phone to call my dispatcher. I was hoping he would tell me that there were no more calls. I wanted to stay and do something for this woman. I wanted to earn my money honestly. But Shorty said, "What the fuck are you doing? We've got two browns and three whites that need to be delivered right fucking now!"

I told the lady I had to go back to work. She was not concerned by this time. Her eyes had glazed over and I think she was about ready to ask me if I wanted to accompany her to the bedroom.

I didn’t do the Sunday work for the next two weeks. The third week after, I did. Around 1:00 PM Shorty called and said, "Number 25, we need a package at 6593 Stonehenge."

I lied and told him I was out of packages and just drove around town, on that lonely Sunday afternoon, wasting gas and wasting time and wondering about wasted lives.

I think it was the evening when the door buzzer went off. I picked up the entryphone but heard nothing. That was odd. When the bell rang again I went downstairs to the door.

Yes, it must have been the evening because the shadows were long, and I'm never awake to see long shadows in the morning, not in the summer anyway. And it must have been the summer. How else would the glorious blue of the sky reflected so well off its dark eyes? It looked at me quizzically, with a slightly fuzzed brow.

I suppose I should have been frightened, or taken aback or something. Instead, found myself wondering how it could have reached the bell. It was so little, about a foot high. Furry. Cute, in a certain sort of way, like a puppy is cute; nervous and bold at the same time. Instantly I felt some recognition and wondered where I had seen it before. It was.... a bear, I suppose, except bears aren't so small, not even baby bears. Maybe it was a Koala. But I seem to remember that Koalas aren't bears at all, and anyway, what would it eat? The bear - let's call it a bear - was watching me to see how I'd react.

I looked in my pockets for something to feed it. That's what I do when confronted with cute things. I found couple of chocolate covered coffee beans and offered them to it. It managed to grap them in its paw, just about, and shovel them into its mouth. It sucked off the chocolate and spat out the beans. It seemed to smile.

At this point I was at a loss. The encounter seemed to be over. I turned to go back inside to finish the writeup I was working on before the doorbell rang. But the bear looked hurt by my actions, offended. I wasn't sure what was expected of me.

The bear extended an arm -- well a leg, I suppose, if you want to be technical, but it was standing on its hind legs only, and I couldn't think of what was being offered me anything other than an arm, with a crude hand at the end; no opposable thumbs or even real claws, just a soft, round pad that felt so comfortable and soft when I held it.

It wanted to take me somewhere; that much was obvious to me now. I let it lead me, stooping to keep its hand in mine which, even extended straight above its head, barely passed my knees. We were going out the front gate when I noticed I was barefoot, but it seemed a shame to disturb the thing. When we got to the Zebra Crossing opposite the pub, I also realised I had left the TV and lights on, but at least I had keys. This was lucky, as my flatmate was in Paris that evening. We crossed the road and walked down past the shop where she always stops me to look at wedding dresses. I was relieved the bear didn't seem interested in them.

We turned there into that wonderful curving road with the incredible views, and I stopped for a bit to gaze, with the bear, out where the lovers always gaze towards the docks, the city and the hills, a man behind a woman, arms around her, in the sun. The bear, next to me, hand still in mine, stared up at me with that look of pure understanding that only animals and small children can achieve. I wondered what it was that it understood.

We went down the steps and headed up along the Avon Gorge towards the bridge. A few passers-by gave us bemused looks; perhaps they had noticed I wasn't wearing shoes. Near the bridge, the bear stooped to pick up something: a stick. I seemed to be expected to to the same, but all I could find was a broken chair-leg from a nearby skip. We began to cross the bridge when it stopped dead in the middle. I remembered vaguely what this was. It couldn't reach the side; they put up huge barriers here to stop people jumping off. So I had to hold it in one hand and my chair-leg in the other. We managed to drop our sticks at exactly the same time.

Crossing the bridge was more difficult than when the game is normally played. I was looking frantically from left to right, watching for oncoming traffic. The bear, though, led me to the other side of the middle, where the walls of the Gorge rose higher and steeper. His stick had already floated under the bridge down the trickle of a river, and was visible some way on. We waited for two minutes for my chair-leg. It didn't emerge. The bear acted as if he'd proved some kind of a point, and led me onwards.

Over the other end of the bridge, the trees seemed a lot greener than normal. Not brighter green, just greener in some undefined sense. We turned left and headed into the little wooded area that went down the side of the gorge.

It was about then that things started to get strange, because the wood was denser and thicker than I remembered it. After only a minute, I couldn't see where we came in. The bear seemed happy, excited even. There was a spring to its step. I was beginning to get concerned; if it ran away, I'd be lost.

I don't know how long we walked, but it seemed like an age. The sun finally sank out of view and dusk hung thickly in the air when we emerged in a clearing, a few feet across. We stopped, and I stood in the middle while the bear made an odd kind of call, that sounded like it was smacking its lips together.

Slowly, they came. A rabbit, staring at me distainfully, popped up from a burrow in front of me. An owl fluttered down to a branch to my right and gave a sudden "Woohoo". A tiny pig came out of the forest and stood to my left, looking nervous and tensed. Strangely, a donkey appeared behind me, looking up at me with pity. For the third time that day, it was all terribly familiar, somehow.

The animals came in closer, and the bear seemed to smile. And I began to think. A donkey has a nasty kick to it. A pig can do some damage if it runs at you. An owl is a bird of prey. A rabbit - OK, a rabbit is pretty harmless. But I got the impression it was here to watch.

Moonlight glinted off the bear's teeth. They were very sharp, and it was licking its lips again. I was deeply confused now; it seemed like a lot of effort just to eat me; this journey. I thought we were friends. The animals moved in.

In the woods, I thought I saw a tiger moving closer. The bear's crude pads had sprouted vicious claws. It snarled...



I was behind the Avon Gorge Hotel when the lights went on. The sun was high, so I guessed that it was about midday. I shook off the mud from my ripped clothes and began to head home, stopping only to buy some white wine to make the sauce for dinner. Whatever lesson I was supposed to learn that day, it was too subtle for me.

Every important thing I know about adult life I learned from watching you. It's all right. I know you're sorry about those times. You were always were sorry for what you did to me but that didn't stop you from repeating it. Repetition always helps to drive a lesson home and you did. You taught me many things, Mother. Please don't cry. It's okay now. I'm stronger because of the things I learned from you.

I remember times spent alone, the children of your drinking buddies sleeping around me on the floor. They cried for their mommies but their Mothers were with you and you were at a bar. You liked to do that, drink and dance until the bar closed. I soothed them to sleep. We played games. I read them stories and sang songs for them. But there was no one to sing me to sleep. No safety. One by one, I picked them up and carried them to my room. They were heavy for my small arms. I kept one eye always on the clock, knowing you would be home, drunk around two thirty. You were always loud and often angry when you were drunk. I protected the little ones. Someone had to while their parents were drunk. There was no one to protect me though from your angry words or your swinging hands.

You were unhappy with your life. You used alcohol to escape and it worked. Things don't seem so bad when you're drunk. Don't cry, Mother. You're getting old and you're sick and I know you just want to be forgiven. I forgive you. I told you, those times taught me alot.

I learned that household chores need to get done. You can't put them off forever. The dishes always need washed. You never would do them if you had been drinking but I still needed clean bowls for cereal and so, I learned how. I can clean the table and the stove. I know the frustration of picking up after small children. I can do my own laundry and I don't turn things funny colors doing it anymore. I'm not afraid of the bits of food that collect in the bottom of the sink when you drain away the dish water either. You'd be suprised how many other young adults don't like to touch it. I am more prepared for life in the real world because I know these things.

I learned that alcohol can not take away pain. The trouble has to be transfered to someone. It is not worth it. No one should have to deal with the results of your bad choices except for you. It's not even a complete transfer. When you're sober, the pain is worse because you know deep down even when you can't conciously remember that you did something wrong.

I will be twenty-one soon and legally allowed to drink. I remember times when I was sixteen, sitting at the table and matching you shot for shot because you made me. I learned my limits well and my tastes. I do not like to be drunk. As I get older, I may choose to have a glass of wine with dinner or a screwdriver with breakfast when I'm on vacation. But I know that alcohol is a dangerous thing, not because you could hurt yourself but because you could hurt others. I will never make anyone pay the price for my choices.

Here, have a kleenex. Are you still all right? I'm not trying to make you feel bad. I want you to understand that I learned important things from you. Let me tell you about the last few things I learned. Then we'll get your pills and you can go to bed.

I learned that I can not ever completely trust anyone except for myself. From an early age, I discovered that things don't always go as planned. If you depend on someone for a ride, and they forget you, you have to start the sad walk home alone with no one to wipe your tears. That's just life. Sometimes, something legitimate had come up. Perhaps an accident on the highway between work and my school. Most of the time though, you just didn't remember me.

I learned to be compassionate and understanding. You told me about all of your troubles, made your many excuses. Everyone has to make the right choices for herself. Even now, watching you, I am learning that I can forgive anything.

I do not bear you ill will for my early life. I wish that you could grow old and learn to be happy. The doctors say you will not live past forty if you do not listen to them. You may not live that long even if you do. You've abused your body too much. Smile for me now. You'll be all right. I've learned alot from watching you and I will not make your mistakes. I forgive you and I love you but it's time for your pills and then the doctor says you should sleep.

The funny thing about magic is how hard it is to find it.

The even more funny thing is how easy it is to lose it.

As a young child, things we did not understand were often attributed to magic. It is amusing that this magic was never bad. Only good things were magic. Perhaps this is because, for most children, bad things just didn't occur. They weren't memorable. Bad things don't happen to cute little kids. And if they do, it's not as if they understand them.

Like everything else, there is always an exception.

Clink. clink. clink.
Crash!

As a child, my favourite toy was my dollhouse. It was, like most dollhouses, I imagine, made of plastic, and dreadfully heavy. It had gotten so that my family refused to put it away in it's proper cardboard box, because lifting the thing in and out of the box every single day had become tiresome.

My dollhouse was as tall as I was when I sat down. It was white, with a turquoise balcony and a pink porch. The 'roof' was turquoise and the trim was pink. And as my seven year old self, I really wanted a house just like that when I grew up.

With my dollhouse was a little family. There was a dad, and a mom, and two kids. A little girl, who was about six, like me, and a little boy who was a baby - okay, a bit younger than Brandon, my brother, granted. But I pretended quite well. The mom and the dad and the little kids were happy. I made them that way. They were my family, my responsibility. I even named the plastic people after us. And they would be happy. I always made sure of that.

Crying. The wounded howl of a confused three year old. Crashing noises.

The little plastic kitchen was always full of little plastic food, with matching plastic dishes and clear plastic glasses. The family ate together at their pink plastic table with a bouquet of purple, generic flowers made of, course, plastic, picked by little Katie each day. It never registered with me that the basket could not be emptied, that the flowers were always fake, were always the same.

Just like my plastic family.

On this particular day, I had just finished my lunch of grilled cheese and ketchup and was sitting, pushing baby 'Brandon' in a swing on the front porch using 'Daddy's' hands. I was smiling, speaking as if I were the baby and the father both. They were happy. The dad in the plastic family was there.

My dad wasn't.

Yelling. The undignified screech of my angered mother. The crash of her knocking things from the table.

It didn't matter. My plastic family was perfect. The figures in my hands never had to worry about that. The daddy went to work, but he always came home, every day, and he stayed there. He didn't leave when the mommy yelled; but then again, the mommy never yelled.

I pushed the baby a little bit harder in the swing. "Later we can go to the park!" I said cheerfully, pulling 'baby' from the swing and carrying both members of the family back around the pull-out house into the room. "But first, a nappy." I laid the baby down in his rocking cradle and pulled a blue blanket over him, setting the father in the rocking chair.

Slam.

I got to my feet and moved towards the stairs. I remember being afraid.

Smack. My mother, hitting my brother across the face. Screaming; the wounded howl again as my mother dragged my brother towards the stairs leading to the basement.

He was dangerously close to the first step. My brother took a step backwards, faltered, and regained his balance, twisting so that he almost faced me at the bottom of the stairs.

"What are you DOING?" I shrieked, but my voice was drowned out by my mother's own yell.

"GET DOWN THERE!" she screamed at my brother. I ran up the stairs as my brother ran down, and we met two thirds of the way down the stairs, my brother sobbing.

"Are you okay? Do you need a hug?" I asked over her yelling.

He couldn't talk, only nod, and I wrapped my arms around him, swaying back and forth as my mother yelled.

"SHUT UP! HE DOESN'T DESERVE A HUG, WHY ARE YOU HUGGING HIM?"

I spun up the steps, between my brother and my mom, glaring. "He's my brother!" I screeched. "HE'S MY BROTHER!"

It must have been soon after this that I stopped believing in magic. Because magic wouldn't bring me this -- and it hadn't taken it away either.

I had forgotten the bear's name, and could not find my way home to the Thousand Acre wood.

I can’t dance, and have never been able to.
But that didn’t used to stop me.
And I can’t remember when that changed.

And I used to believe in Santa Claus,
never making it to midnight.
And waking to presents all magically arranged.

I no longer idly wonder
What a girl has, down there
Now I just know.

And I cannot remember when
the split between now and then, happened.
But the bear used to have a name,
and it used to be my friend.

There used to be monsters in the closet
and magic in my fingers.
I used to be able to fly
in my cardboard box.

But now I live here.
Where people lie to each other’s faces
and tell the truth behind their backs.

And I can’t go back.
Because I don’t know how.
And there isn’t even a way back to know.
Even as I watch others play in my sanctuary,
my Hundred Acre Wood.

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