It was a few weeks after Dad’s heart attack in 1983, and while he was away in hospital slowly recovering, I tried my best to keep things orderly at home. I was uncertain, fighting my own fears, and wishing that the whole situation would just be over soon.
I had promised my Dad from his ER bed that I’d “take care of things at home” but I really didn’t know what that meant – I had said it to reassure him and myself. In truth, I wasn’t exactly in control of our household while he was away. I was just a quiet, awkward seventeen year-old kid. So, we had a trickle of visitors every day or two, and a few close friends who tended to occupy the kitchen table during daylight hours. Everybody had learned that the big cat was away, so our place became a part-time hangout.
I had tried to act nonchalant about it, but I really wished that everyone would just fuck off and leave me alone. I had no concept of a future for myself or for Kim, because Dad, our single parent who was the centre of the household, was just gone, replaced by a vacuum of empty space, uncertainty, and bleakness. It was scary, and hard to take.
Our family had completely fallen apart around me. Mum had been gone in hospital since I was eleven after trying to drink herself to death, Dad had almost died from his alcoholism (and probably from stress and regret) and would be laid up in Burnaby Hospital for months to come. Kim was basically acting like a free agent, unmanageable, running wild around the neighbourhood, sometimes staying with friends and sometime sleeping at home. I was the one left trying to keep the lights on and the fridge stocked in what remained of the family home. Some fucking home. It was a lonely and bleak scene for a seventeen year-old kid.
By nature, I was and still am, a loner – an introvert. But it still feels good to socialize and to be drawn out into laughter, jokes, or camaraderie by others. I really need it, and I think I’ve always needed others to do that for me. I couldn’t really generate those moments myself, without some outside help. I needed happy faces, jokers, and extroverts to liven things up around me. At the time, I didn’t know if I was actually depressed or anything. I just knew that I was physically and emotionally wrung out, feeling almost dead inside. So sometimes, you really need to get a diversion from the drudge of taking care of business.
So, we did have some parties, which usually meant that I’d spin my new vinyl, “Alive She Cried” by The Doors, and someone would bring in a case or two of beer. We smoked cigarettes inside, but nothing else. I tried to act like it was still my house and there were still rules, even just to convince myself that it was true. The old man had liked a regular schedule. He had raised me to respect his orders and the order of our house. That was how he kept things together for himself too, I guess.
Regardless, little parties broke out most Friday nights; unstructured drinking and laughing times that changed the way that my home felt. Friends brought their sisters and brothers, and they brought their girlfriends and boyfriends, and I enjoyed most of them. I would let the evening’s alcohol slowly soak into me, and try to relax and unspool some of my worries. I would listen to Jim Morrison cry and wail and screech through his pain, and parts of his voice almost became my own. I slowly unwound and accepted that I was still safe at home, surrounded by friends and benign hangers-on, and I reassured myself that yes, the cat was away, and the world wouldn’t end without him there. Me and my house were still standing.
During one little house party, I answered the door to find my sister standing on our porch with some black kid whom I’d never seen before. He was probably about Kim’s age, and I guess looking for somewhere to land for the evening. I said hello, and looked at him skeptically. He said “Hey, I heard your Mom went nuts.” I winced and squinted at him, and might have just said “Uh huh”. I looked at Kim and felt offended that this little shit had mentioned my Mother in such a cheap, blunt way. Kim had been telling colorful tales to evoke sympathy, I figured. At fifteen, she already had the old man’s gift for colourful bullshit. It pissed me off. This guy was just some boneheaded little fuck, some little stray whom Kim had picked up while gallivanting around partying. I wasn’t letting him inside. He could stay out on the porch all night as far as I was concerned. He looked down, then back at me, and said “sorry” or something that sounded like contrition, and then pulled out a peace offering: it was the biggest blunt I’d ever seen in my life. As he sparked up his cigar-sized joint, I decided to give peace a chance.
Our house had always been a mirrored container of its occupants, amplifying the volume, tone, and accent of their actions. For most of my life, that space had been dominated by the sometimes happy but most often conflicted or drunken voices of my parents. For me now, my home took on the new sounds of other people’s laughter, voices that drowned out my worried, sad inner monologue. The benign party people would always leave after the booze ran out, or if the cops came by to give us a warning to keep the noise down. Then my home would be quiet and empty and peaceful once again.