Disclaimer: Oh, for heaven’s sake, here I am again, trying to write a witty disclaimer. Look, they don’t belong to me. If they did, I wouldn’t be writing fanfic, now would I? Whadya think of that reasoning, fancy trying-to-sue-me people? They belong to Aaron Sorkin. It’s all HIS fault.
Author’s note: This is in response to the “Turning Point” challenge. There I was, happily being lazy, and somebody has to go and make a fic challenge I can’t refuse. Great. OK, I’m done being a pain in the a**. In all seriousness, this story comes, in part, from my own experiences. My grandfather was an alcoholic up until 5 years ago. Finally, when he was as low as he could go -- near death -- he got help. His story is one of the reasons I refuse to touch the stuff; I fear too much for myself.
Rating: Oh, PG works. Maybe PG 13 for some language.
But by the Grace of God
The first time I decided to swear off alcohol forever after, I was 12 years old, and my father was dead.
The second time I was 49, and I was dead.
Like father, like son. At least, that’s what they always told me, and when I look in the mirror now, or at my own hands, or at my life . . . yeah, I can see him.
I loved my dad. Joseph Kyle McGarry, the name for a king, and he was. He towered; a kind look from him or a word of praise made me a prince. He knew everything – how to sail and fish, the names of trees, the art of flying two kites at once, the magic of a flute, and where to finds the words that made ordinary conversation into poetry.
He used to lift me on to his shoulders: “So you can be a little closer to the clouds, Leo,” he’d say. “I bet if you were just a bit taller, you could reach them. You will reach them, I know. Or even the stars!”
He knew the names of all the stars, too. He spent enough time contemplating them while sleeping in gutters, after all.
“Leo, Leo, get up, lad! Let me in! Open the window, quietly now, so Mom doesn’t hear.”
I did, damn me, and he came in, damn him, and she heard, damn her.
So, there I was, 12 years old, with a mother, two younger sisters, and my father’s brains splattered all over the garage.
A few days after, I solemnly gathered my sisters in my room. I had also collected empty bottles from all around the house and arranged them in a rather largish pile.
“So,” I said, “our father is dead.” Liz and Jo looked at me like I was a moron, but I knew they’d catch on in a second. “Take a good look at that pile. It’s all that Dad left us.”
“I hate it,” Jo said quietly. The intensity of her loathing made me pause.
“We all do,” I continued, though I couldn’t quite match her fervor. “So right now, tonight, we’re going to make a deal with each other. We are never, NEVER, going to drink. Ever.” It was more melodramatic than I had planned, but I wanted to make an impression on my sisters. “Are we agreed?”
We were. Or, rather, they were.
I held good to my promise for years, and to this day I don’t remember why I broke it.
Perhaps it was the way my mother or the neighbors would look at me with a bittersweet fondness and say “you’re so much like Joseph!”
Perhaps life battered me a few more times.
Perhaps I thought I could succeed where dad had failed.
Perhaps I never intended to keep it.
I do, however, remember the day Josephine found out. Jenny and I were helping her move, and she could smell it on my breath.
“You stupid bastard!” She barreled into me and beat her fists on my chest. I was bigger, stronger, and meaner than her, so I caught them easily.”
“What?” I asked, feigning ignorance.
“You promised! Bastard! You broke our promise!”
“Jo, wait,” I begged as she threw her last box in the car and stormed to the driver’s door.
“You. Are. Exactly. Like. Him.” Somehow, she even made the car glare at me as she pulled away.
Jenny threw me a look, and I just shrugged. I didn’t see Jo again for a while.
It went, more or less, like this for a couple of decades. Some of it I don’t remember well. Most of the ‘80s, for example.
Like I said, I was 49 when I died. That’s the way this story could have ended, anyway.
I walked in at 8:30 on a Wednesday morning, more than plastered. Mallory and Jenny were waiting for me. Then, as if I wasn’t there, Mallory turned away from me and said in a conversational tone: “So, Mom. I’m going to make a promise to you right here and right now. I will never drink. Deal?”
She said it much better than I had 37 years earlier. She also had the loathing in her voice that I had been unable to muster. It was that tone, more than anything else, that cut me to my center. Without a word, I turned and stumbled out the door.
I don’t know how I spent the day, but I can guess. It was well after dark when I found myself in the middle of a dark motel parking lot, a gun in my hand . . . and mouth.
“Dad, shut up,” I told the phantom at my side. A snarl twisted my face. “This will get me closer to the clouds.”
“And you’ll settle for the clouds? You’re better than that. You are not me . . . Leo, you don’t HAVE to be me . . . ”
My name is Leo McGarry. I’m an alcoholic; I am alive.
I am not my father.
There, but by the grace of God, go I.
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