I didn’t mind going with daddy to his meetings, there was a donut shop across from the Milano’s pizza next to the video rental store. Daddy always knew the perfect time to go buy fresh donuts, the chocolate icing on my French curl hadn’t quite set, still dripping down the sides of the jarred donut, and daddy always inhaled his maple bar three steps before leaving the shop. The meetings were held in a room up a creaky flight of dingy stairs, dirt encased steps that led above the laundry mat that daddy and I went to do our laundry sometimes. We usually drove down Stockton Boulevard to do our laundry, Daddy got free soap and cycles of laundry, and I got all the chicklets I could chew from behind the cashier counter. We got free things at the laundry mat because Daddy was on disability from hurting his back at work and would give his vicodin pills to the man that managed the laundry-mat. No one knew more people than my dad did, we couldn’t go anywhere without running into people he knew, they always remarked on how tall and pretty I was getting and how they knew me since I was small enough to fit into their arms. People always came by the house too, but they never stayed long.
Down the street from the shopping center where meetings were held was Tahoe Park. We would walk to the park or store a lot; we couldn’t drive far away from Daddy’s house because the tags on his car were expired. When driving I would help Daddy look out for cops so we wouldn’t get caught and go to jail. When a police car was spotted out Toyota made a mad dash to the closest side street or parking lot. Daddy reached under his seat pulling a lever, then we both ran out the car as the trunk flies open, and we pretended to be looking for something until the police car passes us by.
Daddy would boast, “Fives years and I still haven’t gotten caught, that’s a God thing meja,”
He credited God with a lot of what he had, “Shit, I should’ve died a long time ago from all the using and abusing I’ve done, someone up there must be looking out for me,” he often remarked. He repeated a lot of the same things, I wondered if thought that I forgot he told me, or if he just forgets what he says himself.
After meetings we would go to the grocery store on the other side of the shopping complex. At the grocery store daddy would more than often place a 12-pack of Budweiser in the shopping cart next to the cartons of ice cream and bakery cakes I had picked out for breakfast. I would never say anything but from time to time he would see me eyeing the condensation gathering on the red and blue lettering of the white can.
“Yeah you know Dan from across the street, he did a few things to the car and I don’t have much money so I just buy him some beer,” he’d explain.
I never fully believed him but as we both turned in sync with the shopping cart onto the candy and cookies isle I soon forgot to bother with such complexities.
The room where the meetings were held reminded me of the portable classrooms at school, embedded in the yellow chipping wall paper was the stench of what seemed like decades of a stale coffee dependency, chain smoking, and sadness.
Once inside Daddy would wait for his turn and then approach the podium at the front of the room, the right side of his body slumped and leaning againt the faux wood grain, thermos of coffee in the other hand “Hello my name is Robert and I’m an alcoholic.”
“Hello Robert,” everyone in the room would respond.
Daddy would always be sure to remind me that I’m the reason he was still living, “the only child, the golden child.” From time to time as he would speak in the front of the room he would gesture towards the back room where I sat alone amongst a wall of coffee mugs and pots, donuts, and a half broken box of crayons. Everyone would turn to look at me, too see the daughter of the man who had conquered his demons to remain in his little girl’s life. Protruding yellow stained and gold embossed teeth smiled back at me, men and women, leather-clad, tattooed, unwashed, dawned thick rimmed glasses, baseball caps pulled down low, all nursed miscellaneous cracked seasonal mugs of coffee and picked at donuts from the shop downstairs as if holding onto a lost sense of hope in life. They all turned to look at me, many of whom have lost their families and children to their disease. From time to time women would stroke my hair remarking how I was about their daughter’s age, and how I remind them of the children they struggle to recall from memory.
The people at the meetings reminded me of the homeless downtown, passing beggars on the street Daddy would always remark, “Makes you wonder did they give up on life, or did life give up on them.”