Margaritas, Courvoisier, Moonshine & Angels

My oldest son has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and one of the ways I've chosen to deal with the lows, hospitalizations, and conflict is by drinking. One night, my baby boy puts things into perspective.

Photo credit: ozgurdonmaz

The clock on the kitchen wall said 8:45 pm. Fifteen more minutes and Trysten would be in bed.

I stood in front of the sink looking out the window into the darkness of the backyard. The moonlight was faint and I could just barely make out the tops of the crops planted in the field. The windows needed cleaning and spiders were spinning webs between the window and the screen. I tapped my fingers on the marble countertop and closed my eyes. For Markel, I prayed for peace, healing, and acceptance. I prayed for nothing for myself, yet all I wanted was peace.

I reached into the cabinet above my head and pulled down a wine glass. It was a wedding gift. We’d received lots of wine glasses, champagne flutes, and snifters as wedding gifts. I’ve never been more than a social drinker. When those surveys in magazines or healthcare questionnaires asked how many drinks do you have per week my answer was always one or less per week. My drinking at best was limited to a mixed drink with dinner out on the weekends or a glass of wine once or twice a week after dinner to wind down from the day.

Drinking never really caught on with me. I dabbled with the idea of being a drinker when I was a teenager. I stole my alcohol then. Fuzzy Navel wine coolers with gold wrappers around the twist-off caps from our refrigerator at home.  My friend Chandra and I stole liquor from behind her mother’s brown wood cabinet doors. I liked the fruity taste of the wine coolers from Mama’s fridge and the sting of the good stuff from Ms. Louisa’s cabinet. I was a little girl playing at being a drinker.

After the mace incident, my drinking started a steady increase. One glass of wine became two to three glasses a week until it became one or more glasses a night. As with any distraction, after a while what once worked no longer worked. That didn’t stop me. I moved beyond the white zinfandel and Moscato. I transcended from classy after-dinner drinks to festive, partying, lime margaritas. On the rocks, frozen, room temp, with or without salt. I was on a roll. If my stash ran low, I’d hit up my husband’s liquor. Courvoisier, vodka, moonshine, whatever was available.

My goal was simple. I wanted a peaceful night’s sleep and I was going to get it.

I anticipated the relaxation I knew awaited me after the first sip slipped past my lips and down my throat. Only fifteen minutes before Trysten’s bedtime and I would be able to fall into the oblivion that was sleep and peacefulness. I wanted the kind of peace I’d found when I visited Jamaica with my husband in 2008. The kind of peace that made me cry when it was time to leave.

I spent the week climbing waterfalls and rafting down muddy rivers, letting the sun bronze my skin and the wind sweep away my worries. I was patient and never in a rush for anything. At night we had drinks on the patio while listening to a Reggae band play Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” and during the day we stood on the beach watching thunderstorms brew in the distance as we tried to guess if it was coming our way or heading out across the ocean. The island was a drug I didn’t have to ingest. I simply breathed the air and inside me was calm. We talked about living there because the thought of leaving caused my insides to jump and twist, and as the day came closer for us to leave I was filled with dread. I pictured myself living in this oasis of ease and being happy all the time.

That’s what I was looking for in each wine and shot glass. The peace eluded me, but the sleep was always an end result and that’s what I wanted, a quieted mind, even if it was only overnight.

I moved toward the refrigerator and pulled the door handle. There was no wine. I’d finished the last bottle off the night before. I walked across the room to the cabinet above the oven. Standing on my bare tiptoes I stared at the bottles, shot glasses, and the stainless steel alcohol mixer. I looked from the Mason jar with clear liquid to the bottle with brown liquid and a sketch with a man in an overcoat. Overcoat man won and I poured him into the wine glass.

“Good night, Mama,” a small voice behind me said.

I turned my back on Overcoat man and looked down at Trysten. He was in elementary school and had already seen and been exposed to more than any little boy his age should have. He appeared to be unscathed.

“Are you coming up to tuck me in?” He looked up at me. He was my saving grace and future promise—clean and hopeful.

“Yeah, I’m coming.” I grabbed his tiny hand and we went upstairs to his bedroom. I pulled the covers back and Trysten got into bed. Arranging his stuffed beanie babies he laid on his back on his Bob the Builder sheets, looking at me with a slight grin. He had little teeth. The smallest teeth I’d ever seen, even for a small child.

“Are you saying prayers?”

“Yeah,” he answered, grabbing my right hand in his.

“Now I lay me down to sleep.” He kicked his little feet under the covers. “I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake…”

Lord, please don’t let anyone die before they wake, I thought to myself.

“I pray the Lord my soul to take.” I started moving my hand from his when he clasped it a little tighter. “Lord bless everybody…”

I opened my eyes and looked down at him. His eyes were closed tightly as he lay beside Blue Valentine, the blue lion and LaLa the peach lioness.

“…and send your shield of angels to protect us. Amen.”

A shield of angels. Where was he getting this? We didn’t go to church often and since this crisis with Markel, we had been even less.

I looked at him with awe and felt small. I should’ve known better. I knew about angels and calling on the Lord in a time of need. I couldn’t remember a time not knowing these things. Trysten had little exposure to religion or spirituality.

I pulled the covers up around his neck, then turned off the light, pausing for a moment to look back at him.

The light from the hallway shined on his little face. He picked LaLa up by the tail, twirled her around, plopped her down on the pillow, picked her back up, and twirled her the other way. Once again Trysten was saving me. First with his birth in 2000 rescuing me from the despair of losing everything in the flood; and now, every day by his simple existence, giving me a reason to get up in the morning and keep pushing forward. Why hadn’t I thought to ask for the angels?

Standing back in the kitchen, I stared out the window. Placing my hand around the bottom of the wine glass, I rubbed my thumb up and down the warm exterior. I looked forward to a drink, so it was a problem. I didn’t want to become one of those people you see at the bar drinking alone, having to get a ride or a cab home. I placed my index finger on the top of the glass and moved it halfway around the rim. I didn’t want to become an alcoholic, but I wanted this drink. When drinking I could sleep, and for at least six or seven hours I was not thinking about bipolar disorder, my son dying from suicide, or when the next phone call would come to tell me he had flown into one of his rages and thrown a school desk across the room, punched a hole in the wall, or had run away from home and now what looked to be the entire Nash County Sheriff’s office was standing at the edge of the woods down the street from our house with the search dogs ready to go in. Staying awake all night watching hour by hour tick by while playing different scenarios in my head as to what was going on with him now that he was living with his dad was slow torture.

Trysten was upstairs sleeping and I had a decision to make. Either I was going to be his protector from all the ways this disorder was destroying our family, or I was going to drink.

I touched the glass to my lips and turned it up. The warm brown liquor slid down my throat, burning all the way down. My chest was on fire. I sat the glass on the counter and leaned against it for support. I savored the pain. I wanted it to hurt. I needed it to hurt. The pain of all my failures to navigate these turbulent waters had to be felt in order for my punishment to take for not fixing it. My head was heavy from having too much worrying, thinking, and strategizing; jockeying for space in my brain.

My failure would be two-fold—fail them both.

I slowly walked to my bedroom. Sleep is such a welcome reprieve.



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Tracy Roberson Woolard

Tracy Roberson Woolard won the Firefly Ridge Literary Magazine 2015 Women’s Writing Award for her memoir excerpt, “Involuntary Choices.” Her article, “All the Things the Mohawk Stole,” was published in the February 2015 issue of Talking Writing. Her article, "Safekeeping," appears in the Fall/Winter 2020 edition of the Medical Literary Messenger. She is currently working on her memoir about raising a child with mental illness titled, Be Committed.