by Haley Paul
This essay was the first prize winner in 2010’s “Say It Straight Up” Writing Contest, in the 12-17 age division. Haley will be entering the 12th grade this fall in Ventura. She will be attending a Cal Arts program this summer.
Today, your son read a story of a little prince with a great imagination. He liked it today because the prince knows that grownups cannot understand anything alone, and children cannot stand to explain it all. He feels this. Later, he will love the story for its acknowledgment of the unquestionable truth that language is the source of misunderstanding. He will love it then because it will encompass the painfully inexplicable nature of your conversations with him, but he has not yet discovered this principle. He would like to tell you this, but knows, with certainty, that you will not understand.
Your daughter just turned three. One day she will pick up a crayon and draw a place she’s never seen. The moment she shows you will mean so much to her; she wants to make you happy, to remind you of the wanderlust you once had. When she sees the creases of your tired mouth turn upward, she will ask why you never smile with your eyes anymore. And much later, her brother will explain to her why you are not happy like she wishes. He will be grown and she will be a child and a misunderstanding is unavoidable.
She would like to ask you what is wrong, but knows, with certainly, that your problem is not one that a box of colorful wax can fix.
In years to come, your son and daughter will learn and fear the source of entropy in their family; like every teenager is, they will be offered a drink, an escape, like you once were. Neither child will take it. The thought of following one’s family in steps of disillusionment, the thought of giving in to that family’s greatest weakness, that somnambulistic vagary, and losing all sight of potential, could scare the drink out of anyone’s hand. They may never see or admit it, but the tragedies to strike their family as a result of alcohol may be advantages, even blessings, for they will see, unlike many others, that alcohol use is the absence of will power, the absence of any desire to prove one’s self in a dignified way. Unfortunately, those without tragic first-hand views of alcohol abuse may not realize that any use at all is the saddest decision a teenager can make.
Behind every bad decision, there is a lack of right communication and a misguided attempt to follow a societal norm.
Like the children of a classic family destroyed by alcohol I have watched a life, close to my own heart, become the epitome of the absence of will power and the sadness that a surrounding family feels as they clean up the mess.
I have watched my aunt join in matrimony to the love of her life. I accepted this man as my godfather. I watched her pursue an improbable acting career and raise a child. Myy family and I stood by while the couple threw wild parties for friends and vacationed in luxurious places. I watched the couple indulge in alcohol, like they had in teenage years as some parents allowed. I have seen this man consume a little too much. I have seen this woman ignore the signs. I visited this woman in the hospital the first two times she was admitted for brain surgery after suffering a nasty “fall.” I have listened to my mother scream at this man on the phone, threatening him and cursing him; and the man in tom ceased all communication. But my aunt went back to him, again and again. I was too young to know why, and still am.
Years later, I watched my grandmother, 80 years of age, welcome my suffering aunt into her home, and I watched my aunt rebuild a life without this man. I listened to wild stories of this man’s wealth, built on a platform of meth and cocaine, sold in local high schools by his obedient son. I feared this boy. He almost always sided with this man and, in turn, later spent time in jail for his decisions. I will never forget the image of my grandmother, sobbing as she returned from the house my aunt once lived. The house, adorned in dusty lace doilies and cold glass vases, had been swallowed into a storm of angry flames and self-inflicted dysfunction, as that man rested within. That house was all she had. One moment of drunken rage and it was gone. My aunt never recovered.
I watched her fake a recovery, continue using alcohol in my grandmother’s home, and disregard the support of my family. I have reported in times of emergency. I have assisted my mother’s hopeless hands while they cleaned the dried blood from my aunt’s unconscious face. as she recuperated after her second DUI without much help from the hospital staff. The cold, unpainted floors were not unlike the lack of warmth in the hearts of paramedics, treating her as purely a nuisance to society, rather than a victim of amuse and alcoholism. Although cleaning up after continuous drunken mistakes can freeze the compassion out of anyone. Since then, my aunt has been in and out of homes, dried of all potential for a normal life. Alcohol, since before she could remember, is the only thing keeping her sane, although this even is somewhat questionable. So, we continued the search for tiny bottles of liquid mistakes, paid for with the pennies and dimes she could accumulate, throughout her personal items for months until it was look much for all of us. I have seen a great woman, a potential family, destroyed by alcohol. I have touched the blood. I have seen the interrogation. I have been scared for the future of my sister, my friends. I have felt too much, too soon.
However, there is one feeling that has never wrapped its enduring claws around my th oat: the need to indulge in alcohol or drugs. In a way, I am a lucky one, for I know communication and I know when to follow and question the powerful standards of society.
In obvious terms, a family burden or traumatizing experience with alcohol is not the only way to resist the norms of alcohol use in society. One must not have seen or felt tragedy in order to avoid bad decisions with alcohol. Nevertheless, no one, no matter how pure, develops perfect judgment without some form of guidance. Today, teens without personal experience will only know that alcohol is a commonly-used method of “fun.” It has become a rite of passage; once we have taken a drink, we are somehow older, more dangerous and sophisticated. 24-year-old actors and actresses enacting teenage roles will remind us all that alcohol is simply an activity that should occupy our Saturday nights, if we would like to be normal. It is normal, fun and expected of everyone to drink. Well-known movies like Sixteen Candles will remind us that the most popular girl, bearing slight resemblance to a 30-year-old Calvin Klein model, will throw a raging party at her wealthy boyfriend’s house, because, of course, his parents are eternally “out of town.” Even the songs we hear command us to pour another shot, dig a deeper hole for ourselves and before we have the chance to think twice, our friends will sing along.
What we need most is a change; to strip the alcohol trend of its fun reputation would eliminate the desire and save the families these teens make from harboring the burden.
It is far too common that parents develop lengthy or illogical guidelines to prevent children from using alcohol. The most beneficial approach a parent could take would be to instruct his or her child to think differently than the overwhelming crowd of conformists. To separate ourselves from the implications of societal pressure will allow us to make decisions without pressure. At the mercy of only our ability to reason between sobriety and escape, we are likely to recognize the negative aspects of the latter. The greatest flaw of our society now is the positive reputation that alcohol has gained. Why allow our public to believe that a can of beer or a shot will solve their problems? Why is it normal and humorous to give a newly 21-year-old a book of drink recipes? As long as these traditions of alcoholic admiration and amusement exist, teenagers will continue to filter into the future population of unsuccessful parents.
We need communication. We need understanding. We need to feel the harsh realities around us. It is undeniable that people of all ages suffer daily because of alcohol; yet, parents fail to communicate this over the loud voice of media and society, teens fail to understand this without a specifically painful image to reference, and those with the will power to rise above fail to share the wisdom with others. The youth of today is not lost. At times, we may fail to see the consequences of our decisions. For everyone, there is a time when escaping is much easier than defying normality with dignity.
If we could only bring an end to the encouragement of drinking, than perhaps the reality will finally sink in. The lessons are all there before us: in the eyes of our suffering family, in the washed out faces of many wanderers in city streets. Teens are .rarely· affected by the harsh effect of alcohol and as· long as our blindness continues, so will the underage drug abuse. We have been told what is wrong and what is right; it is time for teenagers and adults to forget societal norms and selfish desires. Free thought and strength of will are the most valuable way to combat addiction and prevent inflicting pain on those closest to us.
As Neitzsche advises, hold in high esteem those who think differently. Allow a movement of reality to echo past escapists, into the minds of real sufferers. You see, the solution is simple: if each of us can find freedom and show each other, then together society will speak in harmony against the alcoholic’s unsightly escape. And in that moment, we will be infinite.