I was the youngest of 5 children born to my parents. It was a good home. My father was an engineer for a large steel company. He went to work for them when he graduated from college and worked for them until he retired. He was a wonderful man who was a terrible alcoholic. My love for my father is something that still has the power to make me cry. It is something so complex. My father was so complex. He got sober on April 15, 1965 and all of our lives changed.
I grew up in a beautiful little village of about 2,000 people near a steel town in eastern Ohio. I went to a Catholic elementary school. I started high school at the same prestigious Catholic high school that my brother and sister had graduated from. I also dreamed of becoming a nun. But my father got a promotion and we moved to Chicago in April of my freshman year. I was horrified. I could not get into a Catholic school and had to go to a public school. It was huge. Talk about culture shock! From a town of 2,000 to a suburb of Chicago - from a Catholic school, wearing a uniform every day, to a public school which was a free-for-all - it was all too much for me.
I had no clue what to do. So, when a nice young man asked me out on a date, I was happy to go out with him. When he gave me a ring and asked me to go steady with him, I was very happy to agree to that and was thrilled that I fit in somewhere. And when he suggested we have a "party" at my house while my parents were out, I thought that was a good idea too.
And when I sat on the floor in front of my parents' liquor cabinet and uncorked my first bottle of bourbon, put the bottle to my mouth and felt that burn of that magical liquid for the first time... I knew I had come home. I had arrived. I finally knew who I was. All the answers were finally there. I had gone in one instant from a skinny 14 year old girl from Ohio who wanted desperately to go home to her childhood friends who spoke latin with her - to a glamorous, voluptuous, sophisticated woman, sure of herself and what she wanted. And what she wanted was more of that glorious booze. Oh, it was good stuff!
When I hear people talking about drinking to "escape" or to get "f***ed up" I don't understand. I drank to fit in. I drank to be charming and funny. I drank to be able to talk to people. I drank to relax. I drank to not be self-conscious. I drank so I could have fun! I didn't want to be anti-social, I wanted to be the life of the party, not the ruination of it! Unfortunately, I could not stop drinking once I started, so although my motivation was to fit in, drinking nearly always backfired in this respect.
So, I went from being a young skinny girl, wearing my navy blue jumper with my white blouse and cardigan, knee socks, and penny loafers (bass weejuns), hoping with all my pure heart to be a nun, to living large in a suburb of Chicago, having flunked all of the classes of my freshman year... with my first boyfriend, sure that he was the love of my life... wanting to drink every single day because it was SO GOOD...
And by Christmas that year, I knew that I was pregnant. This was not socially acceptable in 1966 as it is now. It was a very dark secret. I dared not tell anyone. I had no idea what to do. I knew that I would have a baby, I knew I would give the baby up for adoption, and I knew that my life was ruined, and that I would bring disgrace to my family - that much I knew. But I did not know how a person went about doing all of that. And I was sick as a dog. I went to school and I slept. I came home directly from school and went to bed.
I was terrified. I don't think I could ever adequately describe to anyone much younger than I am how terrifying it was to be 14 years old and pregnant in 1966. The world was such a different place then. The year ended with me not having any idea what would happen to me, other than knowing, with certainty, that my life was ruined....
6 months after my first drink. And 17 and a half years before my last drink.