Andrew Atkins

Author’s note:

My dad was an alcoholic. He died in November. I’ve always experienced a maelstrom of emotions. This isn’t easy to write about, to share, to read. But by sharing the trauma and pain I’ve felt, I hope you can learn something — not about me, but yourselves. 

Part 4: Shattered

The phone vibrated on the table. I saw it was my grandma and declined it, placing it face down in front of me. I could call her back as soon as I wrapped up this meeting. 

I listened to the voicemail. She sounded upset; I’m not sure I ever heard her voice shake like that. 

I thought something was wrong with my grandpa.

When I called her back, I was confused when he was the one who answered.

My mind scrambled for any semblance of logic. In the moment before my grandpa told me, I simultaneously knew and vehemently denied what I was about to hear. 

I held my breath for years waiting for this phone call. Eventually, I exhaled. Once I visited my dad, he had started calling. 

He was homeless and an alcoholic. I never knew when he was going to call, but I knew that eventually he would.

It was November. I realized I hadn’t heard from him since August. 

“Your father’s passed.” 

After everything that had happened, I had built this mental image of him that was impossibly resilient. For all the time I’d spent expecting it, I didn’t expect it. 

I called my mom. I called my soon-to-be stepdad. I called my aunts, my uncles. I called my sister. 

The world was grinding to a halt around me. I felt like the air around me was liquid cement, slowly hardening. I was holding my breath for the moment I would suddenly stop. 

My days became intervals between lying in bed. With the room quiet and my eyes closed, I could practice being a version of me that hurt less. When I got out of bed, the world around me was warped. 

I was sitting backseat to my own life; whole periods of time would pass, and I could barely recall any of it. I’d arrive at my destinations with no idea how I got there. 

Over the next few months, I got bits and pieces of information. In the beginning, I knew they found his body outside a liquor store the day before I got the call. I wrote an article in his memory and was met with an outpouring of memories others wanted to share. Finally, about a month ago, I got the coroner’s report. 

It told me everything I already knew. 

Ashwood Recovery at Northpoint, a rehabilitation facility in Idaho, notes that about 88,000 people die every year due to alcoholism. It’s the third-leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. 

For me, I don’t think there’s such a thing as going back to “normal.” This is “normal” now. There is no recovering the version of me that existed when my dad was alive. 

That’s a fact I live with. But I’m blessed to have all the memories that let me know he lived a life that was meaningful. 

I spent a lot of time hurt and angry. I’ve forgiven him, I think. Because there’s nothing I could have done, and he’s not around for me to be angry at him. And honestly, I couldn’t have changed him. So what would be the point of being angry? I love him, and I miss him, and I forgive him. 

I think, in some way, in his death, he climbed back out of the bottle into which he had fallen so deeply. 

Andrew Atkins is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].