Many families know the pain caused by drunk driving. While some cause ridicule, others lead to reports in the newspaper, incidents of other difficult circumstances, injury, prison, and even loss of life. While discussing this with my father, he was uncertain where to begin, as there are a multitude of instances within our family. Our roots are of the rough and tumble South Boston varietal, and drinking was commonplace and circular, there may have been a pause, but always the boastful resumption ending in disarray and scandal. He would always caution us, beware as alcohol is ingrained by heredity and habit; slight as a wino's leap, but heavy will be the fall, from generations onto the next.
As if to challenge that fate, one night hysterical, my brother called me; he had one too many, as was often the case, distressed about a girl, driving down the winding interstate, in need of comfort. This movie had played out before, cinematically in my fathers' words. I repeatedly expressed that he pull over, I would pick him up, wherever he was. He refused, deeming, as the drunk often do, he was perfect to drive. He actually drove better drunk, he told me, whilst swerving from lane to lane. I began to hear a tightening shift in his demeanor, continuously looking back in his mirror, claiming he thought a cop was behind him. I knew a nightmare had occurred when the red and blue lights flickering found placement on his face. He was on probation, and being caught like this could result in prison time. My brother quickly hung up, telling me not to worry. I immediately tracked his location, racing to him. When I arrived, he had already been put into handcuffs and placed in the police car. The officers told me where I could pick him up once he was released. I recall sitting in the parking lot, anxiously awaiting to discover the outcome, unaware of all the distress this would create for my family. Finally, the front doors swung open, and my brother shamefully walked out, in the same footprints of his uncles, grandfathers, and cousins, the very same drunkard's saunter- a perennial ellipse.
Within months, he had no choice but to go to rehab, in part to avoid harsh sentencing, but in retrospect after the fact, to turn his life around. Bearing witness to every new step of my brother's sobriety, every struggle, showed a preview of what life could be if I had chosen to make opposite decisions and not steer away from that repetitive fate. One of the biggest fallacies forever recited resonates cockeyed from the bar, as the slurred drinker states he can have a few drinks and still drive perfectly. Alcohol, combined with the mind, body, and fragile psychology, agelessly germinating to say-go ahead and convincingly takes the wheel. Those drunken boasts are not heard with the same ears anymore. I am vigilant, omitting driving drunk as an option and cautioning others. The stories my father would tell often would have that bittersweet, Irish humor of someone who has seen too much pain from alcohol, and his laughter is what remains of the ghost. Family, friends, and the myriad crash of alcohol and drugs each day as the car ignition turns on; the two combined persistently beckon disaster. With learned, cautious awareness today I drive the same interstate where my brother became the change. New habits of heightened awareness of distractions and being present, and a new voice of reminder to all people close to me that alcohol and cars are terrible risks together. On the road in a clear mind, two hands on the wheel- I have become the measure of all those familial lessons combined.