My Backyard Vietnam

Alison Kapsalis

Sitting up here on my roof, watching the Memorial Day parade unfold in the street below, Iam acutely aware of the fact that this is a day of remembrance. A day for those who have died fighting our country's wars, a day to reminisce over what those individuals meant or still mean to us, a day to ruminate over the purpose of their deaths, and to hope that their dying carried some positive effect.

This Memorial Day, I am not thinking of those who have died with the shine of patriotism in their eyes. I am not contemplating the loss of valorous men and women who gave their lives for the good of their fellow citizens.Instead, I am dwelling on a much more personal war. A war in which no-one won. One whose loss was just as devastating to the fiber of a family as the loss of the Civil War was to the Separatists. I am visiting my own backyard Vietnam.

In my war, the parties engaged in never-ending battles were Depression, Alcoholism, and Mom. When depression would strike, alcohol would come as Mom's furtive savior in the form of an emotional haze to block outthought and feelings, while temporarily easing the pain of existing. Novocain for the soul. When the whisky tainted clouds wore off, depression, guilt and anxiety would overwhelm her, and the only seeming solution was to dive into another pool of Four RosesWhisky.

As time progressed, the alcoholism twisted and distorted not only her life, but the livesof my sister, my father, and myself, as well as everyone else who cared about her. Many weeks, sometimes months, would go by without hertouching a drink and then one day something would explode, something would die, something happened to make her drive back tothat liquor store for yet another fifth and yet another binge.

Back to ground zero we all went - slipping, sliding, grabbing for any handhold that might stop the crazy descent. The iron hand of alcoholism would once again evict all energy, hope, and trust that had been nurtured by the tentative sobriety. The sick merry-go-round started again; its raging horses and 78 rpm music sending its unwilling riders careening around its never-ending circle.

15 years ago, the merry-go-round was stopped when the horse pusher jumped off. She decided that the wretchedness and agony of life on earth was too much to bear, and took decisive action. Drowned in a bottle ofwhiskey, overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness and despair, she shut the garage door, climbed into the driver's seat of her 1981 Rabbit, and turned on the ignition.

The war is over. Her nemesis won. She fought valiantly for many years, sustaining herselfand her children on little money, lots of love, and a wonderfully strange sense of humor. While she is the perpetrator of the biggest crime in my life, she is also an inspiration, for in her sober days she was "one hell of a person," as she'd say. Real,sensitive, honest, loving, goofy; while straight, she was one of the best mothers I've ever had the honor of knowing.

I have to remember all of her; the good with the bad, bad with the good, for one withoutthe other is not a whole. Homage to a Hell of a Woman. I want to remember her in her straight times. A non-conformist who mowed the lawn in her bare feet and orange flowered bikini. Who played hide-and-seek with us and always had great hiding places. Itwas she who invented the little green gremlins that dropped off my sister's new bedroom furniture. Who else would offer me twoleft-footed clogs, a stuffed alligator and a candy rainbow for my birthday? She was the one person in the world who could always make me feel better and unconditionally loved. Ati, she would call me. "Ati, you know I love you, kiddo." "Yeah, Mom, I know."Fat-heads we were when we'd do something stupid. Son of a beechnut chewing gum. Shoo-foo-poo. Oh, fudge. These were substituted forregular old curse words.

White corduroy Levis and a plaid button-up shirt are what she died in. I found them on the left hand basement step where the laundry used to go. I got the gold studs she wore in her newly pierced ears. I got her Timex watch. I got her gold chain. All came in a little Ziploc baggie. How strange to have only these tangible things left. Where are you, Mom? Why did you have to go? Don't you know I loved you; love you still? If wishes were horses, beggars would be riders. If wishes cametrue, you'd still be alive, alcoholic or not.

Your dying did much more damage than your staying alive could ever have done. 15 years later, I'm still trying to forgive you. Some days I can; some days I can't. Most of all I feel so sorry for what your life must havebeen like, and sorry for all the times we have missed. I have grown up, I'm no longer the selfish teenage brat that you last knew. I wishI could talk to you, have you know me as I am now. Because I think you'd like me.......I'm a lot like you.

Alison Kapsalis

You can send email to Alison Kapsalis at [email protected]

mail welcome

Anniversary date - 3-5-84
Date of post - 1-23-00

[return to home page] [column] [book excerpts] [honor page] [discussions page]