Oxtail Soup and Alcohol

Oxtail Soup and Alcohol

My new home was a spare bedroom on the second floor, across the hall from my best friend’s room. The room was fully furnished with the sloped ceiling common in these old, early 40’s bungalows. The staircase was narrow, the hallways were narrow and the rooms small. My new home. Full of different sights, sounds, and culture. My best friend was an only child and his father was a miner. His mother was a stay at home mom who spent her days cooking, cleaning, and canning.

A common dish served in this home was oxtail soup, which is as literal as it sounds in both ingredients and in taste. An acquired taste for sure but something that touched my lips just the once. A common sandwich for my best friend was a pickle sandwich, made from his mom’s canned pickles, cooked from an ancient recipe and surprisingly spicy. Really spicy. Fortunately, not long after I arrived back in this mountain top village I was able to find employment, both working at a restaurant and also at the local grocery store, which put enough money in my pocket to afford me meals out.

My best friend’s parents were significantly older than my own and were solidly set in another place, another generation, another way of doing things. His father had his own room of the house and in this room was a cabinet and in this cabinet were glass bottles full of a clear liquid that looked like water. Except it was 140 proof alcohol. And he drank the stuff like it was water.

This combination of cultural immersion and other family dynamics, mixed with this thing called alcoholism created a very awkward situation for my best friend and myself. Very quickly into my new living arrangement it was clear that my best friend’s father did not take a liking to me, however instead of discussing his concerns with me, he took to the bottle, and then took to his wife, which by matters of survival meant that my best friend intervened, resulting in his father taking to him.

I couldn’t take the father beating up on his family anymore and it made me sick to think that I was – at least to some extent – a cause of it, so I quickly made other living arrangements and move out.

I was able to move into the home of my vice-principal. I worked with his wife at the grocery store, which also helped in making this situation less uncomfortable. They had two small daughters and lived in a larger home, which had a spare room in the basement. In this new home I was safe, and could come and go as I pleased, which I regularly took advantage of.

My best friend and I slowly drifted apart after that awkward departure, never really talking about what happened. Consequently, I began to move to the outside circle, disconnecting from everything and everyone. I missed my parents but loathed them at the same time. The high school that I had desperately wanted to be back in, I now wanted out. It was this emotional tension in every aspect of my life, and consequently through this tension I drifted more and more extreme in my behavior, my thoughts, and my actions.

This meant a spiritual focus on the occult. This meant finding ways to go out and consume alcohol until I was drunk. This meant becoming angrier and angrier that eventually my outward loathing of others turned inward and I now wanted to kill myself.

Outward circumstances were contributing to the situation as well. The mine had just shut down and although I was employed at the grocery store I no longer had hours available so I quit. I had my job at the restaurant but with the vast majority of the town now out of a job there were next to nothing for hours there as well. The economic situation in the community was bleak. People were walking into the banks and literally putting their keys to their homes on the counters and then walking out and walking away. Families were packing up and leaving the community in droves. Tension filled the air and I was not the only one bent on self-destruction.

I had now hit a wall. With the loss of employment I had lost my ability to take care of myself. I had lost hope. One evening I sat on the edge of my bed in that lonely basement with a bottle of pills beside me and a letter already written. I took one pill, then another, then another, and then I stopped. I couldn’t continue. I ripped up the letter, put away the pills and cried myself to sleep.

Failing here meant that I needed to move back there and I couldn’t determine which one was worse.


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