Saturday, July 2, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 3 (Frank O'Connor)

O'Connor, Frank
An Only Child and My Father's Son


Given to me by my father after a trip to Ireland. I can't remember if he gave this to me after the trip we took together or after one of the trips he took a few years later. It still has a price tag on it saying it cost "5-55" Irish pounds. Between pages 176 and 177, on the latter of which begins the photo section of the book with a photo portrait of "Lady Gregory outside Hugh Lanes's house in Chelsea," I discovered three Irish postage stamps, each using the Gaelic "Eire" and bearing the number "38" over the image of something like a diamond studded horseshoe, inverted, for luck I guess. Being the dutiful son I am, I have never read even a single page of this book.

In the summer of 1985, things came to a head between me and my father regarding my drug use. I had started smoking, drinking and using drugs when I was still in junior high school, and my parents discovered this fact pretty quickly. My father took me to my first AA meeting at the age of thirteen at a state-run rehab in Manassas, Virginia. Most of the people had been sent there either in lieu of going to jail for drug and alcohol offenses or had stopped there on their way out of prison.

My father had been going to AA for a number of years and regularly took meetings into places likes this -- sometimes into prisons themselves. I remember once going to a prison AA picnic. I played volleyball all afternoon with a group of convicts. They kept hitting the ball over the razor-wired fence, and each time they did they'd all raise their hands and call out to the guard, "I'll get it, I'll get it." And then the guard would point to me and let me out to get the ball.

Anyhow, he took me to this meeting at the rehab. A heavyset, middle-aged man who seemed to know my father was running the meeting. At the opening, he asked the assembled crowd if anyone had a topic they would like to discuss. No one raised their hand, until someone did. My father. "My thirteen year old son has been smoking marijuana," he said. "Why don't we talk about that?"

One by one the room full of junkies, convicts, drunk drivers, etc., began telling their stories directly to me, each one beginning with the phrase, "I started out just like you," and ending with a variation on, "And look where I ended up." At the end of the meeting they all shook my hand and wished me good luck. I remember feeling a little teary that all these guys were being so nice to me.

Which didn't stop me from smoking, drinking or taking drugs at an accelerated pace throughout my high school years. In the summer of 1985 my parents tried to secretly drug test me. They had tried this before, but I had always managed to get one of little brothers to pee for me. Something had changed, though. I had gotten tired of the suspicion and the threats to send me to military school or rehab or whatever. I just didn't feel like lying anymore. So this summer at my annual drug-test-posing-as-school-physical-exam, I handed in my own urine, knowing full well what would happen when I did.

At first, nothing happened. A week or so later, a friend of mine invited me on a weekend camping trip, but when I asked my mother to go and she said no, I knew the jig was up. She vehemently opposed my going away for the weekend, but refused to tell me why. She kept telling me to wait until my father got home and that he would explain it to me. This began a shouting match that lasted most of the afternoon. I decided that if she was going to make me wait, I was going to make her suffer in return.

When my father did get home, he took me out on the back porch and told me that they had drug-tested me. I said I knew that. The result, he said, "Heavy.Marijuana.Usage." He asked if that surprised me. I said no. He said, "Michael, drugs can tear a family apart." I remained silent. We're going to start going to family counseling. I assented.

A week or so later he changed his mind about counseling and said he was going to start making me go to AA. Again, I assented. I started going to different meetings every night. Then, seemingly out of the blue, he decided to take me on a trip to Ireland. I had already been invited to go to Maine with a friend in August, so my father planned the trip for a week after that. I think we spent ten days there together, along with a two-night stopover in London on the way in.

Come back tomorrow tomorrow to read about the exciting adventures of Big Mike and Little Mike cruising their ancestral homeland in a rented Fiat....

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