A HAPPY ENDING
The cabinet, the dark almost black filigreed mahogany one shaped like a quadrangle, is that what those symbols were called in geometry class? You know part octogan, part square, where the front was more narrow than the back but it was kind of rectangularish? The cabinet with the maroon velvet inside that smelled like smoke and scotch and had an unlocked key hole with the key resting inside it because no one would have thought any fifteen year old girl would be headed there to exchange the clear liquid in the vodka bottles with water hoping no one would notice. No one did notice actually and this kind of disappointed her since as she reflected back, it was only attention and parenting she actually longed for. Though, at the time, no one could tell her this. But that story is for another story. Later.
This liquor cabinet began its life at my great grandfather Joe’s house and the memory of it goes back to when I was as young as four and I lived with him along with my young parents. The cabinet held its strong position in the corner of the living room along with all of the old china that my great grandmother had amassed before she died. This liquor cabinet was small, not holding more than about eight or nine bottles and probably had a decanter and a tray on top of it, The decanters, and I am making this up here, seemed like they would have had those gold plates anchored by chains like necklaces that said in cursivy, lets get down to business words, — scotch, brandy, whiskey. When my great grandfather died, my father became the keeper of the cabinet and it traveled with us to the house on Woodlawn St, in Fall River, MA, then the house on Emerson Rd. in Jamestown, then off to the house on Narragansett Ave. also in Jamestown. It went along with my father when he decided that marriage to Ann, my mother, his wife was not a long term plan. The old cabinet finally landed back in my own familiar territory when being a child of Ann was also not a long term plan for a fifteen year old girl dealing with her own sadness. On Pemberton Ave. Also in Jamestown. The house that Dave rented while he figured out what he was supposed to do with a troubled but highly creative young daughter who absolutely could not live with her emotionally unstable mother dealing with her own sadness. There was a lot of moving in short spaces, always on to the next possible place and space that would create a feeling of grounded security.
That cabinet stayed with my father for another four moves finally leaving me when I decided that I would be better living with my boyfriend at 17 then living with my father. David, my father, allowed this and as I write this it sounds ludicrous especially when I consider that the liquor cabinet’s residence took precedence over David’s 17 year old daughter. Me. The irony does not go unnoticed as the theme of liquor does in fact make for the main character in this story in an invisible sort of way, hidden in the cabinet, traveling in and out of my life and my parent’s lives throughout my entire childhood well into my adulthood, my marriage, my divorce, countless alanon meetings, 7 years of sobriety in between and here I am. Standing, comfortable for the most part with my own relationship with Pinot. Sort of.
I always wanted that liquor cabinet though. I am a collector of all things grandparents and my father always said I could have it. I didn’t so much want it for its status as a liquor cabinet, or any monetary value, but more as a treasure that found its way through three generations of Jewish men, I wanted to be the torch bearer to pass it on to my son so I could say that this has been in the family for four generations and now it is yours, the fifth generation. So after my father died, I asked my stepmother for it and I found out that it had not made its way to my father’s last stop, his condo in Fall River, but had landed somewhere at the factory, my grandfather’s former textile mill where all things no longer wanted in your home lay to rest. The factory had the potential of being a warehouse for all things our family no longer found useful in their homes, but couldn’t bare to get rid of. It was here that the bar had been sitting all of this time and my father never let me in on the secret, never gave me the chance to take the bar from its potential demise.
“Oh, the bar? Your father put that somewhere in the factory.” My stepmother said with such a blasé tone. “What?! What the fuck! I wanted to scream. Was there nothing of sentimental value my father could actually pass on to his only surviving child? Was it too much to ask to just get one fucking thing from the old man? The bar would be nowhere to be found because the factory was sold to his previous partner and they didn’t end well. I tried anyway, but no luck, no bar. I resigned myself to the notion that like my father, like my marriage, like the alcoholism that was an integral and interesting part of my childhood, it was gone. And it was ok. There was nothing to cry about because this was just a thing. I had my memories of this piece of furniture enough that its own departure was in itself a symbolic end to a life well lived. I actually had a happy childhood despite my constant reflections on the theme of alcohol that ran through it like the way the first sip of vodka at the end of a long day feels as it travels into your veins.
What is a happy ending anyway? Is it when I am lying on my death bed ready to take my last breath and just when my family says, “This is it, she’s is leaving us,” I pop my eyes open and shout out, “Yes! It was a great life!” And then just like that, I make my dramatic exit. Death comes and takes me away and my family sighs with a mix of joy and relief.
Rewind. No. Definitely not. That is not a happy ending. A happy ending is not a book end to the beginning. A happy ending is using the liquor cabinet as a metaphor for loss and life and fractured families as a reminder for how far I have self propelled because I have consciously chosen happiness. To be happy, not to end happy. To rejoice and to be sad and to see where the winding and wild travails take me.
You are probably hoping that this brief story ends with the liquor cabinet finding its way to my home; maybe I was at the yard sale in my old neighborhood and like a shiny beam of light, there it sat, dusty and worn, scuffed bellowing out to me, I have waited for you and you have arrived! But this is not how this story ends. This story doesn’t end because I am not over. The cabinet and its contents are gone because for me I have chosen to stop bringing the suitcase filled with the past to my table. I have emptied its contents so that conversations can start anew, with no baggage, a fresh start. And after almost three years of my mother not speaking to me and me allowing this, she finally called me to say hello. And it was kind of normal and nice, we dipped our toes into the cool water and took a brief drink. It had been a long strange trip. But in the end it was happy and I would say that it was a beginning. And this doesn’t need a liquor cabinet.