I submitted the following essay for the family of the year contest at NC State university. I did not win, but I did receive this reply.
"...I have to say your essay was certainly the most colorful. I appreciate
that you stretched the definition of family and took a no-holes-barred
approach to your essay. I agree, family doesn't have to be the people
you're related to by blood..."
We don't really have a family, its more of collection of angry people that live in the same place. We're from a small town that quite unfortunately is not dry. The ABC store is in walking distance from my house. This is not an accident, for my father drinks, uncontrollably.
I use to hear stories that other children told of how cool it was to drink. How their older friends would get drunk and have crazy fun. When father drinks he does not get cool or fun, just more angry. I really doubt I've ever seen him sober, the times I did see him I would smell him first or find him slumped over the oven in the kitchen with beer cans strewn about his feet. But this is not just about dad, this is about my best family.
My mother would be the tattered stitching and old patches that holds the family together. I'm not quite sure how old she is but she learned to cook while in prison. The food is what brings my family together to the table. At least that's where dinner would start as dad rarely made it through the whole meal. We would always eat together, me, mom, dad with his 40 ounce, my brother Paul, John the houseguest that lives in the attic and Vance the tenant that lived in his jeep in my garage.
It was one night at dinner where I realized I have the best family in the world. I was eating my mashed potatoes and trying not to look at the people around the table when dad put down his beer. I can still hear his slurred voice, "I know you're bang'n my wife boy." Vance rolled his eyes and mom told dad to be civil during dinner. Dad's retort was to spit on Vance who slung a fist into the drunken hump. A few breaths later dad slumped into a pile on the floor and dinner moved to the living room.
I guess it was John on the way to the bathroom, for he does not have one in the attic, who found them both. Dad still lay cold and blue on the matching kitchen floor and an engine run in the garage. Apparently in his rage Vance had killed dad and in the morning decided to take his own life in the garage a hose running from exhaust to his window.
Later that morning I was woken by the sound of sirens. A fire a truck was the first to arrive driven by a Mr. Pugh. He saved Vance's life. I later learned the cause of dads death was not the blow to the head but alcohol poisoning. I suspect that's better for everyone. Vance no longer lives in the garage but sleeps in the house with mom.
It must have been that week when Paul ran away. I remember the last thing he said to me, "You're the only person in this best family that I care about, I hope you go to college and get the hell out of this house." The last time I saw him though was on one of those fliers in the mail with a "have you lost this child?" message from social services. I used the coupons on the back to get an ice cream cone.
I still wonder how John is doing up in that attic. I'm not allowed to look at what he is doing or inquire as to why he purchases as many nails and copper piping as he does but I assume he is a crafts man. One day he will be famous, I have that gut feeling.
And what of me? Wolfpack pride all the way. I took my brothers advice and left the house, but I'm still a loving member of the best family ever. I write to mom once a week and she responds. Her stationary has changed to that of South Dakota Federal Corrections Center so I assume she has a new job. Vance came by the other day to have dinner at Fountain. He says he's never eaten so well, I reminded him of moms mystery meat. We just laughed.
What is the best family? A ranting drunken father and houseguests that become more than just guests but loving and creepy seducers? No no, it is much more, it's the bonds that keep the money in the back yard buried, that keep me searching for where the hell did Paul go? And the love I feel for my new family, the Wolfpack family.