When you’re a kid, you don’t have a full concept of drunk driving. Plus in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, there wasn’t nearly as much of a focus on it as there is nowadays. I knew that drinking made my dad slur, tease, make fun of me more, have coordination issues, talk loudly, etc.
However, it hadn’t registered that it would impact his driving. Seat belts were also not heavily encouraged yet at this point. They just started to make a push on it. By habit, no one in my family ever wore seat belts.
Normally, I would fight to have the front seat position. Because I was so upset with him from multiple offenses on Christmas, I opted to sit in the back with my brother. In hindsight, I’m really thankful I did.
As we headed off, it only took a few minutes before I realized there was a big problem. He was stopping past the stop signs, drifting around the roads and blew a red light. I reached over and pulled my brother’s seat belt across him. He fussed about it out loud, keying my dad into what I was doing.
As I secured my own seat belt, he asked, “What? Do you think I can’t drive?” He clearly found it humorous. (He always believes he’s got it all under control when he drinks.) But there was also an undertone of being mad at the inference. He sharply swerved the car, on purpose, from side to side. He started laughing, finding it hysterical that he was scaring me.
My dad, even when not drinking, is a huge risk taker. His enjoyment in risky things was often put onto us as his kids as well. He especially liked to try to scare me. He would do things like sneak me onto rides I was too small for, and I’d be afraid the entire time I might fall out.
The Zipper ride that could've killed me
That actually happened once on a fair ride called The Zipper. With the help of his two sisters, he snuck me onto the four-person cage ride. The fair ride would make full rotations back and forth. I slipped right out and began to bang around the cage—hitting the other people, the metal bars and walls.
As people screamed to stop the ride, luckily the operators quickly responded and stopped the ride. We were up at the top, of course, but it allowed my aunts to grab me and hold me while the ride operator slowly brought our car to the bottom and let us out. I was banged up and bruises, but luckily that was the extent of it.
The drunk car ride that would never end
So, as my dad swerved the car around the road, making his way to the highway—I was fearful about whether he was capable of making it the next 20 minutes to my aunt’s house. He chastised me from the front of the car, “Do you think I’m drunk? I can drive.”
Silence on my end.
“And what the hell? Telling your stepmom that I ‘did this all the time’? I didn’t do this all the time! What did you mean?”
I stumbled through a response, something along the lines of explaining when he would come home after drinking and hearing him and my mom fight.
He refuted, “Oh come on. I didn’t do that all the time.”
Maybe he didn’t do it all the time. But what number would have made him feel better? 10 times? 5 times? Enough that his 4-6 year old child has memories of it? Each time was enough for me to know I didn’t want to experience it again. I fell silent.
He continued to ramble on, “And you said I was an alcoholic. I’m not an alcoholic! You have no idea what real alcoholics look like!”
My focus at this point was more on his driving than his words. I continued to stay silent, watching out the window as he had several near misses of side-swiping cars or rear-ending them. This almost felt worse than the roller coaster rides.
He was completely out of control. The person I could usually count on to “save” me from the danger at the moment was the danger. He ran a couple more red lights. The first one was on accident, but because I yelled out, “DAD! It’s red!” then he thought it was funny to run some more. He was speeding on top of it all because we were late.
I was never more thankful to be out of a car than when we arrived at my aunt’s house.