PEERS publishes short stories written by Chinese American Action Team member Jean Lee and translated into English by PEERS Staff Veronica Liu.
The views expressed in this story are not necessarily shared or endorsed by PEERS or PEERS staff.
Trigger warning: material in this story may be re-traumatizing to some readers.
Twice a month in a small town, not a definite location, a group of 8-9 grandmothers would get together to share the recent happenings in their lives. They usually met at different places, like small cafes, a member’s house, and sometimes in a theater. Their stories covered the joys of taking care of the grandchildren, fun with their pets, new recipes, books they read, recent trips they took and so on. They often had so much fun that the 2-½ hours flew by very quickly.
Tonight the ladies are meeting at Precelin’s house, and in comes Louise. She is breathing hard and her hair is a bit messy.
“Do you all know what happened at my house?” she asks.
Everyone quiets down and all look towards Louise.
“My younger son’s wife left home and went to the ghetto area of San Francisco. She stayed in a broken down motel with a bunch of no good crowd, drinking.”
Someone from the group inquires, “When did this happen?”
“Last Wednesday was their wedding anniversary. They had made plans that after my son got off work he would take her to a nice restaurant to celebrate. They planned on dropping off their four kids at my house so I could watch them. My oldest granddaughter even chose a beautiful gown for her mom to wear. When my son got home, his wife wasn’t there. He waited for awhile, tried calling her on her cell, but no answer. Then he called the police and found out where she was. My son was a little nervous going there by himself, so he got a friend to go with him. When they found the broken down motel and knocked on the door of the room where she was in, a drunk opened the door. My daughter-in-law was shocked to see my son, she ran into the bathroom and closed the door.”
“So she went home with him?” asks Mimi.
“No, she refused and her ‘friends’ sided with her,” Louise says.
Someone interjects, “Your son could have told them that this is his wife and he is going to take her home and they should all stay away from her. Then he can pick her up and take her away.”
“No, the law would not allow that. She has to be willing to go,” Mimi explains. Mimi used to be a social worker.
“Now all four kids come to my house after school, I cook for them and then after my son gets off work, he takes them home.”
“How’re the kids?”
“I asked the oldest how she was doing. She said she missed her mom and then she would tear up.”
“The best thing to do is to find a family therapist to support everyone.”
“I heard from my son that the second oldest went to see the therapist at school on her own,” Louise says.
“She is very smart to think of doing that at such a young age.”
“When did your daughter-in-law start drinking?”
“She was always a drinker, and one time she actually brought the two young kids to the bar with her. They were running around in their diapers. I am only their grandmother, what can I say?”
Louise pauses, gathering he thoughts.
“I also heard that when she picked up the kids from school, she would take them to the bar inside a restaurant. Who knows what the kids are doing while she is drinking?”
“No one told you, or report it to the Child Protective Services?” the woman sitting next to Mimi asks.
“If the kids are not in danger, not being abused or neglected, then CPS will not do anything.” Mimi responds.
“My daughter-in-law is a Physician Assistant,” Louise says. “But she got fired from the last four – five jobs from the hospital because of her drinking.”
Mary offers, “I can help with the kids. Let me know whenever you need help.”
Mary walks with a cane, so someone teases her: “Are you sure you can help?”
Mary laughs, “I can take care of you too.”
The group meets again after 2 weeks, this time at Mimi’s house. Mimi serves cookies and tea.
Louise walks in. She picks up a cup of tea and says, “Ouch!”
Someone asks, “Are you ok? Was the tea too hot?”
“I am fine. I have thick skin.” Louise says. Everyone laughs.
Mary brings up Louise’s daughter-in-law, “What happened? Did she come home?”
Louise sighs. “No, she didn’t. My son and the kids all went to emergency therapy sessions. My oldest granddaughter wanted to go visit her mom, the second oldest said she wanted to go help her mom get sober. Next week my son has to go to Vegas for work. The kids wanted to go stay at their mother’s motel in San Francisco. I am worried about them.”
Mimi is curious: “What did your son say?”
Louise looks perplexed. “He said let them go. If there is any urgent business or emergency then they can contact me. I don’t know how I feel about that.”
Mimi says quietly: “The kids should first call the police because it is quicker. It would take you at least 40 minutes to get to San Francisco from here. Just write down the phone number on a piece of paper and put it into the kids’ bags, or better yet you can call them and ask them then how they are doing when they visit.”
Louise: “My son said if I want to see my grandchildren, I need to cooperate with them. The kids said their mom is the most important person to them.”
Mary stands up and leans on her cane. She says wanted to share something with everyone: “My only daughter’s husband likes to drink and do drugs, I told her that it’s been so long and if it continues, it is detrimental to her and the kids. The only thing to do is to leave him. My daughter listens to me, but with a son it is different. Does your son have any long term plans?”
Louise says, “My son is quite practical. He has to support his family and take care of the kids. He did talk to me about the next step.”
“The first step is to encourage your daughter-in-law to attend those AA meetings,” Mimi says. “Your son should go to some other support group to learn how to help her. After all, alcohol is a sickness.”
Someone asks, “Drinking is an illness?”
Mimi explains, “Yes, it is and it is also hereditary too.”
Louise starts sharing other stories about alcoholism:
I often thought about Auntie Wing Chuan, my mother’s friend when she was in her. That’s not her real name, but she was named after the village they both lived in. When Auntie Wing Chuan and my mom went to lunch, she would drink while mom ate her food. When mom was young, mom had a good appetite. Now at age 95, mom can’t eat much anymore, time is running out for her. I wish she could have a better appetite and eat a little bit more.
When I was in middle school, mom invited Auntie Wing Chuan’s youngest daughter Jade to come stay for winter break. She was 3 years older than me. She was very quiet during her stay with us. She never smiled. Mom had told Jade to do homework with us, help with cooking, do dishes, clean up — just like one of us. One day I overheard my mom telling dad that poor Jade lost her mom at such a young age. It was due to alcohol. I didn’t dare to ask since I didn’t want them to know that I was eavesdropping. After winter break, we had to leave and attend boarding school in the city.
I asked mom where Jade went. Mom replied that Jade went to stay at her big sister’s house and watched the kids for her.
I asked mom softly, “Is she going to school?”
Mom said: “Yes, her sister is sending her to school.”
My guess is that Auntie Wing Chuan died of alcohol poisoning. I am so lucky to have a mom watching out for us, but poor Jade, who can she call mom now?
In that same village, there was also a man nicknamed “Uncle Tiger”. When Uncle Tiger was 14 he left his home in North Korea and then later on traveled to Wing Chuan Village, where he met Auntie Wing Chuan and her husband. Through her husband’s referral, he worked at my parent’s restaurant as an apprentice. After awhile, he was like part of the family. At that time, not many people had cameras, but he had one. He took a picture for my brother and sister while they were young kids.
One time a Korean soldier came into the restaurant and refused to pay after he had his meal. Tiger jumped in and argued with the soldier. I asked mom how old he was. Mom said he was still a kid, only 15-16 years old. My mother admired his bravery.
Mom heard that when he got older, he liked to go to restaurants where there were young ladies that served drinks and keep you company. He met someone he liked and they had four children. One winter, my sister and I got permission from our parents to go and visit them. We had to take the train then transferred by bus before we can get to Wing Chuan village. That particular night, Uncle Tiger had a little too much to drink. He was ranting and raving. So Auntie Tiger and her sister grabbed the children and we all hid inside a bedroom closet for a long time to avoid him. I wasn’t afraid, because Auntie and her sister were there to protect us. After that, my brother came to take us home. I was walking by Uncle and Auntie’s bedroom and heard them talking. Affter that Uncle came back with a nice white wool coat for me. I kept this coat for over 12 years and even brought it with me to the States and had it for a few more years.
I still remember one year in January, Auntie Tiger came to our house, her face filled with sorrow. She said Uncle Tiger got drunk and they had a fight. She stayed and the next day my mother made her go home to take care of her kids and business. The next morning when I woke up I didn’t see mom. I asked dad where she went. He said she went to Wing Chuan village. I didn’t ask anymore because my parents didn’t like kids asking so many questions.
A couple of days later, mom came back with a baby in her arms. She whispered to dad. “Died of rat poison”.
Dad said, “Oh those poor kids.”
Mom continued, “I told him that I will only watch the kids for a month. He needs to come pick them up after that time.”
Just listening to their whispered conversations, we had no idea when Uncle Tiger would come back to pick the baby up. One day he arrived while we were at school.
In 2012 Uncle Tiger’s oldest daughter Kettle and her husband came to the States and paid my mom a visit. Unfortunately, dad had already passed. We all sat around and reminisced. She addressed my mom as Godmother. She asked, “What was my mom like?”
Mom told her to think of her mom as a young maiden from the village. Kettle said, “Why couldn’t mom wait till the Year of the Ram before she left us?” Tears flowed down her cheeks. Her husband kept patting her shoulder and back tenderly.
Kettle and her husband stayed for a week before they went home. I was curious so I asked mom what kind of illness caused Uncle Tiger’s death.
My mother said, “What illness? It was New Year’s. He got real drunk because he missed his family. He was walking the streets screaming and yelling like a madman and the police beat him to death.”
“Who told you that?”
“I don’t remember.” Whenever mom doesn’t want me to know something, she will say she doesn’t remember.
I came to the conclusion that Uncle Tiger’s wife had depression. I got this impression because she always had a sad look on her face, never a smile. And she always wore a light color long dress. She has never talked to me or called me by my name, or patted me on my shoulder. She never showed any friendliness towards me.
I am also very certain that Uncle Tiger, the one that bought me the long wool coat, doesn’t have a hereditary drinking problem. He is just a victim of a broken home and the war. I hope he can go in front of God (if there is a God) to tell him the physical and psychological impact of war.
Paul’s ex-wife Breezy’s parents got a divorce when she was still a young child. Her mom took her younger sister, and left Breezy with her dad. Being left behind, this emotional abandonment stayed with her over the years. She never saw a doctor or went to counselling. After marrying Paul, drinking became her company and love.
Paul said he tried everything, talking to her, being empathetic and understanding. Nothing worked. She lied, stole and even when she had no money, she still managed to get her hands on some liquor. He said he was always worried that when he was at work, there would be a phone call.
Someone asked: “When did she pass?”
Paul: “Not even 40 years old,”
“Did she join AA?”
“What is AA?” Paul asked.
No one wanted to say anything more.
Paul grabbed his wallet and took out a picture. He showed me Breezy selling flowers at her flower stand. She had a small face and small eyes, shoulder length hair. With the wind blowing her hair, she looks really cute.
“Does anyone in Breezy’s family have alcohol addictions?” I asked.
“No, they all drink water.”
“You don’t think it is hereditary?”
Paul shook his head.
My college friend Laura found out that her husband was having an extramarital affair. It was not with another woman, but with a man. They tried staying together, but eventually they separated. Laura was granted the custody of the three children. The oldest two left to seek work in Los Angeles. The youngest one worked for a few years after graduating from high school, and picked up the bad habit of drinking. He always has a glass in his hand, so he lost his job and his mom kicked him out. He is trying to quit drinking now.
Since the divorce, all the men in Laura’s life do not drink. Her parents do not drink either. How did her youngest get into this bad habit? Is it because of the parents’ separation? Is it because of his father’s gender preference? Or is it because of influence of his friends? Or is it hereditary from his father’s side?
Jewel’s partner gets drunk every night and he would be screaming, yelling and complaining about everyone. Jewel really loves him, but after awhile she couldn’t handle this anymore. So she took her baby and left him and moved back home.
He went home to Malaysia and stayed with his mother for 6 months. After that he returned to the States, somehow got my address and came over to see me.
He was crying and begged me to call Jewel so he would see her.
They reconciled and moved back in together, and had a second child. He returned to his drinking and Jewel attempted to end her life but survived.
Then they divorced.
At that time both Jewel and I did not know anything about AA meetings. We were new immigrants, with very little knowledge of support groups like this. I wish there are more advertisement about AA now and it would definitely help a lot of people.
Elaine, a cute Kindergarten teacher was married to a flirtatious man. He fell for a beautiful young lady and Elaine agreed to a divorce. She was deeply affected by this and turned to drinking. She can’t sleep until she drinks and then she can go to work. Parents can smell the alcohol on her breath and not long after, she was fired. She made up her mind and joined the AA group and was able to kick off the bad habit.
I usually purchase flowers from a vendor named Rudy. Lately, I noticed that his stomach was getting bigger and bigger. One morning I ran into his wife. I asked her what she cooked for him, looks like he is gaining some weight. She shook her head and whispered, “It’s his drinking.”
I didn’t know what to say. He always dressed in his usual white tee, jeans and sneakers, and he had a good work ethic. But he does have a bad temper. I asked how much he drinks. She shook her head and whispered something inaudibly.
“Does he go to AA meeting?”
“He won’t go. He said it was my fault. I am not even 50 years old and my whole head is grey.”
“How old is your son?”
“He will be graduating this year.”
“What college does he have in mind to attend?”
“He wants to attend the CHP Academy.”
“To catch his dad drunk driving?” I joked.
She didn’t laugh.
She said her son said to him, “Dad, can you stop drinking for me?”
I asked her if it worked. She sighed and said no.
After this conversation, I ran into Rudy’s wife several times and each time I asked if there was any progress. I was worried that she might have suicidal thoughts.
One day she told me that her son said not to bother with his dad, just leave him alone. I can understand that he loves his mom and does not want to see her suffer. I said, “your son loves you.”
Thanksgiving came and went, and then Christmas rolled around. I got really busy, and didn’t see Rudy’s wife for a long time.
One day, I ran into her and I asked about Rudy. She smiled and said everything is ok now. I thought that perhaps he finally went to the AA meetings, but she said no.
“It’s because his brother got really drunk and got into an accident on the freeway. It scared Rudy so much that he quit.”
I feel sad for his brother and his family. But for Rudy, at least he is starting a new beginning.