The booze in our family

 

“Putang ina! Putang ina talaga!!!” (Son of a bitch! Son of a bitch!!!) Those were the words I repeatedly utter after finding out that Kim, my adopted brother was shot dead after picking up two of his friends detained in the police station last November.

He is one of the more than 7000 victims killed each day in drug-related killings since the president of our country, the Philippines sits on his throne a year ago. My mother adopted him a year before I gave birth to my eldest son, JC. They were playmates at one point growing up.

 

Kim provided so much joy with my mom and my two younger siblings. They were his family. They raised him up the way they knew best. He was a normal kid, except that he never really knows who he was. Mom never had the courage to tell him that he was adopted until her dying days when she was left with no choice.

 

Like many teenagers, he had a lot of friends and a lot of drinking friends. When we lost our mom, I had to keep him with me. That’s when I saw how his drinking had always brought him into trouble. He cannot stand school, he cannot stand work and probably he was lost with himself, finding who he was.

 

“Mama tulungan mo kami” (Mama please help us) I recall JC”S voice over the phone one time.

 

“Bakit?” (Why?) I asked him.

 

“Naaksidente kami, puro dugo si Kuya Kim” (“We had an accident and there is lots of blood from Uncle Kim”) JC sounded nervous and lost.

 

JC told me that Kim was drunk, driving the motorcycle so fast despite his warning to slow down. He managed to jump when he sensed that Kim was losing control. Although no one was badly hurt, I saw how shocked he was seeing a lot of blood from Kim’s wound and the bruises over both of his legs asking for my help. There was no evidence of accident with his body that time. Jacobo, JC’s other friend, only got a few bruises but looked traumatized as well.

 

“Ilang ulit ko bang sasabihin sa inyo na wag kayong mag drive na nakakainom?” (How often have I told you not to drink and drive?) I was enraged with all of them. They seemed too stubborn to listen.

 

My younger sister tried to look for Kim’s real parents in the hope that it will help him do better. Me, on the other side, believes that with his continuous drinking, whether we find his parents or not, would be very difficult for him.

 

When I got fed up with the trouble his drinking was causing him, I have to return him back to my sister in our hometown but she could not bear long with him as well. Despite setting our boundaries he continues to be the Kim we knew. The typical brother most of us had.

 

He prepares food for our children when he can. He asks money when he needed. He was around when you need him. He doesn’t talk much except when he wants some things. He gives chocolates to neighbors when he felt we had so much. He was a child who needed so much more than he could give.

 

Left on his own, he went to the wrong people. He had it all. The disease of alcoholism, the oblivion of a lost identity, the sick crowd, the feeling of unloved and rejection.

 

All of us his sisters had no idea that he was into drugs. I just pick up the pieces of stories during his wake. I cannot ask him now when he started using drugs and why. It was probably after losing JC, one of his drinking buddies. I have heard so much to conclude that my brother was a victim of a disease long known to mankind.

 

These are the stories of thousand of tokhang victims (identified drug users in the Philippines) we had in our midst today and I don’t think killing them all would stop the problem.

 

“Paano ka makakapasok sa klase mo bukas ng umaga kung uuwi ka ng medaling araw ng lasing?” (“How can you make it to your early class tomorrow when you went home at dawn drunk?”) I angrily asked JC during one of our confrontation.

 

“Ma hindi ako lasing” (“Ma, I’m not drunk”) the frequent denial he would murmur before falling flat on his bed.

 

No drunken person ever accepted they were drunk.

 

A concerned neighbor once told me that JC almost bumped into their van on his way home. He was probably losing coordination and having blurred vision while walking drunk and I do not always know how he made it home safe while I am sound asleep. We provide him with his own keys so that no one of us would have to wait for him when we got annoyed with his frequent coming late.

 

The effect of drinking on JC’s life was becoming obvious to me at that point. It just felt impossible to make him see what I was seeing. He was still getting good grades in his early college years and he was active in extracurricular activities. I could not make him stop drinking for school reason since he was doing well. But I was worried the disease would progress sooner than later.

 

In his second year in college, he had falling grades in his morning subjects and the reason was obvious. He had no choice but to stop studying and figure out what he really wanted. That was part of the boundaries we have set after many confrontations we have with his drinking.

 

He asked me to help him with the requirements for his job application after a few weeks out of school. It seemed like a great idea for me although his father was against it. I got my husbands’ approval insisting that seeing his son around the house doing nothing upset me.

 

JC was hired right away as a service crew in the fast food chain where he had his last breakfast with his sister and girlfriend, Melody.

 

“Bakit may gasgas ka sa mga binti mo ha?” (“Why do you have bruises on your legs?”) I asked JC.

 

I noticed the bruises when he was changing his clothes going to his room.

 

“Nahulog ako sa hagdan, sa trabaho” (“I fell down from the stairs, at work”) he said.

 

When I got the chance to talk to his manager whom I happened to know, I was apologetic about his frequent absences. I was trying to get her sympathy from instances like when JC said he fell down from the stairs.

 

“Mommy,” the manager used to call me.

 

“Si JC ay hindi nahuhulog sa hagdan” (“JC didn’t fall from the stairs”) she said.

 

“Nahulog sya sa motor noong maaksidente sila pagkatapos mag inuman ng mga kaibigan nya” (“He had his motorcycle accident after a drinking binge with some of his friends”) she smiled and politely left me to attend to another customer.

 

I was becoming hopeless with what was happening to him. He couldn’t stand going to school or keeping a job. What will he become? What if he got married? How will he handle his family life? My prayer had become fervent with these thoughts. I could not imagine him raising a family with the behavior I was seeing.

 

We got the chance to have a serious talk about his drinking and his life a month before he left us. He promised me that by the coming semester he would go back to school and do well. He insisted on applying for a job again while waiting for the school opening. I was hesitant and doubting if it was the right thing for him to do. My husband was completely against it. He believed that working will just give our son more leeway to buy cigarettes and alcohol. He was right. June 15, the day JC had an accident, was a payday.

 

Those who were with him were hesitant to tell me that JC was driving drunk. Some of his friends didn’t believe that the amount of alcohol he had drunk was too dangerous to drive. They thought he only took a few shots; some completely denied he was drunk. I understood it. I knew they were trying to protect my son from the stigma that drunken people are bad. They didn’t realize that I knew it was a disease. It was not my son’s fault he caught it. Alcoholism runs in our blood.

 

At around six o’clock in the evening more than thirty years ago, (the same time JC had his last breath) the news came to us that my Dad had an accident. The announcement was followed by flocks of people standing outside the rice mill where we reside.

 

“He was driving his motorcycle with his helper at the back; both of them didn’t make it.”

 

“They had a head-on collision with a passenger jeep” those were the rumor going around until some closed relatives came by to comfort us.

 

I heard from my mom that dad was a little drunk during the accident. But nobody on the family dare says that my dad died of drunk driving. Why blame the alcohol? It was the jeepney driver’s fault and their legal battle took almost two decades ending in the driver’s conviction to the mental hospital for insanity.

 

“I would never marry a drunkard” that was a promise I made to myself when I was growing up.

 

It has nothing to do with losing my dad. Alcohol had nothing to do with him and he had never been a problem drinker as far as I can recall. It was the nerve wrecking confrontations between my mom and drunken relatives, sometimes between my uncles and aunties and at other times among my cousins and neighbors that made me repulsive of drunkards.

 

My apprehensions of drunken individual probably root from those encounters and the scary stories Mom told us about them when she didn’t want us to go outside and play; when she wanted to have our afternoon nap so that she could have hers as well. They were like a scarecrow in my mind and that was the only image of an alcoholic I have until I fell in love and got married.

 

“You might be interested meeting someone in uniform” the smiling voice of a policeman at my back while I’m filing stock of unsold goods from our tiangee (bazaar).

 

“Who the hell is he?” and “I don’t care who he was, get out of my sight” the impression I gave his friend who was also a cop and a regular bystander on the store.

 

His tall, skinny featured was far from the neighbor I got infatuated to during my high school days. I was barely seventeen years old then and his age was closer to my Mom. My disinterest towards him had been obvious since that first meeting.

 

I was taking up nursing then at Southern Luzon Polytechnic College, Lucban Quezon. It was a two-hour jeepney ride from the town where I grew up and the only affordable school I could have my college degree. Instead of going back home during the weekends I preferred to have a part-time job on a Chinese store where the police station is a just a few steps away.

 

Policemen in this town were beginning to get used to the flock of students to their growing University and his friend was probably on the lookout for the most qualified prey for him. He was 33 and most likely if he will not make an effort to find a partner he would be married to his gun in the police station for the rest of his life.

 

He took up some subjects in the school where I was studying to get near to me and having him around the campus had always been a nuisance because I was always teased by my male classmates for having a suitor who is the age of their fathers. Avoiding him became a habit until my last year in college.

 

He was five years sober when I met him. I didn’t have any idea of his disease although he was vocal about being a recovering alcoholic. I didn’t really care. What I cared about most was to get him out of my sight until things got in the way.

 

When his sister was about to get married, she asked me to be one of her bridal sponsors. And I never knew then that becoming his partner on that wedding entourage would change everything. I didn’t understand how he made it comfortable for me during the entire ceremony.

 

Going out with him had always been exciting since then. I began to see the gentle spirit in his persona. The wisdom he possessed made me feel confident in the sincerity of his intentions. His honesty encouraged me to expose a part of myself I did not have the courage to reveal. I must admit that it had been difficult to resist him on the days that followed.

 

“Do you know that you are marrying an alcoholic?” his sponsor asked me when we paid him a visit before our wedding as if he was telling me to think about it more.

 

I couldn’t imagine him as an alcoholic because he was decent, funny and witty. He was also gentle; had a good-paying job and was so nice to be with. Then I met his friends; a lawyer, a priest, a businessman, a doctor, a movie star and some well-known people in politics and in the business world. All of them admitted one thing; they were alcoholic.

 

My husband never had a taste of alcohol in his hometown in Lucban during his high school days. He was a good boy. His mom was a well known rural health midwife in the area and his dad was a veteran’s pensioner who is well loved by the town’s folks.

 

Drinking lambanog, a coconut wine was a popular past time even among women in this town. I do not know if it has something to do with the weather although some strongly believe so. When I was admitted to the town’s college, I never realized that part of the requirement was several sets of sweatshirts and extra uniforms to stand the 200 intermittent days of rain in the town the whole year round. Taking a bath from the freezing cold water before going to school had never been easy and a kettle for boiling water is a must for every student from the nearby towns.

 

He started drinking during his college life in Manila, a four-hour drive from Lucban. Away from his parents, he was free. His roommates were his first drinking buddies.

 

“I taught you were taking up engineering. I never knew you change your course to becoming a doctor” the sarcastic voice of his father looking at his report card with plenty of a dr (dropped) mark all over.

 

“How could you do this to us” his mom’s voice upon finding out that he was not attending classes for the longest time anymore.

 

“I would like to finish my studies but I just can’t” banging his head on the wall.

 

“I am seeing half animal people in my mind, they are running after me” the only response he could give for his poor mom.

 

Manipulating a loved one through a drama is a behavior common among alcoholics. He made up lots of stories that melted the hearts of his parents. In their attempt to make things better, they sent him to their family physician who prescribed an antipsychotic drug, Thorazine, for the next six months out of school.

 

“You can never drink alcohol again, or else you will die” the family physicians warning on him.

 

His medication decreased after several months and then he decided to look for a job. He became a janitor and a messenger in a bank. But after getting a salary, he began drinking again and he didn’t die. He acquired more drinking buddies this time but the work didn’t last long. He was hired for another job and lost it for drinking again.

 

Seeing that he was going nowhere, he was compelled to enter the police force by his dad. He had no choice. But the gun with booze only made him more out of control. He lost himself until his conscience couldn’t be numbed anymore. He became desperate finding ways to drink better until he sought a way to stay sober.

 

That was his drinking story that he never got tired of sharing with our children. He was 28 when he had his last drink and his reason to believe that we could still pull our son out of the dungeon later in his life without knowing God’s divine plan.

 

My loved ones are good loving people who were a victim of a disease as cunning as Satan and today their stories are speaking a lot louder to me to do something about the culprit that only a few people recognize.

 

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