I was sleeping contently, deeply, wrapped in a cuddle pretzel with a beautiful blonde German, when a loud crashing noise from upstairs tore me from my sleep. I rolled over, opened my eyes and stared at the blurry ceiling. There was yelling. The thick concrete walls muffled the sounds, but I could hear the incoherent bellowing of a very drunk man. I recognized the voice as my landlord’s. He was yelling and stomping around, knocking into furniture and vacillating between angry shouts and mournful sobs.
The family that I rent from lives upstairs from me. Generally, they seem like a happy and wholesome family. A mother, a father, and three young children – 2 boys and a girl. The kids go to private school, the mother runs a small lavanderia out of the house, and the father owns a hotel in town. In the months that I’d known them, I had become close with the family. I really enjoyed playing with the kids, gossiping with the mom, and exchanging friendly banter with the father – and I’d never seen him have a drink.
But tonight, he was drunk. Very drunk. I glanced at my watch – It was 3 AM, and the whole house was awake. I turned to the German and we both listened as the landlord continued his boozy tirade. In between yells, I could hear one of the children, or maybe his wife, sobbing.
“This sounds like trouble – should I go up there?” I asked the German. But she advised against it. “Just wait,” she said, “he might get more angry if you go up there.” I wasn’t afraid of him – he’s not that big of a man, and I could tell he was very drunk, and would probably have been easy to subdue if need be. But the German was right – I didn’t want to aggravate him further if I could avoid it. But I could hear crying, and I worried about the children. So we lay in bed and listened, staring at the concrete ceiling.
I couldn’t stand the thought of those children being hurt, either physically or emotionally by their father. He was supposed to be someone they looked up to, someone they could always trust to take care of them, and someone they could aspire to be like. And normally he seemed like that kind of a man – he was a successful business owner who was always smiling, always working hard, and loved to laugh. But that was when he was sober. Right now, he was terrorizing these poor children, ranting drunkenly about nothing. I was listening, waiting, hoping not to hear things take a turn for the violent. I was ready to act, but a bit worried about what would happen if I decided to take action. Guns are common in Guatemala, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had one. Confronting an angry drunk in his own house could turn out to be a very dangerous business.
The yelling went on for a few more minutes until he finally calmed down. His anger seemed to fade and he became a blubbering mess. All the noise subsided and I drifted back to asleep.
In the morning, I found that he had gone into my kitchen and stolen a liter of beer from my fridge. A minor offence, but a major breach of privacy. When I walked out to the garden, he greeted me, hanging over the balcony. His shirt was off, his eyes were red, and he was obviously still very drunk. He asked me for a beer. I told him I didn’t have one. He asked if instead, I had two beers. He laughed a child’s laugh and then apologized for being “un poco borracho” – he was more than a “little bit” drunk.
Later in the afternoon when the kids got home from school, the youngest came running up to me with a smile and he blurted out, “mi papa esta borracho!” My daddy is drunk – it was strange how comfortable he was with that fact – it seemed like he was actually excited to tell me. It made me realize that despite his last few months of cheerful sobriety, this certainly wasn’t the first time that the kids had witnessed their father in this state. They were used to it. This was their life.
The mother came down and apologized to me. She confirmed that in the past, he’d been a problem drinker, getting angry and going on drinking binges for days at a time. He had been sober for the last few months, following an alcohol related death in the family, but apparently he had relapsed the night before, and now we were going to be in for a long ride.
I remembered that a few weeks prior, he had introduced me to his cousin, who I’d known as one of the town drunks. His face was scarred and swollen in spots, from years of being fall-down drunk, and catching the occasional beating. They referred to him affectionately as ET – as in Extra Terrestrial – because of his swollen, distorted face. My landlord didn’t look like that – he was a happy and smiling man. ET was the kind of burnt out drunk who as just drinking to stay alive. I’d often see him, drinking quietly on the side of the road. If he was sober enough to recognize me, he’s nod slowly in my direction, but that was the extent of his interaction with me or anyone I ever saw him with. He certainly didn’t have the energy or the enthusiasm to hurt anyone. But I was still unsure about my landlord. Despite his normally jovial manner, drinking brought out the evil in him – it made him an angry and unpredictable.
The mother assured me that he would never hurt the kids. This was good to hear, but I still knew that they were scared of him – and they shouldn’t have to live in fear, not knowing when they come home from school if they would be greeted by their loving father, or a terrorizing drunk. There are very few things that upset me in this world, but I truly believe that seeing children suffer in any way is unacceptable.
That evening, he came stumbling into the garden like a zombie. He was dirty, drooling on himself, and incoherent. I just watched from the kitchen as he slammed the gate behind him and hurled himself towards the stairs like a toddler, learning to walk for the first time. He held the railing tightly, climbing the stairs one unsteady step at a time. Good, I thought – he’s run his course and is going to sleep it off.
But later that night, he woke up and hit the bottle again. There was some mild yelling and he left the house, bottle in hand.
On Sunday morning, I woke up early and headed out to the market to do my weekly shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables. I walked out of the house and down the alleyway, where I found him slumped over and passed out, sitting on the dirt floor of the alley, leaned against the concrete wall. Next to him was an empty bottle of Quetzaltecca, a cheap local Guatemalan liquor. His pants were unzipped and there was a puddle of what I can only assume was urine next to him. His head hung forward, lolling back and forth, as he tried to look up and see who was coming down the alley. I asked in Spanish if he was okay, if he needed anything. He looked up at me with glassy, red eyes viscous drool hanging from his lip and said in a slurred and wrathful voice, “no necesito nada!”
Well fuck you then, I said in English. And I walked passed him, stepping over his legs where he sat, sprawled across the breadth of the alley. I did my shopping at the market, and when I returned an hour later, he was still there. A neighbor, who I had learned was one of his drinking buddies, was standing in the alleyway, and together, we drug this incoherent mess of a man into the house and deposited him on the couch, where he immediately slumped over and passed out.
This binge lasted for 4 days.
On the last night, he came banging on my door at 1 AM to apologize for being a drunk mess. He was drunk, but at least coherent, with an empty bottle of Quetzaltecca in his hand. I told him that now was not the time to have this conversation. He walked away apologizing and smacking himself on the forehead repeatedly saying, “Disculpa, disculpa, disculpa…”
After that he sobered up. We talked briefly about the episode, and I told him that I couldn’t live there if this was the way he was going to act. He apologized for his actions and said he was done drinking, but I knew that this wasn’t the first, nor the last time that he’d quit drinking. This was a sad man. I got the feeling that he was running from something, trying to get so shitfaced drunk that he couldn’t think; couldn’t be responsible for himself.
The whole situation was very upsetting to me, less because of what he was doing to himself, and more because of what he was doing to his children. I wanted to explain to him that his two adorable boys would probably grow up to be alcoholic binge drinkers just like their father. They’d probably have families of their own who they’d regularly terrorize with bouts of angry drinking. I wanted to explain to him that his 10 year old daughter would very likely grow up and find an alcoholic man to marry too, and have children that would hide when their father came home for fear that he’d be drunk, angry, and possibly violent. It’s a vicious cycle, and I’m not sure it’s fully understood in this part of the world.
Despite the negativity surrounding this situation, it made me really appreciate my own upbringing. I was lucky enough to have two parents who did their best to treat us kids well. They rarely drank, and certainly not to the point where they got angry or violent — I never had to be afraid of them. I could trust them. They taught me things. They took care of me. I’m very thankful for that.
Furthermore, this situation put my own drinking into perspective. I drink often – It has never been a real problem for me, but I’m aware that it has the potential to become a problem in my life. It’s certainly not healthy. But I’ve been able to get by living this lifestyle for years because no matter how much I drink, I always get my work done and I’m generally a happy drunk. I put the “Fun” in Functional Alcoholism. But let’s be honest, a happy drunk is still a drunk, and I know I’m so much more than that.
So maybe this experience has been positive for me in some way. Sometimes you need to see others at their lowest to help put your own problems in perspective.
Regardless, I still worry about the kids. What can I do to ensure that they don’t grow up to become alcoholic fathers themselves?
What would you do in this situation?