The gravel crunches under my feet. I see her approaching. I hear the slam of the car door. The same car features in my earliest memory. I see the tail lights glowing in the distance. She’s off to who knows where. Dad stands with a hand on my shoulder. I was too young to understand, far too young to do anything about it.
Seven years old, and I bring her the bottle myself. She asked me to. I was raised to listen to my parents, like all little kids should. I think it must be water, but it smells gross when she pours it into a glass. I can smell it again when she kisses me good night.
Ten years old, and I’m tucking her in. She doesn’t remember. She doesn’t remember lots of things. I make sure she brushes her teeth, puts on warm pajamas. It gets cold in the house at night. I put the bottle on the counter. I wash out the glass. Sometime around midnight, she comes out of her bedroom and walks into the bathroom like a zombie. I sit on the couch, the only light coming from the newest episode of “Ghost Adventures.” She closes the door, but I can still hear her vomiting up her dignity for the hundredth time. I plug my ears and clamp my eyes shut, trying not to picture it.
For my twelfth birthday I wake up to an argument at 4 a.m. and two empty bottles. I can smell it. It’s everywhere. I have been trained like a bomb-squad K-9 to sense the explosion before it happens. I don’t know where she is – outside screaming at him probably. Instead of cleaning up the mess, rage burns through my every nerve. I burst outside holding a half-full bottle of her favorite wine. I throw it as hard as I can across the yard, and it shatters into a million pieces on the fence. I walk back inside and spray lavender Febreeze in a failed attempt to get rid of the smell.
Thirteen. School is the only place I want to be. I wish I could live there. I hardly see her anymore. I’m scared about high school. I want to tell her, but she’s … not herself. When I do see her it’s from across the room, and I never hear her because I’m playing my music louder than her screaming. It’s routine now. People say I’m stuck up, and I don’t bother to explain that I don’t feel anything anymore. I don’t want to feel anything.
I can smell it as she hugs me. It’s become her perfume. It stains the jean jacket she always wears. I take a deep breath as my dad watches warily. I didn’t give him the gray hair he’s had for as long as I can remember. That’s a thing, right? You have kids, and they worry you so much it turns your hair gray. Yeah. Yeah, that wasn’t me.
“Let’s take a walk,” I say, as she grabs my hand and leads me down the road. Rehab. One month. Five hours away. I breathe a sigh of relief as she breathes out an intoxicated sigh of concern. “Don’t let them take you from me,” she chokes. She’s sobbing. Her arms are around me again, and tears drip down my face. I wipe them away before she can see. I have to be the adult. My fourteenth birthday was a week ago, but I know I have to be the adult.
I watch as she drives away. When I walk to the door, my dad asks if I’m okay. “Yeah,” I say numbly. I bolt downstairs and go straight to the bathroom. It’s all I can smell. I turn the shower as hot as I can stand and scrub until my skin is raw. It’s still there. I use half a bottle of body wash, and I can still smell it.
I begin to wonder if it’s genetic. What if I can never get rid of the smell of alcohol? What if my kids smell it like I do, and their kids after that? I scrub harder. It must be in my blood. I feel like I can never escape it. I will never escape it.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.