I could always tell when my dad had been drinking.

His face got softer, somehow, and his eyes always looked as if they were a little happier. Yet sad. Tired. Watery. I saw him cry a hundred times or more when he was drunk but not once, that I can remember, when he was sober.

During some of my teen-age years, I preferred him drunk. He was easier then: Easier to get along with, easier to talk into letting me have the car. He always acted about half-mad when he hadn’t been drinking, until he got down about half that first vodka and Mountain Dew on the rocks. Then the sarcasm faded and his face relaxed. The buzz was on.

My grandma used to try to convince herself and us that he had “really quit this time.” And Debra and I would nod and agree, and lie, “No,” when she asked us if he’d been drinking last time we were down there. Just to make her feel better. We could tell he had been, though, even by his voice on the telephone — just like we could hear her shaking, over the line, by the in-and-out sound of the phone pressed up against her quivering face.

I used to wonder why he didn’t just give it up. Seemed like all alcohol did for him, aside from convincing him he sounded (and looked) just like Elvis, was make him cry when he thought about the things he shouldn’t have done (like leaving Mom and us) and the things he should’ve (like getting his degree in electronics instead of becoming a mail carrier, which he claimed he’d always hated — more and moreso when he got to the point of going in to work, hungover, every day).

I used to wonder why he didn’t love us enough to quit drinking. Seemed to me that love should have conquered all.

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