I Drove My Mom to A Bar Because She Was Too Drunk To Drive
I was doing homework when she came into my room, wearing a full slip and nylons. “Lydia, I’m going out,” she announced, sounding pretty articulate, considering her level of intoxication. “I don’t know where you’ve hidden the car keys. But I want them and I expect you to give them to me.”
“I don’t think you should be driving, Mom,” I said evenly, as if her attire were nothing out of the ordinary.
“‘I don’t think you should be driving,’” she shot back in a thin, pretentious voice, the cadences just right, mimicking me.
I didn’t respond. She stood there a moment, then turned with unsteady aplomb and walked back down the hall. I could hear her opening and closing closet doors and drawers in the bedroom, then clattering in the bathroom, occasionally dropping things, which didn’t seem to faze her. I was about to go see what she was up to when she reappeared at my door.
She was wearing a fitted skirt, her blue silk blouse, and high heels. She’d put on makeup — eyeliner, lipstick, penciled eyebrows. Her blond hair was up in a French roll, done somewhat less expertly than if she hadn’t been drunk, but it looked good, sort of loose and hip.
“I’m serious, Lydia. I want the keys.”
“Where are you planning on going?” I asked.
“To a bar.”
I pushed my book aside and stood up.
“OK,” I said, surprising myself as much as her. “I’ll drive you.”
“You aren’t old enough to go to a bar.”
“I know I’m not old enough to go to a bar. I’ll drop you off, and when you’re ready to come home you can call and I’ll come back and pick you up.”
“Fine,” she said. “I just have to get my purse.”
I retrieved the car keys from under my mattress. Partly, I didn’t want to hear about this all evening, over and over, until she was drunk enough to pass out. Partly, I was intrigued. Going to a bar wasn’t something my mother did. She drank at home, straight gin, sometimes starting in the afternoon, sometimes opting for the bottle over breakfast. She drank at social events, keeping the intake initially in check, the life of the party, saving her meanness for Dad on the drive home. My mother didn’t drink alone in bars.
I wrote Dad a note, keeping it brief, saying I was driving Mom downtown but not saying where. I told myself I was doing the right thing, the same as taking her to the market when she insisted on going and was too far gone to drive herself.
I left the note on the kitchen counter and followed Mom out to the garage.
“It’s probably best that you take me,” she said as she pulled the passenger-side door shut. “So I won’t have to worry about the car if I decide not to come home.”
Her threats to leave were usually accompanied by threats not to come back, so I didn’t think much of it.
“Where would you go if you didn’t come home, Mom?”
“I don’t know yet.”
I drove out the driveway, then down the familiar curve of Skyview Drive. I hadn’t had my license for long and still felt lucky every time I drove.
“So where exactly am I taking you?” I asked.
“To the Den,” she said.
The Den. At least it was a bar attached to a restaurant and not a bar by itself. I remembered times when Layne and I were little, when we’d go to a restaurant, and the table wouldn’t be ready. Mom and Dad would go into the bar for a cigarette and a drink, and the waitress would bring us Shirley Temples in the waiting area. Restaurant bars had an air of mystery but also some respectability.
We didn’t talk much as we drove, which was fine. It occurred to me that I could swing by and see Tom on the way home. Tom had been Layne’s boyfriend until she left for college — he still was, theoretically, though they weren’t doing very well long-distance.
Mom pulled a compact from her purse and started fiddling with it, trying to get glimpses of her face in the tiny mirror as the streetlights flashed lazily past the car. When I turned left on Lake Avenue she put the compact back in her purse.
“Before we get there …”
“You’re 16 years old now.”
We passed under the last green light before the Den, and I pulled into the taxi zone.
“Mom,” I said, “do you really want to be here? We could go see Tom. You haven’t seen him in ages.”
“I didn’t get dressed up to go see Tom.”
She opened the car door.
“Call me when you want me to come get you,” I said.
“It may not be real soon.”
Excerpted from "While You Were Drinking," a memoir about growing up with an alcoholic mother from Shebooks, the new publisher of short e-books by women. Lydia Bird is a memoirist, magazine writer and professional editor.
Originally published on Purple Clover.