Thursday, October 28, 2010

Zero Tolerance

“More than a decade later, the sound waves from that one shotgun blast continue to ripple through time.”
~from my memoir, Standoff at Ronnie’s Place

It stands to reason that Ron’s suicide continues to have ramifications in our lives. Perhaps one of the most obvious and immediate influences it had was on my policy concerning teen alcohol use.

I said to my sons: “If either of you comes home smelling of alcohol before you graduate from high school, you are not taking what happened to your father seriously enough. If I smell booze on you once you are going into 30-day inpatient rehab, no questions asked.”

Sound extreme? Good. I was feeling extreme. Was it even fair? Probably not—I went to beer parties when I was in high school. At one, the driver of the car I arrived in got so drunk that her wild dancing sent one of her wooden clogs flying from her foot through the side of a big expensive fish tank. Kegger over. The house emptied as quickly as the tank. Fish flowed helplessly from from it to flop around on the soaked family room carpet. This same girl drove us home, pulling over to the side of the road once so she could throw up.

Problem was, we suffered no adverse consequences besides the basic confusion that we called this “fun” when it made us feel ashamed and sick. We got home without a car accident. We got away with sneaking into our houses past our curfews. We lived to drink underage again. As a member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving for the past twenty years, I cringe at that thought of what might have happened. But it didn’t.

Now that I was a mother I had to act on the best possible information. That included a slew of drinking and driving statistics from MADD and other sources. And thanks to the events of the final eight weeks of his life we now had the information that Ron had an incredible tolerance for alcohol. He could drink as many as a dozen shots of whiskey in an evening—enough to put most of us into life-threatening alcohol poisoning—before becoming visibly drunk. At the time my kids were teens, research suggested this to be an inheritable trait. And until science reversed itself on this issue, or until my sons were mature enough to make a responsible and legal decision, I didn’t want them messing with liquid fire. They would not become addicts on my watch.

My sons got through high school without me having to invoke my zero tolerance policy. My first-born may have stories to tell me about that some day, who knows.

But not Marty. He was developing a zero tolerance policy of his own.

More on that in my next post, set for Ron’s birthday: Halloween. Some will find its content frightening.

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