This blog is not FDA approved
Well, it was uneventful “drinking” wise.
My brother had worked at a most awful job in a chemical plant the next town over. The chemicals get mixed to make baby formula… but if you don’t mix them together just right… they would melt your face off – or something like that. Anyway, the worst part was the fish smell. For some reason this place reeked of fish, so my brother smelled like fish…. every… single… day. He also worked the night shift which stunk… but not as bad as his ‘crappie’ clothes mind you.
Then something terrible happened.
The Joplin tornado hit a little over two years ago. My brother’s National Guard unit was called to help oversee the cleanup in and around Joplin. So basically he, and a few other Guardsmen, took positions as group leaders over other civilian workers. After a time they would hand off these responsibilities to a lead civilian in each group, eventually phasing themselves out. The thing is…these weren’t your normal civilians. This was a “second chance” type of program, so the majority of these men and women were convicts who couldn’t much get a job anywhere else. My brother’s family and I heard stories about several of these people daily. One guy in particular we really liked hearing about. His name was Stephen.
“Dude, he sounds just like Boomhauer!”my brother would tell us.
My brother had grown fond of Stephen, telling and retelling the stories about his antics during the cleanup. On a Friday two years ago yesterday, he invited him over to grill. We had bratwurst and hamburgers. I’m sure I made some potato salad, to go along with the corn-on-the-cob and other fixin’s. My brother had the day off, so we waited patiently for Stephen to show up, as he was still working. There were calls back and forth getting the dinner time and directions all nailed down. The closer we got to Stephen’s arrival the more nervous I got, as I was not a social butterfly without a lil somethin’, somethin’ to take the edge off.
So I fixed myself a drink.
I hadn’t had a drink in over a week. Sober was my normal, and it felt nice…but the anxiety was almost unbearable. How was I supposed to get over meeting a new person? I wouldn’t be able to talk to him. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself. I wouldn’t have any fun. So Canadian Mist and Diet Coke it was. This was going to make me feel better. It was going to make me more fun. It was going to make everything better. The thing is, it was the worst tasting drink I had ever had in my life. I drank about half of it and threw the other half down the drain. I was going to do this on my own, finally. I was actually going to stand up…to myself.
And then Stephen arrived.
Russ was right, kind of. Stephen did sound like Boomhauer… a little. Quickly, I could tell why Russ liked him so much. He had an energy about him. We all sat around and chatted for a while, waiting on the food to finish. I don’t remember the conversations all that well; I still had some residual hangover symptoms from all the years prior. I had fun just hanging out, listening to them go back and forth with their work stories. Somewhere the conversation turned to music. Russ plays the saxophone, clarinet and the ukulele, among others.
He brought out the electric Uke and played a couple of songs.
Amazed to see his “boss” doing such a thing, Stephen started talking about his cousin BJ, who was also a musician. BJ played in a three-piece band, that just so happened to play the previous year’s Fourth of July Celebration in our town. Finally, some common ground between Stephen and me. I was a member of the Freedom and Fireworks committee that hired BJ, so I knew the band well. He called BJ to prove that it was his cousin, and we listened to the conversation on speaker phone. Stephen talked him out of free CD’s for my brother’s step-kids, and even got free tickets for their next show. Then the live music came back around, kind of.
My brother’s step-kids were ready to show off their musical skills.
They had sat back and watched the adults have fun for far too long. It was their turn now. They used a karaoke app to sing along to some Top 40 favorites. They were cute, but it was nothing special. Next, Stephen decided to give it a try. He had them pull up a song from the late 90’s. We all knew the song well but, I had no hope for this to be good. Boy was I wrong. He started off…
♫ Follow me-he, everything is all right. I’ll be the one to tuck you in at night. And – if you want to leave, I can gare-un-tee… you won’t find no-body…Else. Like. Me. ♫
In that moment, he turned from hickerbilly – to Uncle Cracker Angel in 2.3 seconds…flat. My brother has an old-timey mic and stand, and boy was Stephen getting into it, flipping that thing around like he was Stephen Tyler – not just the Stephen from the clean-up crew. In that moment, he came alive like he was a real rock star. That is when I decided that I would never have another drink.
If Stephen could overcome the obstacles he had to bring him to this moment in time. He was working a last chance job, and doing it well. Well enough to catch the attention of my brother.
If my brother could make it through a horrible job only to now be working the job of his dreams as a helicopter mechanic. He applied for the helicopter mechanic job while he was working with Stephen.
Then I could do something as simple as never drinking again.
I owed it to myself. I realized that it wasn’t the drink that made the experience worth it, and I didn’t want it to stand in my way or life anymore.
I would like to dedicate this post to two very special people. First to my Brother, Russ, who is currently serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan with the United States Army.
The second is to Stephen, who tragically passed away in a car accident just a few short weeks after this story. Thank you, Stephen, for being the great inspiration that you were even though we didn’t know each other for long. God Bless.
731 days later – and – I’m still going strong.