There was a lot of drinking when I was young. No, it wasn’t me or my friends doing the drinking (although that would come later). The alcohol fueled weekend get togethers were done by my parents. And the parents of my friends and family. I grew up in the country and I can’t tell you if this was the norm in all small town, rural communities, but it sure was in ours. Many, many weekend nights were spent at either our farm or a neighbor’s farm. The kids would amuse themselves with Atari or Nintendo while the adults sat around the kitchen table drinking.
I don’t remember at exactly what age it occurred to me that this was not a good thing but I know it was quite young. I can remember begging my parents to take us home, not because I wasn’t having fun spending time with the neighbor kids but because I knew they were intoxicated and I wanted for us to get in the truck and go home before they hit that level of stupid drunk. Imagine being 10 years old and fearing for your life during the drive home on a regular basis. And the thing about living in the country is you could get just about anywhere without having to spend much or any time on the highway. Because to be honest with you the only thing that the adults feared was getting their licence taken away. Personal safety, or the safety of the rest of us was just not a factor. Looking back it is honestly a miracle that I’m here to talk about this. There were trips home in those days that would horrify most parents I know.
As I got older it didn’t get any better. I was always torn between the decision to stay home and fear the worst or tag along and do my best to supervise the drinking and driving. Those evenings at home as a young teenager when my parents went out were torture. Most teenagers welcome the chance to be at home alone. And for the first few hours I did. Mom and dad would go out assuring me they would be back in a couple of hours. But that was seldom the case. As the hours passed and evening became night and then turned over into morning I could feel my anxiety build. I could never sleep. I held my breath waiting for the phone to ring, because I knew one day that call would come. Some times it would be me making the phone calls. Calling all the usual suspects, the homes that I knew my parents liked to stop at and indulge. I would call until I found them. And then I would call every hour or so to make sure they were still there and not in a ditch somewhere. The worst was when they would leave one farm, supposedly headed home, and detour to another farm. Those hours of having no idea where they were were excruciating.
Some nights I would beg my parents to invite their friends to our house. Not because I enjoyed being surrounded by drunks or ordered to my room for the evening. But at least then I would know my parents were safe. That they were not out driving the country side intoxicated. That they would not end up dead.
And then one day, in the wee hours of the morning, the call came. This time my parents were home. They were safe. But the news would devastate them. My mom and dad’s best friends on the planet were dead. Killed in a car accident. I didn’t have to ask. I knew. Coming right out and asking the question would have been pointless. Worse than pointless actually. They would have lied about it. And I would have been cast out for even asking the question.
You would think a tragic event like this would change things. But it didn’t. The drinking and driving didn’t stop. Or maybe it did for a bit but the lesson didn’t stick. Before long it was business as usual and once again I spent many weekends unable to sleep waiting for my parents to finally come home. Drunk. And then one night another phone call came in. This time it was my slightly older teenage brother who had an accident. Rolled his truck on a country road. And once again I didn’t ask the question because I didn’t need to. Luckily this time nobody was seriously hurt. My parents went out in the middle of the night and “took care” of everything. And life once again returned to how it always was.
I have personally never driven while intoxicated. Even slightly. The thought horrifies me. Once, when I was 18 or 19 I did drive home with someone (a cousin) that was far too drunk to drive. So was I. It was terrifying. How we made it home safely I still don’t know. The reality of it all hit home the next morning. I was appalled with myself for letting it happen. It never happened again. There is just no excuse to let it. And I will never, ever put my daughter in that position. Praying that her parents are going to make it home without killing themselves or someone else. The absolute selfishness of it all disgusts me. That is not a burden a child should have to bear.
I’d like to tell you that times have changed. But they haven’t. At least not enough. The amount of impaired drivers in Canada has decreased since the 1980s (which, not surprisingly, is the era I grew up in) but the numbers are still high and that sharp decrease we saw over the past few decades has now been replaced by a gradual increase. In fact impaired driving is the leading cause of criminal death in Canada. Does that fact surprise you? Sadly, living in Saskatchewan, with one of the highest rates of impaired driving in the country it doesn’t surprise me a bit. Luckily Canada also now has some of the stiffest impaired driving penalties in the Western World and they seem to be consistently getting harsher. I am hoping by the time my girl is old enough to drive that those impaired driving numbers are once again on a steady decline. I hope drunk driving is something we talk about as what “use to happen”. That we are smart enough now to know better. Of course I won’t just be sitting around hoping for all of these things. There will be plenty of conversations and, once again, I will be waiting by the phone for a call. But this time the call will be different. This time the call will be made before anyone gets in a car intoxicated because my daughter will know that a safe ride is just that simple. It’s one simple phone call away.