The Powerful Words of a Child
by Lynda Ortiz
I heard Giovanni' screeching, like that of a wounded cat, as I stood in the hallway of our two-story home. I froze as terror ripped my
heart. "What is happening? I thought.
My son came running up the stairs. "Mom! Mom! Dad is drunk, and he is trying to kill himself. He paused to catch his breath, then mumbled, "Hurry, Mom! He's got a kitchen knife, and he's trying to stick it in his stomach." The redness of a tomato could not even compare with his once creamy white face, I thought. "Giovanni,
please, Son, stay up here. I'll take care of it."
I tried to keep calm and be strong in front of Gio. "God, please help me through this," I whispered. I rushed downstairs and went
straight to the garage. There he was, leaning against the wall. The knife was lying on the floor by his feet, where he had dropped it.
Slurring his words, he said, "I tried to kill myself, but I couldn't do it." He started sobbing loudly. " I want you and Gio to be happy. " He mumbled, " I know that without me around, you'll have peace."
The thundering in my heart suddenly came to a halt. The love and sympathy I had for this man was incredible. So, like always, I somehow persuaded him to go to bed, so he could sober up.
"Come on. I'll help you to the couch," I said.
"Okay, Hon. I love you, Hon," he mumbled. He put his arm around me, and I felt the heaviness of his body leaning on me. I dragged his five foot eleven, two hundred pound frame to the living room, where he fell on to the floor. Instantly, he started to snore.
I looked around the room. The ache in the pit of my stomach was like a hard blow from someone's fist. My head was throbbing. My fears were all too real. The instability of our relationship, the insecurities-- not knowing what to expect next. I couldn't stand it anymore. I started to cry and ask, " Why? Dear God, why? Please
help us, dear God. I just can't take it anymore."
Suddenly I remembered Giovanni. I ran upstairs and looked in the bedrooms, but I couldn't find him. "Gio! Gio! " I yelled. "Everything is all right. Dad is okay. Please come out, honey." Finally, Gio crawled out from under the bed, looking chalky. " What are you doing under the bed?" Gio burst out crying. " I was scared." He
clawed me like a cub lion. We stood there in a despair so deep, our heartbeats became one huge sound of thunder.
At seven years old, Gio was truly a handsome boy. His shyness and soft voice reflected his humbleness. His baby skin illuminated his thick black hair. Gio was only three years old when he became aware that his dad had a problem with alcohol. My son's confusion led him to sleepless nights and stomach problems.
His Dad had been drinking three days at a time and taking off a lot. I knew it was time to talk about it. "Come on, Son. Let's talk about
what's bothering us."
"Dad is very much like a hobo, huh, Mom? He hangs out with them at the railroad tracks."
Gio knew about the time I had gone looking for his dad. I carried a flashlight to help me through the dark, cold night. The men who
were living there had made makeshift houses out of cardboard. They had old rags hanging from the openings to protect them from the breezy winter nights. I kept walking at a fast pace. Suddenly, I came upon him sleeping on a cardboard next to some bushes. Flashing the light on him, I could see he was bathed in a yellowish fluid waste, reeking of rotten vegetables. I couldn't believe this man lying there was my husband of thirty-five years.
"Gio," I said, "I got an idea on how to get your dad to understand how he's hurting us. " How, Mom?"
"Let's sit here on the floor and gather our thoughts. I want to tape our aches and pains, and then play it back for your dad to hear."
With a wide-eyed look he asked, "Do you think it will help?" Answering himself, he let out a big "Yes!" He leaped across the bed, opened a desk drawer and pulled out the tape recorder.
I turned on the tape recorder. " Tell me Gio, how do you feel when you see your dad drunk?"
"I feel like he wasn't my dad no more. Because he really gets drunk. I feel really bad. I don't like to hurt his feelings, but I get really mad. I' m embarrassed of him." Remember the time he went to pick me up at the bus stop?
"Yes, I remember."
"I was really embarrassed."
"He was walking to the side, sort of limping. He had on dirty clothes. He asked the bus driver, 'Where's my son Gio?' I was hiding behind the seat. The bus driver found me and asked me if I
wanted to go with him. I felt sorry for my dad, so I got off the bus and told Dad, 'Please take me home.' I wish our family would become a happy family. If I could get this for Christmas, that would be the best thing."
His voice was quivering and his eyes filled with tears. I asked, " Do you want to continue?" He muffled a "yes" and nodded his head.
Looking up at me, he let out a loud cry. " Oh, yeah! Remember when he came home drunk and couldn't come to my kindergarten graduation? What about my Little League game? I looked for him, and he never came, and that's the game where I hit all those runs. Every important day, he's never there. I feel lonely, like I'm left out in the cold."
I took Gio in my arms and held him tightly. At that moment I felt like a mother lion, wrapping my paws around him and protecting him from all the hurts in the world. His loud cries could be heard throughout the house. My son was being crushed, and I hadn't even realized how badly.
"Gio, I am so sorry you're going through this terrible time. But let me explain something to you. What Dad has is an illness. He's an alcoholic."
"Then why doesn't he call a doctor?"
"Well, because it's not that easy. He has to want to stop drinking. He then has to ask God to help him with a program, where there's a step-by-step process that will help him stop drinking. It's called the twelve-step program. Let's pray for him. Do you want to say the prayer?" I asked.
He sighed, as we knelt by the bed. " Dear God, help my dad to stop drinking. I love my dad and mom very much. Please, dear God, don't let them get a divorce. Can you bring us happiness?
Thank you, God, for the good things you do give us. Amen."
"Gio, let me read you something from the Bible." I picked-up my worn Bible and turned to Matthew 7, verse 34. "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble," I read.
"Oh yeah, I learned that in Bible study, when I was in Christian School."
"Come on, Son. Time to go to bed."
The sound-off click of the recorder was a blessing. It had been a trying day. Gio was exhausted. But in a big way it was a relief for
both of us.
I waited a few days before I approached John. He had been sober ever since the suicide incident. John was a sweet, shy guy when he wasn't drinking. That night he got home from work around 10:30 p.m. He laid on the bed and started to talk about his day at work.
"You know, the days are getting longer and the nights shorter. I made a lot of deliveries, today. I haven't missed a day of work or
been late. Hopefully I'll get a raise on my next evaluation." John was so proud of his performance at work, and he always tried to do
"Hon," I said, "I have a tape I want you to hear."
"What about?" he asked.
"Just listen to it," I said.
The whole time the tape was playing, John had his head on the pillow, looking away from me. When the tape stopped playing, he turned and looked at me.
"Oh, my God! What am I doing to my poor son and to you? " Wiping his tears, he said, "I need to talk to him." I said, "Tomorrow, Hon. Tomorrow." The next day, John promised Gio that
he would seek help for his drinking problem.
John has been in recovery for one year, now, and he says, the easiest way to deal with his drinking problem is by taking it one day at a time. As we attended Easter Sunday services, the Holy Spirit was engulfing us . . . and still is. Gio is so happy, because he believes his wish, that we become a happy family, came true.
Lynda Ortiz currently lives in San Jose, Ca, with her husband and her ten-year-old son, Shawn. She has three grown sons. She has worked in social services for fifteen years. Her love for the arts keeps taking her back to creative writing classes and painting in pastels.