Walking on Eggshells by
(135 Stories)

Prompted By Short Fuse

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I have long associated a quick temper with alcoholism. Having abundant experience with drunks, I can usually tell if a person simply has had too much to drink on this occasion, or if this is a habitual problem for them, by looking for uncharacteristic and negative changes in their behavior. I believe that “in vino, veritas.” Being drunk doesn’t create new beliefs or personality traits, it simply gives freer reign to the ones already there. It disinhibits. A happy person under the influence may get silly, a sad person may get maudlin. Someone who likes you will make sure that you know it. Someone who desires you may get suggestive. These diversions from sober behavior are generally mild and easily dealt with.

Cousin Brucie never seemed angry at anyone.

But if a person who is ordinarily calm and courteous abruptly gets angry, insulting, aggressive or violent, and can’t readily be talked down from that precipice, this screams “alcoholic” in my ears. Alcoholics in my life always seemed to have an undercurrent of rage seeking an outlet, searching for a target.

My Mom did her drinking on Friday and Saturday nights, because she didn’t have to work on the days after. She’d sit at the kitchen table after supper and start in on her beers. Usually it was cans of Rheingold. Sometimes she would splurge and get a couple of quart-sized cardboard containers of Piels Draft from Ostrezko’s Tavern around the block. She had arranged with the bartenders to allow me or my brother to pick up her beer for her after she called in the order. I vividly recall the white cardboard cylindrical containers with the cartoons of Bert and Harry Piels printed on them, sitting on the brown polished wood of the bar, the big colorful and likely fake sailfish that decorated the back bar, and the dread I felt because I knew what the night would bring.

Other than at the frequent booze-fueled house parties that were tres chic in the 60s, Mom preferred to drink alone. Rather, she pretty much insisted on it. We’d all make ourselves as invisible as possible, in front of the TV, or in our bedrooms. But the only bathroom was off the kitchen. It was OK early in the evening, but as the supply of beer remaining in the containers fell, her temper rose, her trigger got touchier. A trip to the bathroom would risk her screaming about why did we always bother her, why did we insist on intruding on what she called “her soliloquy?”  My brother and I usually used our grandmother’s bathroom in the apartment upstairs, but she detested my father, who returned the favor (another family schism; In Vino, Veritas). So he had to brave the tirades.

The worst was when my non-drinking father could not control his mouth and made some disapproving reference to Mom’s drinking. This usually tipped her over the edge into shrieking, spitting, profanity-rich rage. Throwing things was not out of the question. When I was younger, I would often sleep in my grandmother’s apartment on these weekend nights, but the disquieting sound of my Mom screaming curses at my Dad came right through the floor.  Solace, or at least noise-cancellation, came in the form of MusicRadio WABC on my little transistor radio. Cousin Brucie never seemed angry at anyone. He never screamed his pain into the night.

Profile photo of Dave Ventre Dave Ventre
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.

Tags: anger, alcoholism, drunk, fighting, argument
Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    A hard, personal story, Dave, but full of little brilliant moments like the description of the bar around the corner where you and your brother picked up the beer for your mother. This story jumps off the page and bristles for us. It is still very much alive for you, even after all these years. It couldn’t have been easy to share it, but thank you for trusting us.

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    I have to agree with your assessment of violent drunks. Your story is difficult, but rings true, and is, as always, well told. I could always tell when my mother had been drinking—she could become quite nasty, though never screaming or violent. It was hard to see and she never drank during the day or alone—she had her rules.. But it triggered something in her. She had brothers and sisters with alcoholism and she controlled her intake, but not the effects. So glad I missed that gene.

  3. I was sorry to read this sad memory of your mother’s destructive drinking, but thankful that you feel comfortable sharing it with us.

    You write so very well Dave, I hope you find it cathartic.

  4. Another powerful personal and unflinching tale, Dave. The part I identified with the closest–since I have not been touched by alcoholism or an otherwise abusive parent–was the part about the radio, and “cousin Brucie.” It brought me immediately back to those nights in the 1980s,when I had fled from my marital bed (in my first marriage), out of fear and humiliation due to the verbal and other assaultive behaviors of my first wife. I see myself in the darkened living room. It’s midnight; it’s 1:00 am; it’s 1:30. I’m wondering if I can dare sneak back into bed, or if I should just try to pull up a blanket on the couch. But meanwhile, there’s a guy named Bruce (not the same as “cousin Brucie”), a man with a very calming voice and manner, who’s taking questions and responding as part of nationally syndicated program called TALK-NET. He helped me to believe there was a more orderly, tranquil, and civil world somewhere out there beyond my own apartment.

    • Dave Ventre says:

      The 80s must have been a bad time for first marriages, Dale! I remember nights in late 1985 into 1986 when I’d wake up in the middle of the night, for no apparent reason, but realizing that I was seething with rage at the woman beside me and what she was doing to my mind and psyche. That ended just in time, in several ways.

  5. Jim Willis says:

    Dave, a well-told journey through a rough patch of your life. Some of it resonates with my own experience of having an alcoholic mom who stopped cold in an instant when her drinking partner (my aunt) died of liver issues. Still, the moments when Mom did get drunk were disquieting ones for me. Not because she got angry, but because she would get overly mushy with me and it made me feel very awkward. I would pretend to be asleep until she left my bedroom. All of us in the family breathed a huge sigh of relief when she got — and stayed — sober. She never touched another drop.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Such a sad story, Dave. I wish your mother could have gotten help to control the anger brought out by her drinking.

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