My Dad is an alcoholic and my Grandpa almost died last month. Those two details are unconnected, but they were the two men in my life who raised me. We all lived under the same roof, with the pin-striped red candy shop right downstairs until my Dad moved us so he could drink without judgment. I still went back to live with my grandparents every summer in the candy shop, and as the breezy pastels of spring morphed into the green wave of summer, this year was no exception. Except my Grandma did die when my Grandpa almost did, and the car crash that changed our lives, was also the one that changed his face.
On the morning of the first summer day, the doorbell chimed and I entered the familiar door of childhood sugar rushes and special treats. My grandpa was behind the counter standing, like an old ship captain, smiling at me with a half limp face and a fully loaded heart. The scar tissue lined the wrinkles around his eyes and drooped around his lower lips. The bright, light pink skin burned like a flame against the age spots that grew in number every month since he passed the age of 78.
He looked like a burned, spotted monster. He did. But he was still here and his heart was still the biggest I’d ever known. He was hard to look at, but he was even harder to ignore. Frozen in my tracks, he walked towards me.
“My darling,” he still had the same soft greeting. The same one that would offer me my favorite sour sharks or pop-rock chocolate every day when I came home from grade school.
“Sweet girl, what’ll it be today?” I was always ‘sweet girl.’ The same voice that showed me to turn my frustrations to my writing when my Dad turned to his bottle. The same voice and the same heart and the same person that raised me in his eyes and gave me his loving care always.
He continued towards my stance at the door, “My darling, sweet girl, I’m overjoyed to see you.”
“I’ve missed you, Grandpa” ashamed that my eyes deviated away from his to the floor.
“And I, you. I’m so happy you are here.” We hugged and I didn’t let go. I squeezed my arms around him and my eyes shut, dreaming of years passed when Grandma was still alive and when the cute old couple that ran the small town’s candy store was as picturesque as the beautiful vibrant sugar that occupied the inside. I opened my eyes to two little boys staring at us with their mother by their side.
“Mom! What’s wrong with that old man’s face?” The youngest boy pointed.
“He’s so ugly!” The oldest boy persisted.
“Don’t stare, some people are just different,” she whispered. But the shop was quiet now and I could still hear. And I knew Grandpa could too. As the ashamed mother shuffled her children out of the store, offering a pilot nod as they exited past us, I saw the kids’ eyes follow Grandpa’s face. The oldest boy grimaced and spit on the window.
Grandpa saw the horror on my face and tried to brush off their comments with a low shrug, “These kids nowadays aren’t as kind as you were at their age.” He solidified this was a common occurrence. “Come now, I want to show you something special.”
I followed Grandpa behind the counter and he kneeled down in front of a safe. He pulled a key from his shirt pocket and carefully slid it into the lock. He pulled out my Grandmother’s candy jar. Her favorite wrapped chocolate would always be stashed in there; a beautiful, hand-painted ceramic jar as whimsical and rainbow-colored as her spirit.
“It’s her,” he whispered.
“This shop was her life. She’d want to stay here.”
It was weird, but I loved it because I knew Grandpa did. His eyes lit up when he spoke about her and if he could fulfill one last wish of hers, well, then maybe even in change he could keep his composure. He took the jar and put it in the storefront window as a watchful angel to the shop, surrounded by sweet delights and colorful tool.
As the sun made its way down the sky, so too did the curled corners of Grandpa’s smile with each kid that affected him instead of the other way around.
With the shop closed for the night, we retreated upstairs to the familiar attic library, to the dark wood that stemmed like trees through brainstorms and spread like ivy over the spines of the books that lined the shelves. A shelf for my Grandfather’s collections, classics of Hemingway and Steinbeck, my Father’s shelf, of historical revolutions and moonshine recipes, and mine of colorful journals filled with youthful innocence and scrawl.
“I’m working on a new rock candy recipe for the store. Do you want to see it?” My Grandpa led me to simmering pans of beautiful, bubbling colors. “I think the neighborhood children will really love this,” his hopefulness dropped my heart at the pathetically sincere attempt at what would be unrequited kindness.
“Why are you still doing this for those kids?”
He didn’t answer but stared down into the pot of liquid sugar, the vibrant colors reflecting on his skin and dancing in the whites of his eyes—this was all he’d ever known.
Day after day, his face, smothered by the daily torment, grew despondent to the inflictions of the taunts. The scars that tore through his flesh and killed his wife grew small hands that stuffed candy into their pockets and insults into their words. Kids would gawk outside:
“See! I told you there was a monster here!”
“If you look at him you die!”
“I can’t look at him; my eyes are burning!”
All of the kids laughed. They pointed and stared and they spit at the door. Every day. A month into the summer the ruthless remarks grew until one day, one of the kids picked up a rock. He aimed it at the store front window.
Time stood on its tip toes and Grandpa screamed out. The condensed gray solid shattered the store window, breaking, knocking everything in its path. Grandma’s candy jar teetered on edge and smashed in a scream of dust that spread over the store, and over our heads like an anvil, picking out an angel from heaven and torturing her and us.
The kids scattered. Laughing. Screaming. Chanting, “See you tomorrow!”
If recognizing Grandpa was difficult before, the defamation they screamed and broke the candy jar and the internal heart string that would blind his eyes from his own reflection. He saw himself now, a single tear escaping. He was a prisoner in his own store, weeping after the loss of his wife for the second time.
That night, we sat by the fire and as the embers rose and burned so too did my fury. The dark room lit up against Grandfather’s face and shown through his unbounded love in his unabridged collection of books and old records. As Grandpa sat with his thoughts, I ripped away at the pages, running a marathon with my hands on the page, scribbling down the words that tore through my heart—
The unabashed falsehoods in new birth and
Interactions around us
As a whole human race
Makes me want to pluck
Each one of my eyelashes out
Coat them in poison
Stick them on those kids’ faces
and tell them to make a wish.
I’m not crazy. Like I said, “Sweet girl” had an alcoholic father, and he passed down his rage, his need to pursue an impulse, his revenge. He spent his nights as I grew up, sipping in his weaknesses and then, when only the fermented oxygen remained in the bottle, he breathed them in.
While Grandpa and Grandma worked on making candy, my dad worked on increasing the alcohol percentage in his moonshine. He got greedy, he bought methanol because it was cheaper than the ethanol needed to energize the mind-altering beverage he only wished to consume. I stayed quiet and kind, because if I was the sweetest girl, no one would question how deep or dark my mind went after his. A quiet observer, I read his recipes and wrote them down, copying the words he’d scream through his spit and watching him make the only thing he knew how to raise, alcohol.
Grandpa went wordlessly to bed and I dug deep in the kitchen shelves through years of avoidance and blood-shot eyes. I pushed past the mason jars, that spilled clear alcohol over the snarled lips of the person that first began to put dark thoughts in my mind, and beyond that was faded label bottle I was looking for. Methanol Moonshine, written in Dad’s scratched handwriting on yellowing adhesive tape. This bottle was the evil that trickled through my childhood memories.
“Just a drop,” he’d tell me, “Even just 10 little milliliters can blind a man.” He’d said that phrase to me 5 separate times in my life, and the drunken fury he erupted into made me wish 5 separate times that one day he’d drink himself blind. Some people deserve it. He deserved it. Those kids, the blood-thirsty, single-tear-evoking, candy-grumbling kids deserve it. They should never be able to see the kindness that lives beyond the age spots and scar tissue of the man who never should have cried today. Gripping the bottle, the menace, I stirred the pot of glowing rock candy, pouring in everything and the last drop, and shutting off the stove.
The simmering pots slowly settled as I took out the molds and candy sticks. The candy cooled for melting eyes, vicious minds, and sweet, sweet revenge.
The dark night gave way to a golden morning and a fading shadow over the pin-stripe red shop. A “Free Candy” sign now posted out front a bowl of beautiful, methanol rock candy burning a passionate hole in my grasp. The taunts ran through my head and secured my teeth gritting thoughts, playing on a psychotic broken track:
“If you look at him, you die!” You want to?
“My eyes are burning! I can’t look at him!” You don’t deserve to, fucker.
My beating heart marched with their hateful steps as the kids kept their promise and rounded the corner to the shop that morning. Spread out like a fan, a stick for each of them. The words that left my lips had never tasted so sweet:
“Here, have some rock candy.”