I woke to a scream.
As my vision began to come into focus, I made out the face of a horrified older woman. She hid behind a curtain as she watched me with wide eyes. I sat up from my slumber and immediately questioned her judgement of the situation— why was she so afraid? After all, she was the one behind a glass door and I was the one who was abruptly woken up.
Then my brain coughed up a flicker of consciousness. I turned the questions on to myself—why exactly was I sleeping outside? It may have been a premium dog bed, but why was I curled up on it? Wait a minute, who’s porch was this? I was lost.
As I stumbled to my feet, I reached for my cowboy hat. Looking for clues, the hat’s clean appearance only reminded me what I already knew—it had not seen a single day on an actual ranch, and the chances of ever doing so was slim.
I gave an awkward wave to the gray-haired woman and stepped into the bright sun. As I made my way to the street, a cop car and ambulance were pulling up to meet me. When the cops sat me down and asked me where I thought I was, my confidence was unable to hide the fact that my answer was not even in the correct state.
I sheepishly accepted the $500 dollar fine, disguising my relief when they determined that jail was not necessary. But that relief was only temporary, as I realized I’d have to put myself at risk of doing the same thing again the following evening. It was part of my job.
It was the summer of 2014 and my job as a wine & spirits representative had taken me across the state of Wyoming. Stuck in jeans and cowboy boots, one of our whiskeys was sponsoring the biggest rodeo in the state—with free concerts and VIP events. This is where the blackout porch party occurred.
My life and alcohol had always been joined at the hip. As my parents happened to own the company that required drinking at my work meetings. Their success was admirable, and it often made me the cool(er) kid at parties growing up.
That’s because being a good liquor representative involved a two step process:
Give away as much shit as you possible can.
Make people like you
If followed in the right order, the process was simple and effective.
The shit consisted of stereotypical college kid/frat house decor and nice enough apparel that appealed to any slightly intoxicated patron. Shirts, hats, signs, and cases full of ‘mini’ alcohol bottles containing just enough to feel it were all leveraged to gain friends in liquor stores, restaurants, bars, and any event that involved drinking. Playing the part of a friendly cowboy, I tended to be a well-liked person in the Wyoming liquor industry.
As soon as I turned 21, I dove straight into character and gained immediate success. My ego was satiated by the attention and feeling of significance that was felt previously in my golf career. Winning a tournament and walking into bar with free T-shirts both had the same effect— New best friends that were eager to buy me a drink.
But as time passed, the friendly faces meant less and blackouts occurred more. As I stepped out of the shower and slicked my hair back, I felt numb by the previous night’s adventure. This might have been the first time I had slept on a porch, but it was far from my first blackout of the summer. Attempting to retrace my steps, I hypothesized that I must have walked in the wrong direction of my hotel, ultimately finding refuge in the backyard of a neighboring house.
The plan was to take over for my father at the end of that summer, but something had changed in me in that moment. As I began to tuck in my stiffly-pressed shirt into my terribly uncomfortable jeans, I caught a glimpse of my swollen face in the mirror. It looked just as afraid as the one peeping at me from behind the current earlier that morning— I was scared for my life.
To the surprise of my family and friends, I swore off the industry all together and one month after the incident, was out of the country—determined to find what I had lost.
"I saw the devil in our backyard last week" my father muttered to me as if he was talking about a football game.
I was not in the mood for jokes, so I kept my mouth shut and my eyes remained locked on the empty highway in front of me. He turned towards the window and pointed, "I've been seeing... ghosts... or people that aren't real...do you see that man waving his arms in the air?" he said, now with less certainty in his voice. I looked over at the Wyoming prairie with a single tree in the distance.
"Shut up, Dad. Real funny" I remarked impatiently, now eager for the punch line and to return to my previous train of thought. A long silence filled the SUV as he turned back to look at me. Looking at his face, I suddenly realized that he was being serious.
Desperation and confusion began to consume me as I raised my raised my eyebrows and asked him to explain. He told me that he had been seeing things for months, but was too afraid to tell the family. Now that the hallucinations had started to occur everyday, he was to afraid not to talk about it.
With a loss for words, I gripped the steering wheel while tears filled my eyes. "I'm sure it's fine" he said with a halfhearted chuckle—an unsuccessful attempt to reassure me. He then leaned over and grabbed the bottle of gin that lay on the floorboard. Now with tears in his eyes, he took a long sip and for the first time, I didn't judge him for it.
This summer marks six years since my father told me about his hallucinations. Shortly after our conversation, he was diagnosed with Lewy Bodies Dementia—an often misdiagnosed and misunderstood form of dementia. In retrospect, my father was displaying obvious signs years prior to the diagnosis.
I had spent considerable time with him that summer, preparing for my eventual take over of the family business. Traveling around the state meeting clients, I was often forced to interpret what my father was saying after a few awkward laughs. In mid-conversation, I noticed him becoming more confused and less coherent. Clients he had built a strong relationship with over that last 20 years were no longer connecting with him.
I grew resentful and argued constantly with him as our disagreements became impossible to resolve. The man I had once admired was now someone I was embarrassed to be with.
Once I left for college and found out about his disease, my anger and resentment faded and guilt began to consume me—guilt for being unforgiving, guilt for making his life more difficult, and guilt for wishing that things were different.
In attempt to rectify the situation, I decided to quit golf in order to help keep the business alive. But working with my father only became more challenging, as the fluctuation of cognitive ability varied from day-to-day. Some days he would be completely normal, but most were filled with a shadow of the man he used to be. Unable to cope with the situation, I looked for ways to escape the reality I was in. I began to use substances to distance myself from the world my father was so desperately trying to hold on to.
My father's disease and my weak attempt at confronting it created a sense of hopelessness. I knew I needed a new purpose in life, so I decided to run away in search of a new narrative.