my name is Randall, and I’m an alcoholic….cost me my wife…my job….everything
good that I had worked so hard for. I
knew I was in trouble the night of my first DUI. It was after a New Year’s teacher
get-together. My fellow educators
had a few beers, well they had a few, I had a few too many and decided to drive
home. Just two blocks down the road,
hit a sobriety check point and was handcuffed for the first time in my
drunk, I distinctly remember the shame.
The shame I brought to my family and myself.
I thought about my students and my wrestling
team. About how they would react
they saw I had been arrested in the local paper. When my wife picked me up at jail to bail me
out, I broke down in tears. It was
first time I had cried since childhood. I
remember her getting up early the next day loaded down with quarters, intent on
buying all the newspapers, trying to stop the shame from getting out.
But of course it did, it did get out.
I didn’t lose my job but had to tell my
students and my team about what had happened.
I think the principal, who didn’t always agree with my teaching methods
reveled a bit in making me humble myself.
All this shame and I learned my lesson….wrong. It was just the beginning.
I became a real drinker after that. DUI number two followed just a month
later. I’m not sure what triggered
addiction. I hadn’t lost a
loved one; my
job was going great and I really hadn’t been much of a drinker up to this
point. The only thing I could guess
that my addictive personality had satisfied its appetite by working to be the
best teacher and coach I could be…and I was good. Students lined up to take my classes and my
wrestling team had won three state titles in the past eight years.
Maybe I just reached a point where the success
came too easy. I no longer had to
at 5:00am and work late into the night to be good. I just guess, and it’s only guess, that the
appetite, the addictive behavior, found a new companion, alcohol.
This time, I did lose my job, but I wasn’t
done. I still had further to go on this
journey. Number three left me in
for six months. Just enough time
wife to get the divorce papers in order.
Alone, for the next nine years I spiraled down. Too often I had a gun to my head in a drunken,
self-loathing routine that was nearly a nightly ritual.
Nine years, until a phone call saved my
life. It came at 7:00am. I was shaking as I rolled to answer. As I brought the receiver to my ear I was
already opening the nightstand drawer that hid a bottle of vodka.
I almost laughed out loud as I realized it
was a left over behavior from my married life.
Who the hell was I hiding it from?
It seemed I still was capable of a little shame. I thought I had excised that emotion from my repertoire.
“Yeah, who is it?”
“Coach? Coach is that you?”
The voice seemed faintly familiar….older,
“Coach, it’s me…Austin…Austin
Austin Primm graduated the year before
my fall. I had always considered him my greatest
coaching success story. Austin never
made it to the state finals but his senior year when he walked away with a 5th
place finish and a medal after a double overtime win, I had never been more
proud. His accomplishment might
been overlooked by the casual fan as we had three individual champions that
year but it was not overlooked by me.
Austin was not much of an athlete and
I held out little hope when his pudgy 14 year old body stepped foot on
the mat that first November. But
did he work! Never had I seen a
determined. I loved everything about
boy. He epitomized all that was
with kids and high school athletics. He
revitalized me. Him hugging me as
stepped off that mat his final time, tears flooding his face, screaming, “We
did it coach!!! We did it!!” made all the hours, all the years, worth it.
“Coach, you still there?”
Clearing my head I let the bottle fall
back into the
drawer. Recognizing his voice made me
feel younger, sober somehow.
After and awkward pause, “Coach, I...um...well
sound weird but hear me out…”
The next few minutes Austin told me how
he had found out
about what had happened to me but how he was too busy in college to call; how
he was sorry; how he just lost touch. He
was actually apologizing to me? HE
sorry? I felt shame again. Austin went on to describe how he had become
an English teacher like me and after just four years of teaching had started
this year, his first, as a principal…and…he needed a wrestling coach. And then, he gave me the name of the school, Metro-Tech school for the Blind and Deaf.
“Well, what do you think?”
I wanted to tell him he didn’t want
me, that I was no good
but his voice made me feel like I still had worth. I didn’t
want to disappoint him. I said,
No longer violently ill or shaking, I actually
respectable appearance as I walked into the school for the first time two weeks
later. I hadn’t had a drink since “the
call.” Austin greeted
me with a hug so
tight it hurt. He lied, “Coach,
We talked for nearly an hour before he looked
up at the
clock, smiled and asked, “You ready to meet your team?”
I followed him across the gym to a door
in the far
corner. As he opened it up, I stepped
inside. The odors of sweat and mat-cleaner
greeted me as a familiar friend. The
floor was covered wall-to-wall with wrestling mats. Standing in the middle of one
of the 18 practice circles were two kids.
One, white, a six-and-a- half-foot, 300 hundred-plus, monster staring
right at me. The other, black,
shirtless, revealing every rib on his scrawny frame, staring at the wall four
feet to my left.
“Boys, I’d like you to meet
you new coach.” Austin’s hands moving, speaking,
“Coach, that,” and he pointed to
the giant, “is Cameron
Butler and the young man to his right is Marcus White.”
Marcus responded with, “But I ain’t
white. Sup dog?” and he held up some bizarre hand
signal; still staring four feet to my left.
“Mr. White, what did I tell you about
bull? Deal with it; you’re the son of a
“Ah, Mr. Primm, you’re no fun at
all.” Marcus sighed as he folded
his arms in mock defeat.
Austin continued, “Cameron can’t
speak coach but he reads
lips pretty good and Marcus shouldn’t speak but can’t seem to stop.
“Come on Mr. Primm, your making me
look bad with the new
guy,” and Marcus held out his hand. I walked
over and shook it
a then turned to shake Cameron’s
hand but he was staring at
my mouth. I didn’t have anything to
say. I reached down and put
my hand in his, an enormous paw, and silently
myself with a nod.
“Man, you look old and fat.
You sure you ever wrestled?”
I looked back at Austin and mouthed, Are you sure he’s blind, and pointed to my eyes. He just smiled.
“Let’s see what you got mister.”
And Marcus began to circle
in a crouch that resembled a wrestling stance.
I hadn’t spoken yet
so he danced around where he thought I
was. I had never coached a blind wrestler before
but I knew the rules. You had to
maintain contact while on you feet.
I offered, “I’m right here Mr. White.”
“Call me Flea, Mr. Flea if you must.”
And with that he shot
at my leg. He overestimated the distance
and his face went
smashing into my knee.
As quickly as he attacked, he retreated covering his mouth as he
went. Muffled through hands you
could hear him wale, “I’m bleed’n,
I heard an odd sound and turned to see Cameron
hard it was as if his head would burst.
“It’s not funny you big…you
big…Sasquach!” Marcus pulled his hands away
so Cameron could
see his mouth as he spoke
and blood covered his lips and chin. Cameron kept right on laughing.
“I’ll leave you three alone.” With those words and a wink, Austin turned
and walked to the door. Before leaving,
he dug into his pant’s pocket and pulled out a whistle.
“You might need this Coach.
It’s good to see you back on a mat.” And he tossed the whistle to me and
left. I stood staring at the door
closed. It felt like an eternity. Suddenly, I felt very alone. As I turned back to face my team, they were
staring at me; Cameron at my mouth and Marcus at my left shoulder.