I’m working on a memoir, The Gentlemanly Art of Spanking. I just finished a rather important chapter, thought I would share it here.
There never was a Bronson who could hold his liquor or save a nickel.―Dad
The nineties slammed down on me like a metal gate—the last year of Drunk—a black hole sky from which I could not escape.
Moment of clarity vis-a-vis my drinking life.
—Knox, you say, what do you mean ‘moment of clarity?’
O my brothers, the day had come we fear more than all others:
I could not get drunk despite my most earnest and expert efforts. The brandy would not work its once irreducible magic.
The pain had gotten too big, the sky too dark.
All friends gone. Family gone. All promise gone. All hopes gone.
All dreams gone.
Everything that I had ever held dear …
Gone gone gone.
Shortly after my fortieth birthday, I was out of the family home again, sleeping on the floor where I worked in Emeryville. The twenty-year run was over, but I was still drinking. It was everybody else’s fault.
I felt I must unravel the mystery as to how I had ended up here, at this place in this particular space-time continuum. I was certain there were other continuums where my family and I were happy, where I had worldly and accomplished friends, where I, too, was worldly, accomplished, and successful. At times, I resented those Knoxes.
I set out on a Saturday morning in early December. I had decided to visit every house we had ever lived in around the Bay Area as I was growing up. I hoped that something would reveal itself to me.
I started at our Berkeley apartment on Spruce Street (I slept in the top drawer of a dresser, finally home from a three-week stint in an incubator, where, as a preemie, I had contracted infant diarrhea and the doctors told my parents I would not make it), where we lived when my folks were still students at UC Berkeley. I then drove down to Los Trancos Woods, in the hills above Woodside on the San Francisco Peninsula, home to poor people, artists, and Stanford students like my father. Next stop was an Eichler house on Moffett Circle in Palo Alto where I started kindergarten, learned to ride a bike and wore a Zorro mask, hat and cape every day after school for years, according to my mother, and then across town to a little house next door to the Children’s Library, adjacent to Rinconada Park. This is where we lived when my father’s book, the bestselling The Earth Shook, The Sky Burned, was published in 1959. I was eight years old. I walked out into the middle of the park, past the playground where I had played for years and it hit me like a freight train
—This was the last place you were ever happy.
This was the last place you were ever happy. I still think about it, the why’s and wherefore’s. I think it might have been that this was when the torrents of money and booze began to flow.
Then it was on to Sausalito where we lived for one year when I was in sixth grade. My last stops were two homes in Berkeley, where I came of age in the Sixties (as delineated in Chapter 6).
The tour of our homes done, I drove over to the Mountain View Cemetery at the top of Piedmont Avenue and the family plots where the ashes of my father and brother and other family members were interred. I had hoped for a grand revelation, a pronouncement from on high, that clarification I desperately sought, but my arrival there was stunningly anti-climactic and did not measure up to my grandiose expectations under the overcast sky in the cold and deepening dark.
I stood there, looking at their names on the embossed bronze marker inset in the grass, and asked my father and my brother for help.
In retrospect, I had already received that revelation in Palo Alto, earlier in the day, standing out in the middle of the park, like that last shot of David Hemmings in Antonioni’s movie Blow-Up from 1966. He’s thrown the mime tennis ball to the mimes playing mime tennis at the tennis court after they had hit the mime ball over the fence as he walked by. The mimes resume the tennis game and he keeps walking toward the outer perimeter of the park, and the camera pulls up and up and up and, from a really high aerial shot, we see Hemmings, still walking, utterly isolated in an expanse of green.
I drove down to a bar in Emeryville, close to the place where I worked and now slept, and drank brandy. It worked for about an hour. I got in that good place for about fifteen minutes and then the cruel reality of my wretched life pierced my precious alcohol fortress. I blurted out to my drinking companions on either side of me at the long bar, perfect strangers with whom I had been laughing just moments before, something about my wife kicking me out of the house and sleeping on the floor where I worked. Saturday night at the bar. I caught myself, apologized, and fled the bar. I still hope they promptly forgot about me.
I drove to my workplace and passed out on the floor under that ratty blanket.
I jolted awake rudely the next morning. It was early and quiet, light outside but still overcast. Under the blanket, with a folded leather jacket for a pillow, I was hungover with bursting head and sour stomach and what I saw and felt was nothing short of total emotional and spiritual devastation. It was my fault.
We call this the moment of clarity. I have always wondered
—Does every drunk get one?
As it was, this bleak Sunday morning, the realization was so dark and horrifying, I thought it imperative to simply drive over to the Bay Bridge, a few minutes away, drive out to the middle of the span and join Nate and Dad by jumping off.
My sweet sons, Will and Nate, nine and eight years old, respectively, appeared in my thoughts, and I paused
—Maybe you should put it off for one day. Maybe there’s a way out of this.
I can still feel it today, the incredibly faint but palpable sense of peace that floated down from above and enveloping me gently like a blanket.
I made it back to an AA meeting four days later and, at some point over the next week or so, passed through the membrane out of the drunk world into this one.
Just let it play …