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Death by Alcohol: A Young Woman's Hope for a Father Daughter Relationship


"Come quick if you wanna see yo' daddy alive again!"

That statement sent twenty-two-year-old Shaunette Higgins moaning and spinning aimlessly around her living room. Suddenly, she stopped to stare, wide-eyed at Solomon Chandler, her father's cousin and bearer of the fateful news.

"What happened!" she asked, her face reflecting disbelief. "He was just here a few minutes ago." Her arm made a sweeping motion stopping at the very spot her father had stood before leaving her apartment.

"I know, I know. He was changin' a flat tire when somebody banged him in the head with a claw hammer. They rushed him to Alex Memorial. Solomon Chandler's voice fell. "He ain't expected to make it, Shaunette." Shaking himself, he then yelled, "Now, C'mon, we gotta go!"

Shaunette hurriedly put shoes on her two small sons and followed Solomon to his car. During the short ride to the hospital, she silently prayed. Please God. Don't let him die. Give him another chance. Shaunette prayed because she wanted time to get to know this man she had been told was her daddy. She prayed because in the five months since she had met him, she found him to be a drunk and a liar. Still, there was so much she wanted to know that only he could answer. Where had he been while she was growing up? Was he
sorry for having abandoned her? And the most important question of all: Did he love her? Her thoughts then abruptly switched to the one man she had called "daddy" all of her life, Russell Stafford. If one of her daddy's had to die today...Well, there was no contest. Russell Stafford would live and the man lying in the hospital fighting for his life would lose it.

Shaunette left her sons, two-year old Trevor and eight-month old Antonio with relatives who had arrived ahead of her to the hospital and were seated in the visitor section near the lobby. Only close relatives were allowed in the dying man's room. Shaunette, accompanied by Solomon went to her father's room on the fourth floor. It was mid-July and the temperature outside was 92 degrees. As Shaunette entered the room the muggy atmosphere mingled with the smell of blood nauseated her. The sight of the lanky figure with blood spewing from the gaping hole in his head sent Shaunette reeling into blackness. It was the first time ever that she had fainted. She regained consciousness with someone waving smelling salts under her nose. They lifted her from the floor and she crept closer to the dying man. His eyes were stretched wide. Only grunts of agony escaped his lips. Tears welled in Shaunette's eyes as she beheld this stranger who was her father. Overwhelming compassion engulfed her. Again, she uttered under her breath, "Please God, please..."

Through blurred vision she turned to look into the faces of four men clad in scrubs. Standing among them was a fifth man dressed in a business suit. She'd soon learn that he was the Neural-surgeon who would perform the operation that would save her father's life. Chauncey Williams was about to endure six hours of surgery--without anesthesia. His screams would be heard from the fourth floor all the way to the first.

Why is everybody standing around? Shaunette wondered. Why don't somebody do somethin'? Shaking her head from side to side and with pleading eyes, she scanned the faces of the five men. "Why don't you do somethin'?" The man in the suit stepped to her side and touched her arm.

"We are going to do something. But you must understand. Your father is intoxicated and..." Dr. Tomly stroked Shaunette's arm, pursed his lips and shook his head before walking away from her. He went to the bedside of the patient, Chauncey Williams. The Neural-surgeon clasped his hands in front of his body, and looked into the man's eyes as he bent slightly forward.

"Mr. Williams." Dr. Tomly swallowed hard, blinked several times, and looked away momentarily. "Mr. Williams," he continued as he straightened himself. "We cannot give you anesthesia because of your intoxication." He let the words sink in for a few seconds looking intently and sympathetically into the man's eyes. Doctor Tomly again leaned closer to the patient. In a hoarse whisper and still holding his gaze, he asked, "Do you understand what that means?"

Hearing the doctors words, Shaunette clasped a hand over her mouth, the tears started to flow again, and the all-over body weakness that preceded her fainting spell was back. She leaned against a wall to keep from going down.

As the other four men left the room she heard one of them say, "I wouldn't touch this one with a ten-foot pole." Shaunette cast a look of contempt at the man until he disappeared through the doorway. Upon the mens' departure, two nurses entered the room. Doctor Tomly moved into action barking out orders as he slipped out of his blazer. This man will be dead in twenty minutes unless... Dr. Tomly took Shaunette by the shoulders and looked into her eyes.

"I'm going to do everything in my power to save your dad. But you have to realize it's really in the hands of a higher power." He then rushed off.

Shaunette's eyes locked with those of her father's as the nurses rolled him away to surgery. With every pulse beat blood pumped from the gaping hole in the side of his head. Shaunette returned to the lobby to get her sons and go home. She was engaged in awkard conversation with her new found relatives when they were suddenly silenced by the screams coming from the fourth floor. The surgery had begun. Just as suddenly as the cries started, they stopped. And there was deadly silence. Other visitors halted their own conversations and in everyone's mind was the question: My God, what is going on? Shaunette wondered if the sudden silence meant that Dr Tomly had lost the battle he was waging to save her father's life. She suddenly had the overwhelming desire to visit with her step-father, Russell Stafford.

"Daddy, I just wanted to see you. To tell you how much I love you." She hugged the man who had raised her and treated her like his own daughter. It was Russell Stafford, not Chauncey Williams, who had enrolled her in kindergarden and later walked her down the isle. It was Russell Stafford, not Chauncey Williams, who bought the birthday and Christmas presents she'd received from a father down through the years. And when, in kindergarden, she slid off the merry-go-round, driving the biggest piece of splintered wood into the calve of her leg, it was Russell Stafford who had taken her to the doctor. Shaunette was so glad it was not he who had been rushed
to Alex Memorial earlier that day.

After much prayer through the night, the call came the next morning that Mr. Williams was stable. Relief flooded Shaunette.
"Thank you, God."

Getting to the hospital later that afternoon, Shaunette learned that her father had no hospitalization insurance and was scheduled to be released in a couple of days. The nearest county hospital was over a hundred miles away, too far for her father to travel in his weakened condition. Several of Chauncey's cousins, uncles, and friends were visiting when Shaunette arrived. These were people--some of them, relatives she'd never met. She was clumsy in her relating to them. Just as Shaunette was about to leave with plans to return later when there weren't so many others around, a nurse entered the room.

"May I have your attention, please," she began. "As you all may know, Mr Williams will be released day after tomorrow. He is still a very sick man and will need a lot of care. We need to know with whom he'll be going home so we can give very specific instructions for his care."

The room fell silent with everyone looking around at one another.

"Maybe I should give you all a chance to discuss it and come back in a little while," the nurse said as she left the room. Chauncey Williams was awake and listening to the different excuses of why none of his relatives could take him home and care for him until he recuperated.

He ain't never done nothin' for me, Shaunette thought. Anyway, I can't take him home with me, I only got a one bedroom apartment. She looked around at the others. They were the ones he'd spent his time with all those years he was out of her life. It was their responsibility to take him and care for him. One by one the relatives and friends started explaining why Chauncey Williams couldn't go home with them.

"You know I'd take you home with me Chauncey, if it wasn't for my husband."
One of the relatives referred to Shaunette's father as, "C". She guessed it was a nick name.

"You know I can't take you, "C " cause I work twelve hour days sometimes. I wouldn't be around to give you your medicine and change your dressing. You just couldn't be there all day all by yourself."

Chanucey Williams lay there wondering what was going to happen to him. All of his friends and relatives he'd run with through the years--the people he'd partied with and those on whom he'd spent his twenty thousand dollar settlement--all had reasons why he couldn't go home with them.

Shaunette watched her father's face. She knew he was hurt. How can they treat him this way? She was angry and had no regrets that she had not gotten to know her rotten relatives sooner.

The nurse returned. "He can go home with me," Shaunette blurted before the nurse repeated the question.

"Alright ma'am. I'll come back and explain everything you'll need to know to properly care for your father when he is discharged." The woman smiled at Shaunette and left the room.

One of the relatives spoke up, "God gonna' bless you for what you doin' for yo' daddy." Shaunette didn't respond, only cast a scornful glance in the person's direction. The others, feeling uncomfortable, began excusing
themselves and leaving.

Back at the apartment the adjustment was difficult. Shaunette moved her father into the one and only bedroom. Her sons being small each slept at opposite ends of the couch while Shaunette made a pallet on the floor beside the sofa. She rose each morning, changed her father's dressing, helped him with his hygiene, and then made breakfast which consisted, some mornings, of only toast. Thank God for the bakery thrift store where bread was eight loaves for one dollar.

A few days passed before Chauncey's first visitor showed up. It was his cousin, Solomon Chandler. Shaunette ushered him into her father's room where the two men greeted one another. Shaunette left them to return to her daily routine of housekeeping. The next time she passed her father's door, she noticed it had been pushed shut slightly and the men were talking in hushed tones. Shaunette crept close to the door making sure to keep out of their view. She stood eavsdropping. When she heard the rattle of paper, she bent slightly to peek through the crack and get a look at what was going on. To her amazement she watched her father bring what appeared to be a brown paper bag to his mouth and tilt his head back keeping the bag at his mouth. He then passed it to Solomon who did the same. At that point, she pushed the door open. "Get out!" she shouted at Solomon who had just taken a swig of the Jack Daniels. Bringing the bottle down, Solomon went into hysterical coughing, alarmed by Shaunette's sudden appearance.

"We..." Solomon started an explanation. But Shaunette wasn't having it.

"I said, get out." She stood in the doorway breathing hard from anger. Solomon gathered up his things, gave a final look back at Chauncey and left.

Shaunette stood staring at her father and remembering Dr. Tomly's last instructions to her: "Your father must never take another drink as long as he lives. It will be the death of him."

Seething with anger but in a controlled and soft-spoken tone, Shaunette, looking hard at her father said, "As soon as you are able I want you out of my house."

"But Shaunette..." Chauncey tried to explain that he would never do it again. He tried to tell her that he was an alcoholic and couldn't help himself. He didn't get the words out, she was gone.

The weeks passed with Chauncey growing stronger everyday. Shaunette barely spoke to him when she served his breakfast. The kids not understanding her anger, were glad to have grandpa-pa around. They were the only people with whom he interacted. Chauncey figured that Solomon had gone back and shared with the others how angry Shaunette had been and they had all just decided to steer clear of him until he was up and around again.

Shaunette came home from shopping one day to find Chauncey gone. There was no note--nothing. But his things were gone. She didn't know when she'd see him again. There was an overwhelming sadness over what could have been. Despite her love and respect for her step-father, Russell, deep down she longed for some kind of relationship with Chauncey. Her eyes stung from the forming tears she tried to fight back.

The call came one week later: "Your father was found dead at a flop house over on the east side." The line went dead without the caller identifying herself. The newspaper account of her father's death revealed that Chauncey Williams had died of alcohol poisoning.

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