The Bad Choices Some People Will Always Make

In life, like in art, there are good people, and there are bad people. Good people like Atticus Finch. Bad people like Raskolnikov. And then there are good people who sometimes make bad choices. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people. It just means that sometimes they choose the flesh over the spirit, or choose to feed the bad wolf over the good. In other words, they make really shitty choices.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s call our subject “Bill.” Actually, that is his real name. Bill. There’s no sense in protecting his identity. Bill’s your typical suburbanite, a transplant – originally from Connecticut, big New England Patriots fan (hated me for days when my Giants beat his Patriots in the Super Bowl a few years back) – likes to mow his lawn and yuck it up with his neighbors. Dotes on his kids. Knows the names of his neighbors, and his neighbors’ children. Seems like a nice enough guy.

But everyone knows Bill’s a drunk. I can’t ever recall a time I didn’t see Bill without a bottle of beer in his hand. He’d mow his lawn, pushing his mower with one hand, a beer bottle wrapped in a coozie in another hand. If he’s tossing a football with the kids on the street, you better believe there’s a beer bottle in his free hand. That’s just not someone who really loves a cold beer, like I do. That’s a drunk. And I know the difference between the two. I came pretty close in my life to becoming a full-fledged drunk. In my mid-twenties, I was all full of piss and vinegar, and there was nothing I loved more than to drink my bad moods away. I wasn’t a violent drunk, just someone who needed to down his demons and boost his self-worth with strong drink.

We’re not talking about me, though. We’re talking about my neighbor, Bill. Because this is leading somewhere.

For a short period, I notice I don’t see much of Bill around. I’m not one for gossip, so I don’t bother to ask the neighbors. But I start to wonder. Maybe he’s gone to rehab. Maybe his wife has finally had enough of his drinking and threw him out. Maybe…ah, it’s none of my business. Still, his presence is lost. Bill not being around means something.

Turns out he killed someone. Behind the wheel. Got drunk, drove home, vehicular manslaughter. Spent the next three years behind bars. His terrible choice had a negative effect on his family. His children were without a father for the next three years. His wife had to dump their house, although they did move into another home a few streets down. Basically, they foreclosed on the home they lived in a few doors down from where I live.

Bill was released from prison several months ago and served the remainder of his sentence in a halfway home. He’s home now, with his family.

I was at the community pool with my wife and daughter when I saw Bill there, with his family. He looked just as I’d remember him, gaunt but smiling. He waved hello, and I walked up to say hi, although I really didn’t want to. I wasn’t sure what to say to him, but he broke the ice. I could tell he was remorseful for what happened, but I thought it best to not go into details. I’m sure he felt a compulsion to want to talk about what happened, but I felt he wouldn’t have gained anything from me by talking to me about his time in prison or what happened that night.

And then he reached into a cooler, and I heard that familiar snap! of a can of beer being opened. He offered me one, but I declined.

All I wanted to do was ask him, “In all that time when you were in prison, did you think about the bad choice you made? If so, don’t you think you’re making another one right now?”


22 thoughts on “The Bad Choices Some People Will Always Make

  1. I know a “Bill” too. Three times in rehab. Finally succeeded in killing himself and an SUV full of kids on the way to camp. He never could get dry. As much as alcohol is a disease, you still have to want to get better. He only loved the life he didn’t feel when he was loving his vodka. He chose death over life, imho. The only shame is that he took all those people with him. I don’t think you can fix people like Bill, unfortunately.

    • You can’t fix those who don’t want to be fixed, or don’t realize they need to be fixed. I wonder just how far bottom Bill has to hit before he realizes he needs to stop making such bad choices in his life.

  2. I fear Sherry is right, though I do know some alcoholics who have stayed dry. But first, of course, they have to realize they ARE alcoholics. “Bill” probably believes that you can’t be an alcoholic if all you drink is beer. Or maybe in those 3 years in prison he never put together the drinking and the “drunk driving” charge. Sad, because he’ll probably do it again.

  3. I’ve got to wonder if sobriety is a condition of his probation and if that beer can could send him back to prison. Also, what kind of lawless town do you live in that there’s no open container laws prohibiting alcohol consumption in public places? I’m guessing Dodge City or Tombstone. 🙂

    My Dad was an alcoholic, probably not as pleasant as your friend Bill, though he never killed anyone while under the influence. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for addicts. I guess it’s a disease in the same way Type II diabetes is a disease, but, if I had to choose, I’d pick the disease that comes from eating too much chocolate cake over drinking too much beer any day.

    • The community pool is part of the subdivision I live in, so you’re allowed to drink alcohol in public, as long as it’s consumed from cans and not bottles. Also, I live in South Carolina, where fireworks are legal and motorcycle riders are not mandated to wear helmets. Not a lot of progressive thinking taking place here.

  4. What a shame. Those three years in prison he must have dreamed of popping the top on another brew. It kind of surprised me, too, that it was allowed in a community pool. Maybe it was outside if a park surrounded it? Then again, maybe a guy like Bill doesn’t care about the rules anyway. Still a shame. I can picture you standing there shaking your head.

    • That’s what I was thinking: three years in the slammer, and all he could think about was his next beer?

      The community pool is part of our subdivision, so drinking alcohol from cans is allowed. At least where we live.

  5. Let’s be honest. There aren’t good people and bad people and sometimes good people who make bad choices. Everyone has good and bad in them, it’s just that sometimes some peoples’ bad seems worse or affects more people so, to us, they seem worse, when really we all make bad choices all the time.

    • To your point, Jacob, people choose to make bad choices as well. It’s easier to make a good choice, but if making a bad choice is one that satisfies a hunger or some emptiness, a void inside you that’s feeding an addiction, then you’re going to choose bad, not good.

  6. Wow. It’s a slippery slope between going overboard and not – especially where drinking is involved. Most guys I know mow the lawn with a beer not too far out of sight – I guess it’s knowing when you’ve gone too far with and being able to adjust your behavior that makes all the difference in the world. Absolutely no excuse for drinking and driving. None.

    • I don’t think I’ve ever mowed my lawn with a beer in my hand. I can multi-task, but I prefer to enjoy my beer.

      Sadly, there are a lot of guys like Bill living in my subdivision, functional drunks who are this close to a vehicular manslaughter charge.

      • I don’t see HOW you can mow a lawn with a beer in hand, but maybe that’s due to my underprivileged life. As a teen, our large, slopey yard and non-self-propelled mower definitely took both hands and all my strength. As an adult, until I took out the last of the lawn entirely, I used a push-reel mower, which also takes two hands and all I have to give.

        Maybe the solution in your neighborhood, Gus, is lower-tech yard care (apologies to anyone who feels I am making light of a serious matter).

        • I don’t think you’re making light of this. There’s a lot of functional alcoholics who can’t seem to not have a beer while mowing their lawn or doing yard work or repaving the driveway.

  7. I’m sure Bill doesn’t think he has a problem. Or maybe he uses the accident as an excuse to drink. I’m sure he has rationalized his behavior and probably feels justified in his drinking. Sadly, there are way too many Bills out there.

    Interesting comments on this one Gus, thanks for the topic.

    (Yes, if I could have chosen, I would have picked diabetes over alcoholism any day of the week. Freedom of choice was not an option though.)

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