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51 Birch Street

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"A spellbinding detective story"

– Peter Travers, ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE

Robert Guinaugh (age 54)

For the last couple years since Doug’s film was released, I have been contemplating whether I should write a screenplay about my parents and the life I lived at 12 Overlook Drive in Port Washington.  I was a classmate of Doug’s at Schreiber High School and graduated in the same class. But for a few close friends and my immediate family, no one knew of the sheer hell that my sisters, brother and I lived through with an alcoholic mother.  In the 60’s and early 70’s, alcoholism was not something that anyone of prominence would ever admit to.  Drunks were only those poor souls you might see in skid row, not in an upper middle class neighborhood on Long Island.  And so, as the oldest of five children, I became the surrogate father while my Dad traveled across the country for 3-4 days nearly every week on business.  As I grew up with this predicament, I learned quickly that I had to scurry home after school because my Mom would almost always be smashed drunk already with my younger siblings fending for themselves. By the time I was in 8th or 9th grade, I was strong enough to physically overpower my mother and drag her to her bed where I hoped she would just pass out.  Sometimes I would have to stand guard over her throughout the entire night so that she wouldn’t get up to drink more or get into her car.  When she was passed out, my sisters and I would ransack the house searching for the liquor bottles so that we throw them away.  I remember finding a full glass of vodka in a clear glass in the cabinet. You would never had noticed the liquid had it not been for the fact that we must have moved it slightly. When my father returned home on a Thursday or Friday, he would ask how the week had gone.  I remember my sisters and I would cry and beg him to stop traveling.  He explained that it was not possible to stop his business travel but he would try to cut it down.  That never really happened.  And the drinking binges just got worse over time.

By the time I was in high school, my mother treated me horribly.  In fact, I actually preferred her drunk rather than sober because she was easier to control.  When she was sober, she was mean and angry about not being able to have a drink.  She also would faintly remember how I forced her to sleep the night before.

On a hot spring night after dinner, while I was studying for finals in my junior year, my Dad came to my room and asked if I knew where my mother was.  I didn’t know, so we started looking for her.  She was no where to be found.  Three weeks later we learned that she had been having an affair with a wiater at Louie’s restaurant in Port Washington and that they had taken off together. My younger sisters and brother never saw their mother again until many years later. 

For the sake of brevity, I have shared a mere thimble full of the story from 12 Overlook Drive, but the parallel to Doug’s story is obvious to me.  While Doug’s parents succeeded somewhat in supressing their secrets from the children, it was me and my siblings who struggled to keep our Mom’s drinking a secret from everyone on the outside. Secrets can be like an acid that burns from the inside.

Both of my parents have passed and the bonds that I share with my sisters and brother have only grown stronger over the years I am happy to report. On a sad note, one sister is widowed, another is seperated with two young children and my brother is twice divorced. I’m soon to celebrate my 21st anniversary and we have three great kids-thank God. I was determined not to pass on the baton of secrets.

Robert G.

Comments

Powerful story, Robert!  I’ve heard from so many people over the past few years and it’s a recurring theme - the hidden secrets behind seemingly every door in our wonderful, “ordinary” communities.

Anyway, thanks for sharing and good to hear from you after so many years.


By: Doug Block, on Aug 21, 2007

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