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Habit Forming

By Chloe Campbell

I do not think of my father as a recovering alcoholic because he stopped drinking several years before I was born. But that’s what he is. The Campbell family’s addictive personality would not let him get away from the stuff without an epic struggle. He never talks about his past, but he must associate many memories, smells, sounds and tastes solely with alcohol. Not much of what he remembers about his drinking days and quitting days must be pleasant. I hear no stories. I see no smirks.

He replaced alcohol with seltzer water. He likes carbonation, but not the sweet taste of soda. I grew up drinking seltzer water and calling it Daddy Water. He drank it so often and it constantly inhabited our refrigerator, so I thought it had to be his and only his. As he held me in his right arm, he unscrewed the cap and gave me the first drink. The cold bubbles always caught me off guard and filled my sinuses with tears. Smiling through the sting, I would say “FRESH!” Dad always laughed at my expression and that word choice.

The location of Daddy Water was a static, almost ritualistic part of my young life. The red countertop that runs next to the fridge is perfect for leaning on and opening the fridge at the same time; a person can scan the shelves without ever having to move the small of her back from the edge of the counter. “Mom, we don’t have any Daddy Water!” I would yell around the age of twelve. I knew Dad would be home from work soon and he would be tired and sweaty and probably bloody from refinishing old buildings all day, and his seltzer water in his bag would be flat and warm. Mom would calmly say, “There’s some next to the fridge. Please restock it so the bottles are cold when he gets home.” I remember coming home from the grocery store and rushing to do this chore for Mom. I took the Daddy Water from the Food Lion bags and arranged them in a perfect pyramid next to the fridge.

When I got a bit older, Dad and I would still drink Daddy Water by the fridge together, but he would take a drink, knowing that I wanted some, and screw the cap back on super tightly, making a show of flexing his bicep and gritting his teeth. Laughing, I took the big bottle from him and almost always turned the cap hard enough between my little fingers to loosen it again. He acted impressed. He made me feel strong.

Daddy Water linked the people in our house together for most of my life. After dinner, Dad ate ice cream in the living room while watching the news. I brought him bowls of peanut butter and chocolate ice cream that he held in front of the fan to melt before he ate them. The thirst generated by the ice cream spurred a predictable attack for the cold bubbles of his club soda. He looked at me with big eyes as I sat across the couch from him, counting down the minutes until I was allowed to watch “The Amanda Show,” and rasped, “Water! Water! Chloe!” I slid over a rink of wooden floors to the kitchen in my socks, usually slammed into Mom doing the dishes and knocked the magnets off the fridge. But I recovered, grabbed the bottle, and raced back to the living room, my socks catching on the carpet, making me lunge forward and sprawl out, fizzing the Daddy Water to a point where opening it would waste half the liter. Every summer night.

I had to have it. Daddy Water had a hold on me like alcohol had Daddy in the 1970s. At cookouts in the backyard, my cousins and friends took cans of Sprite and lemonade. I stood a liter of seltzer water by my place at the old warped picnic table. It towered over the twelve-ounce cans and often leaned at a precarious angle. I felt different, but in a safe environment. My friends eventually stopped giggling at the strange term once they realized that Daddy Water was simply my name for seltzer water and that I didn’t plan on changing it, even as we entered high school together. Most of them even call it that now when they come to the house.

No one in our house drinks seltzer water anymore except me. Dad drinks it where he lives. Mom still has to keep the fridge stocked, but I make Food Lion runs too, so we do it together. Nothing architectural in our house has changed over the years. I come home from the gym every day and lean up against that red counter top and go straight for the Daddy Water. Sweaty from lifting and ellipticalling, I chug the carbonation and hiccup immediately. I am not compelled to say “Fresh!” anymore, but the sting still makes my eyes water.

I still have not mustered the courage to talk to Dad about his past, and maybe I have a reason for that. He does not want to pass on to me that negative image of him. I see him addicted only to good things, like his daughter, building things, fixing things, and providing. My addiction to Daddy Water is not a trigger for negative associations. I feel my entire youth in a bottle of seltzer water. I see lessons learned and confidence built. I smell Dad’s famous grilled chicken and soupy ice cream. I am addicted only to these.