September 24, 2013
Will celebrates his 21st birthday with a party at Chuck E. Cheese’s with his family, which has just finished singing “Happy Birthday.” The irony of choosing a kid-oriented arcade as the venue is intentional, Carol says. She wanted to plan something that stood in contrast to the way most people celebrate the day they reach legal drinking age. Plus, he genuinely enjoys the games.
All Will’s brothers and sisters come to the party except RJ, who has not been leaving the house much. Will spends a lot of his time with his girlfriend, CheyAnna Buchanan, who sits next to him.
Leah, the youngest of Will’s sisters, eats quietly.
Carol had picked her up at the psychiatric emergency room at Providence Medical Center that day. Leah had had a breakdown. She says she could no longer remain in denial about something that happened in late August. After a night of drinking, she ended up in an Anchorage hotel room, Leah recalled. She blacked out. There were two strange men. She never reported that the men took “advantage of me.” “I felt disgusted. Humiliated. Lost. Like I lost my identity,” she says. At the party, most of the family still doesn’t know about it.
After blowing out the candle on his chocolate mousse cake, Will tells Carol he wants his first beer. “Just one.”
“Just one,” he repeats.
Carol is noncommittal. She makes vague “maybe sometime” replies, looking to change the subject. Ari, who is three months sober and seated across the table, makes it clear she disapproves of Will’s desire to drink.
Beth Drew, Will’s direct service provider, says alcohol was on his mind the previous day. “All he talked about yesterday was beer, beer, beer,” she said. Then on the day of his birthday, Will lost his wallet, probably somewhere on Northern Lights Boulevard.
He has no ID and couldn’t buy a beer even if he had the chance.
Beth says, “I’m hoping it’s a sign.”
Originally published May 3, 2014 by Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage Daily News.