Tag Archive: child abuse


The Game


The two little boys stood, staring at each other, their faces firm – stern, hard, laced with anger.  Their fists raised before them – small bald hands with knuckles staring out of them.  One had his thumb tucked in his fist – that was the wrong thing to do.

I should know.  I was one of the boy’s fighting.

Often us boys would play a game – this was back in the days of the ‘hood.  I don’t know what to call it except simply choking.

It’s been on my mind for a bit of time, so I’m going to write about it.

 

The two boys stood – this was another time, same place.   The teenager stood nearby, the other kids a loose ring – about seven of them, ranging in age from 3 to 12 years old.  They were my ‘audience’ – or theirs, my teenager and his friends.  My best friend and I, facing off one more time.  It seems like we were always facing off and fighting, trying to prove who was tougher than the other.  I always won, time after time.  But not in this one.  Not always.  Or at least I don’t think so.  It’s hard to remember those kinds of things sometimes . . .

I grabbed him around the neck with both hands – I can still see his sandy curly locks as he threw his head back, tightly smiling, instinctively protecting his features – broad brimmed face with wild cat green eyes – it was as if there was something feral behind them and pinpoint pupils from the bright Georgia sun.  At the same time he was opening up his neck, I grabbed him double-handed, placing both thumbs on opposite sides of the slender arching bulge of his windpipe, taking care to at least place the first joint of my thumb beyond it.  At the same time he grabbed mine in a similar grip – and I let him.  This was what the teenager told us to do.  I was about eight years old.

He started squeezing tighter and tighter as I tightened my grip.  You weren’t allowed to do it all at once – you had to do it slowly.  It was important that the thumbs remained wrapped completely around the throat – on both sides of the windpipe.  We didn’t want to take the chance of crushing someone’s windpipe – we already knew the consequences.  At least one kid had faced disaster – his windpipe crushed in.  The thumb joints, properly aligned, were where one could crush, squashing the throat below the windpipe and in the esophagus region.  This insured no one was crushing someone else’s cartilage.

How I knew that I did not know.

We would stand there stiff legged – this happened several times; not once but many through my childhood – our fingers wrapped around each other’s throats, both of us tightly grinning – an evil grin and a vicious one, but without any real malice towards our friend – squeezing tighter and tighter until someone would pass out.

The first few times I got knocked out, or at least very blank and dizzy.  There comes a time when the darkness rushes in from the edges of your vision, narrowing it down.  Outside sound becomes muted; your heart beat a dull thud in your ears . . . one that seems to grow even slower and fainter and then even it disappears, and you lose all taste and vision . . .

and you wake up on the floor.  Or the ground.  Or wherever you ended up landing.  And hope you didn’t get hurt.  (Once I fell out on a paved road . . . and woke with road rash and bruises all over my knees, elbows and hands.  At least the body had tried to catch itself . . . I don’t remember a thing.)

I won’t go into the mental aspect of knowing you are dying.  That’s a different sort of thing.

Sometimes my friend and I played with nobody watching – ‘practicing’ out in the yard.  You weren’t supposed to do that – someone could get hurt, the teenager had warned us many a time, adding that someone could die from this thing.  But on the other hand he was the one who had set the Games up . . . one of several kinds.

I learned you could hyperventilate prior to this ‘event’ to prepare – filling your body with essential oxygen until your head was swimming from the stuff – and then going right into the ‘fighting’.  I could outlast many an opponent that way – strangling him while he strangled me until someone gave up or went down.

It was a hell of a game to play.

It went on until we were about ten or eleven – by that time we were getting a bit dangerous with it.  We would hang on even though we were dying, or passed out sometimes – our hands unconsciously locked down like claw vises.  Then the teenager would have to pry them apart . . .

It was a hell of a game.  In many ways.

 


The boy sat at his desk, staring at it’s fake plastic wood, the hard curved panels of plywood behind him and under his butt.  Beneath him was a square cube; he sat on it, sitting on his books.  Before him were two walls, joined in a corner.  He smiled, playing with his hands and muttering to himself . . .

That was ‘me’ as a child in first grade.  I was the one who wouldn’t stop talking – not for anything, anyone, or despite the punishment they gave me.  Place me with other children and I would start talking with them, making friends.  Put me in the corner and I’d talk to myself.  Put me with grownups, and not yet unafraid, I would start talking to them – asking questions and getting into things.  I was a very inquisitive child driven by insatiable curiosity, a talented ‘artist’ for my age, with a wide ranging imagination, and . . . I had been highly abused according to what the professionals (and my wife) had told me.

The thing was: I was always talking to myself – inside, if not out.  But everyone does that: talk to yourself.  You even have ‘sides’ that argue.  So do I.  But as a child . . . a creative child blessed (and therefore cursed) with a wide ranging imagination.  This was not a “wild” imagination.  Imagination had to be based upon truth, or an extension of that.  There had to be what WE thought was a bit of scientific ‘truth’, even at play . . .

And so I suppose it started with those stuffed animals he ‘owned’ (knowing in his secret life that they were not his.  Everything belonged to the parents, even him.  How could HE own anything when he was not allowed to even own his mind?  Much less his body.  His parents and the Army owned those things.  He just ‘inhabited’ them.

The boy sits in his room.  There is a desk – a huge monstrosity his mother had special built for him, it holds everything – and a dresser, and a single bed.  That’s all – him and the stuffed animals he has gathered in a ring.  They are talking . . . constantly holding forth a conversation – him and his bear, him and his ‘friend’ . . . he’s been sent to his room again for ‘being bad’ – perhaps he’s gotten whipped, but he doesn’t remember that thing, not too well . . . he talks and whispers to his friends, his Leo the Lion hand puppet on one hand . . .  whispering in its ear, tears running down sometimes . . .

I don’t know what all he said.  I can’t recall a single word – I just can almost hear them – whispers in the back of my head. . .

“He won’t stop talking!” the teacher complained, frustrated.  My mom told me this – and I remember.  “I put him in the corner and it does no good!  Instead of talking to others, he starts talking to himself!  I don’t know what to do with him!”

She was a mean teacher.  She called me a Nazi and German and said I was no good.  Even at art though she gave me an award.  It wasn’t until I got the award that I found I had done bad.  But I wouldn’t cry.  Not for her.

Who was I talking to?

I know.

I was talking to myself.  All of the time.  My imaginary friends; the ones inside.  And my hands were for them talking to me.  I could make both my hands be my friends.  The dots on the board were my friends.  Even the flies became my friends when I was a teenager.  Sometimes they were the only thing to do . . .

Isolation.  Imagine a child and you keep ‘him’ in isolation.  Not constant isolation, mind you – but social isolation (sometimes) and isolated from family.  As far as he knows, there are only three members in his family – four if you count the dog.

(gee . . . this was right about the time the teenager made me have sex with ‘him’ . . .)

Not a good thing.  Especially to a highly creative, imaginative child who has been abused – badly abused – and is being abused still.  Hell, the situation is even worsening . . . but it does no good to tell . . .

“Doesn’t everybody go through something like this?”, I remember him thinking/saying to himself, looking at the neighbor kids.  Some of them ‘went through it’.  Some of them ‘went through it’ with HIM.  How could he not know?  And yet – how could he know anything different?  There was no one to teach him what goes on in back rooms . . . except for the occupants of that room themselves . . .

He goes on talking to his children.  The ones upon the floor.  The bear has become very alive to him.  They all have.  Along with some ‘others’ inside . . . inside his heart and his head.

He doesn’t even know who they are at this moment.  Sometimes . . . sometimes ‘he’ has difficulty recalling his own name . . .

The child who talked too much.  Talking to himself in the corner of the room.  Whispering while he watches his hands writhe in his lap sometimes, playing with themselves.  Listening to his own mind; his own echoes . . .  he personifies everything . . .

A lamp falls, its glass base breaking.  I had accidently pulled it down by the cord crawling around under the end table and it had gotten broken.  I wasn’t sad because I was about to be beaten.  I was sad because the lamp could no longer complete its function.  I had ended its ‘life’ . . .

I feel that way about a lot of things.  So does my daughter.  She is about to move and she worries her old apartment will suffer feelings of abandonment . . . even though her boyfriend says it’s not so . . .

Like daughter like son like father.

They say madness runs genetic.  It runs on one side of my family.

And I guess it runs in mine.

 

 

 


Young Love

I first encountered him on the playground, on the domed top of the convoluted steel grid of monkey bars. This was back in the day when all playground equipment was steel, and the middle of the bars were polished like mirrors from so many hands over the years.

The sky was gray and overcast, it was late in the afternoon. It must have been near winter, for it was almost twilight but there was no snow. I remember a crescent moon rising in the gray skies – glimpsed between the clouds somewhere between fifteen and thirty degrees. I paid attention to things like that; my training had already begun, though I didn’t know it. Things, as always, seemed normal. As normal as they could be considering I was an abused country kid from the sticks come to live in West Germany – living the the military apartments – big buildings with thick bombproof walls, and narrow windows.

The playground sat adjacent to the airport. It was a military one – a small one, but so was the base we were on. A lot of the bases we were on were small – little installations given over to the properties of spying, like the planes and electronic gear that my dad worked on. Twin turbo-propped Mohawks took off, but they were rare; mostly it was the UH-1’s – the big Bell Huey helicopters with their distinctive “Whomp! Whomp!” sound.

We had been forbidden to go to any country in which the “Red Flag” was flying. That meant no Warsaw, Poland, no East German or Hungarian trips. That meant we often had to stay behind while our dad went on some “TDY” mission. Sometimes he would be gone for days, weeks at a time. If it wasn’t a NATO nation – we weren’t supposed to go in. We weren’t supposed to go to Berlin, though eventually we did. They said it was because we would have to cross East German soil, and there was some concern ‘the enemy’ might kidnap a child as leverage against my anyone who held a high security clearance, forcing them to become a spy against the US military or giving up all their electronics secrets – or against the US Government as a source of ransom and/or trade for their own spies. It was very ‘normal’ to ‘me’, the kid I was developing into, but in some ways I was still that sexually groomed kid from deep down South . . . trying to figure out things – where in the hell he was, who ‘we’ were, where we were living (it changed all the time – we moved more than a dozen times in a few years), and what we were doing there.

There were about seven or eight boys playing on the playground, and a half dozen of us were on the monkey bars. None of us knew the other; not really. None of us had been around long enough to know anyone, and chances are, no one did. Everyone was moving around too much – us kids just sliding past each other – a quick hello, some desperate attempts to form friendships, and then a few weeks later, goodbye – maybe.  Sometimes they just disappeared.  Sometimes we did.  We got to know this kind of life too well; so well it affected all our lives for the rest of our life. No “life long friends” – people who we are still friends with that you know from your early childhood.   I mean the good kind – the kind you see every few days or so – never a week goes by without one of them calling you. I don’t have that; we moved too much. Neither does my brother. Ditto my parents to a lesser degree – they lost touch with their families (and thus we with ours) by their late teens.  “Family” to me is just a weird joke, one I don’t get.   My mom once said she vowed to stop documenting moves after her fiftieth; we were still just babes when she stopped. I think it was during this particular trip overseas that broke that barrier. We moved so much! Even she can’t tell me where we were when. It was a kaleidoscope of landscapes; a blur of apartments and streets; German towns changing (but all the same) like drops of water sliding down a window pane. Fountains and fortresses, castles grand . . . castles in ruins, tanks in the woods. I don’t know as we settled down in one particular place for more than two, three months before the Army would uproot us and send us on to some other base where my dad’s skills were needed and we were not.

“Who will suck my dick?” one boy cried out. He was an older one, and I shot him a contemptuous glance.  I had experience, I missed my friend – my lover (or lovers) back home – but I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it so casually – I had to love (or at least like a lot) the person.  It didn’t matter if it was girl or boy – I was bisexual before I was four – and I found this type of sexual innuendo deeply disturbing. Scalding memories of what the teenager had done to me – his touch, then the ultimate betrayal – were still fresh in me and hurt. I didn’t trust anyone not to betray me the way he had done, so I hung back when it came to making relationships – especially sexual ones. I had been burnt – and burnt BAD – I wasn’t going to open myself to that flame again! And yet the phrase caught my attention (the boy was just coarsely joking around – half-serious, half not, as young boys sometimes do). I looked at him from beneath hooded eyebrows – I can still see him, my head dropped to some degree, looking up at him both cautiously and with anger, though he had not done anything to me; he was just a ‘normal’ kid, crude, but normal.

“I will!” I heard a small voice pipe up. It was a little kid on the opposite side of the monkey bars. We had a game where we were trying to throw each other down through the bars, hurting someone – but we weren’t playing aggressively. The big boys were too rough – they’d win (perhaps), though none had tried their tactics on me of grabbing a boy and holding him over one of the squared opening, punching him down and through – where he’d bounce and jolt through the steel bars – hopefully breaking a bone! – before landing on the tough turf where short sparse grass grew.

“I love sucking dick!” the little boy continued, drawing my attention. This was almost the exact phrase the teenager had used when he outed me: that I loved sucking dick – “He’ll suck anyone!” the teenager had told his friends, stinging me.  While true to a point (which makes a good point about the truth stings the worst, for it stings the heart, mind, and soul). But I had to love or at least like a kid real to have sex with him; this one didn’t. He apparently didn’t even demand they be a friend – though that might have been his way of making one. He was making offers to strangers, which seemed odd and dangerous to me. I can still feel that ‘dark turning’ I felt when looking at him, hearing him make his ‘offer’. It was the same sensation you get when seeing someone dart into a busy street without looking, knowing they might get run down – and wondering whether to shout and stop them or just look away before the disaster happens.  Especially if you know you are probably powerless to prevent it.

The other kids started laughing; ridiculing him and asking questions. Would he really do it? An older kid, one about fourteen, asked him, to which he eagerly agreed. “Yeah! I like it. I love sucking dick.” My eyes narrowed as I took him in and evaluated him.

He was young, a few years younger than me. A big eight, an average nine, or a underdeveloped ten. He was short with a broad beaming face and curly brown hair. My hair was regulation short – a crisp barrage of hair standing on end in a traditional crew cut, with the sides shaved nice and close – a “high and tight”.

But his face – something about his eyes I think it was. They were brown; as I type this I can ‘see’ more and more clearly (and now the next day editing, even clearer.) – and I felt something within me as he and they got to talking about it. A sadness or a sympathy or empathy or pity or feeling sorry for him – and wanting him to be my friend – and I was interested in accepting his offer – open sex night, no strings involved. But maybe it was something about his face and eyes. Yeah – I think it was the eyes. There’s a ‘look’, you know – that ‘thousand yard stare’ kinda thing soldiers are known to get – only in kids it may more hidden, way back in the eyes. Like ghosts or clouds underneath all those emotions they are expressing – happiness, excited joy, running and playing. It makes a kid’s eyes ‘timeless’, and can make them look old. In the eyes of course. Everywhere else they look normal. Except perhaps a few scars.  I had those.  And I had “that look” I suppose.  (I know I did; I can see it in the mirror.)

I could feel it – that he was like me. More than a bit; almost exactly. The sex is what tipped me off. I wanted to go off and have sex with him right then. Let him know I was the same way – and I wouldn’t use him or mock him for doing it or wanting to do it. The other kids would. I just knew that, could sense their attitudes in their behaviors, their play, and what some of them were saying. Something about him spoke to me. I suppose now, looking back, it would have said “I’ve been abused somewhat, shown sex; I’ve learned to love it too early, and now I will do it with anyone – anyone! – simply to recapture that feeling.” Of course, that may have just been me, projecting my feelings upon him.

So I spoke up. Of all those that were there – and the only ones left who were talking to him – I think there were about three – the others having gotten disgusted by him, or repulsed by what he had said – mocking him and deriding him as they climbed down – and one of them was a teenager who I could tell was quite cruel – he’d been sort of picking on us kids, mostly verbally, while the others ran around, and now he was trying to lure the little kid in using some kind of bait.

“Yeah, we can go over to my apartment,” he was saying – but he had been one of the cruelest mockers and deriders when this thing had first started, and the kid was saying no to him; shaking his head, and the teenager suddenly got fed up and disgusted and climbed down by himself while another couple of kids climbed on.

“I’ll let you do it,” I finally said, keeping my voice kinda low and hopeful and just between me and him. “I’ll do you, too, if you do it to me,” and then I think I said (even lower): “I like doing it, too.” I had missed that feeling – that feeling of someone ‘doing it’ to me, and me doing it to them – plus this little kid had such an open air about him – open and trusting, and yet guarded in some ways. Like I said – it was kinda like de ja vu’ I was feeling – thing is, it was not. It was merely seeing a kind of reflection of the kid I am/was. And you have to remember: I had been having sex for years, nearly on a daily basis during the summer of the last three of them. Not just with boys, but with girls. You gotta remember my cousin, with whom I had fell in love with.

Just then my momma called me.

“Dinnertime!” she said, calling from the communal door of the apartment building. There were two stairwells, one on each end, and we lived on the second floor; inside one, right hand. Up two turns and you’re in the middle kind of thing. They were four stories tall, in case you were wondering, with 8 to 16 room ‘attic’ apartments above. They called them ‘transits’ because that’s where all the ‘transitory people’ lived – people who were going someplace and the Army needed their apartments because someone new was coming in – or people who were going someplace – like back overseas. We lived in ‘transits’ once that I remember; maybe twice. It was really cool.

And so ended the beginning of my very first friendship over there. The dinner bell was ringing and it was time to ‘go in’ – and eat dinner with my miserable family who never got along.

So I said “bye” to him regretfully and left him alone with two of the others. He had just started to go along with me – following me down the bars. I think he, like me, could sense something of himself in me; that’s why he wanted to be friends. So we parted there on good terms, almost beneath the monkey bars, with the helicopters thundering off and on . . . gray clouds . . . and I grew depressed . . . slogging in instead of at my usual run, head down, sad and thinking of him . . . this boy I had just met.

It was the next summer I met him. We had moved to a different base – to run across a kid you knew from before was very unusual. Unheard of for me. The rotisserie of kids and schools and bases were beginning to become familiar  – and yet not. It seems I kept changing – or something. That might explain some of these holes in my head and my memories from ‘over there’.

I’m not sure if it was at the pool (outdoors) or a playground, but I remember we took off where we had began – at the beginning, with him looking at me and me looking, puzzled at this kid, feeling the faint stirrings of memory.

“You’re him,” I think I said, or something very much like it. “We met at that other base . . .”

“Yeah,” he said, beaming and smiling. “You still want to do it?”

And simple as that, we became friends. Of course we had sex after our first encounter – nothing major, just the oral thing – him doing me, me encouraging him – ‘showing him how’ somewhat because he still needed some skills in his technique – and me ‘doing him’ just for the pleasure of making my new friend feel good, welcome, needed, and happy – which he was doing for me.

We wandered that base during those hot summer months – or at least they felt hot to me. I had acclimated to the German weather, so I felt the heat when they did, and not so much the cold as I had when we first arrived. I’d gotten used to the winter regime of clothing – and even more layers of clothing – and the summer felt so free! I could wander up to the pool in my swim shorts and a towel – flip flops flapping, though for the most part I ran around as I had in the  ‘hood back in the States – barefoot and almost . . . but not nearly enough – carefree. I wasn’t the child I am sometimes inside; I wasn’t ‘he’. I wasn’t the boy who’d left the States – though that part of me seemed to go into hiding sometimes, staring from my eyes in wonder at the castles and the land. In a way I was a jumble of ‘parts’ in me – and I could feel it. I didn’t think in terms of “I” and “me” so much as ‘us’ and ‘them’. I sometimes found myself interjecting the word “we” sometimes – and becoming confused because I meant just one: me. But it wasn’t ‘me’ all the time. There were ‘other parts’ forming – I could ‘feel’ them in my dreams, feel them taking over ‘parts’ of me: certain emotional states and emotions. I could feel myself ‘slipping away’ when one part would ‘take control’ – leading me into some kind of temptation (laughing).

And this boy and I . . .

We fell in love, we did. With him, even though he was a bit younger than me – he became more like a little brother. He shared his secrets with me and I with him – how our parents beat us (his were much worse some of the time, mine had quit the worst of the abuse – the beatings – when we had arrived in Germany – and those damned apartments where everyone would have to be so damned quiet – even if we WERE getting beaten. You couldn’t let the neighbors know those things – how ‘bad’ us kids had become; how ‘awful’ we are/were (for those were my thoughts in the day.) I knew what me and the boy were doing was ‘wrong’ by some crowd’s notice; but on the other hand – he was my ‘best friend’ at the time, and the only one I had.

I remember us going from here to there – stopping for sex once and awhile, either in the bushes or the PX bathroom one time. (I didn’t like going there; I felt cheap while I ‘did him’ with him standing on the toilet seat.) I treated him to some movies once and awhile – I was earning money from my first job.  And bought us both treats at the PX and club – ice cream perhaps, some chips to eat – nothing fancy, and he asked for nothing, ever. Just for the chance to ‘do me’ sometimes and make me feel good, be my friend.

I don’t recall ever going over to his apartment, nor him coming to mine, though he might of. I remember us mostly meeting in the parking lot by the playground, and then going together to do something. Sometimes that ‘something’ was walking the fence line – the fence that separated us from our outside neighbors, the Germans. We’d pause here and there sometimes – dropping into the grass or near some bushes – and ‘make love’ in our own kind of way, each encouraging the other. We’d hold hands, give hugs – cheek to cheek sometimes, just holding one another, eyes closed, breath coming softly in my ear while I hugged him – feeling that warm body under that skin and enjoying it. Often it would take me back to past times – times with the teenager and/or my friends back home. Then we would rise and dust ourselves off – pulling up our shorts if we needed to – and go wandering on, looking for something to do, something to keep our interests until ‘the next time’.

Like I said: we grew to be close friends, closer than even brothers in some ways. We each commiserated in each others misery and pain; we shared our loneliness by sharing in our ‘game’ – a shameful game to the world, perhaps, but not to us. To us it was a simple thing – a joy. We couldn’t understand why all the other kids and grownups seemed so dead hard set against this sort of thing, but we knew to keep it a secret between us.

Eventually the game came to an end. The time came when I went out to the parking lot looking for him; on the playground, all our usual stomping spots, and then all our usual stopping spots – and then I went to his apartment, heart sinking, sick to heart from suspicion, thinking I knew what happened. Knocking on his door, I braced myself to prepare for his parents. I had heard they were quite mean.

The face that greeted me when the door opened was a younger woman – a short one, almost my height – and she said something that was to change my life.  Bring that sudden realization a little closer to my heart like the sharp knife it was.

“He isn’t here anymore. They moved on.”

And that’s when I began to realize: No one is permanent. Nothing remains the same. My friends would just keep on being yanked away – every time I made one it would happen as sure as night follows day. Time and time and time again – as soon as I would hold out my hands for love, they would get slapped away, or else the people I was craving would turn their backs and reject me. That little boy – he had no friends, none besides me. I think that was because of his sexual orientation and the way he advertised so honestly his willingness. I think now, looking back, that it was only in desperation that he would do those things – offering a blow job first, friendship later. I wasn’t like that – too shy, too self-inhibited, and demanding from my own self that I love them (or at least like them) first.  And even that – that had taken a hit, some damage, from what the teenager had done.  To this day, I find it hard to trust anyone with my love, especially the sexual kind.  They always hurt me.  Always.

But it saddened me – hit me hard, hurt me hard, to see that neighbor open the door and it wasn’t who I had expected. To find your friend – your lover – is gone, yanked right out from under you, and you hadn’t even had a chance to say goodbye. You never saw it coming. And so like a fist in the face, a blow to the head (and heart) . . . I stumbled away, thanking the girl, and trying to stop the tears from coming into my eyes . . .

Lonely again, wandering another base without a friend, I soon made another. He was mean and bullying, older than me – and he simply used me as I used him. Under buildings, behind bushes – it wasn’t even about being friends. It was about a part of me mourning and separating from ‘him’, trying to recapture that hidden feeling, which I never did. Not with him, anyway. And so slowly, a part of me went into hiding and died.

For a long long time afterwards.

And I think that part was ‘little Michael’ or ‘little Mikie’ . . . the boy ‘he’ wanted to be.


Changes In Behavior:

Living With The Folks Overseas

When I was little, we gotten beaten a lot. I won’t go into everything – the moral crushing words, the ego scathing attacks. Beatings usually consisted of us going into our bedroom – or just one of us – waiting for a half hour or so, which is why I have the phrase “Waiting is painful, too.” I credit those waits for allowing me to prepare myself for what was to come – waiting on those footsteps to approach, the closed door opening, my father coming in. Tapping his belt on the palm of his hand. Gently explaining what we had done wrong. And then the punishment.

My brother says he could hear me scream and scream from his bedroom room with both doors shut and two walls. I don’t know for certain. You reach a certain phase when you are getting beaten where you just sort of blank out. I would sit there waiting . . . waiting . . . fading away inside of myself, hardening; preparing for what was to come. I hated crying; I couldn’t stand it, especially among myself. Or Selves, if that’s the way you want to put it.

Then the old man would have us stand and bend over, grabbing our ankles. Of course our pants would be pulled down – or our shorts – though later I learned (rather quickly I imagine!) to take them off. They just would trip you when you started dancing, and that would be seen as an attempt to escape – falling on the floor – which would be punished even more harshly.

I learned early on to face the bed, too. That first shot would often launch you – and the best launch was onto something with a soft surface. It was best to have all your toys picked up, or at least nudged out of the way so you wouldn’t end up dancing on them, too.

My dad had a favorite question to ask (I think). “Have you learned your lesson yet?” And no matter what the answer was, it was wrong. A yes or no would earn you more of a beating. I think he just asked it to see if you lied or not. Or not, most likely. Maybe. I don’t know.

I do know that I was stupid sometimes. I would not cry. And my dad liked crying children – he loved to hear you scream; see ‘the dance’. Sometimes he would take you by the hand and whirl you around – you are running in circles, the belt or something else pursuing you – going ’round and ’round his towering legs with tears streaming down your face as you ran. Those kinds of things hurt; sometimes the blows kinda went wild. It was unusual to get hit about the hips and shoulders; or on the arms.

We always ate on a regular schedule – the Army one. Breakfast (if not served before leaving for school and whatnot) was served at eight. Lunch at twelve. Supper (or dinner, if you prefer) at five-thirty pm. Meals were usually fairly simple, and at school I ate with the lunch crowd – getting my tray and food from the school. Later on I would start brown-bagging it, but this was early on. And days were fairly quite easy.

The morning would begin in the ‘hood – I get up, get dressed (usually just a pair of shorts and underwear) and go out into the kitchen. There my mom would often be cooking breakfast (eggs, toast, bacon, milk – orange juice or some other kind of juice if she would afford them – the frozen kind; made from concentrate). Then if not to school, then outside. We’d spend the entire day outside from morning to noon – and then we’d hear that big old triangle ring, and we’d come home for some bologna sandwiches, peanut butter & jellies – something like that – and milk to drink. I remember we used to get milk in those long cartons the PX sold – dark green with white lettering, and a heavy wax coating on them. They were very valuable to me, those cartons! With them I could make boats and toys to play with, either in the tub or out of it. Those heavy waxed cartons would last a long while – several floatings in the tub – until after about a week later the edges would get soft and fuzzy and we’d have to throw them away. Many a G.I. Joe took a ride in those boats – all naked (just like me) in the tub, swimming his way to freedom when the boat sunk.

But things changed when we got overseas. It was like the physical abuse suddenly just stopped. I seem to recall my mom telling us: “You’re too old for anymore whippings. From now on we’re gonna be punishing you different. With restriction and such. Taking away your privileges.” I wish it had been like that. The truth is – they still continued to beat us from time to time – with as much frenzy and hatred as before – and they would impose these new rules on us. But overall the beatings diminished. LOL, I guess the moral of the crew improved or something. But the fact is: we were getting beaten with a lot less frequency than before, when we were young children.

However, the restrictions started to get a lot longer and more frequent. That’s not to say we made bad grades – we didn’t. We generally managed to keep it between a C and an A. However, those few times we made an F or a D were bad. (I made my first F in 5th grade, failing math because I had gotten caught up and lost in the system. Somewhere between North Carolina and the ‘hood decimals got lost. Or rather, the ability to change them from one thing to another (say fractions or percents) got skipped over. I can only assume that in North Carolina the military school was behind while in Georgia the civilian school (I am talking about Windsor Springs Elementary here) was ahead. As a result there was a gap in my education that the teach failed to detect – or correct – or she just didn’t have enough time to do it. Promising students weren’t granted any special considerations and favors back then; not like today with their “Magnet Schools” and schools for accelerated children. So I was just left to thrash along on my own – without any success at the thing. My father’s explanations were confusing, and my moms? She always sent me to my dad.

A ‘D’ or an ‘F’ would mean restriction to your room. How long depended on ‘you’. However, while we were overseas there was so much to do – my parents were constantly touring and we were moving around – that restrictions were usually of a shorter duration – may a few weeks or more, but sometimes just a couple of days (depending upon our behavior during the restriction time). Asking to be ‘let off’ or ‘get out’ would buy you a week or more, so you had to be careful about asking. You had to catch them in a good mood. And even then you’d better come bearing some proof you were doing better – a string of A’s, I presume. I rarely got off restriction early, however. Often we would come back from some ‘vacation’ touring over there only to find I was still on restriction, still confined to my room.

The belt fell out of favor except for with my dad – my mom preferred a wooden spoon. She had a wide bladed one with a thick handle that she used to beat us with – and you stood, just stood there taking it. Fighting back, it was understood, was forbidden. My brother tried ONE time. After that he never tried again. Reaching behind him he grabbed the belt from her hand – and when she got the gun he realized: that was the wrong thing to do. So she beat him with the belt in one hand, gun in the other until he was singing his tune and dancing, too. I think he was about fifteen, sixteen years old at the time. He never challenged her again.

As for me? Always the stoic person, I might have complained from time to time – did my crying when I’d get beaten – but I just sort of lumped it up; ‘forgot’ about it – rubbed my ass and went on. I had learned crying did no good. Indeed, depending on who was beating you, it could actually be bad. My dad would give up beating on you once he’d gotten his thrill. My mom, on the other hand, would be encouraged by your crying and whining to beat you some more – for crying and whining! – and then you would be sent to your room to finish it off. My dad? It always started in the room to begin with, so we left it there. (The pain & anguish I assume. “We” left ‘something’ – or someone – there to ‘take it’, deal with it, be done with it, et all.)

I assume that’s where my ‘high pain tolerance’ came from – all those beatings and all that waiting. Because that waiting gets you ready for the pain. You learn to control it – how to ‘turn it one’ (that pain tolerance), and ‘turn it off’. There’s a difference in sensation when I – and ‘we’ – do that. It’s like someone else is sucking up the pain for us. Little Mikie, I assume – since he was one of the ones built to do that. As a result ‘he’ has a lot of pain built up on the inside. On the other hand – ‘he’ is one of the sweetest human child(ren) I’ve ever met. There’s a little bit of artificiality to him there, too – which is what led me to suspect ‘he’ was a creation of Little Michael, the ‘real’ boy inside – the one who made all the decisions about who was to ‘come out’ at what time; who was to ‘do’ what, when and how – a whole lot of other things.

Anyway . . . just another story about how things ‘changed’ when we went overseas. How the discipline changed. I don’t know if that’s because we had new neighbors all around, or they were afraid of thin doors (what the neighbors may hear). I don’t know for certain it was our age at all. I certainly suspect it had more to do with other people being around – living so close to them, jowl to jowl, cheek to cheek so to speak – that they didn’t want anybody staring at them when they went to the commissary or PX, or simply stepped out the door. Noise levels were to be kept down in the apartments – in the houses it didn’t matter. So I reckon I’ll never know. Perhaps it was a combination – the parents realizing their children had gotten a little old for their ‘beatings’ – coupled with the instinctive knowledge they may be heard.

After all, you don’t want your neighbors to know you’ve been beating your kid. None of them.

(shhhh!!!)

Secrets have been told.

(big smile).


The Last Days of the Hood

My last days as a child in the ‘hood were a time of chaotic confusion laced with grief, horror, and sorrow, and tremendous changes which would sweep me and my family into a strange land of isolation and filled with new experiences which would profoundly affect my life for the next four years – and beyond. Some of the changes were to be in God’s hands – or fate, or karma, or whatever you want to call it. One change I saw coming, but could not control. I suppose I could have controlled my response to those other changes, and in doing so have made wiser choices, but I was young, having just turned eleven. I did not know – could not know – the effects of my choices. In some respects I wonder if I really had a choice in my reactions; or perhaps my reactions were the only reactions a child could have. Looking back, I can see where I went wrong in some cases, but in other respects I realize: wrong or right, how I responded to those changes was to determine who I am today.

The changes started with an announcement by my mom late in the fall – mid-October, to be precise. It was simple and direct, as most of her announcements were. She was never one to beat around the bush, or break things to us boys gently. She just sat us down at the table and stated things as they were.

“You’re dad got orders. We’re leaving in thirty days. We’re going to Germany for four years. I’m going to need you boys help to get ready . . .”

We had just returned from North Carolina the year before, so the idea of moving wasn’t alien. After asking my mom some questions about Germany (yes, Michael, it snows there; you were born there) – I was a bit enthused about the idea. Moving was exciting, though we had only moved twice in the past five or so years – up to North Carolina and then back. The moves of the past – before we’d arrived at the ‘hood – were forgotten memories. For me the ‘hood was my childhood, my home – and while deep down I felt a dark foreshadowing of the loneliness and grief I would feel at leaving my friends and the neighborhood where I had spent so much of my childhood, the prospect of seeing snow (so rare in Georgia!) was foremost in my mind. Little did I know. And four years. How can a child conceive of four years? I figured it would be just like before: go away, come back, and it would be as if nothing had ever happened, nothing ever changed. As far as I was concerned, it would simply be another jaunt to someplace else; nothing major. Boy, was I wrong!

I remember standing in the sand alongside the road, talking to my best friend, the boy next door, telling him we were going to Germany.

“It snows this deep!” I exclaimed, holding my hand half-way up to my shins. (Little did I know: it got much deeper than that, going over my head in drifts sometimes.)

“No!” he exclaimed in disbelief. “It never gets that deep!” Him,being born and raised in the south, and knowing no other place in than the ‘hood, could not conceive of snow deeper than our ankles. We argued about it for awhile, and then put our argument aside – still unresolved – and went off to play. If I’d only known what was going to happen next, I would of hugged him tightly – maybe even kissed him on the cheek – and done the same for the rest of his family. Because what happened next – what happened next is what shook our end of the ‘hood to it’s foundations.

It happened just a few nights, maybe a week before Halloween, late in the evening. Before I go on, let me explain a few things.

Next door, where the teenager lived (if you’ve read some of my stories, you know more about him than you’d probably like to know) – was the poorest family in the ‘hood. Make do and do without – that was their name, their lifestyle. The father, a hard working construction worker, was a huge, rotund man – strong as an ox from lifting brick and masonry all day, he always had a huge smile for us kids, and would lift four of us up at one time on his thick, brawny brown arms. He was quick to laugh – a huge laugh, as big as the man himself. We will call him “Mr. C.” His “help” was a man he’d rescued from a ditch years and years before – an Army retiree who’d been mugged and left for dead. That man – old and stinky with his cigars, would sit in an ancient lazy chair on the porch while us kids wheeled around him, begging for abuse by taunting him. We will call him “Mr. S.” I remember my best friend “loaded” one of his cigars one day; the look of amazement on his face when it exploded – his bushy eyebrows arching up towards his balding pate, and his thick fingers clamping down on the shredded remains as he peered over his glasses at us kids, looking for the guilty one – remains with me to this day. We all kept our distance from this man – if you got too close, he would catch you in a head lock and thump you on the noggin’ with his thumb, leaving a knot on your head. And the wife of the construction worker – another ‘second’ mom to me – meek and mild; hard working yet never complaining, running herd on a passel of rough and tumble kids. Even when she was scolding she was soft spoken, and the words were spoken with love. So much unlike my mom, whose words were often harsh and loud, and full of spiteful hate and vengefulness. It was to these folks that disaster was to fall – and disaster of the worst kind.

It was night, and we were getting our last drinks of water before going to bed when my mom came in through the kitchen door. She was pale and shaken, and we could tell right away something was wrong – bad wrong.

“Mr. C. (the construction worker) has been in a wreck,” she said. I guess she told us kids because – well, because they lived right next door, and I guess she needed someone to talk to. “Mr. S. (the old cigar smoking fellow) – is dead. The teenager got hurt, too. He was driving . . .”

And so the story came out – how they were coming home that evening from a job in Mr. C’s old pickup truck, the teenager driving (he was old enough) and Mr. S. riding in back with the shovels and equipment. Apparently the truck hit something or someone hit them, and a wheelbarrow hit Mr. S., breaking his neck and killing him instantly. Mr. C. had a hole in his leg – “big enough to put your fist through”, according to my mom. He had been rushed to a hospital. The teenager was “fine”, but pretty badly bumped and bruised. This had all happened a long way from our home and theirs – a long night’s drive away – and Mr. C. was in a small hick town hospital.

“I’m going to leave you two boys here,” she said. “Mrs. C. needs me.” Shaken, my brother and I could only nod our heads and agree. Mr. S. dead? Mr. S. dead?? That thought rocked my socks off. I had only played with him (or around him) the day before. And I liked the old man. While he didn’t put up with any of us kid’s nonsense, you knew – just knew – he was fond of us all the same. And that fondness was returned – in our own way. Just as he would thump our heads for ‘bothering’ him (and then let us go) – you could tell that if you didn’t ‘bother’ him, he would get sad. Mr. C’s being injured didn’t bother me as much at the time – I had been hurt before, and was convinced that the doctors could fix anything. And my friend, the teenager – well, I’d started having mixed feelings about him after the things he had done. But my best friend – the son of Mr. C – I almost panicked about him. I knew he had to be really upset.

Every day after that when we’d get home, my mom would fill us in. I don’t know whether it was because we asked, or if she just knew we were concerned. My best friend would still come out to play – but the family was subdued, as were our playtimes.

Three days later – on Halloween night – came the news.

“Mr. C. is dead,” my mom said as we prepared our Halloween costumes. “When you go out trick-or-treating with them tonight, don’t tell them. The kids don’t know yet, and we don’t want them to know. We want them to enjoy tonight without knowing their father is dead. Okay?”

And thus began the worst Halloween I can ever remember.

It had been a week of shocks. A month of shocks. First going to Germany – and soon. Then Mr. S. – our precious friend! – dead. The wreck. And now this. On Halloween.

I think my brother and I must have been in shock – shock after shock hitting us. But Halloween was upon us, and it was evening. All around us the ‘hood was coming to life – little kids wandering around, parents here and there – and us. I felt like someone had punched me; like a zombie, mindless. My thoughts were only about four things: Mr. S. being dead, and Mr. C. now dead – and my best friend – and this terrible secret we were suddenly burdened with keeping.

I remember us going out into the front yard. It was already dark. We waited awhile, then my best friend and his big brother, the teenager, came over. The teenager was the one who was going to take us on our rounds. Odd, now that I think of it, here, now, writing this. My mom had always accompanied us before on our Halloween rounds. This was the first time ever that she didn’t. Looking back, I can think of only one thing: she’d gone next door to Mrs. C’s house to comfort the poor wretched woman, and perhaps take care of the trick-or-treaters coming to Mrs. C’s door. After all – I imagine Mrs. C. was in no condition to do that herself. It would have been just too much, too tragic – to have to see a bunch of happy kids staring at her, some in death costumes – when her husband had just died – and her with no job, no income, probably no savings or life insurance – and four hungry mouths to feed.

We left the yard, the teenager being kind of quiet and curt with us – he seemed almost distracted. We had not even crossed the other next door neighbor’s yard when we saw the thing – something which still sticks out in my mind to this day, as graphic as if I had it sitting in front of me. I even gave it a name.

Flat cat. That is the name I gave it. For there, in the neighbor’s driveway, was a kitten, almost fully grown – smashed flat as a pancake by a car. It was laying on its back, and the only thing that stuck out were its eyes – huge and bulging, staring up at the night sky. I suppose at any other time it might have been comical, but on this night – Halloween night – with my best friend’s father suddenly dead – it was a horror.

Things get fuzzy from here.

I don’t know who said it, when it was said – and I’m almost certain I’m the one who said it – but somehow it came out.

“Your daddy’s dead.”

“I know,” the teenager said, his eyes rising to the midnight horizon. It was if he had suddenly forgotten we were there. I could feel my best friend flinch next to me.

“No he’s not! He’s not dead!” My best friend’s protests cut me to the quick.

I don’t recall exactly what happened next. I can only remember turmoil. When I was talking to a shrink about this (she laughed at the picture I drew of the flat cat, thinking it was funny – and really angering me) – all I could say is that I remember people running around. But it was Halloween, which would make sense. But in my heart I think what happened was this:

My best friend ran to his house, crying.

The teenager watched him go, looking real sad, but took us on our rounds to collect candy anyway. I don’t remember being happy, not happy at all. All I could feel was a deep upset and a sadness which wouldn’t go away. If I had to put it into words, it was the sensation of wanting to rip one’s heart out, to somehow go back in time – but as a child I hadn’t the words nor the concepts, only the feeling that lay within.

When we got home we told my mom: we spilled the beans. My mom was not happy about that, but I don’t think she did anything to us except tell us that we should of kept it to ourselves.

It was not a happy night.

We went to the funeral. I recall being dressed in my Sunday best. I could not understand why Mr. C. had died – it had only been a leg wound. How could a leg wound kill anyone? I didn’t understand; didn’t want to understand, but I wanted to know. Why was my best friend’s father – a man who I really had liked – dead? (And I loved Mr. S. I almost hate to say it, but I loved that grumpy old man.) She explained it thus:

“He got a blood clot and it killed him. The hospital he was in wouldn’t treat it. He didn’t have any insurance to pay . . .”

I don’t know why, but there and then I hated the insurance company – without even really knowing what such a thing was – only that they could have saved Mr. C. – but because he didn’t have enough money, they let him die. I was angry at them, but too confused to express my anger. How could they let him die?, I remember wondering over and over again. How could they do that? To this day I feel anger about that, and don’t have much more love for insurance companies than I did at that moment.

The funeral was like any Southern funeral. There was a nice church – we sat in back – and there were lots and lots of flowers. We never saw Mr. S. again. I guess no one went to his funeral, or (more than likely) – he was given a military funeral somewhere else and we didn’t go. I was sad – but I couldn’t cry. I just couldn’t. I remember feeling really guilty about that, and somewhere during the preaching in the church, I managed to force one tear. One single tear for the men who had died, a father I had known, and one of few grownups I knew and liked. Nothing more.

I’ve never been able to cry much since, except for one time, and that would come a few years later. I feel grief, but cannot cry. I don’t know why that is. I’ve been told that it’s a bad thing, but I think it’s just the way society views us men; the way I was raised. Big boys don’t cry, and men – never. It’s just “the rules”. And even many women, who in today’s society say that men should be “more sensitive” profess that the sight of a man crying bothers them, disturbs them, and makes them think less of the man.

I remember us going down to the passport building at the local fort to get our passport photos made. I remember that small building well; could even take you out there and show you where it is (or was). A squat wood planked building set high on blocks to thwart the termites, the white paint a dozen or more coats thick; four by eight paned windows, their panes like dots on dice – all the buildings were like that – their dull monotony even worse than blades of grass – and having to sit on my momma’s lap while the photo was taken. I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t have my “own” passport, but they said I was too young. My mom still has that passport – I’ve seen the photo since then. Black and white it shows a smiling young woman and a somewhat doubtful blond headed boy. She is looking at the camera; I’m looking slightly to the edge, because I was watching the photographer, and not the lens. I’ve always been that way: unable to directly meet people’s eyes without feeling disturbed, and unwilling to look into a camera lens. That’s caused problems in the past (people think I’m lying) – but it goes back to my past and psychology. You didn’t look my parents in the eyes when you were answering them. To do so was to make them angry – they saw it as a challenge. So I don’t like doing that unless I am challenging a person. Otherwise I’m taking in the details – the things around me. I’m very detail orientated like that, which I guess is part of the reason I remember all the little details of things (like that we were facing WEST in the room; the building’s door faced SOUTH, you walked to the RIGHT to sit in the chair, the floors were green linoleum, there was a clock on the wall with a black edged frame and a bubble glass front, the chair was a green or gray metal, the pads on it green vinyl, the windows wood framed, white painted, with four rows of panes across, four rows up, double hung; there was an office in the building facing the room you came in; there was glass in front of the office, and a chipped brown board under the window to rest your arms while you talked to the person inside, the door to the office was to the LEFT as you faced it . . . little things like that.)

We got our shots about the same time. I remember the pediatric clinic well: faded and chipped children’s pictures painted on the walls, the same type of hard framed metal chairs lining the middle; wooden benches like church pews along the walls. There were always people smoking – looking bored, reading newspapers, flipping through well worn and oft times ripped magazines. My brother – crying and wailing before they even came to get him; me sitting there watching the other little kids, my mom beside me, her black purse pressed against my side . . . . a yellow manila folder in her hand. Watching in fascination as the doctor stuck needles in my arms; how sore it made my arms for a few days afterward.

We left the hood a few weeks later. I have a ‘snapshot memory’ of us packing – my mom showing us how to pack glasses (“stuff them full of paper, then wrap them in paper. If you don’t stuff them with paper, they’ll break.”) Most of our stuff was going into “storage”, where the Army would keep it for the years we were gone. When we came back, most of it was missing, especially my toys. Those old G.I. Joes would’ve been worth a fortune by now. And my mom’s Corningware – something she still gets angry about ‘losing’ to this day. I guess storage isn’t as well guarded as we’d been told, despite being an “Army” institution.

And then, boarding the big jet plane in Charleston – we were “outta here” – away from the States – and everything I knew.

Life as I knew it would never be the same.


Warning:  This Story may contain ‘triggers’ for child abuse / molestation survivors.
Be Safe.


Backfire

It was shortly after “he” had betrayed me, telling the whole ‘hood (or at least all the teenagers and my closest friends) that I “sucked cock”, “liked sucking cock” and would suck off anyone (which I wouldn’t – I had to love them or at least like them first). I don’t know what was wrong with me – I can feel the child’s rage that was growing within me; a simmering subconscious anger, a smoldering burn. In retrospect I can understand the source of this sea of anger, but at the time I did not know what to do with it, where it had come from. Like a rogue wave which hints of a storm over the horizon, I would feel that wave of anger wash over me, flushing my face, tightening my child’s fists, filling me with electric tension. It was a strange anger because it was not “anger” so much as a hidden rage – a raging inside I could not ‘feel’, but it was there. I knew it was there – constantly, an ever-present demon – and it was a rage at HIM. For telling, for “outing” me – making me feel ashamed. For there being a bit of truth in his words: I would suck dick; I loved giving pleasure, and feeling pleasure. I especially loved that feeling of ‘control’ it gave me over him – ‘controlling’ by controlling the pleasure I gave to him. It was the only sense of control I knew, come to think about it – awesome as a little kid – but entirely wrong, and I knew that, too. I could not put my finger on the causes of all these mixed emotions, or else as a child I would of tried to solve it. I was used to solving things on my own. But being of a calm demeanor and a normally pleasant attitude, I would sometimes stand frozen in a state of anger and rage, wondering what was bothering me. Perhaps that is what led me to do what I did.

One autumn day, not long after that betrayal, I was standing by the side of the house, along the outside wall of the laundry room which abutted the open carport. I don’t know if it was premeditated – but it there was a pencil in my hand – one of those big fat children’s pencils with the thick lead. This is one of the areas where my brain goes faulty – I must of went into the house, gotten the pencil, planning this thing – and yet I have no memory of that. All I know – all I can remember – is that suddenly I was standing there next to the house, staring at the redwood siding.

An electric meter was mounted there, a round glass blister that gleamed in the sun. I can see this fairly well – the events after I got the pencil seemed to be etched into my mind. The little wheel was turning, the round eyes of the dial staring out at me. And going up to the meter, I began to write the same word, over and over again all around the meter.

I wrote it large and small, pressing the pencil into the soft grain of the siding. Why I wrote it – well I can only suspect. Perhaps it was the reason for my anger, the source of my anger: what the word meant to me. After all, if you’ve read my stories, you know what was happening to me.

“FUCK.” I wrote. “FUCK” and “FUCK” again. I could feel my anger and rage against the teenager burning in me; flowing out through those words. “FUCK” (with a silent exclamation point behind each one). Over and over again I wrote it. I can see it now – the words tilted at angles, the letters running across the grain. The redwood siding was hard to write on – the letters didn’t show up good, and the grain kept throwing my pencil off, making my writing jagged and spiky. I wrote ‘fuck’ a dozen times, maybe more, retracing the letters, pressing hard. It was hard writing on that wood. And all the while the white hot anger burned, with me not knowing why.

Later that afternoon – perhaps it was the next day – my mother and father came bursting into my bedroom.

“Did you write on the wall?” they demanded. “Did you write those nasty words?”

I felt a cold fear.

“No,” I lied. “What words?”

They stood staring at me for a long moment, then jerking me up by one arm, they trotted me outside.

“That!” my mom hissed, her voice angry and bitter. “Those words? Do you see them?”

I looked at the wall, trying to bring it into focus. I didn’t want to see those words I wrote. Finally I lied again.

“No,” I said. “HE wrote them.” ‘He’ was the teenager. He was the one who had taught us not only the meaning of the word, but had been performing it on us, with us sometimes – and having us (the other little kids of the neighborhood) do the same thing to each other.

My parents looked at me sternly, doubtful, angry, and highly suspicious. Seeing it now, in my own mind, I don’t blame them. The words were scrawled in a childish scrawl, with none of the finesse’ a teenager might give them. They led me back to my room.

“You stay here,” they commanded, leaving the room.

I sat there motionless for what seemed hours, though I’m sure it didn’t take that long. Of course I know there is no way to for me to know exactly what transpired, but being a parent myself, I can suspect. My parents probably went over to the neighbor’s house, where the teenager lived, and asked him about it. They probably went out and looked at the words. They may even had the teenager write the word, and compare what was on the wall against his own handwriting. At any rate they came back into my bedroom later, their minds made up, conviction held.

“Did you write those words on the wall, Michael?” I remember them asking me. Writhing with misery, I denied it again.

They kept on pressuring me. I kept on denying it. Finally they either broke me down, or decided that they had had enough.

“We know you wrote those words on the wall,” they firmly declared. “And you are going to remove them.”

I don’t recall much of what happened after that, so I think the beating came first. A good first rate pounding – not just for writing those words, but knowing them at all. I reckon they wanted to beat the knowledge out of me – and I doubt they knew how much I knew about the function of the word: fuck. Not as in just cussing but having sex. Nor did they know about that thing: us fucking each other all the time.

But I do remember in the end standing at that wall, my backside hurting – hurting all over, from thigh to shoulder – scrubbing at those words with an eraser – but the words wouldn’t come off. I’d bore down too hard, sinking the end of the pencil into the redwood siding. Try as I might, I kept seeing those words. There’s almost something symbolic in that thing: those words were burned into my soul, like those dark nights we’d kept silent about; like those days we kept silent – like those times we’d come in limping and go to the bathroom, cleaning ourself off. I kept on scrubbing at those words until late in the evening, until my hands were sore and blistered and I finally gave up. No matter what I could do, nothing would erase them; like the effects of the molestation, humiliation and rejection, they were there to stay. In a sense I was being punished – abused – for having given in; for having been molested – so often a tale told by childhood abuse survivors.

And in my heart a fear and an anger began to blossom. In mind’s eye I saw the gun.

What would the teenager do.


Swimming Lessons 2
(Or Why You Don’t Piss Off An Old Wet Hen)

I had my first real “pool” epiphany about two or three months after I’d begun to learn to swim, courtesy of the old Sargent at the military indoor swimming pool. It was a hot Georgia summer – and trust me, summer in Georgia can get really HOT. It’s not like that nice dry heat they have out west; here it’s more of a steam bath, a sauna – a “just pop me in the pot and boil me ’till I’m done” type of heat. Maybe it’s the pines, or all the lush vegetation – you can literally see the humidity in the air come June, and it lingers like a fog until September or so. Cut it with a knife? Heck, you can eat it with a spoon.

Back in the “old days” – or at least the days of the ‘hood, when we were poor – air-conditioning was a thing of dreams. WE had one – at my mid-western mom’s insistence – which put us about a half-leg up the other envied folks in the neighborhood – the people with the brick sided house. But of course it was one of those huge old monster window units – a really big boxy thing that intruded its noisy nose into our kitchen, breathing out cool wafts of air. It made so much noise that dinner conversations were more of a shouting match than a conversation – but we didn’t mind. At least it kept the kitchen and dining area cool.

But this is about the pool. No, not that one – the indoor one, where we learned to swim. It was about another one – one that was famous for over sixty miles around – because it was huge, outdoors, and spring fed with a sandy bottom.

No, it wasn’t a lake. It was a place called “Misty Waters” – because the water had a sort of whitish look from all the sand upwelling from the springs – and it had concrete block sides, and seemed to go on forever. There were deep ends, shallow ends, it wandered around for what seemed well over an acre – and because this was “in the day”, in the Deep South, blacks were not allowed in. Not that I cared; I would boycott such a pool now, or scurry around the side and help whoever wanted to get in over the fence and wall – but back then segregation was “normal”, and I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Doesn’t really even matter considering where this story is headed. The time? About 1968 or 1969 or so – yeah, deep into the civil rights movement, but this is Georgia we’re talking about – a state that, while ‘comfortable’ with working alongside blacks, couldn’t accept blacks into its recreational facilities.  Come to think about it – I can’t remember any black kids in school, either, though I’m sure they were there. They were probably segregated among the classes, since law wouldn’t allow them to segregate the school.  Oddly enough to us kids the color of your skin didn’t matter – it was how you played that counted.  How smiling and friendly you are.

Anyway, this place, this “Misty Waters” – it was the place to go during the summer, not that we went there very often. After all, it cost money to get in – and when you have a fist full of kids and not many dollars – money becomes an issue real quick.

We’d pack up – us and the family across the street – their mother and three boys, plus MY mom and us two boys – and head out to this huge ‘swimming’ pool. I remember they had a TRIPLE high dive, a couple ‘regular’ dives – and that endless sandy bottom. And the water! So cool – almost cold after driving through the summer heat, all us kids suffering like dogs in the back of the old car – panting and complaining (and occasionally getting a few licks from the eternal wooden spoon my momma carried like an accessory – like a part of her arm). It seemed we had to drive forever to get there, though in retrospect I know now it was only about twenty or so miles over country roads – and when we’d get there! Us kids couldn’t wait to get through the line, get in that pool – and escape our mothers.

Like I said, I only remember going there maybe two or three times (times were hard for us back then – in more ways than one – and even harder for my brother and I, seeing we were stuck at home with our mother – our slightly insane mother who had a penchant for violence and terror when the doors were closed). But this one time really sticks out in my mind. It was when I learned that you don’t piss mom off, not in a pool. And you definitely don’t interrupt her when she is in the middle of a conversation with her friend.

This particular day – sunny, hot, white puffed clouds drifting in the sky like malformed marshmallows – I’d been swimming around for a while. I can remember how good it felt – that cool, cool water, the sand shifting beneath my feet – taking a few daring leaps off the high dive (which was always crowded with kids and redneck athletes out to impress ‘their women’). But I’d gotten bored, and had lost track of my friends in the rambling pool – it wasn’t square, but instead was built like a confused set of building blocks, rectangles and squares all interconnected – and it was huge. Finally I spot my mom in the shallow end talking to her friend, the woman across the street.

I push my way through the water – so clear and blue, and yet with that slightly whitish tint from the fine particles of sand – until I come up behind her. She’s busy talking; the waters right up to the top of her butt – she’s not a tall woman – and right about collarbone level to me.

“Mom! Play with me!” I say.

Wave of the hand behind the butt, she indicated I should go away.

“Please, mom! Come play with me!”

The hand waves more insistently; she continues talking. I get up closer to her. She’s got on one of those one-piece bathing suits, that much I remember. The woman she is talking to – my ‘second mom’ is laughing, talking back.

“MOM! Come on! Play!” Okay, now I’m being a little bit more stupid, a bit more daring, and a lot more dumb. I should’ve known better than to mess with this woman – my mom – especially here, while she is having such a good time – and leaving us kids alone – and there IS a huge pool to swim in – why am I doing this? I don’t know, I’m just bored. And like I said: being stupid. REAL stupid.

No more hand waving. Mom spins in the water, her face going in a flash from laughing and talking to pure rage.

Play with you? PLAY with you? Okay. I’ll play with you!”

Before I can back away – and trust me, knowing that look I’m trying to back away! – she snatches me up. Faster than you can say “fish” she’s got me by the ankles, and I hear – sort of through the water as she lifts me up – “play!”

And she starts spinning me around – around and around in the water – holding me by my ankles. And it’s NO fun at ALL, not this type of playing! Like I said: the water was hip deep on her; holding me by the ankles, I’m in from stomach to the top of my head – and she’s swirling me through the water like a turd in the toilet – and I can’t get any air! I’m twisting, turning – trying my darnedest to snatch a breath – trying to scream for her to stop, she’s drowning me – can’t see anything but blue water and flashes of sky – and around and around we go.

I’d just started to really begin drowning – choking in big lung fulls of mixed water and foam – trying to kick myself free from those nails driving into my ankles – it’s no use, she’s got a good hold on me – and I can hear the occasional “play!” – when her friend reaches forward and stops her.

Good thing she did, or else I think I wouldn’t be here right now, and my momma’d be in jail for murder.

When she let me go – I back off, crying and choking and sputtering – going from “lets play” to “run away!” in an instant – terrified, out of breath, and staring at my mom as I keep backpedaling away, not stopping for anything – not the other kids in the pool, not even to finish catching my breath. I know she scared me BAD that time – not as bad as in the story “Kissing the Thin Man” – but bad enough. I’ve learned my lesson – swimming lesson number two.

Don’t interrupt momma while she’s talking. And don’t EVER get near her in a pool.

Oddly enough, though – I was never afraid of the water – only afraid of her – and I never lost my love for swimming – though I think I did lose some of my love for her.  I know I learned another level of terror that day . . . one involved with drowning . . .

It wasn’t the first time she’d scared me like that, and it wouldn’t be the last, but it was the last time I ever bothered her while we were in the pool.

No More Hugs


No More Hugs

Harlow's Monkeys

When I was seven years old I did something for reasons I can only guess at, and about which I harbor certain regrets – but in some ways don’t regret at all. It is hard to explain.


I remember the day, the time, this scattering of moments with crystal clear clarity. I can clearly see the bedroom, lit by the overhead light; I can feel myself in the bed, the covers pulled halfway to my chest; see their rumpled billows embracing me. I can even orientate myself; my head is to the north, my feet toward the south; the doorway is to my left and down, and the hall light is on. It is bedtime.

My dad comes in. Despite his cruel ways, his hidden sadism, he is smiling, almost laughing as he bee-bops through the doorway and across the linoleum tile floor. He was always fond and affectionate when it came time to put us to bed – though he has a rude way of awakening us – coming in in the morning, jumping on the bed and roughly tickling us, and sometimes even worse – grabbing us by one heel and snatching us up and dangling us upside down. That’s the way he used to beat us sometimes – holding us up with one hand by one foot, and lashing as hard as he could with a thick leather belt with the other. I don’t remember those times real well, but my brother recently told me, triggering flickers of memory and pain; of squirming like a tortured frog within his grasp. I guess I am fortunate I cannot remember those times as well as my brother, for my brother has told me he could hear me scream and scream and scream. To me they are just blackness; a time buried and lost in my memory, or within the memory of my inner child.

He comes to my bed; places a knee on the bed. I feel uneasy, uncomfortable. I don’t know why – just a general uneasiness. He bends over, scooping my thin shoulders – broad for a child, but thin as a kid – in his arms. The warmth of his closeness, the feel of his closeness, his bristled chin scraping my face. He hugs me tightly, goes to kiss me – a parent’s kiss, nothing more. And when he releases me I tell him.

“Dad? I don’t want you to hug me anymore.” I feel odd telling him him this, but my uneasiness is forcing me. I don’t know why I am uneasy; just that it’s there, the feeling of some undefinable something wrong.

“What?” he asks kindly, his face a few inches from mine.

“I don’t want you to hug me anymore,” I say – a bit more forcefully, a bit more sure. “I’m a big boy. I don’t want hugs.”

He leans back and looks at me, confusion clear upon his face.

“Why – okay,” he says, taking his knee from the bed and rising. His face is clouded, then clears. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” I say. My uneasiness is leaving, and yet I am troubled – there is a deep churning I cannot describe, even now. A dark thing within me. A bothersome feeling I cannot pin down.

“Well. Okay.” His face is now unreadable, a slate hiding his emotions. He goes to the door, pauses with his hand on the light switch.

“Good night,” he says, flicking off the switch. The room plunges into darkness. I can see him, a dark featureless shadow framed in the doorway, silhouetted by the hall light.

“Good night, dad,” I say, turning over as is my wont, towards the crevice between the bed and the wall. That’s how I often slept – my nose stuck in that crevice, breathing in the cool air from beneath the bed.

Over the years I have replayed that scene in my mind, wondering. My mom was devoid of physical affection – I don’t remember her ever hugging us. During my childhood and teenage years, I don’t remember them ever saying they loved us, except as a tool, such as “We are doing this (a punishment) because we love you.” That was the only time love was ever mentioned – as a reason for a punishment. Why would I suddenly decide to put an end to the only source of parental affection available to me? Why did I do that – and yet seek an even more intimate form of affection from my peers and the teenager next door?

I suspect I know why. I guess I write this as a warning something to look for in your child, though I cannot be sure this was the reason, nor do I wish to raise undue suspicions. But I think – and this is just a thought – that my uneasiness arose from what was happening between the teenager and I. That I was afraid my dad would go further, as the teenager did. That that kiss would turn into something else; something more adult and demanding. The press of his body against mine – I guess it subconsciously reminded me of something, what was happening to me two or three times a week during the summer; a little less during the school year.

My brother and I both discussed this in a sidelong sort of fashion. We never admit the sexual abuse that happened. But we both agree: dad never touched us “like that”. He never did anything sexual to or towards us. He never (to the best of our faulty recollections) – touched us inappropriately. There was only one time he ‘touched’ me in a way that was bad, but that was for a medical procedure, and if it hadn’t been for the sexual abuse by the teenager, it wouldn’t still stick out in my mind. I’ll write about that sometime later.

The majority of my ‘selves’ regret that day, my decision – but the little child inside still doesn’t. I don’t know why. To this day I can feel his firm resolution on the issue. (In my mind I can see him shaking his head “no”, still stubbornly refusing to change his mind.) Strange. This is one of the problems with my kind of madness. Having these ‘beings’ within you, some fighting other parts of your mind.

But I think – and this is the warning, the admonition – that when a small child suddenly, out of the blue, refuses or no longer wants a parent’s affection – when it suddenly becomes uncomfortable to the child, makes them uneasy – it may indicate . . . something.

Just a thought. Perhaps a warning,. I don’t know. Like I said: I’m still not sure why I felt so uneasy about my dad hugging me anymore – but I have my suspicions.

And sometimes suspicions are grounded in fact.


Fighting Fire With Fire

When I was about, oh, I guess eight or nine or so, my older brother got into trouble for playing with matches, as kids sometimes do.

My dad had me and him sit down at the dining room table. Producing a box of matches, my dad told my brother:

“I’ll teach YOU to play with matches!”

And with that he pulled out a match, lit it, and pinned my brother’s arm to the table. Then he took that lit match and laid in on my brother’s arm, holding it there until it was burning my dad’s fingers. Instead of withdrawing it, my dad just let it go, holding my screaming brother’s down until the match went out.

Then, looking at me, he said:

“That’s what YOU’LL get if I catch YOU playing with matches.”

I would say “The End” here, except it isn’t.

My brother, in his early 50’s now, still has that scar on his hand. When we talk about those ‘bad’ thing in our past, he always brings it up, what my dad did to him.

And he hates my dad with a passion for doing that.

At the time I was awestruck that my dad would do this. I can’t forget watching it; the match burning, the skin reddening, blistering, blackening. And my brother unable to move or escape.

It was, I guess, symbolic of our childhood.

Scars which burn for a lifetime.

And I don’t love my dad. And I still played with matches.

But much, much more carefully, doing it in secret, outside.

(PS: It wasn’t the last time my dad burnt him with matches. But that’s for another story, another time. And I still shudder, remembering.)


Back to the ‘Hood        

 

If you’ve been following this blog at all, you know we left “the Hood” to do a year’s stint in North Carolina – yanking me from one culture and dropping me in another.  And even there we were yanked around.  My dad did something which removed us from ‘civilian culture’ – a nice newish brick house on the end of a cul-de-sac – to the rough and tumble world of enlisted housing (in apartments, no less – my first experience with them as well!)

As we’ve determined, these moves (coupled with the physical, mental, emotional, and social abuse) contributed towards the fracturing of my “child’s personality”.  It seems for each ‘place’ – the longer ‘we’ stayed, the more apt I was to build a ‘person’ to handle that place, those circumstances, and a whole bunch of other things.  This is a continuation of that tale . . . Tales from the Hood, I reckon I oughta call them . . .

We left Fort Bragg, North Carolina, when I was ten years old, going back to our home in the ‘hood.  Arriving back in the ‘hood was like slipping on a well worn glove – we fitted in seamlessly, as though we’d never been away. Immediately the old patterns re-emerged, the shirts came off, the shoes slipped to the side, and everything was as it had been before — rough, unpaved, and set in the sandy hills of a backwards backwoods Southern neighborhood. During the first two weeks in the ‘hood my best friend and I fought – an agreed upon fight, just to see who could beat up who. I won, maintaining the status quo, and we both walked away – arm in arm, grinning at our injuries, friends despite our battle. Odd how that always went with my best friend and I. No matter how bad our fights were, we always made right back up immediately.

Among the changes when we came back was my father’s horror at the treehouse we’d built, so high in that mighty pine. Declaring it “too dangerous” for boys to climb (despite the fact we’d been using it for years), he went up there and tore it down while all of us kids gathered to watch in despair. We’d worked so hard to build the thing, taking such great risks getting the lumber up there – and he disassembled it in one afternoon. That was my dad – always destroying what us kids had built, whether it be a playhouse, a fort, or our own self-esteem – then walking away to leave us, sometimes for years at a time. He never helped us, not that I recall, except for me, one time,in a fight I was losing. Usually he was caught between ignoring us or beating us; one or the other, and we always at odds with ourselves when he was gone, because he would be leaving us with our sometimes cruel, psychotic and always strange mother.  At least when he was there her anger at men — and her rage at life in general — would be directed at him, not taken out on us quite so often.

Other things, too, had changed. The teenager, who hadused and betrayed me, was pretty much leaving us younger boys alone. I guess we were getting too old for him, or perhaps he’d grown to have other interests – he hung around his teenage friends more, and they’d often go off driving. Not that that stopped us kids from doing what he’d taught us; we had learned more than we should of, that I know. But for me it was something I only did with my peers, and no longer with someone older. There were exceptions, of course – I know sometimes the teenager would have my friends do the things he’d taught us to him.  I know because they would sometimes come to do them with me, afterwards.  But after the way he had shamed and betrayed me, I never joined in again. I was afraid he’d just laugh at me, or hurt me in the way he had. That shame and sense of being used was too strong in me, and is something I still have within, albeit it is confined to the ‘inner child’ of mine, a much too real part of my internal personalities. Since I wasn’t having sex with him anymore (or maybe I was, I just don’t remember: I know I would have if he asked), I can’t be certain how much he was still preying on my friends, I just know that he sometimes still did.  And I know he was targeting the younger kids of the ‘hood, ones that had been my age when he’d started in on me. To this day I think he had a preference for kids between the ages of five and nine; he was always trying to get us to initiate those younger kids into sex, and then bring them to him. And yes, I am ashamed to say that I went along with his plan, but the kid I initiated never had sex with him. He wasn’t that in to it, and I soon quit my behaviors, realizing that he didn’t much care for it – and I’ve never been one to force someone into that, no matter how badly I may of wanted it. I don’t know why I was and am still that way, but I’m glad that I am. The only thing I can think of is that somewhere down the line, early in my childhood, I was forced to do those things against my will – but I can’t remember it.  There are dark spots in my mind and memory – and I’ve learned not to explore. Life can get bad that way sometimes, making your mind hole up and bury the things you’ve learned – when those things are too horrible to admit to yourself, or so bad it decides you shouldn’t know they happened. And from talking to my brother I’ve realized: there’s a lot of things I’ve “blocked out”, and in many cases it was (and is) for good reason.  What I do remember is the times I said “yes”, or begged for my abuser to molest me — a problem for me since it is a problem for my inner selves.  Some of them just can’t internalize that as rape; they see it as consenting, and therefore asked for — a shameful thing.  Oh well.  (That’s my standard statement for when I get hopelessly stuck on an issue: “oh well.”)

While I didn’t know it, this was to be my last year in the ‘hood as I knew it, and the year would end in many major changes, most of them disastrous, and affecting the entire life of almost everyone in the ‘hood. I would come back only one more time, half a decade later, to find that yes, nightmares do sometimes come true.