I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
The moment we connected is lost to time. You are born with a limited amount of space and as the years tick by, the sponge absorbs less and less. What does stick usually comes at a consequence. Maybe this is just something I have told myself over and over enough times for it to become true, but whenever I commit to learn something new, something old begins to fade. What I do recall is that we were the two worst behaved kids in class. Both from extremely damaged homes and both poor with good-hearted mothers with pain in their eyes.
We laughed at the same jokes and thought stealing, touching girls inappropriately, and breaking things were the entire point of going to school. Once, while the teacher walked out of the classroom, we both stood and took the opportunity to ravage through her desk. What two little kids could possibly have a need for was irrelevant. We got high off the girls whispering, “Oooh, I’m going to tell!”
And they did. And we got in trouble. After a quick slap to the face, I could see the disappointment in my mother’s eyes. Not so much that I had stolen, but that I was becoming what she always feared. Kids are not blind. They see everything even if they aren’t there to SEE it. We see the stress and worry in the shaky “good night” words from our moms. We feel the pain and we certainly see the struggle of our mothers desperately trying to keep it all together. But that afternoon, as tears welled up in both of our eyes – even at that age, I could see the fear in her eyes. While she was doing her best, her best wasn’t strong enough to prevent me from following in the footsteps of the broken men of my family.
Lee and I had formed a bond. Two thieves, we played together on the swing set and pushed kids down the metal curly slide. We stole basketballs from the girls and tossed them as far as we could just to make them cry and Lee punched kids regularly while I stood behind him laughing along as moral support. I read somewhere once that good kids act good when they are treated good, and bad kids act bad when they are neglected or treated badly. Maybe it was because we were left alone to fend for ourselves so often or because we emulated the abuse we witnessed at home, but whatever it was, it brought Lee and I together.
He lived in the next town over. We met because some metal-head burn-outs thought it would be funny to throw lit fireworks into the ventilation shafts of my elementary school. That was, until they burned it to the ground and I found myself having to wake up 45 minutes earlier so I could catch a bus to a school in the neighboring town while they set to rebuild. Once the new elementary school was erected, I no longer needed to hop on a bus and a year later, I found it difficult hanging out with my new best friend. We called each other on the phone and discussed our conquests in stealing, breaking things, and arcade games. We both lied about our high scores and argued who had the better local game room. Eventually, our mothers began arranging sleepovers and we usually alternated every other week at each other’s homes. I lived in a very modest two-story house and Lee lived in a two-story condo with his gorgeous German immigrant mother and sister who smoked weed all day. Whenever I stayed with him, we would go to the local swimming pool where we would bully smaller kids until we eventually got chased out by the older and bigger bullies. We would ride our BMX bikes to the local dirt hill where we would attempt to emulate the tricks of our heroes in the BMX Action! magazines we would steal from the local grocery store. We would finish up the evening usually by burning something in the street then playing ding-dong-ditch on his neighbors.
As the years progressed, we saw each other less and less. Mostly because it became a little more difficult with our mother’s schedules. The hour back and forth my mother would spend driving cut into her two jobs and school schedule, and his mom was usually out with one of her many new boyfriends. Plus, Lee began getting more and more rough as we hung out. He began taking his punches and kicks out on me when no one was around. He always wanted to act out wrestling moves he saw on television but trusting a little kid to safely employ a piledriver on another little kid would only result in a broke neck if given the right amount of time.
I went through some changes and discovered new music and began hanging out with a different set of damaged yet local kids who were noticeably less violent which was nice. The years passed and I acted out and hated my mother and kept stealing and breaking things and lighting things on fire until one day I didn’t. It took a while and with some completely unintentional therapy, I managed to make it out alive and smiling. It took decades to discover where my anger, animosity, and resentment began and I worked backwards with some kind of masochistic diligence writing about the lonely nights and abusive adults. Unfortunately, Lee never got that chance.
One night in a rage, Lee shot his stepfather in the back of his head and his mother three times in her face. He then shoved their bodies in the utility room, took their money and truck and bought pizza and beer for his friends. They came back and his friends unknowingly got drunk just feet from the bodies of Lee’s mother and step-father.
I have never understood when people tell me they are intimidated by the blank page. That the expectation of what to say or how to say it is overwhelming because I have spent decades mashing away the anger. I guess I was lucky enough to have found a way to make all of the abuse and neglect start to make sense. Slowly and surprisingly, I allowed myself to be as honest as I could bare and I committed to learn something new and I learned how to carry the anger of a child into the world of being a man. I learned that for all the opportunities, the career you choose, the person you marry – the most important thing you can learn is how to treat people well and that the injury you experienced as a child is no longer an excuse to carry hostility over as an adult.
Evolution is a word I use often because I am constantly reminding myself that I am not done. That I need to get further away from where I began. That I have had some wonderful people in my life who have looked past the ugly and given me a chance to become better. To evolve. To recognize the flecks of gold in my life and to allow myself to heal. Today, I kissed my mother and gave her a hug and said, “I love you.” And tonight, I can’t help but think about how lucky I am because when I was a young and confused kid, I found comfort in Lee and maybe it was proximity, our mother’s schedules, or something I just can’t identify that caused us to make two different turns in life. But I would like to think it had to do with allowing in something new… so the old could fade.