I wanted him to die.
It’s a horrible thing to say. I know. But it’s true, and I’m not going to lie about it.
I wanted him to die.
I was ten years old and had been staying with my Grandma for the summer, my sister too; she was a bit younger.
Next to our Grandmother, we curled up. I was on one side, my sister on the other; she stroked our heads. My sister’s cheeks were washed with streaming tears; I couldn’t force any out.
“Ed was in an accident; his motorcycle crashed.”
He was drunk, I thought.
“They say he’s not going to make it, he is going to die.”
At least he died drunk, my thought continued. Now, my mom can get a nice boyfriend.
I may have been young, but I wasn’t stupid.
Far from it.
I remember all too well the drunken rages; the sharp, ceaseless lashes of the worn leather belt, the one that still had a rodeo buckle on it. Broken brooms. Wooden spoons. Pieces of metal. Fists coming in flurries. Boots in the back. Forced in the basement for weeks. Made to sit in a corner for thirty days straight. The singe of a hot cigarette on the skin. I remember the thrown knife that barely missed and stuck in the wall, reverberating in a mocking fashion, as if laughing at me.
I remember the strewn bottles of Bacardi, some clear, some brown. The Jack Daniels. I remember his favorite mixer: Diet Coke. (Really, Ed, Diet Coke?)
“Joseph, are you doing okay?” my Grandma asked.
“It hurts,” I lied. What else was I going to say: Yeah, Grandma, I’m doing fu*king fantastic! I couldn’t have wished this day to come sooner! Maybe now I won’t have to worry about spitting up blood, and being used as a d*mn punching bag every other night! All I want to do is get up and dance with glee; I want to party like its god-d*mn 1999! (It was 1984; there’s a good chance Prince’s hit song hadn’t come out yet, but you get the point.)
The man that lay dying in a hospital bed abused the youth out of me. I lived in complete fear; every day. There was always something for him to hate about a ten-year-old: I was lazy. I was ugly. I was a big-mouth. I was weak. I was nothing. And to prove it, that six-foot-two, thick knuckled, blue-collar, always-half-in-the-bag-ready-to-jump-in-another, man, took the pain of his life out on me. He was quite creative too, I’ll give him that.
A few days later.
“He’s going to live!” shouted my Grandmother.
Crap! I thought.
For the next year we nursed him back to health. All of us: kids included. We had to help him with everything. A hospital bed was moved into the house. We fed him, even holding his utensils and cleaning the dribble from his lips; his right arm was useless.
Dead, said the doctor.
They had to amputate it.
We put his clothes on him; bathed him, changed his soiled undergarments. That’s right: the man couldn’t use the bathroom. Eventually, we taught him how to walk again; to use the toilet, too.
“Joseph, make me a drink!”
That didn’t take long, I thought. But make it, I did. I knew the precise measurements. Half Bacardi, half Diet Coke. Four cubes of ice. “Don’t f*ck it up!” he always shouted.
I was on the floor; Ed was in the chair sleeping – scratch that – passed out. The drink was emptied. The glass on its side.
A horrible sound split the air; it wasn’t a cackle, and it wasn’t a shout, it was somewhere in between.
Ed’s eyes shot open, I turned at the least opportune moment. Inhaling deeply through his nasal passages, a baritone inhale sucked everything that clogged that nose of his; and collected in the back of his throat. With the force that only a camel can appreciate, that man spat whatever ungodly mess he had gathered and right at me.
His laughter was unending; tears sprang forth from his eyes as he pointed at me with the index finger on the hand attached to the one arm that he still had.
I got up to clean my face.
Why didn’t he die?
School was over. I was in trouble. I always was. I walked home slowly. I always did. Maybe he’ll be too drunk to notice that I’d come home.
Reaching slowly for the door handle, I let out a slow, uneven breath. Maybe he wasn’t home.
Looking over my shoulder, I saw it. Out in the street, his dirty, green pickup truck was parked just where it had been that morning.
The door handle was barely in my hand when the door flung open. A single hand grabbed me by the neck. Spinning in a world of terror, my mind was clear. I readied for the blows.
And they came: again, and again, and again.
On the floor I was slumped. I was eleven.
He sized me up as I lay there. “You aren’t going to school tomorrow!”
The bruises and cuts must have been a bit worse than normal. Usually I’m told to say I was playing football with some friends if anyone asks.
I’d been in the basement for about a week. I couldn’t come out of it. I had to eat there; I had to sleep there.
An electric cord hung from the ceiling. I could wrap it around my neck. I stared at the small, ground-level window. I could fit through it…if it weren’t for the bars over them that were anchored into the concrete.
I buried my face into the meat of my hands. I cried.
I hated life.
A knock came to the front door of the home.
“Sir, I’m Lieutenant so-and-so, this is my partner.”
Muffled words; some louder than others. Feet scuffled across the floor. The door to the basement opened.
“Joseph, get up here!”
In the kitchen I sat with two detectives. They asked questions. I said nothing. Ed hovered nearby.
“Would you feel better out in our car?” asked one of the detectives. I remember her being really pretty. Her partner, however, was a brute of a man; he seemed quite tense.
I nodded yes.
They put me in the back seat, where the criminals usually sat. It was dirty and smelled. The Plexiglas divider was scratched with the pitiful frustrations of society’s worst.
I was never more comfortable.
I was never happier.
Ed ran outside; he shouted something at me.
The detective jumped out of the car; three arms flew.
A loud crack; I could hear it through the window.
The detective stood over the one-armed man and willed him to get up. I could see it. He wanted Ed to rise so that he could knock him on his can again.
I couldn’t help it.
I would like to say the story ended happily here, but it didn’t. The following years, until my 18th birthday, I lived in a number of shelters, group homes, and foster homes. I went to three junior high, and seven high schools; I have no friends that I can name from those years; no family to speak of that I care to keep in my life. It’s not the life any child should have, but it was my life, and I embraced it. It was the closest thing to peace I had ever had.
Later I would learn that Ed tried to rape my sister.
He was drunk of course. She was fifteen, and he made her drink. She was passed out.
Now you see why I wanted him to die.
I learned that survival would become my father, and that knowledge would take the place of my mother.
To the young ones that find themselves in a story similar or worse than my own: set the bar high, and when your reach it, set it higher.
You are not alone.
You can make it.
The Sterling Novels: Book 1
The Sterling Novels: Book 1