“So, where’s Ma?” I asked.
“Who the fuck knows and who cares?” he lisped, bitterness in his voice and with his eyes maybe even a little teary. “She’s probably off picking up more of her fuckin’ nutty pills at the CVS.” That, of course, would mean valium.
By all accounts, Ma had been doing the best she could to bathe and feed him in spite of his belligerence while enduring his constant insistence that he’ll “fuckin’ show ‘em all” once he got back on his feet and on the job again. Of course, that would never happen.
“So, when are you getting the fuck out of the Army?” he asked, always one of his first questions whenever I came home.
“It’s the Air Force Dad, and I just reenlisted for another four years,” I said. Joining the military as a career wasn’t something I’d really planned, but I knew as the end of my first hitch was coming up that I had to do something since I had no other real plan or else I could still end up like him. Not an abusive bully, but for sure laboring at some minimum wage job at the Westinghouse plant in Readville or some other dead-end factory existence. Nothing wrong with making a living that way, but I wanted more than that for a life and more even more important was the idea of being back home and thus immersed back into the family circus was not only unthinkable but downright terrifying to me in many ways. No, I wasn’t about to do anything but keep moving forward at as great a speed and distance as I could and the Air Force was the way to do that.
Dad didn’t know it but my joining the Air Force was set in motion when I left home at just fifteen after a fight with him, and I ended up moving in with some of Diane’s friends who all lived in communal fashion in a triple decker in Jamaica Plain on a dead end road just off of Green Street, on Greenley Place, not far from the apartment we’d lived in where I experienced that First Communion beating.
It was about two in the morning when the fight happened and when we were living on Bradeen Street, a few streets down from Roslindale Square and just shy of the Jamaica Plain line near Forest Hills. I‘d woken up, startled, to the sounds of my mother screaming something at him from the kitchen. I got up from the couch where I slept most nights covered with a dirty sheet, and went into the kitchen and saw her standing by the refrigerator with a skimpy robe pulled tight around her middle, glaring at him. What was the bastard up to now? Before I could say anything he turned and screamed at me in that lisp, spitting “get back to fucking bed, you little prick, this doesn’t concern you!”
I don’t know what they were fighting about and didn’t really care, it just sounded like from her screaming he was hitting her so of course I clicked into “protect Ma” mode. Maybe it was about some new perversion that even she didn’t want to participate in, who knows, but either way something inside me snapped when he yelled at me like that and I knew in that instant that this would be the last time I was going to let him try to push me around. Reaching down and getting the courage from somewhere, everywhere, I erupted back, my voice trembling but louder than I’d ever heard it. “No, fuck you!” I couldn’t believe I was hearing my own voice.
Things seemed to move in slow motion as he lunged towards me, and with both hands shoved me in the chest harder than I expected and up against the refrigerator as he worked to pin me there with his left hand while trying to backhand me across the face with the other. I was in a full rage and blocked his arm at the wrist with ease, deflecting it away, and charged back towards him screaming “I hate you! You’re the prick!” as I shoved him back in the chest with both of my hands feeling both shocked and exhilarated, but also scared at the rush of adrenalin by what I’d just done.
His expression was more stunned than angry, and he let his arms go to his side as we stood there glaring at each other. All that was pent up inside me for so many years now fueled my anger and my strength and I kept coming at him, wrapping my hands around his neck, tight as I could. Frightened by the ferocity I felt, I flung him off to the side, again with surprising ease, his hip bouncing off the kitchen table as he almost lost his balance. He recovered his footing and rubbed his neck with his right hand, seeming surprised at the sudden counter attack and tried to come back at me as my mother jumped between us, hysterical, pushing him back out of the kitchen a little too easily it seemed towards the bedroom. By now some of my siblings were also up and in the hallway by the tiny kitchen screaming for us to stop.
I could see his attempts to get around her and back at me were half-hearted, and that he had that same look on his face he did the day that man punched him in the head through the car window as my mother continued to coax him back into the bedroom yelling at me to get out. I could also see by his expression and the way he wouldn’t look me in the face that he’d never have the nerve to raise a hand to me again, those days were over.
I had to get away. I ran to the dilapidated black lacquered dresser in the hallway between the living room and the other bedrooms and snatched what clothes I could, stuffed them into a brown paper bag, then bundled it up and ran out to his screams of “get the fuck back here” over my shoulder. I ran under the street lamps of Hyde Park Avenue for about ten minutes then slowed to a walk not stopping until I reached Cleary Square. No one came after me.
To be continued…