I don’t know if it was mother nature, or God, or those Ancient Aliens that the History Channels is always raving about, but whomever designed us sure did a pretty brilliant job at it. Be they environmental or existential, we are capable of handling some heavy burdens. That’s partially the reason why homo sapiens managed to be such a successful species in such a short, ecologically speaking, period of time. We have made homes in some of the most inhospitable places. We toil hour after ungodly hour, earning our daily bread in the most soul numbing of environments. We resist, and for the most part, contain the monster within.
But everything has it’s limits. No matter how mighty you might be, eventually, if enough stress gets piled on, your ability to cope with it falters. Like a mighty sea cliff, watching over an ocean of chaos. The waves come in, day in and day out, battering your rocky facade. Eventually the rock falters, pummeled into submission. It erodes into sand. And when the foundation goes, everything above it comes crashing down, to be swallowed up by the sea.
My breaking point came when I was about 18 years old. This also coincidentally happen to be the time I was most reassured of my self. As I grew out of my childhood, and entered my teenage years, I began to grow out of my shell. I made some really good friends in high school. Some whom I still can proudly call friends today. I had pushed past my shyness. I began to read more. I started to develop my love affair with music. I didn’t feel as intimidated to talk to a pretty girl. I mean I wasn’t Mr. Suave by any stretch of the imagination. But I could make them laugh; and surprisingly they were laughing with me, and not at me. This positive change in my life should have served as a glimmer of hope that things weren’t all bad. But I have always had a tendency to fret about the one dark cloud on an otherwise clear blue sky. I suffer from the half-glass empty syndrome. Although my social life had improved significantly, I couldn’t help but stay focused on the problems at home.
Three years earlier, my father had been a respiratory therapist, and my mom worked as a nurses aid in the psych ward of a prestigious private hospital in Manhattan. Together, they had managed to carve out a decent living for themselves. But when the vice of drugs has it’s grips on the head of the household, your financial situation is precarious at best. The money that should have been going to the rent and the bills went instead to his habits. This lead to my parents falling behind on the rent. Then the eventual eviction notices came.
My mother and I grew tired of all the uncertainty and the frantic arguments that it brought. We reached a point where we realized that something had to give. That came to the mutual decision to remove my father out of the picture. We forced him out. We turned our backs on him. The fight was not pretty. A ton of tears were shed that night. Feeling were irreparably hurt. My father, was left feeling betrayed. But I didn’t care. To me the monster was gone. This turned out to be the foolish notions of a short sighted 15 year old. I had no inclination of how coming to a decision like that would affect my father, what it would do to the rest of us. That was almost 20 years ago now. And I still find myself looking back to wonder if I did the right thing. I mean what real business did I have in convincing my mother to leave my dad. What possessed me to think that I could grasp the complexity of my parents relationship.
Now I was 18 years old, a defiant young man. My mom was stuck playing the role of the single mother. She did her damnedest to make ends meet and provide for her three very maladjusted kids. But this meant that she had to do a ton of double shifts at the hospital. She wasn’t around much. We found ourselves living in a cramped and dark basement apartment. We furnished the place with furniture from Rent A Center. My mother ended up paying $3000 dollars for $400 furniture. There were just two small windows in the whole place. One in each bedroom. The living room, the bathroom, the so called dinning area, and the kitchen had those flickering, florescent bulbs, that buzzed when you turned them on. Our new home was so dark, it felt to me like I was being buried alive. I despised every inch of that place. Looking back now, I realized what a spoil brat I must have been. As If I truly had any reason to have any notions of entitlement. My mom was not making a whole lot of money. My father got sick and went on disability. We couldn’t count on any child support. The poor woman had no financial backing from anyone. The fact that we had a roof over our heads, in a safe neighborhood, with a fridge stacked with all the baloney and bread we could stand, should have felt like god send to me. But I was too young and too stupid, and filled with way too many hormones to accept the realities of our new-found living arrangements.
Then there was that unresolved business with my father. I was dumb enough to believe that once I got my dad out of our place, that would be the end of it. I saw myself as the man of the house now. I pictured that life without my father would be one without strife and devoid of uncertainty. But like so many of my assumptions before, and since, I was horribly mistaken. My dad was still apart of our lives, whether I approved of it or not. My mother, perhaps feeling guilty about the way things ended, insisted that my siblings and I should have a relationship with him. That was easy for her to say. I had played an active part in his ouster, and my pops was a proud man. He was not very interested in mending fences with me. But to be honest, neither did I. Still my sister missed him very much. She was only 8 or 9 at the time, and she was his little princes. So he would drop in a few times a month to visit.
Every time the old man came over, he would find some passive aggressive way mock our current living conditions. It brought him a healthy level of satisfaction to rub it in my face. The look that he gave me after seeing the place for the first time said it all. “Well that’s what you wanted, right?” You wanted me out. Well you got it! Now look where you are at tough guy.” My father knew me well. He always said I was his mirror image. We shared the same sad eyes. We had the same lips. We walked the same, we carried ourselves in similar fashion; our chest’s sticking out like a pair of proud messenger pigeons. We both had a bit of an aggressive streak. He knew, without me having to say a word, that I hated the place. After all, he hated it. He used to tell me “The problem with you son is that you think you know it all. You might be a bit smart. I’ll give you that. But you don’t know shit about the real world. Don’t ever fool yourself into thinking differently”. I thought to myself, whatever old man. Why don’t you save that shit for someone who gives a damn. His mightier than thou shtick would eat me up alive. I wanted to take my fist and drive into his mouth until only my elbow was visible. The spite that had been festering in my heart about myself and life in general evolved into the purest kind of hate.
As time progresses a shift took place within me. It seems like everyone was clued in on it, except me. Personally, I just thought everyone was just full of shit, and if they didn’t get me then, “that was their problem.” All I needed was me, myself and I. My temper grew, and my patience diminished. I became belligerent with my mother. We constantly argued. I had full blown, all out, fist fights with my brother. I cut class every single day. I picked fights with my friends. I was not the most empathetic soul. It’s almost as if the act of rebelling against my father had somehow managed to transform me into the uglier side of his personality. I was all Mr Hyde, and no Dr. Jekyll. In fact the only difference between my father and I was that he had an excuse for being the way he was. He had his habit.
Then came that fateful dark day. The day I earned, what I playfully call my tiger stripes. A series of slashing scars that adorn my left forearm. My father came over to visit my little sister. Usually I am well aware of when my father was going to stop by. That way I could either step out and miss his visit or, put away anything that I did not want in his view. Unfortunately for everyone, this particular day I forgot that my dad was coming over. I was sleeping in the bedroom, and had left my box of Newport 100’s sitting in plain site, on top of the TV. My father walked into the room and found me laying on the bed. I heard someone calling my name. I awoke to see my dad standing in the bedroom. I sat up and greeting him, admittedly rather coldly. We exchanged small talk. He noticed of the pack of cigs. He asked me, rather inquisitively, whose cigarettes they were? I think he suspected that perhaps they belonged to some unknown boyfriend that he imagined my mother was seeing. In hindsight, I should have lied. I should have said, “Oh those belonged to one of my friends. They left it there last night when they came over to play video games.” My dad knew all my friends smoked, and he probably would have been OK with that answer. I’m sure he would not have totally bought it, but it was a plausible lie, and so it wasn’t an insult to his intelligence. However I didn’t say that. I just sat up from the bed, walked over to the box of cigarettes, grabbed them from the top of the TV, placed them in my pocket, looked him in the eyes and said, “There mine”. My father was taken aback a bit by my defiant tone. “Wait, what did you say?” He asked me again, as if what I had said came at him at such speeds that my words barely had time to be registered. “Yeah, they’re mine” I repeated, as I tried to make my way passed him. I felt his big hand grab a hold of my shoulder. I imagine he was going to say “Don’t walk away from me when I’m speaking to you, I am your father!”, or some variation of that line that all children hear from their parents at one point or another. But before he could finish saying whatever he was going to say, I turned around and shoved him as hard as I could. He stumbled backwards and fell on top of the bed. “Don’t fucking touch me!” I yelled. I meant it too.
I had just declared my independence. I was a man now. A bad ass through and through. For the last couple of years I went from a relatively mild manner, good natures kid, to a angry brooding young man, who was no longer going to take shit from anyone.Nobody was going to fuck with me, especially not my father.
I will give the old man credit. I had pictured that if I was ever pulled off such a stunt, the sheer ballsiness of the move would have froze him. He would be frozen in place by my badassery. But my father was not one to be scared off so easily. The look in his eyes said it all. He was about to beat the living shit out of me. Trust me, I though I had seen every face of rage that man processed in his arsenal, but the face he made as he got up from the bed that I had just pushed him on was a new one. I was convinced I was about to get the ass whopping of my life. Luckily I was a good actor. I knew that the only thing keeping him from strangling me, was that he thought I was ready for a fight. He lunged at me, spewing all manners of obscenities towards me, in two different languages. My muscles got tense and I was ready for the fight that was about to erupt. I was just praying I wouldn’t die in the process. He grabbed me again and I shoved him even harder a second time, sending him across the room. It was at this point my younger brother, Paul, came out of his room totally confused as too what was happening. My sister was on the sofa crying like little kids do when they are scared. I imagined it must have seen to her like she had a front row seat to a prize fight between Godzilla and King Kong. My brother imminently grabbed my father and did his best to hold him back. But my kid brother was over-matched. He 15 years old, 5’10 and weighed 160 pounds. My father outweighed him by almost 80 pounds. With my brother holding on to him for dear life, my father swung at me. His blow grazed my chest. I did the same and struck his shoulder.
Pushing was one thing, but I had now committed a cardinal sin. You were to never, ever, under any circumstances, raise your hand at your parents, When I was a kid, I often heard stories of bad little boys and girls that dared to strike their parents in anger, only to have God punish them by paralyzing their arm at the highest point of their would-be strike. That way everyone would know what the kid had tried to do. Shaming him or her for as long as they lived.
To say that my father’s anger increased in multitude is an understatement. He shoved my brother aside, ran past me, and headed out to the kitchen where he pulled out a kitchen knife from one of the drawers. He was huffing and puffing, but he had evil intent in his eyes. I crabbed my size 13 roller blade that was lying around. It was big and and made of some thick heavy plastic. It may not have sounded like a great first choice of a weapon, but swing that sucker with nothing but bad intentions, and I guarantee you it would have caused some damage. My father came at me. I braced myself for the knife to dig into my gut, but my brother once again lunged at my father and tackled him. I don’t recall what exactly had happened in that instant, perhaps my dad got scared that he could have hurt my brother, or the persistent whaling of my little sisters cries finally got his attention. But something tore that idea of stabbing me right out of him. My father got up got and cursed me out some more. However instead of coming at me with the knife, he returned to the kitchen and threw the knife in the sink. He still managed to continue exploring the many ways he could insult me, which I got to admit got rather rather creative. He walked up to me, pushed me as hard as he could which sent me flopping on top of the sofa, and stormed out of the apartment. The crisis had come to an end.
My relationship with my father basically ended on that day. My brother took my sister to her bedroom and tried to calm her nerves. The adrenaline that had been coursing through my body had run its course. My hands and legs shook uncontrollably. All I kept asking myself was, “why did I do that?”. Why did I placed my siblings in danger. Why did I instigate my father like that? What was I trying to prove and to whom? I had no answers. My mom called home from work once she got word about the confrontation. But I chose not to get on the line with her. I lacked any coherent words at the time. Later that evening when everyone was asleep, I went to the bathroom and grabbed one of those inexpensive Bic razors that they sell in bags. I broke the plastic casing and retrieved the cheap, thin, flexible, and yet surprisingly sharp blade. Sitting on the sofa that night, I slashed my left forearm dozens of times. I don’t know why I did it. I never had come close to doing anything remotely that extreme. It never had such a thought cross my mind. But that night, after my big blow up with my father, it felt like it was the only thing I could do. It felt as right as breathing.
Most of the cut were pretty superficial. They were quick slashes that barely seem to touch the skin, but blood still managed to surface. All in all, that night my arm was newly decorated with over 100 cuts. After I did it, I got even more depressed, since it dawned on me then, that I probably would seem down right certifiable to my friends and family. I poured alcohol on my fresh wounds and wrapped my arm up with some bandages. During the days that followed, my friend saw my arm and wondered out loud why my left forearm looked like Tony the Tiger. I told them that I was testing how tough I was and had cut myself. Some looked at me like I was the dumbest son of a bitch they had ever came across. Others did not believe I was capable of doing something that stupid. But I was stuck with the story. So to prove its validity, I did a demonstration right in front of a couple of them. This time however the cuts I made were deeper, and left permanent scars. I hit rock bottom. I alienating myself. I became an outcast. I hurt my loved ones, friends, and family alike. I hated myself and believed I did not deserve to be loved. I retreated into myself. I graduated high school, and disappeared all together from view. I remained in contact with just a few friends. Folks that, for one reason or another stuck by me. I wont mentioned who they are by name, but I’m sure they kinda have and idea who they are. And I will always, even though I may not show it, will be forever grateful for their friendship.
To Be Continued…
Next up: High Anxiety Part III or How Tom Almost Died Playing Tag with His 4 Legged Shadow.