“The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there… and still on your feet.”
— Stephen King
Alright, getting back to the 1990s…
It was 1991 0r 1992 when my father had his heart attack. His boss unceremoniously fired him for that. Father tried to sue him, but I don’t think anything ever came of it.
A lifetime of bad eating habits, lack of exercise, and decades of smoking had finally caught up with him. Double bypass surgery followed. But my father didn’t give up smoking for another few years. And his eating habits largely remained the same. I remember one summer afternoon when, sitting in the back yard, he implored me to go to the store and get him a bag of potato chips. “I have such a taste for it,” he said.
Naturally, I gave in. I never could refuse my father, especially when he gave me that anguished look on his face. With “mother”, you never dared tell her no because of what she would do to you if you refused. (There were a couple of really nasty snow storms into which I was sent as a child to go fetch cigarettes from the corner convenience store for her, back before it became illegal to sell tobacco and alcohol to minors.) But with my father, he managed to get you to do things for him out of a misplaced sense of guilt: he came across so deprived, you couldn’t help but comply. And since he so seldom complained about his ailments that when he did, you knew it was bad, so you did what he wanted.
That was in sharp contrast to “mother”, who made up all manner of illnesses and injuries, both as a way to gain sympathy from those who didn’t know any better, and as a verbal club with which to browbeat people. She’s faked having breast cancer since the early to mid-1990s. She’s pretended to have skin cancer, and once even told me a cockamamie tale of performing surgery on herself to remove a cancerous tendril from her neck. Of course, it never left any scar or wound. But you were expected to believe her.
So here it was, the 90s, and my father was now permanently unemployed. With his heart troubles and his deteriorating spinal column from a job-related injury years before, he couldn’t work anymore. Disability benefits were meager, but a grudging worker’s compensation settlement from the state made sure that there was just enough income from his end to help with the household finances.
“Mother”, for her part, had given up grooming dogs. When I was laid up in 1990 with my broken ankle, she was briefly employed at a veterinarian’s, but her refusal to follow instructions and her habit of verbally abusing everyone around her ensured the temporary nature of that job.
After my high school graduation in 1992, my parents enrolled me in the local vocational guidance service on Triskett Road. Why they did this had to do with the bogus Tourrette’s diagnosis in my early teens. They considered me physically and mentally defective, so it was assumed this was the only way of securing an ability to get a job.
It didn’t. I left VGS in 1993, having gotten nothing useful from it. That year I enrolled at Cuyahoga Community College’s Parma campus with the aim of somehow going to film school once I’d secured my associate’s degree. Of course, no one in my family thought anything of my ambitions. As far as they were concerned, my only purpose in life was to wait on them while going to work at two or three minimum wage jobs to support them.
Of course, I didn’t mind working a minimum wage job; in addition to college, I began working part-time at a dollar store at Southland Shopping Center, in order to help pay my way and put some spending money in my pocket. Because I was ineligible for financial aid on account of living under my parents’ roof, despite them not helping with my tuition and other school expenses, I could only attend classes on a part time basis. What should have been a two year program stretched into four years before the expense became too much and I had to drop out.
The job lasted a year and a half before I walked out, following a confrontation with a pair of assistant managers who’d been causing all manner of drama at work. Fortunately, I secured another job relatively quickly at the Mr. Hero in the front plaza. Unfortunately, I fell down in the back yard in May 1995 and broke both my wrists.
“Mother” was entirely to blame for that. In the spring of 1995 she’d gotten it into her head to plant something in the plot in the backyard, a plot that had at one time been a back lawn between the house and garage, but which was dug up in order to turn into a garden. “Mother” decided that, to protect these plants from birds swooping down to devour the sprouts, she would place a piece of wooden lattice above the area. This lattice stuck out over the walkway that led to the garage, so that I kept stumbling over it. I kept moving it in to prevent tripping, and “mother” would simply move it back. Memorial Day weekend I tripped and fell, instinctively putting my hands out to break my fall. The full weight of my body came crashing down on my wrists, on concrete.
“Mother” was not pleased. Her overriding concern was not my health, but on how much this injury was going to cost her, as though she was the one who would be stuck paying the hospital bill. She wasn’t. I was, or would have been, had I not applied for and received a waiver because of my low income status.
During the summer it was especially hot, my room had insufficient ventilation, and in a rare moment of charity, “mother” allowed me to sleep in her bedroom while she took the futon downstairs. Father could no longer go up and down the steps on his own, so he slept downstairs too.
David was actually working then, as a dispatcher for the county sheriff’s office, although that job wouldn’t last. His habit was to come home from work, turn on his TV, and watch his favorite programs before falling asleep. The second floor of the house had once been an apartment unit, with the doors to the main bedroom a pair of sliding ones on a track, the slotted variety that provided just enough privacy but didn’t keep out light or noise from outside the room. Windows in the front let in light from the street lamp outside, necessitating sleeping on my right side, facing the doors to the rest of the second floor.
David was working second shift, so he came home at night when the rest of us were going to bed. One night he came home and flipped on the TV. Flickering light poured in through the slats in the bedroom doors, keeping me awake. I asked him repeatedly to please turn off the television because I was trying to sleep. it was hot, both my arms were in casts, I was tired and irritable, and I was in no mood for David’s bullshit. He simply ignored me and kept the TV on.
I freely admit I lost my temper. Knowing I had no strength in my hands from my broken wrists, I wrapped my fingers around his neck anyway. Actually hurting him, even if my wrists hadn’t been in casts, wasn’t on my mind. I was simply frustrated and wanted him to let me sleep, and since violence was the only language he responded to, I got physical. He easily shrugged me off and went downstairs to complain to our parents, saying I’d just tried to kill him. “Mother” threatened to have me committed. David told my father he wanted to have me arrested. When Father told him, “he’s your brother!” David’s repeated response was, “he assaulted me!” If the situation hadn’t been so serious, I’d have laughed aloud. How many times had David literally tried to kill me during our childhood? And now here he was, indignant and demanding I be carted off to jail because for a change I’d gotten physical with him?
Nothing came of it, though. Instead we both went back to bed and slept off our anger.
In June of 1995 my paternal grandma fell inside her house and broke her arm in four places. Her dogs had inadvertently tripped her up, and now she was injured. Because my Uncle Jim worked two or three jobs and the weather that year was dangerously hot for many seniors, it was decided that Grandma would be put in physical therapy in a nursing home — temporarily, because her mother had spent her final years in a nursing home and it had been terrible for her — until she was well enough to go home.
Father and I went to the facility one Saturday morning in early July to wait for Grandma to be brought in from the hospital, where she’d been staying since her fall. My arms were still in casts then, my wrists taking an extraordinarily long time to heal for some reason. My father tried to answer questions the nurse asked about his mother, but he was having trouble because there was a lot he didn’t actually know, things like her Social Security number, insurance, stuff an eldest son should have known but didn’t.
The nurses wheeled Grandma in on a gurney. She saw me and greeted me saying, “Hi, Mike!” with a smile on her face. She was taken to her room, where her mood immediately began to change. “I want to go home,” she said. Father assured her she would as soon as she was healed up, but Grandma was afraid and she wasn’t having it. The nurses asked us to leave the room, I think, so they could get her settled in and quieted down. We did.
Minutes later, however, someone came and got us. Something was wrong with Grandma. She was evacuating he bowels. Panicking? I got to the room but wasn’t allowed inside. In there I saw Grandma, and all she could say was, over and over, “Oh boy. Oh boy.”
An ambulance was called to take Grandma to the emergency room. Father and I followed in his car, but by the time we arrived at the hospital it was too late. Grandma was gone.
The funeral was distressing enough. Arriving at the cemetery to find they didn’t even have Grandma’s cremated remains in an urn, only in a plastic bag in a cardboard box, was even worse. If my wrists hadn’t been in casts, I would have grabbed the funeral director by his lapels and told him what him what an asshole he was. Worse was that we learned that the seven years we’d spent visiting Grandpa’s grave, his urn was actually slightly off from where the gravestone was, so it had to be moved.
The early 90s saw my parents become friends with a guy named John Hunter. He was a large ex-Green Beret whose face resembled actor Denver Pyle’s (Uncle Jesse from The Dukes of Hazzard) and whose voice was loud and a bit gravelly. He was also a photographer whose skills were amateurish at best, at least when it came to taking my high school graduation portrait. My parents let him use their bedroom as a photo studio for his models a couple of times. One of them, who was all of seventeen at the time, he sexually assaulted. Right. On. My. “Mother’s”. Bed.
You’d think my parents would have been pissed off, that they’d have had him arrested, or at least supported his victim in pressing charges.
Nope. These were the same people who let Hunter beat David up right in front of them for mouthing off to him. Helping a teenage girl he’d raped in their own home was out of the question.
Probably because “mother” was having an affair with him. David caught them in an embrace once, kissing, in the basement when he’d gone down to wash laundry.
Mother was frequently cuckolding my father. When David and I were young she sometimes took us to a barber in Garfield heights named Jim Niece, with whom she was suspected of fooling around.
Not that Father was entirely innocent, of course. Although his sex drive seemed nonexistent, he was close friends with women from work or church, of whom “mother” would get jealous. David claims he had an affair with one of his male high school friends, but I never believed that. I didn’t think, and still don’t think, my father was the type who went for people much younger than himself, and besides, I didn’t like to think so ill of him. “Mother” I could see being unfaithful. But my father? He never struck me as the kind who would cheat, at least physically.
See, “mother” was the only one allowed to have friends and have them over. The few times any of us males had friends or relatives visit, “mother’s” attitude would drive them away, and we were ashamed to subject them to her. It was especially annoying when she would begin proselytizing to them with her phony Christianity.
The likes of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, and other charlatans frequently polluted the television screen downstairs. Once when I had a bad cold, “mother” grabbed me by the wrist, got me on my hands and knees in front of the television, and had me put my palm to the screen so I would get “healing prayers” through the videotaped broadcast. Another time, during a con game on the 700 Club, I caught her raising her right hand in some kind of prayer-salute, as though she was in a tent revival. By the 90s my “mother” had long since stopped going to church, but she still wanted to pretend she was a Christian, so she began watching the TV charlatans, and sending them generous checks from out of the family savings. I’m pretty sure she’s still doing that to this day.
Naturally, this puts off a lot of people who make the mistake of visiting. I can’t say I blame them. Nobody likes to be told he or she is going to hell because that person’s beliefs don’t conform to “mother’s”. The worst part of this is that “mother” became a real bigot from all this, although to be fair, she never needed much convincing to look down her nose at anyone. Muslims especially are targets for her racial and religious hatred. LGBT persons are worthy of stoning, as is anyone daring to seek or perform an abortion.
The first time I stood up to “mother” was in ’92 or ’93. During high school she’d taken to setting up bird feeders in the front and back yard so she could look out the window at the birds that came to gobble it all up. I was the one who had to get up before dawn and, before I could leave for school, fill up all the feeders. This was a tedious chore, although there was actually one comical morning when an impatient little sparrow (or was it a finch? it was too dark to see) flew into my jacket pocket and right back out as I was filling up one of the pole-mounted feeders. She kept the seed indoors then, which had the unfortunate effect of introducing seed moths to the house, for which I was saddled with the blame. “Weirdly” enough, when she began keeping the bird seed and peanuts outside, in metal trash cans she’d bought for that very purpose, the moths disappeared from inside the house. Wow.
One day I was trying to put away the seed in the office off of the hallway that led to the bathroom from the dining room, and “mother” got impatient to have the task done and tried to grab the bag out of my hands. It ripped. She grabbed hold of my arm the way she used to when she was about to beat me, and verbally berated me. I got up in her face and told her, “Shut up you worthless piece of shit!” She pushed me out of the office saying I was “out of here,” meaning I was to be thrown out of the house like my brother Steve had been years before. I refused to leave, however.
The first half of the 1990s ended with my getting a janitorial job at a candy factory. More on that later.