My Life Story, Part Five

“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.

Unbelievable.

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.

Skipping Ahead Some: My Life Story, Part Six

“YOUR ABUSIVE PARTNER DOESN’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH HIS ANGER; HE HAS A PROBLEM WITH YOUR ANGER.  One of the basic human rights he takes away from you is the right to be angry with him. No matter how badly he treats you, he believes that your voice shouldn’t rise and your blood shouldn’t boil. The privilege of rage is reserved for him alone. When your anger does jump out of you … he is likely to try to jam it back down your throat as quickly as he can. Then he uses your anger against you to prove what an irrational person you are. Abuse can make you feel straitjacketed. You may develop physical or emotional reactions to swallowing your anger, such as depression, nightmares, emotional numbing, or eating and sleeping problems, which your partner may use as an excuse to belittle you further or make you feel crazy.”

— Lundy Bancroft

“The most important thing to do in your life is to not interfere with somebody else’s life.”

— Frank Zappa

 

I’m skipping ahead to the 2000s for a bit before addressing the 1990s, because recent events necessitate getting the truth out.

I first met Rick in 2000 when we were both working at Blockbuster Video.  I was an assistant manager at that time, and he was a sales clerk.  Rick and I shared in common a general manager who’d decided to make our work environment so unbearable for those employees she didn’t like that we’d ultimately quit, which most of us did.  I left in early 2001, while he left either some time before or after.

My first encounter with Rick outside of work that I can remember was an answering machine message: “Penis!”  The next one said, “Dirty butthole!  Gaaaah!”  That was followed up with he and a girl he was fooling around with calling me up and leaving a message, with Rick saying he was having sex and thinking about me, and his girlfriend asking me to join them.

Rick has always had a bizarre and vulgar sense of humor, but then, I don’t necessarily mind bizarre or vulgar humor as long as there’s some wit or intelligence behind it.  I still laugh uproariously whenever I watch South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut.

So Rick and I struck up a “friendship”, if you can call it that, after we were done with Blockbuster.  After a two-month period in Texas in 2001 in which I’d washed out of basic military training in the U.S. Air Force, he and I began hanging out.  Our conversations tended to reflect our personal political and social views.  I’m a flaming lefty, while Rick is very, very conservative, but I often find it stimulating to have my beliefs challenged, so despite some of his immature antics, I figured I’d give him a chance.

I freely admit I sometimes am a poor judge of character.  And I’m far too forgiving, to the point where I give people far more chances than they really deserve.  I suppose it has to do with having come from an abusive household; men can suffer battered spouse syndrome as much as women, and my father was a fellow sufferer.  I take after him in more ways than I care to admit, my willingness to forgive abusers over and over again being one of them.

The first time Rick pulled one of his malicious pranks on me was in the summer of 2001.  It was night, and he was driving through my old neighborhood with me in the passenger seat.  Rick acted like he was lost, which I thought was pretty odd considering he lived just a couple of miles away from where I’d grown up and he’d gone to the same Lutheran church I had.  He insisted on stopping to ask directions from a hooded figure who was approaching the car.

I immediately told him to keep driving.  I was sure where this was going, and instincts were dead-on.  But Rick refused, saying he wasn’t going to offend a stranger or something along those lines.  The next thing I knew, the hooded guy had a gun in Rick’s face, and Rick appeared to be very, very afraid.  He let the hooded guy get in the back seat.  The barrel of the gun went into my kidney.  He told Rick to drive.

I tried to be as cooperative as I could under the circumstances.  “Yes sir, no sir” and all that, so he wouldn’t shoot me.  The hooded guy knocked my glasses off my face to the floor of the car, so I couldn’t see clearly where we were going.  After what seemed like an eternity, the car was stopped and we were approaching what looked like the blurry shape of a garage.  I ended up being wrapped in what felt like a quilt or sleeping bag then made to lie on my stomach on the hard floor, while Rick begged for our lives.

I won’t deny it: I was scared as hell I was going to die.  I was shaking like an earthquake and saying the Lord’s Prayer in my head.  Hooded Guy ordered Rick to tell me it was going to be okay.  Rick complied, but I could hear the disbelief in his voice.  I made my peace with God and waited.  The next thing I knew, I was being lifted up to walk, and pushed along against a wall.  So I I’m going to die on my feet, I thought.  I guess that’s a little better.

Instead of a gunshot, I heard roaring laughter from Rick and Hooded Guy.  The sleeping bag or quilt came off and there stood Rick, perfectly fine, with his friend, whom he introduced as Cory.  I’d been had.

Cory was an immature, bespectacled, thousand-yard-staring twit who always seemed to come across smug and arrogant.  He and Rick often collaborated on pulling pranks, some of them involving weapons, real or fake.  Once, he and Rick used a real knife in a pretend fight on Cory’s lawn, and Cory got Rick in a headlock and, over-dramatic and not even close to being subtle, screamed, “CHOOSE!  CHOOSE NOW!”  By that time I couldn’t maintain the pretense of being fooled and, busting out laughing, said to go ahead and kill him.  Fool me once, shame on you, and all that.  But I noted that Cory had cut his arm during the wrestling match on the lawn and was bleeding.

After the fake carjacking prank, Rick and Cory treated me to dinner at the Stake ‘n’ Shake at Kamm’s Corners as a way of sucking up to me.  I was pissed.  How the hell could they do something like that?  I thought I was going to die.  But somehow they talked me out of walking away for good, which in retrospect I should have done anyway.  But the thing about being on the receiving end of an abusive relationship is that it’s very difficult for the abused person to leave, and the abuser finds all manner of ways to prevent that outcome.

Some of the highlights of my “friendship” with Rick include:

Him taking me to out of the way places late at night, like the park or some out of the way locale, and driving off and leaving me there, only to come back (sometimes).

Mooning me (in which he took an unhealthy indulgence).

Stealing a video cassette from me while visiting me at my aunt’s place, where I’d been staying temporarily at the time, and pretending to give it back to me when in reality, he’d switched the casing with that of a gay porn video.  I finally did get my own video back, but it was unusable and I had to throw it out.

Once while over my place with a friend of his named Phil, playing video games (this was in 2002), he pulled the controller out of my hands so I’d lose the round.  I responded by giving his shoulder alight push with my shoe.  Rick then flew into a rage, grabbed me by the ankle, and physically dragged me out of my chair onto the floor.  I got up, grabbed the nearest thing I could find to defend myself (a replica sword, which I sold off that same year) and ordered him and his friend out.  They eventually left, after picking up a couple of statues that had been bought for me as gifts — one of them a $330 bear statue that was a gift from my father — and threatening to break them.  I discovered after they were gone that Phil had sprayed my shaving cream all over the toilet seat, emptying what looked like half the can, and that one of my books, a dictionary on angels, was missing.  Rick later showed me the charred remains of the book to show he’d destroyed it.  Fortunately for him, in a later attempt to earn my forgiveness, he replaced it.  But at the time, I was furious.

Rick wouldn’t leave it alone, of course.  One night he showed up on my front porch asking to speak to me.  I just turned off the porch light and went back to bed.

Making a fake web site to mock my political views, then reporting the one I set up to make fun of his mockery to the web host so it would be taken down.  He also photoshopped my head onto the body of a Nazi, which given my Polish heritage wasn’t even remotely funny.

When having me act in one of his videos, he lied about the nature of my role and on the big night premiere at a friend’s house, I ended up looking like a complete clown.  Scenes I told him flat out I didn’t want in had been included, and when he said he was going to broadcast it on public access, I told him he couldn’t do that without my written consent.  He responded by revealing he’d forged my name on the consent form.  That was it for me—again.  I walked out and down the long nighttime road to the nearest shopping plaza, and managed to make a telephone call to my brother David to come pick me up.  It was a while before I spoke with Rick again.  During the taping of one scene, one of his ex-girlfriends advised me to “disbelieve 90% of what he says.”

Used one of his female friends to get back in my good graces, with a friend who pretended to want to date me.  We’d hung out a few times before realizing it wasn’t going to work out, but then she revealed that she was friends with Rick and that we should talk out our problems and be friends again.  Rick had earlier pulled a similar stunt with another female friend.  He and Cory made a video of her, a fake kidnapping video, in which she pretended not to be in on the prank.  Knowing that pair, however, I was skeptical, but played along on the off chance I was wrong.  I wasn’t, but later we would all participate in the video that had me walking out of his friend Phil’s house in the dead of night.

One might wonder why I put up with so much from Rick.  Looking back on it, I realize I’d fallen into a role similar to my father’s: that of someone on the receiving end of mistreatment who had been emotionally subjugated.  Rick had taken advantage of my loneliness, for I had no friends in my own age group; all the friends I had at that time were old enough to be my parents.  So I guess in a way, I was scared of not having enough friends close to my own age.

Also, like any abuser, Rick has his moments when he’s actually not a bad guy, and there are times when even he will listen to your problems and be helpful.  He even introduced me to another friend of his, with whom I remained friends after I’d ended things with him.

Things came to a head in April 2007.  I’d just learned that my father’s Uncle Joe had been murdered, and my parents hadn’t bothered to tell me until weeks after the assault that had led to his death.  Uncle Joe lived in Slavic Village and took care of his mother and older brother until their deaths.  He’d resisted leaving the increasingly violent neighborhood for years, but finally decided to throw in the towel and join his family in the suburbs.  But late one night he heard someone trying to break into his home, and he made the mistake of going outside to investigate.  His attackers knocked him to the ground and viciously kicked him to within an inch of his life, intensifying their assault even after he’d given up his wallet and car keys.  Uncle Joe died a couple of weeks later of his injuries.

It was David who told me the details.  I hadn’t been on speaking terms with my parents for a while, after an incident in which my “mother” was growing verbally abusive toward my father and tried to get physical with me like she’d done when I was a kid.  After I found out what had happened, I got into a screaming match with them that resulted in the police being called out to lecture me for back-talking.

Rick and I were hanging out one night at the Star Bucks on Clifton Blvd. near the border with Lakewood.  Again, this was in April 2007, when the area was undergoing a winter that dragged on and piled loads of snow everywhere.  I was talking to Rick and he listened.  But at some point the topic turned to a recent argument Geraldo Rivera and Bill O’Reilly, a pair of tabloid talking heads on Fox Noise Channel, had had on TV over a drunk driver who’d just happened to be an illegal immigrant.  O’Reilly, as is his habit, was exploiting the tragedy to wage his crusade against illegal immigrants, while Rivera was having none of it.

I was sympathetic to Rivera’s side, whereas Rick took O’Reilly’s.  As was (and still is) usual for Rick, whenever someone disagrees with his point of view and refuses to back down, he started yelling.  I was angry.  My great uncle had been killed and I’d only just found out about it, and the person I’d turned to for comfort was now screaming at me because I didn’t subscribe to his opinion.  This overgrown child, whom I comforted when his girlfriend had dumped him the previous year for a married friend (breaking up their marriage in the process) and in his anguish had cut himself, showing me the scars, was now doing this to me.

Now, a bit about how I react to seeing people in pain.  When I see someone hurting, my first and only instinct is to offer whatever help or comfort I can, even if it’s only to acknowledge that person’s grief.  I don’t sit in judgment, I don’t give lectures, and I don’t pick fights.  But Rick?  No, even when he knows you’re in pain, his feelings come first, always.  So I’d had enough, and began exiting the car.  On my way out of the vehicle he reached out with his hands and pushed me out, causing me to stumble.

As he made to drive off, and as I began to walk home, I flipped him the bird.  What can I say?  I was hurt, I was angry, and I wasn’t in any mood to bottle up my feelings.  Rick saw this through his windshield and stopped his car.  he got out and ran toward me, shouting, “You want to give ME the finger!?”  And then he grabbed me by the arm and proceeded to shake me hard, trying to knock me to the ground.  I managed to retain my balance and withdrew my cell phone to call the police, and he ran back to his car and drive off.

That was seven years ago.  I wouldn’t speak to him again for six years.  I was helping our mutual friend complete her thesis project, a documentary video, in Kent, Ohio.  I was working in the Digital Video Communications center at Cleveland State University at that time and offered to check out some video and lighting equipment, as was one of my privileges.  My friend asked me to shelve my feelings about Rick and work together for her sake, and I did.  The two days of shooting went well, and Rick, wisely, was on his best behavior.  But after things wrapped, I wasn’t willing to renew my friendship with Rick.  I was willing to work with him for my friend’s sake, but as far as I was concerned, it was long since over.

This past April I was in a pickle.  My rent was due and my tax refund check was delayed with no idea when or if it might arrive, and my friend was unsympathetic.  After thinking things over regarding last year, I decided to give Rick one last chance to see if he might have changed.  I sent him a message and a friend request on Facebook, willing to open a dialog.  I wasn’t ready to officially forgive him, however, even after we’d hung out at Mitchell Bros. Ice Cream one day.  After so many years and everything he’s put me through, I know better than to just pick up where I’d left off like nothing happened.  I resolved that the moment Rick reverted to his old habits, that was it.

I didn’t have long to wait.  After this year’s mass shooting in Seattle, he posted on his Facebook page an angry diatribe against Seattle police for allegedly failing to arrest the shooter before he’d committed his crimes.  I pointed out that the problem was that in this country, we let mentally ill, violent people have guns, and legally there’s nothing police can do about it until after a crime has been committed.  It’s screwed up, but that’s the U.S.A.’s obsession with guns for you.  Rick’s response was painfully familiar.  he accused me of politicizing a tragedy, something he’d just been doing himself by blasting the police.  After I’d edited one of my responses to include more information, he ordered me that the next time I did that he’d delete my comments.

It was then I realized that nothing had changed in seven years, and never would.  There was no point trying to mend this.  I’m forty years old.  I just don’t have the patience anymore for putting up with crap from overgrown children.  So I removed Rick from my friend list on Facebook and blocked him.  I don’t need his abuse and I certainly don’t want him hounding me online.

The thing about Rick is that, like any textbook abuser (he comes from an abusive household himself), he can’t go without controlling every aspect of a relationship, be it a friendship, or a romance.  When he can’t have his way, he’ll lash out.  He’ll get physical, as long as he knows he can get away with it.  He’ll manipulate people and lie to and about them.  He’ll take things you say out of context and use it against you.

And he’ll get vindictive.  Abusers always have to get in the last word — always.

It’s been brought to my attention that Rick is now friends with David and my oldest niece Mallory, both of whom have longstanding grudges against me for reasons of their own.  And he’s lying about me to friends of mine trying to poison my relationships with them, all to get back at me.  Personally, all I want from him is to leave me alone and stop obsessing over me.  Even during that seven years, Rick was asking our mutual friend about me, trying to see if I was willing to take him back into my good graces.  He can’t leave well enough alone.  And the worst part is, I keep falling for his baloney, always hoping he’ll change, and always being disappointed.

Classic Abuser-Abused social interaction.  Inevitably, Rick’s true colors always show through, but by then damage is done and friendships are tainted, jeopardized.

Rick, since I know you’ll eventually find a way to read this, all I have left to say to you is grow up, get your own life, and stop interfering with mine.  You’re a little old to be playing kiddie B.S. games, and this unhealthy obsession you have with me really needs to be addressed.  Get yourself professional mental help before you hurt somebody.  The same goes for you too, David.

My Life Story, Part Four

“High school isn’t a very important place. When you’re going you think it’s a big deal, but when it’s over nobody really thinks it was great unless they’re beered up.”

— Stephen King, Carrie

“True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”

— Kurt Vonnegut

My junior high and high school years weren’t very pleasant, but they had their moments.  In the middle of my eighth grade year, my parents pulled David and me out of West Park, a parochial school, and enrolled us in the Cleveland Public Municipal Schools.  On a guess, I’d say tuition was becoming increasingly expensive and my father’s income was stagnant or shrinking.

My parents had a lawyer friend named Jeff Keith, on whose campaign for city council they were volunteering — and had David and me volunteering as well.  Keith had advised my father to stop making his mortgage payments on the house and to look into getting a less expensive house elsewhere.  I recall one potential location in the countryside, an old farm house, and another one in what is now Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood, the area around West 25th Street and Lorain Avenue.  None appealed to us, and Keith was later busted for some corruption scandal and ended up in jail or something.  Father barely managed to salvage the house so we wouldn’t become homeless.

After I’d transferred to Cleveland Public Schools, I did something boneheaded that earned me a broken bone in my hand.  I was at what was supposed to be an overnight bible study school event at Mount Calvary.  I was playing in the basement with some of the other kids present, and I was engaged in this game where I was up in the library-projector room, punching a basketball down to another kid in the gymnasium proper through one of two large, rectangular pane-less windows, and this kid’s goal was to catch it and throw it back up to me so I could hit it back down.  I decided, in my vastly finite wisdom, to gear up for a really good knock-down and send that ball flying.  My aim was off low this time, and I ended up ramming my fist into the concrete half-wall.  CRACK!  To the E.R.!

I’d broken the rightmost metacarpal bone of my right hand, and had to wear a half-cast for a couple of weeks.  Fortunately, that coincided with a teacher’s strike, so I didn’t have to strain it by writing homework assignments.  To this day, however, the base knuckle of my right pinkie finger is noticeably lower.

When I entered ninth grade I began noticing that I was having trouble seeing the chalk board from where I was seated in the classroom.  An eye checkup revealed that I was now nearsighted, which eventually led to my acquiring a pair of glasses.  These glasses were picked out on the basis of function, not fashion, and they helped make me an outcast in high school.

West Technical High was once one of Cleveland’s top technical schools, with an automotive shop for teaching auto mechanics, a woodworking shop, and even a metalworking shop.  It was the kind of high school that taught people skilled trades in what was at one time one of the big steel-and-auto cities in the nation.  True, we weren’t Detroit or Pittsburgh, but there was pride in the industries we had.

By the time I arrived in the late summer of 1988, however, its better days had long since passed into history.  Most of the workshops were gutted, none of the boys’ restrooms were functional, and only one was actually open, though the sinks didn’t work and there was never any toilet paper.  If you were a boy at West Tech and had to use the restroom, it was either go down to the workshop in the basement or visit the nurse’s office, or risk the one open one.  Once, when I had no choice but to use it, as I was sitting on the toilet holding my stomach from having eaten one of the usual foul lunches in the cafeteria, three boys entered and saw me doing my business (none of the stalls had doors attached).  They began spitting on me, and in my situation, there was really nothing to do but sit there and take it.

There was a bully in my tenth grade year who, with his much larger friend, spent the first half of the school year attacking me after school.  Once, after I exited the bus near my street, he began hitting me from behind, but broke his hand on my hard skull.  Yes, I was literally hardheaded.  The two bullies got caught eventually, and the day after New Year’s, I slipped on a patch of ice in front of my home and broke my ankle.

When the first cast came off, the doctor at Metro Health Clinic sent me on my way without any x-rays.  I spent the next week still hobbling around on my crutches, unable to put any weight on my ankle because I would get stabbing pain shooting up my leg.  On the sixth day after getting the cast removed, I was hobbling into class when my foot caught on the metal floor strip in the doorway, twisting my ankle.  That had me in the nurse’s office in agony, and I was sent home to rest.  The following morning, raining and still dark outside, my father dropped me off at school.  As I had extreme difficulty going up and down the stairs, I was making use of the service elevator to get to classes on the second and third floors.  As I approached it that morning, however, before I got to the lift, I found myself on the floor again, ankle twisted even worse than the day before.  Accounts differ as to how I fell.  Some witnesses said my crutches had slipped on the wet floor, while others were sure that they saw an unidentified student kick them out from under me.  At any rate, I ended up back at the doctor’s, this time with confirmation that not only had I re-broken the ankle, but the damned thing hadn’t been fully healed when they’d removed the first cast.  Unbelievable.

I walked with a limp for quite a while after that.

My nerdy glasses had earned me the cruel nickname George McFly at high school, for the character from the Back to the Future movies.  Needless to say, I ended up being teased relentlessly.  I did have some friends, however, whose company at school helped me endure.  And there were teachers there, particularly in my English classes, whose class reading assignments had introduced me to such literary works as the Epic of Beowulf, and Le Mort D’Arthur, and George Orwell’s 1984.  My grades were still suffering because of my seventh grade traumas, so I had to attend summer school a couple of times, and during my senior year, night school, to pick my grades up enough so I wouldn’t be held back a full year.  It was at night school that I was given the assignment of reading the wondrous Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, and George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.

But the teacher who had the biggest and most lasting impact on me in high school was Mr. David Massaro.  He was a semi-retired English teacher who was working as a substitute, and being a film buff, he showed his classes such brilliant films as Animal Farm and Roots, on his 16mm projector.  I ran into him a couple of times after high school, and in the late 1990s he was a regular customer at the Blockbuster Video where I worked, and he invited me to join his film-watching group in 2000.  The group meets once a month, usually on the second Saturday, and we would watch films on Mr. Massaro’s 16mm projector.  He also sometimes invited me to his house to watch movies and old serials on his laser disc player.  It was Mr. Massaro who really got me into the works of Shaw, and of Olaf Stapledon, whose Star Maker had a profound influence on how I perceive the nature of God.

But that was years later.  I graduated high school in July 1992, having had to attend summer school after my senior year.  David had attended Martin Luther King, Jr. High School, which was a magnate school, but he dropped out before graduating.  At one point he’d been brutally beaten at school and spent several days in the hospital.  His friend Kevin was the one who’d pulled him to safety.  I don’t think “mother” ever once visited him the whole time David was laid up there.

It was also while I was in high school that Mike #2 had had his brief stay in our home.  In my junior or senior year, my maternal grandparents had gotten into trouble with the law, and my “mother”, being the closest living relative of both, was given the charge of looking after them.

When I was still an infant, “mother’s” parents had lived with us.  Frank Martin’s womanizing and travels were behind him, and he’d settled down in Cleveland again.  I was too young to remember the circumstances under which they left.  I remember during the 1980s visiting them at the apartment building where they lived.  My maternal grandmother, Victoria, had had a stroke and was confused a lot of the time.  Something happened, I think, that made my parents stop taking David and me over for visits.  Grandfather Martin was also starting to go, mentally, suffering from dementia, but we kids had no way of knowing that at the time.

So here it was, 1991 or so, or maybe it was late 1990.  Grandfather Martin was so far gone he didn’t know where he was — stuck bouncing around various times in his life, like the character of Billy Pilgrim in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, only no aliens, just reliving moments from his past as though they were happening for the first time.  The police had been called out to the apartment building where he and Grandmother Victoria were living, because he was waving around a gun and threatening to use it.  Maybe he’d been reliving his days as a Parma cop.  Anyway, “mother” ended up being responsible for them, a task she didn’t really want, but she did want the money she thought they had hidden in the seemingly endless plastic trash bags of items salvaged from their apartments.  She never did locate any, and eventually she threw everything out, including the beautiful glass miniatures that had belonged to her own mother.

I couldn’t really have anyone from high school over the house anyway, because I didn’t want to subject them to “mother”.  Now I had an added reason: two deranged grandparents I barely remembered, and whose antics produced little but aggravation for all of us.  While Grandfather Martin was busy doing the Time Warp, Grandmother Victoria was pretending to be more senile than she really was, and irritating everyone by endlessly repeating the same questions every few minutes.  “When can we go home?”  “When do we eat?”  “But honey,” she’d say immediately after a meal, “I haven’t eaten yet.”  Grandmother Victoria also pretended she couldn’t walk on her own and needed my weakening father to carry-walk her everywhere in the house, but that charade stopped fooling anyone when a “friend” of the family, one John Hunter, whom I’ll describe another time, angered her to the point that she pushed herself up from the dining room table one day and shuffled to the back bedroom of the first floor to lie down.

Father was the one who fed, changed, bathed, and clothed his in-laws, and took them to the toilet, during their time with us.  David and I weren’t trusted to handle the responsibility, even though we were both big enough to take on these tasks.  Grandmother Victoria was evil personified.  Not only did she fake and exaggerate her health problems, something her daughter did quite frequently herself, but she treated my father like crap.  More accurately, like something to wipe her crap on, which she did once while he helped her onto the toilet.

One night I had come downstairs to get a glass of water to hear Grandmother Victoria begin shouting, “Frank…Frank!  Frank!  FRANK!  FRANK!”  I immediately looked in and witnessed Grandfather Martin hitting her in his sleep.  I stopped him and asked why he was hitting her.  His response was, “Damn right I was hitting her!”  I ordered him not to do that anymore, and to my knowledge, he complied thereafter.  Grandmother Victoria said he scared her.  He scared me too, sometimes.  Another time, he wandered into the back yard and allegedly told the next door neighbor my parents were abusing him and Grandmother Victoria, which certainly wasn’t true of my father.  “Mother”?  Who knows?  Certainly she resented both her parents for their abuse and abandonment.

In 1993 Grandfather Martin was running inside the house to catch a cab, and slipped on a rug, breaking his hip.  He had to be taken to the hospital after that.  During his stay, we learned the doctors had found spots on his lungs in an x-ray — cancer — and his condition necessitated keeping him in a nursing home.  Grandmother Victoria went in, too.  We just couldn’t take care of their physical needs anymore, not with my father’s own health deteriorating and “mother” refusing to take on the burden.

Some time in ’93, I forget if it was spring or autumn, Grandfather Martin passed away.  “Mother” came downstairs one morning with a tale of dreaming about an ‘Indian’ warrior on a horse beyond a rushing river.  The warrior turned his horse around and proceeded away from the river.  Then the nursing home called, waking her, and informed her that her father was dead.

Grandmother Victoria never forgave her daughter for breaking the news to her.

My Life Story, Part Three

Organized religions by their very natures are misleading. The bottom line is always money. What that’s got to do with your spiritual well-being still eludes me. It’s always the bucks, no matter how they disguise it. If you need that sort of assistance to keep yourself together, you may be paying a higher rate to a fake religion than you would to a psychotherapist. Which is not to say that a psychotherapist is going to give you any better value per dollar either. lf you’re going to deal with reality, you’re going to have to make one big discovery: Reality is something that belongs to you as an individual. If you wanna grow up, which most people don’t, the thing to do is take responsibility for your own reality and deal with it on your own terms. Don’t expect that because you pay some money to somebody else or take a pledge or join a club or run down the street or wear a special bunch of clothes or play a certain sport or even drink Perrier water, it’s going to take care of everything for you. Because it all comes from inside. As a matter of fact, that’s where it stays.

 

— Frank Zappa

After I’d told a classmate I felt like killing myself following the incident in which I’d stood up to the seventh grade teacher who pressed two cast iron bookends against both sides of my head and threatened to smash it in, the whole family ended up in counseling.  Well, minus “mother”.  She attended maybe the first couple of therapy sessions but stopped coming, so it was ultimately just my father, my younger brother David, and me.

It didn’t help.

We all took abuse from “mother”, but David, being the youngest, probably took the worst of it.  It has left him fucked in the head, and to this day, despite being on meds, he’s still dangerously unstable.

David had a hate-filled rage boner to see me broken, humiliated, defeated.  He’d already tried to kill me a few times, during fights.  When “mother” wasn’t beating the crap out of us, we were beating the crap out of each other.  Actually, it was mostly David trying to hurt or kill me, and me defending myself.  Sometimes, to end a battle to the death, I had to kick him into unconsciousness, because otherwise, he’d have kept up until I was dead.  He’ll deny it if you ask him, of course, and twist it all around to make me the villain.

He saw the counseling sessions as his way to get his “revenge”.  He would lie to them so I’d look crazy, and I’d spend the rest of my days locked up in a loony bin, or so he must have thought.  By this time David was pretty far gone himself, thanks to genetics and a lifetime of physical and psychological abuse from “mother”.

For example, it wasn’t until around the middle of high school that he I were finally allowed to wash our own laundry.  Before then, “mother” would see to that, as she didn’t trust us to do it properly.  At some point David had developed a cyst on his ass crack, and it was frequently discharging blood and pus, staining his undershorts.  So to replace them, he took mine, after they’d gone through the wash.  This left my underwear drawer coming up short.  At counseling, the social worker asked me if I’d been soiling my underwear and throwing it out.  I hadn’t, of course, and I wondered at the time where she’d gotten that idea.  After all, if something like that had been happening, there’s no chance “mother” wouldn’t have found out.  She’d have beaten me to within an inch of my life.  But once I realized what David was doing, it all made sense.

So not only was David a liar, but a thief as well.

This pattern of intruding into my private domain and stealing or rearranging my things continued on well into what would for other people have been adulthood.  I would return from school or work to find he’d walked into my room and taken some object he wanted.  When I complained and told him he should have asked for permission before going into my room, his canned response was always, “you weren’t here.”

There were times I would realize my toys were missing, and I would find them hidden in various places, in weird sexual positions.  Once I found written on the wall of the kitchen area in the upstairs, in a crude imitation of my handwriting, “toys do not exist.”  What the hell was David trying to do?  What was his goal?  Was he trying to make me look crazy?

Certainly, I was emotionally stunted.  “Mother” had always treated me like I was somehow defective.  I had and still possess a lisp, because of how my teeth are — long in front and short in back, so air escapes through the sides.  I’d also had a tough time pronouncing words properly, and when I was in elementary school I was sent to speech therapy sessions.  By the mid 1980s, I wasn’t spending a whole lot of time outside.  What friends I’d had on my street had moved away, and I was an outcast at school.  All I had to fall back on were my toys.  My active imagination went along the lines of improvising a “village” made of overturned plastic cereal bowls, lunchboxes, and Lincoln Log structures in which to house them.  In this way I could sort of play God, I suppose.  It’s no coincidence that to this day my favorite video games are ones in which I can create characters and write their stories.  It must have been a childhood spent watching movies and TV shows and wanting to be a part of the process that brought them to my television set.  But at age thirteen, with no real friends, this was something of a problem to my parents and an opportunity for David, who had apparently made it his mission to see me carted away.

The abuse at home combined with the abuse at school to take its toll on my physical health.  I developed nervous ticks and twitches from sheer stress.  My father was concerned enough that he took me to a doctor to have me evaluated.  I remember having a CAT scan done on my head to see if there was something wrong with my brain, but nothing really showed up on the images it produced.  The doctor eventually came back with a diagnosis of Tourette’s Syndrome, albeit a milder form of it.  I was prescribed Clonidine, a drug that is normally used to treat high blood pressure and what is now called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.  I started out at one half pill three times a day, and by the time I finally stopped taking the drug at age twenty-one, I was up to three pills per day.  Much of the time I spent on Clonidine I was over tired and kind of out of it.

I’d like to say that this was all done out of concern for my well being, but there was no such motivation behind it.  My parents used the diagnosis to collect Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits in my name, and spent the money for their own wants.  When I turned nineteen the benefits lapsed, but as I never saw so much as a single penny from them, I never bothered renewing them.  Besides, my ticks and twitches had been stress-induced, and I knew that, so I wasn’t going to lie to the Social Security Administration just so I could rip off the federal government.

The Tourette’s diagnosis was also used as the basis for my parents and David to treat me like I was mentally defective, and stupid.  High school was hell, with few friends.  Because of my home environment, I couldn’t bring myself to have anyone over.  One of David’s friends, whose first name was also Michael, lived with us for about a year, because his own abusive home environment was too much.  Mike #2 moved out, eventually.  I guess my parents weren’t able to retain custody, or he decided he’d fallen into a place arguably worse than his own.  As he was David’s friend and not mine, we never really spoke much.

Now, to illustrate David’s mental state during the time Mike #2 was staying with us, there was one time the three of us were playing video games.  David won a round.  To celebrate, he grabbed a hold of one foot and began congratulating it in some sort of gibberish tongue.  It was insane to watch.  I remember thinking in that moment how he’d finally gone off the deep end and drowned, and that he’d have to spend the rest of his life in a mental hospital.

This, unfortunately, never happened.  That would have meant spending money for his care, and “mother” would never have that.

Anyway, the counseling sessions continued until my fourteenth birthday, in May 1988.  That was the day my grandpa, my father’s father, died of a heart attack on the toilet.  A month prior he’d had a lung removed because of cancer, which he’d gotten from a lifetime of smoking.  I remember sitting in the waiting room while my father was talking to the counselor, then walking out as best he could with his bad back, steps so hard they almost made the floor shake, and took David and me out of there.  He’d just been notified via telephone that Grandpa was dead.

David and I were dropped off at the house of a family friend, whose son Jeff was another friend of David’s.  They had a month-old kitten they’d found in their garage out back, abandoned by her mother.  She was given to me as a birthday present.  “Mother” named her Megan, and decided that the cat, like everything else in the house, was hers and hers alone.  But to me, that cat was the one and only remaining connection I had to my Grandpa, because she’d come into my life the day he left it.  I was a mess when I had to watch her be put down twelve years later.

My memories of Grandpa were few.  My paternal grandparents lived on East 72nd in Cleveland’s Slavic Village neighborhood, and we’d go there for Easter and Christmas, and a few other occasions.  I recall how Grandpa would read to me, and I loved how he did it.  His voice always rose and fell at just the right times, and his reactions just made me feel like he was genuinely into the story as much as I was, even though he probably wasn’t.  None of my father’s relatives could stand being in the same house as my “mother”.  The way she treated everybody was horrible, and no one had any patience for it.  When she mouthed off to them, they’d throw it right back in her face, and she hated that.  No one dared talk back to “mother”: to do so was abuse!  Oh, how “abused” my “mother” was by my father’s relatives!  They talked back to her!

Yeah.

Grandpa, whose name was Stanley, had a brother named Lou who looked almost like his twin, except one was older by years.  I don’t remember much about the couple of visits to Uncle Lou’s house.  I think he lived quite a distance from us, or maybe there was friction.  It’s difficult to know the reasons for anything that went on with my father’s family, because nobody ever told me anything.  I was just Donald and Leslie’s idiot son, the one they told the whole family was a mental case, so I was irrelevant.

I do remember when Uncle Lou’s wife, Aunt Bea (for Beatrice), died.  She’d lost one leg to diabetes some time before, and she died from a reaction to a flu shot in April 1988, about a month before Grandpa passed.  Uncle Lou didn’t live much longer, I think, dying a couple years later.

My Life Story, Part Two

The first thing you have to do if you want to raise nice kids, is you have to talk to them like they are people instead of talking to them like they’re property.

— Frank Zappa

Sorry for jumping around in time so much.  I’m writing this on the fly.  In fact, future entries will also probably time-jump.  I’m sorry, but I have no definite dates and times for some of this.

It was 1987-ish.  I was in seventh grade.  David and I were arguing again, over what I don’t recall.  I must have said something that really pissed him off, because it made him stop yelling and go downstairs to whine to our “mother”.

She came upstairs in such a rage as I’d never seen her before and half-pushed me, half threw me into my tiny bedroom on the second floor of the house.  She tore apart my room and made me pick it up.  As I tried to do this, “mother” was whipping me with my own belt.  Every time I stopped to try to shield myself from the blows, or simply collapsed into a ball in an effort to protect myself, the whipping would intensify.

After a while “mother” got tired of that and picked me up bodily and threw me onto my bed.  She then tore not one but two dresser drawers, full of clothes, and threw them on top of me.  Then she left the room.  David claims my father and a friend had to pull her off of me.  That’s not how I remember it.  If my father and someone else were waiting for her outside my room, I never saw them.  I was too busy falling into unconsciousness.

I don’t know how long I was out, but I remember when I woke up I was huddled on the floor, up against the door to my bedroom, wanting to call the police but afraid of what “mother” would do if I tried.  The only telephone on the second floor was in her bedroom, which was to the left of mine going out.  The house had originally been a two-apartment variety, converted from an old one-story farmhouse built in 1885, with the second floor added in 1915.  “Mother’s” room was what had been the living room, I suppose, or perhaps a master bedroom, with my bedroom little bigger than a walk-in closet.  The doors on “mother’s” bedroom are these slotted folding types on a track, “locked” by a simple latch-hook.  Getting in is easy.  Entering without the creaky floorboards alerting people downstairs is impossible.

Some time later my father came up and sat me down on the edge of my bed to talk to me.  He wanted me to go downstairs and comfort “mother”.  “She thinks you hate her,” were his exact words.  So, resigned, I limped-trodded down the stairs to do as I was told.

Imagine being thirteen or fourteen years old and having to console the woman who not two hours before had given you the beating of your life, because she felt awful?  Not for having savagely beaten me, and not for almost killing me — one of the dresser drawers had missed my head by inches — but because how dare anyone think that she would do such a thing?  “Mother” has always denied doing that to me.  Refuses to this day to acknowledge it, any of it.

When I was smaller, “mother” would beat my behind with a wooden mixing spoon, not stopping until I’d lost control of my bladder and urinated on the floor.  That spoon is still in that house, in the kitchen, used for cooking instead of beatings.

Father had to work two jobs to support what passed for his family, one at Heinen’s, where he injured his back.  That would lead to degeneration of his spinal column, eventually rendering him bed-ridden.  Father was the one who did the cooking and baking, the cleaning, the grocery shopping, and was the one who read to his sons at night before bed.  Boy, Dad could sure make a tasty potato pancake!  I used to have them by the dozen, for he always made enough to feed a small army.  We’d have them with sour cream or sugar on top, and apple sauce on the side.

Not once, however, did he ever lift a finger to protect any of his kids from his wife.  I always got the impression that my father had never wanted children, at least not with my “mother”.  He met his familial obligations to feed, clothe, and house us, and send us to school, but I never got the sense that he really loved any of us.  He was trapped in a loveless marriage, but he was afraid to leave because who was going to take care of him in his old age if he divorced her?  Who would marry him, over forty and broke?  So he did his duty, but nothing more.

“Mother”, for her part, contributed to the family earnings by grooming dogs for money, with some customers coming from out of state to get their canines done.  In the basement toward the back there was a bathtub on a raised concrete platform for washing the dogs, and opposite that, an area with a mirror and counter top, sort of like what you might see backstage of a playhouse, but no lights or anything.  In front of that was a barber shop chair for when “mother” would cut her husband and sons’ hair, a grooming table for the dogs, a large pole-mounted blow dryer for dogs and people alike, and behind a plastic shower curtain were the cages where dogs were kept to await grooming and the hot water boiler.

Much of the income not spent on food, utilities, and the mortgage, was spent on mother’s lifestyle.  She got to go to the dentist, whereas neither her husband or her sons could.  It wasn’t until I was thirty-three that I went to a dentist.  Dave didn’t go until he was in his late twenties.  Neither of us could afford it until then.  If my father ever went, I never knew.  “Mother” was the one who got to buy new clothes.  Father had to settle for clothes from Goodwill, while David and I wore our brother Steve’s hand-me-downs.  Because of this, we were mercilessly teased by kids at school over our attire.

“Mother” had a habit of losing her temper over the slightest things, and she would punish us even for things that never happened.  Once she accused us of having damaged the toilet seat in the first floor bathroom, using one of her hairbrushes with a pointed handle to demonstrate how she thought one of us had done it.  We were sent upstairs to our shared bedroom (the large dining room/living room area), to lie on our twin beds until whichever of us did the deed ‘fessed up.  Only later did she realize that one of the pads on the seat had fallen off.  I remember her calling us downstairs and, for the first and only time I can recall, apologizing for having leapt to conclusions.

Another incident took place at the local K-Mart.  David and I were young, under ten.  We wanted to stay and check out the toy aisle, but “mother” wanted to go home.  In a fury she left us both in the store and drove off, not coming back until a few minutes later to pick us up.  Actually, it was a five or ten minute drive up Lorain Avenue in Cleveland, but to a small child who barely had any comprehension of distances or directions, we might as well have been in another county.

That was how “mother” was.  She was constantly pulling shit like this.  Once, she grabbed David by the jaw with her nails and dug in.  On more than one occasion we would return home to find notes she’d left saying she was sick of us all.  Yeah, we weren’t exactly enjoying her company either, but none of us dared complain.

We children were to be seen and not heard, and when we were to speak, it had to be no more than a whisper, lest we be accused of yelling.  Then, of course, there was the faux Christianity.

I remember once, on Good Friday, “mother” had David and me sitting on the couch in our Sunday best, finger pressed to her lips in a sign not to speak, saying it was a day of mourning.

You’ll recall that my father had converted to Russian Orthodoxy.  I recall one tradition from that early period in which David and I would leave our shoes or slippers on the landing at the top of the stairs for Saint Nicholas to leave small presents in.  That came to a halt when “mother” had us all join the Lutheran church a few streets away, Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, pastored by Walter Kovach.  This will be important later.

You’ll recall from my last entry how my father was a dog breeder.  At Christmas time he would throw parties for the people from church and from the kennel club.  Food ranging from kielbasa and sauerkraut to sugar-spiced bacon, and all manner of bakery, would be served at these events.  Those, too, came to a halt, as “mother” systematically isolated the household from the rest of the world.  As our dogs died off, so did my father’s commitment to the kennel club. until eventually he stopped attending the dog shows and sitting on the judging panels.

Anyway, back in time a bit, to around 1980-ish.  I have a scar under my left eye, the result of falling off a bookshelf at kindergarten and hitting that area on a sharp corner of the shelf in question.  It bled rather profusely.  (This really has nothing to do with recollections of “mother”, by the way.  I took a picture of myself and sent it to a friend earlier this evening, and after all these years the indentation under my eye still shows.)

Okay, back to the “fun” that was 1986-1988.

I think it was 1986 when David tried to kill me.  I remember him pinning me on my back, fingers curled into claws, demanding in a voice that sounded like Linda Blair from The Exorcist, “Let me kill yooooooouuu!”  Before that, or so David says, he’d tried to drown me in the bathtub.  Another time I fell down the stairs, miraculously escaping without any broken bones or other injuries.  David wrote on his blog that he’d pushed me down the stairs.  It must have been from behind, because I don’t quite recall him being there.  I don’t remember the bathtub incident, either, so we both must have been very young.  Anyway, it wasn’t the first nor would it be the last time David has tried to kill me.  According to “mother”, when David’s teeth started coming in, he would bite me hard enough to leave imprints, even bleed.  I would try to push him away but he would just come right back and do it again.  This apparently only stopped when “mother” got fed up and bit him hard enough to draw blood.

After that, David let his nails grow out, and he would use them to pinch and scratch my arms, often drawing blood.  I still have the scars from those times, faint but standing out white on my tanned forearms.

The same year she’d given me the beating of my life, I was in seventh grade.  By that time most of the neighborhood kids’ families had moved away.  The ones who remained weren’t on friendly terms, or more accurately, “mother” wasn’t on friendly terms with them.  I remember David and I being told not to talk to the next door neighbor’s daughters because they had “dirty mouths,” meaning they’d probably talked back to her after some snide comment to them.  That was the beginning of a years-long feud with the Rutherfords that wouldn’t be resolved until the early 1990s.

So here I am, starting seventh grade at Luther Memorial parochial school, which for junior high was located in the original church building of Mount Calvary (a larger addition was built in the 1950s to accommodate the congregation of the period).  My first day there, I couldn’t get the combination lock on my locker to open so I could retrieve my books.  I was still trying to get it open when the homeroom teacher, Mr. Lauenstein, asked why I wasn’t in my seat.  Like an idiot, I told him, “I can’t get this dumb lock open.”  He told me to sit down and I complied.

That was what drew Lauenstein’s attention.  I stood out.  I was the oddball, the easy target.  For the rest of the school year, Lauenstein made me the victim of his own brand of abuse.  My homework would disappear from my book bag and end up in another student’s folder, or vice versa, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why.

The other students in my class were encouraged to tease me mercilessly.  I remember once being picked up bodily by several classmates during a parent-teacher event at the school, and dropped unceremoniously into the girls’ restroom.  They held the door shut so I couldn’t get out, while someone else went to get a teacher to get me in trouble.

Another time, during another event, I was chased up several flights of stairs in the church/school building by a classmate who’d been bullying me, who complained that I was giving Lauenstein headaches.  Later in the school year she started a fist fight with me on our street as I was walking home from school.  The first and only time I ever hit a girl, I defended myself by tossing out a punch and giving her a bloody lip (or was it her nose?).  She stopped after that, and went back home, as did I.  After she got out of high school, I think she joined the Navy or the Marines.  Interestingly enough, last year, she made contact with me on Facebook asking if I was involved in the Relay For Life cancer charity event, and apologized for how she treated me.  I’d long since forgiven her and the others.  In a way, we were all Lauenstein’s victims

Anyway, sometime in the school year, Lauenstein showed the class a VHS copy of Revenge of the Nerds, a college comedy in the vein of Animal House, that had scenes with female nudity.  When I mentioned afterward how inappropriate it was for this to take place in a church school room in front of a classroom of thirteen-year-olds, a classmate threatened to tell anyone I squealed to that I was “panting very heavily.”  I guess he thought that would shut me up, especially if no one else backed me, which I really couldn’t be sure of.  Being singled out as the year’s class punching bag means you’ve no friends and no one to go to until it’s too late and shit has hit the fan, and then, usually, you’re still on the receiving end.

Things came to a head when one day, Lauenstein pressed two heavy cast iron bookends against both sides of my head and threatened to smash it in at lunch time.  When the time came for lunch and we all lined up to go downstairs to the cafeteria, I walked straight up to Lauenstein and, in the ballsiest maneuver I’d ever made up until that point in my life, told him I was ready to get my head smashed in.  he simply told me, in disgust, to get back in line, which I did.  A classmate asked how I was, and I responded that I felt like killing myself.  Looking back, I don’t think I really did.  All I wanted was to just be somewhere no one could hurt me.  My classmate must have taken me pretty seriously, though, because he went to the school principal and told what had happened.

Pastor Kovach was no real help, nor was principal Jacobs.  The worst of Lauenstein’s abuse stopped, but he was allowed to remain until the end of the school year.  What became of him I don’t know, because in eighth grade I was sent with David to another parochial school West Park, along with many of my seventh grade class.

The thing you need to know about parochial schools is that they’re no better than their publicly-owned-and-run counterparts, but often they’re a lot worse.  For one thing, there’s zero accountability.  Nor are there the sort of screenings carried out by public schools to ensure the safety of students.

I remember, I think I was in first or second grade, the time my parents sat David and me down at the dining room table and showed us an article about the kindergarten teacher at Luther Memorial, Mr. Zender, who’d been busted for possession of child pornography.  According to the news article, he’d been masturbating to it when the police came knocking.  Father asked us if he’d ever touched us or hurt us in any way.  As neither of us had his class and had no contact with him, we said no.

So yeah, think about this if you consider sending your kids to a parochial school.  Yes, public schools are woefully underfunded, what with the insane drive to privatize everything in this country including our public schools.  But you can be damned sure that most teachers undergo thorough background checks before being hired.

In the aftermath of the Bookend Incident in seventh grade, I was sent to therapy, and the entire household in fact ended up in family counseling.

My Life Story, Part One

“So it goes.”

— Kurt Vonnegut

My name is Michael Francis Wilk.  Life has not been kind to me.  I’m going to tell you the gory details, as best I remember them, and whatever comes of that will come.  I’ll warn you right now that what I’m going to write in this space is not pleasant: it’s full of drama, and you may not like that.  That’s fine.  I don’t need you to like what I write.  This is really more for my own benefit, so I can vent and so I can try to make sense of things.  I don’t claim to have had it any worse than anybody else, or that I’m perfect.  I’ve made my share of fuck-ups.  But that doesn’t make what I went through any less traumatic.  So if you’re not into reading about this sort of thing, it’s best to leave now.  Otherwise, read on.  Maybe by reading what I write, others who’ve endured abuse will see something that helps them cope.  Who knows?

I was born Michael Keith Kwiatkowski on 18 May, 1974, to Donald and Leslie (née Smith, née Vincent), in Cleveland, Ohio.  It was the second marriage for my father, and the fourth for my mother.  Leslie had already had one son, Steven Paul, from a previous marriage, and my father adopted him and gave him his surname.  One year and three days later, on 21 May, 1975, my younger brother David Alan Kwiatkowski was brought into the world, screaming his indignation.

Neither of us were supposed to have even been conceived.

Let’s start from the beginning.

Leslie Carole Smith was born 17 November, 1937, to Marcus Paul Smith and Victoria Smith (née Katko), in Cleveland, Ohio.  Victoria was of Hungarian stock, born on the boat, and brought up in strict, probably very abusive “old world” tradition.  Marcus, who went by his middle name, Paul, was of mixed descent: Cherokee, possibly some Comanche, and Caucasian.  Since Paul could pass for white, he did so, having been born in Tennessee and raised in Alabama, where racism ran (and still runs) rampant.

Paul Smith was a Parma, Ohio cop, quick on the draw, and distinguished himself on several occasions, at least once making one of the local newspapers.  He was also a serial womanizer, a wife-beater, and all-around bastard.  He’d already run out on his first wife and daughter by the time he married my grandmother, and he later did the same to Victoria.  Years later she would track him down and have him tossed in jail for bigamy.  Sometime after leaving prison, he had his name legally changed to Frank Paul Martin, and continued to move around the U.S. siring children and then running out on them and their mothers.

Victoria, for her part, wasn’t exactly stable herself.  She’d been working in Cleveland when she met my grandfather, who was still married to his first wife.  He dumped Wife #1 for Victoria and later married her.  According to David, she stole our grandfather away from his first wife, but really, given his track record, it wasn’t like he needed convincing.

Victoria gave birth to my mother and her twin brother, the latter of whom died in infancy.  Victoria perhaps resented her daughter for surviving while her brother didn’t.  It wasn’t long before Paul was out of the picture, running off to get married to his next “wife” before properly securing a divorce from his second.  Victoria, as I’ve written, sought him out and had him prosecuted and thrown in jail.  We’ll get back to the future Frank Martin later.  For now, he’s out of the picture.

Victoria at some point changed her and her daughter’s surname from Smith to Vincent.  She raised her daughter Leslie harshly.  By that I mean abusively.  Physically, psychologically abusive.  A real monster.

And as is well known, abusive parents give rise to abusive children, who go on to perpetuate the cycle.

Victoria was allegedly quite the possessive one.  According to Leslie, her mother was always trying to steal away her boyfriends.  Eventually Leslie reached marriageable age and became hitched to the first of four husbands, one Gerald Renwick.  Him she bore her firstborn son, Steven Paul, on 10 or 11 December, 1962.  Victoria, or so my mother alleges, used to dress Baby Steve up like a girl.  This is an early sign of how insane and evil she was, and explains something of my mother’s own evil.  Like mother, like daughter, as they say.

It wasn’t long before Gerald decided he couldn’t stand living with his batshit insane wife.  He divorced her, but for reasons unknown, Leslie retained full custody of her son.  Oh, if only he had fought harder for his parental rights.  But that’s another story altogether, and not to be revisited until many years later.

After Gerald Renwick came Hubby #2, and that marriage, too, ended in divorce.  Leslie apparently gave him a royal beating after allegedly catching him in the arms of another man, or so she says.  This pattern of being physically violent toward her husbands would be repeated twice more.  Husband #3 is unknown.  Then Leslie met my father.

Donald Kwiatkowski was born on 12 September, 1938 to Stanley and Josephine (née Krasucki), children of Polish immigrants, and raised in Cleveland’s Slavic Village neighborhood, the first of four siblings, who were, in order: Donald, Mary, Kathryn, and James.

Stories seem to keep changing, but according to my father, Stanley was an abusive drunk early on before somehow being tamed by my grandma.  No one seems to agree on how much of an alcoholic Grandpa was, or the extent to which he was abusive.  Certainly, being the children of first-generation Polish immigrants, my paternal grandparents were raised with “old world” discipline, so chances are good that there is some truth to my father’s allegations.  For my own part, I never observed Grandpa being abusive toward anyone, though to be honest, my memories of him are few and he died when I was still in my early teens.

At any rate, my father went to high school, did a stint in the U.S. Army after the Korean War ended and was stationed for a time in Alaska.  He developed a love of dogs, and decided to be a dog breeder.  Samoyeds and Japanese Chins were his preferred breeds.  He was president of his local kennel club when he met my mother Leslie, who at that time was also into dog breeding.  At some point prior to meeting her, he’d been married and divorced already, making my mother his Wife #2.

This was in 1973.  It wasn’t long before I was conceived.  Leslie apparently figured that, having had her three previous husbands leave her — one having even dumped her with a kid to raise on her own, she’d better snare my father and tie him down with familial obligations right away, so she deliberately conceived me so as to trap Donald into marrying her.

Since Leslie was (supposedly) Roman Catholic and Donald was Russian Orthodox (having converted due to having friends who were Russian Orthodox and convinced him to leave Roman Catholicism behind), they headed down south to North Carolina for a judge-performed wedding.  I entered into the world, stiff and straight as an arrow, earning me the nickname ‘Straight Arrow’, in May 1974.  I’ve been told that I’d already begun breathing on my own once the blood and mucous had been wiped away, but the doctor apparently felt the need to slap my ass anyway to get me to cry.

That was my first unnecessary beating.

Now, according to my younger brother David, my father was gay, but because of the time and place, he felt he had to have a wife for the sake of appearances, and also so he’d have someone to take care of him in his old age.  I don’t know if this is true.  Father and I rarely talked, and when we did, he never volunteered much information about himself.  But then, he never seemed to take much interest in his own sons.  Why this was will become painfully obvious.

At any rate, here’s a “family” that’s already pretty screwed up: Husband, wife, wife’s son from marriage #1, and father’s firstborn son.  Donald legally adopted Steve and gave him his surname.  A year and three days after my birth, David came along.  You may notice a bit of a pattern here, one of many: since theirs was more a marriage of convenience than of love, it is quite likely that their sex life was limited mostly to my father’s birthday.

The thing is, David wasn’t supposed to have been conceived.  Mother lied about being on the pill.  She must have seen some sign that my father was reconsidering his marriage to her and so had a devious thought: a man might leave her with one kid of his loins, but maybe not if he’s sired two.  It was a calculated gamble, and it paid off.

My father was naïve, and compelled by a sense of duty to stick around and meet his family obligations.  But he learned just enough from all this to have a vasectomy, ensuring no more children would be born to suffer under my mother.

One of my earliest memories is of standing next to Steve in the archway linking the living room and dining room of the house, with “mother” at the back of the kitchen, yelling and screaming at Steve and throwing pots at him.  One connected with his head, and all he could do was just stand there and take it, with his toddler half-brother right next to him.

Steve obviously developed anger management issues, and was difficult to control.  At some point my father threw him out of the house, naked, when he was sixteen or seventeen.  Steve joined the U.S. Marine Corps after that, in an effort to escape his mother and start his own life.

If I could go back in time and talk to him, I’d have tried to explain to him the folly of moving from one abusive environment to another.