I almost made it the whole five days without the old man finding out about my suspension. School didn’t have his pay by the minute flip phone number and we didn’t have a home phone, but because of a downpour, he got sent home from a roofing job and found me there instead of at school. This was Wednesday, the last day of my suspension. By that part of the week he was pretty much broke so he was only able to stay at the bar for a few beers and wasn’t soused yet. He did have a plan though, with a fresh twelve pack of Keystone Lights that he loaded in the fridge, because, ya know, besides getting shit faced, he was worried about his figure.
Initially he was mad about how I was scamming him, getting up in the morning and then pretending to go to school. But his anger momentarily faded, and believe me him not angry for even a moment is a victory, when I told him how I smacked that fucking moron gorilla McManus upside his head with my English book and how I accidently punched Mr. Pierson in the chin. Besides not being mad for a moment an even rarer thing occurred, he may have actually been proud of me, not only because I stood up for myself, but because I got a shot in at a teacher. But that quickly faded when I made the mistake of telling him how McManus’s friends got a hold of me and locked me up. This prompted him to want to show me how to escape such a situation, but it was fucking stupid since there was no way to recreate it with just one guy. Nevertheless, he had me lock him up with my arms under his and my chest up against his back. Going through a recent growth spurt not only was I pushing six feet, I was also getting kind of strong and he wasn’t really able to break free of my hold. Sensing he was getting pissed I loosened my grip and was immediately greeted by an elbow to the stomach.
All cocky he said, “That’s how ya fucking do it. Got it?”
I was really mad and clenching my teeth said, “Yeah, got it!”
He looked at me for a long moment, maybe considering the need for further fucking parenting. Maybe a headlock or a kick in the balls would be the right pedagogic fucking strategy or maybe his tiny white fucking trash brain was on overload trying to decide whether I really ‘got it’ or was being a smart ass. Life was tough when the prism through which you saw the world was limited to your angry resentments and a twelve pack of Keystone Lights.
How she ended up with him is beyond me. She was so pretty and nice and he’s such a total asshole. I’ve mostly had to piece the story together myself and best I can tell is they met when he was working on a construction crew with her illegal brothers here in Buffalo. Their town, Camp Perrin, in Haiti got wiped out by a storm in 2002 and they had a cousin or something here. Then, there was some kind of raid and Mickey O’Keefe in a unlikely moment of chivalry stepped up and married my mom, who was pregnant with me at the time, thwarting her imminent deportation. I know this because during these fights he would always say, “I should’ve let them send you back to Haiti with your worthless brothers.” And, of course, the fucking asshole has said some variation of that to me a million times. Things like: I should be living in a hut, shitting myself; I should have been earthquake food; Hurricane Matthew should have dumped my ass in the ocean. Good stuff like that.
When my dad wasn’t around in those early years we had good times. My mom, Cassandra, had a part time job as an aide at St. John’s preschool and I got to go to work with her. It was great: lots of kids, lots of things to do and lots of fun. Also, there was Mr. Nate, a bald headed black gentleman who ran the program and was so nice to both of us. Mr. Nate was always telling me things, teaching me special handshakes, reading to me and was just this cool guy. He said things to my mom that made her smile. I could tell she was trying not to smile, but couldn’t help herself. She was so beautiful when she was smiling and I wished Mr. Nate was my dad.
There were other good things too. The preschool was over by Caz Park and we would stop on the way home and feed the ducks at the creek, collect chestnuts, play at the jungle gym. We also went to my grandmas a lot, which I loved because she had cable and I could watch the Disney channel and Nickelodeon. They would sit in the kitchen and drink coffee or step outside for a smoke, mostly talking about the riddle that was my goddamn father. I remember my mom crying and my grandma shaking her head saying, “His father was the exact same way.” She was really good and sympathetic to my mom. Taught her, as best she could all things American and always had a positive thought as we were leaving for home to face the rampage that was my father. It was hard to believe my dad came from such a nice woman.
Also, hard to believe, considering the way he comes at me, as best I can remember he only hit her once. It was a rainy Friday and the danger in it being a rainy Friday was that besides being sent home from work early, it was also payday. That lethal combo meant he didn’t have to come home from the bar after just a few beers. And, that night, when he still wasn’t home at 8pm my mom wrapped up the pizza we had gotten from the corner joint, Leo’s and climbed into bed with me and we read Frog and Toad. Nobody would ever confuse me for a scholar, but thanks to that preschool and Mr. Nate, I’ve always loved books and was a good reader even then, So when my dad finally came home from the bar, he came into my room and being a dumb little fuck, I was like, “Daddy, want to hear me read Frog and Toad?”
The scent of a million beers filled my nose as he reached down and grabbed the book from my hands and threw it against the wall saying, “Where’s my food?”
My mom got up and must have given him a look or something because right away he was all, “Don’t give me those eyes bitch.”
With my pillow over my head I fell asleep to them, mostly my father, screaming at each other. Early the next morning my mom came into my room put on my coat and shoes and then started to walk me out to my dad’s running Ford Ranger. Holding her hand, we were halfway down the driveway when from behind my dad, smelling like a sewer, scooped me up and said, “Where the fuck are you going?”
“Away from here. Give me the boy,” she said leaping at him. And, as he fought her off with his free hand. I could see her eye was swollen and closed. Eventually, after she got a good chunk of his face with her nails, he set me down and grabbed her by the hair, but she broke free with a kick to his midsection and while he was momentarily doubled over cursing, she screamed and cried, “Come Jackson. Come.”
I was almost by him, but he got me by the collar and threw me on the ground. Screaming, “I’ll fucking kill you,” he set after her, but tripped giving her just enough space to get in the truck and pull away.
With my dad breathing heavily on the ground, a trickle of blood on his cheek she stopped a few houses down the street, got out of the truck crying and yelled, “I’ll be back for you my sweet boy. I’ll be back.”
My dad got to his feet and tried to chase her, but stumbled again and then vomited in the street as she drove away, never to come back.
After he cleaned up a bit we walked to my grandma’s in West Seneca. The whole way there he was cursing me and my mom and yelling at me to hurry up. When we got there he told her all kinds of lies about what happened and quickly tried to leave saying, “I gotta go find that rotten bitch.” My grandma was the only person in the world who could call him on all his bullshit, which she did telling him, “The only one rotten here is you Mickey. You did this, not her.”
Not only did I like seeing her dress him down, but watching him take it from her made me think inside that fucking asshole there possibly was a real human being— Severus Snape with bloodshot eyes and beer breath. Rebuked, he left there with a softer stance vowing to find my mother and make things right. But, of course, he never did and I stayed at my grandma’s until she had a severe stroke about a year ago, which was awful. We tried to move her in on Lockwood but the cost of aids and therapy was too much for hopelessly underemployed ill-tempered drunk and she had to go to the Erie County Home.
My grandma was really nice and was always there when the old man would come at me with his bullshit. Even now in her debilitated, infirm state she has this power over him that is fascinating and I never miss the weekly visit just to see him be sort of a normal fucking human. I love my grandma and appreciate all she did for me, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had this thing about seeing him not be his normal horrific self.
One week it even spilled over to the ride home. Not only did he let me change the radio from the bullshit classic rock to the alternative station we also shared a few laughs over a confused resident at the Home who mistook my dad for some guy named Larry as we were walking out. Normally I would expect my dad to tell a guy like this to fuck off, but instead he went with it.
“Larry is that you?” said the guy
“Sticking his hand to shake the old man said, “Hey buddy, how you been?”
“Do you ever see Louise anymore?” the guy asked
“Yeah, just saw her a few weeks ago. She dropped a few pounds, looks great.”
They went back and forth about this Louise for a while and agreed to talk next week. We laughed and laughed about it driving down Rt. 20. and when we were all laughed out, but still smiling, I made the mistake of asking, “Why can’t we be like this more?”
“What?” he said as the smile drained from his face.
Immediately knowing my mistake I said, “Nevermind.”
“No, what?” he said, “Fucking, tell me.”
“Nevermind, it’s not important.” I said looking out the window.
Violently, he pulled the car to the side of the road, looked at me and asked, “Why can’t we be what?”
Anything I said here was going to be wrong, so raising my voice a little I just told him, “Why can’t we be like this... laughing and joking?”
The intensity on his face sharpened, his nostrils flared and his watery bloodshot eyes boiled with rage, but he didn’t say anything and after a moment he put the truck in gear and pulled back onto the country road. Stupidly, I thought, maybe I got to him and he was contemplating what I said, but then he reached across and nailed me with a backhand to the chest and said, “We can’t be like this because I gotta make you tough. The world is gonna kick your sorry ass so hard your fucking eyeballs will bleed. And, I gotta make you tough enough to survive it.”
He switched the radio back to the classic rock station and not only did I have to endure fucking Kashmir for the billionth time in my life, but I had to listen to him rant about how the world hates little niggers like me, who aren’t either white or black. “Trust me,” he said, “the whites don’t want you and neither do the blacks.”
Then he went into his usual bullshit about how I’m going to get screwed by the illegals keeping wages low, Obamacare, the gay agenda, lazy welfare recipients, liberal elites, Islamic terrorist and all the rest of that FOX News stuff he watches 24/7. I didn’t know about any of that shit, but I did know the only people who cared about the color of my skin and eyes were people his age. Kids of my generation were so past all the racial and gay stuff. I’m not saying they all liked me and I fit in, but they didn’t like or not like me because of my the color of skin and eyes.
Since I mostly grew up in my grandma’s white suburban neighborhood I guess I have caucasian affectations. I love street hockey, extreme biking, alternative music and I mostly necked with white girls. There were more people of color in my old man’s city neighborhood, but since moving here I didn’t really connect with anyone except my extreme biking friend PJ. Otherwise, I kept a pretty low profile, doing a couple of Pennysaver routes on the weekend and spending weeknights at the Dudley Library at the end my street trying to avoid the old man.
Though kids of my generation were beyond that race shit I must admit coming from the white schools of West Seneca to South Park High School where the races were evenly mixed, was kind of a big change. I got a fair shake in West Seneca, but it wasn’t lost on me that I was different because of both my skin color and my living arrangements with my grandma. In the suburbs the kids had a mom and a dad, sometimes they were together, sometimes they weren’t, but both were involved. I had a grandma and a fucking lunatic and that more than anything that made me feel different. Now at South Park, not only was my skin color more like the general population, but so was my fucked up living situation. And, instead feeling like the curious oddity that arrests your attention, at South Park I melted into the vast landscape of kids who were enduring fucked up situations just like me.
In a low impact way, I did alright with everyone at South Park, black, white and otherwise. At the beginning of the year I even spent some time with this black girl Shanice Johnson. She was really cute and very forward telling me, “I’ma get what I want.” I liked her and her moxie, but she lived several neighborhoods away and came in on the bus everyday, which only left us a little time to hang before and after school. I tried to take the bus to see her one Sunday afternoon, but because of shitty weekend service I either missed the transfer downtown or there wasn't one. After an hour of waiting on this phantom transfer bus I gave up and went home. When I tried to explain what happened she just said, “I need a motherfucker that don’t make excuses.” And that was the end of us.
I became friends with some black dudes in Ms. Webb’s study hall too: Dontrell, Zeke and Gordy. I was blasting some Bikini Kill so loud in my headphones Ms. Webb came over tapped me and told me to turn it down. But my head was buzzing from the volume and power of the music I couldn’t process the sound of her voice. I could see what she was saying but couldn’t hear her and must have had a confused look on my face because a moment later when I could hear again a second later Dontrell was saying, “Nirvana givin’im brain damage, Ms Webb. Call an ambulance.”
Everybody laughed and walking to our next class Gordy was like, “Man, that college boy shit.”
“How you listen to that Nirvana so loud?” Dontrell asked
“It was Bikini Kill not Nirvana,” I said
“Cuse us... Fucking Cobain,” Zeke piped in as in Kurt Cobain. And that name Fucking Cobain stuck.
Mostly I sit with Lexi at lunch these days, but if she isn’t around I sit with them and they Fucking Cobain me up and down. They listened to hip hop and I guess it was alright, but the beats didn’t do it for me, not like the power of Jack White’s or Sleater Kinney’s guitars. But it was this difference between us that made it possible for us to be friends in a limited way. Again, we had the issue of getting on buses going in the opposite directions, but me liking alternative music was hilarious to them and I really liked that they called me Fucking Cobain. It all led to good trash talk.
If only the differences between me and the old man and for that matter, fucking Talty McManus could bring us together. But that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon especially with that moron gorilla McManus.
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