Archive for 8. August 2009
My Evil Step-Father
8. August 2009 by Frank.
I was putting my eight year old son to bed the other night when I had one of those horrifying flashes go off in my head. One of those gripped with awful, overwhelming, paralyzed with terror flashes. You know the kind, right? Happens to you sometimes while reading your kid a nice bedtime story, right? Am I talking to myself here? Maybe so. I, being an expert at awful, overwhelming, paralyzing terror flashes have been there a time or two myself. So I am trying the best I can to not break down into sobbing tears in front of my kid, choke down the world of hurt and anguish that has just bubbled up into my brain, and finish the chapter I am reading to him. He was pretty surprised when I started tearing up at the end of My Side of the Mountain, which we just finished reading last week, so I don’t know if he is ready to see dear old dad blubbering and wailing and running around his room tearing my hair out. Well, I don’t have much hair to tear out, but the rest would probably freak him out pretty badly.
As I said before, luckily? for me, I have been here before. I look at the pain welling up, I recognize it for what it is and where it is coming from, and I smash it quickly into a safety compartment I have handy for just such occasions that can burst open later. I slam the lid shut on those darn untimely feelings of mine, finish the story, and hightail it out of there. There will be plenty of time to cry over spilled milk later. Suppressing overwhelming emotions like this is a real art form, or maybe an athletic skill. I don’t know if you have ever been overwhelmed instantly and incomprehensibly by grief. I can only best compare it to being hit by a wave in the ocean and being sucked under and pinned down by the undertow. Completely helpless and powerless to resist. Our first urge is to fight it, to struggle to get free, but unfortunately for us, the ocean is just a bit stronger than us. Never been pinned down by a rogue wave, you say? Here’s one the we all remember.
Its like fighting back the urge to vomit, feeling that watery, tingly sensation rising up from your throat, and trying with all your might to suppress it, to make it go away. But it doesn’t. Somehow, that feeling gets a grip on you and won’t let go, and pretty soon you are spewing your guts out all over the place. One time I tried to stop throwing up by clamping my hand firmly over my mouth. It didn’t work. The vomit shot right out of my nose. True story. So why am I making this so graphic and gross? I want to try and relate the power of these emotions coming up, and how easily they can overwhelm our flimsy defenses.
Now that we have that settled, you might be wondering what a segment I called My Evil Stepfather has to do with an eight year old boy’s bedtime story, or my sometimes tenuous grip on reality. As I said, this very thing has happened to me before. I sometimes inevitably see myself reflected in my son. The little me that was. And upon occasions such as this one, I make the dreadful leap of seeing him, so sweet and innocent and dear to me, and superimposing what it was like for me at that very age onto him. All that sweetness and innocence and dearness was there in me as well, and I am swept away with the boundless pain of what I suffered. Sometimes it is just too much to endure. My son’s smiling sweetness has given me this bittersweet gift, to look at him and see myself in his eyes, and to know how terribly I suffered.
Let’s have a pity party. One, two, three…. aawwwww. Here is the story that got this whole train rolling. I was eight years old, and it was the winter of my discontent. I was an active child, always up to something. Sometimes those things would get me into trouble, as the side effects of playing too hard or too loud or too long. My stepfather was never one to interact with me in any way. He commanded and we obeyed. I tried to stay out of his way, but we lived in a small row home at the time, and as it was winter, I am sure that I was getting under foot quite a bit, with no where for him to escape to. I still don’t know how this incident started. But the vivid outcome remains seared into my memory. I am quite sure that I was doing something annoying to him. I just told my son today to stop humming loudly some inane tune that was driving me nuts. I told him three friggin times, and even raised my voice the last time. He decided to leave the room then, so I am not sure if the humming stopped, or just continued elsewhere. Either way, conflict resolved, right?
My stepfather had a much more graphic way of resolving these types of conflict. As I said, I cannot recall the nature of my crime, only the severity of the punishment. Boy, you must be thinking, little Frank must have really gotten his ass beaten in this story. I wish that was the case. See, my stepfather was a trained killer. True story. Our government trained him to kill in the Green Berets. It was one of the few things from his past that he enjoyed talking about. Being trained to kill. He would eat live bugs in front of me for kicks. Just pluck a fly out of the air or pull a worm up from the ground and pop it into his mouth and chew. This practice was somehow totally gross and cool to me at the same time. He would talk about his night drops into strange woods during Green Beret training, being forced to live of the land for seven days while hiking back to base camp. All I can say is that if I was ever forced to live off of bugs for a week, I would certainly never want to repeat the experience just for shits and giggles. But to each his own.
He also had studied some martial arts with a few friends of his, and loved to put painful lock holds on my arms. He was constantly jacking me up in a painful martial grip, laughing maniacally at my pain and helplessness. This was as close to any sort of physical affection towards me as he ever came. Thank God for that. So, to get back to the main point of this story, I am sure you have all been thinking a lot about the upheaval in Iran lately. Me too!!! A few of you may even be old enough to remember way back in the day, when we could only pump gas every few days a week, we had a pacifistic peanut farming rocket scientist as President, and a few dozen American citizens were being held against their will by the government of Iran. It all goes back to the seventies, doesn’t it?
This was a momentous time for our country, and certainly a momentous time for me and my relationship with my evil stepfather. It was the only time I ever saw the man cry. Well, not cry exactly, but tear up. There was a definite glistening in his eyes, I am sure of it. Was this man human after all? He got a call from someone, I don’t know who, to let him know that an old Green Beret buddy of his, a man he had known well in the service, had been the commander of a failed rescue attempt into Iran to save the hostages. All of the men were killed, and it actually brought a tear to his eye.
Often we can forget that our abusers are human at all, and that they may indeed have some of the same feelings and heartfelt emotions that we have. Somehow it seems almost impossible to attribute these traits to someone who has mistreated us on such a profound and consistent basis. I will never forget that brief moment when the monster of my childhood shed real tears. It is burned into my memory, just as deeply and indelibly as the moment he decided to execute my childhood.
This was one of those moments you look back on and wish you could forget, or remember every detail, or perhaps imagine that it had happened to someone else. Maybe you transferred the idea of the memory from a TV show? But they don’t put shit this screwed up on TV. Even in this day and age. As I said before, I don’t really recall what it was I did to piss him off, but I did. He never raised his voice to me. It wasn’t his style. He just did things to get his point across. In this particular case, he went into my room and brought back my favorite toy in the whole wide world, and brought it back with him into the living room where I waited.
It was my G.I. Joe with the Kung-Fu Grip, a 12” tall action figure that I had gotten from my grandparents for Christmas that year. I loved my grandparents dearly, and I knew that they loved me, which made the gift even more precious to me. At the time, this was the coolest toy that any eight year old boy could have. Did I mention that it had a grip? A Kung-Fu one? This was hot stuff, and I remember watching my evil stepfather standing over me, holding my now puny looking doll in his big hands, and just going numb somewhere inside. I had a very bad feeling that things were not going to end very well for my G.I. Joe.
My evil stepfather didn’t say anything at this point. He knew that he had my full attention. As he laid my favorite toy down on the chopping block in the middle of our tiny living room, I think I began to shake. Oh, wait. You didn’t have a chopping block in the middle of your living room as a kid. I did. We had a wood stove upstairs in the middle of the living room, with a small chopping block and a pile of wood beside it. And a hatchet. You know, normal kids stuff. So G.I Joe with the Kung-Fu grip gets set down on the chopping block, and you guessed it, my evil stepfather whacked his head right off in front of me with on swift chop. My G.I. Joe fell completely apart, head and arms and legs falling everywhere around the chopping block. One practical thing I learned that day was that most dolls like that are held together by a single extra strength rubber band that runs through the body and holds the head and the limbs together with the torso. Cool. I was completely out of my mind at this point. I don’t think I could have been more deeply horrified or hurt if he had shot me.
But, of course, he wasn’t done yet. He never was. He loved to hammer his points home until the nail was completely driven in. He scooped up all of the limp pieces of my executed G.I. Joe, and marched me over to the bathroom, which was directly off the living room. With me once again watching from a few feet away, my evil stepfather flushed all the pieces down the toilet, not all together, but one at a time. I can still see the head swirling down into the watery vortex, the last vestiges of any hope or joy or love in my young life going with it. That man knew how to cut me to the quick, and he had picked the one thing that he knew was dearest to my heart, and destroyed it callously with extreme prejudice and malice. And then, without a word, he walked away, leaving me standing next to the empty toilet, completely in shock.
As I have said before, different traumatic events effect each of us differently. Some people might not see what the big deal is here. Others might be cringing. I was completely devastated. I can actually remember exactly the point when I went completely numb, and it was miraculously much later in my childhood, but I am sure this incident was a big part of that. I have often remarked to others that I had feelings once, but my parents ran them over with a Zamboni, making sure they went over the rough spots enough times to get one of those smooth, icy finishes. So that’s my story, folks, and I am sticking to it. Tune in next time when you can all go together with me Into the Belly of the Beast. (And yea, this one is going to make the summary execution of my favorite childhood toy by my evil stepfather look like a friggin trip to Disney World.) Peace in the Middle East!!! lolz