As soon as I got home, my aunt was waiting by the door, belt in hand. I could hear the TV in the other room, letting me know my uncle was home too.
“You know how long I’ve been sitting here?” she said, snapping the belt loud.
I looked down at the floor and said, “Yes ma’am. I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry?” she screamed as she stood. “Fuck you been at boy? You been doing dope like your daddy? Huh? Trying to forget what you did?”
She flung the belt at me and whipped my ankles. I made no attempt to move and just let the sting hit me full force. In a way, I felt I deserved it.
“No ma’am,” I said quietly.
“You lying little shit!” she let another whip loose, this time hitting my left hand and causing me to flinch. She called to my uncle to join her and moments later his big belly poked through as the leading introduction to the rest of his lard ass.
“What time is it boy?” he said in his deep, guttural voice. He sounded like he carried a throat full of mucus all the time.
“I know I’m late. I’m sorry,” I said. I could feel my body trembling yet surprisingly, the rest of me felt calm.
“You hear him? He’s fucking sorry!” yelled my aunt.
“I came home early today,” said my uncle, inching closer to me. “Figure we haven’t been treating you as well as we could. Figure I’ll take my nephew to get some food.”
“He’s been good the whole time he’s been with us. No problems at school. No problems at home.”
“Even started to think, no way this kid done nothing they say he did.”
He put his face right up to mine. I could smell his stale breath, rank with whatever shit he had stuffed his face with all day.
“Maybe I been wrong this whole time about him.” He lowered his head so I can see his bared teeth next to my eyes. “But then 3:30 comes around. 4. 5:30.”
“I’m sorry sir,” I said. I don’t know why. Not like it would have made things any better.
His thick sausage fingers shot up over my neck. I could feel the callus over them as he squeezed and dug them deeper. He slammed me against the wall and my head bounced, causing my vision to go dar for a moment.
“What time you supposed to be here?” he spat into my face.
I tried to respond but his hand was squeezing my windpipe that all that escaped me were throaty gags.
“Three!” he yelled as he pulled back and his free hand came crashing into my face. I got dizzy and felt my head start to ache. “Three a fucking clock!”
His palm came again and forced my face to turn toward my aunt. I blinked to regain my vision and saw the smirk on her face, as if she were savoring a show she had purchased front row tickets to.
My uncle hit me, over and over again, saying, “Three, a fucking, clock,” with each blow until my legs gave out. He quickly found it too hard to hold me up than to let me drop.
Remember the whole thing about fights lasting forever? This fat fuck was probably feeling it after the first blow he landed on me. Probably thinking that he beat the shit out of me for three years before he let me drop to the ground. It should have ended there, with me bloody and him wheezing like someone with the worst case of pneumonia, but it didn’t.
I felt his boot smash over my mouth and split my lip open. I had already been tasting metal, but now I was getting a flood of it down my tongue and throat.
“Honey, I think that’s enough,” I heard my aunt say behind him.
I took the chance to cover my head with my arms, only to feel his boot dig into my stomach and take the breath out of me. I curled myself into a ball as the kicks kept coming.
I found my mind wandering into the vacuum of space it had created for itself. I had learned pretty early on that it was easier to wander in the void than to face reality head on.
-Are you saying that you disconnect with reality?
My old man had always liked to kick the shit out of my mom all the time. Most times, it wasn’t so bad. A few slaps here and there and they would just call it rough sex. They were junkies, functioning ones, but still junkies.
When I was six or seven, maybe eight, I tried to stop my dad when he was wailing on her. Kicked my fucking brains in so bad that I couldn’t go to school for a few weeks. I’ve never forgotten the way he looked at me with such unaltered rage and said, “show some fucking respect for authority!”
I never understood why my mom never left. Sometimes I would feel like she didn’t love me enough to get me out of that environment, that she loved him more, or the drugs. It was the wrong way to think, I know, but it doesn’t really matter anymore. I did nothing to help.
My old man got it into his head one day that she was fucking the dealers for dope. He was probably strung the fuck out and paranoid because of it. Kept asking me if I’d seen any of her ‘nigger friends’ coming around. Of course I said, “No sir,” like the obedient child he had beat into me.
He tried to press me, shake me around, flick me hard when I denied it, as if he were trying to torture a false confession out of me, KGB style. I almost felt like saying they had come through just so I could end the tension, but I didn’t want him to hurt her for my own cowardice.
He did anyway.
I was watching TV in the living room when I heard him start to scream. I tried ignoring it, to focus on the television, figured it would pass. I heard the first slap, hard. My momma cried out. Some more yelling and then another, followed by sobbing. I felt rage build up in me. I was so fucking sick of him treating her like some punching bag.
I got up and stormed into my room. I grabbed my bat and felt the old, splintered wood dig into my palm, which only fueled my own rage and determination.
I kicked their door open and yelled, “Get the fuck away from her!”
He slowly turned his head toward me, twitching like the devil twisting its flesh at an impossible angle. His forehead and hair were drenched with sweat even though we were in the middle of the coldest winters I remember. His eyes were purple and gray, sunken into his head as if he hadn’t slept in days, yet they were wide and unblinking. He narrowed them, and in that moment I didn’t see my dad.
I saw evil.
Whoever, or whatever, you picture when you think of evil, that is what knelt in that room over my mother.
I felt my bladder losing control and the grip on my bat wavering. My hands trembled.
“What the fuck did you just say to me?” came his low growl.
I was completely frozen in place. A fucking coward in true form, unable to do anything but try and swallow the remnant of spittle down my parched throat as he threw my mom down and crept toward me. She cried out and reached for his leg, only to have him shove his heel into her nose without looking. Blood gushed from between her fingers as he stepped right up to me.
“Say it again, boy,” he growled. His face got closer to me. “Say it. Again.”
“No sir,” I heard myself say, tears welling over my eyes.
“No sir,” he mocked as his head began to nod. He pulled it away like a twitchy spider. “I didn’t think so.”
He yanked the bat from my fingers and I winced as the splinters cut through my hand. He laughed a maniacal laugh as he turned and pushed the bat into the air like a trophy.
“My wife is a whore who gets fucked for drugs and my son is a bitch, who’s probably doing the same!”
Without warning he turned back toward me, full swing. The bat bit into my leg, just above my knee. I came down and cried out.
“Remember who I am, bitch!” he yelled as he swung again and hit my shoulder. I went down. “Don’t you ever talk back to me! I am the authority!” A shockwave exploded through my back as he swung down on me again. “Show some fucking respect for-”
My mom grabbed his arm and turned his attention from me. He swung back, a loud crack as he crushed her cheek. He raised the bat over his head, again and again.
I don’t know how my swings it took for me to finally yell at him to stop, but it didn’t matter, he heard nothing. I forced myself up through the pain and shrieked at him to stop, still too scared to do anything more. It was enough to draw him back to me but he was already gone. His face was riddled with loathing, lip so curled it looked like it had been completely chewed off. He dropped the bat and lunged at me with both hands. I tried to pry his fingers from my neck but he had a superhuman grip on me.
My eyes wandered behind him, to the bloody bed, and I could see her, but it was anything but her. My mother’s skull had been completely crushed into a pureed mess.
I felt around with my hands, trying to find anything that could help me before I was turned into the same thing. A needle pricked my finger. I had no idea it was loaded, I just jabbed it into his neck as many times as I could until I felt his grip loosen. I must have squeezed whatever was in it into his at one point because his eyes got lazy after he gripped his neck and he stumbled back.
I could still see the rage in him as he tried to refocus. He tried to stumble toward me so I lunged for the bat. I gripped it firmly with both hands and swung back as hard as I could.
That’s all it took for me to kill both of my parents.
-I’m sorry you had to go through that.
Me too, but I guess in a way, me being a coward stopped my mom from ever having to be hurt by that piece of shit ever again. Then again, maybe if I would have just manned up and killed him earlier, she’d still be with me.
There’s also the chance she would have pinned up with some other asshole who’d have done the same. She was raised in a fucked up household.
-I’m surprised you overcame all that, especially in the eyes of the public.
-Right. Why didn’t you go to the authorities about your aunt and uncle?
You mean the same authorities who dumped me off with them?
No one believed my story. Everyone acted like I was a murderer. Who else in their right minds would want to take a kid from Mattern who killed his family? Or in the eyes of the more forgiving, killed his father and sat around to watch his mother die.
No, they weren’t out for my best interest.
Anyway, my uncle stopped after he couldn’t breathe. He stood over me, hands against the wall, wheezing and panting hard as he spat out, “You do, what, we tell you, boy.”
I strained an obedient reply, “yes sir.”
He stood over me for a long time, trying to regain his breath. Finally, he walked off, breathing loud.
My aunt threw a rag at my face and said, “Clean yourself up and go to your room. Better not see you come out.”
She stormed off and I waited a moment before pushing myself up. I winced as I took the first step, but after a couple more, it wasn’t so bad. I went to my room and hopped in the shower, tried to wash away all the dirt and blood, like a dog licking its wounds.
I was hungry, but I didn’t dare go outside. I stayed in my bed and cried myself to sleep.
In the morning I woke up to the front door slamming. I saw some prepackaged junk food by the door and when I tried to go check outside, the door wouldn’t budge. I didn’t need a note or explanation. It was clear they had no intention of letting me out again. One look in the mirror and I had none either.
My eye was swollen, black and purple. My cheeks too. My lip was busted open like a bag of potato chips. If I went out and my boys saw me like that, they’d start asking questions and there’s no way they’d believe it was from the fight at the park.
So I stayed in my room for the next few days, kept my head down, and didn’t make a peep. It’s not like it was too hard. Before I’d met AP and the rest of the crew, that’s all I had done, but it sure sucked thinking that I was doing the exact thing AP had asked me not to do.
I was skipping out on them.
-I’m sure they would have understood.
Yeah, me too, but tell that to the 16 year old me. I hadn’t had very many friends, and here I was, letting down the ones I had finally gotten. I was hoping I would heal up quick, slip out and tell them I had gotten in trouble for being late and could only be out while they were at work since they had locked me in my room. Then I wouldn’t be lying and they wouldn’t have to ask anymore questions, but I never got the chance.
A few days later, they all came knocking.
I should have known that with school being out, and all the extra time on their hands, they would never have stood by wondering where I was. I drew my curtain back just enough to see outside and saw Benny’s grinning face staring back. He motioned with his hand to open the window and I immediately let the blinds drop.
I turned and looked around my room as if by some miracle I would find something that would cover my fucked up face.
“What the fuck dude!” came Benny’s muffled voice through the window. I looked at the mirror at my busted face and cursed to myself. “We were trying to be quiet but fuck you! Open up nigga!”
I threw the blinds open and found his face pressed up against the window, smushing everything together. I almost laughed at how stupid it looked but I didn’t because I was so worried about what they would say next.
The whole crew stood behind him, even Sugar and a little kid who I’d never seen before but by judging his appearance, was clearly related to Benny. I’d heard plenty about his little brother, Ty. THey always made fun of Benny, saying he wasn’t anywhere near as tough as Ty, which said a lot considering I had yet to see Benny back down from anything. Of course, that had always been with the crew at his back.
It’s always easy to crack jokes and talk shit when you know you’ve got a shield around you.
“What the fuck happened to this niggas face?” came the high pitched voice of Ty. It was weird listening and seeing a kid that young talk like that. Hell, it was probably weird for adults to hear us teenagers do the same.
Benny turned and slapped Ty in the stomach, mumbling something that was too muffled by the window for me to hear. I bit the inside of my cheeks as I tried to turn my bruised eye aside.
“Fuck you, I’m just being real,” said Ty.
AP motioned for me to open the window. I gave them a sad excuse of a smile as I did and he squinted his eyes as he said, “Seriously dog, what the hell happened?”
“No big deal,” I said.
“No big deal?” said Drip. “You look worse than those niggas from the Hills Have Eyes.”
“Yeah, I bet they would have cast you just so they’d save on makeup!” said his brother.
“Real talk, nigga. Your face is hurt.” said Ty.
Benny grabbed him by the collar and yanked him close. “What did I just tell you? I’ll take your ass back home right now.”
Ty curled his lip defiantly. “Fine,” he said finally. Benny dropped him only to have his little brother mumble, “Eat my ass nigga.”
Benny’s parents had an extremely toxic relationship together. I doubt anyone knows why they stayed together. Definitely wasn’t for the kids since they would have frequent screaming matches with each other right in front of them. They were never physically abusive according to what Benny had told us, just verbally. There were no limits when their tongues started lashing.
Benny hated it, and he hated it worse that Ty had to sit there and listen to it all the time. He would bring his brother along whenever the moment struck and Ty would tag along, thankful of his brother, even if he put on the front that he wasn’t.
“They here?” asked AP. I shook my head. I got the feeling AP understood and wasn’t going to force me to relive the event unlessI wanted to. “Get a flashlight then, we’ll get you back in time.”
“Trust us, you’ll need it,” grinned Sugar. They all knew I didn’t have a cellphone with a light. I hadn’t questioned the need for a flashlight in the middle of the day but my hesitation to leave probably came across that way.
I snatched up a small flashlight I had used to read at night with and slipped out the window. Benny and Ty rode their bikes while the rest of us walked. All of them recounted the celebration with no care over whether I would be hurt, all things considered.
I admit, I was. Not because they enjoyed themselves without me and rubbed it in my face, but because I couldn’t be there with them to share the experience.
I wanted to party with them. I wanted to get drunk for the first time and let go. To hook up with one of the twin’s sister’s fat friends and get made fun of for it afterwards. I wanted to be able to be free and stop letting everything that lay behind me determine my life.
Anyway, we stood on the street right outside the park. A big circle of hoodlums trying to pretend that we were not focused on anything in particular. Right in front of me stood the eerie, vine infested, rotted house and I fully understood the need for the flashlight.
Jackson put his arm around me. “Today’s the day.”
I laughed nervously, not because I was scared, but because of the consequences that could come if we were caught. Any chance of the house being haunted would be trivial in the reality of the nightmare of the punishment I would get if we were caught.
“I don’t think this is a great idea,” I said.
“It’s not, but we’ve heard you’ve had a rough week so we’re all swallowing one to cheer you up.”
“Yup, all of them,” said Benny. “Swallowing huge loads just for you. And I’ll stand guard out here to make sure we don’t get caught.”
“Why you such a bitch?”” said Ty. Everyone laughed. “Man the fuck up.”
“This ain’t my idea of cheerful,” I said.
“Well we ain’t got titties on speed dial, so unless you want Jackson to hit up the whale he was swimming in, you stuck with the next best,” said Drop.
“Haunted titties,” said Benny.