I started to realize this shit wasn't normal when I was twelve.
I guess the broken arm at seven and the numerous twisted ankles
from being shoved weren't enough. What can I say? I am a slow
learner. I never knew all the rules, I don't think there was any
way to know all the rules because they changed so often. Quiet
was a constant, it could never be too quiet. Unless he was watching
TV, then you could set off a low level nuclear device and I think
you'd be safe. After my dad dislocated my shoulder for the second
time, my folks started howling about divorce, not from any maternal
concern for me and my well being, mind you. No, it was mostly
for an unoriginal reason, which was money. They probably wanted
to divorce sooner, but that's the first time I really remember
it coming up in my presence. There was never enough for everything
that was wanted or needed, and of course I was mostly just another
expense. With them both working and not able to support themselves
and me, they certainly didn't make enough alone for two people.
Mom was a waitress at this tired diner in our little Western New
York town, and Dad was a salesman for a used car dealer. The owner
of the lot was someone he went to high school with and somehow
they were joined at the hip, like drinking buddies or something.
The dealership was going nowhere but my dad stayed anyways, always
drove decent cars from the lot to and from work.
Life at home was...interesting. I guess if I were to pull one day
and show you what was typical, it could go like this, one very
real day that sometimes still wakes me up. School was a blessing
`cause it got me out of the house, and I took any chance I could
to get out of the house. I tried to not be late, even if my father
got to me early that day, and I met Jason on the corner as a general
rule about seven thirty for the walk to school.
In my dad's view any friend I had could almost automatically be
discounted as trash, like my best bud Jason, though my mother
seemed to be oblivious most of the time to me or my friends. The
alarm clock gave me a tired wheeze as a wakeup call and I silenced
Not quickly enough however.
"You can't seem to just shut that god damn thing off, can you?
Have to let it ring until it pisses me off, don't you? If you
can't operate the shit, you won't HAVE IT!" his voice reached
an earsplitting crescendo and he stalked across the room. Instinctively
I rolled into a ball on my bed as I heard his hand moving the
air, swiping nearby and by the sound, knocking the clock for a
loop. Better it than me, was all I could think. He bought it anyways
so he wouldn't have to see me in the morning to wake me up.
"Get up! Get the fuck out of here, go to school, you fucking delinquent!"
he yelled as he began to retreat from the room, "Fucking worthless
brat," he muttered as he left the room and creaked the floorboards
on the way to the bathroom. Once he had left the room, I moved
quickly, not wanting a return visit. I dressed quickly and grabbed
my books from the table across from my bed and was almost home
free when Jason ruined it by tapping on the window as the creaking
returned in the hallway.
The creaking was the precursor, the foreshadowing of things, bad
things to come. A harbinger of pain and contempt, always the creaks.
I waved him from the window frantically, and it wasn't until my
father was in the room that he really realized it wasn't a game.
The hand landed first on the right side, `cause he was right handed,
and found the kidney with the skill of practice behind it. Then
the left side as I began to slide down the table, trying desperately
not to fall to the floor where I would fall prey to his feet,
small bits of concrete that they were.
"Son of a bitch, that your boyfriend? Or your pimp?" he snarled
as he spun me around, sending me pinwheeling into the wall behind
me, which consented to hold me upright. Then he was on me.
"You're a piece of shit just like your mother," my father muttered
as I tried in vain to back away from him, "If you were a woman
you'd be on your back all day long, you know that? You'd be a
whore. Shit, you probably are a whore, you gay? You a fag? Answer
I dared not to move too much, not even to answer since any small
thing might set him to further abuses besides just calling me
names and testing the durability of my kidneys. I was pressed
up against the wall in my room, about two feet from the door,
"What the fuck, Frank? Let the shit go to school, last thing I
need is his fucking teacher calling `cause he's late, for Christ
sake!" my mother yelled from the doorway.
"Are you yelling at me, bitch?" my father yelled back and turned
to face my mother who rolled her eyes and headed for the kitchen.
My father released me, my insolence forgotten and I quickly slid
out the back door, as fast as my body would let me, while my father
pursued combat with the shrew.
The news of a possible divorce wasn't
exactly a shock, but the changes in my life were pretty weird.
First they didn't care who I went with, then it was a fight to
make me choose, each wanting exactly the opposite of the other.
Then they fought over the house and what was to be done with it.
It wasn't paid for and I have to admit, maybe I was a little scared
then. Not as scared as I should have been, but scared some anyways.
That they fought wasn't exactly news, and that they had been talking
and even acting somewhat upon the divorce issue, this too was
not necessarily noteworthy. They continued to fight for what seemed
like forever, and as I became even less important to the great
scheme of the household, I began to get into trouble.
"Dude, check this out," Jason said as we ducked into his backyard
one late summer afternoon. He held out a small cigarette-like
object and from there the trouble just got bigger. We started
out just getting stoned out behind his house a time or two a week,
then it grew to going over to this guy's house. Leon I think his
name was, always dressed in a robe, middle of the afternoon and
this guy was in a robe like he just got out of the shower. He
proposed a few deals for our supply of weed to keep flowing and
we took him up on it. Pretty soon Jay and I were small time dealers,
you might say, with a nice little enterprise. We sold to kids
in our class and a few upperclassmen. It was a small school, and
Leon seemed to have no end to his supply. Things could have gotten
really good, but I got careless real quick.
First it was some minor shoplifting which I got caught doing once,
which was double stupid `cause I had money. My folks flipped and
I got the snot knocked out of me, it seems that was all they were
good at anymore, but the breaker happened when Jay and I were
high as kites and wandering the streets with the munchies real
bad. We climbed into a car at the lot my dad worked for and I
dozed in and out while Jay made silly remarks about rainbows and
leprechauns. I remember glancing at him under the harsh glow of
the arc-sodium's that kept the shadows off the used cars and...
I think that was the first time I noticed a guy, I mean really
noticed him. The light from the powerful overheads highlighted
the peach fuzz on his cheek, all Jay could grow, and his eyes
sparkled before he leaned in suddenly and kissed my cheek. He
and I were so stoned and increasingly paranoid that I decided
that I should take him home. I lifted the car from the lot, nothing
fancy, a ten year old Oldsmobile. Went around town a few times
until it ran out of gas, which was kind of silly considering I
had just been paranoid and wanting to take him home. Why would
you try and sell a car with fumes in the tank? You couldn't even
get a decent test drive out of it!
Anyways, long story even longer, the cops saw me getting out of
the car, all five foot five of me, and decided either I was a
midget or a kid and wanted to be sure. I was picked up and of
course, my parents flipped. That was the night, that was the breaker
between me and my folks. Dad got the owner not to press charges,
but they also got to the point that they were finally ready to
officially call it quits, and I got the snot knocked out of me.
I find it strange that I did the things
I did, I knew Dad would slap me around and make me hurt but I
did it anyways. Like I said, I'm a slow learner.
Neither one wanted to be saddled with me, but that wasn't exactly
in their jurisdiction anymore. It's kind of eerie and surreal,
even now when I look back on it. I can see the nastiness in his
eyes, the contempt.
The police brought me to the front door,
and my old man stood there in his boxers and a wife beater. I
could tell right away that the Indians had been playing tonight,
`cause Dad has a well established routine when it comes to game
nights. A small cooler is placed just within easy reach of his
recliner and stocked with beer. The fridge also had ready replacements
if the cooler proved to hold too few, and it always did. The bigger
the Indians lost, the more he drank and it looked as if the Indians
were going through a double header style ass kicking from the
shape of my father.
"Are you Frank Nickles?" cop number one
"Who wants to know?" he replied. Well,
it more sounded like `Who wassanow?' but I'll interpret for you.
"I'm Officer Davenport and we have arrested
your son on the charge of Grand Larceny, possession of a stolen
automobile taken from the Bouchard Used Auto Palace over on Dale
Avenue. I am looking for Frank Nickles, father of Kristopher."
The policeman stated all this in an even tone, as if speaking
to a small child.
The farther good old officer Davenport
got into his report, the bigger my father's eyes got, until they
were like the clichéd saucers one hears about when someone
really gets really, really angry.
"I'm Frank," my father growled through gritted teeth.
I didn't even make it up the front steps
before Dad, in his Indians induced fog, lashed out at me. I guess
he forgot there were two cops right there, maybe in a way I owe
the Indians a debt of gratitude for having a bad night. His fist
connected with my lower jaw, driving me back and down the short
flight of steps. His drunken lurch carried him forward, first
pinning my foot under his and making my fall from a fixed point,
and then the momentum of his over-correction to being off balance
sent him pinwheeling back into the house. I landed on the shoulder,
dislocated again. I howled in pain, as you might guess. I have
this thing, you see, I never have liked pain. Call me strange,
but that's just me I guess.
I was taken to the Emergency room and
the police stayed with me until someone from child protective
could be reached. I was kept for the few remaining hours of night
in a holding cell, by myself of course, waiting for the social
worker who would be assigned to my case.
I'd been down this road before, this was before my father perfected
his ability to hurt and not bruise. You might say I had been here
when Dad was a novice, still learning the ropes of abuse, so to
speak. Someone would see a bruise, probably a teacher, and I'd
be here. We'd get our house inspected, they'd leave satisfied
and I'd get hit in the snot locker.
I was transferred to the social services
office and sat in a small waiting area for what seemed like ages.
I read old issues of People and Sports Illustrated for what seemed
like an eon. Finally I was escorted into a small office, a cubicle
really, and met Mrs. Georgia Kennedy.
"Well, Mister Nickles, let's see what
we have in this file here," she said with her half glasses perched
on her nose. She perused my file and then closed it with a small
whisper escaping the paper sheaves and manila that housed them.
"What seems to be happening with you?" she asked.
"Nothing that's any business of yours," I replied.
"Children who are being abused is my business, and that lands
you in my corner of the world, tough guy."
"You have a file, read it," I mumbled, "It should do me about
as much good as it did the last time."
"Yes, I have heard of you before," she leaned in a little across
her desk and spoke to me in a confidential tone. "But what happened
last time will not happen this time. Your father knocked you down
stairs in a drunken rage. The hospital documented that you had
bruises on your body and that you refused to take a urine screening."
She leaned back in her chair.
"That screams abusive parent to me, and I know that this will
be plenty to get you out of your parents' house and someplace
safe. I have enough here to charge your father, and since he and
your mother live together...well, I suppose that they could make
your father leave and have you live there with your mother, how
would that be?" she asked with an eyebrow arched in the air.
"She doesn't give a god damn what happens
to me, she watches him do it," I sniffed, some of my bravado fading.
"All I need, Kris, is some help from you and we can do something
here, make a real change in your life. What do you say?" she asked
me. I wondered then if I dared to trust her words, did I really
dare to dream of something different from the life I had come
to expect? She questioned me again, handing me a tissue which
I used to blot my eyes.
"Well kiddo? Shall we take a whack at
I nodded slowly, my vision continuing
to blur somewhat.
After that it was a group home while my
case came up in family court, and my parents just gave up their
rights right there, not even a whimper of a fight on it. Just
like that I was to be a ward of the state of New York, except
for one small thing. I had a living relative. And so that's how
I ended up on the bus, traveling to the Western part of Pennsylvania
in early September to live with my grandfather.
I was fifteen.