Monday, October 02, 2006

Resistance

I had recently seen my eighth birthday come and go. It was another hot, dry summer day in Nowhere Land. The pungent aroma of weed sap and manure hung heavy in the air. This was, in the words of a farrier I had recently met, the “smell of home.” I was crouched, peering through the window overlooking our front porch. My attentions were alternating between the long caliche driveway in front of our farmhouse and a small patch of highway visible above the tree line a half mile away. A brief glimpse of a blue Chevy departing at high speed in the distance provided reasonable assurance that I could complete my mission in privacy. Patience though! The dust had not settled on the tire-rutted driveway and I had learned through trial and error to never jump the gun. The penalty for inaction was the intolerable misery of the status quo. To be discovered, or worse, betrayed, would bring unimaginable suffering. The crime that I intended to perpetrate today was nothing less than a capital offence. It was getting hard to breathe. A wave of uncertainty, a moment of doubt, I would not miss another opportunity to act.


A cursory rummage through the cabinet beneath the kitchen sink and the drawers in my parent’s bathroom yielded several possibilities. An expeditious survey of the various container labels resulted in nothing resembling the skull and crossbones that might settle the issue. I resorted to a more primitive method. One by one, I unscrewed the sticky, crust-covered lids and judged the lethality of the contents by their appearance. These were pre-internet days. The ancient encyclopedias that I used to read myself to sleep most nights offered no help with identifying the ingredients listed on the bottles and cans. Therefore, I settled on those with fumes that burned my eyes or at the very least, elicited a gag response. I gathered my prospects around a medium sized plastic bottle that I had rescued from the burn barrel days before. Not interested in taking chances, I carefully poured small amounts of several of the most caustic liquids into the empty reservoir. As an added measure, I topped off the noxious brew with Final Net hair spray and a drop or two of Chanel No. 5. With the cap screwed tightly down, I shook and then held the bottle up to the sunlight. This was surely a deadly mixture. Now it was time to put it to use.


By the luck of the draw, I was born a sickly asthmatic. Some of my most vivid childhood memories revolve around the never-ending quest for oxygen. I had devised a technique of forcing air into my lungs by clutching the nearest available stationary object. A doorjamb, a car or a tree, almost anything would do. By setting my entire body to the task, I would maintain a minimum threshold of oxygen in my system, thereby remaining conscious long enough for the episode to gradually abate. Like many children in my situation, I owed my life to those small glass ampoules of adrenaline as well as an adult capable of administering the emergency drug. That and a regimen of allergy shots guaranteed a steady supply of syringes. These versatile little implements would become a fixture in my life. By my seventh birthday, I was self-administering and even giving my mother her scheduled injections.


The container of syringes, always stored on the top shelf of the bathroom cabinet, was my next objective. One by one, I dipped those razor sharp needles and drew the soupy concoction into calibrated chambers, all the while taking care to avoid overfilling. An overloaded syringe is difficult to control and easily spilled. Although sensitive to the valuable moments slipping by, I could not help but sit motionless on the bathroom floor, loaded syringes at the ready, while visions of violence and fury ran through my mind.


These memories played a large part in my decision to carry out this desperate plan. They deserved another going over, so I allowed them to take me back to the day before. With startling clarity, I could feel those heavy boots pounding the wooden floor like thunder from a fast approaching squall. The interval between lightening flash and thunderclap becoming increasingly shorter as the storm draws near. I resolve to stand my ground. This time, I will take it like a man and I will deny that bastard the satisfaction. Then I see his face, blood-red and twisted by rage, veins bulging from neck and forehead, my legs weaken. I see his clenched yellow-stained teeth barely visible through pursed lips. Muscle-bound arms flex as his fists draw tight. A voice as loud as a freight train, and as overwhelming as an avalanche, speaks with menace of the coming tribulation. I stand with my brothers and curse the mother that gave birth to this beast. Like a medieval sword pulled from its scabbard, the thick, heavy leather strap swings into action and the beatings begin. Little brother fights back and tries to escape but his efforts are pitifully ineffective. Through the blur of flailing body parts, purple welts with bloody outlines take form on his partially naked body. His eyes wide in terror, mouth agape, I can hear little brother’s screams for mercy turn to gasping sobs and inhuman shrieks followed by the horrifying sounds a drowning person might make as he breaks the surface one last time. Little brother's feet rarely touch the ground, his body held aloft by one arm. Unable to fend off the blows, his free arm swings in random arcs and his legs dangle stiffly. His tiny body jerks and convulses with each impact. The leather strap is wielded with unimaginable power and mechanical efficiency. Time after time, the strap sings its song as it cuts the air. Little brother's flesh registers the onslaught with shockwaves and ripples as blue and red streaks compete for space on his back, legs, and arms. No longer counting the blows or speculating when it might end, I am waiting my turn. I hide my face behind clenched fingers and my voice joins the chorus of screams and curses. I will not allow this jackass to strip me once again of my dignity. I will go to my fate, standing straight and strong. In an all too familiar display of endurance and determination, the heavy strap is now flies with increased energy and enthusiasm. I have seen animals twenty times the size of little brother broken by these forces. Then the old man’s grip on little brother’s arm releases. Little brother collapses to the floor, he attempts to crawl towards some imagined sanctuary. The dirty bastard surveys his handiwork and re-positions for the coup de grace. The blows rain down in a maelstrom of violence, the final lashes delivered with brute force and cold efficiency. He turns from the sobbing, bloodied wretch now partially hidden beneath a dining room chair and chooses his next victim.


I relinquish the pathetic remnants of my self-respect as my feet leave the ground and I beg for mercy and then scream out in agony. My arm goes numb and is useless to me now but I struggle until my strength gives out. Now completely consumed by paralyzing jolts of pain, my lungs demand air but there is hardly enough to manage the choking gasps, none left over to humiliate myself any further. Countless times through the years, I would hang there in utter disbelief, flopping, flailing, and then crawling through an eternity of withering assaults, wondering if the final blow would ever come. Only after the capacity to form rational thought had broken down would the storm pass to the next brother in line. For this reason, I have no memory of how it felt to escape his iron grip. Even so, I know my own story by the terrible sight of my brothers as they were finished off. Like a fast moving hurricane, the storm would carry its destructive power through the house, out the door, and on through the countryside, leaving devastation in its wake. Afterwards, my brothers and I would avoid each other. There would be no words spoken and no eye contact made until the shame of it all had receded somewhat. Then the plotting would resume and I would begin the process of restoring my dignity and self-respect. I felt a wave of panic. How long had I been sitting there on the bathroom floor, clutching those syringes? A hurried reconnaissance of the surrounding area confirmed that I was indeed still alone. I had a job to do. Today, I would strike hard at my first and second worst enemies. One would die and the other would feel my wrath.


I set a course for the old man’s vegetable garden. I pushed the gate open and stepped over the line onto hallowed ground. I moved without hesitation to my intended victim. I found myself kneeling at the base of the first okra plant in a long row of them. I plunged the needle deep into the pulpy center of the stalk and pushed the plunger with all of my might. To my dismay, the tough plant fiber refused to swell and I had to settle for a smaller, less satisfying dose of the deadly concoction. One after another, I dispatched the okra plants to okra plant heaven with the faint fragrance of Chanel No. 5 drifting in the wind. After my initial success with the okra plants, I discovered a cache of pesticide in the tack room and achieved further glory by reducing his despicable garden to a barren wasteland, year after year, until it lay in ruin.


I held no grudge against the plants in the garden. They were simply collateral damage. By eliminating the garden, I had declared war on my second worst enemy. A nasty little creature that evoked fear on a par with that I felt towards my father. It was an unpredictable and intimidating predator, capable of sending a full-grown horse into a haywire conniption fit. This inch-and-a-half-long demon, sporting a sinister cog-shaped “wheel” in the center of its back, had an ongoing love affair with the okra plants. Or, more accurately, it had an insatiable desire to sink its long, sharp beak into the bellies of certain other bugs who had ongoing love affairs with the okra plants. They existed everywhere but were concentrated to a horrifying degree within the confines of that garden. They moved about the place on uncoordinated stilt-like legs and took flight with undersized wings that produced loud, erratic chopping sounds. They typically concluded their air travels with a particularly ungraceful crash landing, all the worse if the landing strip turned out to be the back of your neck, or worse, the hair on your head. I won't even go into that. When preparing to feed or in response to a threat, they would raise their comically small heads and unfurl an oversized puncturing devise normally kept folded beneath their bodies. Lurching forward, they would plunge their formidable hypodermic probe deep into the victim, injecting digestive enzymes that carry with it a pain that only I could imagine. The victim, instantly incapacitated and then internally liquefied, would be emptied of its contents; the empty husk discarded like a paper plate at a church picnic. Their excruciatingly painful bites resulted in tissue damage that sometimes took months to heal. I would sooner run head first into a nest of angry hornets than risk a single bite from one of them. Known generically as “Wheel Bugs” they were crawling and flying in great swarms in that damnable garden.
The wheel bug was one of many from a family of insects also known as Assassin Bugs. This particular variety was the largest and most aggressive. In stark contrast to the unrelenting misery of my home life, the wheel bugs were vulnerable. I could fight my clandestine war and send them packing as long as I played it smart.


Through those years of family turmoil and violence, I came gradually closer to my goal of taking the beatings like a man. I eventually succeeded. As my brothers and I grew older, stronger and measurably meaner, the person responsible for it all wisely transformed himself into the kindly old grandfather that he is today. The criminal justice system took over where he left off. They were more than happy to bear the brunt of our rage and they were largely responsible for my brothers and me eventually choosing the high road. In any case, we have long since been domesticated and we are reasonably well adjusted tax paying and mostly law-abiding citizens. It took a few decades, but I eventually reconciled with the old man. The change of heart was more a matter of self-preservation than forgiveness. I simply couldn't shoulder the burden of hatred any longer.

21 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't been able to make peace w/ mine yet but I'm working on it. Fact or fiction?

4:39 PM, October 02, 2006  
Blogger slaghammer said...

Hi csmc, I guess forgiving and making peace are not necessarily the same. There will never be "peace in the valley" where my family is concerned.
And yes, it is factual, though understated.

5:33 PM, October 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahh good distinction slaghammer. Thanks for being so candid regardless. I can definately relate for better or worse.

5:38 PM, October 02, 2006  
Blogger skinnylittleblonde said...

Wow! Slaghammer, your writing is wonderful. The story rings of truth through every detail, however disturbing some of it may seem, I think it is beautiful. As much as it is wrong that the dear old grandfater did what he did, it allowed you to experience & learn to express things in a way not even imaginable by most folks.
BTW, I love the creative sadistic sense you had in your youth!

6:11 PM, October 02, 2006  
Blogger slaghammer said...

Hi skinny, thank you for your kind assessment of my humble efforts. It is true that misery can be a powerful developmental tool. But you can never know at what point the damage outweighs the benefit. Most of the time, it is not our choice to make anyway. By the way, the "old man" is my father. Becoming a grandfather contributed immensely to his taming I think.

6:31 PM, October 02, 2006  
Blogger Cheesy said...

Dam Slag... very dark.. very deep/// very artfully written... all I can say is... Thanks Mom and Dad for being my parents!

[[[[[[Slag}}}}} you and your sibs deserved better

10:35 PM, October 02, 2006  
Blogger ian said...

Wow.

Thanks for sharing that.

Ian

11:03 PM, October 02, 2006  
Blogger slaghammer said...

Thanks cheesy, I was very aware even back then that we had it comparatively easy. Children are abused, crippled and murdered every minute of every day somewhere in the world.

Ian, blistering headache, innards tied up in knots, I don't think I'll be doing it again for a while.

1:08 AM, October 03, 2006  
Blogger Orhan Kahn said...

I would've loved to have read it all but it is midnight here and I need rest. By what I did get to read I was roped in by the elegant use of detail. So beautiful indeed.

I will be back to finish it off, I can assure you that!

9:04 AM, October 03, 2006  
Blogger slaghammer said...

orhan, thank you and come back anytime.

9:39 AM, October 03, 2006  
Blogger Cornealius said...

Yes, a very impressive post, slag. Your writting is really good, you should be writing a book, not me.

10:19 AM, October 03, 2006  
Blogger Kara said...

Jebus. No wonder you play with fire.

10:54 AM, October 03, 2006  
Blogger slaghammer said...

Cornealius, thanks. I'll do that when they add a few more hours to a 24-hour day.

Kara, fire is good.

11:56 AM, October 03, 2006  
Blogger Paopao Wang said...

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4:03 AM, October 05, 2006  
Blogger David said...

Feck, that post resonated with me. You more than have a book in you, you have a book that i want to read - and i say that as an author and vampiric devourer of words.

10:23 AM, October 05, 2006  
Blogger slaghammer said...

paopao wang, thanks for visiting my humble blog. I will check yours out.

hi david, thank you for your kind assessment. I love writing but my potter’s wheel is a jealous and unforgiving parasite. Until I find a way for them live together peacefully, the wheel will always triumph.

10:00 PM, October 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Slag, my brothers and I can identify with you. We called him a madman and other names out of range of his hearing. He would perform what I guess you would call "anger release" on our poor tender bodies. He left us for many years but finally came back to be the nice grandfatherly type. He died 2 years ago and his last words to me hurt worse than any beating received.

I wish your cruel mistress would let you write a bit more. Maybe you could talk into one of those phallic headsets while the wheel spins and you pull up those satisfying, yummy rolls of clay?

6:00 PM, October 06, 2006  
Blogger Edukator said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing that. I hope it was cathartic for you. You're incredibly brave. You're also an extremely talented writer. :)

6:04 PM, October 06, 2006  
Blogger slaghammer said...

Hey madpotter, one of these days you’ll have to say what those last words were. I could take a couple of pretty good guesses based on my own experiences.
I have neglected the wheel for four or five days now and I am being punished severely. There are four 50lb boxes of fresh raku clay out there waiting to be released from bondage. Tomorrow is the day!

Edukator, it was cathartic but extremely taxing. I still haven’t shaken the blues from going back there. Thinking about it is one thing. Going back and watching, even worse, listening, and then examining every detail, I’m not sure yet whether the good will outweigh the bad.

7:26 PM, October 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sitting here at 2am, absolutely stunned, having 'stumbled' upon your site. I started reading and in the space of the 10 minutes it took from start to finish, it took me from 'laugh out loud' feelgood factor right down to 'tears streaming down my face' sobbing for those little boys of your childhood and for the children of today that might be suffering similarly.

It HAS to be good.....to have that within, and to have the incredible gift you possess to allow it out, can only help to release even a little of the pain. Yes, there are children who are murdered and subjected to all sorts of horrific atrocities.......you are one of them.

Your writings are absolutely incredible, thank you for sharing them.

8:27 PM, October 15, 2006  
Blogger slaghammer said...

Anonymous, thank you for your kind words. It has been about two weeks now and it seems to be getting more difficult to come to terms with. My own reactions to the dredged up memories are still a source of embarrassment for me considering the daily revelations of more serious abuses inflicted on children. In comparison to many other stories, my family’s experiences were a walk in the park.

12:00 AM, October 17, 2006  

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