Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I apologize for the even lower than usual quality around here lately, but I've been working on something for a friend who is going to be doing a workshop with at-risk kids. It's the first time I've ever attempted to write anything about some of my experiences growing up without resorting to euphemism or talking in circles, and I honestly have no idea what I'm doing. It has really taken a lot out of me. As repayment, here's a little of what has been occupying my time.

Sometimes, late at night during my middle school years, we would all wake up to a pounding at the back door. We rarely ever used that door because it stuck, and so anyone banging their fists on it in the middle of the night was always a sign that life was about to go sour. Good news, I learned early, never comes in the dark.

Every now and again we had warning, and my mom would take me to my grandparent's house to spend the night on their fold-out couch. We never really asked questions, my grandparents and I, because none of us wanted to learn how to handle the answers. Instead, they would make up the sofa bed and we would all spend a restless night, rising blearily in the morning to step gingerly around the subject and avoid each other's eyes.

The knocking was always accompanied by shouting, and our trailer would shake as my stepfather jumped out of bed and ran down the hall. My mother would follow, shrieking at me not to leave my bedroom, that they were not wearing clothes and that everything would be alright.

I can’t imagine that much fazed the sort people that came to our door, but my stepfather wrenching open the back door in the nude probably gave them pause. Whether or not everything was alright was something I never stuck around to find out; it only took a matter of moments to pull on my clothes, raise the window, and pop out the screen. For most of the year the Florida air would be warm enough to require only jeans and a t-shirt, and I would wander the dark streets of our trailer park under broken streetlights until the night felt safe and smooth again. Now and again I’d meet other kids out wandering, fleeing from homes holding much of the same, and we would go to the park and sit on the swings and not talk to each other. It was enough, at the time, to know that we were all part of the same secret club.

I fell asleep during math class most days after these late night jaunts, the desk safe and cool against my forehead.

There was only once that I remember anyone offering an explanation; mostly we all just used the daylight as a screen from our nights. I think that what triggered the frantic chatter on that particular evening was that the person who was threatening us this time was a family friend who had been dealing drugs with my stepfather until something went wrong and they ran afoul of each other. In any case, after a late phone call and a loud argument my mother grabbed me by the shoulders and told me that we had to leave for my grandmother’s because Ken was coming over to kill us all. There was something about dealing heroin, but not doing a very good job of it, that at the time washed over me completely. But it made an impression, as Ken was someone I had always been afraid of, and even if I didn’t understand I quickly gathered my backpack and went to wait in the car. When my mom walked outside her face was shiny and red, and we drove to my grandparent’s in silence.

What transpired in the night is anyone’s guess, as the next day came and no one ever spoke of it again, silently righting picture frames that had been knocked askew and resettling furniture. We saw less and less of Ken and his wife after that, though, and I spent more and more nights roaming the sidewalks, nursing bruises, and hoping that high school would change everything.

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