Ca-thar-sis. n. the purging of emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art, as tragedy or music.
When I was just a little boy, I placed this painful memory into a tightly sealed bottle and buried it beneath some dirt in our backyard. In this way, I have been able to relegate this shameful memory into the recesses of my mind and function as a “normal” adult. And then one day my niece, whom I adore, innocently asked me about…well…she asked my about something that wouldn’t fit inside that bottle. Her and my sister were visiting me here, (in prison.) She was sitting on my lap childishly examining and manipulating my face when she asked in a voice of concern far greater than her age, “Uncle Jimmy, what happened right…here?” And she ran her small hand along the length of a scarcely perceptible scar. The question caught me off guard. And I prepared myself to tell the lie I’ve told so many times that I have nearly convinced myself that it was true; but her eyes…she was looking up at me with those big brown eyes. The eyes of a child seem to see so much more than those of adults. And my niece’s eyes seemed to see right through me. “Where?” I responded with an odd sense of vulnerability. “Right here,” And she traced it again with her index finger. I turned away and searched my sister’s face for an answer. Her smile darkened around the corners and we both lapsed into silence. It was at precisely that moment that my bottle, my tightly sealed bottle, shattered into a million little pieces. The horrible memory that I had repressed for more than two decades came flooding back into my head. “That’s nothing!” My sister insisted, firmly and protectively, and then she placed my niece in her lap. I inhaled deeply and struggled to gain my composure.
MY BEST FRIEND AT THE TIME WAS KEVIN FILMORE. Many people thought we were brothers because we were always together and we looked very similar. Of course this served to strengthen our friendship, and I regularly introduced him as my brother, or at least my cousin. We were both bi-racial with light skin, slim bodies and curly black hair. I was about eleven. He was about a year older and slightly larger.
It was a hot humid stifling summer evening. Kevin and I were at the park a few blocks south of my house. We were having so much fun playing basketball that we didn’t notice the dark clouds rolling in across the sky - pregnant with a violent thunderstorm. But when a cool breeze picked up from the west, we realized a storm would follow close behind.
“I think we better head back home.” Kevin suggested as he shot a jump shot from the foul line. “It’s getting dark, like it’s about to storm.”
“You’re right Kevin,” I said playfully as I retrieved the rebound. “But we can’t quit now. I’m about to win!” I returned to the foul line and drove in for a layup. He blocked it!
Moments later, the air stagnated, the trees grew still, and the park fell dark and silent. A flash of lightning whipped across the sky, the thunder roared angrily, and then, as if hesitating, the storm began releasing huge rain drops. They splashed cold and wet against out hot bodies.
I secured the ball in my arm and we began racing along a tree lined path that lead out of the park. I was in front of Kevin. “I bet I make it to the street before you do!” I exclaimed, nearly out of breath; he was gaining quickly.
“I bet you won’t. You know I’m the fastest!”
Just then, I changed lanes to ensure that he couldn’t pass me and began sprinting as quickly as I could. “I can’t let him win!” I thought to myself. “I know I’m faster than he is!”
We were neck and neck for the next several strides. I was pushing myself as hard as I could but it was no use. My legs began feeling rubbery and within the very next moment Kevin dashed ahead of me.
“Told you I was the fastest!” He bragged when we reached the street. We were both panting and gasping for air.
“Only in your dreams!” I blurted. “The only reason you won is because I have the ball!”
“Excuses excuses, you always have excuses. Why don’t you just admit that I’m faster than you?”
“I’ll admit it when you are, until then I ain’t admittin nothing.” We were both laughing heartily.
By that time, the cold rain was pouring and the street lamps were flickering against a steel grey sky. Not because of the time, but because the storm had chased away the daylight. We were jogging along an old residential street lined with majestic trees toward my house. We were being careful to avoid tripping over uneven sidewalks caused from overgrown tree roots. We were soaked to the skin. We slowed down beneath a six lane overpass to catch our breath. From there, I could make out my house through the rain. It was a small ranch style wooden structure in dire need of painting. In better days it was painted white with black trim. Now, it was weather beaten and a dirty grayish color.
“Alright Jimmy,” Kevin said. “I’ll see you later. I’m going straight home from here.”
“I thought you were commin over.” I protested.
“I know Jim, but I can’t today.”
“Come on man. You can come over for a few minutes.”
“Can’t do it Jim, it’s raining too hard, plus my mom cooked dinner.”
“Alright.” I conceded. “What are you doin tomorrow?”
“My dad’s takin the family to visit my grandpa and we’re takin him out to dinner.”
“Where you guys goin?”
“I don’t know. My dad said it’s a surprise.”
“Well,” I boasted. “My dad took me, my grandpa and my great grandpa out to dinner a few weeks ago. He said it was amazing to have four generations of Black men in the car at the same time.”
“Wow! My great grandpa died before I was born.”
We resumed trotting through the rain. As we approached the front of my house, the sight of my father’s money green Cadillac made me pause at the end of our driveway. The playfulness vanished and a sick frightening sensation came over me.
“Your dad’s new car is s-w-e-e-t!” Kevin said. I did not respond.
“Did you hear me?” He asked. “You look like you just saw a ghost or something.”
“Oh yea, I heard you,” I said as casually as possible. “Thanks’. It rides smooth too.”
“Alright Jim, I gotta go. It’s raining too hard to be out here admiring your dad’s new Cadillac.”
“Alright, but don’t forget I’m callin you later.”
“Okay, but make sure it’s after dinner. You know how my dad is about phone calls during dinner.”
“I know I know.” And as I watched Kevin’s figure disappear up the street, my thoughts began to race and tangle. “He’s usually not home this early.” I reflected. “I hope he’s not angry. For some reason he’s been very angry… Maybe I shouldn’t go inside. Maybe I should catch up with Kevin and hang out over his house, at least until the storm is over. But it would seem odd to Kevin’s parents if they knew I ran past my own house during a nasty storm, especially since I’m soaked.” I was a reticent secretive child and I didn’t want anything about my family situation to appear any more suspicious than I knew it already did. “But if I go inside,” I continued. “My dad might find a reason to attack me, again. And even if he doesn’t, I’ll be terrified that he will. But if I go over Kevin’s, he might be even angrier when I finally return home. But, I could call to tell him that I ...”
After a few indecisive moments of standing in the rain, I realized that Kevin was probably already home, and my time to decide had expired. “I must learn to make decisions more quickly!” I scolded myself; thinking of my father’s advice. “Otherwise, someone might hurt me, or take advantage of me.” Finally, as if hesitating, I lowered my head and began trudging slowly down the driveway toward the side door. As I walked past his Cadillac, I ran my hand through beads of water which had collected on its freshly waxed angular fender.
The side door opened into a narrow dimly lit enclosed patio which ran the length of the house. Four or five paces forward and to the left, there were five cement steps which my father had recently poured. They lead up to another door which opened into a small crowded kitchen. An egg shaped Formica table with stainless steel legs hogged up most of the kitchen floor. It was decorated with a heavy oversized glass bowl that sat boldly in its center. The bowl was tinted blue and had an unusual texture, as if it had been splashed with broken marbles during the manufacturing process. It was filled with wax fruit: one large pineapple, yellow bananas, red apples, bright oranges and deep purple grapes. The cupboards were made of plain sheet metal painted with yellow latex paint. As a result, there was random peeling and visible brush strokes everywhere. Further, the paint had been completely worn away around the handles. A brand new shinny side-by-side refrigerator sat uncomfortably in the corner. Its freshness seemed out of place against the other items in the kitchen; like my dad’s new Cadillac looked peculiar in our driveway. More of the same plastic fruit adorned the kitchen in various places. A velvet painting of a white sailor boy hung over a waist high metal cabinet we used to store canned goods. Despite its small size and cramped conditions, there was not a speck of dirt in sight. My mother made absolutely sure of that.
I opened the patio door as quietly as possible and stood silently just inside the door. My heart was beating slightly faster than normal. My senses were tense and at maximum keenness. I listened intently for the sound of voices. I had grown accustomed to the sound of screaming and yelling that often accompanies domestic violence - and I was braced to face it again. But on this day, all I heard was the sound of the wind and rain splattering against the roof. I inhaled deeply. After a few minutes I began to calm down.
Just then, the door at the top of the steps cracked open and my mother, a small beautiful Korean woman with delicate features and long silky black hair, quietly, as if sneaking, stepped onto the top step and pulled the door up behind her without completely closing it. Her eyes showed trouble and concern. “I thought I heard you come in.” She said in her best English, and then she took another step down to get a closer look at me. She was bunching up a brilliant red kimono in front of her. Her hair was wrapped in a neat bun with enamel chopsticks. “You soaked. You alright?” She probed in a low voice, nearly whispering.
“Yeah, I’m alright.” I said timidly, while looking up at her. “What kind of mood is daddy in?”
“That why I meet you here,” She said, now fully whispering. “He been getting high so he very mad, you go straight to your room. Lisa will bring you food later.”
Lisa is my sister. She is three years older than me. When my mother mentioned her name, her caramel colored face, Korean features and silky black hair flashed across my mind. “W, w, why is he m, m, mad at me?” I managed to stutter. “I h, ha, I ha haven’t d, d, done anything wrong.” As I spoke, I scolded myself for not going over Kevin’s.
“I know you haven’t done anything wrong,” She said carefully. “But for some reason you father been very very angry with you. And today he feel like you disrespected him because you didn’t come home before storm, especially since street lights on. So he in living room waiting for you…”
“B, bu, but the street lights are only on b, be, because of the storm.”
“I know that. But you know how you father get when he high.”
“W, w, well, d, do you think I s, sh, should go over Kevin’s?”
“Too late for that now.”
At that moment my father bellowed, “Is that Jimmy?”
She leaned back and cracked the door open to answer him. “Yes sir, I was explaining to him that he should have come home before the…”
The door was snatched from her grasp and swung completely open. My father, a slender muscular young man with clean features and deep set eyes appeared in the center of the doorway. His handsome brown skin glistened with sweat. He wore a plain white tank top, diamond cut gold necklace, burgundy gabardine dress slacks and matching alligator shoes. He was standing with his arms hanging down freely, back military straight, feet shoulder width apart. My mother, being petite, immediately descended the steps to clear a path for him, but he did not follow her. Instead, he stood there watching us through suspicious eyes. It was apparent from his stance and the speed in which he appeared that he suspected it was me. He also suspected that she and I were having a secret meeting against him. My mother detected this and began to tremble.
The light behind him illuminated his silhouette. His face was stern and solemn, his movements were quick and mechanical, like he was a coiled spring. He scrutinized me from head to toe and toe to head; then he repeated the same examination of my mother. Unable to determine what he wanted, I stood in silence, soaked and quivering.
After an awkward moment of silence, he began speaking distinctly. “That’s right, you know God damn well you had no business out in that storm. And how many times do I have to tell you to get your rump home before the street lights come on before you learn your lesson?”
My thoughts were spiraling out of control. I was panic-stricken. I knew the wrong answer could ignite violence. I scanned my memory again and again, but I could not form a response. I stared up at him with a blank look on my face.
“Don’t you dare act like you don’t hear me boy…answer me when I’m talking to you!”
I looked up at him and said, “Y, y, you w, w, won’t e-v-e-r…”
“Don’t pretend you can’t speak because you’re scared or under pressure, you’re too old for that. Speak!”
I inhaled deeply, as deeply as I could and tried to organize my thoughts. “Y, y, you…” and another deep breath, “w, w, won’t ever have to tell me again s, s, sir.” And I exhaled.
“You God damn right I won’t! And I better not have to! And where were you? And you better not lie to me!”
“He was at park playing with Kevin.” My mother injected defensively, and then looked back down, frowning.
He looked back and forth between us. This was the evidence he needed to prove that she and I were conspiring against him and it infuriated him. Then he said, “Jimmy! Go to your room!” And he took a quick step forward and raised his hand as if he were going to strike me. I backed up and ducked. He continued, “I don’t even want to see your face!”
I felt an immediate sense of relief at his command. It meant I had escaped another beating. I began slowly, cautiously ascending the steps. He did not move. I was careful not to bump him as he was more like a motion activated bomb than a man of flesh and blood.
As I passed him, I noticed that his full attention was now directed at my mother. “When I am training that boy,” He growled. “You keep your mouth shut! Do you understand me! I have to teach that boy how to be a man and to have respect for his elders! Do you understand what I’m saying to you! I have a God given responsibility to get my only son ready to survive in a man’s world. And it’s cold and cruel out here… especially for a Black man! Do you understand me!”
“Yes sir,” My mother agreed pitifully. “But you know your anger throws the poor boy into confusion, and that makes him stutter.”
“Makes him stutter!” He shouted while pointing his finger in her face. “Makes him stutter! There’s no time to be stuttering out there in the real world, and don’t nobody care about him stuttering but you!” He was moving toward her. “Now you listen, when I’m training that boy, keep your God damn mouth shut! Do you understand me? How am I supposed to teach that boy to respect me while you’re sneaking around this house teaching him to disrespect me?”
“I not teaching him to disrespect you.” She said defensively as she backed away.
“Then what were you doing out here on the patio?” And on and on and on…
I was standing silently in the kitchen watching through the doorway. I felt guilty because I knew my actions would result in yet another beating for my mother. I had seen it a thousand times and I felt hopeless against my father’s aggression. At that moment he appeared in the doorway. “Didn’t I tell you to go to your room! Get moving! Now!”
I instantly retreated to my room and closed the door firmly behind me. I removed my wet cloths as quickly as I could and slipped into something dry; not pajamas - I rarely slept in pajamas. I preferred to sleep with my cloths on - just in case I had to come to my mother’s aid in the middle of the night. Otherwise, I kept a full set of cloths arranged next to my bed in such a way that I could get dressed quickly - in case of an emergency. In retrospect, it really didn’t make a difference whether I was dressed or not. My father had warned my sister, Lisa, and I that we were not to interfere with him and my mother. And I took heed to his warning. Thus, even if I were awakened by the sound of my mother screaming and crying out for help, I would sit helplessly on the side of my bed, fully dressed - but I would not emerge until the beating was over.
On this day, I dressed unusually rapidly. The argument grew louder and more intense by the second. My father would shout something, usually about respect. My mother would scream something in return. Soon the shouting would be replaced by the sound of shoving and pushing and slapping and punching and screaming and horror and furniture being thrown and knocked around. I imagined my father standing before my mother, fists clenched tightly, teeth grinding, eyebrows pulling inward, about to deliver a destructive blow to my mother’s delicate face. Then all at once, the argument stopped, like someone turned off a radio.
At first I was puzzled, but after a few moments of silence my confidence returned and I began to calm down. I laid across my twin sized bed and positioned myself to look out at the stormy night sky through an open screen less window. A huge oak tree, which nearly reached inside my window, creaked and rustled under the pressure of the wind and rain. A lively breeze rushed in and sprinkled my childish face with droplets of cool water. When the lightning flashed, I counted: one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three… and then the thunder roared so forcefully that it shook my little room. I was hypnotized by the tranquilizing effects of the storm. Slowly, deliberately, I began to sink into my imagination.
Some might say that an eleven year old boy is a young man. And I suppose this may be true - and in some respects it was true of me. But I still clung tightly to my childish fantasies, using them as an escape or as a shield against the wretched conditions of my childhood. My favorite time to fantasize was during a good thunder storm. That’s when I would pretend that I was a powerful superhero on a relentless mission to save the world:
GLIDING THROUGH THE STORMY NIGHT SKY BY THE FORCE of my mighty hammer, I noticed a bizarre glowing ball hovering slowly above the city. It captured my attention and I darted toward it with the swiftness of an arrow. As I approached, I began to suspect that the ball was an alien spacecraft. It was as large and round as a water tower and encompassed by a fluorescent force field of red light. The sheer size of it was intimidating. But I, being a mighty superhero, could not shrink from my duty to investigate.
I planned to confront the aliens inside; to determine their intentions. But before I did, I zipped around the sphere’s circumference several times to examine it. There was a break in the force field near the bottom of the craft that appeared to be a fuel tank or a docking station. “If necessary,” I thought to myself. “That’s where I’ll strike.”
Suspended in mid-air by the force of my mighty hammer, I commanded in a deep and booming voice, “Identify your selves and your intentions or I will pulverize you!”
The innocent voice of a child resonated from within the ship, “We are from the planet Xavier and we have come in peace.” The craft’s glow grew more intense. “Indeed,” The voice continued, “You have already observed that we are not equipped for battle…”
CAUGHT IN THE GRIP OF THIS TANTALIZING FANTASY, I didn’t notice my father creeping into the darkness of my room. While I had been using the thunderstorm as a canvas for my imagination, the storm inside my father’s head had convinced him that I should be punished.
“Jimmy!” He said roughly. My fantasy evaporated like hot breath on a cold winter day. After collecting my thoughts, I responded cautiously, careful not to stutter. “Y, y, yes sir,” And I sat up and looked through the darkness toward his shadowy figure. A flash of lightning illuminated the room. He was standing inside the doorway, arms hanging freely against his sides, feet shoulder width apart. His chest rose and fell from heavy breathing. He was extending his fingers and closing his hands into tight fists. His large well veined hands trembled with a sort of violent excitement. I knew why he had come and indignation began to fill my heart. I had not done anything to deserve it.
“Please leave me alone, just leave me alone!” The words filled my mouth but would not come out. I was muted by fear.
“Son,” He said as calmly as possible, yet unable to conceal his anger. “You were disobedient today.” He flipped the light switch on brightening the small room. A loathsome expression was on his face. Beads of sweat were glistening across his brow.
“What have I done, sir?” And I swung my legs over the side of the bed, contemplating whether I had enough time to put my shoes on. They were directly beneath my feet.
“Are you playing with me?” He said, growing louder with each word. “Do you think you’re smarter than me, or that I don’t know what you’re up to?” He was working himself up into a frenzy and inching slowly in my direction.
“N, n, no s, s, sir.”
“Then why would you ask me something so stupid. You know exactly what you did!”
“I w, w, wo, won’t, I w, w, won’t do it again sir.” I said to appease him, but still not knowing.
“You won’t do what again?”
“I w, w, wo, won’t stay out during a s, s, storm, s, s, sir.”
“God damn right you won’t! And you know I cannot allow you to keep disrespecting me and this family!” He was looking at me with piercing eyes as he continued to inch toward me. I knew what was about to happen but I couldn’t stop it.
“Please daddy please. I promise it won’t happen again.”
“It’s too late for apologies Jimmy. You knew better.”
“Please daddy please, it was a mistake, I swear it was a mistake, me and Kevin left the park as soon as it started raining.”
By the time I finished that statement, he was standing directly before me. Rather than respond to my pleas, he muttered something incomprehensible under his breath and all at one struck me forcefully in the face. The room grew hazy and began to spin. I raised my childish arm over my face to shield myself from the onslaught of blows. But it was no use. My undeveloped arm could not protect me from the force of his adult strength. With fists clenched as tight as metal hammers, he violently pounded on me as if I were an adversary in the street. “You will learn to respect me!” He muttered through gritted teeth as he delivered blow after crushing blow to my face, head and body.
Somehow, during the attack, I kicked him off of me and he fell backward against my dresser. He clambered to his feet instantly. We were both astonished by my strength. I believe that this was the heinous embryo of my sickening self confidence.
“Oh you really think you’re a man now!” He roared.
“Nnnn, nnn, no sir, it was an accident. I don’t know what happened.”
“You kicked me! That’s what happened, but I bet you won’t ever kick me again!” And he charged me with even more brutality than before. I balled up into the fetal position on the floor next to my bed. I tried to protect my head and face but it was useless. As I felt the pain of his blows against my skull, a feeling of shame and guilt descended over me for raising my hand against my father. I had been a dishonorable son. Yet something inside me refused to let me cry or scream. Instead, I took my beating in silence. This response seemed to fuel his anger. He continued beating me until exhaustion choked out his rage, and then he scramble out of my room like a triumphant scorpion creeping into the darkness from which he came.
LOOKING BACK, I WISH HE WOULD HAVE KNOCKED ME UNCONSCIOUS, or that I had passed out from an emotional overload, then I wouldn’t have done the horrible thing that I am so ashamed of. But he didn’t. Instead, I laid across my bed silently weeping and trying to catch my breath. Hot tears rolled freely down my cheeks and dripped onto my pillow. I felt betrayed and emotionally violated. I could feel my face swelling, my ears were ringing, I was bleeding and my body ached all over. But worst of all, I felt self pity.
“Crying is for little girls.” I reflected. I gathered my composure as swiftly as I could and tried to make sense out of my situation. But at that time of my life, it was too complex to comprehend. Interesting, I did recognize that during the beating, my mind’s eye took extraordinarily vivid pictures of my father’s face, especially his eyes. They were full of anger and frustration, confusion and hopelessness.
I didn’t understand it then, but I think I understand it now. But it still continues to keep me up at night. Although there is no excuse good enough to justify abusing an innocent child, I do understand … I mean…I guess I’m still trying to rationalize or justify this thing. I know my father is not an evil man, and I believe he loves me. He provided for our family to the best of his ability, he taught me all that he could, and he used to take me fishing. So his aggression must have been the result of his frustration with a system that constrained his potential and extinguished his hopes and dreams. Unable to find a constructive vent for his anger, it occasionally erupted against the people he loved the most. First it was my mother. Now his eyes were trained on me.
On the other hand, perhaps it was all my fault. Maybe I was a recalcitrant and unruly child and got exactly what I deserved.
AFTER I STOPPED CRYING AND REGAINED MY COMPOSURE, I lifted myself from the bed and reported to the bathroom to inspect my injuries. I entered the bathroom and shut the door securely behind me. The room was painted powder blue. A bear claw bath tub extended from corner-to-corner against the back wall. A solitary light bulb with no cover sat above the mirror. The light was activated by a string a metal beads that hung down the center of the mirror. I rinsed my mouth with warm water; careful not to aggravate the pain. Then I moved the beads to get an unobstructed view of my face. I gazed long and hard at my own reflection. Using my fingers, I manipulated the skin around my eyes and mouth to get a better understanding of the damage. (I do not care to describe in detail the condition of the little boy in the mirror, other than to say he appeared severely beaten.)
“I’m gonna stay in my room all summer long.” I reflected; transfixed by my own miserable reflection. “That way, no one will have a chance to question me about my face… and if they do…I’ll tell them I fell off my bike. But no one would believe a crazy story like that, you can’t get these injuries from a bike fall. Besides, I used that story the last time…I’ll think of something…”
I continued gazing intently at my face when three gentle knocks on the door broke my concentration.
“Jimmy, Jimmy. Are you in there?” My sister inquired, nearly whispering.
“Yea,” I whispered back. “But don’t open the door.” But it was too late, the door crept open and she peered into the bathroom.
“Oh my God Jimmy.” She cried out softly. “Are you alright?”
“I, I, I’m fine Lisa, I’m fine,” And I turned my face away from her to conceal my injuries. Tears began welling up in my eyes. She stepped in, wedged her body between myself and the mirror, and maneuvered my shoulders to place me squarely before her. I continued to look down and away.
“Look at me so I can see your face.” She said.
“No Lisa, don’t worry about me, I’m alright.”
“Jimmy,” She said sternly. “Let me see your face.” And she used her hand to turn my chin toward her. My face was wet with tears.
Although we were face to face, my eyes were focused down at the bathtub. Her little heart sank when she got a clear look at my condition and she began openly sobbing. As she cried, she pulled me into her bosom and embraced me warmly for what seemed like several minutes.
“Take it easy Lisa, I’m okay, and let me go, my lips are bleeding all over your shirt, I’ll be alright.”
“You are not alright,” She wept. “Daddy shouldn’t be hitting you like this; you’re only a little boy. If he wants to prove how tough he is, he should pick a fight with one of his big friends, but he should leave you and mommy alone.”
It was a suggestion I had not considered but immediately agreed with. But I kept my opinion to myself.
“Don’t cry Lisa,” And I pulled myself away. “I’m really okay.” I felt my lips throbbing and swelling.
“You are not alright,” She lamented as she continued to examine my injuries. “But all we can do is pray about it.”
“How is mommy?” I asked.
“She’s alright, just worried about you. Come on, she’s in the kitchen warming up your dinner.” And she began pulling my hand toward the kitchen.
“Y, y, yo, you know I can’t go in the kitchen without daddy’s permission.” And I resisted her pull. “Besides, I’m not hungry; I’m going back to my room to lie down.”
“You can’t do that,” She insisted. “You have to get something to eat and let mommy see you, and you know she’s not going to your room while daddy’s mad.” Over my resistance she led me by the hand toward the kitchen. My mother was sitting at the Formica table. She made a sound as if she had been struck when I entered the room. She rose from her chair and stood before me. “You face is very beat and swollen.” She managed to say as she ran her fingertips around the perimeter of my hair line. She used a delicate thumb to wipe away a tear.
“I’m alright mom.” And I turned my face away. “I’m still young so I’ll heal up just like new.”
“You not okay.” She demanded. “You been beat very bad.” And she pulled me against her bosom.
“Mommy, I - am - okay.” I said as convincingly as possible through swollen lips and pulled away. “I just looked at myself in the mirror and I’ll be fine.” Attempting to shift the attention onto her, I asked, “Are you alright?”
She did not respond. She seated me at the table and placed a plate of steamed rice, Kim chi and baked fish before me. “You need to eat,” She said. “It’ll make you feel better.”
“I sincerely appreciate this concern.” I thought to myself as the aroma of food filled my nostrils, “But I don’t want pity and I don’t want sympathy, I just want to forget this day ever happened.”
My mother sat to my left and faced the dining room. I pushed the bowl of plastic fruit to the right so I could see my sister’s face, who sat across from me. We were all silent and dejected. Being careful not to touch my lips, I placed a spoon of rice in my mouth. The rice mixed with some blood that was seeping from a deep gash on the inside of my lip and gave the food a foul fleshy taste. My appetite faded.
As I watched my mother, who was encouraging me to eat, her expression turned from heartbroken to fearful. The object of her attention was coming from the direction of the dining room. Instinctively, I turned to see what she was looking at. It was my father. He was racing toward us.
“Who said you could come out your room!” He bellowed.
“He needs to eat.” My mother said, trying to protect me.
“Woman! Haven’t I told you to keep your God damn mouth shut when I am training this boy…haven’t I? Now SHUT UP!”
My mother did not respond. She lowered her head and frowned, defeated by his words. Realizing this, he directed his attention back to me.
“Now - who told you that you could come out your God damn room!”
“I, I, I h, ha, had, I had to use the bathroom, sir.”
“God damn boy, are you still playing games with me? Didn’t I just teach you a lesson about lying? This ain’t the God damn bathroom!”
“I’m sorry daddy. I d, d, didn’t know I was supposed to stay in my room.” I considered telling him that my mother told me to come to the kitchen, but that would get my mother in trouble.
“You didn’t know,” He repeated. “I see I need to teach you another lesson so you won’t forget the next time. Is that what you want? Hun? Is that what I need to do to make you understand?”
“N, n, no sir,” I said. But I knew it was already too late. “Please daddy, please. I promise it won’t happen again.” I was shaking uncontrollably.
By this time, he was standing within striking distance. His arms were hanging freely, his back was military straight and his feet were planted shoulder width apart. “He’s about to do it!” I thought to myself. “Probably because I kicked him off me. But this time I’ll run! Yes! This time I’ll run out the kitchen door. I can’t take it anymore!”
In the blink of an eye, he stepped forward and struck me in the mouth. The force of his blow toppled me to the floor. I tried to scramble to my feet so I could run, but he jumped on top of me. We twisted and wrestled vigorously for several minutes before I could get my footing. All the while he was punching me with those dreadful metal hammers. Suddenly, in a fit of horrific terror, I retrieved a knife off the countertop and drove it into his chest. It all happened in an instant!
The struggling stopped and he stumbled backward. His eyes opened unnaturally wide and horror came over his face. “You dirty little mother fucker!” He shouted. “You dirty little mother fucker! You stabbed me!”
I was shocked! I watched him in terror! He was bewildered! His fingers wrapped around the wooden handle of the knife. He pulled it out! I recorded it in slow motion. I was paralyzed with fear. Blood was gushing! My knees buckled and I nearly fainted! I fought hard to stay conscious! A musty nauseating odor filled the kitchen! The smell of tragedy, horror, confusion and hopelessness!
I suddenly heard my mother and Lisa screaming! I had not seen or heard them before that moment. I was so scarred! “I have to run!” Flashed into my mind. I knew I had just traveled through a door from which there was no return and I had to get away.
I began cautiously backing up toward the patio door to dash out the house. Realizing my intentions, he lunged at me and wrestled me into a suffocating headlock. But this time, he did not strike me. Instead, he wrestled me to the floor and used the weight of his body to hold me down. All the while he was muttering something incomprehensible under strained breathing. Not sounds of anger, but sounds of sorrow and contrition. I thought I heard him say he loved me, and that he was only trying to teach me to be a man. I could feel his heart fluttering violently against my back. With all my might, I finally broke loose. Blood, sweat and a peculiar stench were smeared all over my face and body! I bolted out the door to seek cover in the darkness of the storm.