by Tabitha Todd
A man recounting his childhood takes us into a seedy underbelly of child abuse and racism.
These Chains of Mine
Draft # 1
4312/80,000 : Current Word Count
These Chains Of Mine
July 24, 2009
I remember the first time it happened , I was about seven. The evening was turning out to be a hot and sticky affair. Balmy and humid with the smell of dry dirt and hay in my nostrils while I bounced from one hay bale to the next. The days chores, at least fer me, were done.
I hadn't realized he was standing there at the barn doors. Staring at me, watching every hop and skip across the barn. It was only when the horses chuffed and shifted from hove to hove that I had time to both realize he was there and see the fist coming at me. The pain exploded across my vision and I couldn't understand why he had hit me. I guess he saw that much on my face.
“You don't know do you boy?” the man raged.
“No sir” I said not daring to say more than that nor daring to look him straight in the eye.
“It's because you're a half breed” he whispered as he slammed his fist in my face a second time. I stood there stunned while blood, my blood, slipped lazily down my face in the heat of the barn. Trickling across my now bruising lips and down my chin onto my boots.
“Now look at whatcha done” he snarled as he grabbed me by my shirt and yanked me to my knees nervously. I looked up at him with eyes wide and fearful, half expecting another fistful of his rage to come flying at me while he glared down at me with disgust in his.
“Bleedin' all over the place and making a mess. You're useless boy” he said with a slap of his palm to the back of my head, “ clean yourself up boy then get yer ass in the house for dinner – go on, GIT”
I must have run faster than any of them stallions we had because Mama had a strange look about her face when she had asked why I was so out of breath and red in the face. That's about the time my big sister, Claudette, noticed the blood on my face, clothes and boots. She asked me what in the hell happened. I didn't like lying like I did that day but I didn't want to get into more trouble with step-pa. I guess that made me a quick learn, considering I knew when to keep my mouth shut from the get go.
“Ran myself into the barn wall bouncing round the hay” I said with my eyes at my boots and hands behind my back. Worrying them like one of our dogs would a stewing bone.
“Psshh..you always was a clumsy butt Chance” Claudette smirked as she said my name. Mama, I think in hindsight, didn't believe my explanation much. I think she might have known something was up because she sighed as she grabbed the wash towel out of the dish sink and wiped my face. Those deep brown eyes of hers like two round saucers full of tired and knowing. Pain bordering an all knowing deep and dark fear. It made her look older than what she was and I'll never forget that look for the rest of my life.
“Get yourself cleaned up Pepite” mama whispered softly with an urgency I hadn't heard in her voice before.
“Yes mama” I whispered back with a dry click in my throat as I swallowed back my pain. Pepite was a nick name my oldest brother had given me before he had passed on from a tumor in the brain. James had always been kind to me and it wasn't but a little over a year now since his passing.
It ached my heart every time one of them called me that but ached in a good way, we had been close him and I. I think he was the one who, for the first six years of my life, kept the old man's hatred of me at bay. You see, I wasn't his. I was the result of an affair that my mama had had with a local black man named Danny. That's all I got of him. Besides his watch, chain and high school ring that mama had given me before she passed on herself years later.
As I busied myself with cleaning up my face and clothes I heard the clunk of step pa's boots come through the front door of the house and the door bang hard against it's frame. I shivered and quickened my pace so as not to get caught still cleaning up my mess. I stripped my clothes off and threw them on my bedroom floor. Rummaging through my drawers I found a clean pair of jeans and shirt and tossed them on, throwing my boots back on I had to be quick, if I took too long to get at the table I feared step pa would be a lot more unforgiving then.
When I breezed by him into the kitchen he glowered at me with his back turned to everyone else and side stepped me on his way to the bathroom to clean up himself. I caught a glimpse of myself in the grandfather clock in the hall on the way by and whimpered. My eye was swelling up pretty bad and my lower lip was split something fierce. Purple tracks of swelling lined my lip, the crack of the split opening up again with a pearl of blood as I made a face in the glass of the clock.
“Whatcha doing there Chance?” It startled me when Gabe popped out of his own room and nearly plowed me right over. He gave me the once over and shook his head at the state of my face.
“Nothin'” I said as I backed up into the kitchen, bumping into Mama and nearly causing her to spill over the bowl of sweet potatoes she was bringing to the table in the dinning room. With a look of sheepish apology I shrugged my shoulders and spun around to sit at the table only to find step pa staring at me with putrid hatred. I slinked to the table and plopped on my chair resigned to another possible beating from the old man.
It wasn't until that night the worse was yet to come. Laying in bed the first time I heard the boots down the hall, thinking that another beating would come today. Little did I know it would be much more than just a beating, it would be the start of my deconstruction. Those horrible, hollow boots clanking drunkenly down the hall to my bedroom door. The pause when they finally get there and the creak of the door as it swung slowly open. The light was blinding and the fear was thick.
He had not come for a beating this time, no, he came for much worse. He came for my soul that night and he took it forcefully and without much grace. Grabbing me by the hair he tossed me out of my bed, disoriented and terrified I landed hard on the wooden floor with a thump. He growled low in his chest, baring his teeth at me as if my inability to keep quiet was a nuisance.
He rolled me over roughly, tearing at my clothes. Stripping me down to nothing but bare skin and vulnerability. The grunting was ironically the worse part of the violation he bore upon me, the dirty, guttural sound of it ringing in my ears like a reminder of my humiliation and pain. He said nothing in the way of words to me but nothing had to be said. We both knew why and what the punishment was for.
After that night, he left me alone for a few weeks. I, at first, thought perhaps the atrocity of that night might have deterred him from doing anything more. I was quite wrong it seemed because many years of torture and nightly visits began from that day on. I spent years terrified of the sound of boots on wooden floors. Years thinking if only I couldn't hear at all that maybe it would be easier to take.
More of the most defining moments in my so called relationship with my step father resulted in hospital visits. How in the hell the child protective services never got involved is beyond me. It might have had something to do with step pa's position on town council, maybe even some higher up friends he had around town, I'll never know for sure.
I remember one particular instance when I was twelve, I was running through the fields and late as heck when I got to the house. Out of breath and no one in sight I went looking for mama and my siblings wondering what the heck was going on. There was a note on the kitchen table I'd missed the first go around the house looking for everyone. It had been left by mama, telling me that they couldn't wait any longer for going into town for supplies. I sighed and went off to my room to sulk as little 12 year olds do when they been left behind on something they didn't want to be.
As I stepped through the door of my bedroom a sudden smashing sound startled me, causing me to fall backward into the hallway and right smack on my back. I felt a slickness on the side of my face and put my hand to it. When I pulled my hand away it didn't register that it was blood right away, just that it was red, wet and on my hand and face. I didn't have time to get up either, no that would be no good for step pa, he yanked me by my belt buckle and jeans to a standing position in front of him with a grunt. Guess I was getting a little harder to yank around like that, considering I'd put on some good muscle and height in those years between 7 and 12. Living on a horse ranch can do that, make a strapping strong young man out of a boy. Born and bred for hard labor and harder knocking around by old, spiteful and hate filled men.
Step pa came right back around with a good hard fist in my bleeding face. Knocking me right back on my ass in the hallway. I went sprawling, boots skidding on the hard floor trying to find purchase to get away from the old man of mine but he was quicker than greased lightening when he got it in his head to give me a good whacking around. It still amazes me thinking back to how fast that old man could move when he wanted to. By the time I rolled around his boot came down hard on my ribs, I heard the cracking sound as pain shot back and forth through my side with every burning breath I took. Then he pulled his belt off his pants, buckle swinging in my face as if he was showing me what he meant to do before he did it. I heard the whir of that belt buckle come swinging back away from me as he rolled me to my stomach roughly, then the ripping sound of the flesh on my back as the buckle made purchase on my body and ripped its way down one side of me to the next.
The pain was like getting burned with a branding iron for the cattle and horses. I been burned by one of those once, when I was making to brand one of the horses. Stallion turned as I was going in for the brand and kicked the sucker right back in my direction, caught me good on the forearm. Hurts like the dickens and so did that belt buckle right good. His reasons afterward for the beating was not much of one, just the same old “yer a half breed that won't amount to much” reasoning of his.
Then there was the time he decided, at the tender age of fourteen, that his belt buckle wasn't enough of a beating tool. He took to taking the horse bit to my back. Trussing me up like a damned sheep or pig by the hands to the barn floor where he had laid out concrete with a metal loop just for that purpose. The whoosh of the bit circling me like prey was the most terrifying sound I'll ever have to remember. Those horse bit beatings were by far the most painful of the beatings he ever put on me, the smack and bite of the metal raging through my raw skin and sending rivers of blood over my sides and body.
For ten years I took beatings by day and raping by night. The beatings I could survive, I knew it was a matter of time before that prick died of a heart attack while beating me or at least I thought. He never did keel over grasping his chest like I day dreamed about though. At least not during a beating he was putting about me, he died in his sleep years later while I was running around boozing it and hounding after the ladies.
I don't think I would have ever gotten around to the boozing at such a young age if it hadn't been for step pa. If it hadn't been for my family turning a blind eye and too scared to speak up on my behalf like my dead brother did.
I spent most of my late teens pit fighting and getting into trouble with the law. Have a juvenile record the size of the state to show for it. Stealing, car theft, break ins, probation violations. The worse was yet to come though. I had been out drinking with the boys and running amok at the age of seventeen. Petty theft was the game of the night that night. Drunk off of moonshine and youthful lack of fear I came to a rolling stop through an intersection. Ran that stop light right good and right red instead of green that's for sure.
I remember, vaguely, the sound of metal on metal. The screams of the little ones in the back seat of the station wagon and the smell of gasoline mixing with blood. I remember my ears ringing something fierce because of some loud far off explosion. At the time I hadn't realized how close I'd come to death, and how far over the line my own actions had pushed a family of five to death. I got me a record for that, manslaughter, spent 5 years out of the 20 in the joint for that little incident. Spending a lifetime with their blood on my hands and faces in my mind along with the daily pain of having my hips crushed, hands ripped apart and head knocked seven ways to Sunday and back. Broke my back in that accident too, never a dull moment in my life now a days with the pain of a back that just won't quit on a rainy day.
That car accident was the start of something more sinister in my life. My drug addiction. My poison of choice was injectable morphine. I ran it through my veins as fast as I could run the cost of it through my pocket book. It was my release, my heaven if you will. Whatever your beliefs be anyhow.
The first time I felt that euphoria was when they loaded me up on it in the hospital. It was like life passing you by in 5 seconds flat while the rest of the world took a lifetime to pass the same way. My drug addictions and car accident along with my alcoholism stirred up some bad relationships and bad choices. One I'll never forget or forgive myself for.
It was two years after the car accident and one suicide attempt later when I met her. She was a doll, very sweet and unfortunately, an alcoholic much like myself. We spent five years together going back and forth between loving each other and loving to hate each other. The night I'll never forgive myself for was a rainy, wet dismal night. Much like our fights between each other and make up sessions afterward. Dismal is the weakest word to describe our life together that's for sure.
It was a little after midnight and a lot before the party we were throwing was over. All our drinking buddies were there, the party was in full swing and the neighbors were two seconds shy of complaints. I was standing there, drink in hand, euphoria fevered mind from my last hit of morphine only ten minutes ago. She'd been right in front of me, dancing flirty like with another guy. When I stepped up to cut in between them, giving a dirty look at the other guy while pulling her roughly to me. When I done that she turned around and slapped me calling me a bastard half breed.
The pain of my childhood ripped through me and the sound of step pa's voice in my mind screaming half breed while he beat me to within an inch of my life blinded me with rage. I hauled off and slapped her hard knocking her down and grinding the party to a full stop. I stood there, horrified by my actions while she sat there at my feet staring up at me in that all too familiar way I'd come to know myself in as a child.
I'd finally done it, I'd become the man I hated with everything I had. I'd become the monster of my childhood just like he predicted. I'd become the half breed who'd amount to nothing at all but dirty deeds and rotten actions. The look on her face sealed the deal that night but didn't stop my binge drinking or the morphine flowing into my veins. In fact, it made it much worse. I had a hard time passing a moment without passing a judgment on myself from that point on.
The first suicide attempt I'd made was slitting my wrists. Did it the right way too, if anybody tell you there ain't no right way or wrong way to slit your wrists they telling you bullshit lies. The best way to slit your wrists is straight down from base of palm to mid forearm on the inside. Makes you bleed faster and makes you die even faster still. I got lucky that night and not barely lucky when I over dosed on morphine three months later after that night at the party.
I was feeling particularly low that day I attempted my second try at suicide. The needle was sitting in front of me loaded with about four times the amount a horse could take before keeling over of a heart attack. I remember putting the needle in my arm, I remember the rush then blackness, pure blissful blackness and no conscious thought until I opened my eyes to my best friend standing beside me struggling to keep me standing up right in a cold shower with his cell in his hand screaming for an ambulance all the while his horrified wife stood there 2 weeks too pregnant staring in disbelief.
After that day I was banned from ever being in their house or near their kids because I'd apparently done the deed in their living room just after their two kids had gotten home from school. Not directly in front of them but enough in front of them to scar the poor little ones for life and leave them with a hateful and foul taste for their “uncle” in their mouths and minds. It hurt the most to be banned from them, I'd watched from the sidelines since they was born, not raising them because I don't think a fatherly position would be my thing or anything like that – quite the opposite really. It hurt only because I'd done it, I'd done this to them and myself and I could never undone it ever.
Don't speak to them much anymore. On occasion we run into each other but my buddy and his wife still hurt over what I done to them. I've not only lost a childhood friend but family and I'll never see the light of day on that relationship gone sour ever again. Not like it used to be, all I'll ever be to them is an acquaintance that they don't acquaint with much no more.
After that suicide attempt I had pretty much burned all but a few of the bridges of friendships I had had. No one was willing to take the walk out on the limb for me much, even the good old boys that I'd done most of my drinking and drugging with wouldn't come round much.
The violent solitude of existing only for a habit you can't kick rips apart everything in your life. I couldn't see it then maybe even didn't want to see it. You don't see it and won't until it won't make no matter or difference in the end. Not until it's utterly too late to do a damned thing about it.
I spent a stint in the joint again after getting nailed with possession of a controlled substance. The joint isn't a place for the light of heart. It's dirty, dank and violent. People telling you when to eat, when to sleep, when to shit. You behave and you get your ass kicked by your fellow cons, you don't behave and you get your ass kicked by the guards or warden.
Solitaire is the most disturbing form of punishment that can be inflicted. You're left with your own thoughts and the demons come ripping up your back pretty quickly to torment you mind, body and soul. I remember the first time I got slammed into solitary confinement for defending myself against another inmate. He came after me with what's called a shank. It can be a tooth brush filed down to a fine, sharp and hard point. It's used to stab another person with, makeshift weapon of the sorts.
Kid came at me hard in the lunch line up. All for a damned bread roll that I wouldn't give up. Kid thought he could intimidate me and make himself look good to the joint gang he was trying to get favor with. I guess his thought process was to go after a guy bigger than him, shank the guy and then get in favor with the white gang he was running with.
Didn't quite turn out that way, guess he hadn't heard of my earlier years of pit fighting as a teenager. I was in a particularly foul mood that day too, hurting for a fix that I couldn't have and going through the D.T.'s something fierce. I wasn't in a particularly sharing mood I'll tell ya, kid ended up with a broken jaw, six bruised and battered ribs and his own shank in his thigh.
Took eight guards to pull my 6 foot 2 inch frame off of the kid. Got tazed and tossed in the solitary tank for 5 weeks for it or what the guards always referred to as the T.T. Treatment. Taze 'em and Toss 'em. Kid got transferred to another prison because of death threats from the gang he thought would welcome him even after being shanked with his own weapon.
After that two year stint in the joint I was released and sent on my merry way with not so much as a dime to my name or a place to go. I lived on the streets for a few years during that time. Moving from one soup kitchen to the next and one fix to the next. Yeah, I dried out in the joint but being the junkie I was my first stop after getting out was my old friend, the dealer.
Not easy to come by injectable morphine from just any old dealer, you had to have contacts. Pill pushing doctors in run down clinics looking for a little extra side income that wasn't taxed by the government. Something quiet and away from prying eyes. It's usually the free clinics in the worse part of town that you can find a doctor willing to turn a blind eye to the law and sell you a few half vials that were slated for disposal anyway.
They aren't hard to spot these kind of doctors, usually addicts themselves looking to supplement their own addictions and satisfy monkeys sitting on their shoulders. Say the right thing, flash the right greenback and you got yourself a fix.
The first fix after a dry spell is like your first time all over again. The pain and pleasure mixing so thoroughly you couldn't tell where the line started with pain and where it ended with pleasure. Sitting in a dark back alley way and leaning up against a wall with the needle in your arm was a past time. The streets were riddled with homeless junkies looking for a fix at any cost. Robbing the rich tourists and each other all the same.
The fix, as I came to call it, was all I lived for in the five years on the streets. Begging for change, pimping myself out to the aristocratic woman of the upper class side of town, buying where I could and stealing where I couldn't.
In New Orleans finding an upper crust lady looking for a little loving wasn't hard and most of them were lonely housewives to old farts that couldn't get it up anymore. Being a guy that looked pretty darn above average and well built I was a favorite among them. I got passed around their little circle often enough and got paid well enough to do it too, no pun intended of course.
I remember one lady specifically, she was the sweetest thang I'd ever laid eyes on, young too. Old man that had her on his arm was old school cash and a big wig down at the court house. She was given to him in a pre-arranged marriage by her father and uncle. Two old family names coming together to make one big old family. She was lonely, left to her own devices because the old rat bastard couldn't be bothered to even try getting it up enough. He was happy enough having her as a trophy on his arm rather than a real wife with real feelings.
TO BE CONTINUED - UNFINISHED\UNEDITED NOVEL IN PROGRESS.