An essay about one of my experiences growing up as white trash.
|The Man in the Mirror
I’m sure at one time, the house was a decent, albeit modest, home. It was in a good neighborhood. The rest of the houses on the block were well-kept with green lawns, intact paint, and even flowerbeds. Our house was the exception. Our yard was dry and brown from neglect. The white paint on the trim was a cracking roadmap for hell. The house was depressed from too many parties and drug deals. It had declined to the status of “eyesore,” while its adults inhabitants consumed themselves with sex, drugs, and relentlessly ear-splitting rock and roll.
My baby brother and I were the only children in the house. Jimmy was three, skinny and always dirty, because I was only five, and not yet fully aware of the benefits of cleanliness. I was chubby and excited about my escape to kindergarten that fall. We spent our days playing with the hairy, quick-as-lightning tarantulas in the empty field between our house and the highway. We pretended the spiders were an alien army, and our mission was to annihilate as many of the enemy as possible.
We weren’t allowed to play with the neighborhood kids, because we were known as the “bad” kids on the block. We were just the innocent, neglected kids of a drug-addict mother and a drug-dealing step-father. I’m not quite sure how we became to be known as “bad”; we didn’t know enough about the world to be either good or bad. That would change in our shabby house, that year. My education about the world, and my place in it, began in August of 1979.
The heat had been oppressive that day. Jimmy and I had managed to steal a quick reprieve from the blistering sun, playing with the water hose, while Mom and several of her “friends” got high in the house. We made mud puddles, as the pungent aroma of marijuana drifted slowly from the back door. We didn’t play long before some adult or other, yelled at us to “stop wasting all the damn water!”
The blazing sun was setting through a haze. My brother and I were starving, because of our contact high, so we made an adventure of finding some sort of sustenance. We fought bravely against the beer bottles, cigarette butts, trash, cocaine covered razor blades, and cockroaches, in our search through the grimy kitchen. At last, we found a piece of bologna and the heel of an old loaf of bread in the back of the empty refrigerator. We ate our dinner, as the music got louder, and the party got going.
After our feast of bologna and bread, Jimmy was ready for bed. We had played hard that hot summer day, and although there were about thirty people in the house, it was time for us to try and find some peace for the night. I always went to bed with Jimmy, so I could keep the drunk or stoned interlopers from disturbing his sleep. I remember that night I cried myself to sleep. I cried out of exhaustion: I wanted the noise and the people to just go away. But I also cried because I wished so hard that my daddy would come and save us. Those childish prayers went unanswered.
I woke up some time during the night, hot and sticky with sweat. My bladder was painfully full and my mouth was as dry as the dead grass out in the yard. I was still high from inhaling too much pot smoke, so I stumbled out of bed into the dark hallway.
The party was over and the house was completely dark, except for the strip of light escaping through the almost closed bathroom door. The only sound was the stoned snoring of some unidentified “guest” on the worn-out sofa in the living room, at the other end of the hall.
I teetered toward the bathroom door, holding onto the wall for support. I reached the door, fearing I would wet myself. The bathroom was just as neglected as the rest of the house. On one wall, above the vanity and toilet, there was a long, tall, and cracked mirror. It reflected all of the bathroom, including the linen cabinets with their missing handles, and the cracked, grimy tub on the opposite wall.
Before I opened the door, I realized I could see someone’s reflection in the mirror. I didn’t know who it was, so I decided to wait a second, to determine whether this person could be friend or foe. The man was slouched over, and at first, all I could see was the top of his short, black hair. Could this be one of my uncles?
After a moment that seemed to last forever, to a five-year-old whose eyeballs were floating, the man stood up. I didn’t recognize the strange face, twisted in agony, the mirror was reflecting to me. The face scared me, but what terrified me more, was what the man was doing: he had a big rubber band on his skinny arm, and a needle sticking in his vein. I didn’t know exactly what he was doing, but I was old enough to understand needles were painful; I was a recent veteran of school vaccinations.
My confusion and fear rooted me to my ring-side seat at the bathroom door. I didn’t want to see any more, but I couldn’t move; I got to witness the man in the mirror’s face change. The twisted agony melted into some expression I couldn’t define. Now I know it is the strange mix of ecstasy, relief, and escape a junkie feels when he gets his fix. After the pain subsided, the man in the mirror realized he had an audience.
“BOO! Baby-doll!” his unnaturally calm voice said to my sliver of reflection in the mirror. He held up his used rig. “Want some?” he cackled, then sneered, a dope-satisfied grin.
His attention did two things: it caused me to piss on myself, and it unglued my feet from the shabby hallway carpet. I covered the six or seven feet to my mother’s door in just a couple of terrified steps. My mother’s room was empty. She must’ve forgotten again that we were home.
I stood alone in her dark room, with my young mind in a panic. All at once, I was confused, embarrassed about my wet underwear, petrified, and convinced the man would do some unknown, but assuredly ghastly harm to me or my baby brother. I was fully aware I had just seen something I shouldn’t have, and I was alone. My small brain quickly fixed on one thought: I had to protect Jimmy. I knew adults could hurt you, and that my chubby little fists would be useless. I felt around blindly in the dark, and after a moment, found the hammer Jimmy and I had used the day before to squash our alien-spider-enemies.
I tiptoed silently across the hall to my bedroom, armed and ready to defend my baby brother. I stood sentry at the end or our bed, until my arms ached from holding the hammer. I can’t tell you how long I stood, waiting to attack, because terrified children have no real sense of time.
The next morning, I got a spanking for peeing my pants, and for having the hammer in my room. I didn’t protest the punishment: I knew no one would’ve believed me about the man in the mirror. Thank God I never saw him again.