I am six-years-old. It is midnight. I am debating if I can survive jumping from the backseat of a car traveling at sixty-miles an hour onto the highway. I’m not even tall enough to see out the window. I will have to hope I get lucky.
As I contemplate the leap, I decide to question my captors hoping they will set me free or turn the car around and bring me home. “What did I do?” I ask the blonde. I try to be cold and emotionless when I say, “Where are you taking me?”
She responds with a smile so wide it shows her back teeth. Her smile is that of a wolf. “Jan-Ives, you didn’t do anything,” she says, emphasizing the word “you.” She drags it out like laundry from a washing machine. Her words are heavy, cold and wet. “Your mom just needs some time to get back on her feet. You are going to what is called a foster home.” She uses my full first name, proving that she doesn’t know me.
“My name is Jan,” I say through clenched teeth. Her smile fades and as she turns away.
I have never hated anyone before. I am six. I hate this woman.
I don’t know the man and woman in the front seat. I was never introduced, but I silently select the names Dick and Jane for them. I do not respect them, so I do not ask them their real names. I don’t care. My mother held back the tears when she told me I had to go with these people. She said I would be all right–that she would get me as soon as she could.
Alone in the backseat of the speeding car, I stare intently at the lock. It is a silver piece of metal that looks like a skinny bullet the Lone Ranger might load into his six-shooter. With no plunger to press against, the bullet hurts when it is pushed to lock the door. I am deciding if I will pull it. I am contemplating pulling it to unlock the door, open it, and jump onto Route 495.
Jane tells Dick–the driver–that the next exit is the one they should take. I know my chance of escape is growing smaller by the second. I don’t know why my mother told me to go with these people in dark suits in the middle of the night. I have school–1st grade– in the morning. She must have forgotten. I don’t understand why she would let me go. If I can get out of the car, I can get back to her. She will apologize for the mistake. Everything will be okay.
When I leap out of the car, I tuck and roll along the pavement to the grassy median strip. I execute a perfect somersault and rise agilely to my feet and begin pumping my legs for the other side of the highway. I hear the screech of brakes and the blaring of horns behind me and the inevitable crash of several vehicles. I dare not look back as I run onto the opposite highway that leads home. Cars and trucks slam on their brakes, and another pileup ensues. As my feet touch the grass that precedes the safety of the woods I hear shots ring out, and I see several bullets explode into the wood of the trees ahead.
I open my eyes as my fantasy and my journey come to an end. I decide that even if I survived the escape, I wouldn’t know where to go to get back to my mother. The car slows down and pulls into a driveway. I look out the window and see a gold Cadillac though it is too dark to see the color and I am too young to recognize the make. The only car I am capable of correctly identifying is a Pinto. I received the Matchbox version for my sixth birthday. It was my only present.
The engine turns off, and Jane turns toward me. The headrest obscures the right side of her face, and with the warmest smile she can muster she says, “Jan-Ives, we’re here. This nice family is going to take care of you.” She keeps smiling her wolf smile.
Dick opens the door. I step out and take a good look at him. He is wearing a dark suit like Jane’s, and an offensive amount of after-shave. I hold my breath as Dick puts his hand on the back of my neck. It is a loose grip, but if I decided to bolt, it could become tighter. He gently pushes me toward the front door of the largest house I have ever seen. There is an attached garage, but it is empty.–or perhaps it is too small to fit the monstrous luxury vehicle in the driveway.
Dick releases his grip on my neck, steps forward and rings the doorbell. Soon, I am welcomed by the Coutu’s. A father, a mother, two boys, and two girls, all of whom are older than me, greet me from inside what seems like a mansion. Compared to the one-room motel I was living in an hour before, it is.
The kids show me around while the parents discuss ransom with my captors. In the kitchen, Marky, the youngest boy, introduces me to the canine member of the family. I look down to see Sparky a short-haired Dachshund. I have never seen a dog of this breed before. “Go ahead, pet him,” urges Marky with a sly smile.
Butchy, the oldest boy–big and meaty like Thurgood–attempts to assuage my fears, “Don’t be afraid. Sparky won’t bite.” He is an enormous seventeen-year-old with muscles that give shape to his t-shirt, and a buzzed haircut. I doubt he knows the meaning of the word “afraid.”
I crouch down and pet Sparky’s soft fur. The little red dog turns around and chomps me on the wrist! I am shocked, but I do not pull away because he is not biting me hard. I look up at Marky with questioning eyes. All four kids are laughing with joy as Sparky begins to pull me toward a cabinet below the sink.
“Go ahead,” Marky urges. I open the cabinet to find a box of Alpo dog biscuits. I take out a small treat, and he politely takes it from my fingers. I smile and pet Sparky again. I like this dog.
“He can give paw, too,” says the oldest girl, Suzanne (though I have no doubt they call her Suzy).
The four adults have entered the kitchen. “You are going to like it here. The Coutu’s are very nice people,” says Jane. I stare at her. My hate wells up behind my eyes and is released in salty streams of despair. The men shake hands, and my two abductors leave me with my new family.
Mr. Coutu looks at me and extends his hand. I can only stare at it. He is wearing a dark green polyester suit, and I wonder if everyone got dressed up for my capture and delivery.
He is still holding out his hand as I look dumbly at it. I have never shaken anyone’s hand, let alone an adult’s. He takes his hand back and puts it in his pocket when I don’t give him paw.
Mrs. Coutu crouches down to my level and puts her hand on my head. She is wearing a green skirt and white blouse and has wavy, shoulder-length hair. She looks like the stereotypical housewife character on any number of 70s sitcoms and dramas. She strokes my long brown hair, and I suddenly feel like Sparky. I wonder where my biscuit is. “How do you say your name?” she asks me with a genuine smile. Speak! A new command.
“Jan D’Alesio,” I reply with practiced ease. I am new to the first grade, so I am used to annunciating my strange name. I drop the “Ives” purposely.
Mr. Coutu shakes his head. “Jan is a girl’s name,” he says as he runs his fingers along his thick mustache. “Let’s call you…” he ponders for a moment before finishing his thought, almost as if he were indeed thinking, “J.D.”
Now, I hate two people.
As an adult, I continue to use my name as a mental litmus test. The speed at which someone grasps it is the amount of mental lucidity to which I give them credit. All of my adopted animals retain the name they know. To change their names would be to cause them the same subtle trauma I suffered in the foster home. I wouldn’t change my name now. To me, my name is a badge of honor. It is like a tattoo or scar. Names are important. To take a name away from a person is to take away his or her power. This is true when it is done to an animal, or a six-year-old boy who has just been taken from his mother.
What follows are excerpts from my senior thesis that I read before a small group of colleagues, friends, and family at Goddard College in Plainfield VT. The words in bold are intended to inform the audience of some of the back story and connect the dots between scenes, because I only had 45 minutes therefore I couldn’t read everything. For the record, the following story is an amalgam of truth and fiction. Some of it happened, but not in the way I’m telling it. Some of it happened exactly the way I tell it, and some of it is entirely fictionalized.
In 1981, my oldest brother, Domenic, was murdered by our sister’s husband. I was only nine and didn’t really know him, but I was fascinated by the way he was revered by his friends and family. This is a story that I have wanted to write since I learned such a thing was possible.
I took the personal stories of my brother (Dean in the story), my sister (Diana) and my mother (Lynn), mixed in court records, newspaper clippings and personal reflections. I stirred the mixture by connecting the dots, an imagining here, a bit of psychology there until I had the beginnings of a complete story. There were people who didn’t want this story to be told. The research, they believed, would be like disturbing a grave after thirty years. Others had their own recollections of the young man who was idolized by so many. The three family members who read the final draft of my senior thesis said I had gotten it wrong. My mother said it didn’t ring true. My brother said I was sensationalizing a family tragedy and that he wanted no part of this project.
Domenic had done his best to look parental when he got ready that morning. He pulled his long wavy hair into a ponytail, tucked his flannel shirt into his paint-spackled jeans; Even his work boots were laced and tied. He had employment and a place to live. He felt as if he were doing everything right.
Billerica Elementary looked the same as he remembered it when he went there. The small building was covered in fake red bricks, a stick-on facade that gave the illusion of craftsmanship. Diana rushed forward and pushed on the door’s silver bar, but the doors held fast. Only with her brother’s help did they yield. The hall beyond was quiet. Their footsteps echoed despite their attempt to be silent.
Soon they had reached the principal’s office. “How can I help you?” asked the secretary, a thin woman who wore a brown scarf and a heavy scowl. A metal sign on the desk proclaimed her name was Ms. Tibble.
“I’m here to register my sister for school. Fourth grade,” Domenic said with a smile that showed just a hint of his crooked teeth. He gripped Diana’s hand a little tighter.
“I see,” said Ms. Tibble. “Do you have an appointment?”
“No. Sorry. I didn’t think I needed one.”
“Wait here, please,” she said motioning to a row of metal chairs with plastic cushions. She went into the office marked “Principal”. The two sat down; the plastic cushions made matching fart sounds. They both snickered into their hands.
Dommy crossed his legs as they waited. Diana had seen her mother and her older sister Darlene sit like that, but never a man. How funny it was that a man as rough and tumble as Dommy could sit so ladylike! His hand went to the cigarette behind his ear. He removed it from its perch and hid it in his shirt pocket.
The secretary returned and escorted them to meet the principal. The plaque on the door read Mrs. Regina Sibayan. In the wood-panelled office, a well-fed woman in a purple blazer sat behind a large desk. Her glance up from the appointment blotter ended in a smile that was even bigger than the desk. After some introductions, Mrs. Sibayan said, “Tell me, Mr. D’Alesio, where are your parents? Why are you here registering Diana instead of them?” The questions were like the preparatory punches from a boxer–they sized up and primed the defender for a beating. Her eyes moved from the little girl to her brother and back again as she waited for his reply.
Domenic’s patience was wearing thin. He had no experience with bureaucracy and rarely in his life had smiling and making nice been encouraged. He wasn’t foolish, however. He did his best to be diplomatic. He said, “I have temporary custody.”
“Indeed,” she scoffed. “How old are you? You look barely old enough to be out of school, or have custody of anyone–much less a ten-year-old girl. Do you have any paperwork–from a judge?”
He patted himself down hoping that somehow he did have the necessary paperwork. He shrugged after his search yielded no documents.
“Do you have any identification? A driver’s license, perhaps?”
His reply was a glare and a clenched jaw.
The purple-clad Principal leaned over her desk, her breasts forced against it so hard they seemed like they might burst from the sides of her suit jacket. Diana bit her tongue to contain her laughter as she watched the blazer do its best to contain the lady’s breasts. The Principal said, “Young man, who told you that you had custody?”
Domenic looked at his sister with a questioning blank expression. “Mrs. Reynolds, the caseworker,” she said.
The Principal sat up straight and shook her head with a frown, “I’m sorry. Without the court-ordered paperwork indicating custody, you can’t register her for school. If you can locate it before the first week has ended, I can allow her to start classes. Or call Mrs. Reynolds and have her call me. Otherwise, one of her legal parents will have to call or come in.”
Domenic leaned his head back in frustration looking directly at the white drop-ceiling filled with tiny holes. As his eyes unfocused the hundreds of dots merged into a single black pool that dominated his vision. Why had Reynolds said he could take Diana and not given him the paperwork? He didn’t know why they were making this so difficult. All he wanted was to take care of her until–well–until he figured something else out. Forever, if he had to. He could do it. He had a job and a place to live. How hard could it be? The welfare check helped. What the hell was he going to do with her every day? She needed to be in school. He and Danny had a job with Fasciano painting; Fasciano even rented a place to them and took the rent directly out of their paychecks.
His eyes begged the woman as he said, “There’s nothing I can do?’
“Not without legal documents. What is your address and phone number?” She held a pen against a pad of notepaper ready to transcribe his response. Her smile faded as she waited.
He stood up. Without a word, he hustled Diana from the office.
“Fuck!” Domenic shouted when the double doors at the entrance of the school closed behind them. Outside, there was no one to hear his curse.
“Fuck,” Diana mumbled as she kicked a small rock. No one heard her swear as it skittered across the parking lot. She liked hearing people curse, but she never did it. ‘Fuck’ was an all-purpose word used to strengthen a sentence, and she felt powerful when she said it–just like her brother. But his strength was gone. Defeated, the walk back was slower–more of a death march than the triumphant walk home they had anticipated. There was no hurry to be anywhere at any time. The two shuffled along.
The rail vibrated warning them of oncoming danger. They stepped off the track. The train rumbled along back from its destination. This time it was full of coal; the mounds poked out of the tops of the cars slowing its return. The train too, laden with its heavy burden, seemed less anxious to reach its place of origin. Black smoke came out of a stack in short bursts.
Domenic stopped to pull out a joint–a curly little deformed thing. He lit it and inhaled before offering it to her. She looked at the marijuana cigarette and at him without comprehension. “Want a hit?” he said. She shook her head. He shrugged and let out a blast of smoke. They resumed their silent walk. Diana was angry at herself. She wanted to be like her brother, but she was too frightened to try the drug. She was afraid it would burn her mouth and throat the way she had seen others choke and sputter after taking a hit. She didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of the greatest man she knew. On their solemn return, she decided she would learn to swear properly–loudly and with conviction.
She make an oath that she wouldn’t let anyone hear her swear or see her smoke until she had some practice.
My family was upset about what I had written. I wondered how my perception of the events could be so different from theirs. After all, I recorded the interview so there could be no confusion on my part. I didn’t ask them to elaborate, I felt if they had more to say they would. They never did.
I worked hard to make everyone shades of grey rather than strictly good and evil. Even the man who murdered our brother in a fit of revenge was once a trusted member of our family. Their father, not mine, a man who they hated for his strict, often cruel, behavior is shown as a man who loved his oldest son. I changed most of the names, but anyone who lived it knew who is whom. I characterize Dean as a young man who felt guilt for his inability to save his brother. Though the reader, and no one who knew first hand what happened, would blame him, maybe he felt I was blaming him. Lynn, the mother character, could be judged harshly. Her children live as adults, separate from her, from their father. Their reflections on that time are clouded, they no doubt feel that they were no longer kids. I see them as children living the lives of adults and attempt to show that cloudy distinction.
In this next story, Diana has just arrived after hitchhiking thirty miles from where she lives with her mother to her brother’s place in Billerica. She did this often. She was fourteen.
From behind the heavy wooden door, she could hear the notes of an acoustic guitar as it searched for a song. She smiled as she imagined her brother strumming away, with his long wavy brown hair and his intense look as he concentrated on the music. Before knocking, she paused to listen. The strings played the slow, sad notes of a song on which Domenic had been working the last time she had been there, two weeks before. Along with the music came the pungent, tangy scent of stale pot that lingered in the wood of the door. The smell permeated her nose until she could taste it.
Without knocking, she turned the knob. A single candle lit the kitchen. A large window behind the table allowed in some illumination from the single pole of the parking lot, but the kitchen was mostly dark. The lights silhouetted her brother as he sat looking ghostly at him with an acoustic guitar cradled in his hands. He looked up, and a scowl replaced his look of concentration. He shouted without raising his voice: “Diana, what the fuck!?”
She flicked the switch next to the door, and the room came alive with light. The door offered a click as she closed it. She gave her older brother a sheepish half-smile while batting her eyes. “Hey, Dommy,” she said. Her attempt at looking cute was an obvious tactic, but more often than not it worked.
He squinted against the light from above. “I told you not to come here alone,” he said as he placed his guitar against the table. “I don’t want you hangin’ around here anymore,” he said with all the sternness he could muster to his baby sister, which was far less than she had seen him aim at others. He crossed the small kitchen with a few steps, his untied boots making hollow clumping sounds that seemed angry to Diana. He enveloped her in a hug that lifted her from the puke-green linoleum. “It’s not safe,” he whispered into her ear through her long brown hair. “I should call Ma to pick you up,” he said, placing her down.
“Can’t. She’s workin’. Plus, she doesn’t have a phone.”
Dommy took the cigarette from behind his ear as he sat down at the table. Diana sat opposite him and watched him light his Marlboro. He took a deep drag and let out a wisp of smoke through his lips.
Placing the cigarette in the ashtray, he picked up the guitar. “Do you know why she took Jan to live in New Hampshire?” He asked about their kid brother, barely eight years old.
She shook her head, even though she knew all too well.
He looked unblinking into her brown eyes and said, “Because she didn’t want him to turn out like us.”
“I love it here,” she said sweeping loose ashes off the table with one hand and into the other. She dumped the contents into the ashtray. She stood and looked around for a trash bucket. Finding none, she brought the tray into the bathroom, flushing it down the toilet.
When she returned, he said, “I love it too. But it fuckin’ sucks. Don’t you get it? Every night there’s police cars. They don’t even come half the time when they’re called. When they do, they take their sweet-ass time. Something’s always happening. People are always yelling and screaming. They buy and sell drugs in the parking lot next to where I live. I’m not just talkin’ pot; I mean real shit. Heroin. Coke.” He took another drag. After letting the smoke out of the side of his mouth, aiming it away from her, he said, “Not that anyone here can afford to do drugs. There’re no jobs. People hang out all fuckin’ day. This place is a shit hole. It’s only a matter of time before someone gets killed.”
Diana’s face was blank. She said, “What if Jenny got pregnant? Would you leave The North?”
“Don’t call it that. And yeah. I wouldn’t want to raise my kid here. There ain’t nothin’ for anyone in Billerica.”
“What are you gonna do?”
“I don’t know yet, but I gotta get out of here.”
“Would you want a boy?” she said smiling.
“Why are you on me about this?” he said. “I don’t know how to raise a girl. I already proved that when I took care of you.” They shared a smile. “I don’t know how to raise a boy, either. I guess I’d just do everything the opposite of what our father did.”
Her lips snapped down covering her teeth. She looked at the table searching for more ashes. “Are you and Jenny gonna get married?”
A cough struck Dommy’s throat, and it was a few moments before he could speak again. When he caught his breath, he said, “I don’t have a way to bring you home, and I shouldn’t let you stay here…but I have to. Maybe in the morning Ricky can bring you home.”
She felt as if everything was changing. Her few friends were getting older. Some were having children of their own. Even her boyfriend lived in Billerica. She wanted to absorb every moment before they were gone forever. Most of all she wanted to be with her brother. Just being around him made her feel important. He was the center of their friends and family, of the whole town. She felt like the little sister of a rock star. She was Dommy’s little sister which made people smile and said “hi.” Sometimes they asked if she needed anything. People treated her better–with respect.
Dommy began to play his guitar. He played the same song he was playing when she arrived, but this time he added lyrics.
Shoulda known better
And it took me all day to figure out a reason why
Why my pretty little baby girl had to say goodbye
My precious little baby girl had to go away
Shoulda known better
Than to ever let her get away
Than to ever ever ever ever ever ever
Let her get away
Oh Lord, I just can’t seem to win
In this next scene we see the difficult life that Lynn lives. A single mother living with her two youngest, she is forced to take in a border. This scene shows the flexible nature of the family friend Ricky, a man whose size and violence has benefits if he was on you side.
“Jeep, you have to go.”
Lynn stood tall as she commanded the man who rented a room in her house. Renting to him was likely a violation of her lease–if she had one. He was short but lean and muscular with blonde hair. Manual labor and hard drinking had given him a firm, yet aged, physique.
“Now,” she said.
Jeep scoffed, “I’m not going anywhere, Lynn. I’m paid up through the end of the week,” he said before opening the refrigerator.
“Diana told me what happened,” she said.
Diana was only eight, with long brown hair like her mother. She shared a room with her one-year-old brother, but he was not a reliable witness.
Jeep took a long swig of beer. He wiped the foam from his lips with the back of his hand. Smirking, he said, “I don’t know what you’re accusing me of, but I’m not going anywhere.” He chugged the remaining liquid and placed the empty beer can on the table.
Lynn ran her fingers through the thin brown wires that extended from her scalp. She had just turned forty and right on schedule her hair had started to dry and gray. In frustration, she grabbed a thick handful and pulled. It wasn’t hard or sudden enough to rip any out, but the pain gave her some sense of satisfaction. It helped her focus.
“I don’t want you getting any ideas. I have a reputation…” Jeep said.
Diana appeared in the kitchen. Like a specter, the little girl did not move. Faced with the confrontation before her, she was frozen in time. Her mother and the tenant faced each other in silence while Diana lingered.
The front door swung open, slicing the room in half with the sudden force. The crash of it hitting the wall caused Diana to jump. Barely squeezing through the doorway was a lumbering behemoth. Ricky stomped into the room. The menace of the man did not come from his height, but his girth. Ricky wasn’t fat, but he was big–enormous! When he moved, he did so with the unstoppable force of a Mack truck. His arms had mass and strength from lifting weights often. His neck was thick, so thick one could barely see where it ended and his cement block of a head began. No one in their right mind would look sideways at the brute, let alone challenge him.
“Diana, go upstairs and see Jan,” said Lynn. The girl didn’t move. Her eyes were frozen open. Though she was scared, her face flirted with a smile. The violence had an electric effect on her. It hurt, but the sensation was exciting.
Behind Ricky, looking insignificant, was Domenic wearing a Paddy cap and blue coveralls. The door remained open. The empty beer can fell to the floor. No one noticed the can. All eyes were drawn to Ricky.
“Ma, you okay?” said Domenic. She nodded and mumbled, “I want Jeep to leave. He…Diana…”
Domenic licked his lips and clenched his fists.
“I didn’t do anything.” Jeep had a surge of strength spawned by a panic that gave his words false courage. “And I’m paid through the end of the week.”
His bravado couldn’t equal Ricky’s gravity. Diana smiled in anticipation of the confrontation. Surging forward, Ricky’s meaty hand latched onto Jeep’s scalp. Lynn gasped as his gargantuan paw wrapped around the man’s skull. He hoisted him out of his seat, banging him into the hanging light above the table. He pushed his beefy red face close enough that the younger man could smell his breath. It stank of cigarettes. The lamp swung back and forth casting shadows that ran wild through the kitchen. “Ten minutes. Pack your shit. You’re gone. Call the cops and you’re dead.”
Dommy was smiling as Ricky let his victim go. Jeep passed Diana, who wore her smirk like armor. Lynn poured tea. They sat down and drank, the hot beverage burning their mouths. They listened to her former tenant bang items and stomp around upstairs as he packed up his life.
“Thanks for coming so quickly.” She hugged Dommy as Ricky sunk into Jeep’s chair. It groaned in protest of his bulk, but it held. Ricky looked at his watch and said with a smile, “Hey, Lynn. Ya got anything to eat?”
Ricky gave Jeep ten minutes. He was gone in five.
Dommy and Ricky did construction. This story takes place during a job in Maine.
I spent all day doing nothing–riding in a truck–and somehow they got dirty again, Domenic thought as he glared at his fingertips. The intermittent lights of the city shone through the windows, flashing on his dirty hands.
He rode in the front seat while Ricky drove; Dommy didn’t have a license, but that didn’t stop him from sometimes sharing the responsibility of driving. In the back of the van, hunched in the cargo area were Domenic’s brother Danny, Danny’s friend Dave, and little RJ. The five were returning to their motel after having dinner at Captain Jack’s Lobster Shack, one of the many seafood restaurants in Saco, Maine.
Danny squatted on his haunches, balancing himself as Ricky made sharp turns and rapid stops and starts. “Good meal, huh Dommy? I love fish-n-chips, but they never give you enough tartar sauce,” he said.
Domenic stopped looking at his hands and nodded. “I thought the waitress was hot,” he said smiling at Danny. “RJ, did you get enough to eat?” he asked the boy who had his back to the wall of the van. Ricky Junior mumbled his response. “Yeah, it was good.”
“He fuckin’ better have! The kid’s plate cost me ten bucks,” Ricky said without a smile. Domenic looked at Ricky and thought, Yeah, he eats like his old man. He remembered his own father and what a struggle it had been to get quality food. Years and years of plain spaghetti and PB&J, while his father, and a woman who wasn’t his mother, ate Chinese food and other take-out meals. He and the other kids didn’t starve, but they were second-class compared to the two adults–or her fuckin’ kids. He didn’t care. He ate their leftovers. Fuck them.
“Hey, pass me a joint,” said Ricky with a nod of his head in the direction of the glove compartment.
Within the glove box, a zip-lock baggie contained a half-dozen rolled joints and some loose seeds and stems. He gave a joint to Ricky and returned the bag. As Ricky lit the marijuana cigarette with the in-dash lighter, Domenic said, “Hey, maybe you should wait ‘til we get back to the motel.” Domenic knew that Ricky already had four beers at the restaurant; he was a big guy, but why risk it?
Ricky stopped at a red light by jamming his foot on the brake. Domenic heard someone tumble to the floor of the cargo area. With the joint sticking out of his mouth, Ricky turned to Domenic and said, “Shut up Dommy. When you drive, you can not smoke a joint.” His face was red like a peeled tomato, and Domenic knew better than to push him when he was like this.
A horn blared behind them. Both men looked up to see a green light. The car honked again. Domenic watched Ricky’s anger change targets from him to the driver of the car behind them. Shit, Domenic thought as Ricky looked furiously into the side mirror. Ricky’s hand went to the door handle. Domenic knew what was about to happen. He had heard from Dean of the incident in which Ricky had savagely beaten an old man who had cut him off. He also knew the brute had ripped Diana’s boyfriend from his car by the kid’s hair. Dommy wasn’t afraid of him, but he was afraid of what the man could do.
Domenic’s shout brought the big man out of his rage long enough for him to forget the car and jump on the gas. The van roared through the intersection. Ricky took a hit off his joint, turned to Domenic and said, “Don’t fuckin’ yell at me.”
Domenic said, “You were about to go after that guy.”
Ricky glanced into the rear view mirror. “Fuck,” he said.
The blue and white lights halted their conversation. Ricky kept driving. He leaned over Dommy, reaching into the glove box. He withdrew the transparent bag of marijuana, turned to the cargo area and put it in Dave’s hand. “Hide this,” he said. Without objection, Dave stuffed the bag into his pants.
“Pull over,” Domenic said.
“I am. Fuck you!” Ricky steered the van off the road. He extinguished the lit join on his tongue before swallowing it.
The blue lights kept flashing. The five waited. A slim officer walked around the vehicle. Domenic could see him in the side mirror looking for anything out of the ordinary, a reason he could write a ticket. The cop took his time checking the windows; he scrutinized the bumper, the license plates, and the inspection sticker before coming to a stop slightly behind the driver’s side window. “License and registration,” he said. Ricky had them ready. He handed them off and started to roll up the window, but the cop put out his gloved hand. Ricky stopped turning the handle. The cop sniffed the air. “Do you know why I pulled you over tonight?”
“You took some time at the green light back there. Have you been drinking?”
“I had one at the restaurant.”
Dumbass! You always lie and say you haven’t had a drop, Dommy thought.
“Please step out of the vehicle.”
Another cruiser pulled in behind them. A second officer joined them. They put Ricky through a standard DWI investigation–walk a straight line, hands on your nose. Four beers and a joint barely registered with the giant. “Stand over here,” the second cop directed Ricky to the side.
A third squad car arrived. The pigs were ready for trouble.
“I detected the scent of marijuana. We will need to search the vehicle,” said the first cop to Ricky. “Is there anything you’d like to tell me before we look? Will I find any weapons or illegal paraphernalia? Best to tell me now. I don’t like surprises.”
“No,” said Ricky with a glance at Dave.
The cops searched the van and questioned the men, but not the minors–Dave and RJ. Domenic had experience talking to cops; he looked them in the eye and answered their questions with confidence. No, he hadn’t been drinking (he didn’t drink). No, he hadn’t smoked any weed this evening (he hadn’t). No, he had not seen anyone smoke pot in the van tonight.
“Please lift your shirt,” the second cop said to Dave. The sixteen-year-old did as he was told. In his waistband was the baggie full of joints. The cop slammed him against the van and cuffed him. Domenic glared at Ricky with sharp eyes. He pulled the man aside and said through clenched teeth, “You’re gonna let him take the rap for you?!”
Ricky put his paw on Domenic’s shoulder and pulled him close, “Keep your fuckin’ mouth shut, Dommy,” he said in a whisper. “You were gonna smoke some, too. He’s a minor. They won’t do anything to him.”
Domenic knocked Ricky’s hand away and pushed him halfway into the road. Both men began to shove one another. Despite Ricky’s size, Domenic’s passion and agility allowed him to hold his own against the larger man.
“You better break that up, or they’re both going to jail,” the third cop said to Danny. Only a year younger than Domenic, Danny was no less brave. He inserted himself between the two. “Knock it off!” he shouted. The two fighters were still huffing and puffing when they turned away from each other.
Minutes later, the blue lights faded into the night as the cop cars brought Dave back to the station. “What happened?” said little RJ to his father. Ricky stomped his way back to the van. The remaining three were barely inside before he stomped on the gas and roared into the night.
Domenic beats Ricky. Badly. In front of the big man’s son. This does not sit well with him. He gets his brother Ron and a shotgun and go to Domenic’s apartment to get the power back.
October 17, 1981
Every night for two weeks before he fell asleep, Dean lay in his bed dreading this moment. The roar of a shotgun blast preceded screams and shouts. He remained in his bed, denying what he knew was happening. He wished he were wrong. He wished Dommy had listened to him. He wished he had done something else to help, but he didn’t know what.
He wished he were dreaming.
Time leaped forward. Dean was outside Dommy’s adjacent apartment without any concept of having traversed the distance. He watched a man with a shotgun, a man he knew, but could not place, entering his brother’s home. Glass from the window lie in pieces on the green linoleum of the kitchen floor. The splintered wooden window frame now wrapped around an empty hole. The spot where he had days earlier warned his brother was shattered. There would be no way to bring back the place where he and his big brother had smoked pot, played cards, sung songs, and strummed guitar. It was gone forever.
Through the hole, he saw Domenic barreling down the stairs. His brother was not fleeing the danger–he was racing straight into it!
Around the corner, at the doorway, Dean watched Domenic attack the man with unmatched ferocity. He now recognized the man as Ron, Ricky’s younger brother. He was built like a tank! Domenic beat Ron with a baseball bat that he wielded like a samurai sword, knocking aside the shotgun and smashing his opponent in the shoulder and head with broad swipes. After the assault, his victim was still conscious, but dazed. Blood was splashed over his head and body. It ran in rivers of red.
Dean was struck by the scene of violence before him. He had seen fights before–on tv, from his father, between his brothers, and on the streets. Those battles were just skirmishes compared to the ferocity of the hostility before him. He knew his brother could get angry, but he had never seen him fight for his life.
Time, which had raced earlier, now slowed to a crawl. The sheer savagery of his brother overtook him and froze him in place. Ron slipped on his blood as he tried to backpedal out the door. The shotgun, still steaming from its blast, lay on the ground next to Ron. “Dean! Get the gun!” Dommy’s frantic command hit the teenage boy like a flamethrower and unfroze him. As he lunged for the weapon, he was knocked into the air, propelled across the kitchen by the errant arm of Ricky charging into the room. Dean flew through the air. before he crashed through the kitchen table, Ricky picked up the gun and aimed it at Domenic. Time caught up to Dean; in an instant, he was groaning and struggling to get out of the ruins of the wooden table.
Domenic stopped. “Get on your knees,” said Ricky. Without objection, he dropped down placing his knuckles flat against the linoleum. Air rushed into his nose and came out his mouth in angry blasts. Ricky smiled a crooked toothy grin. He raised the gun so that it pointed at the plastic crucifix above the stove. The shotgun erupted spraying fragments in a controlled stream; Domenic did not flinch as the blast sprayed over his head. Jesus and the crucifix disintegrated against the destructive force of the gun’s pellets.
“Ricky, c’mon, man,” Dean said as he stood up from the wreckage of the table. Still dazed from the impact, he found the strength to say, “You guys can talk it out. It doesn’t have to be like this.”
Ricky pulled the gun away from Domenic and aimed it at the teenager. He said, “Mind your own fuckin’ business, Dean.”
In the instant Ricky changed targets Domenic attacked. He covered a half-dozen steps in a single leap. The gun clattered to the floor as he unleashed an onslaught of punches against Ricky. The big man didn’t have an instant to mount a counterattack. All he could do was try to fend off the hail of strikes. Desperate to get some distance from the relentless assault, he stumbled from the kitchen into the hallway and out into the parking lot. Domenic did not allow him a moment of reprieve. He pursued the fleeing man into the night.
Alone in the kitchen, Dean and Ron stared dumbly at each other. Both were dizzy and confused. Ron said, “I just…I just want to go home.” He wasn’t crying, but tears threatened to mix with the blood on his face. Dean picked up the shotgun from the blood-stained lime-green linoleum. He looked into the battered eyes of the man who came to his brother’s home with a deadly weapon. Dean stared at the gun. It seemed like an alien item in his hands. He aimed it at Ron’s head and rested his finger on the still-warm trigger. His eyes burrowed deep into Ron’s. He saw only a frightened man, his face twisted in fear and confusion, perhaps one who would follow his brother anywhere. “I just wanna go home,” the man said again. Dean saw himself in those eyes. He understood him.
He made a mistake he would regret the rest of his life.
He handed the gun back.
Ricky gets the gun from his brother and kills Domenic, but for purposes of the presentation I skip over the details of the murder. The men are caught and the next scene is the end of a short trial.
July 1, 1982
“Dean, you’ll never guess what happened!” Diana said, running from the courthouse. Dean sat on the steps smoking a cigarette. Diana was a young mother, but she was still a kid. Even after the judge had just told her that she was not to repeat what happened in court, she immediately opened her big mouth.
“Diana, shut up,” Dean said, as he looked around for witnesses to her contempt.
They were called back. The jury had reached a verdict.
After they shuffled inside, the judge asked if the jury had reached a decision. This was it! Dean squeezed his little sister’s hands. Finally, there would be justice. They could move on with their lives.
“On the charge of manslaughter the jury finds Richard Sullivan guilty .”
There was a noticeable gasp from the crowd that prompted a gavel banging from the judge. He could hear a woman sobbing. He knew it was Darlene. He has heard her cry before, but never with so much sorrow. He doubted she cried this much when she found out her brother was dead.
“We the jury find Ronald Sullivan not guilty.”
The crowd murmured their thoughts to one another. The judge ordered Ron to be immediately released, following some paperwork. He ordered Ricky remanded to custody.
Dean stared at nothing, his face aghast, drained of color. Diana’s eyes opened wide. Her face thrust toward Dean’s. She said, “Manslaugter and innocent? That’s it? They killed Dommy. It’s over?” She squeezed his hand with all the might she could muster. “We can have a retrial or something, right?” Her eyes made demands of his. They burrowed into him.
Dean placed his other hand across hers. He didn’t look at her as he said, “Nope. That’s it. Ron goes home. Ricky will get sentenced later. Probably spend a few years in jail.” He started to stand, but she held. She said, “Ricky gets a few years in jail and Ron gets to go home? Fuck!” The familiar, yet unpracticed, word came out before she could stop herself, a swear Domenic would never hear.
In which we learn just how dry British humor can be when coming from a master
Writer’s note; this story took place more than ten years ago, so many of the details have faded. However, you will get the gist of the story and the punchline is accurate to the last detail.
My roommate Andy, I, and our gaming pal, Rich had acquired tickets to see the premiere of the television adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel; Neverwhere. We traveled to Boston, where Gaiman himself would introduce the show and we would watch several episodes.
Mr. Gaiman told the sold-out venue that after the intermission he would be hoisting a few at a nearby pub and signing autographs. Andy and I agreed that this was more interesting than watching a show we would no doubt be able to see at some point in the future, but drinking with Neil Gaiman probably wouldn’t happen again. So, we left Rich (who wanted to watch the second half) and went to the pub.
After we cozied up to the bar, we talked to his agent (or US representative) and he showed us his newest novel (whose title escapes me) and he was excited that it came in a variety of limited-edition covers. Andy scoffed full of derision and exclaimed, “That’s just a marketing ploy to make extra sales. Stupid fanboys will collect every cover!” He thought he was particularly insightful. Or clever. Or smart. He certainly thought he was smart.
I agreed and filled with self-righteous indignation; we turned back to the bar and found Neil Gaiman standing there with a very smug British smile on his face. Andy removed a book from his coat and after some small-talk (Did we like the show, how did he like America? etc.) presented it to Gaiman to have signed. Neil courteously signed Andy’s book and bid us farewell as he turned to the other fans demanding his attention.
“What did he write?” I asked, craning my neck to see the autograph.
Andy’s lips were squeezed together tightly and he had a look like he was going to sneeze. He opened the title page of the book and there it was- Neil Gaiman’s personal message to Andy.
Mind the gags.
“I guess he heard you,” I said.
I can hear them as soon I open my car door; the barking and rooing (a combination of howling and singing that is the trademark of the breed) can be heard through the walls and carries across the parking lot. I have arrived for my turnout shift at Northern Greyhound Adoptions in St. Albans, Vermont. Walking to the entrance, I pass an iron and wood bench engraved with the name Donald Westover.
Donald and his wife Dorothy founded the kennel in October of 2001. For years, he could be found spending his weekends introducing potential adopters to dogs and answering questions about life with sighthounds. His passion for the breed was evident: his enthusiasm was infectious, and many hounds found homes because Donald went the extra mile to make adopters feel comfortable – about the dogs and the adoption process.
Those who met him remember Donald fondly. He was a big man with a big heart, and he continued to carry the torch for NGA even after being diagnosed with emphysema, often attending adoption events with an oxygen mask in tow. His first priority was always the dogs, that was never in question.
He remained active with the non-profit as much as he could, even as his health deteriorated. He made it a priority to bring a greyhound and a donation bin to a local pet supply store every week. Now that he has passed, his devilish charm, his ‘hound companion, and most importantly his donation jar are absent. NGA is feeling his loss in many ways. They need your help and mine.
I am here to let the ‘hounds out of their kennels, in groups, and by themselves for bathroom breaks. This is one of four daily chances for the retired racers to stretch their long legs and for their mini-apartments to be cleaned. While they frolic in the yard and take care of their doggy business, I check their impromptu dens and change their bedding when necessary.
It’s a busy shift letting the forty-two dogs out and keeping the process steadily moving along. I know how cranky I would be if I was dependent on another being to allow me to go to the bathroom. The number of dogs in need of permanent homes swells at times, to as much as seventy. As tracks close all over the country adoption centers like this one must meet the demand of the increased number adoptable dogs.
This humble kennel in northern Vermont has never turned away a greyhound in need.
I have just added another function to my volunteer service; that of a member of the board of directors. A wise woman I know said everyone should sit on a non-profit board of directors. I am now privy to the financial aspect of the non-profit and often I wish I weren’t. The charity runs on the generosity of others, through donations and the other fundraising endeavors of the operation. The coffers are always low and the kennel seems to run on a month to month basis. Rent, utilities, and vet bills take their toll on the threadbare finances and I wonder if some catastrophe would push the charity to the breaking point. The weekend yard sale that lasts throughout the summer has ended, and the long cold winter approaches. The board has frequent meetings to discuss fund raising strategies in order to survive the cold months. The financial survival of the non-profit is a constant struggle.
I gain strength from the dogs. The mental burden of my role as a board member fades and my excitement rises as I take care of these beautiful animals. My worries and fears diminish as I look into the face of the first greyhound I let out of his apartment. I take a minute to scratch Mallow’s enthusiastic white face. I lean close and say to him, “I missed you, buddy.” He leaps out and runs around the kennel with wild abandon and I have no doubt he missed me too.
Donations can be sent to Northern Greyhound Adoptions, 999 Fairfax Road/Route 104, St. Albans, VT 05478 or online at http://www.Northerngreyhoundadoptions.org
It is said that split-second decisions can change your life. I didn’t understand how true that statement could be until the winter of 2006. I worked for Macy’s in the cosmetic department. I was a unique feature there; I was a heterosexual male. Therefore, I should have been on my guard.
As I squeezed my way past Marie, I impulsively pinched her squishy, 60-year old tushy with my thumb and index finger. I imagined her silent outrage as I walked away without acknowledging the maneuver, a smug smile on my face. I imagined myself quite the little trickster.
I knew Marie quite well, and she knew me. At least I thought so. We both worked in the cosmetic department at Macy’s, she at the Elizabeth Arden counter, and I in the fragrance department. Our areas of responsibility were close by and we would often help each other unpack shipments and deal with customers, if the other needed assistance. Such camaraderie often brings people closer. Friendships are created, not unlike those that serve in combat. Stress brings people together. I felt we were close enough that the pinch would be considered a funny prank. Hell, I had been to her home! We drank wine and she said I could stay over if I didn’t think I could safely drive home. I certainly didn’t think that was a sexual advance, just as I didn’t imagine she would think my innocent pinch could be interpreted any other way. The innocuous squeeze was meant to be a joke, a cute bit of fun during a boring workday at work. I expected she would chalk it up to typical Jan shenanigans. I liked to call them “Jananigans.”
My youthful exuberance was not always interpreted as such.
I had been in the store manager’s office on many occasions. I was, at one time, a night supervisor and reported directly to him on all things related to my duties. These duties included closing the store during the week, as well as the responsibility of supervising all the associates. The other managers and I called him simply “Matt.” He and I would talk casually about associates and fellow managers, sharing details of my previous evening’s shift. Sometimes we would even get off-topic and talk about movies and music. It was a business relationship, but he made the situation seem to be friendly and professional at the same time.
This time I didn’t sit in front of his oak desk that was cluttered with knick-knacks. Instead I sat at the small, round conference table off to the side of that desk. Instead of his smiling, goateed, forty-something face, I looked into the face of a more serious, almost somber, store-manager. Gone was the good-natured boss. Replacing him was the very severe, store manager of a national conglomerate.
To exemplify this, he was not alone. Sitting next to him at the conference table was a woman I had never seen before. I couldn’t guess her age if you put a gun to my head. Her hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail and consequentially the skin on her face appeared to be pulled tight. She could have been twenty five, or seventy-five. She wore a knee-length wool skirt that did not give a hint to her figure. The things I could determine about her was that she was thin, Caucasian, and serious.
“Jan, this is Eileen Scrimshaw. She is from the corporate office in New York,” said Matt, introducing the thin, serious Caucasian.
“Mr. Campbell, have you read the employee handbook?” she asked, getting right to the matter. There would be no back-and-forth in this duel. She was out for blood!
“Not in some time. Not since the turnover,” I said, referring to the Macy’s buy-out out the previous department store Filene’s, the year before.
“Specifically the two pages on sexual harassment,” she said.
My heart began to beat faster. Blood rushed to my face and I was dizzy like I had just been sucker-punched. She had indeed drew first blood.
“I guess,” I confirmed vaguely. I attempted a parry and quick counterstrike. “It’s bad, right?” My attempt at a joke pulled a dry chuckle from Matt but otherwise there was complete silence.
Ms. Scrimshaw cleared her throat signaling that this was not the time for levity. “Mr. Campbell, Macy’s takes very seriously accusations of sexual harassment and must investigate all claims of such activity.”
“Of course,” I agreed sheepishly.
“You work with Marie?” she asked.
I closed my eyes as the confusion I felt withdrew and understanding advanced in its place. “Yes,” I confirmed.
“She has written a complaint that on October, 11th, 2006 you pinched her on the rear-end while on the selling floor. Specifically, behind the Estee Lauder counter,” the details landed on me like a series of well-placed punches to my stomach. I struggled to breathe. “True, so far?” she asked.
I took a deep breath and said “Yup.”
She placed a clean white piece of paper in front of me and said “I want you to write your account of what happened. Just leave it on the table when you are done.” She and Matt stood up and quietly left the room, leaving me to find the words to detail an incident I had not thought of since it happened.
Ms. Scrimshaw poked her head back into the room and said, “Also, you are suspended until a decision is made regarding your employment at Macy’s.” She was gone again, leaving me cut up and wounded. I had lost the duel.
I felt very alone. Suddenly I was very angry! Why did Marie do this to me? We were friends; she knew I was only playing. Did she think I was coming-on to her? I mean, really! My self-righteous indignation was boiling to meltdown proportions!
I struggled to find the words as I detailed the short encounter. I made sure to indicate that I was friends with Marie and in no way was I making a sexual advance. I made a point to indicate how bad I felt about the incident. It was true, that I had not been overtly sexual to Marie, but I was lying when I said I felt bad. In fact, my only remorse was the fact that it had come to this. My excuses took up more room than the description of the incident.
It was a nerve-wracking couple of days, and the powers-that-be decided that I had not committed an egregious enough offence to lose my job. I suspected they thought I had learned my lesson by having to fear for my job for a couple days.
“What did I learn from my experience?” I ask myself. I learned to choose my words carefully. I learned that a single event can have multiple interpretations, and what may seem innocuous to one, may seem hostile to another. I certainly learned to be professional in my actions, while at work. Most of all, I learned to keep my hands to myself.
Hi, my name is Toby. I’m a retired racing greyhound and I lived at Northern Greyhound Adoptions in St. Albans, VT for years. I had a home, but I was surrendered because my owner didn’t have time for me. In the past few years, I have had two families adopt me, but they brought me back because I have “issues”. Evidently me tearing apart the house and barking for hours when left alone is “frowned upon.”
The kennel isn’t bad. I see many dogs come in and spend months, or even years, there before they pick someone to take them home. It gets loud sometimes, but I’m used to it. There are people that come to the kennel and let us out into the yard for bathroom breaks. Sometimes people come to take us for walks around town.
I have known this one guy for three years. He comes to the kennel once or twice a week and lets me (and everyone else) out for potty breaks. If it’s hot out; he’s there. Cold out; he’s there. Snow, sleet, hail and lightning don’t stop this guy! He always brings treats, and sometimes I even get a special chewie. He’s a pretty good guy.
I often thought he’d make a good person to live with, but he already had a dog. I could smell the boy-dog on his clothes. I always thought this dog was very lucky to have such a loving owner. I was content to enjoy our weekly time together.
Then one day, this guy takes me out of the kennel and into his vehicle. We go to his home and I wonder if I will get to meet Andy (that’s his dog-friend’s name). We arrive and I explore his house. We sit on the couch and eventually go to sleep in his big bed! It’s a dream come true and I wonder when it will end.
Everyone brings me back eventually.
I met the two cats that live there. They seem nice, but a bit nervous. Days pass and I don’t see his dog. I smell him everywhere; the couch, the floor, the bed, and all over the yard. Sometimes I see the guy and his face gets all red and water pours out of his eyes. I know he is sad, but there isn’t much I can do. He simply pets me and sometimes he hugs me, and he stops being sad.
I feel sad sometimes when he leaves. I cry a little, but he has always come back in the past. Even if it takes days, he has always come back. In his house he is only gone a few hours and he leaves the televison on for me. I feel more relaxed than I have in the past. I have yet to tear the place up.
It’s been a week and he doesn’t seem to be as sad as he was. He did seem upset when I pooped on the rug, but he just laughed, shook his head, and cleaned it up. Maybe he will learn the subtle nuances of the cues that I need to go out.
He helped me by taking me home with him. I feel good living in his house and sleeping in his bed. As much as I’m glad to be home and that he made my life better, I can’t help but feel like he needed me more than I needed him. Silly, huh?
Thanks, other-dog, wherever you are. I’ll take care of him until you can see him again. I know I’m finally home.
You are a heroic knight, armed only with sword and shield you stand against a rampaging fire-breathing dragon that threatens to destroy your home and family. What do you do?
I am a firm believer in personal choice. Although many events in life happen to us and are beyond our individual control, there are frequent options that we can pick from that dictate the path our lives will take. The choice can be as seemingly inconsequential as which road to take on the way to work, or as important as the choice to fight or run, but those choices can have life-or-death unforeseen consequences. I am often reminded of the Choose Your Own Adventure books I read when I was twelve years old. The books placed the reader in the role of a variety of characters such as spy, race car driver, or dragon slayer. Never did any of those stories place me in the role of a thirty-seven year old, out-of-shape man trying to protect his girlfriend and her toddler son from her own brother hopped up on pain killers and looking for a fight.
I am dressed in jeans, a t-shirt and a pair of leather gloves and I am standing in the parking lot of my girlfriend’s condo in mid-January, unprepared for the weather and not expecting to be involved in a fistfight. It hasn’t snowed in a while and the previous snowfalls have been plowed into neat but dirty piles out of the way of traffic and parking spaces.
My girlfriend’s younger brother, Rex steps out of the passenger’s side of a pickup truck and finds me standing there in the way of his destination. Tim, a tall but portly man of approximately my age gets out of the driver’s side and makes his way slowly but determinedly over to Meryl. I understand why Tim is attracted to Meryl. She is a year older than me, but she is stunning. Tall and blonde with a perfect shape, and a confused and helpless demeanor; she has all the ingredients that even a smart guy like me fell for.
I am a roadblock with crossed arms in Rex’s way. I say, “Get back in the truck and go somewhere else,” but all with my eyes. Rex looks at me slack-jawed, hardly believing I would obstruct him. He is not as tall as I am, but what he lacks in size, he makes up in other areas; overall physical fitness, youth, and a circulatory system laced with pain-reducing prescription medications. These facts give him the edge that any Las Vegas bookie would call a ‘lock’.
What my adversary doesn’t anticipate is my proven record of being able to take a beating and survive.
Meryl, has informed me that Rex had stolen money and prescription medications from her when he has stayed with her, in the past. She received a call from her friend Tim, indicating that he had just been released from jail for a crime he committed earlier that night and was looking to stay with her.
“Turn around and go home,” I say, standing my ground. “You can’t stay here.”
“What the…fuck you!” comes the clever response from the thug. “Why not?” he says, laughing dismissively at me.
“Why?! Why?! Because you just got arrested for stealing from Hannaford’s and Tim said you’re high on oxy,” I reply full of condemnation and judgment. Meryl’s friend Tim, a soft-spoken, weak-willed man who was continuously hanging-on, waiting for our relationship to end, waits in the shadows. The symbolism is lost on me.
-If you want to stand your ground and possibly fight a 22 year old drug-addict, turn to page 15
-If you decide to let your girlfriend decide for herself go to page 16
I frantically turn to page 16 and am alarmed at the result of my decision.
16) You decide that it would be best to back away and ask Meryl what she would like to do knowing damn well she will let her druggie brother stay with her and steal money from her wallet and prescription pills from her medicine cabinet and endanger little Luke, whom you love more than anyone you have ever loved. However, you were in a car accident over ten years ago in which your brain suffered damage to your frontal lobe preventing you from feeling the emotion of fear. Due to the fact that you lack the flight part of the fight or flight instinct turn to page 15 and face the guy high on pain reducing drugs who is fifteen years younger than you. Good luck!
In a flash, he is on me. I am unprepared for his sudden attack and he pulls me to the ground and starts to punch me in the body and head. I decide not to fight back, because even though the punches are raining in on me I feel that my girlfriend, or her friend Tim, will pull my attacker off me any second now and talk some sense into him. I wait as he grips my head in his very strong hands and slams it against the cold pavement of the parking lot that has been chilled by the January air.
I did not anticipate the situation being resolved in this manner. I thought he would back down when faced with my stern and heroically unwavering demeanor.
The beating continues. Help does not seem to be coming.
-If you want to survive you had better start fighting back! Grow a pair and turn to page 21.
-To beg for mercy or lay down and die, go back to page 1 and start again.
I do not wish to die here.
21) From the ground, you push Rex off and get into a position where you can land some punches of your own. Wham! Wham! You punch him twice in the ribs. He continues to struggle and attempts to get you back in a vulnerable position. You decide that punching him in the balls, an effective, if not manly attack, will take the fight out of him. BAM! BAM! BAM! Three solid strikes to his softest part and you roll out of the melee and to your feet.
Rex and I rise rapidly and he stomps away from me. I am amazed that he is still functioning, much less on his feet, considering the punishment I have unleashed upon him. I stumble bloody over to Meryl who stands confused in front of a crowd of people who have ventured out of their condos and into the parking lot where our battle is taking place. The crowd resembles spectators in a gladiatorial arena in ancient Rome. They laugh and carry on as if this were an event staged for their amusement. Meryl is just as useless.
I turn to face Rex who is advancing on me again. This time he has a set of keys spaced between the fingers of his clenched fist creating a more deadly attack. I hear Meryl scream as I back-peddle away from his repeated wide swings at my face. Like some paraplegic ninja, I throw a half-hearted kick that does not find its mark nor does it force him back.
-Seriously, dude. No one is helping you! Turn to page 35 to get in your friggin’ car and drive away.
Surrender and retreat are options, but they do not occur to me.
Rex is pacing back and forth on the other side of the parking lot. I imagine steam rising off his body as he punches his fists in rage. I yell out to the crowd, “Did anyone call 911?!” Someone mumbles an unconvincing positive reply.
“You better hope they come soon, because I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you!” Rex yells at me from across the lot.
-If you want to wait for the police, go to page 32
-If you want to respond to his threats, go to page 33
I have taken a beating. Now it’s time to give one.
33) You stride determinedly toward the injured man as he raises his right arm to attack you. With your left hand you bat aside his fist and land a solid blow of your own on his unprotected nose. It collapses in a spurt of blood and crunch of cartilage.
He does not fall.
Instead he comes at me with fists flying. Only the swirling blue lights that are the harbingers of help put an end to the fight. A disappointed sigh escapes from the crowd like the last gasp of a dying animal and they return to their homes.
There are many choices I could have made after the police questioned all those involved in the fight and the witnesses. As the cops try to work out whom they should arrest they jokingly say they should arrest whoever is least beaten-up, because that person is likely the instigator of the fight. We both look beat up. I am covered in blood that is all my own. My skull and face are lacerated and bleeding. Rex’s nose is broken and his face and shirt are soaked in his own blood. His internal injuries are invisible and he cannot feel them.
I hold my breath, not sure whom Meryl and Tim will accuse or whom the police will think has taken less damage.
My luck holds and the police take Rex into custody. Later, they take him to the emergency room for internal bleeding. Had those less-visible injuries been more evident perhaps I would have been the one incarcerated.
The one life lesson I learned from those Choose Your Own Adventure books was that it is possible to make all the right choices and still lose and often the unexpected option leads to defeating the proverbial or literal dragon and getting the treasure.
There was no treasure in this particular story and I didn’t feel like I had defeated any dragons. For the months that followed, the princess I was trying to save instead blamed me for fighting and injuring the dragon. I was trying to be the hero, but instead I was the villain.
Often, as in real life, there is no way of winning and the right choices are not always the correct ones. The great thing about the books was the ability to take a different path if you didn’t like the ending you got the first time.
I wish real-life had the same option.