There’s a one-story brown bricked house slightly up on a hill from the street. Trees scattered through the yard along with a wraparound garden. My grandmother would spend all year around maintaining it. She is short and sweet. With short dark brown (now currently grey throughout) hair that clings to her face. She always had a cute little smile, and bother her mannerisms and voice were soft. She loves playing board games and working puzzles. Her celebrity crush was Elvis Presley. Most of all, she loves her family. When she wasn’t gardening, she was inside maintaining the house, if she wasn’t cleaning the house, she was preparing one of the three meals for the day or delivering my granddad his sweet-tea refill.
My grandfather, during this time was of average height, with dark brown leathery skin. Riddled with the scars of all his life experiences and hard work. Always in blue jeans, a white undershirt with a pocket, his work boots, and mug of sweet tea close at hand. If the sun was out my grandfather was out. He was everything you would imagine a man of the 40’s and 50’s to be. He could do anything! From construction, to mechanics, to engineering, landscaping, hunting, fishing, you name it. He loved “tinkering” as he called it. It was never work to him. He was a man who loved working and making money so much, that it became a hobby. You would find him on most any day down in his shop from morning to evening, only coming up for meals. He smoked cigarettes and always smelt like oil and gas, but never enjoyed drinking. Among numerous clever quips and life lessons he always said, “You weren’t a man until you carried a handkerchief, a knife, a lighter and bandana at all times”, and so, I did.
The shop was not far from the house, about a seventy-five-yard walk down the driveway. My granddad was a contractor at one point in his life and built their house, his shop, and the home I grew up in. His workshop had an iron frame with its roof and walls made from white sheet metal. The ceiling and back wall were lined with some insulation and facing a wide front sliding door. His F-250 diesel truck was usually parked there. He had rigged his own diesel tank he used to fill his truck up from home, which I always thought was so cool. The shop was filled with every tool you could imagine including welding kits, chainsaws, work benches, his motorcycle, a gator (basically a heavy-duty golf kart), spare parts, and make-shift contraptions. Everything categorized and, in its place, prepped and ready for whatever the days tasks may be. A wonderful place for a 5-year-old boy like me. So much to do, so many things to learn and observe. I use to make sure at the end of every day spent working with him I had oil and grease up and down my arms so I looked like I had worked hard. I needed a reason to wash before dinner like he did.
This wasn’t a countryside Texas ranch. Their property was about five acres catty-cornered to my house in an old Texas suburb. So, I grew up next door to my grandparents. I am extremely lucky in this aspect; without them I don’t know how traumatized I would be from my childhood. Never having a moment to escape, or break away from reality. My grandparents knew I needed this; I was their shadow as they called me. Both being products of their generation, they had their “roles” and they adhered to them diligently. My grandmother has always been religious, while my grandfather was what we refer to as “hard-headed”. He was not going to be told what he could and could not do, and anytime anyone did he would make that point clear.
My earliest memories are around four to five years old. Which is why my story begins at my grandparents’ house. There I am, the same age my daughter is currently. Just five years old. Wearing a little black tuxedo, with a flower pinned in my pocket. My job is the next best crowd pleaser to the bride walking down the aisle. I’m the tiny ring bearer. However, this is my mother’s wedding we are preparing for. Who is she marrying? I honestly don’t really know in my toddler mind. Not yet anyway. I know he’s much bigger than me; bearded, awkwardly hairy, and only cares about dirt bikes, computers, sci-fi, and church. I remember his skin was always pale, and his hands were soft. He never smelt like hard work. He was nothing like what I was used to from my grandfather. But I also never knew what it was like to have a man in my home, so I didn’t know what such a person would ever be like. I don’t remember much else from the wedding other than it was held at the church my mom took us to. I was raised in a Bible Church, as they call it. Which is just a more legalistic version than the Southern Baptist, if you can imagine that. It was a rather large church. Not that this is significant because there are so many in Texas. We had more churches than Starbucks or gas stations back then. There was nothing extravagant about this place of worship. It was brown brick, white walls, plain interior, and even plainer people. However, it’s still common for most people to hold their wedding service at their family’s church.
The reception of the wedding was held at my grandparents’ house, if I remember correctly. So much of my childhood is very vague to me now. Why is my mother remarrying this man, whose name I can now barely stand the thought of in my own mind? My dad died two months after my one-year-old birthday. Just two weeks before that years’ Christmas. As you can expect I have no memory of him. In fact, I know very little about him at all. I know he was a good man and an honest man, but who isn’t described as such after they die? I’m sure he had flaws. He was a tall lanky man with a full 70’s style mustache, and typically his face carried a big kind-hearted smile. I know he loved the Dallas Cowboys and Taco Bueno. He also worked hard to provide enough for his family. We were not wealthy by any means. He usually had multiple jobs and switched those jobs frequently. He got bored easily with the repetition and the mundane. Which I suppose is where I get those same traits from. My dad loved his sons, and this I know is true from home videos we had on VHS tape. He also suffered from epilepsy, and had seizures frequently. This is how my dad died. Epilepsy, when causing seizures, will shut off random functions of the brain including the involuntary ones controlling other organs as well.
During, the onset of one such seizure, to the best of my knowledge, my dad was taking a bath in our house. However, this time his brain stopped his heart and that was that. In in an instant the entire family’s livelihood changed. My oldest brother and my mom would be the ones to see him lying there in the tub. A horrific, traumatizing and cold moment for them I know. They would do their best to attempt saving his life while calling the ambulance. It is too late unfortunately; he is already gone. He was gone before they ever even knew it happened. The butterfly affect from that moment would ripple through time far reaching just us four sons and widowed wife. It would and has affected those around us, friends, family and our children as well.
I lived in a pretty average house for the growing suburban city we lived in. It would quickly become not so average as the surrounding areas began to develop more over time. My childhood home was a one-story house, that was just basically a long rectangle from the outside. We had about a three-acre lot that, like I said, connected to my grandparents’ property. Combining the two back yards made for a pretty decent sized field, littered with trees on my grandparents’ side, and an open grass area on ours. This was a nice aspect for four young boys since it gave us a rather large backyard area to do what boys do. My mother always had somewhat of a Texas western style combined with a rusty antique look. The inside of my house was dark stained woods, rusty antique items, with burnt oranges, dark greens, and shades of brown to add flair. My step-dad, among an onslaught of other stupid ass quirks and pet-peeves, always kept our house at eighty-five degrees. This maintained throughout the Texas summer heat, and regardless of what temperature it was. We had a play-room that was originally a garage that had been converted into an addition to the house by the time I was old enough to remember. For many years this room was just for the four of us boys. We got to paint the walls, decorate the room, and whatever else came to mind. It held all our toys which my mom had categorized into bins. Her and I are both very organized and slightly OCD I would say. Though we’ve had no such diagnosis. The playroom was on the south side of our house followed by the kitchen, which led to the living room and dining room at either end of it. There was a long narrow hallway on the other side of the living room leading to the bedrooms and bathroom. My mother’s room being the only door on the right side of the passage way. My step-dad would intentionally walk down the middle of this hallway quite frequently, broad shouldered as if he was trying to make himself wider and impassible. He did this to both force us to pass close by him where he would nudge us with his shoulders and hips. Leaving us with the only other option which was to move out of the hallway and wait our turn for him to finish walking through. Who was this man? This is not his home, nor his property. If anything, this is more my domain than it would ever be his. I should be the one he moves out of the way for.
My mom homeschooled all four of us. I don’t really know why. I always guessed it was to prevent us from having exposure to “worldly” things public school offers. Such as; drinking, drugs, cursing, and sexual innuendos. Hell, we weren’t even allowed to watch most Disney movies growing up because of the magic and “witchcraft” that took place in them. Being homeschooled meant we were home day and night most of the time. As the youngest I was left to play mostly alone, doing whatever my imagination could conjure. Only leaving the house to hang with my grandparents, hang out with friends I made from church, or at church itself. This meant when things got bad, there wasn’t much escaping it. There weren’t many places to go especially when you cannot drive yourself. This also meant as step-sons, we didn’t have exposure to the world to fully grasps when things weren’t okay. Our church knew about the physical, mental, and emotional abuse occurring within our family. My mother’s friends knew, and no one said or did anything. Drama like that spreads quicker and is gossiped upon more so in a church setting than anywhere else I’ve seen. Not because anyone cared, or wanted to step in. Instead, my mother was told not to divorce. To submit to her husband, which included us in that belief as well. To fall in line to this manipulator, who was also a hoarder. Cluttering our family’s home with his useless objects and contraptions, most of which never worked, he had no intention of fixing, and were just eye sores. This was man was not my dad or step-dad. He definitely was not my grandfather. This man was no real man at all.
I’m not sure how abuse started for other members of my immediate family. They do not talk about it, at least not to me. Nor have they ever even hinted at it taking place. For me it started with neglect and his insatiable desire to establish authority. This was my reward for not being interested in the things my step-dad liked, I would be ignored. If I couldn’t figure something out on my own because I wasn’t smart enough, he went silent and just stared at me. If I refuse to call him dad, instead of by his first name. He would simply pretend like I wasn’t even in the room. Not a glance in my direction. I hated this. Even at five I knew this was messed up. I remember it happening in front of other members of the family and no one ever said anything. No one older than me stood up to him, so I never stood up for myself. Unfortunately for a toddler, there were times I couldn’t help myself. There would be no one else around to help me except him, so I would have to give into his mind games. This crushed my confidence very young. I always felt powerless, and less intelligent. Between his mind games and being the youngest of four brothers, I was on the losing end of almost anything I involved myself in at home. I grew very accustomed to the mindset of it.
My mom spent a lot of her time (when at home) in her room behind a closed door. This was her escape, except for when my step-dad was in there. I spent a lot of time knocking on that door, and speaking to them through it. Every time I knocked, I would hope with every ounce of my being that her voice would be the one to answer, and not his. I hated talking to him. Hearing is unenthused response “What do you want?” vibrating through the door. I didn’t like that when the door was closed. I would always follow my knock with, “may I come in?” This was either answered with a “yes” from my mom, or a “no” from him. Hardly ever the other way around. I would begin to hear things; fighting, screaming, slamming, breaking, and sex. These occurrences gradually became more frequent and less obscured from the rest of us. Growing in violent intensity. Not knowing whether or not I should do or say something. Sometimes I would stand there for what seemed like an eternity, holding my first up to knock. Wondering if I would interrupt and stop the situation, or if I would simply involve myself in it. The sexual interactions were done so quite blatantly and “in our faces”, metaphorically speaking. As if he was showing us that he controlled our mom, and as long as he controlled her, he did so with the rest of us as well. That was the hardest part. No kid wants to hear their parents having sex, obviously. However, this was different and it messed with my mind. How could you have disdain for someone (which I knew my mom did) and still be with them? When the door was closed there was no going in or seeing. I was left only with my imagination as to the horrors that occurred on the other side. Was this rape? If so, I would never be told. Was this consensual? If that’s the case then how could you be so weak as to submit to such a human? These are thoughts that a child should never have to bear. The ones that circulated my mind day and night. I was told not to involve myself by my brothers. They said mom had enough problems to deal with, and a hard enough time as it was. That I didn’t need to instigate or agitate another situation. “Cowards” I thought. Perhaps they were right though, after all, people older than you are supposed to be wiser, aren’t they? That is what my problems were, insignificant. Un-important to the overall grand scheme of hardship that everyone else was having to deal with. For a long time, I did, and said nothing. I simply stood by and watched. Listened, and observed. Taking my dose of the pain that echoed through those walls, but avoiding it as best I could.
My brothers began to grow aggressive. Notably due to the same circumstances I found myself in. We were always fighting. More so than usual for most siblings. Between throwing metal bats at each other; sharpening pencils to stick in each other’s backs, brawling, scratching, cutting, and their constant urge to scare me at night by banging on my window from the outside or pulling pranks, I was never on the winning side of any of it. At home, my life was a constant battle. An endless search for solitude away from all the chaos and built-up rage. I remember being tied up to a chair and gagged, and placed into my dark closet while my mom ran errands. This happened quite often. I’m not sure if my brothers did it just for fun, or if they actually just did not want to put up with me and it was entertaining and easier for them. They would of course, release me upon hearing her car returning. I grew quiet and contemplative. Always trying to reason my way out of things, since brute force didn’t ever seem to get the job done. I learned to finish my school early so as to escape to my grandfather’s shop. He was always there and I was always welcome. In the shop I wasn’t useless, I wasn’t dumb or stupid. With him, I was just a young boy who needed to be shown how to be a man. That is, until I was forbidden to see him for over a year, “because he wasn’t a Christian.” Which is total bullshit. I’m sure my step-dad didn’t like him and manipulated my mom into making that choice.
It wasn’t long before my oldest brother ran away from home, at the time I was seven. I remember the day my mom told me I was being picked up from church hanging out with other kids for some youth event. She told me my brother had decided to leave and he wasn’t going to be coming back. He was only fourteen years old. I had long expected something like this to occur, even in my child mind. I knew he was angry, and acting out. He was frustrated because of our step-dad. We all contested him in our own way. He knew our home life wasn’t right, and he couldn’t sit by and take it. When he left, he was immediately pulled into using crystal meth (though I would not learn that until I was a little older). From then on, his life was anything but easy. I felt scared when I heard the news, he had decided to leave. My oldest brother was the only one who would ever stand up for me at home. He was the only one to step in when the middle two siblings picked on me too hard. He was the only one in my home that I looked up to. I needed him for guidance, a role-model. However, to no fault of his own, he was anything but.
Between six years old and my oldest brother running away is when I was first being molested. Not by my step-dad or some family friend, but by my second oldest brother. Let’s refer to him as brother B. I remember a time when I did recall everything that occurred. I do know to a degree; however, I don’t recollect for exactly how long it went on. But it did start before I was seven and didn’t end with my oldest brother still living at home. I was told if I said anything that we would both get in trouble. I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble. There was so much pain in my life already. I didn’t want to invite anymore reason for yelling, screaming, fighting, spankings, or beatings. I was scared of the dark, typical of most children. However, as I said, my brothers enjoyed scaring me. I also unknowingly at the time, had trauma from everything else up to that point in my life as well. So, I was afraid. My room had bunkbeds in it at the time, me on the top and him sleeping underneath me. This same bedroom held the closet that I regularly was locked in. The bane of my existence during the day, became my source of light in the dark. My brother would tell me that if I didn’t comply with his desires then I wouldn’t get a night light. I would live in darkness and he would make sure I was scared. I remember the feeling of disgust. Thinking it was gross for him to want to do these things to and with me. I knew that family members weren’t supposed to interact in that way. I also knew, that I liked girls and had no interest in boys.
One Texas summer day, while playing basketball out on our driveway, I slipped up and said alluded to what was happening. The remaining three of us boys still living at home were outside. I didn’t intend to say it, it slipped out in a comment. I couldn’t even tell you what it is that I said. The three of us froze in time. Staring at one another. Me staring at brother B, to see his reaction. Looking back towards my other brother only to observe a look of shock. His face looked as if he couldn’t believe what he had just heard, or if he wasn’t sure that I meant to say what I had just said. However, in that moment I felt as though maybe I had just set myself free, even if unintentionally. Maybe we would both get in trouble and it would end. I didn’t care anymore at that point. To my dismay they both shrugged it off, I was taken to the side by brother B and berated for having almost blown his cover. Lied to, and told how moronic I was for not realizing how much trouble I would also get in. It wasn’t going to end, not then anyway. What I said was always irrelevant in my home. I was too little, too weak, and too stupid to have anything worth contributing. That would be the only time I brought it, or anything else up for a very long time. It wouldn’t be until much later in life that I even realized any of this mattered and to what degree it would affect my psyche.