Triptychs – Chapter 26
“Something you should know about me,” I went to Noah, as we walked. Then I shook my head, a little, and grinned crooked, down towards the ground. “Actually, there’s a couple of somethings you need to know about me . . . ” Feeling a little sick, behind the smile.
It was lunchtime, Wednesday, the day after the run-in with my dad. Well, the almost-real-run-in, with Real Live Blood, I mean.
Noah and I had a standing date for lunch, at the tables outside the Union. He’d already had his sandwich out and ready, when I’d walked up: he took one look at my face, and started stuffing everything back into his bag, his eyes big.
And then we were walking; up the hill, headed for the back side of campus. Past clumps of happy, busy, oblivious students, past the big redwood trees, past the Amphitheater.
I hadn’t gone to class; I wasn’t going to class, and I’d already called in sick to work. I’d come to school to talk to Noah.
And it was hard.
“See . . . ” I started; and I glanced over, sideways, at him. “I . . . can get into moods. You know - ? I can be really up, and happy, sometimes . . . and sometimes, I can be, like, down.” I swallowed; and I paused, a second. “And sometimes, things can get pretty dark, for me . . . ”
Another glance, sideways. I expected to see his ironic, ‘no shit?’ expression; instead, just his undivided attention, and a look of – compassion, maybe?
And that made me feel . . . I don’t know. Undeserving, maybe; so I looked back down, as we walked.
“It’s not like I’m bipolar, or anything . . . I’m not taking drugs for it.” I made a face; actually, my doctor had suggested them, but I was afraid drugs would kill my creativity, and that was the only thing I lived for. I wasn’t going to start taking drugs. “I’m not that bad off . . . ”
Another sideways-glance, at Noah. Another look of sympathy; or empathy, or maybe, well – I didn’t want to go there, not yet.
I looked down, again.
It went on for seconds.
“It gets worse,” I said. Concentrating on walking; one foot ahead of another, smooth, in a straight line.
“Okay - ?” from Noah; gently.
Fuck me. I’d never had to explain myself like this, before, ever; I mean, Cole knew me from the beginning . . . and I’d never let anybody else get close.
“I’ve got a temper,” I went on. Then, silence; step, step, step.
A quick, sideways-glance at Noah; he looked back at me, silent, expectant.
“I’ve got a temper,” I said, looking back down; “And it doesn’t happen often . . . but sometimes, I can, kind of, lose it. I can go off, and I can pull some really stupid shit . . . ” I winced, at the profanity . . . then I laughed at myself, bleakly, for worrying about it. Like that really mattered?
“It’s something I share with my father,” I went on, finally. Quietly. Not looking sideways.
Nothing from Noah, for a long stretch of seconds. Then – “What happened?” he asked; simply.
So I told him.
And fuck-me, it was hard; and it came out haltingly, in fits and starts, with some silences between pieces of it. But I made myself tell him the whole story, how my dad was still in town, making our lives miserable . . . how he went after my mom, for money, supposedly, but I figured the real reason was, he got his jollies by doing it, he probably went home and got his rocks off, every time he terrified my mom, every time he traumatized her, made her cry . . .
I told him about sleeping with the baseball bat, next to the bed. And when I looked over at him, as I said it – I swear his face was pale.
And then, finally – and it was the hardest thing of all – I told him about last night.
I told him every detail, actually. I made myself; I told him how I’d been feeling pretty good, sort-of content, and then how I’d gradually realized, what those headlights in back of me, meant . . .
I told him, how close I’d come to killing my father.
I didn’t leave out anything. I told him about how I’d lost it, and because of that, how I’d almost killed someone. How I’d almost killed my father, in a fit of rage.
A long silence, at the end of my story.
Not surprising, actually; Noah knows how to listen . . . and he knows the value of silence. He so does.
We walked on, for a minute, then another. We were off-campus, now, in one of the residential streets on the uphill side of the campus; little single-family homes, with sparse front yards, and the loom of the Bay down below us. The sky was a mix of blue and gray and dark-gray; not-raining yet, but probably raining by the end of the day, probably a lot. February, in the East Bay. The ground, wet; our breaths, clouding out in front of us.
“You stopped,” went Noah, finally. Quiet, for a few more paces. “You stopped, in time.”
It was the same point Cole’d made to me, over and over, last night. In my bedroom. Jeremy listening, silent, sympathetic, uncomfortable. They’d spent the night with us, for protection; Cole and Jeremy in my bed, me in my sleeping bag, on the floor.
“Yeah,” I went, finally, after a pause. I breathed for a second. “I don’t know why.”
“But you did stop,” he said; and his voice was more confident. I glanced over at him; his head was a little tilted, as he looked over at me. “You knew it was your father . . . and you could have hurt him, but you didn’t, you stopped in time.” A pause, for a couple of beats. Another sideways-look at me. “And now you’re completely freaked about it; you’re analyzing yourself, you’re blaming yourself . . . I think you’re scared of yourself, actually.”
I blinked at that.
“But you did stop in time,” he went on, gently; and he stopped walking, and he turned to face me, on the sidewalk, and I turned to face him.
“Ummm . . . ” I started –
“No,” he said, simply. Then he put one hand, gently, on my shoulder. “You stopped, in time. And you’re really, really upset about the whole thing.” A gentle squeeze, and then his hand fell away; and those blue eyes were meeting mine, square on. “I think you’re okay, Trevor. I think you’re okay . . . and not just because . . . you know . . . ”
Those blue eyes held mine, for a second; before sliding away.
A quick, awkward silence, then; Noah turned to go on walking, and so did I.
But I wasn’t reassured. I was still feeling it; the shame, of what I’d almost-pulled . . . and the fear. Yeah; the fear.
Another long pause, as we walked along the curving street. The wind was picking up, a little; it was actually going to rain, real soon.
“So, what happens now - ?” from Noah; quietly.
I looked over to the left, to where I could see the Bay, between the little, single-story houses; and I shrugged.
“We’re going to the police this afternoon, my mom and me; and we’ll make another report. We’ll update our file,” and I grinned, without humor, as I said it; with an emphasis on the ‘update’. I glanced quick, at Noah, then back down. “We’ve got a few things to add to it; not just from last night . . . and they’ll be really nice about it, Sergeant Gibbons is assigned to us, and she’s really cool . . . but we probably won’t get an R.O. I mean, a restraining order.” I made a face, and breathed for a second. “I didn’t see my dad last night; I couldn’t, the lights were in my eyes. I couldn’t get a license plate number, either.”
Another quick glance at Noah; another look of sympathy, from him.
“Actually, I thought about lying, saying I could ID him . . . but I just can’t do that. It’s the sort of thing he’d pull.”
A longer, silent pause, at that.
“So . . . ” I went on. “They’ll take our report. And they’ll promise some more patrols on our street . . . and they’ll do it, the Berkeley Police Department is really good about domestic violence cases.” I shrugged, and half-grinned, again. “And they’ll refer us to Social Services, for programs for spousal abuse victims. And my mom won’t go, of course. She never does.”
It was so weird, talking about this, out loud. Family stuff, laid out, bare.
“And . . . my Uncle Dennis will be staying with us, the next few nights. That’s pretty standard. Last night was Cole and Jeremy, tonight will be Uncle Dennis, and the next few nights after that, then he’ll go home, and the whole cycle will just kind of repeat itself.” I shrugged a little; not-looking at Noah. “It’s kind of a pattern, for us, for my mom and me. It has been, for awhile, now.” Another pause. “I don’t think it’ll ever end . . . ”
Fuck, just talking like this made me feel so naked. Hopeless.
I didn’t look over at Noah. Just, step, step, step, along the winter street. It felt good to be walking, to be using my body; trying not to think, so much. Trying not to think about my asswipe father . . . Wishing, I could just walk away, from it all . . .
“Did he give you that scar?” from Noah; gently.
It made me stop. “Huh?” I went, stupidly.
“The thing on your cheek,” he said; and he reached out and trapped my wrist, gently, and his face was kind of scrunched up, in sympathy. “It isn’t bad, really it isn’t . . . but you’re always touching it. Like, right now. You touch it more, when you’re unhappy about something, or when you’re in a mood . . . ”
The warm of his hand, holding mine; and I just gaped at him.
“I . . . ” I looked down, and away; and I shook my head.
Silence, from Noah.
“Yeah,” I said, finally; into the quiet. Looking away from him; out past the little houses, to the Bay. “Yeah . . . two years ago. I outed myself to him, and he beat me up, and kicked me out of the house.”
I’d never had to tell anybody about it, before. Either they already knew, like Cole and Jeremy, and Erik and Jason and some of our friends . . . or they didn’t know anything.
It hurt to actually say it.
I glanced over at Noah; his face was just stricken, blanched . . . Fuck me, I told myself. Poor Noah, who hadn’t come out to his family yet, his very Catholic family –
“No,” I went, gently, and I twisted my hand around to hold his. “No, it wasn’t about me being gay . . . he even said so, he said he already knew. No,” I went on, shaking my head; looking down. “It was because I called him, on how he was treating my mom. After all those years, I finally, finally called him on it . . . that’s when he started hitting me . . . ”
The sound of his voice, yelling, so loud . . . the shock, the physical body-shock, when he hit me the first time; hit me HARD, with his weight behind the punch.
The sound of my own voice, yelling back. The lights in the ceiling, me looking up at them; the pain, just beginning to register.
I still have nightmares about it. About that day.
“Jesus . . . ” from Noah.
“And after he hit me the first time . . . ”
I shouldn’t be saying this, I thought, I KNEW I shouldn’t be saying this, freaking out Noah this way . . . but I’d gotten started, and I couldn’t stop. The words just kept on coming.
“ . . . after he hit me the first time, I almost went at him. Physically, I mean; I almost tried to kill him, then, too; with my bare hands. I remember that, so well, that rush . . . I’ll never, ever forget that feeling . . . ”
The lights in the ceiling, again; his voice, drunk, raging . . . the beginning of pain –
And that dark thing inside me, that dark, coiled, animal thing I’d inherited from him – it almost, almost exploded, right then, it almost leaped out and destroyed –
One of us would have died, that day. If I’d gone off that final cliff, one of us would have died. Probably me, I’m so much smaller . . . but, he’d been drinking, some –
I’ll never, ever forget that feeling. That horrible rush; knowing, I could have killed him, or been killed myself, gladly; if I’d just gone that one, extra inch . . .
And that’s what I have the nightmares about. Not so much the pain, the anger, the vivid memories of getting kicked out . . . no. No. It was that obscene rush; how close I’d come to murder. Or attempted murder. Or my own death.
And yesterday, it almost happened again.
“But you didn’t . . . ?”
Another glance at Noah; his face, stricken, again.
Fuck me, I thought. I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t be putting him through this.
“No.” I still had his hand; I squeezed it, gently, not letting go. “No, I’m sorry . . . no.” Another look out at the Bay, and the clouds, and the little, shabby houses on the street. I felt the corner of my mouth, quirking up. “I ended up using words, instead . . . somewhere inside me, I figured out, finally, that I could hurt him worse with words, than I could with my hands . . . I mean, no shit, he’s huge. So, he kept on hitting me, and I kept on mouthing off to him; and that just made him madder and madder, and he’d hit me, again . . . ”
The sounds of yelling, again; the ceiling lights, the yellow trim of the hallway. The fists landing on me, on my face, my raised-up arms, my body; the taste of blood in my mouth –
The sound of my voice; jeering, taunting. Gleeful; I was telling the truth to him, and I’d never, ever gotten to him like that, before, I’d never HURT him like that, before, and it was all true, and that’s what made it all so delicious, it was all TRUE –
The sound of my laughter. The wild sound of my laughter.
I shook my head.
A long pause, a long silence. Me, still holding Noah’s hand.
“But . . . you didn’t try to hurt him, then - ?” from Noah; at last. Pointedly. Circling back to yesterday; I could tell. “I mean, no one could have blamed you . . .”
Poor kid, I thought; my mind still half-back-then. Poor kid; see what you’ve got yourself into?
“I almost did. And, I still lost it,” I went, gently; not-quite-looking at him. “I still lost control; just like last night. Only, in a different way . . . ”
Silence, from Noah. A loyal silence, maybe; or maybe, a silent disagreement, I didn’t know. It went on, for second, after second.
“So . . . yeah. My dad beat me up, and threw me out of the house; supposedly, for being gay. He said.” I moved a corner of my mouth. “And I went a little crazy, and I went to San Francisco . . . and then my mom came home, and found out what happened. And then she threw HIM out of the house . . . Well, my Uncle Dennis helped, a lot.” Another shrug, from me.
More silent astonishment from Noah; I could tell. The complete disintegration of a family . . .
“Cole was visiting his dad in Southern California,” I went on. “So Jeremy came and got me . . . he kind of rescued me.” I paused, then, for a long beat; and then another. Remembering. “And the thing I’ll never, ever get over . . . is that my mother kicked my dad out.” I shook my head, wonderingly. “My mother actually stood up to my dad. She actually made him leave . .. after all this time. After all he’d done to us . . . ”
And, fuck-me, I never, ever will forget it. My mother broke with my dad, she so totally severed everything between her and my dad . . . for me. For me.
Another glance over at Noah; his face just full of concern, and pain-for-me, and – more incomprehension, maybe. I could just see him, trying to wrap his mind around such a family . . .
Somehow, we were still holding hands. I tugged on his, gently, to stop.
“We should start heading back . . . I’ve got to get back to
Berkeley.” I gave him a crooked, sideways-smile. “And you’ve got to have lunch,
before your Biology lecture.”
Noah always gets hungry in Bio, it’s a two-hour lecture. I’ve teased him about it.
He made an expression, that dismissed the whole idea of lunch. “So you’re not coming to work? I don’t think you should,” he added, fast.
“Not today,” I went, gently. “Maybe tomorrow. Probably tomorrow. I’ll call you, if I can’t make it . . . Look, Noah.” I paused, for a second, trying to find the words. Not quite meeting his eyes. “I’m sorry about all this, I really am. I’m sorry you have to hear all this . . . stuff. I know it’s – ”
“No, no.” His hand squeezed mine. “I want to hear about it, I really do. If you want to talk about it . . . I want to help, any way I can.”
A quick flash of an idea, in my head; I pushed it away, ruthlessly.
“I know I’m not Cole,” he went on, looking down . . . “but I still want to help.”
I gaped at him.
Oh, fuck-me. Hard.
There were just way too many possible meanings, too many complicated implications, in that . . . and I’d been awake all night, I was about as stressed as I’ve ever been . . . no. Just, no.
So I reacted honestly. I turned to face him, still holding his hand, looking him in the eyes.
“Hey,” I went; grinning, weakly, a little. “Some things, I don’t tell Cole . . . ” And without even looking around for suburban-Hayward-witnesses, I leaned in, under the bill of his cap, and kissed him on the lips; light, and soft.
And I felt him, kissing back, and fuck-me, it was a STRONG rush of feeling –
Me, thinking at the same time, of all the ironic permutations of what I’d just said. The things I don’t tell Cole; things I don’t share, with Cole . . . On so many levels . . .
* * *
Some things, I don’t tell Cole.
Some things, I don’t tell Noah; or my mom, or Uncle Dennis, or anybody else.
I’m pretty sure my Uncle Dennis figured it out, though, when I told him that night, I had to go out for awhile; and that I’d call him, when I got back to the front door. So he’d know it was me coming in, and not my dad.
He’d looked pretty grim, when I said it; but then, so had I. Hey, ‘grim’ was the theme at Casa McCarthy, these days.
I went out looking for my dad. Again.
It was something I’d started before, way back in September, the last time he’d trashed the building . . . and I’d tried, I’d really tried, I don’t know haw many dive bars I’d made myself go into, looking for him –
But I hadn’t found him.
And then, with school, and work, and my mom not going to Stockton on weekends as often . . . I’d let it go. Fuck me; it’d been easier to just let it go.
Well. Back then, it’d been about trash scattered on our lawn; this time, it was about him stalking my mom. At night.
I had to find him. And this time, I wasn’t going to give up. I couldn’t.
Down the street, in the dark and the light rain; my sweatshirt hood pulled up, my hands in my jeans pockets.
My right hand holding my Very Own Boxcutter, that I’d bought for work at the bookstore; my thumb gently running over the raised plastic letters of my name, on the handle. My family name; MCCARTHY. Not my father’s name.
Exhausted and stressed as I was, I knew I had to start looking now, while Uncle Dennis was still staying with us . . . I had a few, precious nights when I could leave home in safety.
I didn’t know what I’d do, after he went home again. I’d find a way to go on looking, somehow . . . but I knew how much that was going to cost me, in tension and fear.
I started by re-checking, as quick as I could, the likelier dive bars near us, that I’d checked out before. I mean, it made sense, right - ? He’d come stalking after my mom; and he must have been hanging out at a bar, before that.
One thing I knew, one think I could be certain of; he was hanging out at a bar, somewhere. Somewhere. No possible question . . .
That took all night; ‘til two in the morning.
I didn’t find him.
The next night, Thursday; night, I went back to the San Pablo Avenue strip, where I’d left off looking, last time. Still in the hooded-sweatshirt-and-jeans; still with the boxcutter in my pocket.
The boxcutter wasn’t just for my dad; or even mostly for my dad. I was walking around in dangerous areas, now; I mean, Berkeley, downtown Berkeley, is a relatively safe place . . . but we’re right next door to Oakland. Which has one of the highest per-capita murder rates in the country; lots of gang violence, lots of drive-by shootings, lots of truly senseless violence.
Well. I guess the boxcutter wasn’t much, as protection goes; but it was better than nothing. And hey, if I was attacked by anything cardboard, I could take it down in seconds. You know?
A quick sweep inside one bar, with a claustrophobically-low, popcorn-stucco ceiling; no. He wasn’t there. And, it was actually too nice, for my dad; it had nice lighting, and the glasses on the racks looked clean. So, out again, into the breezy night; then, along the street . . .
I could have asked for help.
Duh; of course I could have asked for help. But Uncle Dennis was already standing guard, at home –
I’d taken pains, to hide what I was doing from Cole. And he’d be pissed, he’d be REALLY pissed, if he found out . . . After all, he knows what my dad looks like, he could ID him, easy –
And there was no way I was going to involve him in this. No fucking way, was I going to drag Cole, and Jeremy – Jeremy would insist on coming – down to bad parts of town, after midnight, trolling through dive bars, looking for my crazy-ass, drunken father.
And besides that, even, besides the unacceptable risk . . . there was a principle involved. Something I felt, deep.
It was my problem.
Not Noah’s problem; he was just unlucky enough to get hooked up with someone like me, someone with a dangerous, asswipe father. Not Cole’s problem, either; and definitely not Jeremy’s problem, God, talking about degrees of separation, Jeremy’d already been through way too much hell because of what my dad had pulled two years ago, through no fault of his own . . .
It was my problem.
He was my dad, my father; my flesh-and-blood. Part of me, although I hated the parts he’d given me . . . .
My problem; my flesh-and-blood, and my fault. I was the reason for him getting kicked out, and so, I was the reason for his tormenting us.
So I was going to be the one to run the risks. And I was going to be the one to find him.
But I didn’t find him that night, either.
And not the next night, Friday night, the last night Uncle Dennis stayed with us.
And I didn’t find him Saturday night, with my mom safely away in Stockton . . . I got some strong hints, that my mom was going to be spending a lot more weekends in Stockton in the future, and the forwarded invitations from my Uncle Ryan to please, please come down for the weekend, please? had more than just a whiff of urgency about them . . .
I didn’t find my dad, when I needed to.
Yeah; Magical Realism doesn’t really work, in real life. Well, at least that kind of magic. I was sagging, exhausted, by Sunday.
I was still going to find him.
And when I did, the question was – what then? I mean, I had a plan, now, finally; or the outlines of a plan, anyway, a pretty fucking desperate one . . . but. Even if it worked out, as a plan – did I have the balls to play it?
Did I have a choice - ?
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