The Friend Zone
(Twilight Zone music: Di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di, di-di-di-di-di-di-di) You unlock this terror with the key of romance. Beyond it is another dimension; a dimension of joy, a dimension of laughter, a dimension of happy devotion. You’re moving into a land of both substantive beauty and childlike wonder; But then your hope is turned to fear as the relationship rug is pulled out from under you and you realize that the feeling you’ve just crossed over into, resides in…The Friend Zone. (buhd-oo-bud-up!)
Written by Michael Allen Hempen
Brought to you by: Cous’n Hemp’n Entertainment
Featuring: The Ghost of Rod Serling
Episode 18: Legacy
Ghost of Rod Serling: Legacy. For some it represents hope for future generations; but there are others for whom legacy is a cigarette butt that needs to be stomped harshly into the ashtray of time before it can burn those it might touch. Such is the case of Mr. Michael Hempen, who has witnessed the devilry and dysfunction of his legacy on a dystopian landscape found only in…The Friend Zone.
It’s not that I don’t want kids, but it’s a conversation I’m willing to have with the right woman.
Like many people, I’ve been subjected to some shit parenting, but more than that I’ve been forced to watch even worse parenting perpetrated on someone I love, my half-sister.
Our mother was a terrible, selfish, manipulative woman. I’m sure she didn’t start off that way, but that’s what she became despite her ‘Christianity’ and despite her being in law enforcement. Like a disease, she infected her children with incurable trauma that would impact them and every relationship they’ll ever have for the rest of their lives. Our fathers were just assholes.
One of the reasons that some of my more significant relationships have ended, is my fear of having children. I’ve tried to mask that fear by claiming over-population, climate change, and ‘garbage footprints’, to hide a more personal truth: I’m afraid I’ll be like my dad. I’m also afraid that I’ll meet a woman who will treat our kids like my mother treated my sister and I. So, I’ve come up with excuses to not have kids based on those fears.
This is one of those things where you see what you’re doing, you know this about yourself, you know it’s ridiculous and a nonsensical way of thinking…but you’re just powerless against that fear.
As I get older, I know that I would make a decent father. I find myself writing down advice or life-lessons that I might teach my son or daughter. So, having kids is something I think about. As my role at work becomes more cemented, I also know that I have the financial stability to support a family.
But, because of the legacy handed down to me by terrible parents, and how their selfishness and cruelty hurt others, I don’t feel that I have the right to subject innocents to the potential recurrence or perpetuation of something that might reside deep within me; a gene, perhaps, lying dormant, waiting to break free and wreak havoc on the lives of my offspring. After all, what we do in life, echoes in eternity; so, aren’t the lives of people from my past still…y’know, echoing?
I wasn’t alive for a lot of what you’re about to read, or I was very young, so some of it is supposition. Some are first, second and third hand accounts of what happened, and those parts are coming from the memory of a much younger me. A memory that was served by individuals who all have their own interpretations of the truths that I relate. The parts that occurred in my teens are much more accurate.
I don’t consider these ‘my’ traumas; but I tell these stories to the best of my recollection anyway because this story forever haunts me and effects every relationship I have. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you can walk away from this saying to yourself: “There’s a man and a woman who went through something similar, and came out on the other side of it; I can too.”
This…this is the story of my sister and I.
The events depicted in this blog took place in Illinois over the span of six decades.
At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed.
Out of respect for the truth, the rest has been told exactly as it might have occurred.
Part One: 1958
Debra Marie was born to William and Lois Ann Cummings in the winter of 1958. Lois was thirteen when she became pregnant with Debra. Debra was loved by her mother, but like the three brothers that came after her, was a burden to her father.
Debra’s father, William, drank heavily, both at work where he was a truck driver, moving loads of refrigerated beef, and at home. He was a hard man, a serious man…a strict man.
Each time she became pregnant after Debra, Lois told herself THIS child would be a girl as well. She only wanted little girls with whom she could bond, to show them the kind of frivolity that she had been so vehemently denied as a child. If she could just have one more girl, she could put up with William’s abuses and drunken tantrums. Alas, three boys were bestowed consecutively upon Lois, and with each, her disappointment turned to depression, then to fear, then to anger.
Lois didn’t hide the resentment she felt towards her boys, and indeed as someone who didn’t understand emotion, erroneously blamed the boys for their ‘perceived’ lack of female genitalia. This made growing up the oldest in the household a heavy burden on Debra’s shoulders, as the boys in turn, resented her, as their mother’s ‘favorite’.
William was without humor, so the home that Debra would grow up in offered no joy to a child; and a child of such intelligence as she, should have only known joy; after all, happiness nurtures intelligence. Keeping busy with chores was the only way to appease her father’s tantrums, lest he find idleness in her performance; idleness brought attention, and attention brought beatings.
The only solace Debra would find, was in visiting her grandmother, which she did as often as she could. Granny Norma lived just next door.
Lois’s mother Norma, was a dispatcher at the truck company where Debra’s father worked; this is how Lois and William came to meet at a company picnic. When she became pregnant at thirteen, rather than have William arrested for statutory rape, Norma agreed to pay the down-payment for a house, so long as it was the one next door to hers. In this way, she could be close to her granddaughter. As a heavy drinker with no savings to speak of, William agreed to, what he considered extortion, and resentment consumed him.
Most nights, Lois took Debra to church, which was equidistant from their house as the bar which William frequented. The boys, early on, lost interest in the meanderings of morality that church foisted upon them, and went their own way. When coming home from church with Debra, Lois had to hope that William would be passed out, which usually happened after he’d drank an entire bottle of whiskey. He would occasionally mutter to himself angrily in front of the television while watching National Geographic programs about carnivores and hunters. If awake, he might happen to turn his attentions toward her and their children; as the years passed, his resentment turned to merciless rage, and he took joy in his wife’s pain.
Debra’s mother loved her unconditionally, as much as a woman of her upbringing could. Lois all but ignored her boys, so they would learn the ways of manhood from their father, and they too would grow to be merciless in their need for obedience and female servitude. This was a failing of both mother and father because without love from either, only hatred and misogyny could fill their hearts.
We could justify the actions or inactions of Lois over the next ten years, if I were to tell the story of her youth…of her abuses at the hands of Norma. We could debate the merits of a frightened young girl, alone in a strict catholic household with no father and an overbearing mother who also offered no joy, but this is not that, and the consequences of that tale only lead to Debra’s; they do not diminish or lessen it. Suffice to say that subsequent actions taken by Lois as a parent in later years, cannot be excused by her youth, as age brings with it the power of choice and the consequences of those choices are often brought to bear on the innocent.
Part Two: 1968
One night in the winter of 1968 when Debra was ten years old, after the boys had already gone to their bedroom upstairs for the night, Debra stayed up to help her mother with the dishes. She watched the snow fall heavily, outside of the kitchen window in front of the sink, as she did so. It was serene; picturesque. She later thought back at how infinitely disparate the universe was, that something so beautiful, could proceed events that would end in such a horrible death.
After she was done with the dishes, Debra struggled to move the heavy cast iron skillet and the metal Folger’s coffee can, full of bacon grease, from one side of the stove to the other, as she wiped the stove top. Her mother moved them so effortlessly with Iron-Worker muscles forged in a kitchen filled with heavy metal and Iron instruments. It was a different time, after all. Every night before preparing dinner for William, her mother made sure to move the bacon grease to the far end of the counter, away from the stove.
Lois told Debra: “One day when you’re cooking for a man, you make sure to keep your bacon grease for chicken and such; just keep it away from the stove when you’re cooking, because it’s very flammable.” Lois was always giving Debra cooking tips, and she would one day become an accomplished chef in her own right.
As she stood on the small metal step stool that helped her reach the stove, William walked in from work, cigarette dangling from his mouth. Snow topped his shoulders and hair, and he reeked of diluted alcohol and stale peanuts from whatever bar he’d been in. He threw his coat on the floor and made an excuse to start shoving and then beating Lois. Does the reason matter? Does it ever?
At first, he punched Lois like she was a man; punched her eye, punched her in the bread basket, doubling her over and knocking the air out of her lungs; then he pushed her onto the kitchen table and punched her in the jaw. Her loose teeth bled and he smiled a crooked smile at her as he rubbed his knuckles into the palm of his other hand. She struggled to breathe through the sweat and blood and tears boiling out of her.
Lois fell off of the table and landed hard on her hands and knees. Pain shot up to her elbows and hips and fat tears dripped into the blood that poured from her mouth onto the cold, cracked, lime green linoleum tile. She looked up and gasped for air, seeing Debra staring, slack-jawed at her beaten mother. In some households, this would be considered ‘THE’ incident, ‘THE’ turning point where a woman would decide to leave, or a man would decide to change. But not in this household…this was just ‘AN’ incident.
William laughed disdainfully down on Lois. “You better clean this shit up bitch, or she’ll get what you got.” He flexed at Debra as if he were going to hit her, and chuckled as she only stared back at him, and did not cower at the bait. He staggered drunkenly into the living room.
Though always devastating to both mind and body, this beating was particularly brutal; Debra watched, eyes saucer wide, and felt powerless as the lion attacked its prey, much like what she’d see on the National Geographic shows that her father liked to watch; she saw provenance in her thought. Her father grinned the entire time that he beat her mother…he was enjoying this. Every once in a while, as he paraded around her mother’s body on the floor, he would look over at Debra and smirk; like a cat parading around a fresh kill.
After, William slumped into his torn and battered arm chair. He took joy in Lois’ torment, and now he rested; coming down from the rush and thrill of administering dominance over his wife again. William’s fist began to throb as the adrenaline ebbed and the fresh cuts from hammering hard bone, bled over old scars constructed in the same manner. His eye lids became heavy as contentment washed over him. He screamed for another beer and turned the TV up. There was a program on about the Praying Mantis, which would come to be provenance for a different turn of events.
Lois hurriedly brought William his beer as he barked at her to do so a second time. He snatched it from her and grinned an evil grin that would be his downfall. “Fuck took you so long, bitch?”, he said menacingly, and grinned a toothy smile at her again.
The boys giggled upstairs. At seven, eight and ten, they were already growing to be malicious beyond their years, as evidenced by the growing number of unmarked animal graves in the back yard, which hid their cruelty in secret earth. “Get your asses in that bedroom!” William screamed, and heavy fast footsteps scattered as they did so.
Debra peeked into the living room from around the corner in the kitchen. She did not sob. Between her mother being beaten and the petty bullying of her little brothers, this was all she’d known of men. She was not fearful of her father, so much as she was angry at the imbalance of power between her parents; though she was too young to articulate that sentiment at the time.
In anger she watched; anger at her father for his outbursts at her mother, anger at the cowardice of her younger brothers whom her father had long since turned against her, and irrational as it may have been, she felt anger at her mother for not standing up to her father and protecting them all. But what Debra, and nobody could know…is that everyone has a breaking point and her mother’s…was that fucking grin.
Debra watched the mantis lull its prey to sleep with liquor.
Lois went back to the kitchen, that grin burned into her bruised and bloodshot eyes. “Debra, put your coat on and go next door to your grandma’s house.”, she said purposefully through her bloodied teeth. As Debra put her coat on, her mother wiped her face off at the kitchen sink. Debra could remember the bloody dish towel as Lois placed it gingerly on the counter. There was something final in that moment. Her mother took a deep breath, walked to the stove and placed her hand on the handle of the big iron skillet. With her back turned to her daughter, she said thoughtfully, “go on now Debra, see your Gramma.” Debra did as she was told.
As she crossed the asphalt of the shared driveway to her grandmother’s house, snow filled the night sky and the cold nipped at her hands and face, like tiny needles burying themselves into her skin. Debra thought she heard a loud ‘THUNK’ over the sound of the T.V., and looked back at her house. Was he up and beating mother again? Grandma Norma would know what to do.
Part Three: Dick
To the right of William and Lois Cumming’s house, lived Norma. To the left, lived Dick; not Richard, Rich or ever Ricky…just Dick.
Dick was sunlight on a sea of golden grain, he was the wind rustling through the spring trees, he was a fawn drinking cautiously from a crystal-clear creek bed. He was these things: consistent, deliberate, constant and reliable. Dick was kind and noble, selfless and benevolent; and because he was those things, he could be the hero needed, when he selflessly and without concern for his own safety, ran into a stranger’s burning home and saved three boys from certain death; but to a woman who would just as soon have been rid of them all…he was a bore and a bother.
Dick sprang into action as soon as the light from the burning house touched his living room that night. He called 911 and then shot out into the freezing night. Crossing his yard, Dick sprinted to the front porch of the Cummings’ home; he knew that there were children in that house and could hear screaming and coughing from within.
Dick kicked in the front door and a wave of heat poured out; he quickly brought up both arms to cover his face and could smell his own singed hair. He stepped inside, arms still up; the flames were everywhere and licked the ceiling as they ran up the walls. Black shadows danced on plumes of smoke, as fire made silhouettes of everything in front of it.
Dick could hear the children upstairs and ran toward them. With his arms still covering his face. He could make out an armchair through the smoke, engulfed in flames. As he approached it, he tripped over something heavy on the floor and fell forward. His face landed two feet away from the flaming chair and the blackened corpse within it, a look of frozen surprise on the charred skull. Tiny flames danced over the crisp skin, as black smoke rose from it in a vast plume like a mushroom cloud. Above the roar of the flames, Dick could hear pops and cracks as the fire sucked the moisture from the body, its head lilted to one side like a pirate ship that had run aground; it’s jaw slack and resting on its shoulder blade. The smell is something that Dick never forgot, and although he’d seen horrors in Vietnam, this sight lingered in his soul for all of his days.
Dick collected himself, and scrambled to his feet. There would be time for surprise and horror later. He looked down and saw that he’d tripped over a heavy cast iron skillet laying on the floor next to an empty metal Folgers’ coffee can.
Another scream from upstairs…
Dick charged up the stairs, two at a time, through the flames to the crumbling 2nd floor. He could hear the children through a closed door and grabbed the door knob to open it…the door was locked? Dick took a step back and putting his shoulder into it, burst through the door and into the bedroom.
The three boys screamed in terror; the meanest of children are often those most easily frightened. They wept, and had been shouting out of an open window. Dick could hear the firetrucks, very close now. He grabbed the youngest boy by the forearm, swept the second eldest under his arm, and took a moment to look down to the eldest boy. Dick could see that he was terrified. Tears streamed rivers through the black ash that covered his eleven-year-old face. “Look at me boy!” he said more harshly than he meant. The boy looked at Dick in surprise, shaking off his fear for the moment. “Be brave boy, we’re going to be alright. Take my hand, stay right behind me and keep your eyes closed. Listen to me, and we’ll get through tIhis.”
As the fire trucks jumped the curb and screeched to a halt on the Cumming’s front lawn, sirens blazing, Dick crashed through the flaming porch with all three boys in tow. Dick’s shirt smoked and the smallest boy’s pant leg boasted a tiny flame, but the fire fighters put heavy blankets on all four of them and scurried them to a safe distance.
Where a mother should sob in gratitude, Lois only watched indifferently, almost villainously, as a new kind of wonder and admiration burgeoned in a young Debra’s heart, and filled the emptiness of that space where respect and love for a father figure had never lived before. She watched her home burn as snow fell in blankets around her. She could remember thinking that it looked like a reverse snow globe, as the falling white crystals melted high above the flaming house.
According to all police and fire investigator reports, William had fallen asleep drunk, in his armchair while holding a cigarette, and burned his home down, nearly killing his three boys. Lois and Debra were next door visiting Norma when the fire broke out. If some knew better, they never told.
Part Four: 1972
I don’t have a lot of information covering the next three years of our story, other than to say that Lois sent her three boys to Southern Illinois, to live with their father’s family. I don’t know anything about that family. Lois never spoke to, or of those boys again; at least not to me.
Lois and Debra moved in with Norma, and with the help of her mother, Lois got a job as a dispatcher for the State Police. Dick fell in love with Lois. Where William’s outdated and incorrect ideals of manhood saw her as a punching bag to suffer his wrath, Dick’s outdated ideals of chivalry saw her as a damsel in distress. He would spend the rest of his days trying to rescue her. But Lois was neither of those things, and so Dick’s love went unrequited. He remained in Lois and Debra’s lives, mostly functioning as handyman or a useful idiot, from whom Lois could borrow money. She resented Dick for many reasons, but she slept with him and used him to her advantage, none-the-less.
And then came Terry.
Terrill Allen Hempen was a state trooper for the Illinois State Police, as was his brother Ed. Terry was a handsome man, with few words and Lois liked that. Her previous husband, and even Dick talked to damned much. Terry looked like Jack Kennedy, and in a time not far from his assassination, that made him a high commodity in the world of single women. It was 1972, and Lois was going to make Terry hers.
They started a torrid affair in August of that year, fucking each other at every opportunity in the library of the Illinois State Police headquarters in Crest Hill, which was across the street from the Statesville Prison. By November of 1972, Lois was pregnant with her fifth child.
Terry did what was the right thing for that time and place; he proposed to Lois and brought her to her doctor appointments. They were thrilled and Lois was ecstatic, after all she’d been through, surly God would bless her with a little girl. But that was not to be. Her first ultrasound showed that this would be a boy. Terry beamed with pride. A boy. How wonderful, he thought. A man to show this wonderful world to, a man to carry on his name and legacy, a man to do right in the world.
After learning that she was pregnant with what would be her fourth consecutive boy, in January of 1973 Lois attempted to abort the child behind Terry’s back. She couldn’t abide another boy. Girls. Only girls would be born of her, and she would populate the world with girls who knew fun and hope and joy. Why was her body not listening to her? This was a test from God and she had the will to overcome this male disease that festered in her womb. But she failed.
When Terry showed up at the hospital, the doctor told him about Lois’s failed attempt at self-abortion, but the child was alive and well. For the safety of the baby, Lois was committed until he was born. Debra met Terry for the first time at the hospital, when her Grandma Norma took her to visit her mother. She was fourteen.
Lois and Terry were married in the hospital before their child was born, and soon after, Terry bought a house in Mokena for his new family. Debra moved in while her mother was still in the hospital. Here was another man, to whom Debra could look up to. Like Dick, Terry was kind to her and he was brave, sometimes telling her stories of his police work. But unlike Dick, Terry paid more attention to her, talking to her like she was an adult, an equal. Although another adult might have seen these interactions as inappropriate, they made Debra feel important, which is something a man had never done before. She’d felt like a bother to William, and she felt like a daughter to Dick, but now…now around Terry, she felt ‘heard’ and understood; she felt like a woman.
Then came me.
When I was born on July 24, 1973, Terry named me Michael Allen. Lois was indifferent and did not participate in the naming. Terry had high hopes that I would one day be a Marine, like he was. When he brought Lois and I to our new home, a photographer was waiting with Marine Commanders, to take pictures of the tiny future Marine coming home. These pictures were for a spread in a marine recruitment magazine, and Terry beamed with pride as I soaked in the spotlight.
Lois was not impressed.
Debbie loved me very much, and fawned over me at every opportunity. There was a connection between us, that sometimes happens between two people. That connection transcended everything and everyone around us. Though not fully related by blood, Debbie felt closer to me than she had her own brothers, and all she lived to do was make me smile. She took me out for walks in a stroller, dressed me up and took photos for Terry, and introduced me to cats and dogs at her friend’s homes. I still have a love of animals to this day from those interactions. There was nothing that Debbie wouldn’t do for me, as opposed to Lois, who tried to avoid me as much as she could.
Lois began drinking, and Terry came to rely on Debbie more and more to help him care for me. That year, Terry adopted Debbie as his own daughter. He also began an affair with Lois’s best friend, Patty.
Part Five: 1973
Patty was Lois’s best friend from long before she met Terry. The two women were inseparable. Patty and her husband often came over to Terry and Lois’s home on Saturday nights, along with Terry’s brother Ed and his wife Jill. Debbie watched Patty’s three boys, our cousin Chris, and me while the adults played board games and drank. I don’t know how the affair started, but it started and not Lois, Debbie, Patty’s husband or any of the children were the wiser. I would learn later that Uncle Ed knew everything, as dad was closer to him than he ever would be with the family he created.
Between the secrets and lies brought about by his infidelity, Lois’s unmotherly attitude toward his son, and his more and more abusive drinking, Terry began to unravel.
Although he and his brother had both fought and survived in Vietnam, where that journey made Uncle Ed thoughtful and contemplative, though no less a terrible father, it just made Terry sullen and mean.
Terry began going to rough bars to pick fights, and he always won. Violence was an itch that had to be scratched. Terry would walk into a bar and start a fight with the biggest man there. At 6’3”, 210 pounds of muscle, and the military training to know how to use it, Terry could easily kill a man with his bare hands, and indeed, his brother Ed had watched him do so more than once while in the violent Vietnamese Jungles. It was Ed’s job to drag his brother out of the bar, lest he cause real damage to his intended target, that might cause him to lose his job on the Illinois State Police force.
Terry also began beating suspects. Back in the ‘70’s, police brutality complaints were largely ignored, especially if the arresting police officer knew how to deliver a beating that left little evidence of its occurrence.
It wasn’t until Terry beat three Chicago Police Detectives, that he was finally called to account for his actions.
Terry and his partner Jack were on patrol near Chicago, when a call came over the radio to be on the lookout for a green Chevy Nova that was used in a bank robbery earlier that night. The two almost immediately saw a green Chevy Nova coming right towards them on Archer Avenue near Harlem. They turned on their cherries and gave pursuit.
The Chevy pulled over and the two officers approached cautiously. This was not the car they were looking for; inside were three Chicago Police officers, on their way home from a retirement party. They were drunk, but in 1973 that was hardly a crime. The Chicago police and the State police had an ongoing rivalry at the time, so these particular cops were not happy about being pulled over. The officer in the back seat cussed at, and called Terry and his partner ‘pansies’ who couldn’t catch a cold. The other two Chicago cops tried to stifle their friend, but he was insistent in his berating. This incensed Terry no end, and Jack pled with him not to take the bait.
Terry walked back to the front seat of the squad car; lips pursed but calm otherwise. Relief washed over Jack as he climbed into the driver’s seat. The passenger door opened, and as Jack heard the continuous ‘mother fucking’ coming from the back seat of the Nova, he saw Terry’s gun belt and badge drop to the front seat, and just like that, Terry was back upon the Chevy Nova.
Jack jumped out of the squad car and saw Terry reach into the back suicide window of the Nova, grabbing the Chicago cop by his shirt collar as he attempted to duck against the other door. A brief struggle ensued, and Terry quickly pulled the cop out of the backseat, breaking the window as he did. He dumped him head first onto the sidewalk. The other two Chicago cops came out of the Nova, and the passenger immediately went at Terry, as the driver went for Jack, mistaking his intent to stop Terry, as intent to help him.
Terry socked the passenger in the jaw, and he immediately went down on the pavement. Terry then began kicking the cop he’d pulled from the back seat, who struggled for breath and clutched his ribs. When Terry saw his partner struggling with the driver, he calmly walked over and put his elbow in the Chicago cop’s nose. The driver went down, with a ‘CLACK-CLACK’ as his two front teeth landed on the cold pavement before the rest of him. Jack would later say that the thing he’ll never forget about that incident…was the silence from Terry. Not a sound. He didn’t breathe heavy and he didn’t retort the barbs and jests of the Chicago police. He was like an animal.
Terry was suspended for the incident, and the only reason he wasn’t fired was because the three Chicago police officers, besides having been drunk and known as pricks in their own department, were too ashamed to press charges that would let the world know that the three of them were beaten by one man. But now…Terry had a taste for beatings and when mixed with alcohol, that taste can be insatiable.
Part Six: 1974
There is no valid excuse for the abuse of a child; neither mental health issues or past abuses suffered by the assailant. If those are the specters of blame, then the perpetrator should be put down, rather than released into the deep end of the innocent victim pool. As an adult, it is incumbent upon us to care for those who cannot care for themselves and offer guidance for children who might be confused. Never, is there a reason to take advantage of a child’s innocence, because they know not what they do. Therefore, one can never blame a child for the situations that adults put upon them.
As Terry’s anger grew, and he spent more and more time away from home, presumably with Patty. Debbie found herself as the woman of the house. Responsibilities were foisted on her, that at fifteen years old, should not have been. Debbie had turned fifteen in the winter of 1973, and she was becoming a beautiful young woman. Boys in her school began to take notice. She watched as her friends’ dated boys, and sometimes she’d hear their stories of making out in cars at the quarries behind the Piggly Wiggly. And although the concerns of a young woman seemed to be passing her by, she was content to love and care for little me. She especially liked the way I coo’d when she rubbed my fat little belly. Who wouldn’t?
In the winter of 1974, Terry took us to Acapulco. He thought that maybe a week-long vacation while he was on suspension would be good for the family. Romantic nights, exotic drinks, warm lazy afternoons on the beach…Lois wasn’t interested in these things; but Debbie was. So, Terry drunkenly took advantage of a curious young girls romanticized views of the world, and seduced her…at fifteen years old. To Debbie she had been Terry’s wife in all but that; she cooked for him, cleaned for him, took care of their baby. This trip felt like what she imagined a honey moon must be like, and as Terry was always kind to her, she felt love for him, wasn’t this how a young woman showed her love?
No. As her father, it was Terry’s job to nurture Debbie and help her grow as a woman he could be proud of. With this single act of betrayal, he sealed her fate, giving her only doubt, self-loathing and a deep skepticism of all intent for the rest of her life. There is no excuse for this betrayal of a child and where Terry was slipping, but might have been saved…with this act he became a criminal, and there can be no forgiveness for that type of villainy. Hate is a strong word; it carries a heavy burden on those who feel it towards another, as much as it does the subject of its rebuke. I will always hate my father for having done this, and no amount of therapy, psychoanalysis or self-realization will make me hate him less.
Although she didn’t suspect her friend Patty, Lois suspected Debbie and rather than lay blame where it belonged, at the feet of the monster who raped her daughter, Lois resented Debbie and considered the betrayal hers.
Lois confronted Terry & Debbie when they returned home from Acapulco. Debbie’s silence at her accuser, sealed her mother’s knowledge of the illicit happenings. Terry didn’t respond. Instead, he left Debbie to deal with her mother’s hate, and returned a week later. His response was final.
Terry came home after work one night, still in his State Trooper uniform, hat tucked under his arm. The two women in his life were arguing with one another, over who would feed me. Lois insisted that it wasn’t time yet for my feeding, and Debbie insisted that Lois wouldn’t know when feeding time was because she hadn’t fed me in more than four months. As the bickering continued, Terry walked to the refrigerator, put his hat on top of it, took out a can of Budweiser and drank it down slowly; his Adam’s apple bobbing as he did.
I sat in my high chair, crying a high-pitched wail of fear as the women argued on either side of me. In stealth silence, Terry suddenly appeared next to me. He looked at Lois, then Debbie with no emotion; then he grabbed me by my tiny arm and forcefully pushed me over in my high chair. There was silence as the high chair fell over in slow motion. Both women gasped, and there was a loud ‘WHAM’ as my face smashed into the leg of a table on the side of the couch. I lay silent. Tears flowed from Debbie’s eyes just as quickly as the blood pooled in the carpet around my head. Debbie rushed to her silenced baby brother. Terry walked out, leaving his hat on the fridge, never to be seen by Lois or Debra again.
Part Seven: 1974 – 1983
Terry and Patty both left their spouses and their children behind and moved to Florida together where they were married. Using the skills he learned while in the Marines, Terry became a weather person for the NOAA. This was advantageous to him, as he could do this job from anywhere, which made it easy for him to move from town to town with Patty, to avoid child support payments.
Luckily for me, my fall only landed me with a split lip and a scar that I’ll carry for the rest of my life. The scar that Terry left to Debbie, runs much deeper and will be passed down for generations in one form or another. As she grew, her love for her step father turned to hatred, as any woman in time, comes to understand the treachery of men.
Lois and Terry were together for less than two years, and after Terry left them, Dick came back into Lois’s life to help her when he could. But, her desire of him was never real, and he was only fodder used to pay bills or take her on vacations. Lois would never truly love Dick the way he wanted her to, but he knew that, and being in her vicinity was enough for him. Over the years, Dick did his best to teach me how to be a man, showing me how to fix things, taking me out for ice cream and sharing life philosophies with me. I saw a kindness in Dick that I didn’t know in my father, and I carried that with me throughout my life. I also saw the tragedy in Dick, and learned a lesson from his misplaced love in my mother.
Lois continued to resent Debbie and Debbie for her part felt obligated to stay with her mother. Though she could have left to stay with her friends, she didn’t, because of me. Debbie couldn’t leave me alone with Lois, because as she grew, she knew what her mother was capable of.
It was August of 1977. Three years had passed since Terry left. Lois was now a hard drinking, tough as nails guard at Cook County Jail. Debbie was 18 years old. Based on her test scores and high school performance, she received a full scholarship and began her first year in college, where she majored in Interior Design. That had become her passion, and she would often share the models she made in school with me. I loved playing with those models.
Debbie began dating boys and bringing them home to help her babysit me. I liked these young college men, as all I’d known for years were my mother and sister. They were fun, quick with a joke and respectful of Debbie. Some could do magic tricks, some would watch TV with me, and one could even flip his eyelids upside down, which would make me burst with laughter. They had a male energy that a young boy needs to be exposed to and I was excited every time Debbie brought one of them home. Lois looked on in jealousy as her youth escaped her. And as her resentment grew, so did her drinking…. then she did the unthinkable.
Debbie was now 20, and visiting with a friend in her dorm room at school one afternoon in the Spring of 1979, As the girls talked, they heard a commotion in the hallway outside. It seemed that all the girls on her floor were going towards the common room where the television was at. Debbie and her friend followed the crowd and found all of the girls, as well as a few boys, gathered around the TV. Friends and acquaintances parted as Debbie entered the room, murmurs fell over the hushed room. Girls and boys looked from the TV to Debbie: “is it true?”, “oh my God”, “how could she?”, could be heard in hushed whispers and seen in accusing eyes.
On the TV was the Sally Jesse Raphael Show on channel nine. Filmed live in Chicago, this was happening right now. In a chair across from Sally Jesse Raphael, sat Lois. A drunken, evil gaze stretched over her cigarette worn skin. Lois told the story of how her daughter betrayed her and stole her husband away, to the sympathy of the studio audience, the host, and the people in the immediate room who were sure to spread these lies all across her college campus. All but Debbie and Lois, were ignorant of any fact. Never did Lois say the words ‘underage’ or ‘fifteen’, never did Sally Jesse Raphael ask the age of her daughter.
Debbie was devastated in her embarrassment. Her father had taken her innocence, and her mother had now destroyed her reputation. That was the final straw. Debbie went to her Aunt Jill and told her what happened. Before Terry left, when Uncle Ed and Aunt Jill were over at the house almost as much as Patty and her husband, Debbie became very close with her aunt. That closeness carried over through the years and they always kept in touch.
Aunt Jill and Uncle Ed took Debbie in, though it destroyed her to leave me behind. She would often cry herself to sleep, thinking of me shouting ‘NO!’ in my little kid voice, and waving my arms around like a robot at Lois when she yelled at Debbie, or tried hitting her. I was her little protector and she was mine. But now I was all alone with a drunken mother who never wanted me. How could she ever reconcile her guilt?
Occasionally, after Debbie moved in with Uncle Ed and Aunt Jill, Lois would have need to call upon her estranged daughter, to babysit me. Debbie could never pass up the chance to see her little man.
Sometimes Debbie would stay with me at the apartment, and sometimes I would get to go to Aunt Jill’s for a weekend. I loved going over there, and over those years my cousin Chris and I became very close. Three years older than me, Chris introduced me to a lot and I credit him with my love of reading today. Every time I left their house, Chris would give me a book. Chris gave me my first comic book, DC’s ‘Vigilante’; a precursor to my love of Marvel’s ‘The Punisher’. Sometimes they would be giant ‘Far Side’ books, and sometimes war novels, but I never left that house without a new book.
Chris and I would make audio tapes when we were separated and play them for each other on those weekends. I would make fake radio broadcasts, talking up songs from the Dr. Demento show on my fake radio station WFART (I was a kid, whattaya want?), And Chris would put on a war documentary with fart noises instead of gunfire. I had a relationship with my cousin that I’d never know before. I had friends, but I always kept them at an arm’s length because my mother was so embarrassing to me. With Chris, I could open up and be who I wanted to be with the full force of my youth behind it.
Aunt Jill and Uncle Ed helped Debbie get into a different college, where she changed her major. It was there that she met John. John belonged to a wealthy and affluent family, and he introduced Debbie and I to a world that was unknown to us. Debbie and John’s best friend in college, was Lenny Jap; he was the heir to the “Jay’s Potato chip” empire, which at one time was called “Jap’s Potato Chips”. That name was changed for the obvious racial connotation after WWII. Lenny would throw lavish college parties at his parent’s mansion when they were away for the weekend. If one of these parties happened on a night that Debbie was babysitting me, Lenny was happy to put me up in his giant bedroom, which was bigger than Lois’s whole apartment.
Lenny’s bedroom had a big screen TV, before that was even a thing that one could have, and he checked on me every fifteen minutes, always making sure I had snacks. These weren’t wild college ‘Animal House’ parties, but large groups of people having fun and listening to music.
I came to love Lenny as my own brother, and over the next three years, he acted in that role. Lenny would give me gifts that I could never have expected or hoped for. On Christmas or my birthday, Lenny would get me the biggest Star Wars playset that was out, along with all the newest action figures.
Lenny took me to Blackhawks games, Bulls games, and Bears games; always right up front. Any sporting event or even concert that Lenny went to, he brought me along with him. It didn’t matter how many people went as well, I was always welcomed by his friends and family.
Lois eventually became jealous of my new found friends, and my closeness with family who she considered as being complicit in her marriage ending. There was a falling out that I was not privy to, and after a few years I didn’t see Debbie anymore and learned not to ask after her, my cousin Chris, Lenny, or John, lest I get a crack in the face.
Part Eight: 1983 & Jennifer Lurch
Lois continued to work the day shift at the Cook County Jail. She would come home and immediately go back out to drink at a local bar called The White Horse, which is still around in New Lenox to this day. With no rules to govern me, and no sister or her boyfriends to entertain me, I watched TV. I watched TV day and night, and other than my dog ‘Pepper’, that box became my best friend. When my mother beat me, the box was there. When she berated me, the box was there. When she ignored me, the box did not.
Knowing that it kept me out of her hair, Lois bought the new cable service “ONTV”, which was just HBO and a Sports Channel, but HBO had ‘Fraggle Rock’ which the little me loved. With no supervision however, a world of other programs was open to me. I watched horror movies like “Dark Night of the Scarecrow”, and adult fantasy like “Heavy Metal”; then late at night if I wasn’t watching talk shows or SNL, there was “Young Lady Chatterley” and other soft-core porn. On Sunday nights I was introduced to British comedy on Channel 11; Monty Python, Benny Hill, The Tim Allen Show. Horror, Porn, Adult Cartoons and Comedy fueled my young life; coupled with my mother’s abuses, I grew up before my time.
Eventually, we moved from New Lenox to Chicago Ridge. The Saturday morning after my ninth birthday, I woke up to find Pepper was gone. I searched the apartment frantically, calling out to her. I went to my mother’s room to wake her up, and told her that Pepper must have gotten outside, we have to go look for her.
“I got us an apartment that doesn’t take dogs so I gave her away last night. Now shut the fuck up, it’s my day off.”
That of course, turned out to be a lie. When we moved into the new apartment in Chicago Ridge, everyone in our building had a dog.
I turned ten in the summer of 1983, and it was time for me to join the ranks of the Fourth grade. I had friends now from school, and some from the apartment building I lived in with Lois. We would play ‘Star Wars’, or watch Saturday Morning Cartoons together. As a studious boy, I was excited to be going back to school with my friends. After all, school was the only place where I earned any praise; it was the only place l felt welcomed.
Then, when school came around in August…there was Jennifer Lurch.
Jennifer Lurch was a large girl, maybe 150 pounds. She was new to our school, and at fourteen, she dominated the fourth-grade class; not with hostility or her personality, but with innuendo and silence. After all, a four-year age difference when you’re older, doesn’t seem noticeable, but when you’re ten, a fourteen-year-old may as well be fifty. Rumors swirled about Lurch’s home life and her being in the fourth grade at that age; whispers skirted the corners of the hallways as her domineering largess defiantly strode across their cracked tiled floors. Jennifer didn’t seem particularly angry, she just kept to herself. She was quiet, sat at her desk, and ate a normal lunch. As much as I’d like to paint a picture of her smashing a quadriburger into her face with mustard and ketchup running down her chin, for the sake of prose; nope, just like a peanut butter sandwich and a carton of milk.
Jennifer lived close to me, maybe a few buildings away. I knew this because we waited at the same bus stop every morning. I was very curious about her, but I’ve always been curious about people. Not in a nosey way, I just like to know what makes people tick; and even at that age I’d learned that people, by and large, sometimes just need someone to open up to, in order to come out of their shell.
One day, I decided that I was going to try to talk to Jennifer, get her to open up. Stop all the whispering and supposition. At recess, against the advice of, well everyone, I cautiously approached her as she sat on a bench near the tether ball. I introduced myself, nervously mentioned that we take the same bus, and extended my hand to shake.
I’m going tell you right now, that I don’t remember a lot from when I was ten years old…but I remember Jennifer Lurch beating the living shit out of me on that day.
At first, she stood up, and I thought she was going to accept my hand. Then she slapped it away, hard, and walked towards me. She crowded me. I wasn’t backing up as fast as she was coming forward. Then I hit the tether ball pole and she stopped. All of the play had stopped in the school yard. Dead silence as an afternoon breeze blew a Doritos bag across the asphalt.
Her belly was pressed up against my chest because she was about a foot and a half taller than me. She smiled down on me, took a step back and with a speed that belied her size, punched me in the stomach with all of her weight behind her. As I doubled over, gasping for air, she grabbed my neck and slammed the back of my head against the tether ball pole; she wrapped the tether ball rope around my neck, presumably to hold me up, and started to pummel my face until I blacked out. I woke up later in the nurse’s office and had to wear bandages on my face and gauze around my neck from rope burn, for a month. But it didn’t stop there.
Every morning, every single morning after that, Jennifer Lurch would beat my ass at the bus stop. I tried to ‘accidentally’ miss the bus, so my mother would have to drive me to school, but then she would beat my ass all the way up to the front door of the school, embarrassing me in front of the entire student body. At least Lurch was only doing it in front of like, ten kids at the bus stop. I had no choice; I came to her like a lamb to the slaughter every morning. At least after school, when she tried to grab me as I came off the bus, I could shuck and jive from her grip and then run away. She wasn’t running after me.
And I know what you’re saying, surely someone stepped in. Fuck no, nobody stepped in. This was the 80’s people. Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Ronald Reagan; the adults had all grown up with John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. Toxic masculinity like a mother fucker; do you think anyone was going to stand up for a BOY getting his ass beat by a girl, at that time? When I went to my mother, she laughed and mockingly said: “Oh, you’re going to make a GREAT husband someday.” Then I could hear her on the phone with her friends “Do you know this little faggot is getting his ass beat by a girl every day? Yes. Everyday.” If I went to my teachers, they would say “Michael, Jennifer is just going through some things right now, I’m sure it’s not as bad as you’re making it out to be.”
As fall turned to winter, the beatings continued, and I looked rough. My gums were a constant dark red, a few of my teeth were loose and stained the same color, as were my nostrils. My eyes were bloodshot and I was constantly tired from either fear or running. I tried to fight back, but Lurch would always just overpower me. She was huge.
For some reason, I particularly despised the ass beatings in the winter. Maybe it was because the cold made the bruises and black eyes sting just a little more, maybe it was that I was reminded of my morning ass beatings when the bus dropped me off, because my blood still stained the snow at the bus stop. Whatever the reason, I tried to get sneaky; the problem was that no matter how clever I thought I was being, Lurch was smarter.
One cold winter morning, I waited on my front steps until I saw the bus coming. My mother’s apartment was a good 500 feet from the bus stop on Mather Ave., and I had an unobstructed view to where the bus turned down my street. I knew that I could make it, if I started running JUST as the bus turned onto Mather. Lurch stared menacingly at me from the bus stop, facing me while all the other kids faced the direction the bus came from. It was fucking frightening. I get a chill down my back thinking of it now. Bus came, I took off and Jennifer waited for me. She would never touch me in front of an adult, so she just looked at me with a grimace on her face and got on the bus. I was elated; I beat the system! That worked one day.
The next day, I came out to wait on my door step, and saw that Jennifer Lurch was not at the bus stop. Was she missing school today, running late? Had she fucking died? I was incredulous at this turn of events; I couldn’t remember her ever missing a day of school. I walked slowly down the steps, and cautiously began making my way down the sidewalk, scanning my surroundings as I went.
THERE! I see you…
I had to pass four apartment buildings on Mather to get to the bus stop. The next building down from my mother’s, I saw hot breath coming from the far side of the building, in great puffs of steam. It looked like there was a T-Rex standing just out of sight between the second and third buildings, waiting to pounce on its unsuspecting prey. I could see her heavy footprints in the deep snow, leading to her hunter’s blind. Ok, I can play this game of cat and mouse. I dipped between my building and the second building, and went around back. I was going to walk behind the four buildings, sneaking behind and past Lurch in the process.
I was so proud of myself. I felt like a war hero and I walked with an air of clever dignity as I proudly rounded the corner behind the second building.
Punched right in the face. I went down like someone cut my Achilles tendon. Stars filled my vision, and I could taste hot copper blood in my mouth as it poured out of my nose. Tears welled my eyes and through my clouded vision…there stood Jennifer Lurch, messaging her knuckles. She kneeled on my chest and the air escaped me. I was never so desperate for air as I was in that moment, I couldn’t breathe and breathing was all I wanted. Lurch looked me dead in the face and said the only words she’d ever said to me; “Don’t ever try that again, or I’ll kill you.”
And that was it folks; I completely shut down after that. My life was fear from that day forward; not like a playful, “Three o’clock High” fear, where everything will work out in the end, I was genuinely terrified for my life. Because Lurch lived close to me, I never left the house except to go to school. I lost most of my friends because I just wouldn’t hang out with them anymore, not to mention that I looked like Ed Norton in ‘Fight Club’. I didn’t want to hang out with anybody. Lurch had turned me into a reflection of herself, silently sitting alone in the classroom, amidst rumors and innuendos. I was incomplete.
My mother had a pretty hard and fast rule that I was not to be in the apartment until bed time, so when I shut myself in, she would beat me, berate me and she even threw me out of the front door once, but she did it to hard and I fell down the concrete steps, getting a concussion. She beat me all the way to the hospital that night. I can remember feeling relief as she was questioned by the police, but she smirked at me after presenting her badge to the officers, who apologized to her and left.
I was between a rock and a hard place, I got the shit beat out of me if I left the house, and I got the shit beat out of me if I stayed in the house. Television was my only escape.
One Sunday evening in the winter of 1984, Lois told me that I was going to spend a week at my sister’s house. I was so excited to see Debbie, it had been so long and I felt all the fear I had in me finally melt away and be replaced by hope. Lois told me to pack a bag of clothes and that we were leaving that Monday morning. I could barely sleep from the excitement of seeing my sister again.
We left in the morning and my mother was in a particularly good mood. We stopped for breakfast along the way. When I look back on that day now, I can remember her chomping her food with a knowing, satisfied look like Alex at the end of ‘A Clockwork Orange’.
An hour later, I had become bored in the car, kicking the back of my legs against the front of the front seat. “How much longer?” I asked with impatient wonder. “We’re almost there” Lois told me “There it is now.” And she pointed out of my window.
I climbed up on my knees and peered out of the passenger side window. There before me was a dark, sprawling campus and a giant brick building with a bell tower at the top, that looked like something from one of the horror movies I shouldn’t have watched. On the side of the long drive way leading to the brick building was a sign that read “Glenwood School for Boys: Where a Man is What Happens to a Boy.” It would not be hyperbolic to say a three-year long decent into hell began for me on that day.
Lois had grown tired of me being in the house all the time; she didn’t like seeing me, she didn’t like that she had to talk to or think of me. I reminded her of my father, of his betrayals, my sister, which led to thoughts of William. She was done with me, and so, like my dog Pepper, she gave me away.
Part Nine: 1984 – Glenwood Military School for Boys
When Debbie found out that Lois had taken me to the Glenwood military school, she was enraged. She confronted Lois, and offered to take me in. But Lois, out of pure spite for what she still considered her daughter’s betrayal, would not acquiesce to Debbie’s request. After hearing this, John and Lenny offered to throw all of their lawyers and influence at Lois, in an effort that Debbie might get custody of me, so that we could all be together. Family and friends…that’s what it’s all about, right?
Months passed, and I had no idea any of this was going on. John and Lenny were as good as their word, and obtained the best family attorney’s that money could buy. Lois never bothered to get a lawyer. She knew how to manipulate her daughter, and if it cost John and Lenny a small fortune in the meantime, so be it. To Debbie and her friends, they felt that I was worth fighting for. As the court proceedings were set to begin, Lois turned on her manipulation, and threatened Debbie in a letter. She told Debbie, that if she were to proceed to court, Lois would tell the courts and all of her new friends, of Terry’s infidelity and Debbie’s participation in it. And that was that.
In a time without social media to spread lies, and streaming TV services to spread reruns of those lies, Debbie’s new friends didn’t know of her past, and the deep shame brought on by the manipulation of her adopted father. She told John, lest he find out from her mother, and John took the news with something that Debbie hadn’t been shown yet…understanding that can only come from true love. The case was dropped, and I remained in military school until I was kicked out just before eighth grade graduation in 1989. John and Debbie were married, and would have a daughter that same year.
Lives moved on.
During my time in military school, I was subjected to ritualistic torture on a daily basis. I suffered a concussion when my NCO smashed my head into a brick wall. I stopped breathing for 4 minutes after a high schooler drown me in the gym pool. I got frostbite after being locked out of my cottage for hours, naked in the snow; my possessions were stolen time and time again, I was beaten and humiliated nearly every day. Nobody protected me, not the administration nor my mother…but then one day I fought back. It wasn’t until I did that, and nearly killed a boy, that my own beatings stopped.
It was a Sunday afternoon in May of 1984; a couple of months before my eleventh birthday. I’d been out walking around campus all morning. It was hot out, so hot. The cottage, where I lived, was hot too. I had both windows open in my dorm room, but the air was stagnant; no breeze, nothing. The windows were nearly floor to ceiling, but I wished that the whole wall could be opened to let in the air. It was stuffy and I was floating in fire. Sweat dripped from my brow and into my eyes. I took off my shirt and wiped my brow with it. The only relief I could see was in a nap.
It was around 1PM, and I lay down. I was only wearing shorts. The starched rough blanket of my bed was like a hot towel on my stomach and chest, but there was slightly more comfort to my exposed back facing up. I drifted…
The sound of quiet snickering off in the distance. Secret laughter danced on the edge of perception.
A thousand tiny hands touched me roughly. Their touch, pressed hard against relaxed muscles, and violated the intense heat within my skin.
The fog of sleep permeated my senses. It held me firm in its grasp, begging me to find comfort within it. “Don’t go, Mike…Don’t. Go.” It trailed off and….
FLASH: VIOLENCE! PAIN!
I woke up immediately and tried to turn over. I couldn’t. My eyes wide, I could see Richard Shipley’s face in front of mine, staring at me with an evil grin. I could hear other’s laughing in the room. The pain was incredible, I inhaled to scream, and Shipley quickly covered my mouth and started laughing hysterically. I shook my head and turned it to the other side. Shipley pushed my head hard into the pillow to muffle me, and I could feel him put his knee on my back to hold me down. He laughed quietly and with malice. Someone was holding my legs. I could hear Sean Murphy giggling now. “Hold him down you pussies, HOLD HIM DOWN” he whispered, annoyed. That pain again. It was coming from my ass. I could feel something wet between my legs, but it was as hot as my skin. I struggled and screamed helplessly into my pillow. The pain made my eyes water. I felt Shipley’s hot breath in my ear as he whispered manically, “What’s a matter, the faggot doesn’t like things in his ass now?” I heard the room erupt in laughter.
Sean’s voice again “Alright, alright, let him up. That’s enough for now.” I shot up as fast as I could. My shorts were around my ankles and I was naked. I reached behind me, fumbled and felt cold rubber in my palm. I pulled it out of my ass, fast. The pain was intense.
I was in shock as I looked at the two headed dildo, and then up to Sean Murphy, Richard Shipley and Alvin Green. Alvin had been holding my legs as Sean put the dildo in and out of my ass. Alvin was a high schooler. Sean was the main bully at Glenwood, who terrorized me every day; Richard was his lackey; but I didn’t understand why Alvin was here, laughing at me. He was bigger than the three of us, and was on the high school football team. Dark skinned, his white teeth almost glowed in contrast to his complexion. They were all laughing. I blacked out.
I woke up in the infirmary. Pain shot through every pour of my body as I tried to sit up. A dull throbbing coursed through every muscle. I was sore everywhere. My hands felt as if they were on fire. My asshole felt as if I’d taken the biggest shit of my life. That’s when the shame hit me, and I looked around to catch my bearings. There was no laughter; just the sound of the air conditioning unit on the wall. It creaked loudly within as it cooled the hot air. At least that was a relief.
I looked down and my hands were bandaged. Thick bruises littered my arms like abandoned cars in a forgotten wasteland. Everything hurt. I remembered pulling the dildo out of my ass, but why was I here? They must have beaten me, I thought; that’s why I was in so much pain.
Just then, Mrs. Crawly, the campus nurse, walked into the room from her office. “Oh, Michael” she said genuinely surprised, “You’re up.”
“What happened Mrs. Crawly, why am I here?” I said, beginning to cry. I think it was the shame of what happened. I didn’t want Mrs. Crawly or anyone to know, but if I was here, I figured she must. Then I thought of Sean Murphy bragging to everyone about what he did. A flurry of scenario’s that all ended with everyone knowing what happened, battered and broke me.
Mrs. Crawly came to me and put her hand on my shoulder. “You don’t remember what happened, Michael?”
I looked up at her with a mixture of fear and shame…” I….do YOU know what happened?”
“What’s the last thing you remember Michael?” she asked with sympathy.
“Sean…him and the others…” I looked away; I couldn’t say it. “They…”
“It’s Ok Michael; what happened after?”
“I…I woke up just now. Did I pass out? I don’t know what happened after. Did they do it again?” I put my head in my hands and began sobbing.
The door to the nursing office slammed open and the head dean of Glenwood, Mr. Borgia came in with my houseparent, Mr. Pros behind him. Mr. Pros, along with his wife were the adults who lived in and watched over the boys in my house; he was a nice man who’d always done his best to be a guiding light to the boys in his care. Ray Borgia was a barrel-chested, crew-cut sporting, tough as nails military man, who suffered little shit. Mr. Borgia looked around the room as he came in, and his eyes fell on me. His anger was a presence. Mrs. Crawly saw it.
“HEMPEN! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE! DO YOU KNOW….” He began as he made a beeline for me, his finger pointed at me like a bullet. I cowered and pushed back as far as I could on the bed, my asshole was on fire, and my muscles ached as I tried to move away from Mr. Borgia.
Mrs. Crawly stepped in front of him and matched his scream ‘MR. BORGIA! RAY! I don’t think you know the entire situation. Step away from Michael and come into my office please!”
I’d never heard anyone ever…talk to Mr. Borgia like that. It was shocking. I could see that Mr. Pros was dumbfounded as well. His normally calm and measured demeanor was replaced by wide eyed disbelief. He inhaled deeply, expecting the worst. If you weren’t there daily, it’s hard for me to express to you the amazement of that moment. Literally, NOBODY, and I mean nobody, talked to Ray Borgia like that.
“Mrs. Crawly…” Mr. Borgia began with respect and wide eyes. I think he was in just as much shock as Mr. Pros and I.
“IN.MY.OFFICE.” Mrs. Crawly shot back before he could finish his sentence.
Mr. Borgia silently followed her into her office, but not before shooting me a reproachful glance.
Mr. Pros, as he always did, spoke to me with compassion. “Mike, are you Ok?”
I was calm, but frightened and still sobbing “Mr. Pros, what happened? Why is everyone mad at ME? I didn’t do anything.” That was a bluff; surely by allowing them to violate me like that, I was in the wrong here. Why else would everyone be so mad at me? But I was operating under the assumption that maybe he didn’t know. Everything I was thinking was wrong.
“It’s Ok Mike, It’s Ok. You’re going to be just fine.” Mr. Pros held me to his chest as I cried.
Mr. Borgia emerged from Mrs. Crawly’s office a few minutes later; his body language, demeanor, everything about him seemed to have changed. He held his hat in front of himself in both hands. “Mike…I didn’t know.” He walked up to me as I sat up in the bed. Mr. Pros held me protectively. “It’s OK Richard, I didn’t know. Go talk to Mrs. Crawly and she’ll fill you in. Mr. Pros got up and went into Mrs. Crawly’s office. I cowered, waiting for a blow. Mr. Borgia leaned down and gently hugged me.
“I’m sorry Mike; we’re going to figure this out…”
Surprised, I said “Mr. Borgia, what happened?”
After I was told, it came back to me over the years in drips and drabs. To this day, I sometimes find an image from that afternoon floating in front of me, and I hate it. Things I might see in life, words I hear, feelings with in me, will sometimes pluck a memory of that day from my mind, seemingly from out of nowhere. The violence of it tears at me, the sheer passion of the violence. I hate knowing that I have that inside of me, some gene that lies dormant; a gift from a father who had nothing but hate to give. I hate how much I liked exacting that violence most of all.
I pulled the dildo out of my ass and looked at it in shock. Without saying a word, I bent down, still holding it, and pulled my shorts up as blood dripped down the back of my legs. I began shuffling toward the door, eyes saucer wide, staring at the soft rubber sex toy in my hand. It was filthy, covered in dirt; there was even a wet leaf stuck to it midway along the shaft. And it was long, with a dick head on each side. I held it firmly, from the bottom of one end, and it wobbled back and forth, comically, as I staggered forward.
Someone had brought up the subject of two headed dildos in the past; a friend found one in his mother’s nightstand. The picture my young mind formed was that of a football goal post with a dick head on the tips. I stared at the two headed dildo in my hand, without segue, the realization of how wrong I was, washed over me in a chill.
Something struck me in the head…hard, and I turned. I grabbed at the piercing pain with my free hand. This brought me around to the present again. Shipley had thrown a metal Hot Wheels car at me; the three of them laughed. I looked at them each in turn; Richard, Alvin…my gaze landed on Sean Murphy, standing in front of the open window. The light from the afternoon sun nearly silhouetting him against it. He was dark, except for that smile…that crooked toothy fucking smile. His eyes didn’t laugh with his mouth like everyone else; they were out of sync on his oblong, pill shaped head. There was something wrong with this boy, and I wanted to kill him. I’d never wanted anything so bad in all my life.
Fear, pain, indecision, shame, helplessness, it all melted way in that instance. There was nothing left but hatred and instinct.
I took a step back, planted a foot, and took off. I and ran at Sean like a freight train. Full speed, everything I had. I crossed the room almost instantly, and threw the full force of my body into Sean’s midsection. I felt the wind violently escape his body and heard the crash as the two of us went through the bedroom window and landed in a bush outside and below it.
There was a loud “CRACK!” and the sound of shattered glass and twisting metal. The back of Sean’s head broke the old wood frame on the bottom of the open window. The three panes of glass shattered and the screen tore as the metal frame of it bent.
There was no slow motion, or feeling of tumbling, tumbling, tumbling down from the window and into the bush below. I was in the moment and the moment happened instantaneously. We landed in the bush with me on top of Sean, which is exactly where I wanted to be. Although a foot taller than me, I weighed more than Sean. I immediately began punching him in the face with both hands, one after the other. My left fist still clenching the dildo. I wanted to wipe that toothy smirk off of his face forever. I distinctly remember the smell of body odor from my sweating armpits as my fists went up before each blow I rained down on Sean Murphy.
Sean had an almost groggy look on his face when we first landed, presumably the blow to the back of his head stunned him, but when he looked up…when he looked up, I saw the fear in his eyes and it filled me with such joy. Euphoria. It was almost orgasmic. I felt free, liberated, and the overwhelming pleasure that I took in that look, haunts me to this day. I smiled and punched him, gritting my teeth. His hands grabbed and pushed at first, as he screamed in terror. “That’s right…scream, scream like a little girl, you fucking faggot!” I thought, repeating his taunts. His pushing became weaker as I pummeled him, until his hands were only waving comically before my eyes, until they fell and lay still. His screams turned to muffled gurgles, then silence. Violence consumed me.
I felt his nose crack, I saw his face turn red with blood; his eyes swelled and his jaw lay slack. When I couldn’t punch anymore from sheer exhaustion, I began beating him in the face with the dildo. Richard and Alvin ran through the cottage and outside, but it was too late for them to help Sean by the time they reached me. I held the dildo to Sean’s bloody face with one hand and pushed it down onto his skin with the other, showing him! Violently shoving my shame into his face! I was standing now, and all my weight was behind me as I pressed the dildo into Sean’s skin and screamed like a wild beast: “DO YOU SEE!?! SEE! THIS?! SEE IT!!!!”
Alvin, leaned in to grab me from one side as Shipley started punching my arm on the other. My attention immediately broke from Sean. I left the dildo on his face, and stood up straight, quick as an arrow. I shoved Alvin with all of my might, he was the biggest threat. He wasn’t ready for it and was off balance trying to pull at me; he went down hard. As Richard punched me, I grabbed his shirt by his arm and pulled him violently towards me while at the same time punching him in the gut as hard as I could. My fist sank into him. When he doubled over, I got him in a headlock and looked to my right. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I knew it when I saw it. I dragged Richard as he struggled to gain his breath and walk, hunched over at the same time, gasping for air from the blow to his solar plexus. I squeezed his neck with everything I had. I wanted to pop his head off like a zit. I lined up to the big tree in front of the cottage. As I pulled him forward, Shipley stumbled and I used his weight to build momentum. I ran us forward and screamed in delight as Richard’s head bounced off the tree, and he fell backwards on to the ground unconscious. I can remember thinking it odd that, as hard as his head hit the old thick tree, no sound was made.
I shot a predatory look at Alvin Green lying on the ground, who only stared back in shock. I clenched my fists and screamed at him. The cords in my neck popped and veins pulsed in my forehead. Blood dripped from my fists. Alvin ran away towards the Administration Building, falling clumsily into the dirt as he went. I fell to my knees, and screamed into the sky.
Of the bits and pieces that came back to me, the thing I remember most of all was how red my skin was. I looked down as the thundering of my heart began to slow, and took in myself. My arms, belly, legs, were beet red. I was told later that that was because the blood was pumping so furiously within me that it made my skin flush, as if my body felt embarrassment all over. That memory came back to me after watching an episode of The Incredible Hulk. When Hulk turns from Lou Ferrigno back to Bill Bixby, that’s the best analogy for what I felt in that moment. I slumped to my side and passed out.
I was told that some of the other kids in the cottage were outside playing when Sean and I crashed through the window. As Richard and Alvin ran outside, other’s ran out with them from inside the cottage. I didn’t notice any of them. Mr. Pros ran out shortly after I passed out; he was taking a nap and some of the kids had gone inside to wake him. After seeing Sean and Tom, he called Ms. Crawly, who told him to call 911.
I’d later learn that while playing in the woods that Sunday afternoon, Sean Murphy and Richard Shipley found a two headed dildo. Sean’s intent was apparently to chase me around and hit me with it. When they came back to the cottage, Tim Green, who lived in our cottage was with his older brother Alvin. Sean told Tim what he planned to do, and asked Tim if he wanted in on the fun. Tim refused, but Alvin didn’t.
When he got the dean’s office, Mr. Borgia was on-duty. Alvin lied to Mr. Borgia and told him that I just attacked the three of them out of nowhere. He never mentioned the two headed dildo which was later found in the bush below my dorm window. The kids outside didn’t see what happened before we came through the window, so all they could do was corroborate what Alvin told Mr. Borgia. That’s why Mr. Borgia was so hot when he first came into the infirmary. Mrs. Crawly didn’t have to be told that I was assaulted, though she didn’t know with what, she could see trauma to my asshole, and she was empathetic enough to recognize what might have happened. Later, I recounted the entire event to Mr. Borgia, up to the moment I blacked out. He was the only human being I’ve ever told this story to, until now.
Because the dildo was found in the woods, I had to have my first STD test…at 11 years old, and later an AIDs test, as apparently it takes time for that to show up in your blood.
Sean Murphy was expelled. I was told that I broke his jaw, and cracked the bone in his cheek. Two of his teeth had to be pulled and he had to have stitches on the back of his head where he hit the window, as well as on his shoulder where a large piece of glass punctured his skin. Both he and Richard suffered concussions, but only Richard came back to campus a few days later with a bandage around his head. Although I didn’t remember doing it, I took pride in that bandage. When I saw Richard, all I could see was that smirk as he held me down.
Some of the kids who were there, told me later that Richard had the imprint of a bloody fist in the middle of his shirt.
Though Sean tried denying the dildo part of the story, Richard and Alvin copped to it almost immediately when pressed by Mr. Borgia. Sean’s parents threatened to sue Glenwood over the incident, as Sean’s mother denied that her son could have sexually assaulted me. But with three kids against Sean, Mr. Borgia and Mr. Dunleavy threatened to have Sean arrested and assured his parents that he’d spend the next four years of his life in a juvenile institute should they continue to press. No lawsuit occurred.
For eventually telling the truth of the incident, Richard and Alvin were suspended for two weeks. I was suspended as well…for fighting.
Lois beat me every chance she had during those two weeks, telling me that she was ashamed that I would let something like that happen to me. She said that I must have wanted it, calling me a ‘faggot’ and a weak ‘prison bitch’.
After that incident, I started going down a dark road. I began picking on kids younger than me; I started stealing, cussing and talking back to adults on campus. I was at a turning point and with no parental guidance, feeling abandoned and alone…I was completely lost. And then one day I snapped again, my father’s anger sprung from me like a gazelle, only this time it was directed at an adult. A dean was poking me in the chest, hard, while yelling at me; and I punched him in the gut. He fell to one knee, gasping for air, and I left the room. The dean would say later, that I made no sound and gave no warning, I just pulled back and punched him, and then walked calmly out of the room.
This parallel to my father’s anger haunts me to this day.
All parents picked their kids up and took them home on the weekends, except for Lois. I would often find myself alone on campus during weekends and holidays; the other children would return on Monday to taunt me. Lois told the school that nobody was allowed to pick me up but her. Debbie, John and Lenny couldn’t get me, no matter how much they wanted to. Spite levied at a perceived slight; incalculable, the human capability for blame.
The day after I punched the dean, was the beginning of the Thanksgiving holiday. I’d begged Lois to pick me up, but she made some excuse. I begged her to let Debbie take me home with her, and Lois refused. I missed Debbie so much. I felt so complete, so proud, so happy when I was around her, she was my only hope in a world of hopelessness. Finally, in a last desperate plea, I asked if I could go home with my friend Aaron and his family. They lived not far from Lois’s condo.
Lois agreed and told the school to let me go home with Aaron for the Thanksgiving holiday. I was conflicted over the punch that I’d given to the dean. I was told that I’d be put on ‘restriction’ again, and after begging Mr. Borgia to not to tell my mother, he agreed and assured me that he wouldn’t. I just wanted the whole mess to be put behind me, and having Turkey with Aaron and his family the next day was the perfect way to do it.
That Wednesday was fantastic. Aaron’s house already smelled of food being prepared for the next day. I was filled with anticipation for that meal, I was filled with joy at having good friends, and I was thankful that the dread over the consequences of my altercation had finally dissipated. I didn’t feel alone for the first time in a long time.
After playing video games that night, Aaron, his two brothers and I went to sleep on the bunkbed and couches in the basement. The basement of Aaron’s house was a large carpeted room with wood panel walls, and an open stair case that was 7 stairs long with no door. There was a bunk bed in the left corner near the stairs, and several couches around a T.V. set. Although Aaron and his brothers all had their own rooms, they all slept in the basement to keep me company.
We all passed out that night, watching something on T.V.
At three o’clock in the morning I awoke to the sound of a terrible pounding coming from somewhere in the house. POUND, POUND, POUND! Continuous pounding. Angry pounding. The kind of pounding that I knew wasn’t going to turn out good. POUND, POUND, POUND.
I could see from the light that the static on the TV threw across the room, and assumed at first that the T.V. was making that noise. I sat up and looked at the static for a long minute. POUND, POUND, POUND. I was becoming frightened. Aaron’s older brother Frank, SHOT up into a sitting position on the couch, wide eyed and confused. I whispered to him “I think it’s the T.V. Shut it off”. POUND, POUND, POUND!
From below me, Aaron said “I don’t think that’s the T.V.” His older brother still just sat there on the couch with the same sleepy, wide-eyed expression on his face, when Aaron’s other brother Mike, rolled off of the other couch. POUND, POUND, POUND! Without saying a word, Mike lazily crawled over to the TV and shut it off.
We were all awake now, and there was an eerie silence in the darkened room as we all waited to see if it WAS the T.V. We listened for NO sound, and then…POUND, POUND, POUND!
Aaron and his brothers could hear their mother now, in the hallway just above the basement cursing and muttering under her breath. Aaron shouted up the stairs in the dark “mom, what is that?” She shouted back angrily, “someone’s at the door.”
We all heard the deadbolt clack on the front door as Aaron’s mother unlocked it, and then we heard a loud crash and an angry voice as she was forcefully thrown aside by Lois. Lois was drunk, and in her police uniform, which made her an intimidating force. From the basement, we could hear a commotion upstairs.
Suddenly, the basement light turned on, filling our vision with stars as our eyes tried to adjust to the bright light. Lois came stumbling down the stairs and burst angrily into the room. From the top bunk, I could start to make out her form. I was groggy, and I still didn’t know what exactly was happening. Lois shrieked: “WHERE’S MY SON?” It would be impossible to describe to you the horror that I felt in that moment.
I never spoke to Lois like that before, but I was embarrassed, shocked and frightened. I yelled, “what the hell are you doing here? What do you want?” She locked eyes on me, stumbled over to the bunk bed, grabbed me by the hair, angrily yanked me out of the top bunk as she might a prisoner, and forcefully dragged me up the stairs and out of the house.
I was in such pain in that moment, that I didn’t know what to cry about. My neck and ass hurt from being pulled out of the top bunk and dragged UP a flight of stairs by my hair, and Lois wouldn’t answer me when I kept shouting through my tears: “WHY?” The most frightening part of that night to me, was the angry look of determination and hollow cruelty on her drunken face. That was the most humiliating thing that had ever happened to me, and it changed me forever.
Earlier that day, Lois had gotten a call from the principal of Glenwood military school. They’d decided to expel me. I was not allowed back on campus, which meant I couldn’t even say goodbye to the few friends I’d acquired while there; they would pass me through eighth grade, but I wasn’t allowed to attend eighth grade graduation.
One would think that now, Lois would have to take me in and care for me the way a mother should, but that’s not where this story goes.
Part Ten: 1987
Debbie was now a successful business woman, living in her first house with John and their daughter. One day, in May of 1987, she received a phone call from Lois. Debbie hadn’t talked to Lois in three years, and hadn’t planned on ever talking to her again. But here she was calling, and she was asking for a favor. “This little shit got himself kicked out of that school; do you still want him?” I had lived back home with Lois for three months, and in that time she had me arrested multiple times, once for ‘worshipping the devil’, when I was reading a book about tarot cards. The charges never stuck, because Lois was only using her police influence to get me out of the house for the night so she could drink or have friends over. When the police caught on, they stopped arresting Me. Now Lois was stuck with me and asked Debbie if she wanted me.
She did, and she took me. John and Debbie opened their home to me, now a young man, and Debbie recognized the parallels of taking me in, the same way that Aunt Jill and Uncle Ed took her in. She was only too happy to do it. During the summer, Lenny used a small portion of his family fortune to open a chicken restaurant, which he wanted to manage and make successful on his own. He hired me and give me my very first paying job at sixteen years old.
But the years and experiences of Debbie and I put us at a distance from one another, and without the bond of protection that used to be so necessary for us to survive, we found little in common.
Where Debbie used her experiences to learn, grow and overcome; I’d only learned to fight and argue. I repressed any learning that might come from my adversities and could only see a world out to get me. I was always on guard and never willing to compromise or submit. My mother would always tell me, after I punched a wall or slammed a door in anger “YOU’RE JUST LIKE YOUR FATHER!”, but I hadn’t yet learned the significance of that insult. I soon would.
Don’t get me wrong, I still loved Debbie very much, and I tried to do the things that Debbie and John put me to. However, it felt like the rules of that military school to me. It felt like the bonds of a past I hated; their rules and perceived subjugation felt like a boot on my neck and what sixteen-year-old boy will not rebel against that? Debbie began to see Terry in me, and rather than guide me past that truth, she confronted me with it to our mutual devastation. This is not to blame Debbie in any way for my reaction, it was a poor reaction that was cultivated by my mother, in an environment where confrontation does not lead to understanding.
Up to this point, at sixteen, I didn’t know any of the things we’ve discussed thus far about my families past.
Debbie told me, on a Friday afternoon after I’d returned home from a summer school class, everything. She told me about her father and brothers. I never knew that Debbie was my half-sister or that I had three half-brothers in the world. She told me about Lois leaving them with their grandparents because she didn’t want boys. She told me of Lois’ failed abortion attempt, and how military school was just another way for her to get rid of me. She told me about my father and his anger, that he molested her and ran off with another woman; she told me how I got the scar above my lip when my father threw me into a table. Up to that point, neither Lois or Debbie had ever spoken of Terry to me. All I knew was that my father lived in another state.
Debbie told me all of these things and crushed me in ways I couldn’t even comprehend yet. My mother didn’t love me, and my father hurt my sister. MY father…MY blood…hurt MY sister…my sister, who I loved so much. I didn’t know what to do. I was so scared…terrified; what was my place in all of this? What did the actions of my parents make me? So that Saturday, while Debbie, John and my niece were out for a walk, confused, I ran away and went back to Lois’ condo.
When I got there, Lois refused to let me in. I banged on the door until the police arrived. Lois opened the door for them and shouted that I was threatening to rape her. Hand to God, that’s what she said. The police knowing Lois’ pattern of using false claims to get rid of me, told her that they didn’t believe that, and that she wasn’t allowed to lock me out because I was only sixteen. She was responsible for me until I was eighteen, unless she had me emancipated.
Debbie showed up a short time later, and she was hot. She burst her way past the two officers into Lois’ condo, shouting at me. She called me a traitor and a coward, she cried and begged me to come back with her. She was betrayed by the only family she cared for, the only family she loved all of her life; the little boy who had waved his arms around and shouted ‘NO!’ when her mother tried to hurt her. This was her advocate, her sanity in an insane upbringing, her reason for being where she was now. She wanted me to know my niece and care for her the way SHE cared for me; she wanted me to protect her daughter with love and the bond that we shared. THAT’S why she told me those things, not to further my descent, but to lift me from it! Debbie wanted me to herself, to be a part of her family and she thought that by telling me the truth of the family I still clung to, she could break me from it and bring me closer to her.
She was wrong, and she knew it now. And she was defeated in her hubris.
Debbie clawed at me, ripping the shirt from my back and digging her nails into my skin, as the police held her back. She was rabid with the knowledge of the wedge that she’d created. She wanted desperately to take it all back…but I stood unblinking and she saw Terry in my silence, then she saw Lois in my indifference. I was sixteen and I had no idea what I’d chosen. In my mind, if my mother was forced to keep me by law, then that’s where I’d stay and no one would turn me from that path.
What Debbie didn’t know, was that in her forced absence, Lois had made me her ally. She manipulated me with lies and plied me with gifts to make her lies more palatable. In doing so, I had become a mama’s boy; Stockholm Syndrome brought on by the captive absence of a non-parent. Although I was kept at an arms-length, and although her treachery stared me in the face, my young mind couldn’t comprehend that my mother didn’t want me. What young boy could? After all, it wasn’t Lois who administered the beatings and humiliations in military school, in fact it was she who occasionally rescued me by taking me home for a weekend every three months. It wasn’t Lois who restricted my actions and force fed me the rules and regulations of military school, it was Lois who let me stay up all night and eat pizza on that rare weekend. If only I knew then what I know now…
Not long after that, Lois used her influence in the courts to have me emancipated, and she gladly put new locks on all of her doors. At sixteen, I was homeless, and had to face the reality of a pitiless mother and a harsh new world. Would Debbie have taken me back? Maybe, but my pride kept me from trying.
That was 35 years ago.
Part Eleven: 1992 – 2003
I regretted that decision for the rest of my life. I miss Debbie on a daily basis, not because of what she offered me, but because of what she represented to me; because of the hope and strength I see in her, and her determination to not be a product of her past. I need that parallel in my life, throughout my life. I thought of reaching out to her, but as she became more successful and wealthier, my prospects dwindled and I thought that she might see my hand extended to her as one looking for something in return, rather than reaching out to only hold my beloved sister.
As time moved on, I became successful in my own ways, always using my sister’s example as inspiration, and never being able to let her know how she continues to guide me. I think almost daily of asking her forgiveness. Debbie and John have a son too and I know that with their guidance, my niece and nephew have surely grown into fine young people. I want desperately to know them…to love them…but I don’t dare.
Debbie’s moved on from her past, and I fear that my presence might only remind her of the horrors that my father visited upon her…and the pain with which Lois scarred her. Not to mention my own betrayals.
Lois joined AA in 1992, and found God, again. Her demeaner was that of a completely different person. Without the demon that hides at the bottom of every bottle of booze she drank, Lois became almost saint-like. She got her Master’s Degree in drug counseling and devoted her life to helping people to overcome the addictions that she felt had ruined her life and the lives of those she loved.
Lois asked for my forgiveness, and I gave it; the mama’s boy in me saw hope. The truth is that I desperately wanted to be part of a family…any family, and Lois was willing to take me back. I’d met the love of my life, and needed a place to live so that we could be together. Again, I couldn’t see the manipulation. Lois had a roommate in her condo while I was gone, and her roommate was moving out, so she jumped at the opportunity to have my girlfriend, who she saw as another daughter to manipulate, move in with her. If that meant I had to come with, so be it. I was baggage and nothing more. I was looking for a mother that wasn’t there. But struggling for five years on my own, I saw opportunity and not manipulation.
With the support of my girlfriend at the time, I used the opportunity of having a roof over my head to get my GED; then I took the ACT. Based on my Math and English stores, I was offered scholarships from several colleges. I chose Lewis University in Romeoville where I would major in Aviation and Flight Technology. I wanted to soar above all the hurt on the ground, but more importantly I chose something so difficult, that it was sure to make Debbie proud. But her silence was deafening.
Several years later after receiving my private pilot’s license, I had to drop out of school before I received my Bachelor of Science degree. Lois had fallen ill with lung cancer; she smoked two packs of Salem a day. I was already working a part time job while going to school, but now I’d have to get several jobs to pay the bills while Lois went through treatment.
I was in the hospital when Lois died in 2003. The nurses told me that she was begging to see me. She’d withered away to almost nothing by that point. A wisp of white hair stood where her proud golden locks used to be. She was once an overbearing 175-pound Cook County Jail guard who could yell down any man; now she was an 85-pound skeleton with sunken cheeks and a hoarse voice. Beyond the horror of what she had become, I could only see a mother who was abandoning me again. I was frightened and couldn’t bring myself to see her in her final moments as I heard her desperate rasps from outside of her room, calling for me to be by her side.
She’d come into the world alone, suffered pain and brought only pain, contempt, desolation, and derisiveness into it, before silence took her away forever. Would that be my fate as well? What joy had I brought to the world? Lois died alone in her room, calling out for a son who always came back to her until she needed him the most. Another regret I’ll carry to the end of my days. A final mind fuck from the woman who birthed me. I contemplate the terror of dying alone daily, and grapple with not only that inevitability, but the magnitude of that certainty.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, when she found God and joined AA in 1992, Lois asked for Debbie’s forgiveness as well. Her roommate, Pam, was still living with her at the time. The answer Lois received came in the form of a letter that I found in 2003 after she died.
I’m not sure how to start a letter like this, but I will try. You haven’t called for five years, which isn’t unusual, and then you leave a message on my answering machine saying that you’ve changed and you want forgiveness. I talked with John about it, and we thought you would like to be invited to your granddaughter’s Birthday Party. So, I’ve been trying to get a hold of you. I also thought maybe it was time we had a long talk.
But then I spoke with your roommate. She told me you went to visit Jill; I called Aunt Jill, who explained that you were out having ‘one last drink’, as you put it. Needless to say, I was pissed at the so-called friend of yours, Pam, who lied to me. After some harsh words with her, she stated she knew all she needed to know about me. I bet you told her an ear full!
Did you tell her everything?! Did you tell her you’ve hated me since I was born when you were fifteen and proceeded to have 3 more children? Did you tell her that after your murdered my father you remarried a man who was a child molester, but you looked the other way because it was your daughter’s fault, not his or yours?! Did you tell her you went on TV and told the whole world your daughter ruined your marriage because it was her fault, he molested her?! Did you tell her THAT!! This is what has been bothering me all these years! No one in my life knows this but you. But you try to turn it around and make me the dirty one, not the innocent victim, like most mothers would. Now that I have a daughter, I just can’t see how you could have done some of the things you have done.
I think our relationship has come to the point of no return. Aunt Jill & I just had a nice talk the other day. I had decided to try and either talk to you about all this or maybe try to forget it. But seeing how you’ve made someone hate me as much as they do without even knowing me, you must also have to hate me a lot too. You may want forgiveness, but I can never forgive how you turned Michael against me by vindictively keeping me away from him. You ruined my life because you were a coward, but you ruined Michael’s for no other reason than your hate for me. With that in mind, any efforts seem to be worthless.
Hope you learn something in recovery. Sorry this letter was turned wrong. Since I’m not sure when or if I’ll ever see you again. (In case you’d like to know) my baby is due at the end of May.
I cried for a long time after reading that letter; I’m crying now as I transcribe it. My sister is so strong; I love her so much. Of course, she never reached out to me after I spurned the life she offered me. I betrayed her like everyone else. I gave up on her. I was weak. She continued to fight Lois’ hypocrisy, striking a perfect balance between forgiveness and fortitude. She never betrayed her feelings and she never let them dictate her life, and when she finally reached a breaking point, she did it with dignity and resolve.
I gave in. I succumbed to the manipulation that Debbie so vehemently and purposefully avoided. And for that, I cannot ever ask her forgiveness.
That’s part of the skepticism I harbor concerning fatherhood; my cowardice. I used to be so easily goaded and quick to anger, just like that man. Is it rational to think that the sins of the father are visited upon the son? Perhaps not. But for a long time, I found rationality in thinking that no sin can come from abstaining of fatherhood.
Today, I practice TM which keeps me calm and centered. I’ve learned to think before I react and it’s been a long time since I’ve felt that anger which used to haunt me. I think it’s a product of fear, and I no longer feel that; regret…always regret, but not fear. Age has brought me to the realization that nothing is as bad as it seems, while giving me the empathy and perspective to know that there is always someone with a deeper trauma in their life. Still, the thought that my father and mother reside within me is always present. But as I grow and embrace my past rather than hide behind it, I can see a future where fatherhood is a possibility. I see my friends with their kids, and I marvel at the love shared. The patience and humor…the hard work. They make it seem so effortless; it just astounds me and puts me in a state of amazement. For the time, I’m happy to be in their orbit.
I realize the secret of their successes and it’s that they’ve all found a love with whom they’ve committed to and shared their lives; that sharing overflowed into a family. I’m not there yet, but that’s why I’m so picky. The stakes have never been higher. It’s the top of the 9th with 3 on and 2 out; I’ve got one more at-bat so I’ve gotta get it right. If I were to have a child, the best gift I could give, the best legacy that I could leave…. would be a caring and loving mother.
Although it may be subconsciously, I try to connect with women in the way that I was connected to my sister. I look for a relationship that’s built on friendship, trust and protection; the security that comes of knowing you have each other’s back. I look for the qualities in a woman that made my sister so amazing: determination, fortitude, an ability to love beyond herself, and a strength that is so rare in today’s world. These are the qualities of a woman with whom I could raise a child. I look for these things in a woman because those qualities made ME a better person and maybe, just maybe…that’s enough for me to move past my fears and one day begin a new legacy.
At some point in the early 90’s Dick became fed up with Lois’ usury, and broke off all contact. He passed away in 1993. Dick couldn’t see what was in front of him, as all men whose love is rooted in ideals rather than practicality, cannot.
Lenny passed away of an aneurysm at only 36 years old. His two boys now run the Ruffles Potato Chip empire, assisted by their uncle. The Chicken Restaurant closed down soon after Lenny passed.
Aunt Jill died in 2018, and Debbie was devastated. She loved her aunt as if she were her mother. I regretted that I could not comfort her in her pain.
The last I heard, Lois’ three boys spent their time living between jail and a trailer in a cornfield in southern Illinois. To this day I don’t know their names.
Terry is still alive at 78 years old as of this writing in 2022, and living in Canyon Lake Texas. I considered going on a road trip and confronting him with a video camera. But other than personal edification, what purpose would that serve?
I still have the Illinois State Police hat that Terry put on top of the refrigerator before he left in 1974.
Ghost of Rod Serling: A philosopher once said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” How does recall effect psychology? Is legacy something we can avoid by simply understanding it, or is it a symbiote, attached to the biology we pass down? We may never know. But if it can be overcome, if legacy is not a thing inherited, but a thing learned that can be avoided through the remembering of it, then Mr. Michael Hempen may have erroneously cut his lineage short and condemned himself forever to…The Friend Zone.