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 Terry Allen Cummings on 01/03/20

Brought to you by: Cous’n Cumm’ns Entertainment

Featuring: The Ghost of Rod Serling

I’m Feeling: https://open.spotify.com/track/4vEXJ6NvEwS8ptynkNswaa

Episode 18: Legacy

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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. Terry Cummings, who has witnessed the devilry and dysfunction of his legacy on a dystopian landscape found only in…The Friend Zone.

 

One of the major reasons that some of my most significant relationships have ended, is that I’ve never really wanted children. This is a personal choice I’ve made. Past girlfriends have concluded that this is because I’m selfish, cheap, or both and maybe that’s not far from the mark. But maybe…just maybe there’s something more.

I’ve tried to articulate my reasoning for this choice by using excuses such as over-population, climate change, and garbage footprints to mask a more personal truth. As I get older, I realize that I just might make a decent father, and as my role at work becomes more cemented, I think I could have the financial ability to pull it off. But because of the legacy handed down to me, and how it’s hurt others, I simply don’t feel that I have the right to subject innocents to its potential recurrence or perpetuation. After all, what we do in life, echos in eternity; so aren’t the lives of people from my past still…y’know, echoing?

So, since I’m single again and looking for my last girlfriend/partner/wife, and want to be honest with women who might deem me worthy of a date towards that end. I think it’s time to tell this story.

As I wasn’t alive for a lot of what you’re about to read, some of it is supposition. The rest 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 after my birth are much more accurate and I have both documentation in the form of letters from family members and recordings.

This is not my story to tell, because these are not my traumas. But I tell it to the best of my recollection anyway because this story forever haunts me and effects every relationship I have. 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 and dates have been changed.

Out of respect for the truth, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.

 

Part 1 – 1963

Her name is Denise. She was born to William and Lana Cummings in the winter of 1963. Lana was fifteen when she became pregnant with Denise. Denise was loved by her mother, but like the three brothers that proceeded her, was a burden to her father.

Denise’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 Denise, Lana 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 little girl, she could put up with William’s abuses and drunken tantrums. Alas, three boys were bestowed consecutively upon Lana, and with each, her disappointment turned to depression, then to fear, then to anger.

Lana didn’t hide the resentment she felt towards her boys, and indeed as someone who didn’t understand emotion, blamed them for not having been girls. This made growing up the youngest in the household a heavy burden on Denise’s shoulders as the boys in turn, resented her as the ‘favorite’.

William was without humor, so the home that Denise would grow up in offered no joy to a child; and a child of such obvious intelligence as Denise showed, needed joy to grow. Keeping busy with household 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 Denise would find was in visiting her grandmother, which she did as often as she could since Granny Nora lived just next door.

Lana’s mother Nora, was a dispatcher at the truck company where Denise’s father worked; this is how Lana and William came to meet at a company picnic. When she became pregnant at fifteen, rather than have William arrested for statutory rape, Nora agreed to put up 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 abounded.

Most nights, Lana took Denise to church, which was equidistant from their house as the bar which William frequented at the same time. 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 Denise, Lana had to hope that William would be passed out with a bottle of whiskey in his hand. 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.

Denise’s mother loved her unconditionally, as much as a woman of her upbringing could. Lana 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, hatred could only propagate within.

We could justify the actions or inactions of Lana over the next ten years, if I were to tell the story of her youth…of her abuses. 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 Denise’s; they do not diminish or lessen it.

 

Part 2 – 1973

One night in the winter of 1973, after dishing out a particularly brutal beating, William slumped into his torn and battered arm chair, which at times he found comforting to look on as if sitting on his wife’s bruised and battered body. William rested, coming down from the rush and thrill of administering dominance over his wife again; his fist began to throb as 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 Preying Mantis.

Lana hurriedly brought William another beer when he barked at her to do so. He snatched it from her and grinned an evil grin that would be his downfall. He said “Be quicker next time bitch, or you’ll get more of the same.”

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.

Denise 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 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 anger at her mother for not standing up to her father and protecting them all. But what Denise, and nobody could know…is that everyone has a breaking point and her mother’s…was a simple grin.

That grin. William had that same grin on his face when he punched Lana like she was a man, moments ago; 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 that crooked smile at her as he rubbed his knuckles into the palm of his other hand. She struggled to breath through the sweat and blood and tears boiling out of her.

Lana 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 Denise staring, slack-jawed at her beaten mother. “I’m so sorry you have to see this….” she thought. William laughed disdainfully down on Lana. “You better clean this shit up bitch, or she’ll get what you got.” He flexed at Denise 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 and bellowed for another beer.

The boys had already gone to their bedroom upstairs for the night, but Denise stayed up to help her mother with the dishes. She struggled to move the heavy cast iron skillet and big heavy coffee can full of bacon grease from one side of the stove to the other, as she cleaned the stove top. That’s when her father walked in from work, cigarette dangling from his mouth. He threw his coat on the floor and made an excuse to start shoving and then beating Denise’s mother. Does the reason matter? Does it ever? Denise watched, wide eyed and powerless as the lion attacked its prey.

Now she watched the prey lull the lion to sleep with liquor.

Lana went back to the kitchen, that grin burned into her bruised and bloodshot eyes. “Denise, put your coat on and go next door to your grandma’s house.”, she said purposefully through her bloodied teeth. Denise did as she was told.

As she crossed the asphalt of the shared driveway to her Grandmother’s house, the cold nipped at her hands and face, like tiny needles burying themselves into her skin. Denise 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 Nora would know what to do.

 

Part 3 – Dick

To the right of William and Lana Cumming’s house, lived Nora. 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 a hero when he 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 silouettes 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, engulfed in flames and 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, it’s 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 it 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 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. Tears streamed rivers through the black ash that covered his ten year old face. “Be brave boy, stay right behind me. Everything’s gonna be different now, but that’s ok.”

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 boys 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, Lana only watched indifferently, almost villainously, as a new kind of wonder and admiration burgeoned in a young Denise’s heart, and filled the emptiness of that space where respect and love for a father figure had never lived before.

According to all police and fire investigator reports, William had fallen asleep in his armchair while holding a cigarette, and burned his home down, nearly killing his three boys. Lana and Denise were next door visiting Nora when the fire broke out.

 

Part 4 – 1977

I don’t have a lot of information covering the next three years of our story, suffice to say that Lana sent the boys to Southern Illinois to live with their father’s family. I don’t know anything about that family. Lana never spoke to, or of them again.

Lana kept her only daughter with her, and with the help of her mother, got a job as a dispatcher for the State Police. Dick fell in love with Lana. 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 Lana was neither of those things, and so Dick’s love went unrequited. He remained in Lana and Denise’s lives, mostly functioning as handyman or a useful idiot that Lana could borrow money from or have expensive dinners with. She resented Dick for many reasons, but she slept with him and used him to her advantage, none-the-less.

And then came Allen.

Allen was a state trooper for the Illinois State Police, as was his brother Chris. Allen was a handsome man, with few words and Lana liked that. Her previous husband, and even Dick talked to damned much. Allen looked like Jack Kennedy, and in a time not far from his assassination, that made Allen a high commodity in the world of single women. It was 1977, and Lana was going to make Allen 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 Joliet, which was across the street from the Statesville Prison. By November of 1977, Lana was pregnant.

Allen did what was the right thing for that time and place; he proposed to Lana and brought her to her doctor appointments. They were thrilled and Lana 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. Allen 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 1978 Lana attempted to abort the child behind Allen’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 Allen showed up at the hospital, the doctor told him about Lana’s failed attempt at self-abortion, but the child was alive and well. For the safety of the baby, Lana was committed until he was born. Denise met Allen for the first time at the hospital, when her Grandma Nora took her to visit her mother. She was fourteen.

Lana and Allen were married in the hospital before their child was born, and soon after, Allen bought a house in Mokena for his new family. Denise moved in while her mother was still in the hospital. Here was another man, to whom Denise could look up to. Like Dick, Allen was kind to her and he was brave, sometimes telling her stories of his police work. But unlike Dick, Allen 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 Denise 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 Allen, she felt ‘heard’ and understood, like a woman.

When their son was born, Allen named him Terry, after his father. Lana was indifferent and did not participate in the naming. Allen had high hopes that his son would one day be a Marine, like he was. When he brought Lana and Terry to their 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 Allen beamed with pride as his son soaked in the spotlight.

Lana was not impressed.

Denise loved her baby brother very much, and fawned over him at every opportunity. There was a connection between the two as sometimes happens between two people, that transcended everything and everyone around them. Though not fully related by blood, Denise felt closer to Terry than she had her own brothers, and all she lived to do was make him smile. She took him out for walks in a stroller, dressed him up and took photos for their father, and introduced him to cats and dogs at her friend’s homes. There was nothing that Denise wouldn’t do for Terry, as opposed to her mother who tried to avoid the boy as much as she could.

Lana began drinking, and Allen came to rely on Denise more and more to help him care for the boy. That year, Allen adopted Denise as his own daughter. He also began an affair with Lana’s best friend, Patty.

 

Part 5 – 1978

 

11 (2)

Uncle Chris and Aunt Jane on thier wedding day – Allen standing

Patty was Lana’s best friend from before she met Allen. The two women were inseparable. Patty and her husband often came over to Allen and Lana’s home on Saturday nights, along with Allen’s brother Chris and his wife Jane. Denise watched little Terry, Patty’s three boys and her cousin Ed while the adults played board games and drank. I don’t know how the affair started, but it started and not Lana, Denise, Patty’s husband or any of the children were the wiser.

 

Between the secrets and lies brought about by his infidelity, Lana’s unmotherly attitude toward his son, and his more and more abusive drinking, Allen began to unravel.

Although he and his brother had both fought and survived in Vietnam, where that journey made Chris thoughtful and contemplative, it just made Allen sullen and mean.

Allen began going to rough bars just to pick fights, and he always won. Violence was an itch that had to be scratched. Like a new prisoner, he would walk into a bar and immediately start a fight with the biggest man in the place. At 6’3”, 185 pounds of muscle, and the military training to know how to use it, Allen could easily kill a man with his bare hands, and indeed Chris had watched him do so more than once, while in the violent Vietnamese Jungles. It was Chris’ job to drag his brother out lest he cause real damage to his intended target and lose his job on the Illinois State Police force.

Allen 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 Allen beat three Chicago Police Detectives, that he was finally called to account for his actions.

Allen and his partner 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. The two almost immediately saw a green Chevy Nova coming right towards them on Archer avenue. They turned on their cherries and gave pursuit.

The car pulled over and the two officers approached cautiously. It turned out that there were three Chicago Police detectives in the car, on their way home from a retirement party. They were drunk, but in 1978 that was hardly a crime. The Chicago police and the State police had an ongoing rivalry, so these particular cops were not happy about being pulled over. The officer in the back seat, continued to cuss and call Allen and his partner pansies who couldn’t catch a cold. The other two tried to stifle their friend, but he was insistent in his berating. This incensed Allen no end,  and his partner pled with him not to take the bait.

Allen walked back to the front seat of the squad car, lips pursed but calm otherwise. Relief washed over his partner as he climbed into the driver’s seat. The passenger door opened, and as Allen’s partner heard the continuous ‘mother fuck’ing coming from the back seat of the car they were letting on it’s way, he saw Allen’s gun belt and badge drop to the front seat, and like that Allen was back upon the Chevy Nova.

Allen’s partner jumped out of the squad car and saw Allen reach into the back suicide window of the Chevy Nova, grabbing the Chicago cop by his shirt collar as he attempted to duck against the other door. A brief struggle ensued, and Allen quickly pulled the cop out of the backseat, breaking the window as he did, and dumped him head first onto the sidewalk. The two police officers came out of the Nova, and the passenger immediately went at Allen, as the driver went for his partner, mistaking his intent to stop Allen, as intent to help him.

Allen socked the passenger in the jaw, and he immediately went down for the count. Then Allen began kicking the cop from the back seat, who struggled for breath and clutched his ribs. When he saw his partner struggling with the driver, Allen 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. Allen’s partner would later say that the thing he’ll never forget about that incident…was the silence from Allen. 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 stalking his prey.

Allen 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…Allen had a taste for beatings and when mixed with alcohol, that taste can be insatiable.

 

Part 6 – 1979

There is no valid excuse for the abuse of a child. Not mental health issues or past abuses suffered by the assailant. If those are the specters of blame, then the perpetrator should be put down like a rabid cur, rather then 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, for they know not what they do. Therefore, one can never blame a child for the situations that adults put upon them.

As Allen’s anger grew, and he spent more and more time away from home, presumably with Patty. Denise found herself as the woman of the house. Responsibilities were foisted on her, that at fifteen years old, should not have been. Denise had turned fifteen in the year of 1979, 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 heard 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 Terry. She especially liked the way he coo’d when she rubbed his fat little belly.

That summer, Allen took Lana and Denise to Acapulco. He thought that maybe a nice week long vacation while he was on suspension would be good for the family. Romantic nights, exotic drinks, warm lazy afternoons on the beach…Lana wasn’t interested in these things; but Denise was. So, Allen drunkenly took advantage of a curious young girls romanticized views, and seduced her…at fifteen years old. To Denise she had been Allen’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 Allen 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 Allen’s job to nurture Denise and help her grow as a woman he could be proud of. With this act he sealed her fate, giving her only doubt, self-loathing and a deep skepticism of all intent. There is no excuse for this betrayal of a child and where Allen 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.

Although she didn’t suspect her friend Patty, Lana suspected Denise and rather than lay blame where it belonged, at the feet of Allen, she resented her daughter and considered the betrayal hers.

Lana confronted Allen & Denise when they returned home. Denise’s silence at her accuser, sealed her mother’s knowledge of the illicit happenings. It took Allen a week to respond, but his response was final.

Allen came home from work a week later, 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 baby Terry. Lana insisted that it wasn’t time yet for his feeding, and Denise insisted that Lana wouldn’t know when feeding time was because she hadn’t fed him in more than four months. As the bickering continued, Allen 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.

Terry sat in his high chair, crying a high-pitched wail of fear as the women argued on either side of him. In stealth silence, Allen suddenly appeared next to Terry. He looked at Lana, then Denise with no emotion; then he grabbed Terry by his tiny arm and forcefully pushed him over in his high chair. There was silence as the high chair fell over in slow motion. Both women gasped, and there was a loud ‘WHAM’ as Terry’s face smashed into the leg of a table on the side of the couch. He lay silent. Tears flowed from Denise’s eyes just as quickly as the blood pooled in the carpet around Terry’s head. She rushed to her silenced baby brother. Allen walked out, leaving his hat on the fridge, never to be seen by Lana, Denise or Terry again.

 

Part 7 – 1983

Terry and Patty both left their spouses and their children behind and moved to Florida together where they were married. Using 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, in order that they could both avoid child support payments.

Luckily for Terry, his fall only landed him with a split lip and a scar that he’ll carry for the rest of his life. The scar that Allen left to Denise, 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.

After Allen left them, Dick came back into Lana’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. Lana would never truly love Dick the way he wanted her to, but he knew that, and being in her vicinity was enough for him. He did his best to teach Terry how to be a man, showing him how to fix things and taking him out for ice cream and sharing life philosophies with him. Terry saw a kindness in Dick that he did not know in his father, and he carried that with him throughout his life. He also saw the tragedy in Dick, and learned a lesson from Dick’s misplaced love in his mother.

Lana continued to resent Denise, and Denise 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 Terry. Denise couldn’t leave him alone with Lana, because as she grew, she knew what her mother was capable of.

Four years had passed. Lana was now a hard drinking, tough as nails guard at Cook County Jail. Denise had gotten a scholarship to attend a college for interior design. That had become her passion, and she would often share the models she made in school with Terry who adored playing with them. Denise was a brilliant designer and a desirous young woman, but her only desire was to finish school and take Terry someplace safe.

Denise began dating boys in college and bringing them home to help her babysit Terry. Terry liked these young college men, as all he’d known for years were his mother and sister. They were fun, quick with a joke and respectful of his sister. Some could do magic tricks for Terry, some watch TV with him, and one could even flip his eyelids upside down, which would make Terry burst with laughter. They had a male energy that a young boy needs to be exposed to and Terry was excited every time Denise brought one of them home. Lana looked on in jealousy and as her resentment grew, so did her drinking….then she did the unthinkable.

Denise was at school one afternoon in the Spring of 1983, visiting a friend in her dorm room. As the girls talked, they began hearing a commotion in the hallway. Everyone was going toward the common room where the television for that floor was kept. As Denise and her friend came in, all of the other women and a few boys were gathered around the TV. Friends and acquaintances parted and as Denise entered, murmurs fell over the hushed room.  People looked from the TV to Denise: “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 Denise’s mother Lana. A drunken, evil gaze stretched over her cigarette worn skin. Lana 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 Denise and Lana, were ignorant of any fact. Never did Lana say the words ‘underage’ or ‘fifteen’.

Denise was devastated in her embarrassment. Her father had taken her innocence, and her mother had destroyed her reputation. That was the final straw. Denise went to her Aunt Jane and told her what happened. Before Allen left, when Uncle Chris and Aunt Jane were over at the house almost as much as Patty and her husband, Denise became very close with her Aunt. That closeness carried over through the years.

Aunt Jane and Uncle Chris took Denise in, though it destroyed her to leave young Terry behind. She would often cry herself to sleep, thinking of Terry shouting ‘NO!’ in his little voice and waving his arms around like a robot at his mother when she yelled at Denise, or tried hitting her. He was her little protector and she was his. But now he was all alone with a drunken mother who never wanted him. How could she ever reconcile her guilt?

 

Part 8 – 1986

8

Terry and Pepper

For three years, Lana 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 him, and no sister or her boyfriends to entertain him, Terry watched TV. Terry watched TV day and night, and that box became his best friend. When his mother beat him, the box was there. When she berated him, the box was there. When his mother ignored him, the box did not.

Knowing that it kept him entertained, Lana bought the new cable service “ONTV”, which was just HBO and a Sports Channel, but HBO had ‘Fraggle Rock’ which little Terry loved. Unfortunately, it also had horror movies, and the films ‘Heavy Metal’ and ‘Young Lady Chatterley”, so coupled with his mother’s abuses, Terry grew up a bit before his time.

When he turned eight in the summer of 1986, it was time for Terry to join the ranks of the third grade. He had little friends now, with whom he played ‘Star Wars’, or watched Saturday Morning Cartoons. As a studious boy, he was excited to be going back to school with his friends. After all, school was the only place where he earned any praise; it was the only place he felt welcomed. What Terry didn’t know was that his mother was moving to the night shift at the Cook County Jail, because it paid more and offered more overtime, the money from which could be used for more drinking. Seeing Terry as an impediment to her daily drinking habits, Lana enrolled him in a military school.

Without telling him what was happening, Lana packed all of Terry’s things while he was at a friend’s house one morning, and then picked him up. She told him that she was taking him out for morning ice-cream. Terry was elated. An hour later, Terry had become bored in the car, kicking the back of his legs against the front of the front seat. “Where’s the ICECWEAM mama?” he asked impatiently. “We’re almost there” Lana told him “There it is now.” And she pointed out Terry’s window.

Glenwood Military School (56)Terry climbed up on his knees and peered out of the passenger side window. There before him 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 he 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.” It would not be hyperbolic to say a five year long decent into hell began for young Terry on that day.

 

Part 9 – 1989

During the three years between Denise moving out and Terry being brought to Military School, Lana would have need to call upon her estranged daughter, to babysit. Denise could never pass up the chance to see her little man.

Aunt Jane and Uncle Chris helped Denise get into a different college, where she changed her major. It was there that she met Jack. Jack belonged to a wealthy and affluent family and introduced Denise and Terry to a world that was unknown to them. Her and Jack’s best friend was the heir to the Ruffles Potato chip empire, named Lawrence. Lawrence threw lavish parties, and if one happened on a night that Denise was babysitting Terry, Lawrence was all too happy to put him up in his giant bedroom, which was bigger than Lana’s whole apartment.

Lawrence’s bedroom had a giant screen TV, before that was even a thing that one could have, and Lawrence checked on Terry every fifteen minutes, bringing him food and soda. Terry came to love Lawrence as his own brother, and over those three years, Lawrence acted in that role. Lawrence would give Terry lavish gifts that he could never have expected or hoped for, and he would take Terry to Blackhawks games, Bulls games, and Bears games. Any sporting event or even concert that Lawrence went to, he brought little Terry along with him. Didn’t matter how many people went as well, Terry was always welcomed by all.

When Denise found out that Lana had taken Terry to a military school, she was enraged. She confronted her mother who would not budge. She offered to take in little Terry, so that Lana wouldn’t be burdened with him, but Lana, out of pure spite, would not acquiesce to her daughter’s request. After hearing this, Jack and Lawrence offered to throw all of their lawyers and influence at Lana, in an effort that Denise might get custody of little Terry, whom they all loved so much.

As the proceedings were set to begin, Lana threatened Denise in a letter, that she would tell the courts and all of her new friends, of Allen’s infidelity and Denise’s participation in it. And that was that. In a time without social media to spread lies and streaming TV services to spread reruns, Denise’s new friends didn’t know of her past. She had to tell Jack lest he find out from her mother, and Jack took the news with something that Denise hadn’t been shown yet…understanding that can only come from real love. The case was dropped, and Terry remained in military school until he was kicked out just before eighth grade graduation, when he was 16 years old in 1994. Jack and Denise were married, and their daughter would be one year old when Terry was kicked out of military school.

Lives moved on.

 

Part 10 – November 1989

1 (2)

Terry in his Military School Uniform

During his time in military school, Terry was subjected to ritualistic terror on a daily basis. He suffered a concussion when his NCO smashed his head into a brick wall, he stopped breathing for 4 minutes after a high schooler drown him in the gym pool; Terry was held down by six boys who sodomized him with a dildo they found in the woods behind the campus. One of his toes had to be amputated from frostbite after he was locked out of his cottage for hours, naked in the snow; his possessions were stolen time and time again, he was beaten and humiliated nearly every day. Nobody protected him, not the administration nor his mother…but then one day he fought back. It wasnt until he fought back and nearly killed a boy himself, that his own beatings stopped. But that’s a story for another time.

The bullies stopped beating him but now it was the administration that constantly made him feel held down. And then one day Terry snapped and his father’s anger sprung from him like a gazelle again, only this time it was directed at an adult. One of his teachers was poking him in the chest, hard, while yelling at him; and Terry punched him in the bread basket. The teacher fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes, struggling for air. The teacher would say later, that Terry made no sound and gave no warning, he just pulled back and punched him, and then walked calmly out of the room.

This parallel to his father’s anger haunts Terry to this day.

All parents picked their kids up and took them home on the weekends, except for Lana. Terry would often find himself alone on campus during weekends and holidays; the other children would return on Monday to taunt him. Lana told the school that nobody was allowed to pick up Terry but her. Denise, Jack and Lawrence couldn’t get him either, no matter how much they wanted to. Spite levied at a perceived slight; incalculable, the human capability for blame.

The day after Terry punched his teacher, was the beginning of the Thanksgiving holiday. Terry had begged his mother to pick him up, but she made some excuse. He begged to let Denise take him home with her and she refused. Terry missed Denise so much. He felt so complete, so proud, so happy to be around her, she was his only hope in a world of hopelessness. Finally, in a last desperate plea, he asked if he could go home with his friend Arnie and his family, who lived not far from Lana’s condo.

Lana agreed and told the school to let Terry go home with Arnie for the Thanksgiving holiday. Terry was conflicted over the punch that he gave to his teacher. He was told by the dean of the school that he’d be put on ‘restriction’, and after begging the Dean not to tell his mother, the dean assured him that he wouldn’t. Terry just wanted the whole mess to be put behind him, and having Turkey with Arnie and his family the next day was the perfect way to do it.

That Wednesday was fantastic. Arnie’s house already smelled of food being prepared for the next day. Terry was filled with anticipation for that meal, he was filled with joy at having good friends, and he was thankful that his dread over the consequences of his altercation had finally dissipated.

After playing video games that night, Arnie, his two brothers and Terry went to sleep on the bunkbed and couches in the basement. The basement of Arnie’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 Arnie and his brothers all had their own rooms, they all slept in the basement to keep Terry, who liked to sleep on the top bunk, company.
The boys all passed out that night, watching something on T.V.

At three o’clock in the morning Terry 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 he knew wasn’t going to turn out good. POUND, POUND, POUND.

Terry 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. he sat up and looked at the static for a long minute. POUND, POUND, POUND. He was becoming frightened. Arnie’s older brother SHOT up into a sitting position on the couch, wide eyed and confused. Terry whispered to him “I think it’s the T.V. Shut it off”. POUND, POUND, POUND!

From below him, Arnie 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 Arnie’s other brother Derrek rolled off of the other couch. POUND, POUND, POUND! Without saying a word, Derrek lazily crawled over to the TV and shut it off.

They were all awake now, and there was an eerie silence in the darkened room as they all waited to see if it WAS the T.V. They listened for NO sound, and then…POUND, POUND, POUND!

Arnie and his brothers could hear their mother now, in the hallway just above the basement cursing and muttering under her breath. Arnie shouted up the stairs in the dark “mom, what is that?” She told them “someone’s at the door.”

They all heard the deadbolt clack on the front door as Arnie’s mother unlocked it, and then they heard a loud crash and an angry voice as she was forcefully thrown aside by Lana. Lana was drunk, and in her police uniform, which made her an intimidating force. From the basement, Terry and the three brothers could hear a commotion upstairs.

Suddenly, the basement light turned on filling their vision with stars as their eyes tried to adjust to the bright light. Lana came stumbling down the stairs and burst angrily into the room. From the top bunk Terry could start to make out her form. He was groggy, and he still didn’t know what exactly was happening. Lana shrieked: “WHERE’S MY SON?” It would be impossible to describe to you the horror that Terry felt in that moment.

He’d never spoken to his mother like this before, but he was embarrassed, shocked and frightened. Terry yelled, “what the hell are you doing here Mom? What do you want?” She locked eyes on him, stumbled over to the bunk bed, grabbed him by the hair, angrily yanked him out of the top bunk as she might a prisoner, and forcefully dragged him up the stairs and out of the house.

Terry was in such pain in that moment, that he didn’t know what to cry about. His neck and ass hurt from being pulled out of the top bunk and dragged UP a flight of stairs by his hair, and Lana wouldn’t answer him when he kept shouting through his tears: “WHY?” To young Terry, that was the MOST frightening part…the angry look of determination and hollow cruelty on a drunk’s face. That was the most humiliating thing that had ever happened to Terry, and it changed him forever.

Earlier that day, Lana had gotten a call from the principal of the military school. They’d decided to expel Terry. He was not allowed back on campus, which meant he couldn’t say goodbye to the friends he’d acquired while there; they would pass him through eighth grade, but he wasn’t allowed to attend eighth grade graduation.

One would think that now, Lana would have to take Terry in and care for him the way a mother should, but that’s not where this story goes.

 

Part 11 – February 1995

Denise was now a successful business woman, living in her first house with a husband and daughter she adored, when she received a phone call from Lana. Denise hadn’t talked to Lana in years, hadn’t planned on ever talking to her again, but here she was, and she was asking for a favor. “This little shit got himself kicked out of that school; do you still want him?” Terry had lived back home with Lana for only three months, and in the that time she had him arrested three times, once for ‘worshipping the devil’, when he was reading a book about tarot cards. The charges never stuck, because Lana was only using her police influence to get Terry out of the house for the night so she could drink or have friends over. When the police caught on, they stopped arresting Terry. Now Lana was stuck with him and asked Denise if she wanted him.

She did, and she took him. Jack and Denise opened their home to Terry, who was now a young man, and Denise recognized the parallels of taking Terry in the same way that her Aunt and Uncle took her in. She was only too happy to do it. During the summer, Lawrence had 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 Terry and give him his very first paying job at sixteen years old.

But the years and experiences of Denise and Terry put them at a distance from one another, and without the bond of protection that used to be so necessary for them, they found little in common.

Where Denise used her experiences to learn, grow and overcome; Terry only learned to fight and argue. He repressed any learning that might come from his adversities and could only see a world out to get him. He was always on guard and never willing to compromise or submit. His mother would always tell him, after he punched a wall or slammed a door in anger “YOU’RE JUST LIKE YOUR FATHER!”, but he hadn’t yet learned the significance of that insult. He soon would.

Terry still loved his sister very much, and he tried to do the things that Denise and Jack put him to. However, it felt like the rules of that military school to him. It felt like the bonds of a past he hated; their rules and perceived subjugation felt like a boot on his neck and what sixteen year old boy will not rebel against that? Denise began to see Allen in Terry, and rather than guide him past that truth, she confronted him with it to their mutual devastation. This is not to blame Denise in any way for Terry’s reaction, it was a poor reaction that was cultivated by his mother, in an environment where confrontation does not lead to understanding.

Up to this point, at sixteen, Terry didn’t know any of the things we’ve discussed thus far.

Denise told Terry, on a Friday afternoon after he’d returned home from a summer school class, everything. She told him about her father and brothers. Terry never knew that Denise was his half-sister, he never knew that he had three brothers in the world. She told him about his mother leaving them with their grandparents because she didn’t want boys. She told him of Lana’s failed abortion attempt, and how military school was just another way for her to get rid of him. She told him about his father and his anger, that he molested her and ran off with another woman; she told Terry how he got the scar above his lip when his father threw him into a table. Up to that point, neither Lana or Denise had ever spoken of Allen to Terry. All Terry knew was that his father lived in another state.

Denise told Terry all of these things and crushed him in ways he couldn’t even comprehend yet. His mother didn’t love him, and his father hurt his sister. HIS father…HIS blood…hurt HIS sister…whom he loved so very much. Terry didn’t know what to do. He was so scared…terrified; what was his place in all of this? What did the actions of his parents make him? So that Saturday, while Denise, Jack and Terry’s niece were out for a walk, confused, Terry ran away and went back to his mother’s condo.

 

Part 12 – July 1995

When Terry arrived at his mother’s condo, she refused to let him in. He banged on the door until the police arrived. Lana opened the door for them and shouted that Terry was threatening to rape her. Hand to God, that’s what she said. The police knowing Lana’s pattern of using false claims to get rid of her son, told her that they didn’t believe that, and that she wasn’t allowed to lock Terry out because he was only sixteen. She was responsible for him until he was eighteen, unless she had him emancipated.

Denise showed up a short time later, and burst her way past the two officers into her mother’s condo, shouting at Terry. She called him a traitor and a coward, she cried and begged him 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 with words and worse. This was her advocate, her sanity in an insane upbringing, her reason for being where she was now. She wanted Terry to know his niece and care for her the way SHE cared for him; she wanted him to protect her daughter with love and the bond that they shared. THAT’S why she told him those things, not to further his descent, but to lift him from it! Denise wanted Terry to herself, to be a part of her family and she thought that by telling him the truth of the family he still clung to, she could BREAK him from it and bring him closer to her.

She was wrong, and she knew it now. And she was defeated in her hubris.

Denise clawed at Terry, ripping the shirt from his back and digging her nails into his 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 Terry stood unblinking and she saw Allen in his silence, then she saw Lana in his indifference. He was sixteen and he had no idea what he’d chosen. In his mind, if his mother was forced to keep him by law, then that’s where he’d stay and no one would turn him from that path.

What Denise didn’t know, was that in her forced absence, Lana had made Terry her ally. She manipulated him with lies and plied him with gifts to make her lies more palatable. In doing so, Terry had become a mama’s boy; Stockholm Syndrome brought on by the captive absence of a non-parent. Although he was kept at an arms-length, and although her treachery stared him in the face, Terry’s young mind couldn’t comprehend that his mother didn’t want him. What young boy could? After all, it wasn’t Lana who administered the beatings and humiliations in military school, in fact it was she who occasionally rescued him by taking him home for a weekend every three months. It wasn’t Lana who restricted his actions and force fed him the rules and regulations of military school, it was Lana who let him stay up all night and eat pizza on that rare weekend. If only he knew then what he knows now…

Less than a month later, Lana used her police influence to have Terry emancipated, and she gladly put new locks on all of her doors. At sixteen, Terry was homeless, and had to face the reality of a pitiless mother and a harsh new world. Would Denise have taken him back? Maybe, but Terry’s pride kept him from trying.

That was 25 years ago.

 

Part 13 – 2000

Terry regretted his decision for the rest of his life. He missed Denise on a daily basis, not because of what she offered him, but because of what she represented to him; because of the hope and strength he saw in her, and her determination to not be a product of her past. He needed that parallel in his life, throughout his life. He thought of reaching out to her, but as she became more successful and wealthy, his prospects dwindled and he thought that she might see his hand extended to her as one looking for something in return, rather than reaching out to only hold his beloved sister.

As time moved on, and Terry became successful in his own ways, always using his sister’s example as inspiration, and never being able to let her know how she continued to guide him, he thought again of asking her forgiveness. Terry knew that he had a nephew now as well. With the guidance of Denise and Jack, his niece and nephew had grown into fine young people, and he wanted desperately to know them…to love them…but he didn’t dare.

Denise had moved on from her past, and Terry feared that his presence might only remind her of the horrors that his father visited upon her…and the pain with which their mother had scarred her. He was destined to only hear an occasional update from his Aunt, whom Denise continued to adore.

Lana joined AA in 2000, 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, Lana became almost saint-like. She got a Masters 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.

10 (2)Lana asked for Terry’s forgiveness, and he gave it; the mama’s boy in him saw hope. The truth is that Terry desperately wanted to be part of a family…any family, and Lana was willing to take him back. Again, Terry couldn’t see the manipulation. Lana’s roommate in her condo was moving out, so she wanted another roommate to keep her company, and that’s all Terry was and nothing more. He was looking for a mother that wasn’t there. But struggling for five years on his own, Terry saw opportunity and not manipulation.

Now used to doing things on his own, Terry took the opportunity of having a roof over his head to immediately get his GED; then he took the ACT. Based on his Math and English stores, he was offered scholarships from several colleges. He chose Lewis University in Romeoville where he would major in Aviation and Flight Technology. Terry wanted to soar above all the hurt on the ground, but more importantly he chose something so difficult, that it was sure to make his sister proud. But her silence was deafening.

Several years later after receiving his private pilot’s license, Terry had to drop out of school before he received his Bachelor of Science degree. Lana had fallen ill with lung cancer; she smoked two packs of Salem a day. Terry was already working a part time job while going to school, but now he’d have to get several jobs to pay the bills while his mother went through treatment.

 

Part 14 – 2008

Terry was in the hospital when his mother passed away in 2008. The nurses told him that she was begging to see him. She’d withered away to almost nothing. 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, Terry could only see a mother who was abandoning him yet again. He was frightened and couldn’t bring himself to see her in her final moments as he heard her desperate rasps from outside of her room, call for him 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 his fate as well? What joy had he brought to the world? Lana died alone in her room, calling out for a son who always came back to her until she needed him the most. Another regret he’ll carry to the end of his days. A final mind fuck from his mother. Terry contemplates the terror of dying alone daily, and grapples with not only that inevitability, but the magnitude of that certainty.

Although he didn’t know it at the time, when she found God and joined AA in 2000, Lana asked for Denice’s forgiveness as well. Her roommate, Pam, was still living with her at the time. The answer Lana received came in the form of a letter that Terry found in 2008 after she had passed.

“10/03/2000

Mother,

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 Jack 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 Jane; I called Aunt Jane, 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 sixteen and proceeded to have 3 more children? Did you tell her after your divorce 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 Jane & 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 Terry against me by vindictively keeping me away from him. You ruined my life because you were a coward, but you ruined Terry’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.

Denise”

 

Epilogue

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 her mother’s hypocricy, 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 succombed to the manipulation that Denise 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’m 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.

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, and it can come off as thirsty and clumsy. I look for a relationship that’s built 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 chlid. 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 Lana’s usury, and broke off all contact. He passed away in 1998. Dick couldn’t see what was in front of him, as all men whose love is rooted in ideals rather than practicality, cannot.

Lawrence 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 Lawrence passed.

Aunt Jane died in 2018, and Denise was devastated. She loved her Aunt as if she were her mother. Terry regreted that he could not comfort her in her pain.

The last that Terry heard, Lana’s three boys spent their time living between jail and a  trailer in a cornfield in southern Illinois. To this day he does not know their names.

Allen is still alive at 75 years old, and living in Canyon Lake Texas. Terry considered going on a road trip and confronting him with a video camera. But other than personal edification, what purpose would that serve?

Terry still has the Illinois State Police hat that Allen put on top of the refrigerator before he left in 1979.

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. Terry Cummings may have erroneously cut his lineage short and condemned himself forever to…The Friend Zone.

 

The End

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Denise & Terry, 1981