[Author’s Note: As part of the #BareYourMind campaign, this is a story of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Traumatic events suffered during childhood can result in long-term negative effects on mental and physical health. If you struggle with mental illness, I encourage you to share your stories as well. Let’s work together to de-stigmatize mental health in our society by giving it a human face.]
Continued from Part 2…
I’d eventually learn there was something much better in the city of Philadelphia than a solitary wizard you had beg for help. Instead, there was a tide of people my age, whose mingling bodies and minds generated a static electricity of angst, restlessness, and revelry.
But that freedom, my personal renaissance, was years away. Right now, I was the leader of my own one-man guerilla force, heading toward a speck of woods near my house to plan the next maneuvers in my father-son skirmish.
As I started across the street, feeling the heat from the blacktop ripple up my legs, the sound of a car brought my eyes down from the sky. I recognized the throaty coughing of my sister Helene’s IROC before I spotted its sleek red shape rolling toward me. I cursed at myself for not hearing it sooner. There was no way I hadn’t been spotted by Helena and whoever else was in the Camaro. Something inside me told me to run, to avoid the same old sibling awkwardness and confrontation. But a greater part of me didn’t want to hurt my sister’s feelings. Or even worse, to suffer her ridicule if that was her inclination on this particular day.
So that’s why I cut short my escape, changed course, and made my way to the sidewalk as the IROC rumbled to a halt. As the engine continued to idle, spitting rancid exhaust at me, the driver-side window rolled down to reveal my sister’s grinning face. As usual I couldn’t see Helene’s eyes, as they were eternally covered by dark sunglasses. She was torturing a piece of gum between her teeth as she watched me for a moment, as if considering some difficult question.
“What’s up, little bro?” she said, with what I considered to be far too much enthusiasm. At the same moment, a wave of female giggles drifted from the backseat. I saw silhouettes there, outlines of flowing hair and the glowing tips of cigarettes.
Before I could answer, a voice from the passenger seat made me tense up.
“Yeah, what’s up, fatty?” It was my older brother.
Helene’s smile slipped a bit, tightened, but didn’t vanish entirely. “Not cool, Joey,” she scolded lightly over her shoulder, no real force behind her words. Helene didn’t do conflict very well. She usually disappeared at the slightest sign of it.
The passenger side door opened, and Joey stepped out of the Camaro. Despite the heat, his lean frame was armored in denim, from jacket to jeans. His brown hair was cropped short on the top, but the back was long and curled down his neck. Much more stylish than my black helmet of hair, which was courtesy of my father in his attempt to save money on a barber.
“Where you heading, fats?” my brother asked as he slammed the car door. Helene finally let her smile slip away as she drove off, making good her retreat.
“Nowhere,” I mumbled, watching him approach until he was uncomfortably close.
“Yeah, that’s about right,” he said.
I remember the anger that rose up inside me when he said that. It was one of the earliest times I realized the emotion could be more than just a kind of burning powerlessness. I knew in that moment that its fire could be used to scorch those that hurt me. Joey’s weaknesses were well known in our house. The evidence was clear, from his haggard appearance and non-existent appetite, to the countless times he’d passed out on our porch swing after stumbling home in the middle of the night.
Looking up into his eyes, sunken and bloodshot from lack of sleep and getting high, I focused the rage and it came out in a rush of shouted words: “Get away from me, druggie!”
Joey’s face went slack with shock for an instant, and then hardened with his own anger. His hands, which had been planted in the pockets of his jacket, shot toward me. I knew if he got ahold of me I’d be in for a beating. So, as his fingers tried to curl into my shirt, I twisted away and fled down the street.
Continued in Part 4…
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