the true stories
One day I came home from elementary school in North Vancouver. My little sister and I walked home together. When we got inside my mother told us that we would moving to Texas to stay with my Grandparents. I had just left Louisiana six months before and all the friends I had made up to that point in my life. I had left my Scout Troop and all my possessions. The house we left in Baton Rouge we had occupied for five and a half years. It was my longest stay at one address up until the apartment where I write this today.
My father wasn't going to be coming along with us. I had very many reactions on very many levels to this news of imminent change. There was relief at being away from my father as well as distress for the same reason. There was the angst of going to yet another new school and making new friends that would surely be left behind in the next family emergency move. I was happy to be near my beloved Grandparents but I was not overjoyed at being a permanent resident in their town, Beaumont, as I had never lived there more than a few weeks at a time.
The gap between the hearing the news and being driven to the airport by my father was very short and there was no time to process any feelings on the matter. We were dropped off and I remember my father looked sad but not overly worried. We arrived some hours later and were quickly settled into the duplex portion of my Grandma's house. It was a one bedroom, so my sisters and I slept around the living room.
We were checked into school and I found out that I was to have the same history teacher that my mother had had when she was a little girl, nineteen years earlier. I knew a few neighborhood children from seeing them during summer vacations on visits from Louisiana. There was much rejoicing at first but also a terrible tension running through everything.
I was given a stern lecture by my mother prior to starting the first day at the new school. I was under no circumstances to get in the car with my father if I chanced to see him in this neck of the woods. I was to escort my baby sister and make sure she knew also to avoid her father. I was told that he had threatened to kidnap and kill us children. My mother was convinced that he meant it. We were not to speak to him, follow him, talk on the phone with him, write to him or go near him.
The only bright spot was that he had two and a half thousand miles to cover first. I was struck by the lack of input from my Grandmother or my Grandfather, who was at home between voyages. It was as if they didn't know all this new information I had received. I recently found out that they in fact didn't know. My father's behavior up to that point in my life of twelve years was such that I was worried for my life on one level, while a wiser part of me suspected bullshit.
A high state of tension ensued. Like all children I internalized it and like some children with particular “training” I blamed myself for this. Several years before on the occasion of my first friend's sleepover in Baton Rouge, my parents had engaged in a loud embarrassing argument. I assured my friend that this was not the usual case. A few days after the fight, I was woken up and asked what I thought about my parents getting divorced. I was maybe nine or ten and I remember asking them what the word meant.
When I was told, I freaked out and cried at the thought of such an arrangement. In the back of my mind was the picture of the girls going with their mother and me going with my Dad to a life of spit-polishing twenty pairs of alligator shoes between beatings. I had never felt safe in my family since I was in diapers and the thought of having no witnesses even of the silent variety was overwhelming.
I really put on a show and although I cannot say it was my performance that kept the split from happening, I always imagined it had a lot to do with it. Thus I bore yet another misplaced guilt on my young shoulders as being responsible in part for the present situation in Texas. Most of the events like this in my life occurred at holiday times perhaps because it is easier to switch schools at that time of year. I saw no joy in the trappings of holidays from a very young age.
My Grandparent's house was in an old neighborhood and over the years, the borders that naturally set up between races and ethnic groups had shifted closer to their street. One had to be on one's guard for psychotic fathers and prejudiced individuals of other races when going about on foot. Every walk to and from school became like the final dash to the woods from the tunnel opening under the barbed wire in a military prison.
I remember a rich man, younger than my father, taking my mother, sisters and I around town. We went to a golf course and other fancy places. He asked me how I would like to live in that world as his son. I couldn't find any words. I became somewhat withdrawn. One day I couldn't find my favorite socks in a chest of drawers. I slammed the drawer shut and demanded to know who had stolen them. I discovered that it felt good to slam the drawer.
I slammed it again and it still felt good. I slammed it again and again in a primitive rhythm and with increasing force. My mother came to investigate the commotion. She told me that she would rather see me dead than see me behave as or turn out like my father, whom my fit reminded her of. I stopped cold and took that statement inside to build brand new future illnesses with.
One adrenaline day very near to my little sister's birthday, I came up the white cockle-shell driveway and nearly buckled at the knees. My father's car sat in the drive like a gunslinger's horse tied outside a saloon full of good people. It had only taken a matter of days. He was in bed sick with the flu and my mother was taking care of him. It was a Kafkaesque arrangement.
The next day or so I was playing football with the boys who lived across my Grandma's back fence. My neighbor's big brother tackled me and I went down hard in a sitting position. My back froze solid and I wouldn't let anyone touch me to help me up. I walked bent over to the chain-link fence, crawled up it like a crab and dropped to the garden below. I staggered like Quasimodo into the house. My Dad took me to the Doctor, who pronounced me perfectly fit. Just a pinched nerve.
A few days later we had a little birthday party for my sister and within a week or two we had rented a vacant house two doors down. There were no tears, testimonials, healing nor explanations. It was business as usual. A good old-fashioned family Christmas was had by all just before we moved to an apartment across town. I had to give away my rabbit, which I found out several years later had won first place in the local agricultural fair.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.