In every child’s life there are moments that are unforgettable. Your first bike ride, your first hideout, your first kiss and for me the first summer that changed my life. I remember many things about my childhood but I also have managed to tuck a good portion of that time deep inside of my mind so that I never have to face it again. This story begins in a dark place and ends in a dark place. But in the end I find myself finally with a view of a light at the end of a tunnel. And for me that will mean all the difference in the world.
This story takes place in a small Ohio town, the kind of place that if you blink while traveling through it, you may just miss the whole thing entirely. But to me this tiny little town of one thousand or so people represented the entire world for it was the only place that I had known. The summer was upon us and I knew this because my mother’s house was full of people who had come to fill their bellies with the delicacies of summer as we celebrated my birthday. I was turning ten and starting a journey that would change my life forever. Now people say these kinds of things all the time but in the summer of 1987 my life would be a whirlwind of events that would shape who I was to become.
Now with every birthday party come presents and this year was no different. There were a mound of presents before me and I ripped into each of them as if I was trying to imitate the Tasmanian devil. I tore through them so fast I can only remember that I got Donkey Kong for my Nintendo, a Fraggle Rock t-shirt and a new Robo Cop action figure. Now those were fine gifts but the one I wish that I would have been more excited about was a book that my Grandfather gave me about fireflies. I didn’t know it at the moment that I tore through the paper he had wrapped it in, but that book would be the beginning of my journey through the summer of 1987.
Hours passed and the day had gone, it was now night time and to be honest I am not even sure how I ended up in my room. Judging by the clothes that I am still wearing and the fact that my sneakers are still attached to my feet leads me to believe that I must have brought myself here and just zonked out. This is surprising to me since I had three pieces of cake, a bunch of candy, and enough soda to send me into a diabetic shock. Ahhh the life of a kid, it always seems so easy and peaceful. Not to me though these kinds of days unfortunately usually ended with a lot of screaming and banging and this night would be no different from the others.
I believe that what startled me was either the loud screaming from my mother or maybe it was the car barreling into the drive and sending our trash cans flying. It was my mother’s boyfriend Earl. Earl had missed my party entirely and I am sure it is because he had more important things to do with his pals Jack and Daniel, whom I came to find out later were not really people after all. This was usually a nightly occurrence during the summertime except on Sundays when he would drag us into church all the while getting weird looks from the congregation, probably from the awful smell oozing out of his pores. I enjoyed church as I got to hear all the stories of men that had overcome great obstacles to achieve what God had planned for them. I really related to those stories, probably more to David and Goliath than any other because by all means Earl looked the part of Goliath and when I felt his belt and fists thrash my will from my body I felt like David.
My first response when I was awoken in this manner is to jump to my feet grab my shoes and get to my perch at the top of the stairs so that I can evaluate the situation. On this night this would be a little easier since I was still fully clothed with shoes already tied. As I got to the top of the staircase I heard the argument spill onto the porch and within a matter of seconds Earl burst through the front door with my mother attacking him similar to the scenes I had witnessed in Science class of lions mauling their prey. Earl was staggering so much that I am not even sure if he felt her claws ripping into his bicep and leaving trails of blood dripping from his elbow. My mother just kept screaming at him about my birthday party and how hurt I was today when he wasn’t there. I honestly didn’t even notice that he had missed my party. But there she was playing mother on this night protecting her son from a crazed man that had used his bear paw like hands to bruise my ribs so bad that I peed blood for three days, after which she told me I should watch my manners. Yep on this night she was mother of the year.
As they made their way through the kitchen and into the living room Earl who had been playing the part of oblivious antelope that is just trying to escape quickly turned into the beast that I had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions. “Don’t you touch me again! You bitch or I will kill you.” A sentence he uttered with the voice of something similar to a little girl named Regan that I had seen once on TV when I snuck down to grab a bottle of coke when I was supposed to be sleeping. Now for me I was scared but apparently my mother did not fear these words as I could hear her slashing her nails into her arms and ripping at his flesh and then within a matter of seconds there was complete silence. I tried to slow my heartbeat so that I could hear over its loud thumping and at one moment I felt as if I could hear my mother gasping for air. It was with that sound that I inched my way quietly down the staircase trying to be ever so cautious as to not alert the beast to my presence. As I got to the bottom step I could see my mother’s feet dangling in the air and as I scaled her body I realized that she was indeed choking.
With flailing legs and arms my mother was fighting for her life and as badly as I wanted to swoop in like Superman and save the day, I stood frozen. I couldn’t even find the strength to scream and then in an instant my mother’s body seemed to drift off like those wrestlers I watched with Earl on Saturday nights all that was missing was the ref raising her arms to see if she was awake. I watched in horror as she just dangled and then in an instant Earl just dropped her lifeless body to the ground and she hit with a loud thud. I watched her to see if she was alive and almost as soon as she hit her lungs began to fill with the air he had been depriving her of. My eyes left her at this moment because out of my periphery I noticed a large image coming at me and as I turned his massive hand had cracked my skull wide open. I realized later that this was one of those moments that I mentioned earlier, you remember the ones that are unforgettable. I will never forget the feeling of my blood running down into my eyes and quickly forming a circle onto the floor. At first it felt like he had poured warm chocolate syrup on my head but then I tasted the metal and I knew I was in a bad way. Luckily Earl had accomplished what he had set out to do with that swing and immediately made his way up the stairs and into the washroom. I could hear him mumbling to himself and then the shower started and I knew I had to find the strength to get up and leave. I knew after his shower he would probably return for round two because of the mess I had made.
I wiped my face so that I could at least see where I needed to go. After gaining my bearings I rose to my feet grabbed a towel I saw hanging in the kitchen and a thermos that was full of water from my party. As I tapped the screen door I grabbed a flashlight and off I went, briefly stopping to assess my mother as she lay on the floor weeping. I knew she would be fine so I set off into the field behind our house. It was in this field that I had conquered the Russians in the battle of Ohio, it was in this field that I won Notre Dame their eleventh National Title and it was in this field that I found solace in this giant weeping willow tree that I loved to lay at the edge of and just watch the stars fall from the sky. As I ran through the field I felt my heart pulsating in my palms as well as my head. The light of the flashlight bouncing off the field almost made me want to throw up some of that candy and soda I had taken down proudly earlier that day. As I reached my destination I fell to my knees, hurling the thermos and flashlight before me. As I rolled onto my back I tried to locate the flashlight which I noticed its glow illuminating the grass that it had fallen upon. Lucky for me I did not need the light on this night because not only were the stars fully in view but above on the cusp of the tree were what appeared to be millions of fireflies dancing by the leaves. As I watched I could feel my eye lids growing heavy as my eyes rolled around in my throbbing head and as I tried to focus them I noticed that I was not alone under this tree as a silhouette was approaching me very quickly but not quickly enough because everything went dark.