This morning, while I was out back putting a fresh coat of wax on the boat, Tommy unexpectedly walked up, picked up a polishing rag and joined in. Not that it’s unusual for him to lend a hand, but he’s heading back for his sophomore year at Cal Tech tomorrow and I’d have figured that he’d want to spend his remaining free time doing something a bit more enjoyable. I could tell by the look on his face that something must be up, but he wasn’t quite ready to spit it out. We worked side by side in silence for a while.
“Dad,” he finally asked me, “why is it that you and Grandpa never got along?”
So. It had taken him nineteen years, but he’d finally come out and asked it. I’d tried to hide it, but my father-in-law Cliff and I had been barely civil to each other since before Tommy was born. I had hoped our animosity wouldn’t be obvious to my kids, but they’ve got too much of their mother in them not to notice something like that, even as seldom as Cliff and I were together.
As little as I liked Cliff, I still didn’t want to speak ill of him to his eldest grandson. Cliff had always been good to his grandchildren and I really wasn’t looking forward to telling Tommy about the events that resulted in our twenty-three year truce. I’d had decades to think about how I’d answer Tommy’s question, but I’m afraid my reply was just as lame as if I’d never thought about it before.
“Well, Son, your grandpa and I were two very different people. Sometimes people from different generations and circumstances just don’t see eye to eye.”
Tommy’s rag came to a stop and he looked me squarely in the eye. “Dad, I’m not eight years old anymore. I’ve known for years that there had to be a lot more to it than that. I think I’m old enough to hear the truth.”
My, but they do grow up fast. He was right of course; Cliff had been his grandpa and as an adult, Tommy had a right to know. Here I was, treating him like a child.
“I’m sorry Son, you deserved better than that. The story’s not pretty and I’m not proud of it, but it’s probably time you heard it. How ’bout you run up to the house and get us some lemonade. It may take a while for me to tell it.”
When he got back with a couple of tall glasses of his mom’s secret recipe, we sat down on an old railroad tie in the shade of the boat and I told him the real story from so many years ago. Well, I left a few details out. He might be an adult, but he’s still my kid.
I’ve never written in this journal about what happened back then; it just wouldn’t have been safe. Cliff thought he knew the whole story, but the part he didn’t know would probably have shattered our fragile truce. Murphy’s Law dictates that if I had put the story down on paper, it would have somehow gotten out. I’m only writing about it now because we laid Cliff to rest a few weeks ago. God forgive me, but I’m not sorry to see him gone.
His mom and sisters took Tommy out for dinner and a movie this evening to wish him goodbye, but I begged off with a headache. My recall is better if I have a good chunk of uninterrupted time to think.
So how do I start?
My parents would tell you with great moral certitude that I lost my virginity the evening of Saturday, August 22, 1981, the day I married Cliff’s younger daughter, Wendy. They brought me up in the absolute conviction that it was a grave sin to have intercourse outside of marriage. Until one fateful day almost a year before our wedding, I had planned on following their advice. What Wendy and I did, starting on that day, would have set Cliff off, even all these years later.
My folks, too, would have been mighty disappointed in me had they known. Heck, just getting married before finishing college was a minor scandal on my side of the family. A responsible young man just didn’t do that kind of thing.
There were a quite a few things I did back then that a responsible young man wouldn’t have done. I’ll leave it to you to decide if what I did was wrong.
During my first three years of high school, it seemed like the only thing my friends and I could talk about was the fun we were having with members of the opposite sex. (Well, yeah, about cars too.) Not that we were having all that much fun. I lived in a mostly rural Midwest county, and around our parts, any guy who could talk a girl out of her bra was pretty much James Bond.
We’d sit around the lunchroom and tell tales of our latest exploits. Rather, they would tell tales. I lived on a farm way outside of town, didn’t have a car, and rode the bus back and forth to school. On the weekends, when my schoolmates would be out running around with their friends, I’d be working in the fields or in the welding shop that my dad operated during the winter to help make ends meet. My opportunities for interactions with girls outside of class were rather limited, so I hadn’t done many of the things my friends bragged about.
Of course, there was Wendy. She lived just down the road from me, just on the other side of the bridge, and we were close friends. She was in the same situation that I was. So there was my opportunity, right? Well, there was a major problem şişli eskort with that.
The problem came in the form of Wendy’s dad. He didn’t want me anywhere near his daughter. And that’s putting it mildly. When we were kids, he didn’t seem to mind me being friends with Wendy, but not long after we turned fifteen (Wendy’s just four days older than I am) things changed in a big way.
I had been helping Wendy with her geometry homework at her folk’s kitchen table. Not that Wendy needed any help; she was always a whiz at math. When we finished, she walked me out onto the side porch. As I was telling her goodbye, she unexpectedly leaned forward and kissed me on the lips.
Now we had kissed before, the kind of dry peck you’d give your mom, but this time it was subtly different. It wasn’t an open mouth, tickle-the-tonsils type of kiss, but this time Wendy kissed me like she meant it. Without even thinking about it, I slipped my arms around her and drew her rail-thin body to my own, kissing her back. Seconds later, I felt Wendy’s hands on the back of my waist. I had never really kissed a girl before, but somehow kissing Wendy was so comfortable that it seemed like we had been doing it for years. Why hadn’t we done this before?
I don’t know what, if anything, might have happened next, but just then I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. Mrs. Johnson had stepped up to the kitchen sink. I saw her head turn toward us, and then her eyes met mine through the kitchen window. Here I was kissing her daughter right in front of her! I was suddenly embarrassed and began to gently disengage from our embrace.
The really odd part about it was the strange look on Mrs. Johnson’s face. I might have expected annoyance or amusement, but what I saw was more like a deep, aching sort of dread. Like something horrible was about to happen. A chill ran through me. I’ve never seen that kind of look before and don’t ever want to see it again.
I successfully pulled away from Wendy and motioned with my eyes over toward the kitchen window, but her mom was gone.
“Um, sorry about that, Wendy, but your mom saw us and I didn’t want you to get in trouble.”
“Oh, it’s okay, David. I know my mom likes you. I’m sure she didn’t mind.”
“Well maybe, but she gave me the strangest look, like she was scared of something.”
Wendy looked confused. “I can’t image why she would do that.” Then a look of dawning comprehension came across her face. In a way, it was almost scarier than her mom’s expression. But then, in a flash, it was gone.
“I’m sure it was nothing.” Maybe not, but somehow, Wendy just seemed a little nervous now. “I had a good time tonight David, but you’d probably better get on home. Maybe tomorrow night I can help you with your English homework?”
“I’d like that Wendy. When should I come over?”
Just a shadow of that same look came over her face and she said “Maybe I should come over to your place. Is seven okay?”
“Uh, sure, we’ll be done with dinner by then. That’d be great. See you then.”
I started walking down their long gravel driveway toward the road, thinking about what had just happened. I had dreamed about kissing Wendy before, but in my mind it had always been a high-tension, anxious sort of thing. Actually kissing Wendy had felt so natural, so right, that it left me confused. I wasn’t sure what our kiss had meant, but I was eager to do it again. But what was the deal with the funny look on her mom’s face …
…a large shape had loomed out the darkness from the side and slammed me to the ground. I thought a truck had hit me! But then huge fingers wrapped themselves around my throat, picked me up and slammed me up against a power pole.
Cliff was probably six foot five, three hundred and fifty pounds and I was just a scrawny kid. With his huge hand around my throat, he forced the muzzle of a revolver into my mouth. The very strength of the man made any thought of resistance futile. Swear to God, in all my fifteen years, I’d never imagined having to deal with anything like this!
“I seen you there, messin’ around with my daughter” he growled, his face mere inches from mine. The smell of the whiskey on his breath was almost overpowering. I started to say that I had just kissed her goodbye, (difficult with a big chunk of cold, parkerized steel in my mouth), but his grip on my throat tightened and choked off my reply.
“I won’t have any daughter of mine getting’ it on with no goddamn gook! If I catch you on my property, or ever hear that the two of you were anywhere near each other again, I’ll blow your fuckin’ head off!”
Then he shoving the barrel so deep in my mouth that the front sight scraped a bloody trail down the back of my throat. His grip was so tight that I couldn’t even gag. He was wearing the most insane grin I’ve seen outside of The Shining.
“… and she’ll be right behind you!”
He was crazy! He’d shoot his own daughter? But looking at the drunken rage in his eyes, I believed him implicitly. This was a very unstable man. I gave up any thoughts of trying to proclaim my innocence. çapa eskort
I wasn’t going to try to correct him about the “gook” thing, either. My dad is third generation Japanese-American, but this wasn’t the time to split hairs. I’ve always figured that if someone had a complaint about my mixed-race heritage, that was their problem, not mine. Cliff seemed quite intent on making it my problem, though.
“You understand what I’m telling you, Gook?” he demanded, his face now so close to mine that I could feel the stragglers from his bushy beard brushing against my cheek as he spoke. I managed a nod.
Throwing me to the ground, he stalked back toward the house. I was so shocked that I didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I staggered to my feet and walked home. I was so confused about the whole thing that I didn’t tell a soul about it.
Just as I got home from school the next day, Wendy called me on the phone. When I told her what had happened, I expected her to be shocked, but she told me that he’d given her the same warning, minus the gun.
“Did he hurt you?”
“Wendy, did he hurt you?”
She started to sob.
“David, I couldn’t go to school today because my face is so beaten up.”
I jumped to my feet, more angry than I’d ever been in my life.
“I’ll be there in five minutes. That son of a bitch is going to pay!”
“David, wait, it won’t do any good to…”
I was in a blind rage. I haven’t felt anger like that before or since. I didn’t care that Cliff was triple my weight. I was going to kill him or die trying. I was past the bridge and nearing Wendy’s house when I saw her running toward me, trying to get me to stop. I sidestepped her and continued running. Nothing was going to keep me from my revenge.
“David, he’s not even home!” Wendy screamed after me.
That was the one thing that could stop me.
I came to a stop, just short of their driveway. I couldn’t get to Cliff, but the pent up rage still needed an outlet. I grabbed the top rail of the split rail fence started to yank at it. Harder and harder I pulled, screaming in rage, until I heard it crack and then break in my hands. I took the two pieces and one at a time and slung them as far toward the house as I could. I felt jagged splinters slice into my hands as I let them go, but I was beyond feeling mere physical pain.
Finally spent, I fell to my knees and bawled like a baby.
After a moment, I felt Wendy kneel down next to me. I turned to her and took her in my arms, shaking from the after affects of the adrenaline. After a minute or two, I realized that she was crying too. Somehow, this allowed me to regain some of my composure.
“Oh God, Wendy, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what came over me. Here, let me look at you.”
We stood, and I looked at her. It was dusk now, but there was still enough light to see her face clearly. It was a sea of bruises. It didn’t appear that any bones were broken, but Cliff had been very methodical. Every square inch of her face had received his demonic attention. I’ve never seen a face so badly beaten, and it was all because her father had seen me kiss her.
“Why?” I cried, desperate for this all to make sense somehow. “How could he do this to you?”
“David, we need to talk.”
Wendy took me by the hand and led me back down the road until we got to the tiny pump house next to her dad’s cornfield. We stepped inside, safely out of sight of the road.
“David there are some things about my dad that you need to know.”
There were tears in her voice when Wendy told me what her mom had confided to her while trying to treat the damage that Cliff had inflicted. It seemed that when her dad was fifteen, he’d served time for putting his older sister’s mulatto boyfriend into a four-month coma using nothing but his fists. He’d also put his own sister in intensive care. He’d kicked down her apartment door, catching the couple on the couch. He’d beaten them nonstop until the police arrived. It was only due to the fact that he was so young that he’d gotten a short sentence and a clean record when he turned eighteen.
“I’m so sorry David. I didn’t know how violent he could be, but I did know he had awful ideas about some people. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell you.”
Wendy was the one who was crying now. I took her in my arms and held her close as she went on.
“I honestly didn’t think he’d have anything against you. Until you told me about my mom’s reaction to our kissing, I thought we were safe. I’ve known that my dad’s a terrible racist, but I thought it was only against blacks – not that that’s any better. I’m so ashamed!” she sobbed.
“Wendy, you shouldn’t be apologizing to me. You’re the one that he took it out on.”
“Yes, but I’m the one who should have known! I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that he’d hold your skin color against you. You know that I’m not like that, don’t you?”
“What? Of course you aren’t, Wendy! We’ve been best friends for ten years. You don’t have a bigoted bone in your body.”
Wendy hugged me tighter.
Okay, now etiler escort that we had everything out in the open, we had to figure out what to do about it.
“Have you called the police?”
“I thought about it, but he said he’d kill me if I did. He wore his heavy work gloves when he beat me, so it wouldn’t leave any incriminating marks on his hands. He has no criminal record, so even if they arrested him, there isn’t enough to hold him. I don’t think my mom would testify, anyway, she’s too scared of him. He’d be out on bail in no time and we’d all be in terrible danger.”
“But we have to do something. Just look at what he did to you!”
“Please, David, you have no idea just how dangerous he is. He’d kill you and not think twice.”
“Let him try. I’m ready for him now.” My bravado sounded false, though, even to me.
“No you’re not, David. No one would be safe if my dad decided to hurt them. My mom told me she’s sure that he killed a man once over an insult in a bar, but the cops couldn’t come up with enough evidence to pin it on him. You don’t know him like I do. You’d never even see it coming.”
Pulling away to an arms length to look me in the eyes, she said “David, there’s no way around it. We can’t see each other anymore.”
So there it was, the only logical thing we could do. I knew that this is what it would come down to, but I had fought it. She was right, though. I hung my head in shame, powerless to do anything.
“You’re right, as always, Wendy. Maybe we can find a way to see each other without him knowing?” I hated the idea of sneaking around, but I just wasn’t ready to accept that I wouldn’t see her anymore.
“David, it’s just too dangerous. You know there’s always a risk when you try to keep a secret. Eventually, we’d get caught.”
I don’t know why I ever argue with her. She always comes to the logical conclusion before I do. I just nodded.
“Can we still be friends?” she asked hopefully.
“You know I’ll always be your friend. Nothing’s ever going to change that. I’m going to miss you, Wendy.” I took her in my arms and lightly touched my lips to hers, mindful of her bruises. She returned my feather-light kiss.
“Oh David, I don’t know how you can even bear to look at me. I’m such a wreck.”
Then I said something to her that I had never dared say to her before. “Wendy, you’ve always been beautiful. To me, you always will be.”
She gave me a brave smile through her tears, briefly touched her lips to mine again and stuck her head out the door. She checked to make sure the coast was clear, then disappeared from my sight. I sat down on the floor, totally defeated. I went over the events of the last twenty-four hours again and again in my mind. Wendy had gone from being just a friend to maybe something more with a quick kiss. No, the more I thought it over; there was no ‘maybe’ about it. There was no way I would have reacted the way I had if one of my other friends had been beat up by their dad. No, something very special had happened between us out there on the porch, but just what it had been was academic now.
I finally gave up and headed for home through the fields, staying out of sight of the road. I couldn’t risk what Cliff would do to Wendy if he saw me returning from their house.
I wouldn’t see Wendy face to face again for three years.
Wendy’s place was only a half a mile away, but being on the other side of the river, it was technically in a different county. It might as well have been a different continent now, though. She went school over in Centerville, while I went to school in Georgetown. My only contacts with her were the times when she’d call me at home. She said she had to be very careful, even with her dad wasn’t in the house because Wendy didn’t know what her sister would do if she caught us talking. We remained good friends, but we steadfastly resisted the temptation to sneak out and meet face to face.
Cliff’s occasional drunken phone calls were an added incentive to stay away. Every few months someone in the house would yell ‘Phone for you, David’ and I’d pick it up, expecting one of my friends.
“So, you little gook! Have you been thinking about my daughter? Huh? If I catch you two at it again, I’ll blow both your fuckin’ brains out.” Click. Under those conditions, most young friendships would have ended, but somehow Wendy and I remained close. Cliff’s daughter was definitely off my list of romantic prospects, though.
Unfortunately, I now had all of the usual teenage hormones raging in my blood and I was willing to do almost anything to be alone with a girl. Desperation drove me to take a few chances. Ever try to move in on a girl on a school bus? Trust me on this; it’s not a good idea.
At the start of my senior year, though, things started to improve. I had just turned eighteen and had bought an old ’69 Camaro over the summer. I was restoring it to near new condition and it was only a week or so from being ready for the road. I was about to be mobile! I had also put on four inches in height over the last year and was now a full six feet tall and well muscled from heavy farm work and welding in the shop. The girls seemed to be noticing. Now I could approach and talk to girls who would have blown me off previously. If the start of the school year was any indication, my last year of high school was going to be a revelation.