Chris was the first to harden, to become bold. He was only nine when
he started smoking weed, breaking into places, vandalizing. When confronted, he was vicious. He’d tell Mom to leave him the fuck alone, and
though I wanted him to shut up, he was our leader. Jonny and I backed
him. Mom’s innocent beatings started losing innocence. She’d use anything in reach to hit with, screaming so loudly we couldn’t hear each
other laughing anymore.
We didn’t know a family night, or domestic games, or dinners and
prayers and smiles at the kitchen table like at Dave’s. We knew Mom’s
bad days, her screaming, her blaming us for being like our father. We
rarely saw her leave her room. Between Mom and Chris, the choice was
easy. Chris took care of us. He stole sandwiches from the deli. He went
out on his bike and came back with beef jerky and Pepsi. He stuck up for
us. He fought for and protected us. Like those nights Dad used to come
home smelling like whiskey and ground steel beneath his welding coat.
He might wake us up and make us march into the kitchen, make us call
him sir, stand about-face against the wall. Or he might play Mellencamp
and Springsteen and lift us up to dance while he slurred the words to
“Ain’t Even Done with the Night” and “Born to Run” and Mom shouted
over the music to turn it down, to let us sleep, that he was drunk. But as
the music switched, his mood tended to switch with it. When that happened, it was Chris who stole us away to our room and locked the door
so we could lie in bed and pretend to sleep, no matter how late the music
blared in the kitchen.
Now, on Summit, Mom treated us like enemies—as if we were the
dark, grizzly shadows of our dad, left behind to torture her, to taunt and
remind her of a life she didn’t or couldn’t have.
“Your father is a violent man,” she was always saying.
She held—like no one I’ve ever known—deep, scarred grudges. I
could hear it in her voice when she spoke to us. It was the darkness she
returned to, in her bedroom, in her heart, where she was a woman filled
with hatred and regret. Maybe there, she felt alive, even powerful in her
anger. Or maybe it was simpler than that. Maybe she thought that if she
hid away and slept, her life might be different when she woke.
By the end of summer, my shoebox overflowed with chromies and
hood ornaments. I’d lock my bedroom door and dump it on the floor.
I’d spread everything out neatly, looking over it, counting, logging. I