When did i first realize i lived in a virtual trailer park?  The recent family reunion afforded an opportunity to spend time with two of my siblings and my niece.  On Saturday night, after we’d returned to our rented vacation home, we spent several hours in conversation.  Tossing back a few beers and burning lungs with cigarettes, we stayed on that patio for several hours. 

The Genesis moment materialized in my head when my brother, T, asked me if i had known that his first wife used to beat him…  Something i hadn’t thought about in years.

i was twelve years old, and my sister, T, was fourteen.  We were spending a summer night at the small apartment of my brother and his first wife, D.  Joining us was D’s youngest sister, J, also fourteen.  T and D were twenty year old newlyweds, and were enjoying life on their own.  Bringing the three little sisters over for an evening offered the chance to swagger with independence in front of an awestruck audience.

The five of us got completely obliterated on cheap beer and skunk weed.  The night ended with my brother crying and passing out in the bathtub, feeling sorry for himself. The three girls slept in the living room.  As the youngest, i drew the short straw, and simply bundled on the floor in a pile of old blankets.  i was awakened the next morning to the sounds of angry voices from the kitchen. 

Through my hangover, i was able to discern that T was trying to get ready for work, despite a raging hangover of his own.  D had fixed him a sandwich, and unable to find a suitable lunch bag she had placed his lunch in an empty plastic bread bag.  My brother found this lunch somewhat undignified and slammed the offending baggie against the kitchen wall, causing it to blow out at the seam.

Hearing them arguing in the kitchen, the three of us hunkered down in the small living room – straining to hear what was going on.  Through the argument, D adjusted the bag, sliding the sandwich to the center, and tying off the other end, making the lunch bag resemble a small square head with a pair of plastic ponytails*.  Rather than laugh through this, the argument escalated.

Hearing crashing from the kitchen, i scooted commando-style toward the center of the room and looked in the kitchen from my place on the floor.  i watched D pound my brother with her fists while he ducked and covered to avoid the blows.  He didn’t hit her back, or even raise his arms to stop her, only to block her wild thrashing.

Not getting the reaction she was looking for, D took a heavy curtain rod from the kitchen window, and broke it over his head.  Finally reaching his limit, T stood up and deliberately slammed his fist through two windows, and the scene exploded in a torrent of blood and glass.

Faced with a serious problem, D calmed down and the fight was over.  She grabbed a towel from the sink and wrapped T’s bleeding hand and arm.  The young peanut gallery was now fully awake and terrified.  Taking my sister with them, D and T mobilized and headed quickly out the door to the emergency room.

J and i stayed at the apartment for what seemed like decades.  We rooted through overflowing ashtrays, and smoked half-finished cigarettes as we attempted to sweep up the glass and mop the blood in the kitchen.  We retrieved the pony-tailed lunch bag lying abandoned in a corner of the room, and placed it in the refrigerator.

As i recounted this tale to my siblings on the patio of the lovely rental home, my brother was apologetic.  He has mastered the art of strategic amnesia as a survival technique, and simply didn’t recall the presence of the three young sisters at his apartment that morning, about thirty five years ago. 

He still has the scars on his knuckles.

teach me...

teach me...

* My sister, T, and i later referred to this event as “The Ponytail Lunch Bag Incident”.

15 thoughts on “Genesis

  1. You had a hangover at 12 years old? Did I read that right? Jeeze, I hope I’m mistaken. I was still watching Warner Brothers cartoons when I was 12.

    A man CANNOT, under any circumstances, hit a woman. Even if it’s in self defense. All we can do is cover up and run like hell when there’s a break in the action.

  2. my dad taught me never to hit a lady…and emphasized ‘lady’…if a woman isn’t acting like a lady, she’s fair game. still, i’m with U.B. and have not ever been able to bring myself to raise a fist to a woman (though i’ve desperately wanted to…especially recently).

    that all said, it’s a wonder you’ve ended up (apparently) so functional given this story…and all that post-ceded it that you’ve already shared on this blog. kudos to you for survival!

  3. The only argument I ever awoke to from lying on the carpet was the one where my late wife’s mother and sister were trying to talk her out of marrying me. I played possum in order to hear as much as I could.

    My dad beat up my mom on occasion. Usually in a severely drunken state. Based on watching that whilst growing up, I vowed to never hit my wife (or any woman for that matter).

    @UB: I had my first hangover, technically, at the age of 7. However, the first one from party-style drinking was at 13, if memory serves. First time in a bar at 15 (the age then was 18). Not too unusual if you consider the circumstances and culture in which one is raised.

  4. My brother had quite the alcohol problem by the time he was in 8th grade. Of my siblings, I was the last to take a drink. I was almost 18. First hangover was the day after I was “legal” in the border states anyway.

    It’s like Rob mentioned – culture dictates probably more than our DNA.

  5. I am a firm believer in strategic amnesia. Many times, I do not consciously invoke the technique as my psyche does it for short term self preservation.

  6. @unbearable banishment – it wasn’t the drinking that was remarkable. that was a matter of course for kids our age… 12, 15… somewhere in there… but i do remember feeling as though i’d grown up overnight, watching my brother get beat up by his wife.

    gnu – i remember thinking that my brother should have hit back at the time. she was wailing on him. but buried in him was a threshold that he never crossed. this went on for years, and he never hit her… i got out. i think…

    rob – wow! i’d eavesdrop on that conversation, too! i still have a terrible reaction to fighting and violence. don’t watch it in movies, or particularly care for boxing, ultimate fighting champions, etc… nothing sporting about it to me. agree that the drinking is a ‘cultural norm’ thing…

    annie – i’m still unsure of the line between ‘alcoholic’ and ‘problem drinker’, but my brother still battles it. the day of the discussion last week? he’d started drinking from a flask of 151 rum around 2pm… can it be unlearned?

    jimmy – some of the major fights and smack downs in my family seemed to start over the smallest of perturbations. Three wives and six children later, my brother is finally in a good place… current wife is an absolute saint!

    BLT – my brother does it instinctively. part of the issue from that conversation was that he was drinking, and started asking questions like that… it got messier before the night was over, and i suspect all of us have lost more than a few nights sleep over it. maybe it’s better to forget and move on…

  7. That must have been intense to say the least. So glad to hear that she ended up being the FIRST wife too. Glad he got away from that mess.

  8. wow – that’s quite the story. i find that selective amnesia only works for a bit, but it all catches up with you eventually. i’m glad to hear that your brother got out of that situation, and presumably onto something much much better.

  9. uncle keith – you forgot the part where carol walks mike around their bedroom on a leash, while he wears nothing but a diaper and a ball gag…

    mstngsal – it was the first of many moments for me… and they just keep coming! the first wife, D, went on to make the front page of the local paper a few years after they divorced. attempting to kill her boyfriend because he’d called her momma a whore… unfortunately, she still had our last name and there weren’t too many of us in town…

    daisymae – he’s doing well, all things considered. his current wife (about 20 years younger) is a saint, and one of the few people in my clan that i feel a strong connection to – we at least laugh at the same shit, and cringe at the right times…

  10. Your family makes mine sound almost normal. Or maybe I’m the only one in my family raised in a trailer park. Glad your brother got out of that marriage. Although it would be tempting to hit back, he probably knew he was the one that would end up in jail.

    IMHO, anyone that has a problem with drinking is an alcoholic. But you can always use the Twenty Questions of AA for a more objective view. Drink 151 proof rum anytime would be a big red flag to me. Much less sipping from a flask at 2PM.

  11. Man, when I was twelve I was all, “Drugs are bad! I love my bike! Ice cream tastes yummy! I heart Star Wars!”

    I think the most traumatizing moment of my twelve year old life was when TCBY ran out of white chocolate mousse.

  12. uncle keith – we should write this up for the stage… i think it’d get butts in seats…

    silverstar – they’re pretty whack. a good time, but whack… i think it took another two or three years before he bailed. had two daughters with the first wife. poor li’l things were doomed and there wasn’t much we could do to intervene…

    rassles – that was me a few months before that night. it was a loss of innocence. i didn’t smile as much after that. oh, and TCBY White Chocolate Mousse? Fuckin’ rocks…

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