LGBT, Gay, Writing, Poetry, Journal, Snark

Todd was an exceptionally good-looking guy. I had a minor crush on him from the moment I first met him. That whole chemistry thing was in full swing, both ways. The slightest accidental brush against each other was a high voltage jolt right through the core of my being. Intense, erotic, tempting and not going to happen if I could help it.

The vibes, other than physical, were in the ‘run opposite direction at top speed’ variety. Something in his personality set off all the alarms usually reserved for encounters with rabies-infected pitbulls. The don’t turn your back and walk away slowly type of feeling. That feeling that he would hurt me for the fun of it was pretty strong. So, I refused to even entertain the thought of dalliance, much less a relationship with him.

I made the enormous mistake of telling Melinda, my roommate at the time, that I thought he was hot. Well, the mistake was compounded when I didn’t tell her what else I really thought about him. It was a passing comment and I really didn’t think anything of it. She did though. Apparently. She decided to tell him that I liked him but didn’t think I would say anything directly to him about it. Well, duh! Of course I wasn’t going to… why open a can of worms that I never intended to fish with, much less anything else.

I was taken by surprise one night. She invited him over without telling me. I was furious but held my peace. It was her home too. I didn’t feel I had the right to tell her she couldn’t invite someone who was her friend over. He was originally her friend before I met him. Anyway, I bit my tongue and sought to just ignore his presence while watching a movie.

Todd grinned and came to sit on the couch with me. Distressingly close. Like right up on me, touching the whole length of our bodies. I shifted away and glared at him. He just smiled more broadly and scooted close again. I asked him what he thought he was doing. Meanwhile, Melinda ignored us, sitting on the other couch and continuing to watch the movie. Todd leaned closer and whispered, “So, I hear you think I’m hot.”

I froze. Seriously. My brain just shut down with the shock. I glanced at Melinda and she had a smirk. That was when I knew she had told him. I felt like I had been sold out and tossed to the sharks with bleeding cuts. Todd pressed the advantage and slid right behind me on the couch. He put an arm around me and had his hand on the side of my face. I was still in shock and trying to think of a way out of the situation that wouldn’t involve me blowing fuses. Nothing was coming to mind and Todd wasn’t waiting for me to rally my brains into marching order.

He forced my head down and to the side with the fingers splayed on my cheek. Turning my head for me, he kissed me. I didn’t respond, but my lips felt like they were on fire. The confusion was just getting worse. Part of me was crying out to get the fuck away from him while the other part was frozen in fear. I tried saying something but my brain just couldn’t connect two sensible words together. What I wanted to say was, “Hell, no! Let me go!” What did come out was garbled and certainly not standard American English. He just chuckled. Melinda just continued to ignore us.

Pride took a hand at this point. I was not going to let this asshole get a reaction from me. That was all he really wanted. I think. I’ll never know for sure. Me and my asinine need to be right and stronger and better at game playing. Dumbshit. *sigh* You would think I would know better. Especially after the incident with Stu. Nope. So, I just gritted my teeth and tried to ignore Todd. He was whispering in my ear at this point telling me what he planned to do to me once he had me stripped and helpless. Alarm bells, red flags waving, sirens, howling dogs, you name it, it went off in my head.

I tried pulling away so I could get up and leave. He threw his legs over mine and his other arm onto my crotch getting a good grip. My struggles didn’t matter. He was a lot stronger than I was. I couldn’t catch my breath by this point, trying to hold in tears and at the same time trying desperately to get away. Words utterly deserted me. I wanted to yell to let me go, to take your fucking hands off me, but nothing came out.

He started gnawing on my neck. I don’t mean kissing, I mean biting. The pain was intense and horrible. Nothing erotic or arousing about it at all. His hand on my face may as well have been steel for all the success I had at trying to pull my head away from him. That is with two hands pulling at his fingers. I gritted my teeth together and refused to make a sound. It was all I could do, anything else just proving his point that I had no power over the situation.

Then my minor little miracle. The necklace I was wearing bit him. Not joking. It was a large amber teardrop. Somehow it had gotten around to the back of my neck. The amber embedded itself into his forearm. Pretty deep too. Must have hit a nerve finally, because Todd suddenly spasmed and let go. I glanced at his arm as I bolted up off the couch. He was swearing and I could see the huge dent in his skin from where the amber pendant had sunk in.

I took off and ran to my bedroom, locking it behind me. Then I burst into tears, sobbing loudly, eyes totally blinded. This wave of horror and helplessness washed through me. I ended up calling another friend (2am when this all happened and I made the call). She calmed me down and explained some things.

That what Todd was doing amounted to attempted rape. I couldn’t disagree. Still don’t to this day. I honestly believe he would have finished raping me if I hadn’t of gotten out of his grip. He didn’t care about whether I wanted to have sex or not. It was about him having control over me and using my attraction and inability to articulate my dissent against me. Keeping me helpless and doing whatever he wanted to me regardless of how I really felt.

He left long before I came out of my room. Melinda and I had it out. I let her know how I felt about her telling him what I had said. I also told her why I had run. She hadn’t realized the extent of what was happening right in front of her nose. I try really hard to believe her. Otherwise…

Just a little sidenote – In some cultures, amber is considered to be protection against witchcraft. Funny enough, Todd was Wiccan. Do the math. There was no real reason for a heavy pendant to have gotten turned around the way it did. All I can say is that the amber ‘biting’ him was what saved me. Weird, eh?


Tristen was Courtlen’s middle brother, older than Court, but younger than Devin. He died almost 4 years ago. Tristen had a liver transplant when he was 3 years old, just after Courtlen was born. He died at 17 years old. A lot of things in that household revolved around Tristen and his illness. As it had to. His mom, Taja, originally hired me as a live-in to take of the boys so she could run a bar she had just bought. Their father was in the process of divorcing her and he was a truck driver, gone for days at a time.

Tristen was a generally happy child, though prone to some nasty headaches. I was so angry at Devin about 3 weeks after I  moved in and started the job. Devin, while screwing around with the neighbor kids, whacked Tristen in the right temple with a metal garbage can lid. The goose-egg knot and bruise that popped up was at least 3 inches across. I was furious! Devin could have killed him with a blow like that without meaning to. I hauled Devin into the house and tossed him in his room. Devin was 12 and Tristen was 6 at the time. I told Devin to stay in that room or so help me I would lose my temper and control and beat the crap out of him. I think he took me seriously… I guess my angry scary face is pretty convincing.

I finally was able to check Tristen’s head, looking for blood, making sure his eye wasn’t damaged and making sure he kept awake in case of concussion. I got him calmed down and quieted. I was even angrier. I knocked once on Devin’s door with my fist (shivered the door too, guess I hit it pretty hard) and opened it. I told Devin he needed to come see what he had done. I took him to Tristen and showed him the results of that head bash. I explained why it was so dangerous and why he should NEVER hit anyone in the head, especially at the temple, with any object. I had him apologize and then told him to stay in his room until his mom got  home to deal with him.

Well, she finally got home about an hour later. I explained what happened and where the kids were. She looked Tristen over. Then she let Devin out of his room without saying a word about the situation. Nothing. Not one thing about it. At all . I was shocked. And then I got pissed at her. I left the house for 4 hours, to keep my temper and try to swallow that I was going to have an interesting time keeping order and safety in that house.

Not long after that, Taja was diagnosed with cancer. It had already spread. Her lungs, her breast, her sternum, her lymph nodes and her brain. Everything changed instantly. I took care of her, the house and the kids. I drove her to chemo and radiation. I did what I could to keep hope alive for her. Toward the end, she would only take her medication from me and her sister-in-law. Her mother, at the very end, almost crushed my soul. It was the day Taja died. I left the house to stay the night with Charleen, the sister-in-law. Then came the call a couple of hours later that Taja was gone. I went back.

She died 5 months after hiring me. Courtlen was already very attached to me. I considered leaving, since his father was/is an asshole (sorry Court, but he is) and I knew things could get ugly at some point. But I stayed. I just couldn’t have Court lose me within a week of his mom. How can a 3 year old cope with that? So I stayed 3 more years, until he finished kindergarten.

Tristen seemed to hate me. I know why. I am the first person that didn’t automatically give him what he wanted just because he was sick. Other than the transplant, he was actually as healthy as any other boy. So, I said, constantly, “You want it? Then earn it.” That went over like a lead balloon. He and I fought constantly about his homework, his chores, his medication, you name it. God, that child frustrated me! But I stuck to my guns. I always explained why I was giving or denying based on his actions. For little things and the big things. I honestly felt that consequences had to be learned, both positive and negative.

 Thanks to Tristen, I had my 3rd bout of chickenpox. Yes, fuckin’ chickenpox. I had to get him to the hospital, since with his suppressed immune system, chickenpox could kill him. My stress had gone through the ceiling and I got them again. My doctor told me that extremely high stress would suppress my own immune system and that I could keep getting them each time I was exposed if my stress was high enough. Lovely to share the itchy sores with the little creep, just lovely. *sigh* He made it through, so did I. Life went on.

 So, he and I battled for 3 years. Then I finally had to go. I was approaching a nervous breakdown due to their father. It was a close thing. I moved on to my next family and kept in touch with Courtlen. Tristen didn’t seem interested at first, so I didn’t really worry about him. Devin was kicked out and then off in Arizona. Then things changed again. Enter the wicked stepmother. She made fairy tales seem like light reading. 

Not long after Court and Tristen spent the night with me (blogged last week), I came over to visit Courtlen at their house. Tristen took me aside and told me that she was beating on them both, but Courtlen more. He gave me detail after detail. Now, due to our past, I knew Tristen would lie at the drop of a penny. I told him to stay in his room and went to Courtlen. He was doing his homework in the kitchen. I carefully asked him about things, doing my best not to lead him with the questions. Everything Tristen said matched. Courtlen was reluctant to talk, but eventually it all came out in a gush. I was so ANGRY. This woman, this creature was hitting them with coat hangers, wooden spoons, pulling their hair, kicking Courtlen in the stomach, and a ton of psychological torture. She was talking major crap about their mom, who she had never met. And then there was the other stuff, lists of it. Example – if the clothes in their drawer did not look the way she wanted, she would empty the drawer on the floor and make them put everything back… over and over and over. What boy’s drawer has perfectly even rows of socks, underwear, etc.? I looked before I left. The drawers were ‘perfect’. Their stories matched.

On the bus ride home, I was so angry, my fist clenched. The ring on my finger burst the weld. Still have that ring and never got it fixed. It is a reminder of what happened. I called Child Protective Service as soon as I got home. Reported everything the kids had told me and how I had done my questions and what I saw in their drawer, how it all seemed to match what was said. It was all I could do. And it did nothing. They ‘investigated’ by talking to her in Spanish (which the kids did not speak, by the way) right there in front of them. They never asked the kids ANYTHING. Not once. And they left. The only good that came of it was she quit hitting them, but the psychological warfare continued all the time that she was there.

So, time passes. She does her best to get rid of me. Even going so far as to tell me I can take Courtlen for a weekend, let me drive the 84 miles to pick him up and then tell me I can’t take him. I was furious. Courtlen was now 10 or 11, while Tristen was 13 or 14. Just as I was leaving, Tristen came out to talk to me. He asked me not to give up on Courtlen. That he realized I wasn’t as bad as he had thought before, now that he knew what ‘bad’ really was. I looked him in the eye and my heart almost stopped.

His eyes were wrong. The whites weren’t white any more. They were quite yellow. I was close to panic. I had been told years before that if they went yellow, it was probable that his liver was rejecting and that he HAD to get to the hospital as soon as possible. I calmly asked him if he realized that it had happened. He said, sure he knew and when he asked his dad about it, he was told it was just from the chlorine in the pool. I was furious. I told him, “Tristen, your eyes get RED from chlorine, not YELLOW. You need to get your dad to take you to the hospital. Soon. Like now would be good. When was your last blood screening?” I almost choked when he said 2 YEARS. He was supposed to have them every 3 months to monitor his liver function.

He managed to get his dad to take him the next day. Sure enough, he was in rejection. His meds were off and because they hadn’t done the blood screening, it had gone who knows how long without being adjusted correctly. He came so close to having the liver reject that it wasn’t anywhere near the solar system of funny. I shiver still when I think about what might have happened if we hadn’t talked.

Come forward another 4 years. Tristen is 17. Devin is home with them again. The stepmother has just been kicked out after Tristen lands in the hospital again. He had screwed up taking his meds again. Devin called me to let me know Tristen was in UCLA medical center until they could stabilize him. My poor heart spasmed. I explained to Aaron that I needed to go see Tristen. Now. Tonight. It was already 9pm and we both had work the next day. I didn’t care. I had to go. Aaron didn’t want me to drive, so he drove me. He took a book and waited in the lobby. I called Tristen and he came down to get me.

We went back up to his floor. Once there, we sat in a window seat and talked. And talked. And talked some more. The first hour, I chewed his ass about the meds and taking care of himself. That soon, he would be completely responsible for it all and that he had to get with it. The next four hours was something else altogether.

We talked like we never did when I was living there. He thanked me for all that I had done for him. For trying to get him and his brothers ready for what the real world was going to be. For being there when they needed me. For caring so much about them, especially Courtlen. He made me promise again that I would never give up on Courtlen, no matter what. That he loved me. Those 5 hours seemed a flash. They went by so fast. We settled all of our crap between us. And it felt right. I went outside to have a cigarette and Tristen talked with Aaron until I came back in. We left at 3am. I was glad I insisted on going. I thanked Aaron for being so understanding and for bringing me and letting us talk for so long. He told me to quit being silly.

Tristen went home later that week. Then I got a phone call at 7am a month later. It was Courtlen. Tristen was dead. Pneumonia was the official cause of death. But he had gone back on the transplant list at the last visit. I told Courtlen was I coming, that I would be there as soon as I could. I called work and told them I had a death to deal with. I was calm.

I stopped at my student Wolf’s apartment. Now the shakes had come. A few tears driving to her, but not major. I rested for 45 minutes and then got back on the road to get back to Riverside as soon as I could. Once I got past the 405 exchange, then the real tears came. I sobbed the rest of the way. Courtlen was there on his porch when I got there. I hugged him for a long time. He was very detached, but I expected that. His crying had been earlier.

I stayed for 2 days, keeping Courtlen company and helping make some of the arrangements for the funeral. At the service, I spoke for part of his eulogy. I talked about that last time I had seen him, when all that had been wrong between us was set right. He had known. Somehow. And he wanted things fixed so that I wouldn’t tear myself to shreds over it. And he wanted to make sure Courtlen would be protected.

We buried him next to his mother. I sat with Courtlen through the funeral. It was incredibly hard to watch that coffin lower. To know that this kid was gone. The one I had fought so hard to educate and even just to keep alive. I haven’t forgiven his father or stepmother yet. I may never. They own a piece of responsibility for his death. I am not a big enough person to let it go. At least not in my heart. I’ve held my peace. That is the most I can do, so far.

I hated the Boy Scouts. At least by the time I hit high school I did. I was forced into a leadership position I didn’t want and didn’t like. The position of Senior Patrol Leader for the Troop seemed like a horrible excuse to have a target painted on your back. Everything that went wrong was always your fault and the other kids always came up with new and interesting trouble to get into for the parents to blame on me. Just a lovely way to spend my oh so plentiful spare time…

One of those herding maneuvers that got pulled on me by the ’adult’ leaders was getting sucked into the Order of the Arrow. It was supposed to be a subgroup that a guy is voted into and there had to be at least two qualifed people to vote for or against. I was it. There wasn’t another guy. I certainly didn’t campaign for entry into that farce of an extention. I frankly wasn’t interested. Sure, it was the year of the Boy Scout’s Diamond Jubilee. Oh joy. And we got tapped out in a ceremony at the regional camping event for most of two counties. Gosh, golly.

I remember just being tired. Riding herd on the younger troop members all day and then getting stuck with that ceremonial farce. It didn’t do anything for me. It didn’t make me feel special. I wasn’t thrilled or excited. I was just tired and wanted to sleep. Naturally, they wanted us awake for the night. Again I say, joy.

A couple months later made up for it a little. Those of us tapped at the regional ceremony needed to participate in an Ordeal. We spent the weekend cleaning some campground with all of those that were tapped at the same time. Yawn. Oh and we had to do it all in complete silence. Not too much of an issue for me, in my anti-social mode, that was a blessing.

It gave me plenty of opportunity to oggle guys in perfect safety. After all, you need to pay attention pretty closely when using nonverbal communication to get things done. This one guy really caught my attention. Gorgeous, simply stunningly sexy hot. And assigned to the same crew I was. It made up for having to put up with all of the rest of it. This guy could have gone on to be an underwear model easily… for designer stuff, not JC Pennys. We clicked pretty well, staying near each other that whole day.

The clencher for me, and I still have it tucked away, were the nasty, naughty notes we passed back and forth when we were supposed to be listening to lengthy lectures on Scouting. Extremely provocative notes. To some degree, hazing each other in that young male exerting manhood by bullshit and name-calling way. Being called a cocksucker on paper didn’t phaze me in the least. Nor did the things I said he did cause him to so much as blink. The object was to get one of us to break that stupid silence. Neither of us did, though we went back and forth for a good hour and at least both sides of two pieces of paper.

I admit it, I had a total lusting crush on him by the end of the day. Our banter, nasty as it was, turned me on. And all without an actual word said. All of this happening right under the nose of the adults. They were totally oblivious. Frankly, so were we. Our focus was entirely on each other. Everything else just kind of faded into the background. The day ended, more ceremonial crap and then sleep. We took off for home the next morning.

I didn’t get his phone number or name or even troop number. I never got to see him again. But I also will never forget him. Nor will I throw away the notes we wrote each other. I don’t think he realized that I didn’t throw them away. Easy enough to slip them in my back pocket after carefully folding them. They are just the nasty crap teenage boys say to each other when trying for shock value… but they went a little different direction for me. It was my first experience at flirting. And I loved it!

Dad had the little GM convertible at the time. Back then, the doors didn’t lock from the inside, or at least it didn’t seem like it. He had the top down and we were on a winding road. I do know that the car didn’t have seatbelts either. He was going around 45 on a 35 speed limit. I was amusing myself with a dog leash.

I was wrapping the leash around my ankles, leaning forward to do it. He was pretty much not paying attention to what I was doing. He hit a curve and didn’t brake to slow down. Physics had its way and my inertia slammed me into the door. Which promptly flew open, spilling me onto the road. I was pretty dazed from the impact of hitting the pavement. I skidded on my right side for a couple of feet. I can remember hearing the tires squealing as he braked to a screeching halt a long way further down the road. I didn’t feel anything at that point.

He jumped out of the car and ran to me. When he was less than 5 feet from me, the pain hit. I started screaming. He scooped me up and got me back into the car. He unwound the dog leash chain from my ankles as he tried to get me to calm down.  His arm was across my chest the rest of the drive, holding me in place as I cried. Then he pulled into a liquor store to get a better look at me.

I had scrapes up and down my right side. I was lucky since I didn’t actually hit my head on the ground at all. But my shoulder, side and thigh had tons of skin peeled and cut from the blacktop. The store clerk supplied some wet clean towels to help clean me up enough to get a good look. I was really lucky. None of it even scarred over. I finally calmed down again.

Dad ended up putting a security sliding chain on the car doors after that. The kind you usually use on house doors. He would plunk me in and then do up the chain. He even had me try kicking at the door from the inside to see if it would hold against an impact. It did. Nothing like shutting the barn door at the horse has already taken off at a gallop or the kid goes flying…

Mom and I went on a trip about the time I was 4. She diligently packed for both of us, me supervising to make sure all the essentials went. I even had a checklist she helped me write. Blankie (quilt my great-grandmother made for me before I was born), my favorite clothes, my rubber ducky, etc. Everything made it into the suitcases. Rubber Ducky was in our carry-on because I simply would not be parted from him.

 All seemed well. We got to the airport early and checked in at the counter. This was going to be one of those smaller charter flights. Don’t remember what company it was, but I think we were trying to get somewhere in a hurry and this was the fastest available to get out of Dodge… er, San Marcos. Now that I really think about it, I think this is the first time Mom left Dad and she wanted to make sure we got to California fast.

Regardless, we still had to go through the security checkpoint. The lady behind the booth thought she was being kind and had me come around to watch our bag go the ginormous machine thingy. It was no kindness! There was my Ducky! And he was inside out! I screamed the scream of purest horror and desolation. They had murdered my Ducky!!! Trust me, I have an extremely penetrating scream and lots of eardrum piercing volume back then. She sat there stunned at my hysterical sobbing and finger pointing at the screen. Mom just rolled her eyes and comforted me the best she could.

Out popped the bag and I tore at the catches until they popped. I lift the lid and dig around. There is Ducky! I get me hands on him and clutch him to my chest, stunned. Somehow he is now right side out and not a mark of his horrible ordeal to be seen. Mom does her soothing murmuring that, see everything is ok. That they didn’t hurt your Ducky. I slowly stop my wailing and glare at the X-ray lady. Mom shuffles me off.

I called Mom to verify when this happened. She doesn’t remember it, but my places are off. She said the only charter flight we took was to see my Dad when he was stationed on San Nicholas Island, off California when I was between 2 and 4. And I wouldn’t have taken Ducky. Ducky she remembers though. Hmmmm will have to ponder this more. I do remember my melt down pretty clearly, regardless.

Sometimes, We Learn.

New thoughts, new horizons
The opening of the mind
to new experiences
long held at bay
rather than explored
and brought into the light
of a full moon’s face.

New levels of caring
that open the way
for possible healing
mutual washing away
of past gone so wrong
that it is forever
lurking in shadows, waiting
for unguarded moments
to spring forth yet again.

Sometimes there comes another
that shines so very brightly
that the shadows cannot exist
and are gone despite our efforts
to cling hard to them
because we’ve had them so long
that they are all we know.

That light washes us clean
healing twisted scars
that deform our thoughts,
our love, our self-image
into shapes we just know
in our roiling guts
that no one could ever
really, truly, honestly
love us for all our flaws.

Sometimes, we learn.
It may come in a flash
or after many long years,
but learn we can
that we are fine,
we are worthy
we are better
than we ever thought
or even dreamed,
when shown in the light
of another’s love.

On November 2nd, 1986, I flew from Ontario, California to Austin Texas. I had already shipped my stuff to my dad the week before. All that was left to send was me. Things had gotten to the point of insane with mom and it was time to see if dad could handle things better. I had already moved out of mom’s and was staying at Art’s house for that last week before going.

Dad was going to meet me at the airport. I was nervous. I hadn’t seen him since 1978. My memories of him were slightly blurred, but I still had some clear memories. I have written about a lot of them in my time here. Regardless, the nights of lying awake wishing I was with him, missing him deeply, were about to be over. I recognized him instantly at the gate. He was a little heavier around the middle than before and his hair gray at the temples, but it was dad.

The moment was awkward beyond measure. I didn’t feel comfortable hugging him, but did. We grabbed my carry-on (backpack) and headed for his car. As I shut the door to it, an intense wave of vertigo swept over me. The world spun. I had ’seen’ this exact moment 2 years before. The actuality of it made my vision blur and my stomach flip. The memory of what I saw in my dream and the reality overlapped and I felt like I would fall out of the car if I hadn’t already shut the door. Deja vue to the ultimate extreme is another way to put it. He didn’t notice since he was looking over his other shoulder as he pulled out of the parking spot.

The wave of vertigo finally passed, the world stopped spinning and my stomach landed with a bump back in my middle. It was not a pleasant experience, though familiar. I didn’t say much as he drove me back to his job at a department store. He was working at Beals, I believe. I was to hang out there with him until he got off of work at 9pm. He introduced me to some of his co-workers and left me in the break room. I sat there in a daze the whole time, brain shut down. I was in Texas. I was with dad.

On the drive to his house he told me the truth finally. Sylvia, his wife of 9 years, did not know I was coming. I looked at him in disbelief. He hadn’t told her?!? He was springing me on her like a stray puppy? I am thinking, “Oh fuck!” How right I was. He explained that they married not long after I went with mom to California. Sylvia did not want children (and this is a Professor of Family and Child Development at Southwest Texas University?!?) and told him that I would NOT live with them if they married. Even though he had custody. Even though the court had declared my mother unfit. Nope, I was to stay with my mother, period.

Not much I could say to what he told me on the drive. The night’s darkness flitted by the car’s windows, the headlights illuminating the cedar woods to either side of the road as we drove. Dread sank into my stomach. The certainty that I had screwed myself worse than staying with my mom was settling into my head. God, I wanted a cigarette bad. My hands were trembling more than usual. Adrenaline is not a pretty sight with my CMT. I look like a tree shaking in a gale when it happens. Naturally, he knew nothing about my hereditary neuropathy. I was only diagnosed the year before.

We pull up to the gate and he gets out to open it. The car is pulled forward and then he shuts it. They have a 22-acre lot with cedar forest and some cleared pasture. They are raising Arabs and half-Arabs for show. I like horses, so that seemed cool. We pull into the driveway of their 2-story house. It looms in the dark out of the cleared space among the trees. A barn is behind us, as well as the horse stalls and corral. The floodlight is on a motion sensor and pops on as we park. Reminds me now of a prison yard with the spotlight. Should have given me a clue of what was to come.

We go into the house. He had called before leaving work. She is standing in the kitchen waiting as we come through that door. She is furious. Her fury is the arctic ice kind. The kind that kills with coldness and indifference to anything that is not to her expectations. Her eyes look me up and down once and then turn to him. I say hi. I am ignored. She tells dad she wants to talk to him in the other room. Ice is in that voice. He tells me to have seat at the table and he would be back shortly.

I sit in that unfamiliar kitchen and wait. I can hear them talking but not the words. I know that she is pissed. His voice is a monotone. I think that I am in big trouble here. I am not wanted. I am an inconvenience. I am a burden. I am not worth the trouble. All of these thoughts are counter-balanced by: he’s my dad, he loves me, he wants me, it’ll be ok. Eventually they come back. Her eyes refuse to look at me. He is sad looking.

He takes me to a downstairs bedroom and tells me this is where I’ll stay. She follows and tells me not to change anything. That the room is stay exactly as it is. That it is not mine but hers and to keep it the way she has it now at all times. The one nice thing about that room is that it had its own full bathroom attached. I hated the room instantly. It was girly with a nasty floral bedspread, knickknacks on the surfaces and just plain not me. And would never be me.

I put my clothes into the ugly dresser and got into bed. I was exhausted. Intense despair gripped me and I didn’t know what to do. But I am a stubborn cuss. I would survive. I always do. No one would ever break me completely. I didn’t believe it was possible. Still don’t to this day. I always survive. Always will. That night though is the closest I ever came. I had my dad again, but he was a stranger married to a monster. And this is where I was stuck. I passed out pretty quickly.

Dad got me up at 4am. I was to help him feed the horses, chickens, guinea fowl and goats. I dragged myself up from sleep and pulled on some clothes haphazardly. The horses were beautiful. I loved them instantly. They had 8 at the time. We feed them and checked their water. I was told that I would be mucking out their stalls each morning before school. Um, ok. Once all of the creatures were fed and let loose for the day, we went back inside.

Dad made me some Malto-Meal along with his. Then he told me I was going into work with him for the day. Sylvia did not want me at the house when dad wasn’t home. I was not to be inside the house unless one of them was there. I was not to have a key to the house. I was to do the chores given me and that I was to make myself useful. That I was to get good grades in school. That I was to get a job immediately. That I was to pay back the airfare for the plane trip. That I was to pay back the shipping costs on my stuff. That I was to pay for driver’s Ed so that I could drive the horses to the vet if needed. That I was only to eat what I was given and to stay out of the food otherwise.

I sat stunned. This flood of instruction did not sound right. It sounded like a sentence for crimes I didn’t even know I committed. In a way, that was it exactly. My crime was being there. My crime was intruding on Sylvia’s happy life and imposing myself without invitation. My crime was existing. That was pretty clear. Those frozen eyes refused to grant me the right to be there. She refused to even speak to me for over a month. Not so much as a hello, good morning or good night. Not a single word. She would tell dad what to tell me. When she finally did talk, it was to order me or to snap at me. To tell me I was doing something wrong and that this was her house.

I got into dad’s car that morning feeling as if the world had gone photonegative. It wasn’t until we got to his store that I realized today was my birthday. I wanted to cry but didn’t. There was no earthly way that I was going to show one iota of weakness to anyone. I would sooner die. I gritted my teeth and bore it. The weight on my heart became an endurance trial. I won in the end.

Nothing was said that day as I sat in that break room. I read a book and kept my mind off of everything else. His co-workers were sweet to me. I am glad someone was. The back of my mind was re-enforcing the walls around my heart and soul during that bleak quiet day. No weakness could be allowed. No emotion would be beyond my immediate grasp. Everything would have to be calculated and considered before action. And lines would have to be drawn. I drew the first one on the way back to her house.

I informed dad that I smoked. Not in his house he said. I said fine, outside is just dandy. I informed him that Texas law (at that time) allowed 16 and over to buy cigarettes. I would not smoke indoors but I WOULD smoke outside. He spluttered over it but I did not back down. I would make sure the butts were out and I would make sure they got put into the trash. I said that this was just something that would have to be accepted, just like I had to accept all of the other rules imposed. This was not open to negotiation nor would I accept anyone’s authority on it. This was my choice to make no one else’s. I then said nothing else for the rest of the drive.

He drove in silence for a while before laying into me again. What happened to his talkative little boy? When had I changed so much? I snorted. Then I shot back, “Well, maybe that happened when you left me with mom for 9 years. What the hell do you expect after that? That I remain unchanged while I am with someone I didn’t want to be with? That I wanted my dad and couldn’t find him. Come one, get real!” That pretty much ended that conversation.

I went to bed that night without so much as an acknowledgment of my birthday from anyone. Nothing. No words. No card. No present. No cake. Nothing at all. The day was just another day and it didn’t matter. I bit my lip as I lay in that horrible room staring at the ceiling in the dark. The taste of blood finally made me stop. I finally understood the true meaning of hell. It meant that I didn’t exist except as an unpaid field hand and general burden. A body to be ordered about, a rag doll to do whatever and then shove in a corner until needed. A stray that is only taken in because your hand is forced. This was what hell meant. The absence of love.