[language and violence]
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Sometime during winter, early 90’s and pretty close to spring, your humble narrator found himself rolling around on the wet snow in his slush-suit, while his big brother and older cousin tested their architectural mettle and patted down walls of snow for a fort of epic grandeur. The sun was warm, exceptionally so, considering the tundraesque conditions that Upper Canada is infamous for, and the snow was just starting to melt. Ecstatic and looking forward to a liberating day free of our stuffy apartment, we three piled out and made like happy school children, dancing and prancing in the snow. Or at least I did – my cousin and my brother were, as they constantly reminded me, much too old for such rampant displays of immaturity, and regarded my expressions of joy with scorn and disdain.
I sat on my back and carved out snow angels, while Alex sat on his knees patting snow down. Nick stood a few feet away, rubbing his adolescent stubble and confidently directing matters. How I wished I could grow facial hair – even a single strand. Then, I reasoned, I’d be big and tall and proud. Childish ignorance.
It should be obvious to the reader by now that ours was a very typical group dynamic: my cousin, the oldest, was the brains and our all-mighty, all-powerful and absolutely infallible leader; my brother, two years younger than Nick, was the middle man, just a bit brawny, hard working, and a tad slow; me, I was relegated to the lowest hierarchal role – that of the peon – who took the brunt of the insults and, more often than not, served as an appropriate scapegoat whenever things fucked up.
Such is the life of the youngest child.
Piece by piece, our castle rose up from nothing and grew tall. Nick, anxious to have the project completed before being called in for whatever slop they were serving for supper, played the role of village taskmaster, berating me for acting like a child and practically tossing me by the collar face first into a wall of snow. I started smoothing it out, timidly, not wanting to mess up. Like most oppressed proletariats, I tried to pass the time by making work more enjoyable, and so I pretended that I was a dog, kicking up snow with my hind legs onto a big red fire hydrant. I giggled.
‘Christ, Andrew, your getting that shit in my face,’ my brother said, spitting out a mouthful of snow and rabbit punching me on the shoulder. ‘Watch what you’re fucking doing.’
I apologized quickly and profusely. My cousin, annoyed at the work stoppage, slapped the back of my head with a stinging open palm.
‘Get with the fucking program.’
- - -
Our trio was exclusive: if you weren’t blood, you weren’t welcome. Even though we lived in the same five-square mile radius for the entirety of our youth, we never did get along with any of the neighborhood kids. Our parents, my mother especially (God rest her soul), weren’t social by any standards, and any attempt our neighbors made to befriend them usually resulted in a subtle ‘fuck off’. Mom used to sit on the porch, chain-smoking in her nightgown, glaring at everyone who passed by and taking special care to curse at hip youngsters who thought themselves ‘above the law’. The irony is that she would spend hours at the dinner table, her knee jerking anxiously, complaining about the area’s young hooligans, then go and try to extort money from the government by claiming she was disabled. Maybe she was – I never asked. In retrospect, it amuses me to look back and see how ignorant she was to the delinquencies of her own children.
Her disdain for our community was consequently passed down (genetics, perhaps?) to her two sons and nephew, who roamed the streets trying to pick fights and kicking over dumpsters. The schism between us and the other youths widened with each passing year, and each summer we hopped on our bikes and terrorized the world.
Summer was always eagerly anticipated – not because school was out (we barely went anyway), but because that’s when the middle-aged deadbeats would be out in their Hawaiian shorts trying to tan their beer guts, when the little pseudo-whore teenaged girls would start strutting their puffed-up wares, and when would-be tough guys started walking around smoking fake joints made of oregano.
And we loved it.
On our bikes we were invincible, driving by with backpacks full of water balloons strapped to our backs and drenching everyone without prejudice. Expecting mothers got it just as badly as the cuties wearing skirts hiked up to their hips.
Hit and run.
I, of course, was the follower. The oldest in front, with me trailing not far behind. They were the real shit-disturbers; I just tagged along.
I remember one summer, it was a sweltering day in July, and we rode out like three (or two and a half) gunslingers on horseback into the sun. After a quick survey of the area, we launched our attack. It was a massacre – you could hear the cries of the soaked for miles. We sped off howling, as was customary, followed by a mob of unruly youngsters our age.
Nick, the consummate showoff, raised both arms and rode hands free. My brother reciprocated, and the two of them yelped and yipped. I made an feeble mimetic attempt, taking one hand off of the handlebars and pumping it proudly in the air.
A poorly timed maneuver.
Had I been paying attention, I would have seen a dusty patch of gravel fast approaching, and would have postponed my cheering until I was clear of it. But no, I cheered, only to lose control of the bike. Falling hard, the momentum of the spill sent my body skidding sideways across the gravel.
My brother, hearing my crash, braked quickly and looked back from up the road.
‘Get the fuck up!’ he cupped his hands and called. ‘Don’t be such a baby. Get up!’
Nick circled back around and pulled up next to him. They looked at each other, back at me, and then shook their heads. Evidently I wasn’t worth the risk, and they rode off.
So much for loyalty. Blood: thick as steam.
Needless to say, the little vultures descended on me. Their little fists sang to a chorus of sadistic laughter and bestial grunts, and my only recourse was to curl up into the fetal position and shield my sensitive spots. It must have been quite the sight, because a few of the adults sat on their porches with finger food and enjoyed the show.
One by one, the mob had its fill. It started dispersing, and those watching went back inside to catch the second half of the hockey game. Aside from some scrapes and bruises, a bleeding nose and some dirty clothes, I was relatively unharmed. I sniffled and crawled got to my feet.
Boy was I surprised when a heavy foot connected with my back and pasted my face to the gravel on the ground.
Cockeyed, covered in acne and surely the victim of fetal alcohol syndrome, a gawky redhead stood over me. A pear shaped peewee like myself must have seemed like an easy target for such a creature, especially since the beating I took had left me winded and completely defenseless. Not that I would have been able to defend myself anyway. The sound of his knuckles cracking still resonates, and he looked surreal, a hazy outline pasted onto the sun.
What followed was a violence that could rival that of any B-rated kung-fu flick, and after tasting the rubber of his boots my eyelids fluttered shut and a dotted blackness came over me. When I woke up he was gone, and I was missing two of my teeth. I wasn’t that hung up about that, though; they had cavities, and were loose to begin with.
- - -
The redhead that stomped me senseless was Michael Tolman, the illegitimate lovechild of Rita Tolman and some drunk who knocked her up in a one-nighter. Alex and Nick grew particularly fond of Michael, and he became their most hated rival. He was about the same age as Nick, maybe a year or so older, but he had the brainpower of a turnip. Maybe that’s giving him too much credit.
He’d eventually grow up to be a gas station attendant, pumping gas for people who spit in his face. I think he should be proud of himself; nobody thought he’d even get that far.
Don’t let me give you the wrong impression of poor Michael: his shortcomings weren’t entirely his fault. In fact, if there were one person to blame, it would be his callous mother. A scraggly pockmarked woman who hid her aged imperfections behind a mask of cover-up and a pushup bra, she had a new boyfriend every month. Cruising pubs with her tacky crackerjack jewelry was her favorite pastime.
Some of Rita Tolman’s boyfriends were fat; others were as thin as rails. Some were hairy, balding, black and blue. The one thing that they all had in common, aside from the fact that they all had a go at her, was that they were aggressive drunks who vented their own frustrations by smacking around everyone's favorite pimple-faced dimwit.
You could always tell when Rita Tolman had a new boyfriend from the swelling on her son’s face.
- - -
With our snow castle done, there was nothing left for us to do but sit back and enjoy the moment.
The entrance was just big enough for someone of my size to slip through – a miscalculation on the architect’s part, though nobody dared admit it.
After building up the walls, we had scoured the premises looking for something to fashion into a roof. The best we could find were two long, flat neon orange signposts. We stretched them side by side, packing snow and ice between them until we had ourselves some semblance of a roof.
I bent down and crawled in. It was dark and cold, claustrophobic like a child-sized meatlocker. I was only inside for a few seconds when the entire structure collapsed.
Now I’m not an incredibly spastic person, but the thought of the world caving in on me put me into a panicked frenzy. I kicked and scratched my way through the snow, expecting someone, anyone, to come to my rescue. Nobody came.
When I finally burrowed my way out, I found out why.
Tolman, despite being outnumbered, was doing a fine job fending off Nick and Alex. He came out of nowhere, they’d explain to me later, and I’d believe them.
I stood on the sidelines, cheering for the good guys – as if such things existed.
It was a good, clean fight until Tolman found himself a metal pipe of some kind on the ground. He tumbled backwards and rolled, pipe in hand, into a crouch. Like a rabid dog, he frothed at the mouth, showed his fangs, and stared at us.
He must have scared time shitless, too, because it stopped for a moment.
Now, any rational and well-adjusted person, outnumbered as he was, would have taken this opportunity to get the fuck out of Dodge. Then again, nobody ever accused Tolman of being sane. He lived for violence, and just sat there, panting, waiting for one of us to blink. Alex must have, because Tolman lunged at him full throttle, brandishing the pipe overhead like a scimitar wielding Arabian from Aladdin.
Before he had the chance to use it my cousin dove at his legs, tripping him face first into a mound of snow. My brother was on him before anyone knew it, wrapping his arms and legs up in a tangled mess of limbs. Nick unleashed a howitzer to Tolman's gums, sending a misty cloud of red into the air.
I raised an eyebrow.
Swearing inwardly, I told myself that I was squeamish. I told myself that I didn't want to see any more.
I turned around and started humming a Saturday morning tune.
I tried to hum it all away.
‘Hit that mother fu-'
Music to my ears.
‘C’mon man, you get one too,’ Nick said, grabbing hold of my shoulder and spinning me around. Tolman's face was already a gooey pie of crimson. My brother was sitting on his back, pinning his arms behind him.
‘Naw, it’s okay guys. Really, I think we’ve done enough.’
The words came out, but I didn't really believe them. Nobody did. I knew my roots.
‘Are you kidding me? Just one kick. The guy could’ve killed you, man, you know that. He fucking deserves what he gets. What do you say?’
His grip on my shoulder tightened, nearly bringing me to tears.
He nearly killed me...?
‘Just one hit.’
‘Kick him, man! You'll feel a lot better once you do.’
‘Nick, please, I don’t want to, I don –‘
‘Just fucking kick him!’
And so I did. Square in his teeth, with all the force my little pre-pubescent body could muster. And it felt good.
- - -
Waking up to finally know yourself can be therapeutic.
It can also hurt like hell.
"Imperious, choleric, irascible, extreme in everything, with a dissolute imagination the like of which has never been seen... there you have me in a nutshell, and kill me again or take me as I am, for I shall not change."
From his Last Will & Testament, Marquis de Sade