By Scuba Steve
A pair of red dots quietly disappeared out of view as Jake's soon-to-be-ex-stepfather pulled out of the driveway. The car had paused for a moment, about halfway out the long gravel path, clouds of exhaust billowing out, surrounding the car in a depressed cloud. He could almost feel the sadness emanating from the vehicle that sat in a swirl of snow and darkness. That brief hesitation in the driveway seemed to last much longer than it really had. Finally, the taillights dimmed and the car inched forward, slowly and silently, until Jake could only see black.
His parents had decided to announce their divorce on Christmas Eve of all days. "Your father and I have decided that it would be best if we were no longer together," his mother had told him.
"Stepfather..." was all Jake could reply.
The next morning, the house was nearly silent. Jake and his little brother sat on the couch, staring blankly at a little TV, trying to pick up something to watch. It didn’t really matter what was on, the TV just gave them an excuse not to talk to one another.
Jake had woken up that morning with a sort of foolish optimism that there really was such a thing as Christmas magic and that somehow, this year, there would actually be presents under the tree. He even tried to remind himself, as he walked down the hall, that such a thing was not even slightly possible, but was unable to fight back the hope. It was something he had learned from his mother.
She had always made it abundantly clear that no matter how bad things were in that house, with the daily beatings from a drunk, drug-addicted, horror of a human being that they would always deny that it existed. Jake's earliest memories were of fighting off a man who would victimize him daily with the sort of awful things that no child should ever be forced to witness. It wasn't the physical abuse that destroyed his love of life as much as the psychological trauma he was subjected to.
Once, when he failed to make his bed with the "hospital corners" he was expected to, his stepfather grabbed him mercilessly by the throat, threw his 10-year old body against the wall, flipped over the bed, and threw the footboard at his head. When the footboard hit the wall and not its intended target, he hoisted Jake by the collar and pushed him out the second story window. Fortunately for Jake, there was a lower roof that separated him from a two-story plummet to the ground.
Another time, Jake's stepfather returned home to find that relatives were hearing stories of sexual abuse happening in the house. Naturally, he assumed that Jake had been running his mouth to some busybody aunt and responded by having a 7-year old Jake put on one of his mother's short nightgowns and have him kneel in the gravel parking lot holding roller skates at arms-length. His stepfather had tied the laces to Jake's wrists and ordered him to hold them straight out; when Jake's strength began to fail and the skates dropped closer to the ground he received a work boot to the gut.
Unlike his stepbrother, Jake chose not to allow his stepfather to break his spirit. He would never allow this awful man to feel accomplished in his torture. He always followed up every awful experience by committing the same infraction that brought the punishment on, just to spite the man. If his stepfather wanted to "win," he would have to kill Jake.
So, when Jake woke up Christmas morning and saw the absence of gifts under an unlit tree, he felt the sort of sadness he did every year. It wasn't the lack of presents that depressed him as much as the lack of presence. No one was there to greet him, no one was happy to see him. All that was there to greet him was a quiet tree and the smell the couch seemed to generate. For some unknown reason, Jake sat on the couch and softly sang "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" to himself, getting about halfway through the second verse before his head dropped into his hands and he began to cry.
Jake's brother had heard the sobbing travel into his bedroom from the living room and decided to wait until the sound stopped before leaving his bed. When he joined Jake, the TV was on and Jake was sitting on the couch, hypnotized by the glow coming from the center of the room. He wished Jake a "Merry Christmas" and sat down next to him. Jake just sat there and didn't move, didn't turn his head to look at his brother, and wouldn't return the "Merry Christmas." It would have launched Jake into another crying fit and he wasn’t about to let his little brother see any weakness coming from him.
Jake was rinsing his dishes from lunch when his mother's bedroom door opened and her slippers softly dragged down the hallway. She quietly walked into the kitchen, her eyes a deep red with dark crimson circles around them. She poured herself a glass of orange juice then, sobbing piteously, made her way back to her bedroom. They wouldn’t see her face again until the next day. They knew that she hadn’t killed herself because every hour or so, the smell of a cooking spoon crept down the hall.
The next morning, when Jake woke up, she was already in the kitchen, leaning against the refrigerator. "I want you to get your stuff and get out..." she said without lifting her head high enough to look at him. "I want you to pack up some clothes and leave... I want you out of here now..." Stunned, he didn't even attempt a protest. He turned around, walked back into his room, crammed his feet into his still-tied sneakers, and walked out the front door.
As he neared the door to leave, he heard her mumbling "...I wanted to do something with my life... I never asked to have you... I never should have had you... I should have gotten rid of you like he said..."
That would be the first of several vacations Jake would take from home. Each time he left, he sunk deeper and deeper into the clutches of Dr. Feelgood, trying to fill that empty part of his soul with some self-medicating brown sugar. What did he have left to live for? As far as his inexperienced teenaged mind was concerned, his whole world was falling apart.
Whenever he was kicked out, he was always able to get some friend to take him in for a few days, sometimes a few weeks. It was usually just long enough for his mother to cool off and let him come home. Sometimes, if his friends wouldn't let him crash there and his mother wouldn't let him come home right away, he was forced to go on some sort of pathetic impromptu camping trip. Most times he would sleep in a spot near his home, deep in the woods, near a small waterfall and a pool of fresh water.
It was the same spot where he had lost his virginity. A real awkward experience, the moment had lasted about two hours because of his compulsive fear of getting a girl pregnant. He just kept doing the best he could to make her feel good, but didn't know when she had had enough. It wasn't until she asked him if he was going to finish when he faked the orgasm and rolled onto his back. She said that moment was amazing, but it would be the last time he would ever see her. She stopped taking his phone calls and faded into oblivion. The last he heard was that she was joining the Army. Good for her.
He never actively pursued a girl after that, fearing rejection and the embarrassment of not knowing some of the things that most people had a natural instinct for. He didn't grow up with hugs and kisses from his family, so his sense of compassion and friendship were almost alien. He thought he couldn't be intimate with a girl because when the moment came, he always thought about his mother moping around the house, telling him how getting pregnant in high school was the worst thing that ever happened to her.
When he would return from his walkabouts, he would usually hear the same speech his mother liked to deliver as he walked in the door; something along the lines of "...there's going to be a few rule changes..." and "...if you don't want to listen you can roll right back out again..."
Several months went by. Winter ended sometime in February, and his mother's newest boyfriend had become his new stepfather. Unlike his previous stepfather, who had joined their family when he was only four, this stepfather would be called by his first name, John, and never be referred to as "Dad."
His mother had finally found someone who would treat her and her children with the kind of decency and respect that every person deserved. John spent all his free time building things for the house, repairing things in the house, mowing the lawn, showing his younger brother how to build things and how to use certain tools, and Jake couldn’t possibly hate his mother and John for it. This guy was great; where was he ten years ago when Jake was getting slapped in the crotch with a ruler by a deranged monster?
His mother refused to ever talk about anything he had gone through during his childhood. She would tell him that it never really happened and that everything was better now. She also would get wildly defensive if the topic ever came up, firing red hot insults about how Jake had always ruined her life and that he wouldn’t be ruining things for her and John.
Jake would try, though. As far as he was concerned, if he couldn't have closure, then his mother couldn't have happiness.
Jake was standing in the kitchen, receiving another sermon from his mother, while her newest husband sat quietly in the living room, trying not to get involved. In addition to controlling every aspect of his life, she was also consumed with admonishing him each time she discovered he was seeing another girl. "Why are you wasting so much time with this girl? It's stupid... You don't know the first thing about commitment..."
"That's hysterical coming from you," Jake replied. "You've gotten married three times!"
"Three?" floated in from the living room, and out Jake went. Jake's mother never told John that her previous husband was not Jake's father. She flew in a rage, spitting in his face as she talked, telling Jake just to get out or she would kill him. It was in that moment that he saw, in her eyes, that everything she had ever said about him ruining her life was coming straight from her heart.
She never loved her own son and had never done anything to stop her second husband's abuse because she secretly hoped that one day he would have killed her son. It would have been like "two birds with one stone." She couldn't have guiltlessly gotten rid of the one burden that she never wanted and also gotten rid of the man who constantly hit her as well. She could start over with a new husband who would give her a home and food and security, and never again have to worry about anyone but herself.
Now he was far away from home, in a place where no one would ever find him, just several feet away from inevitability. He had only been awake for a few moments when the door had startled him into consciousness. A sharp rain sailed into the cold dark switch house Jake had passed out in. The dark outline of the largest man Jake had ever seen was standing in the door way carrying something large on his shoulder.
The only light was being provided by the moon, until the form reached up and pulled on a thin string dangling from the ceiling. A filthy yellow light bulb put off a dim light that bounced around the room from a swinging chain. Jake could still only see the shadow standing just a few feet away. Jake was just about to apologetically announce his presence, hoping the man wouldn’t call the police for trespassing, when he happened to look down at the floor.
The tips of his black boots were covered in a liquid that looked a little more viscous that the rain. He couldn't quite make it out until the bulb swung by and showed the man was standing in a growing pool of the reddest rain he had ever hoped to never see.
In the moment that he realized he was in more trouble than the law could ever put him in, the creature in the doorway set a curved blade on the floor beside him. Blood and hair clung to the blade, confirming that Jake had better stay exactly where he was and to be as silent as he possibly could.ScubaSteve is a DJ from the outter suburbs of Philly. He spends equal time annoying and pleasing his listening audience but always entertains.