I was six years old when I got my first taste of hell.
I woke up to a horrible howling noise, like a dog caught in the throes of deep emotional pain, agony that went beyond the physical. It was chilling. Terrifying. Like, make your balls shrivel up into pricks of ice sort of terror. It quickly plucked away whatever ignorance my sleep had thrust on me and slapped me in my young face. This wasn’t a dream. This was as real as all hell. There was a monster in my house, the kind that preyed on little boys, but it wasn’t under my bed or in my closet. It was next door. Or, as it seemed to be, the floor below, scratching and howling its way from the kitchen.
It was my mother. And from the sounds of glass breaking and furniture scuffling, my dad had found her. The howling intermixed with his booming voice, his threats, his pathetic cries that betrayed the collected man he was always trying to be. It sounded ugly. It always sounded ugly but tonight I was especially scared. When a vicious cry was followed by the sound of someone being shoved into a wall, I’m not ashamed to say I promptly wet myself. Pissing your pants seemed the only thing to do when the monster was loose and I made a silent, naïve prayer to the man upstairs, praying that it was my mother who was thrown against the wall. I’m callous, maybe. I’ve been called worse. But if it were my father, and he was out cold, she’d come looking for me next.
I thought about pulling the covers over my head and hiding from it all like a coward, but that never worked. I would pretend all I could that my blanket was my invisible cloak and it would shelter me from everything bad in the world but I learned at a very young age that there was no such thing as shelter. Maybe I would have been safer if I didn’t care. Maybe indifference could have been my protector. But I still loved - and feared - my parents. That love is what scared me. It gave them the upper hand. They sure as f**k didn’t love me.
I heard a shuffling from outside my door, slow and light. It was only Michael, though it rattled my wee body to think things were bad enough that he got out of bed. Michael was just three years older but he might have well been another decade. He was the golden boy, the child of light. I was the runt, the child of dark. I feared. Michael didn’t.
I quickly jumped out of bed and scurried across to the door, purposely missing the part of the floor that I knew squeaked. I turned the knob silently and saw Michael’s shadow just down the hall, heading toward the stairs. Half of him was lit up by a dying night light.
He stopped as soon as he heard me and though I could barely see it, I could feel the look. It said go back to bed, you’ll get us in trouble. Only I could get us in trouble just by being awake. I still don’t know why my mother had it in for me. Sometimes I think she saw a lot of herself in me, even at such an age. That’s a f**king terrifying thought. I’d be lying if I said that, and other things, didn’t keep me up at night.
That look though from Michael, that was the most I’d ever seen him scared. It felt good, selfishly good, to know he wasn’t inhuman, that he feared things too. Maybe not the way I did, but hell if I hadn’t been wondering if my brother was born without a soul. Now I knew he was just older and better at hiding it than me.
I opened my mouth to say something but he placed his finger to his lips. We listened. The wailing had stopped. There was no more noise.
The fresh piss felt cold against my legs and I was suddenly, acutely embarrassed of what I had done. It’s damn funny how Michael had that effect on me.
Even funnier was how I remember reaching out for his hand, looking for some sort of pathetic comfort in my blood relative, my Mikey. He jumped as if my very touch startled him or scathed his skin. Yet he let me hold his hand, even though it was tiny and clammy and I grasped him hard, until bone rubbed against bone. I never felt as grateful to my brother as I did at that moment, for not letting go. Yeah the asswipe would let go later. Fuck, he’d order up my own execution if he could (don’t think he wouldn’t try). But at that moment, I wasn’t alone.
We made our way down the stairs, holding hands. You’d think it would be less scary without the yelling and the damn woman howls, but the silence was hazed with suspense and unheard threats, and forget the smell of urine emanating from me, I was this close to shitting myself.
When we reached the floor we heard a very slight tinkling of glass. We both froze and Michael’s grip on mine intensified. Just for a second. But it was enough.
The sound was followed by a groan. Then a flopping sound of body and skin against shiny tiled floors. This wasn’t good. This was very, very bad.
I wanted to turn and run. I think I may have tried. But Michael held me there and we both watched as a dark figure came crawling out of the door to the kitchen. She moved on the floor like a drunk snake. That’s what she was, after all. A f**king drunk snake out to eat us alive.
She didn’t get far. Her arms were outstretched and reaching for us but she got two feet before she gave up and passed out. She smelt like wine and evil. Like sweat and sadness. Of all the feelings that hit me at that moment, I felt...bad. Looking back, I pitied her.
Michael and I stood there, staring dumbly at our unconscious mother. Michael’s eyes were hard in the darkness, tiny pinpricks in the black. I wonder, did he feel hate toward her? Did he still love her? Did he feel loved? Or was he as confused as I was, forever mixing up love and hate and fear and females. I’ll never know. I don’t think I even care.
The spell of shock wore off when we heard another sound from the kitchen. My father was stirring. My first instinct was to run and hide. I feared him in a different way. That I’d get a spanking for wetting my pjs. That I’d be told I was nothing but a f**k up (not so much in those words, I was six after all, but I got the gist. I’m no dummy). But he didn’t notice in the darkness. He appeared in the doorway, standing over my mother, with an expression of hopelessness and utter disdain on his face. This is what I get, it said.
Instead he said, “You boys are getting a nanny. We can’t live like this.”
Same difference, I suppose.
My name is Dex Foray and I’m a hypocrite. Proud of it, too. I call my mother a monster but I’m the one who took her last name. Maybe because unlike my dad, she never left me. There’s something to be said for sticking around…even if it kills you.
I’m a hypocrite because I can’t stand weakness in others, even though I’m born of weakness myself. I dish it out and then laugh when they try and dish it back. Like I’m above it. And sometimes I think I am.
I’m a hypocrite because I hunt ghosts and I’ve pretended all this time that the ghosts haven’t been hunting me.
And I’m a hypocrite because I judge people. I judge the f**k out of everyone I meet, from their music tastes, to their jobs to their lifestyle choices. I judge them but f**k them if they dare judge me. They think they understand this monster in me, the monster in all of us. But they don’t.
They don’t know where I’ve come from.
They don’t know my side of the story.
But now you do.
AFTER SCHOOL SPECIAL
“Hey Dex. Way to f**k my girlfriend, you dick!”
That was the only warning I had before Chase Huntington – steroid monkey and douchefucker extraordinaire – punched me right in the face. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a fat, pharmaceutically pumped fist meet your eyebrow ring and eye socket at the same time but I gotta tell you, it’s not fun.
There was a black explosion of pain and I stumbled backward and hit the wall, dropping my joint to the ground. My friend Toby gasped and I couldn’t tell if the f**k was upset about the joint or that his bandmate was injured. I was seeing stars out one eye and squinting angrily at Chase with the other.
“What the hell was that for?” I cried out as Toby quickly scooped up the joint from near my feet.
“Are you f**king deaf?” Chase bellowed, taking a step forward, his fist raised.
Oh right. The whole girlfriend f**king thing.
It was true. Not a misunderstanding by a long shot. But I was going to play it that way, especially as I saw the hungry eyes of our nearby classmates focus on us from across the yard, sniffing the potential blood in the air. Kids, they always liked a fight, especially one between a jock and a skid like me. This was David and Goliath level here, people. One scrawny, pierced 15-year old f**k up against an 18-year old who failed high school twice because he couldn’t spell his name properly.
I mean, what, they were really going to believe that Amanda Layne, Chase’s gorgeous, straight-A student, gymnastics champion girlfriend would sleep with someone like me?
Well she did. Don’t ask how I did it, I think I give up some kind of “I don’t give a fuck” charm or maybe it’s the long hair and eyebrow ring. Or maybe it’s because I’m very, very persistent and I more or less cornered her in the darkroom after photography class and shoved my tongue down her throat and gave her a taste of something she couldn’t say no to. A Dex sample, totally free. She didn’t have to buy the thing, but she did.
I’m a good product.
For whatever reason it worked and a few days ago I was going down on Amanda underneath the bleachers (yeah, yeah how cliché but chicks dig clichés). I think I ate as much dirt as I did p**sy but she seemed to like it. No, scratch that, love it. I could tell from the way she screamed out my name until I had to put my hand over her mouth in case someone heard us. The bleachers soon led to her car (she’s a year older) and I took some perverse pleasure in the fact that I was screwing something Chase prized very dearly. It made me feel like I was The Shit. She wanted me. He wanted her. I walked away clean.
Or at least I had until Chase found me during lunch hour. I knew this was coming, I just had hoped I wasn’t stoned at the time so I could have had a little more warning. I could have devised a better plan than the one that came into play.
“How dare you accuse me of something like that?!” I hollered back in mock disgust and rubbed at my eye which I knew was going to black and swollen very soon. “I wouldn’t touch that skank with a ten-foot pole.”
The gathering crowd gasped.
“Dude,” Toby said under his breath before toking away.
This time I did see the fist coming. I planned on it. No guy worth their salt wants to hear their girlfriend being called a skank, even if she was a skank (and, come to think of it, she really was - though I was no better).
Chase lunged for me, but I was smaller and went lower. I tackled him at the waist and it was only surprise that allowed me to knock him off his feet. We hit the ground and fumbled for a bit until I managed to straddle him much like I wanted Amanda to straddle me (she was too shy or some girly bullshit) and I delivered a few quick jabs to his jaw and a crushing one to the nose. He cried out in pain, at the crunch and blood and then literally threw me off of him.
I rolled for a few feet expecting to have Chase’s overpuffed Nike sneakers crushing my face at any second but there was nothing. I opened my eyes and blinked at the sky. Something was blocking it. Something fat and round like the sun.
From what he saw, the scruffy, troublesome Dex Foray had randomly attacked Chase Huntington, one of the star football players and heroes of the school. No wonder Chase kept failing, why leave a place where even the Principal worshipped the ground you walked on?