Unknown Substances

Though my mom and step dad’s move to a New Jersey suburb was partially due to an attempt to provide a better and perhaps, safer environment for us, it also offered windows to many other unforeseen dangers. One being, somewhat unsupervised weekend back in Queens where I originated. With my dad having moved to Staten Island to be live with his soon to be wife, it was up to my grandmother to not only host me but act as a parental force.

My grandmother, God rest her soul, was an angel in every way imaginable, yet with all her intelligence and grace she embodied, she lacked when it came to her role as a disciplinary figure. A weakness that gave me the free reign I sought on the weekends as a sixteen-year-old looking to find his freedom by sampling everything on the menu.

On one particular night, I met up with two good friends in search of alcohol and whatever else we could find. I remember the night air being cool but not cold, leaving us warm enough to cover a lot of ground and stay out late. Being the lightweight, I always was when it came to drinking. I had a heavy buzz after just three beers. So much so, that by the time we reached our final destination at the local public school steps, I was eager to sit down and share a blunt with someone I had met before but didn’t know that well.

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Noted, though I never got into hard drugs or even smoking cigarettes, I did enjoy marijuana and the occasional joint and enjoyed the harmless buzz it provided. Doing so with someone I didn’t know, and trust was an epically bad idea, one that I would quickly regret.

Though what happened on the ten-block walk from the schoolyard is clouded by a combination of alcohol and drug intake, I completely flipped out and recalled being slammed on the concrete after attacking one of my friends. The next thing I remember is getting dumped on the steps in front of my grandmother’s apartment. Within a few minutes, I was able to find my keys and make my way inside.

Imagine the surprise and flat out shock when my father stood waiting at the top of the stairs. “Sorry, dad. I’m pretty fucked up.” I slurred. “I can tell,” he remarked. “Go take a shower and get some sleep.” “We’ll discuss this in the morning.” By then, his soon to be wife would often throw him out when he broke curfew and came home drunk from the bar. It only seemed natural to run back to his mom’s place.

There was a short period between making my way from the living room, through the kitchen and onto the bathroom where I must have blacked out. My father tells me he heard a loud crash. When he found me, he tells me I had collapsed before I had made it to the shower. He often remarks on how my entire body had turned gray, which made him think I might be dead. My father had made some phone calls to some of the people I might have seen that night. I recall being flanked by two of my close friends with my father standing in the doorway.

The night finished with me sending a barrage of curse words and insults at my father. “Fuck you!” “What are you looking at?” “You’ve never done anything for me.” “You knew we were struggling. Why didn’t you ever pay child support.” Mean, vile things that I have apologized for and will always regret. When I woke up the next morning, I remember my legs feeling weak and needing time to find my balance. Dad and I had a long talk, during which I apologized. I remember him laughing and saying, “You had a rough night. I hope you learned your lesson.” Before taking me out for breakfast, he added, “I don’t see any reason to bring this up with your mom.” If he had, my punishment, constant lecturing, and threats of not paying for rehab would have lasted much longer than one night of incredibly bad decisions and judgment on my part. In the end, I learned that the joint I smoked contained PCP. A drug that I’m sure some of my friends could handle. As for someone who never did more than smoke a little grass, it wrecked me.

Someone to Watch Over Me

Some of my earliest memories involve the time I spent at two of the gas stations that sat on Astoria Blvd. adjacent to La Guardia Airport. Though I recall having a regular sitter from the time I was in diapers until I entered the second grade. There were times, perhaps the weekend, when other arrangements would be made. Being that the gas station was less than a block away and my dad knew the owners and employees pretty well, asking them to keep an eye on me, although I was only four, seemed like a no brainer.

Though the times I spent in their care were few, I watched in amazement as the hours spent watching the mechanics placed cars on lifts and raised them with ease, as if they were spirited magicians. I couldn’t help but think if you can find the reason why a car isn’t performing at expected and fix it. They can probably solve most of the ills of the world. Having seen the engines and the transmissions of numerous automobiles at such a young age was fascinating. From these early experiences, I developed a love for the smell of gas, tires, and passion for pegboards. Those under the car roller boards and the way they magically disappeared underneath the car, absorbing the mechanic. Not releasing him until the engine purred like a kitten, forget about it. Though, in retrospect, a short time at a very young age. The experience gave me an appreciation and respect for blue-collar workers. The kind that knew how to fix things when they were broke and thoroughly wash their hands after a hard day’s work.

Years later, I think I was sixteen. I was reading my grand aunt’s copy of the Daily News when I came across a detailed story about that same owner’s indictment for numerous counts of arson, kidnapping, and attempted murder. Though somewhat shocking, by then, I had gotten used to hearing, reading, or seeing familiar faces in the news. I think it helped me in developing into an adult, shaping my understanding of what’s wrong and right and, ultimately, making decisions that would keep me on a moral path.Waztch (1 of 1)

Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything regarding my own experience. The men who were trusted to watch over me were always kind, making sure I didn’t get hurt or run into traffic. As kids, we often have built-in sensors that let us know when something’s not right. Maybe I wasn’t the most intuitive kid, but I never foresee any time when they would commit such horrid acts.

Stories that involve the time I spent at two of the gas stations that sat on Astoria Blvd. adjacent to La Guardia Airport. Though I recall having a regular sitter from the time I was in diapers until I entered the second grade. There were times, perhaps the weekend, when other arrangements would be made. Being that the gas station was less than a block away and my dad knew the owners and employees pretty well, asking them to keep an eye on me, although I was only four, seemed like a no brainer.

Though the times I spent in their care were few, I watched in amazement as the hours spent watching the mechanics placed cars on lifts and raised them with ease, as if they were spirited magicians. I couldn’t help but think if you can find the reason why a car isn’t performing at expected and fix it. They can probably solve most of the ills of the world. Having seen the engines and the transmissions of numerous automobiles at such a young age was fascinating. From these early experiences, I developed a love for the smell of gas, tires, and passion for pegboards. Those under the car roller boards and the way they magically disappeared underneath the car, absorbing the mechanic. Not releasing him until the engine purred like a kitten, forget about it. Though, in retrospect, a short time at a very young age. The experience gave me an appreciation and respect for blue-collar workers. The kind that knew how to fix things when they were broke and thoroughly wash their hands after a hard day’s work.

Years later, I think I was sixteen. I was reading my grand aunt’s copy of the Daily News when I came across a detailed story about that same owner’s indictment for numerous counts of arson, kidnapping, and attempted murder. Though somewhat shocking, by then, I had gotten used to hearing, reading, or seeing familiar faces in the news. I think it helped me in developing into an adult, shaping my understanding of what’s wrong and right and, ultimately, making decisions that would keep me on a moral path.

Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything. The men who were trusted to watch over me were always kind, making sure I didn’t get hurt or run into traffic. As kids, we often have built-in sensors that let us know when something’s not right. Maybe I wasn’t the most intuitive kid, but I could never foresee any time when they would commit such horrid acts.

Closure; He Died in a Crack House.

As much as I love and respect my mother. There’s no denying the fact that she’s attracted to and maintained some somewhat toxic relationships throughout the years. So much so, that I’ve come to believe she not only welcomes much of it. I’m starting to wonder if she, in part, creates, if not fosters, some of that toxicity. This brings me to a recent conversation with her, in which she told me that her second husband (aside from my Dad, she was married several times.) and my one-time stepfather had died in a crack house.

Though my earliest memories of him have faded, the night they fought throughout the evening. As the hours passed, I lay in my bed, holding my breath and wishing it would somehow end. By 11:00 pm, the walls were shaking, and objects on the shelves above my head began to fall. Knowing full well that he might kill my mom, I jumped out of my bed, grabbed my aluminum bat, burst into their bedroom, and unleashed every curse word in my ever-expanding vocabulary. “Get off my Mom, you @$%* before I…” The mere sight of an enraged seven-year-old in feet pajamas and a baseball bat seemed to stop him from whatever he was doing and open a time frame for the police to arrive. A few hours after being forced to leave, he climbed up the fire escape and tried to get in through the bedroom window. Despite that nightmarish event, one that I can still recall in detail all these years later, she married the fucking loser.

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Over the years, my mother would sprinkle in little tidbits and stories she would acquire while talking to ex-friends and ex-wives of him, his brothers, and family. Each time, my mother would get a scolding or short-tempered lecture on why she needed to cut those ties to the past or altogether remove me from consideration when she decided to mention anything even remotely connected to that family or time in our lives.
Though their marriage lasted less than three years, he and his family would inject enough mental abuse to last decades after they had extracted from our lives — the addiction to drugs and mental illness he shared with his brothers and parents. The stories his Father would regal in over dinner. One of robbing defenseless victims, he was entrusted with escorting in his ambulance. Often referencing a gold watch or diamond ring he had stolen to enhance his skin crawling boasts.
How he, himself, would force my mother to sit in the backseat due to his daughter’s bullshit claim of feeling car sick when seated in the back. A daughter he would later do drugs with and would, herself, become a lifelong drug addict. Her athletic older brother, whom I looked up to until he attempted to molest me. The bedside table where my stepfather kept his stash of pharmaceuticals. The only drawer my mother did not dare open or question. By the third grade, I was given the first hand on the many shades of drug abuse, dependency, and addiction.
When they first began dating, Joey was hauling garbage for the sanitation department. A good job working for the city. Shortly after, I’m not sure if it was before or after they were married, he developed a back problem, went on disability, and became a stay at home psychopath. I think it’s worth noting that the weights and the weight bench that occupied the dining room never got dusty as he continued his regiment of weight lifting and bench pressing until the day he received his divorce papers. I give my mother a lot of credit for finding the strength and courage to do so.

In closing, a few days into writing this piece, I had two nightmares about him coming back and attempting to work his way back into our lives to kill my mother. Being older, a lot wiser and stronger, we were able to ward off his plan and expose him as the idiot he always was.

Haunted Memories

By the time I was seven, I was finally enjoying some of the freedom I so craved. With my parents about to divorce, I bounced from my mother to my father and on to my grandmother. Being that my parents had worked different shifts,’ my mom was a 9-5 secretary and my dad working as 3-11 since I was born. I spent most of my early years with my baby sitter and her family of two boys and an older sister. By the age of seven, I became schooled in many of the pockets and corners of my neighborhood. While there were several parks and ball fields within reach, you might think I’d be found climbing monkey bars or holding onto a swing as I launched into the air.

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Two things I did enjoy from time to time. However, the sudden need for housing and the new and bursting real estate market provided all the excitement a kid could want or even handle. The first one just happened to be on the way home from school. With there would be a bunch of kids, many I called friends or knew from the neighborhood already hanging out inside just outside of the wood panels and fences marked “No Trespassing.” There would always be an irresistible draw to join in and maybe journey farther within than the older kids.

On one particularly memorable day, some of the older kids started to throw a football around. Perhaps since they were older or I never quite got into throwing the pigskin around, I started heading home. Matthew went long on a pass and fell about two floors to the rubble below. I still remember the moment, the complete shock that left everyone’s expression in a frozen state. I had seen people die on TV and the movies before, but this was very, very different. I still remember the blood, the concrete pieces in his hair, and around his face and that frozen look that said: “I won’t be coming back in the squeal.” The next day, the news of Matthew’s accident reported over the school’s loudspeaker. Though he had not died immediately, he remained vegetated until his heart gave out a few days later. Strangely enough, I always felt his mom. The secretary at the school we attended and the two I later went to, knew I was there when that horrible accident happened. And while I didn’t understand why she was always so hard on me then. These days, I wish there was something I could have said or done something to comfort her during that time.