Monday, February 17, 2014


I don't know what my dad's problem was, but he just didn't like me for some reason.  It's hard to know why other than he himself was from an abusive, dysfunctional family and his dad would get drunk and beat him.  Maybe this is some sickness that some people just need to perpetuate.  Thank God I am breaking the cycle, I cannot yell at my son, and certainly could never spank him or hit him.  I'd rather cut off my arm than hit my son, and I really mean it.
But my dad just couldn't lay off me when I was growing up.  I got whacked over the head once, but mostly the beatings were across my back while he was smacking me down the hall to my room.
Of course, I eventually put a stop to the abuse when I got big enough, a senior in high school.  I was really in great shape going into my senior year of high school.  All summer long I ran several miles each day, lifted weights, and worked the hard manual labor on farms.  Of course many hours of basketball, on the rough local playgrounds.  My house was only a block away from what we called 'the hood' in our town.  Yeah, I really did get into some slam dunk contests with my black friends.  My favorite opponent, he was stabbed to death that year only a block away, in 'the hood.'  He was cool, and this was the first time someone I knew closely was killed.  I only weighed 160 but I looked like 200 pounds, just pure muscle, no fat.  Really good shape.  And I was really wanting the best basketball season ever, bad...

My senior year, we were supposed to have been our absolute best basketball team ever, 3 returning starters from the previous year which was our best season ever.  As a junior, and starter, on the previous year's basketball team, we won 20 and lost 6, and one of those wins was in the final game of a tournament, our school's first ever championship trophy.  Even 33 years later, that trophy dominates the hallway, right outside the school lunch room.  There's a picture of our team by it, the starters in front, we're down on one knee.  Around my neck is one of the nets we cut down.  Our best player graduated and went on to play Division 1 college ball, and for a while he was one of the top 10 scorers in the country.   Not bad for a little Catholic high school with only 92 students. 

And so, I cannot figure out why my dad never liked me.  Not only was I a basketball and baseball star, a junior starter on the school's best team ever, but I scored very high on the National Merit Scholar test my junior year and got some award, in the 5 county area I was the 3rd highest scorer on this test, and it made the papers.  For this accomplishment, the principal, teachers, and even some parents, thanked me for 'putting the school on the map.'

I never got in any trouble either growing up.  I smoked some marijuana, rarely, but generally did not like to smoke as I didn't want anything 'polluting my lungs' and slowing me down in sports.  I drank the usual amount of beer, however much that was, maybe a few during the week and a 6-pack on Friday and Saturday nights.  Just like all the guys at school.  But no DUI's, no arrests, no drugs, no trouble.  Behind the scenes, it helped that my family was politically connected, because in high school I got pulled over 3 or 4 times when I was under the influence.  The cops just looked at my license, realized who I was, and told me either to go home or simply to be careful.  Giving me a ticket, yeah they knew it would have been 'fixed'.  Once I was pulling into a gas station while chugging a beer, and a cop standing there at the gas pumps, looking right at me.  He pulled me over a few minutes later and told me to 'Have more respect for the law'.  He didn't pay any attention to the big cooler setting on my car's back seat, full of beer. Yeah, officer, this Bud's for you!  These days it's a lot stricter. 

My dad stopped harassing me on November 10, 1981.  A day I'll never forget, a nightmare come true.  And it was a Sunday, my youngest brother's birthday, and my middle brother had a basketball tournament championship game that day, across the street at our school.  His team won, he did pretty good.  And my girlfriend was in town, her best friend's boyfriend was in the local theatre and it was the last performance of whatever play they were doing.  And so, after the basketball tournament, and birthday party, she and I went to his house for the cast party.  He was one of the town's super wealthy, lived in a huge mansion, and it was a really lavish party.  I drank too much, yeah that happened some times, and that day I was in a good mood, and just overdid it.  I remember a lot of expensive liquor, which then I couldn't handle as I mostly drank beer.  So I drank a lot of this liquor, and my girlfriend drove me home around 10 pm.  It was Sunday, and a school night.
I walked in my house, and my parents had some company still, usually after ball games at school across the street the coaches and some parents would come over to our house and have a little get-together.  Sometimes, the priests from the parish rectory across the street would come over too.  I just walked in, said "hi" to whoever was there, and went right to my bedroom.  Took off my shirt and just plopped on my bed, and passed out.
Some time later, the guests left, my dad had been drinking, and he knew I was drunk when I walked through earlier.  He was really angry as he thought I had been driving my car when I was drunk, but the reality was my girlfriend drove me home.  She was smart enough not to let me drive when I was really drunk.
So my dad comes in my bedroom, and I'm passed out, and he yanks me up and starts yelling in my face, and I really don't remember if he threw the first punch or I did.  What's interesting is that 33 years later I can remember some of this like it was yesterday, despite being so drunk that I passed out.  So whoever threw the first punch, I'll take the credit or blame, maybe it's irrelevant, but 10 minutes later my room looked like a hurricane came through it.  My desk chair was smashed, and 2 drawers from my dresser pulled out and really just smashed.  And I remember thinking I was gonna lose this fight, my dad was really tough back then, he was a former sergeant in the army.  And my mom called the cops, she and my sister were screaming this whole time.  It was really a violent, shocking thing.  I don't know how the furniture got smashed though.  And so, this 'fight or flight' instinct kicked in, and my brain chose 'flight.'   The only way out of my bedroom was the door blocked by my dad.  So I literally jumped headfirst - actually facefirst - through the window and landed in the back yard.  From there I could see the police lights flashing on the street out front, I jumped out just in time.  Of course I would have been taken to jail, not my dad, the instigator.  Fortunately, despite the 6 feet drop from my window to the ground, I landed somehow that I didn't get injured.  And there I am, in my backyard, on a cold, damp November night, no shirt and blood all over me.  Jumping through the window left a huge gash from my forehead down to my cheek.  The glass missed my eye by 1/4 inch.  So I ran...
Maybe it was like a scene from 'Rambo', I ran through the town maybe 2 or 3 miles, ducking into the shadows whenever a car was coming.  And I got another couple of miles to where the city ends and the country starts, thick woods.  I was half jogging, half walking.  Whenever a car's headlights were approaching in the distance, I'd jump into a ditch by the road, ducking under the bushes or trees.  I was going to my girlfriend's, she lived several miles away, and this was the insanity of the situation, she lived so far away and I'm thinking I can get to her house on foot.  And so maybe 2 more miles, I don't know, I came to a backroad off the main highway, and thought I knew where I was, I thought maybe this was a short cut.
And at this point, it's probably midnight, about 40-something degrees cold, damp, foggy, I have no shirt on, I'm covered with blood, and still bleeding profusely from the gash on my face.  I forget the details around this point, where I turned onto the backroad, but I was probably walking-jogging through hell for maybe 2 or 3 hours. The backroad, it turns out wasn't a shortcut, and I was lost. I should have gotten hypothermia from the cold exposure.  I saw some headlights coming after wandering this backroad, and just gave up, I stood in the road and waved the guy down.
Fortunately, it was one of the local redneck pot-heads, who the hell else would have pulled over and gave me a ride?  This guy didn't know me but he knew my girlfriend's dad, since her dad owned a farm supply store.  He lived not too far from her.  I asked him to give me a ride to her house, and he agreed, what else could he say to a bloody, half-drunk, shirtless, shivering teenager?  I don't remember what we talked about, but 20 minutes later we pulled into my girlfriend's driveway, it's maybe 1 am.  I rang her doorbell, she came to the door with her mom, they saw me and kind of screamed, saying "Oh my God!" and you know, the usual stuff girlfriends and their moms say when you ring their doorbell covered with blood and no shirt at 1 am.  I can vaguely remember they wiped the blood off my face, and my girlfriend's mom talking about hypothermia, hospital, stitches, whatever.  They covered me up with blankets after cleaning the blood off and bandaging me, and the next day my girlfriend took me to my grandma's.  I stayed there for a week, I refused to go home.
I remember my girlfriend was kinda in shock over this for most of the winter.
When I finally did go home, my room looked the same as when I jumped out the window, only they covered up the broken window with plastic sheeting.  It stayed like that all winter.  They never took me to get stitches, and my whole senior year the scar ran visibly from my forehead down to my cheek.  Now only a small scar remains, 1/4" away from my left eye.  I am so lucky I didn't lose my eye.
And I missed basketball practices due to this, right before the first big game of the year, and the coach made me sit on the bench the whole game.  The next day I took my uniform over to his office and told him I didn't want to play.  I was really upset that he wouldn't let me play that game, I was going to go head-to-head against the leading scorer in the state and there were a lot of college scouts at that game.  Even today I have dreams about playing high school basketball, it's just something unresolved, deep inside, that I never got over.  These dreams are rarer now, once or twice a year maybe.  Even without me the team had a really good season, they went the farthest ever in the state tournament our school had ever gone. 
I credit of course my Guardian Angel, this night could have ended on a more tragic note, I could have died somewhere on that backroad, after losing so much blood, no shirt, on a cold November night.  My dad never harassed me again, in fact he largely ignored me after that, until the following summer when we were visiting prospective colleges. 
And that's how it is, to walk (& jog) through hell...

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