Submitted by John Lincicome.
“Why did you do that, Johnny?”
It was a difficult time for me. I’d grown just old enough that the stuff in my world that didn’t make sense, manifested itself in a way that was inappropriate. It was among the first times I lashed out so significantly, but it darn sure wasn’t the last.
“I asked you a question! Answer me!”
For some reason the vinyl covered chairs around the kitchen table at 8427 Washington Blvd had visited a curiosity to me. The way the red, vinyl stretched across the seat bottoms and backs of the dinette set in the kitchen represented something that angered me.
No idea why. No idea why I did what I did, which was slash the seat bottoms and backs of the three chairs with a kitchen knife.
“Answer me, pussy!”
Paralyzed with fear my voice was no where to be found, and even if it could-a-been found there’s no tellin’ what would’ve come out. I just looked up at him through the lenses of kid confusion that only a kid knows.
The old man.
He was really pissed, and rightfully so.
“Answer me!” he said again.
I said nothing. I knew a somethin’ was comin’, just not sure “what” it would be. The moment was pregnant with fear and mad and rights and wrongs. Then it came.
He attempted to back hand me with his right hand, but I ducked and lost my footing, fell to the floor. That angered him even more. I balled up on the garage floor prepared to take whatever was coming.
In the next beat I thought of a time years earlier when we were livin’ in military housing/Parkway/1816-B. Must-a-been 1959 or so. I was upstairs in bed and heard loud voices downstairs.
I’d crept out of my room, and down a few of the stair steps to a point where I could see the living area below through the balustrade.
Knees to my chin, heart and head in a tizzy, to much a coward to hold on to the balustrade lest my fingers betrayed my presence. I watched and listened. Came a time I’d heard and seen enough and…
…I slithered back up the steps and into my bed, while the monsters beneath my bed did their stuffs.
“Answer me!” he said again.
I. Did. Not.
He was an army guy. His life had made him who he was, who/whatever that was, I had no clue about any of his used to be’s, no idea of any of that stuff. Not that it would’ve matted in those moments.
Beyond that I’d messed up big time. He was well within his rights to be mad as hell, I was guilty.
I took the blows of his feets to my legs and abdomen. Knew that to stand up wouldn’t end well, bein’ a coward balled up on the floor was the best I could do.
At the time mini-bikes were the craze. Some of the other fella’s in the neighborhood had ‘em. They all had either a 3.5p Tecumseh, or Briggs & Stratton motor with a centrifcal(sp) clutch. They were a big deal. “Tough” comes to mind – a word lost to time.
One of my kiddo acquaintances at the time had a go-kart his old man had built that boasted a direct drive MCculloch chain saw motor. I remember watching with kiddo envy as he, Rob Brandt, sat in the drivers seat and sped down a dead end street near Varleys’s Market.
One Saturday a few months later the old man came home with a “Mini-Bike” in the trunk of his 1956 Buick, two toned 4-Holer/Roadmaster. It was all assembled, just needed gas. He muscled it from the trunk and gifted me, then went to grab the gas can that lived under the stone bar-b-q in the back yard and, filled ‘er up.
Just reward for bein’ a coward? Or a consolation prize? Don’t know. Never will. Some things ain’t to be known by a kid.
Time repeated itself. Doin’ wrong comes natural, like wakin’ up come mornin’ time.
The figurin’ it out thing comes later in life, if it ever comes at all.
It was 30 years later. Time had passed, mom had passed by her own hand and the old man had moved away and taken up with a new gal a few miles east of Kansas City, KS, in Oakgrove MO. My daughter in Bowling Green, KY was graduating so I flew back to attend.
I rented a car bound for Oakgrove, MO to meet up with the old man. Lightening visited as the rental car and radio and I approached St Louis. It was a somethin’, the lightenin’
Hadn’t seen him for 30 years, and I had questions. Came a time I arrived to my hotel room and made the call. The next day I did the visit thing.
He’d aged, wasn’t the man he once was. I’d aged, too, wasn’t the kid I once was, on the outside anyway. I went bent on askin’ the “why” thing of my long ago kiddo, bent on answers.
I met his new love and we did the dance of makin’ nice. The clumsy, social ménage à trois of sorts comes to mind. Came a time I suggested to dad that we “two” go out for a drink, he agreed.
The waterin’ hole wasn’t a nothin’ cepin’ for reasonably mid west sort of a place; quiet with pretty waitresses and bartender. We grabbed a table made it our own and ordered a round. Then two. We did the “remember when” thing. We laughed a bit. Things was goin’ fine, felt like the “big ask” primed by ETOH would be safe. I pulled the trigger.
He listened as I fired off my round. He only spoke once, and that was after the fourth round. His eyes were full of an ugly thing, and the kid in me felt it all over again.
“You’re such a pussy…” was the last thing he said to me.
He got a cab.
We never spoke again. He passed 6 years later.
I drove to Chicago that night and holed up in a Marriot’s near the airport. I’d made reservations with Amtrac for the trip back to Tacoma, and spent a few evenings in the bar talkin’ story with the bartender.
It was a time when Jeffrey Dalmer was on trial. A time when a motorcade that included Princess Diana passed beneath my hotel window.
The train ride back to Tacoma Town was a few days long. I had a “room” on the train. The conductor fella bought me liquor and food, I blew my tobacco smoke out of the window, visiting the lounge car now and again, too, intent on makin’ nice and gettin’ out of my head. However, don’t recall speakin’ to a soul during the ride back save for the conductor fella.
Kid life is a lot of things. Some kids had it far worse than I, totally get that. Some kids had it better.
At the end of my day my kid life truths are/were what they were, not amiable to argument or judgement. Beyond that among the things in life I’ve learned is that…
Love is sometimes obligatory.
Sometimes love is just a word that’s heard when things are bein’ said.
Sometimes love is the real deal.
But how does a kid know?
Sticks and stones can break ya, but words can pummel a soul.
These days, all some of us got left, are words.
John L. Lincicome lives in Tacoma and you can read more Kid Life stories on the You Know Your From Lakewood, WA If… Facebook Page. The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.