It was 1970. I was 14 years old.
We have been living in Florida for four years, but it seems like a lifetime already. We moved here on August 5, 1966. It rained every day for the first three months. I don't know what was wetter, the yard outside, or my mother's face from her crying.
At first, it was just the lizards that made my mother jump because it rained so much that frogs would lay eggs in puddles by the streets, and within a few days, our yards were covered in frogs. So many frogs, you could walk into the bathroom, and they would be on the walls in the shower. The frogs would get into the pockets of our jeans that were hanging on the line in the back yard, then jump out of the laundry basket, nearly scaring my mother to death. Our yard had crab holes too. Crabs, snakes, turtles, frogs … oh my.
I would often come home from school and just find my mother sobbing in the kitchen in the dark.
“What’s wrong?” I would ask her.
"Nothing!" was always the answer. I had so many mixed feelings about my mother. How do you feel abandoned and cared for at the same time? I knew she was preparing me for a different life than she had raised any of the others, but why? And why do I feel so abandoned now in Florida? She hates it here! I was 10 when we got here. What 10-year old wouldn’t love a place where you could play outside almost every day of the year?
Dad would say, “For crying out loud!” Or “Quit your bellyaching!” whenever he would see her crying, which was appropriate, I suppose. He would say that all the time for anything, though. Then he would say, "Would ya quit your bawling? We ain’t going back,” or “Stop your whining, for Pete’s sake." I would find out later the tears were from something far more profound than just our current location.
My name is Wyatt, (not really, that’s the name I would have named me). My name is Gerald Anthony Donovan. Everyone calls me Jerry, except my mother, who still calls me Gerald!
Gerald, could you come up with a geekier name? (And yes, I know, my initials are G.A.D.) My best friend is Tom Murphy. He’s a year older than me, but like everyone else, he's two years ahead of me in school. Being born in December sucks. I was held back from starting school with most kids my age. After all, my birthday passed the cutoff by one day, which was strange, now I'm almost a full year older than most of the people in my class. Plus, in the last few years, I shot up, and now I'm almost a foot taller than most of my classmates. But being rail thin, I probably weigh 20 pounds less than most.
Tom and I have a lot in common. We’re both pretty geeky kids, and we're both smart. I had the disadvantage of being intelligent and skinny. Tom was very well built for his size and age, and no one ever messed with him. We both had taken drafting. Me this year, Tom a couple of years ago. The teacher, Mr. Clark, said I was one of the best students he had ever had except for Tom, of course. He could draw architectural drawings blindfolded. Mr. Clark has actually had a couple of Tom’s works framed and put up on the wall. He was that good!
The last weekend before the last week of school, I’m in eighth grade. Next year I’ll be a freshman. Nothing changes, really. In South Florida, junior high is seventh grade through ninth grade. I won’t change schools until the following year when I go to the high school across the street. My brother Danny and my best friend Tom are sophomores there.
It was Miami in the summer, and we had a lot of time on our hands. My parents would never spring for summer camp or anything like that. I was not really looking forward to this summer. Last summer, I spent most weekdays locked in the bathroom. My brother Danny has been ignored by our father, and he's decided to take out his frustrations on me. Any day that my parents aren't home, he starts picking on me. Over the dumbest things too: how clean I am, or actually, how dirty I must be, or how clean my room is or how disappointed mom and dad are in me. We might start playing some game, and if I'm winning, he'll accuse me of cheating, and he’ll start pushing me around, or saying he wants to wrestle. It’s never going to be good for me. My only safe place is the bathroom. It's the single room in the house with a lock on it. I have to stay in there until he leaves. He never hits me hard enough to leave a bruise or break anything; I think it’s more psychological than anything else. At least this year, he has a job, so he'll be out of the house more often.
Last night was a little rougher than usual. We had been in my room. We were always in my room, looking at car magazines and talking about what kind of cars we were going to get when we got older. For some reason, he got on the subject of how weak I was and how I needed to toughen up. The next thing I know, he's pushed me into the corner and is slapping at me. I learned a long time ago that, if I don’t cry or show emotion, he will eventually stop. It went on for more than 20 minutes until Mom got home. When he heard the door open, he went running into the living room. I went into the bathroom and locked the door and cried quietly.
Mom came into my room later and asked if I was OK. Nothing ever changes. If I tell her what’s happening, she’ll defend him. Sometimes it feels like it's no use.
This year I’ll be 15, and I can get some kind of small motorcycle, I’ll be able to get out of the house instead of locking myself in the bathroom. I have a paper route, and I cut lawns in the neighborhood with my friend Tucker. I have like $300 saved. Only a small portion of the ninth graders are old enough to drive. Then I would be cool.
Still, I am pretty geeky, with delicate blond hair in a crew cut, and skinny. My one outstanding feature was a huge nose, not long like Cyrano De Bergerac or anything, but broad and flat, filling up the center of my face. It was just noticeable to most people, the type of thing that makes you give someone a second look. I have hazel eyes and so far, have been blessed with little or no acne. That would be awful, a large pimple-covered nose! Although, since moving to Florida, I did have a fungus covering most of my upper torso. (“There’s a fungus among us,” a doctor once said to me, and we laughed and laughed… not!) The doctor told my mother I was missing something, a gene, or something that fought off fungus. He said he had never seen anything like it and actually took Polaroid pictures of me, but my mother seemed to just brush it off. There was no permanent cure, but there was an expensive cream that smelled like rotten eggs that I could put on twice a day and leave it on for half an hour. Needless to say, the cream was not used; therefore, the prescription was not refilled, and the fungus did not go away. I just didn’t take off my shirt. It only itched when it was hot and humid (which was like 360 days a year).
I was smart, borderline genius they told me, which only made the other kids want to beat me up more. I tried not to appear too bright, but I had almost a photographic memory. I really didn’t need to study much; if I heard it, or saw something in class, I would remember it on a test.
I have an unnatural fear of vampires. I don't know why. I remember seeing Bella Lugosi in a vampire movie as a kid, and I've been afraid of them ever since. If I saw the film today, it would probably make me laugh! I know vampires and werewolves don’t exist, but I’m still afraid of them. I was also scared of the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, but wasn't everybody? I have recurring nightmares that I’m being chased by alligators or crocodiles. I’m not sure which, but when they catch me in my dreams, they don’t seem to have any teeth, just gums.
I couldn’t drive yet. You could get your learners permit at fifteen, but I wanted to get out in the world. We had bikes, cool bikes with fat tires, and banana seats with sissy bars. Mine was metallic blue. My parents bought them for Danny and me when I was 10, and he was 11 before we left Chicago. Mine was a combination birthday and Christmas present. Just a birthday present for Danny because he was born in November, (Did I mention being born in December sucks?) Tom had the most recent bike that just came out, of course. It had multiple gears and front brakes. His was metallic red, and his seat didn't have tape holding it together like mine. He also had a motorcycle, a Yamaha 100, but he still liked to ride bikes with me. His parents bought him whatever he wanted. They were rich, father worked in a bank. Well, wealthy to me anyway.
That was when I came to know this place called Interama. It was a failed attempt at building a permanent Pavilion of the Americas. It was a vast undeveloped parcel of land that stretched from 135th Street to 167th Street and from U.S. 1 all the way to the Intracoastal and Biscayne Bay. It was probably the most significant piece of undeveloped waterfront land in all of South Florida. There were some paved roads but mostly rough gravel roads to nowhere. There was a completed bridge that was one entrance on 167th Street. There were cement posts jackhammered in all over the place, the foundations of buildings that would never be built. We rode our bikes out there. We broke bones out there, and we caught funguses. (I got ringworm there, but they can cure that.) And we had weird allergic reactions to the plant life out there. There were bugs, mostly mosquitoes, but other stinging bugs as well. I once brushed against a poisonous caterpillar, and my whole arm swelled up.
Interama. In the 1960s, the word itself came to symbolize everything right about Florida and everything that was wrong about Florida. What was right about Interama was the dream it was. Meeting place for cultures and people from the Americas to come, shop, exchange ideas, a new Utopia, to draw tourists and their money from all over the world. What was wrong with Interama? It was a place where federal, state, and local dollars came to disappear. Where corruption and shoddy construction were commonplace, where greed was king for a day, and nobody was ever held accountable. The place itself represented the dream. Located on the Oleta River and the Bay, it had a paved and well-lit road going over a bridge into the swamp. The paved road quickly turned into gravel, then sand, then a trail, then Nothing but dense mangroves.
Interama was lush with different types of trees. The strangler fig, tall pines, and gumbo limbo were everywhere. The most common tree by far was the mangrove tree. It is one of the few trees that actually thrived in saltwater. There are over a hundred different varieties. The black mangroves that populate most of the shoreline of Interama are strange-looking trees. With most of their roots above ground, they look like they could get up and walk away like a giant spider or some walking trees from a 1950’s sci-fi epic, “Attack of the killer trees!” or something.
To me, Interama was my sanctuary. It was a place where I could do things that most other kids couldn’t do, and it was a place to commune with nature in the middle of a giant metropolis. Like someone said, “It wasn’t heaven, but you could see it from there.”
That Saturday was pretty much like any other. I got up around seven. The house was quiet, and Mom had gone to work. She had had a job as a hairdresser in Chicago. One of her friends had a hair salon in her basement. But, in Florida, she would have had to go to school again and get a license to do hair, so instead, she got a job at a thrift store sorting clothes. She had first dibs on items that were dropped off before they went onto the sales floor. Most of my clothes came from there. I have never had a new pair of pants. All my life, I got Danny's hand-me-downs, and now I get some stranger’s pants, or possibly some kid’s from school! I might see some San Souci kid wearing designer jeans one day, and a couple of weeks later, mom would bring home a similar pair from the thrift store. Go figure.
Dad was sleeping. Danny was sleeping. Smokey, the cat, was sleeping. I got dressed and left the house, I was wearing a pair of hand-me-down shorts and a tee-shirt, a red bandana on my head and a couple more wrapped around the handlebars. I had dumped the books out of my backpack and put in a couple of bottles of water. I was going to meet Tom at the Dunkin’ Donuts on Dixie Highway, and then we would ride to Interama.
Dixie Highway is about three miles from my house, where we lived on 129th Street and Second Avenue in the middle of the block. I left my home and rode down to the walk bridge on 131st Street. When I got near the bridge, I saw the Rankin gang coming out from underneath the bridge. I’m sure they were smoking or something. Charlie, the oldest one, says, “Hey Donovan, what’s your hurry?” I almost got up the ramp when his brother Chris grabbed the back of my bike and pulled me back.
"I'm going trail riding with my friend, let me go, would you?” I said, struggling to getaway. There were only the two of them there today, so I was able to break away from Chris’s grip and rode across the bridge. They chased me for a little while, laughing and throwing rocks at me.
It took me about 20 minutes to make it to the donut shop. Tom was already there when I arrived.
“G’ morning,” I said.
He nodded, holding up his coffee. I went inside and ordered a coffee and two French crullers covered with chocolate icing. They were far better than regular donuts. All of a sudden, I had a strange feeling. It felt like one of the cops in the corner was looking at me, almost looking through me. But, when I looked over at him, he looked down. They were always there. I don’t think they ever gave me a second look before.
I went outside and sat on the curb with Tom and ate my treasure. After we finished, we left the donut shop and rode up to 151st Street and headed east for the entrance.
“The Rankins were at the bridge this morning,” I told him as we were riding. “They tried to stop me.”
“Why do you even bother to go that way?” he asked, trying to reason with me. “It’s just as easy to ride up to 135th Street, isn’t it?
“It’s Saturday, and I didn't think they would be there today," I told him. Typically, they were only there on weekdays.
"Well, forget about it. Let's hit the trails!" Tom said as he took off down one of the longer, more challenging trails.
That was the beautiful thing about riding the trails. You had to focus on the here and now and, if you took your attention off the trails, you could easily fall.
We had been riding all morning on trails everywhere, going nowhere. They were mostly rock and sand with roots and sudden drops to watch out for. The older kids rode motorcycles and dune buggies. There was a place we called the mud pit where people would do donuts with their vehicles. It was a place to meet if you were going to meet someone. We were at the mud pit, it was near the bay in a spot where the trails ended, and we usually turned around and headed back.
There was a gust of wind, and it was as if the wind whispered, “Wyatt.”
“What? Did you say something?” I asked Tom.
Tom said, “No, I didn’t say anything.
Another wisp of wind and “Wyatt.” There it was again.
Tom wanted to take a break, but I was still feeling anxious for some reason wanted to burn off some energy. In the distance, I could see there was a trail I hadn’t ever even noticed before.
I said to Tom, “I’m going to ride down this trail, I’ll be right back.”
“What trail?” He said.
“This trail!" I said as I took off down the trail. He said something else, but I was already out of earshot.
“Wyatt.” The sound continued.
As I rode, it seemed like the trail was just appearing between the mangrove roots. I couldn’t see where it went 50 feet ahead of me, and the smell, I swear I could smell angel food cake. It was the one thing my mother did for me on my birthday. She would make me a homemade angel food cake with chocolate frosting. She would put it on top of a Coke bottle upside down to cool. I would pick at the crust on top. She didn’t mind because that would end up being the bottom of the cake when it was iced. She had taught me how to bake it as well. Of course, it used about a dozen egg whites. The yolks were frozen for another time, and Nothing was ever wasted.
I was riding along the gravel trail when it suddenly became like a rock garden, large boulders on each side of the path that I had to dodge. They were getting closer and closer when my left pedal hit one of the larger rocks. Trying not to lose control of my bike, I realized I'm riding down a hill, and then, suddenly, the bike stops when my front tire gets stuck on a mangrove root. Over the handlebars, I go. I must have closed my eyes because, the next thing I know, I’m free falling down a hole that didn’t seem to have an end. It had to be 20 feet wide.
Sinkholes are relatively common here in Florida. I managed to grab onto a root, and my bike just kept on falling. I never heard it land anywhere. As I was hanging on, all I could think of was what my mother had told me whenever I went riding. "No falling," she said.
Right, “No falling.” She said that every time. I don’t know if she said that to my brothers as they were growing up or not. Being that I was the youngest and the only one of four boys, whoever broke a bone of any kind. Of course, Bill Jr. didn’t count. He was killed in Viet Nam. He was the second born. My father never got over that. I suppose it’s tough when one of your children dies, especially one named after you. Plus, there was no body. He was blown up. They had a shrine for him in the living room, on top of the fake fireplace stereo thing.
The oldest one, Joe, was estranged. He had married a girl from Japan. At least we thought she was from Japan. Her country of origin had never been established to my satisfaction.
My father had fought and killed the Japanese at Guadalcanal. He got malaria and nearly died at Guadalcanal. He never accepted her. Sometimes when he got angry, he said some of the vilest things I had ever heard about the Japanese. That was another thing about Joe. Like they say, the nut doesn’t fall too far from the tree, Joe hated the Japanese also, all minorities actually.
I guess all those years of hearing my father slam Japanese had its toll. That’s also what was so weird about my father buying a Toyota for my mother!
We hadn’t heard from Joe and his new wife in years. I never got into the kind of trouble they did. I didn’t do or sell drugs like my oldest brother. I never broke all the windows in a synagogue and painted Nazi symbols on things or stole a car; I broke my arm riding my bike, big deal, “No falling!”
"Focus, Jerry!” I think to myself.
“It’s Wyatt! Your name is Wyatt.” A soft voice said and trailed off.
I must have blacked out from the fall; I’m hanging onto a root, in a deep hole, bike gone, and thinking about my brothers who came before me. And now I hear voices! I need to focus on getting back to the surface. This is going to take a while. My left arm was still sore from the break last year. My eyes are starting to adjust, and the surface is in view. Reaching for another root, I lose my grip on the first one and find myself floating in mid-air.
“Do not worry, you are safe,” the voice said.
“Is this Heaven?” I think to myself.
The voice laughs and says, “Why do they all ask that?”
Then a breeze pushing me up and up, suddenly a gust of wind pushes me out of the hole. Landing in the saw grass a little dirty, a little scratched up, feeling around. Nothing broken. I don’t want to go home again with another broken bone; I’ll never hear the end of it! Suddenly there’s my bike landing on top of me.
Before I can catch my breath, the sinkhole is closing up to the size of a sewer pipe. Looking at my bike, it was so weird. It was cleaner than it was when I fell into the hole, and it was oiled. I never oiled it. We didn’t have any oil. I grew up thinking we were poor. Turned out, my father was just cheap.
“Hello? Is anyone there?” No answer, no voices. I must be imagining things.
I tied a bandana around a tree limb above the hole so I could find it again; it was still changing shape and now looked like a den of a small animal.
I headed back for the mud pit to find my friend Tom to tell him what happened. Riding along the trails, the thought occurred to me, he or anyone else for that matter is not going to believe me. I would have to bring him back to explore the hole another day.
“What happened to you? You’ve been gone for three hours, man,” Tom yelled as I came around the corner.
"What? " I said, looking at my watch. He was right. It was nearly five o’clock. My mother was going to freak out.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I fell. I must have gotten knocked out, and how come you didn’t come looking for me?”
“I did, man!” he said. “I couldn’t find you. Where did you get knocked out?”
It seemed apparent he was hiding something.
“Hey, forget it,” I said anxiously. “Let’s head home. You want to ride tomorrow?”
“Sure, what time?” Tom asked, obviously happy I’d changed the subject.
“First thing in the morning,” I said. “I’ll call at your window around 8:30.”
“Great, I’ll pay for coffee and donuts,” he said, sounding as excited as I felt.
Tom and I rode home along Biscayne Blvd. to 135th Street. Both streets are busy four-lane streets. On the west side of Biscayne Blvd. are railroad tracks with businesses on the east side. 135th Street has houses and apartment complexes on both sides with a smattering of business. I left him at Sixteenth Avenue at his apartment house.
“You all right, man?” Tom asked. “Are you going to be able to ride the rest of the way to your house?” He sounded genuinely concerned.
“Sure, man! I’m fine. Why?” I asked.
“You got knocked out, remember?” he said, chuckling.
“Oh yeah, I forgot," I said.
“Whatever, dude, just be careful riding home. It will be late when you get there, and I’ll call your mom to let her know you’re on your way.”
“Cool, I’ll see you in the morning,” I said.
I kept riding down 135th Street, past the high school to our house in Breezeswept. We lived in a three-bedroom, two-bath one-story house, one carport, no pool, not on the water home. It was nothing special, one of five different models in the area, like a giant builder had used a cookie cutter. The only thing unusual was that the previous owner had died in the house. He had had a prolonged illness and was bedridden. They had hooked up an intercom system that connected to the kitchen. My parents didn’t know it, but you could almost hear what they said in there. It was muffled and distorted.
The house was dark when I walked in. I could hear my parents fighting in their room. They probably wouldn’t notice that I was late anyway. I went into the kitchen and fixed myself a hot dog. There were always hot dogs, and I tried to listen to what they were saying.
Tomorrow is Sunday. We don’t go to church. We haven't been to a church since we left Chicago. It's kind of funny how that happened. When we lived in Chicago, Sunday and church were very important. We had envelopes for money and everything. But that was all for the family, the big show. In Florida, there was no family, no church to go to impress anyone. We left all the aunts and uncles, cousins, grandmas behind and moved to Florida.
Grandma, the evil one, would come and visit occasionally. Sometimes she brought Aunt Bertha; I don't know which one was more evil. I remember Bertha would babysit for us when we were very young in Chicago. She would make us sit on our hands. If we disobeyed, she would grab hold of a bit of flesh on my arm and twist it until it turned blue. When Grandma Donovan did visit, it would be in August. Then she would sit in the Florida room and complain about how hot it was. What made matters worse, she would sleep in Danny's bedroom, and he would sleep in his old bed in my room, making my life miserable for two weeks.
My parents were old, old compared to my friend's parents anyway. They were in their late thirties when I was born. They were both over 50 now. Danny and I were both shocks. They thought they were done with the first two, then 10 years later, along comes Danny. I had heard that they separated for a while after Danny was born, but they never talked about it. Then, a year later, I.
The two oldest were out of the house when I was very young. Joe, I hardly knew at all except the few time he tried to torture me like he had done to the pet mice he had, and the other stories I did hear about him didn’t impress me. Bill was around long enough to buy me presents, but then he was drafted and went off to Viet Nam and to die. Hard to believe I was related to any of these people! I did have my mother’s skin and hair but didn’t look anything like my father; Danny looked like a miniature version of Dad.
I had finished eating and was still sitting at the table when my mother came into the kitchen, her face streaked with dry tears.
“Tom called and said you fell,” she asked. “Are you OK? Were you hurt?”
Suspicious, her being more interested in my welfare than usual.
“I’m fine," I said, sounding defensive, I'm sure. “I just lost track of time, that’s all.”
“Don’t give me that tone of voice, Gerald!” she said dramatically.
Yes, me sounding defensive always got that response. At least mom didn't use my middle name.
"Gerald Anthony Donovan," she would say like a judge declaring me guilty of a capital crime! (Anthony! Why Anthony? We’re Irish for Christ’s sake).
"Sorry, mom, you know I fall all the time,” I said, trying to sound apologetic. “It’s all grass and bushes. If you don't fall, you're not trying hard enough.”
“Well, be careful out there,” she said as I mouthed the words. “We can’t afford another broken arm. The last one cost us over $600," she said as I again mouthed the words.
"I will, I promise," I said, holding my tongue over the zillionth time I’ve heard the $600 story. It wasn’t a $1,000 bail story, was it?
“I’ll be in my room, all right?” I said. She looked like she'd been crying, so now I expressed my concern.
“What’s up? What’s the matter?”
“Your father… Your father and I are getting a divorce,” she stammered.
Well, isn't this interesting, I thought. Wonder what took so long. Even I saw this coming. Mom and dad would go for months without talking to each other. Mom slept on the couch almost every night dad was home. Up until recently, he worked nights and slept during the day.
“Aren’t you going to say anything? Gerald? Are you listening to me?” she asked, reaching out and touching my shoulder.
I realize I’m just standing there, staring off into space.
“What’s there to say?” I finally replied. “It’s not like my opinion matters do it?"
I paused, and she didn’t answer. We’re just staring at each other for a few minutes.
“So, what happens next?” I finally blurted.
Ignoring my snide remark, she said, "Well, that's the hard part. I’m taking Danny, I’ve got an apartment, and you are staying here with your father.”
“Excuse me?” I shot back. “I’m staying here? What? Wait… you must be joking. I don’t even know him.”
This is not the separation that I would have expected.
“That’s what the judge decreed, honey,” she said faintly. “I'm sorry, there's Nothing I can do. It will be OK, you’ll see.”
“Like I said before, I’ll be in my room!” I said, leaving her sitting there softly sobbing.
I tried to read. My mind was reeling, and I was trying to remember what happened to me. Did it really happen, or was it just my imagination?
In South Florida, it can get pretty hot during the summer. When my father bought this house, it didn’t have any air conditioning. After we moved in, he installed two wall unit air conditioners. One in their bedroom and one in the living room. Neither of which ever seemed to make it back to my bedroom in the back.
Regularly my fungus would keep me awake on nights like this, but for some reason, it wasn't itching at all. I got up and went into the bathroom. I looked in the mirror at my chest, usually covered with the most hideous red blotches. They were gone. If I had applied the cream, the itch would fade, but the fungus would still be there. Now it was gone.
I was so excited I went into the living room looking for mom or dad, Mom was gone, dad was gone, and the house was quiet. Like most Florida homes, we had a living room and a Florida room. My mother furnished the living room with costly furniture from Burdines, plastic covers on everything, coffee, and end tables with leather inlays. We set up our Christmas tree in the living room. We sat in there on Christmas Eve to open our presents. Otherwise, we never went in there.
I was sitting in the Florida room in dad’s recliner. It was an old cloth-covered chair that rocked but did not really recline. Our home had been built with terrazzo floors and jalousie windows. The first thing my mother did was to put in wall to wall carpet, which raised the temperature in the house considerably.
I hear Danny coming out of his room. This can’t be good. His bedroom is in the center of the bedroom stack. It's actually the guest bedroom. When we have guests, he sleeps in my bedroom in his old bed. I have to spend the whole day cleaning my room with him supervising. I hate having guests.
“Where were you? Mom was worried sick!” he asks, overdramatizing, as usual, more of a statement than a question.
“I lost track of time,” I responded irritably. “Tom called soon as we got to his house.”
“I told you I didn’t want you hanging out with him,” Danny yelled, his tone and anger rising.
“It’s none of your business whom I hang out with,” I shouted back. “You’re not my dad!”
“I’ll show you 'what’s my business,' I’m going to beat the crap out of you!” he said, the words coming out in spasms as he lunged for me.
I don’t know what happened to our relationship once we move to Florida. Before, when we lived in Chicago, we were the best of friends. We had the same friends in the neighborhood. We did everything together. After we moved here, that all ended. Danny started beating me up. Just a little bit at first, pushing me around, then progressively worse. Occasionally, while it was happening, I could just ignore the pain. I was tall for my age, close to five feet, but I weighed less than 100 pounds. Mom always said a strong wind would carry me away someday.
Danny was over five feet tall and close to 200 pounds. He was only one year older, but two years ahead of me in school. Tom had initially been his friend. They had some kind of falling out. Danny didn't like that Tom and I had become friends.
He came flying into me; I was able to put my hands up to hold his full weight from crushing me as he knocked me and the chair over. The magazine rack next to the chair with Dad’s yellow pad went in the air. He was punching me in the chest and trying to hit my face. He usually didn't hit my face. This was going to be worse than anything he’d done before. Looking into his face, he looked like someone else, like something from out of this world. His eyes glowed like two red rubies!
My mind raced, thinking he is going to kill me this time, and then I felt a sudden calm come over me.
“Don’t panic,” I thought. I could feel all of Danny's weight on top of me. Struggling and maneuvering my way around beneath him, I managed to get my feet up to his chest, and, with all the strength I could summon, I kicked him off me. He flew halfway across the room. I sprang to my feet and began chasing after him. I don’t know what came over me. This was not how this usually went.
I got to him and kicked him hard again in the chest with my steel-toed shoes. (Mom had laid out the extra money for those shoes so I wouldn’t hurt my feet trail riding. They were extremely heavy and actually made riding harder, but I wore them to keep her happy.)
Danny tried to grab my foot or was clutching his chest in pain; I don’t know which. I was too fast for him, now punching him in the face. He managed to get me in a bear hug, and, somehow, I threw him over my shoulder. He hit the wall face first and landed on the couch.
I started screaming at him, like a maniac, I'm sure.
"Come on, get up, you want to beat the crap out me come on!”
“I’ll get up, just give me a minute,” he moaned. “I think my nose is bleeding. You take off those shoes, and then we’ll fight.”
“Are you out of your mind?” I sneered at him. “Do you have any idea what you have done to me? I am not taking off my shoes. We’re going to finish this right now!”
This was going to be the end of it. I was tired of being abused.
Luckily for him, for both of us probably, our mother walked in the front door. “Gerald! What’s going on?” she screamed and slammed the door.
Danny is lying on the couch. Presumably, his nose is broken. I'm standing above him, looking like some kind of mad man. Mom rushes to him, puts her hand over his face, and all of a sudden, the bleeding stops. Not only does it stop, but the blood also disappears like Nothing was wrong.
"Mom, he attacked me…" I tried to say as I watched her tend to him. She’s tenderly taking care of the bully who has been tormenting me these last few years. Never once had she managed to me after he did something to me.
Suddenly she yells at me, “Go to your room, Wyatt!”
I was flabbergasted! Shaking, I said, "Me, I was just defending myself… Wait, excuse me? What did you say? What did you call me?”
“Nothing…Jerry, I said, I mean Gerald, …. just please go to your room.” Her tone was much softer, obviously confused.
“What did you do? How did you stop the bleeding? Why did you call me, Wyatt?” My head was still spinning from being knocked out earlier, I guess.
“I suppose it’s time,” she said. “Just go to your room. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
I went to the starkness that was my room, suddenly colder than it had ever felt before. It was the only room left in the house that mom had not put down carpet. It was still strictly terrazzo, which really helped on the hottest summer days. Tonight, it felt downright cold! I lay down on my bed and shuddered under the thin, threadbare sheet.
My room was simple: two twin beds, one on each wall. Mine was under the window, Danny’s old bed or, as he liked to call it, his second bed was on the other wall. There were a few decorations. We weren’t allowed to put up any pictures or anything like that, although I did have a poster of Raquel Welch from “1,000,000 Years BC” tacked to the back of the door. (Mom or dad were never in my room with the door closed.)
In the corner was the corner desk, a simple one-drawer thing that was explicitly designed to be used in a corner. We had a bookcase that dad had made himself in his workshop in Brookfield. On the walls, we had shelves where I put the models of Mustang cars I had built after Danny cleared out most of his stuff. Since Danny wasn’t allowed to personalize the guest room, he had left many of his extra books and magazines in his old place.
I could hear them talking, I couldn’t make out what they were saying; I fell asleep in a few minutes. The day had taken its toll. I was mentally and physically exhausted.
The dreams started pretty quickly. They were so real like I was being probed by aliens or something. Then there was a dragon. What? Alligators, crocodiles … OK, but a dragon?
Then I was being betrayed by someone, someone I liked and trusted. The next thing I know, it is 7:30 in the morning. I got up, got dressed, and was out the door. I didn’t want to have to deal with any of this until later.