|A bucket of oil, much like this one – it was blue too.|
I was a kid other kids naturally (it seemed) picked on. Not trying to make a value judgment or anything, it just was. Why? I think like animals that can sense fear, other kids were able to see my vulnerability.
When insulted, they could see in my eyes and facial expressions that I couldn’t shake it off. They could sniff my overwhelming desire to be liked and accepted and played on that. I was something of an early geek and that made the job of the bullies even easier. I was oversensitive and everyone knew it.
This was nothing new for a lot of kids that grew up in my generation — Nothing special about it. Kids take their cues from society and can be very cruel. Most of us get over it and head into adult life perhaps stronger for the experience. Some don’t and carry it with them all their lives.
But add to this vulnerability any kind of family dysfunction and you can get really fucked up from the get go. And we are not a society that tolerates the so-called weakness of recalling our growing up experiences as justifying emotional problems in later life.
Forget about it, pick yourself up by your bootstraps and get on with your life.
Dad didn’t understand my depression. He didn’t understand the concept at all. Hell, I didn’t understand it. All I knew is I seemed to be, well, weirdly glum, often for no reason.
What my father did understand was violence as a problem solver. His father beat the shit out of him as a kid – so bad, he’d be bleeding from the ears and my grandmother would be begging to take him to the hospital.
Then dad became a Marine and went to Korea. He never talked about any of it. If he had gone through all of that and came out ‘OK,’ what the hell was my pampered, candy-ass problem?
One day the neighbor kids said something to me that really ticked me off. It was a slur on our family. I was standing in our driveway and they rode away on their bikes and left me there fuming.I wanted to strike back.
I saw a plastic bucket filled with old motor oil – about a gallon or so.
When no one was looking, I picked it up, trundled it over to the main offender’s house and poured it all over their roses, which were lining the foundation of the house.
This is hard to write about.
Someone put two and two together and figured it must be me. The kid’s dad must have come over to talk to my dad and accused me of doing it.
I got called down from my room. My father was
furioushomicidally mad. He thought I did it, but there was one thing he needed from me – a confession.
“Did you or did you not pour oil on Mr. (name redacted – yeah I know it was 46 years ago, but still) bushes,” Dad thundered.
“No, I screamed”
I lied because I honestly, deeply, truly, felt my father was angry enough to kill me at that moment. He had a heavy hand and was not good at gauging the pain his blows caused.
“I KNOW IT HAD TO BE YOU; Mr. (redacted) SAID YOU WERE SEEN WITH THE BUCKET!!!!”
“It wasn’t me, I didn’t do it.”
By this time I was sobbing and screaming. My father was leaning over the table trying to grab me and then he moved around the table toward me. I moved as well (like some movie scene), trying to keep the table between the two of us.
I never confessed until today.
Dear (F)ather, please forgive me. I was six years old and did not want to die a violent death.
Please understand, I really, honestly, was scared for my life. Even more so than when the SWAT team was pointing rifles at me as I was walking down my own front steps 45 years later (another story). They didn’t frighten me half as much as my father did that day.
The difference was, the SWAT team allowed me to explain and quickly realized their mistake, apologized and left.
If I had tried to explain that I was avenging an insult to my family, it would have done no good. I was too young to realize what motor oil does to soil. Dad had to go outside and tell Mr. (redacted) that I said I didn’t do it. I don’t know how that played out.
I never played with those kids again. My father barely talked to me for a week or so.
I sincerely hope that Mr. (redacted)’s rose bushes somehow survived. I couldn’t even bear to look at their house for a year.
It was 46 years ago, but as I write this, I can still feel the terror. And the terror was imprinted deep inside me and it never really left, even after my father died in 1983 when I was 20.
Sometimes, we just can’t turn it off. We can’t forget. We’re hard-wired to remember. And I’m tired of apologizing for that.