"HATE (My Story)"
I understand hate. I have felt rage so intense that it incites to kill. I have felt seething, malignant resentment so extreme that it brought me to premeditate horrific revenge, but it is the spiritual person who grows beyond such things, and the soul of human ethic that calls us to a higher understanding.
My mother introduced me to my step father on my fifth birthday. I did not like him from the beginning, and chose to stand behind my Grandpa’s knee rather than accept the gift he had brought: a piggy bank in the shape of a rooster. When he could not coax me to take it, my mother took it from his hand, extended it to me, and I finally accepted it. The displeasure that she had stolen his moment was evident. After accepting, I retreated back behind Grandpa’s knee, stared at the stranger and held the toy at my side. Grandpa reached for it, took some pennies from his pocket, and plunked them into it as an effort to coax me into appreciating the gift. It was the last gift I ever received from my mother, and for the remainder of childhood, that rooster sat atop the TV where Grandpa would occasionally visit to add bits to the bounty.
Two weeks after my fifth birthday, my mother was dead. My tormenting anguish was so confusing that I would be an adult before I ever came to understand it. I could have sworn on the day of her funeral, some kind man picked me up, and held me over the coffin so I could see her, but I learned years later that her body had been so mutilated that the casket had remained closed. She had died, they said, in a single car fatality on a sunny day with dry pavement, in near perfect conditions. The car rolled down an embankment mutilating her body as it went, and my step father walked away from that same crash with barely a scratch. It was ruled an accident, but I learned as an adult, my aunts had secretly speculated that he may have murdered her and used the crash as a cover. After the funeral, the stranger was gone, and so were all of my mother’s belongings except for her jewelry box and a set of silverware she had left with Grandma for safe keeping. Whether the memory is true or not, I recall standing on the front porch before the funeral watching the stranger cry, and thinking, “The tears are fake. He killed my mother.” I grew up hating a man I would never see again.
My grandparents had five children. The oldest, my uncle Ray, had been the only boy. They struggled to conceive for the first two years of their marriage, so when Ray was born they cherished him. As was often the case in those days, boys were prized over girls and the remaining four children were all female. He was prized more than most boys because they had initially thought they would be barren, and he was the only boy. As the prize child, and prince of the family, he was babied, and there had been an ongoing battle for his favor between my grandparents.
When he was twelve years old, my Grandpa gave him his first drink of whiskey, and from that moment on, he was lost to alcoholism. By the time he was an adult, Grandpa had relinquished him to Grandma, and despised him for what he had become. Grandma forever resented Grandpa for giving him that first drink, and compensated for it by treating Ray, for his entire life, as though he had never grown up. He never left home, never married and when he rarely worked, spent most of his income on alcohol. Grandma cooked for him, did his laundry, and cleaned up after him including wiping spit from the floor of his room because he wouldn’t make the effort to get a handkerchief or grab the used coffee can he kept as a spittoon.
Although one of my aunts fought heartily for her parent’s attention, my uncle Ray never had any real competition until I came along. My grandparents obtained custody of me after my mother died. Early on, I didn’t question why my father was not present. Later, when I asked, I was informed only that he was “somewhere in California” and they had questions about the quality of his character. They made no effort to find him, and I was not allowed to seek for him, nor did I know how. The only record I had of his existence was a book he had autographed to my mother, a narration of his experience as a Japanese prisoner of war in World War II. At eighteen, when my grandparents could no longer forbid it, and when letters to the Marine Corps got no response, it finally occurred to me that I could contact him through the publisher of his book.
In the meantime, Ray was not at all happy that, for the first time in his life, he had to share his parent’s attention. As the prince of the family, he had sucked up all of their concern for as long as he had been alive. He had taken it without giving back, taken it without concern for their sacrifices while raising him during the Great Depression, without concern for the nights of anguish Grandma spent pacing the floor, and checking the window to see if he might finally have come home after a drinking binge instead of possibly lying somewhere dead in a ditch.
He was thirty four years old when I came along, as the poor little orphaned boy. Never before in his life had he been required to share, and the attention suddenly shifted to me like the needle of a compass held to a magnet. The women of the family were hugging me to their bosom. The men of the family were teasing and playing with me. Although Grandpa, for the most part ignored me, the family seemed to pity that I was an only child on a farm, miles from the nearest neighbor.
I became the new prince, and Ray was usurped from his throne. His response was to abuse me, and torment me in any way he could imagine. Often, it was done when grandma was out of the room, a simple thump to the head with a pretended innocence at her questioning. A response like, “I have no idea why he’s crying. Maybe he’s got a belly ache.” At other times, it was more sinister. The simple emotional taunting of walking by the television and turning the channel to static in the middle of my favorite show, became kicks and jabs or holding me down with a pillow over my face. As I got older, he delighted in telling me that I was a bastard, that my parents were never really married, and that my mother was a slut. A child does not know how to discern the difference between poison and nectar when fed it by any adult.
The older I got, the angrier I got. My resentment was compounded by the fact that almost every weekend and holiday had been ruined by his drinking, compounded by sleepless nights, because he laid drunk in bed mumbling to himself all night long. My ears became so keen I could hear the slosh in the whiskey bottle when he retrieved it from his supposed hiding place under the mattress. The roll of the cap off the bottle was metallic in my ears. Then, he would take another swig, slide the bottle back under the mattress, and continue to talk to himself. My awareness of him became so astute I could see the glaze in his eyes from across the yard, and knew if he had taken even one drink as soon as he got out of his car. I did not figure out until I was much older that I had been the new prince. There had been no coronation, and regardless of the role, the world always seemed to be revolving around him, and I resented it immensely.
About the time I reached twelve or thirteen, Ray kicked me in the ass one day as I was reaching for a dish from the kitchen cabinet. Something broke inside of me then, shattered like the dish that went flying to the floor. I turned on him in full rage. Although I was almost half his size, I had determined I wasn’t going to take it anymore. I flew into him with all I had, fists, feet and claws. The next thing I knew, he had me on the kitchen floor, his knees on my shoulders beating fists into my head, while grandma pulled hard on his collar trying to choke him off me.
Not only had Ray been forced to give up his throne to the new prince, Grandpa had turned on him when he became an adult. Grandpa shamed and cursed him for his drinking, told him how worthless and useless he was, told him that he had become worse than nothing. Regardless of the remainder, Ray’s response always began with, “I’ll tell you one damn thing! I’ll tell you one Goddamn thing!” Over and over it went. The arguments between them often escalated, yet whether it was out of respect or fear, Ray never struck Grandpa. However, one evening he did fetch his twenty two riffle from the wall of his room, and returned to aim it directly at Grandpa. I remember him saying, “By God! We’re going to put an end to this right now!”
Grandma rose from her chair, and stepped between them. She put her hand to the base of the barrel, and pushed it toward the ceiling so if it fired, the bullet would go through the ceiling instead of through one of us. She talked him out of the gun, talked him down from his anger, and finally, he released it to her. My Grandma was strong, a kind but firm protector, and she never had the option of not having to deal with Ray. All this made me hate him even more. In my mind he was a cancer in a family that might otherwise have been healthy. I did not understand, at the time, that the causes of that cancer had festered for generations long before.
By the time I was fourteen, I’d had enough. I was tired of being abused, tired of watching what he was doing to Grandma and Grandpa, tired of his constant ranting. I wanted him out of my life. I wanted the anguish to stop and the only way I could see for that to happen was for him to be eliminated. I did not plan weeks ahead. I did not contemplate exactly how I would kill him, but I determined that one way or the other I would find a way to end his life.
On a summer Saturday afternoon when Grandma and Grandpa had gone to town for groceries, I caught him asleep in a living room chair. I carefully and quietly sneaked out of the house to Grandma’s flower beds. She lined them with big rocks as a border from the yard. I picked up a rock, almost too big for me to lift, but I did lift it. I scrunched it between my left arm and leg as I cautiously opened the screen door, and went back to the living room. As carefully as I could, I crept up behind him, and held the rock above my head with the full intention of thrusting it down hard enough to crush his skull. Yet, at that moment, a question ran through my mind. “What will happen if you do this?”
A potential future began to unfold in my mind. I saw the devastation and heartache of my grandmother over losing her only son, the heartbreak of my grandfather whose emotions were a mix, and yet one of them was love. I saw myself in prison, perhaps facing the death penalty with all hopes of a better life dashed against the same rock I then held above my head. Quietly, I lowered the stone, and returned it to the flower bed. I never told a soul until after I became a mental health clinician, where at times, I shared the story with someone who might have confessed in a session that they harbored a similar hate.
I put up with his abuse for four more years until I could make my escape. The hatred, anger and rage didn’t stop, I just contained it, or vented it a different way. I knew that one day I would leave, and I thought that I would put my childhood behind me. Little did I know; there is no such thing. A past put behind us without forgiveness, cannot be released, and only finds alternative ways to haunt. Even with forgiveness, the memories of it leave a tender scar upon the heart.
I had been told my entire life, “Your mother wanted you to go to college.” That dream became my refuge. No one in my immediate family had ever gotten a degree. It became my hope for a way out. On one hand, I saw myself achieving great things, becoming prosperous and respected, maybe even becoming rich. On the other hand, I struggled to have the minutest confidence in myself. Yet, I was going anyway. I would not allow anything to stop me from getting out of there. In fact I planned to leave the entire Ozarks as a smoking trail behind me as soon as I could find the way.
Just prior to graduating high school, I got up early on a Saturday morning and drove a little more than an hour away to visit the college I planned to attend. I returned home late in the afternoon to find Grandma and Grandpa had gone to town, as was the Saturday routine, and Ray was in the house alone, slobbering drunk. I ignored him, went straight through the house, into my room, and put a record on my stereo. The next thing I knew, the door to my room flew open and he came in ranting, not about my music, but yelling his usual denigration of me. He was adept at finding ways to say things that were demeaning and degrading, and he delighted in taunting me into giving him a reason for attack.
Having grown as tall and he, and outweighing him by a good thirty pounds, I no longer feared him. I turned him around by his shoulders, pushed him back through the door into the adjacent kitchen, and closed it behind him. In a moment he was back. This time I did the same, but told him “Get out, stay out and leave me alone!”
When after several expulsions he would not stop, I knocked him down, beat his head into the door facing until it was bleeding, and dragged him by his feet onto the kitchen floor where I stood over him and exclaimed, “YOU SET FOOT IN THAT ROOM ONE MORE TIME MOTHER FUCKER, YOU ARE A DEAD MAN! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?”
He lay there staring at me in disbelief. I stood over him, glaring at him until I felt certain he knew I was through with mercy. The only mercy I was willing to extend, at that point was to spare his life. He did not return.
That summer, I finally figured out how to reach my father, and I met him for the first time. I sent a letter to the publishing company of his book asking them if they could give me contact information. They wrote me back, and said they would not release information about their authors, but that they had forwarded my letter to him. A few weeks later, I received my first letter from my father.
The letter indicated to me right away that he was not the tyrant my grandparents had made him out to be. They had never met him, and only knew what my Mom had told them. Later, when I studied PTSD, I realized that my mother had met him at a time when his experience as a Japanese prisoner of war was taking a different kind of toll on him. He had been captured in Guam a few days after the Pearl Harbor attacks, and was not released until the American occupation of Japan at the end of the war. Given that a third of all Japanese POW’s died, and at one point, his six foot stature had diminished to seventy eight pounds, the fact that he survived to conceive me was a miracle in itself.
His letter indicated his concern for me, his recognition that I needed answers and his willingness to provide those answers. He left a number for me to call, and since my grandparents had just installed their first phone with the excuse that I would be able to call home from college, I called him. Arrangements were made that he would fly to Little Rock where one of my aunts was living at the time, and we would meet.
I met my Dad in August of 1973 just before I entered college. I didn’t trust him on that first meeting, but he won my confidence. My grandparent’s description of him did not fit, and he was not at all like anyone in my mother’s family. He did not seem to be the mean man my grandparents had described, who hoarded things, and was angry if the radio knobs of his car became smudged. In fact, he was very generous and very accommodating. I spent the night in a hotel room with him, and we talked more than slept. He described things I had never known, such as how he met my mother in a little bar in Taft, California where she was known as the “mystery woman.” She intrigued him because she ignored all men. She would come in once a day, have one drink and leave. No man who had approached her had been able to win her attention. It was a challenge he could not resist. He discovered that she had been through a very bitter break up not long before they met, and learned of how she had come to California.
My mother’s family had originally moved to California in the early 1950’s because someone told Grandpa the desert air would be good for his asthma. Intense culture shock drove them back to Arkansas, but my Mom stayed until after meeting my Dad, and she became pregnant with me. She then left him during the pregnancy and came back to the Ozarks. He admitted to drinking and womanizing at the time, admitted he had been unfair to my Mom, and that he had cheated on her. The last straw had been so embarrassing for her that she left and told him never to contact her again. He assured me that if he had known she was dead, he would have come for me, but he also excused himself from the responsibility of trying to find me by questioning whether I had actually been his. Having been one to sleep around, he had assumed the same of my mother. However, he said when we met, one look at me convinced him I had to be his son, because he realized how much we were alike.
On the following day, he took me to a Shriner’s parade in Hot Springs, and treated me as no man ever had. He demanded nothing of me. He only gave, and for the first time in my life, I felt like a son. When he left to fly back to Las Angeles, he hugged me. I stood stiff in his embrace,