A Hundred Ways to Kill My Old ManbyHeathen Hemmingway©
Before you go any farther, I have a confession to make. I don't know exactly why I am writing this. I'm not sure where this is going to go. It was bothering me all last night, these thoughts and ideas that come to light in these words. I've never had a good relationship with my father, yet that is to say that I have never had a relationship at all with my father. So for anyone reading this who has also had a less than perfect relationship ( or lack thereof ) with their father, please keep in mind that these are my own experiences and thoughts, and they should not be taken as how I think or feel someone else should act in a similar situation. It's not fair for anyone to pass judgment on another person's childhood. What we live through as we grow determines who we are, the morals ( or again lack thereof ) we have, and how we come to be the adults we are.
Last night was very restless for me. I have always been an insomniac, and last night was one of those aggravating nights when I was constantly on the verge of both sleeping and waking. Any long term insomniac can identify with this maddening frustration. The moment I would slide off into sleep I would have a random blip of a dream. Always sudden and chaotic, these dreams come like a lighthouse's beacon. You fall asleep, almost instantly the dream comes to you. Suddenly it's gone and you are wide awake struggling to cling to some specific of the dream. Then you are sleeping again and another random dream suddenly comes to you. The dreams may or may not follow a pattern, and often we insomniacs find ourselves trying to do the impossible: fall back asleep and take up where the last dream left off. If they could make movie trailers as insanely irresistible as these dreams, we would all be at the movies with a big tub of overpriced popcorn right now. To my knowledge no one has ever achieved this. I know I damned sure haven't.
I had many dreams last nights, and I remember one of them very clearly. As I am writing this, my darling is behind me, lounging on the day bed and reading one of her paperback romance novels. I believe that her being close to me has helped me to hold on to the details of last night's dream. She's my sweetheart and my muse. Maybe she's also my talisman. A dream talisman, now there's a novel idea.
In my dream I was standing over my father's grave. It was a hot summer evening. The sky was full of angry clouds that looked like huge patches of damp cotton. There was no sunshine peeking through the blanket of clouds. It was a dismal gray day. My father's grave is in a small boneyard next to the Baptist church in Kent, Alabama. The graveyard itself is in a way synonymous for small town Alabama. It's an unspectacular thing. Its simplicity perfectly explains it. You might see something you weren't expecting, maybe something you haven't seen in a while. What you won't see is anything that genuinely surprises you. Most of the grave markers were simple and plain. You could almost tell what families were barely making it by and which ones were living it up just by looking at the tombstones and markers. My father's grave has no tombstone. It's just a big plain slab of marble with his name and date of birth and death chiseled into it.
In the dream I was standing over my father's grave. I had a huge sledgehammer in my hands, gripping it so hard my knuckles were white. I remember as I swung the hammer up I noticed there was a random scatter of rust on the big metal head, and drops of moisture beaded on it in places. I came down hard with the hammer and smashed my father's stone right where his name was carved into the big gray slab. I relaxed a moment from the effort then lifted the hammer and threw it aside. The slab had shattered in a million places. There was a scatter of gray dust from the broken marble covering the remains of the slab. Lightning lit up the sky and my shadow was suddenly thrown across the grave. I was surveying the damage, standing tall over his ruined stone. I may be mistaken, but I think I was feeling powerful at that moment. I was about to walk away and take my triumph with me when the wind picked up a bit. As we humans are often cursed to do, I looked back down at my father's grave. I should have walked away and taken my victory over the old man with me, but dammit I just had to take one more look. The wind was playing in the gray marble-dust, and as I watched a gust blew across his shattered stone and revealed his name. Albert Lee Evans stared back at me, intact and defiant. The small square of marble with his name on it was still whole. That was the spot where the hammer had fallen, that was the spot which should have suffered the most damaged. Yet the old man was still there.
A sudden loud clap of thunder shook me and tore my gaze away from the old man's grave. I looked up in the direction of the church. My darling was standing in the parking lot about a hundred yards away. She was wearing a long cotton dress the color of faded linen. That color was very common when I was a kid. Alot of people made their own clothes back then, and dying them a pretty color was often a luxury they couldn't afford. The sky above looked angry and hurt. The clouds were almost black in places, and there was a fine mist of cool rain in the air. She was looking in my direction. Her hands were clasped together in front of her. An angry flash of lightning raced through the sky, fingers of light stabbing in every direction. The wind blew harder, and I could see the hem of my darling's dress flapping in the breeze. Her dress looked like a bell swaying to one side before it fell back down again to slap the clapper and sound off. I could see the impression of her legs through the fabric. She turned her gaze from me to the sky, and the lightning flashed again.
I felt a sudden jolt of fear. I had brought her there with me. Never telling her, but she was my support. She was to help me, keep me strong so I could do this necessary thing. And now I stood there defeated. I had failed, my old man staring back at me through his veil of death, and now I was suddenly frightened. I made a mistake by bringing her here, and I had to get her the hell out of here. I started running toward her, yelling and telling her to stay put. The wind was catching in her copper colored hair and throwing it about. She put her hand above her eyes as if she was straining to see me. I reached the small rusty iron fence that surrounds the graveyard. I leapt the fence with a bound and landed on my feet running. I looked back in her direction and she was gone.
I woke up.
It occurs to me that over the years I have entertained a hundred different dreams like that one. Sometimes they would plague me every time I would drift off to sleep. At times I would go as long as a year without a dream about my father. I never saw his face or heard his voice in the dreams. Truth be known, other than his grave marker I had no other identity for the old man in my dreams. I've only seen his face once, you see. In an old yellowed 5x7 picture. When I was about seven or eight I visited my sister Pamela. She and her husband were moving and everyone was there to help. While everyone was milling about she took me to one side and handed me a picture in a plain metal frame. She said nothing, just looked at me with a knowing apprehension. 'Who is the man in this picture?' I was thinking, and I believe I instantly knew when I looked at it. It wasn't his physical resemblance to my sisters. ( or to myself, which I hate to admit still to this day ) It was the look in that man's eyes. Something in those eyes connected with me, spoke to me. 'I know you're looking at me son' those eyes said to me. 'Don't be hopeful boy. I'm gone for good' I remember looking up from that picture to see my mother staring at me. Her eyes were full of this vacant terror I still can't properly describe. Maybe it was a doomed look of resignation. I don't know. I could tell it was hurting her badly to see me looking at my father's picture.
Over the years I had dreamed of a hundred different ways of killing him, erasing him, vandalizing his grave and defacing his resting place. I believe, though, that one of the reasons that I keep having these dreams is because I refuse to believe he is resting. I can feel it in myself, and in the life I live. I believe that very few people come from what society likes to label a 'normal' childhood. Most of us have been exposed to some kind of trauma and life changing experience somewhere on down the line. I am also a firm believer that a child who endures alot of stress can very easily turn into a dysfunctional adult. Myself, for example.
I guess before I go any farther I should dive in and give a very truncated family history, starting with my birth. Maybe it will make sense to someone why I have these dreams about my father. Possibly for someone who reads this, everything will jibe just right and click into place. 'That makes perfect sense, and this is why' maybe someone will say.
I was born the youngest of ten children. I was born the tenth child on the tenth day of the tenth month. And no my lucky number isn't ten. What can I say? People from the old south liked to have alot of kids. It's still pretty common today, just not on such a grand scale. From the day I came screaming into this world I was thrust into the center of a very unique home life. Not only was I the youngest of ten kids, I was the only boy to boot. My mother and sisters tell me stories of how they would sneak their friends into the maternity ward of the Tallassee hospital to see me. No one could believe Opal Evans finally had a boy. Do I believe those stories? Well, that depends on who's telling them. I was immediately a novelty in the small town of Tallassee. I've also been told that I was my father's pride and joy. I worked for many years with my uncle Truman, and he and his brothers told me on many occasions how proud my father was of me. I'm not sure if that was because it was true, or if it was their polite way of saying 'I'm sorry about your dad kiddo'.
Coming up as the youngest of ten kids was often a challenge, but being the only boy with nine older sisters was a challenge unto itself. When people ask me about my family and I tell them I have nine older sisters, the first thing they say is 'It's a miracle you didn't turn out to be queer.' When I was in school I would black your eye in a second for saying that, but now that I am older and much calmer I just laugh it off. Partly because I have heard it a million times, and partly because I realize that some folks can't think of anything else to say. ( ok I admit I have blacked someone's eye for saying that when I wasn't a kid. It was just the way he said it, like it was a fact I had to turn out to be queer. I didn't like the sneer and smart ass smile he had when he said it. I'm sure my girlfriend would have laughed about it, but she won't even know about it until she reads this )
Growing up with ten older women was often an exercise in guerilla warfare. I had to be sneaky, see. I learned alot about when and why and how women do the things they do. I never developed a hate for women that some men do when they are thrust into a situation where they are kept in close quarters for a long period of time. It came natural to me and I never felt a moment of awkwardness. I seemed to be an abnormality to everyone around me, but as for myself I thought I just like everyone else. Hell, I thought every boy had to piss outside because the bathroom was no man's land. I bet I was damn near seventeen before I even saw the inside of our bathroom. I felt like one of those kids from the Narnia Chronicles, stepping through that big dresser for first time. I took alot of teasings in school and got in alot of fights. The teachers knew I wasn't a hot head. After all, I was Opal Evans' only boy. That fact floated around with me like a little cloud during my entire youth.
I also developed a certain kind of immunity. Alot of guys get this shame-faced awkward look when they have to come into physical contact with feminine hygiene products. Not me, brother. By the time I was eight or so I was a veteran at walking down the street to the Jr. Food Store to get a box of tampons. Shy? Why hell no. It was second nature to me. What brand do you want? Don't know the name? Then tell me what color the box is. I know 'em all, I'll figure it out. Do you want the brand name ones or are you trying to save your money? I know the difference in the brands. Pantiliners, pads, I'll get 'em. Just give me your five dollar bill and don't forget that I use the change to buy a sixteen ounce Coke for myself. That used to really freak out some of the male clerks in stores. They would see an eight year old boy standing in the checkout line with a big box of tampons under each arm, and they would think it was the funniest thing they ever saw. I had a couple of them ask me about it, too. 'What are you doing buying so many tampons kid? Is someone playing a joke on you?' They would ask. 'I'm buying them 'cause Sheila, Pamela, Starla, Wanda, Judy, Joanie, Nadia, Mary, and Samantha said so' I would tell them. This always left the clerk looking at me like I was a prisoner of Auschwitz who was just set free. 'Oh dude, I feel sorry for you' they would say. I never even batted an eye. ( I got alot of free Cokes that way, too )
Having nine older sisters also came in very handy if a bully would bother me in school. I was one of those good kids who listened to what his mother told him. I was always polite to other people. Mama gave us the golden rules of life, the ones good parents do. So being a quiet polite kid I got picked on alot. Most times I would fire up and tear right into the bully, but many times I never had to because my sisters would come flying in from every direction. It was like I had my own personal estrogen powered version of the Blitzkrieg. One moment it was just me and some knucklehead squaring off in the hallway, then the next moment there were angry girls coming from every direction. As my sisters got older and graduated one by one the teasing grew less intense, and I ended up doing all my fighting on my own. There always was and probably always will be a teacher at Elmore County High School who can remember the Evans girls trampling some bully in the hall for messing with their little brother. A random jackass would always come along and try me since they knew most of my sisters had graduated, but I always sent him packing with a bloody nose. Those were just the trials of my school life. My mama raised me to be polite, but she didn't raise me to tolerate any shit.
So while growing up with my odd family demographic I noticed things, patterns and such as all curious kids do. My father was never mentioned. I mean never. I had heard stories from around town about my father. Mostly rumors and old second hand lies from here and there. But I never knew the exact facts and hard truths. The truths were hard, too. I managed to pry a little information from my sisters, but I noticed right away that the stories were never the same. I was told he died of cancer, he was a veteran, he ran off, any number of differing accounts on who my father was and why he wasn't around. I was eighteen years old when I finally learned the truth ( or part of it ) about my father and who he was. I had been working for my uncle Truman for years at that time, and he told me that my father committed suicide. He told me no more, no less, only adding that my father was a good man although he was quick to use his hands. In the south that means he was a wife beater. So I guessed that was why my mother wasn't eager to tell me about my father. Was she afraid I would turn out like him? Who knows? Could I blame her if she was? Of course not. After all, my mother raised ten kids by herself in the dirt poor south. We didn't have the nicest of things, but dammit we never went without. My mother was and always will be my own personal hero. The fact that she never sat me down to tell me about my father bothered me when I was a young man, but I couldn't hold it against her. I knew what she had to endure to bring us up alone, and at the time I had no idea of the horrors she had to endure at my father's hands. My uncle Truman only told me part of the truth, you see, because it was the part of the truth he could stand to think of.
When I was a young teenager my mother met a man and he moved in with us. At the time my sister Samantha and I were the only two kids left living at home with our mother. I would never tell my mother this even though she very well knows it, but I hate that man with a burning passion. I wasn't able to gather many facts about my father, but one thing I knew from pretty much everyone who talked about him was that Albert Evans was an alcoholic. Well this new fella was an alcoholic, and one snake mean bastard to boot. I tolerated him as best as I could. I didn't want my mother thinking I disliked him out f petty jealousy, so I tried to develop a thick skin and just live with the man despite his ways. He was and still is a conniving old fart. When my mother was around the man was the absolute picture of courtesy. The moment my mother turned her back he showed his true colors. He berated me to no end, teased me about being such a bookworm and a nerd. He constantly browbeat me and treated me like dirt under his heel. He treated all of us the same, and we all tolerated him because we knew he made our mama happy. We didn't understand why she loved that harsh old bastard, but knowing he made her happy was enough to make us tolerate him. He took full advantage of it, too. I can't count the times that old man talked to me like I was a dog. I wrote a short piece entitled "Burying The Hatchet" about my feelings for this old man. If you'd like to read it, I'll be happy to send it to you.
Over the years I also noticed the destructive effect alcoholism had on our family. Most of my brother in laws were alcoholics, and they lived out the predictable lives most drunks follow. Reading that might piss some people off. Well that's just too bad. I'll always believe that there is no excuse for making your family and loved ones tolerate a drunk. My father and my mother's man were both drunks. In our small community alcoholism was as common as anything else. I would think it is fair to say that there were as many drunks as there were registered voters. Perhaps more. That wouldn't surprise me a bit. Most of my childhood was spent in the company of an alcoholic, and I don't make any excuses for it. If you're an alcoholic and you're seeking help, then I am glad for you. If you're trying to kick the habit them I'm all for it and I'll help you any way I can, so long as it doesn't mean tolerating you sliding back into the habit. But if you're one of these sad souls who blames everyone for your habit but yourself, brother you had better steer clear of me because I won't hear any of it.
As I grew into a young adult I also grew to resent my mother's boyfriend for different reasons. Being a staggering drunk was reason enough for me, but this old bastard was always giving me new reasons to hate him. I learned quickly that he was a petty drug peddler. Having lost a sister to the world of drugs, that was reason enough for me to hate him even if he wasn't a falling down drunk. Now that I have some years under my belt I realize that the word hate is an easy term to throw around when you're a teenager. When I look back on things and then take a look at myself now, it is very clear to me. I did genuinely hate that man, and I still do now. Am I justifying my hate for him? I'm not sure, but the fact remains. At times I'm not sure how to feel about it, and at times it has been downright constructive. I have learned from my hate for that man. I am very particular about certain things and at times it drives my better half insane. Sometimes I stop to ask myself, 'Am I really that eccentric, and why?' More than once I realized that I behave a certain way because I refused to do anything that emulated that man's behavior. I have been told that it is a defensive instinct. You tell me, is it?