A product of the 60s, he had worn his peppered hair long for nearly 30 years. Tom had taken many forms throughout the years: Hippie, a part of the disco scene, a biker, an artist, and a business owner. His skin was jaundiced. He was long-legged and skinny, had worn leathery skin, and clearly did not take much stock in hygiene: he resembled a lizard of sorts. He always wore dirty boot-cut Levi jeans and a t-shirt. He was a man of internal conflict. His father’s lack of affection, and his mother’s overbearing nature, left him to a life of insecurity. He was an addict and a drunk. He loved cocaine and Miller High-Life, a cheap beer which was ironically called the Champagne of Beers. (Champagne of Beers is a registered trademark of Miller Brewing Company)
She was a woman of many coats as well. They weren’t stable people. Nobody really ever is. Alice, as she was called, took every opportunity to reinvent herself. Once she claimed to be a good Catholic woman. Then at some point she had taken on the identity of artist and Hippie herself. She always dressed the part. In her current form, she was a biker, just like Tom. She would constantly morph, and in the action of doing so, leave behind whatever life she had been a part of before. She was a chameleon. She was married and divorced several times. She was a hopeless romantic, in love with some idea of a happy family. Her first love was the father of her children, DJ and Sarah. That ended miserably. His rejection left her sick.
The two children, that she loved, served to remind her of the man that had caused her so much pain. She would tell DJ and Sarah, “Your father wanted nothing to do with you, but that’s O.K. because I love you very much.” This was her way of getting back at him. She was oblivious to how much harm this caused DJ and Sarah, whether it was true or not. This kind of behavior left the children feeling somewhat insecure. They would lead a life of feeling like they were unwanted, and that they might be left behind at a moment’s impulse. It kept them artificially attached to their mother and made them always work hard to please the people around them. It made them tolerate a lot. Alice wanted to be a parent more than anything. The problem lied in the fact that loving something does not mean you will do it well. But, anyway, she tried the best she could.
Tom and Alice had met 10 years before when Tom’s addictions were at bay. He had temporarily kicked his habits, and had started a steady job at the local factory. He was a welder and fabricator on the night shift. This allowed him to stay out-of-the-way of any authorities, so it worked for him. Unfortunately, this cover allowed him to surreptitiously return to his addictions.
Many nights, as a family, they would set off on one of Tom’s poisonous endeavors. An addict is unable to be considerate. They only know their animalistic desires for their drug. Everywhere Tom went, Alice and the children were in tow. No matter what was going on, the children were there. Alice thought this level of transparency was good parenting. “It was honest.” She would say, “I don’t like to lie to my children, or hide anything.” They would take them to parties, take them to the middle of a garage band concert, or to biker rallies. They would witness her smoking pot, and drinking. They would see Tom blowing coke and kissing whores. There would be filthy people fornicating in the open. Alice had an uncanny ability to look the other way. She thought this was in their best interest- to be exposed to ‘life’ at an early age.
DJ often found himself in the middle of it all. More than once, one of Tom and Alice’s friends would be so stoned they would accidentally, or maybe on purpose, offer DJ a toke on their joint. DJ always refused the offer. He knew this was no good, but nobody would say no if he had decided to partake. There would be other children at these parties. Their parents were transient and loose too. Sarah would stay in doors with the other children, playing with dolls, or playing some distorted version of house. Sometime around 4AM, the end of the night would come, the band would stop playing music, and they would get into the family pickup truck. Tom would slug down one last Miller High-Life and grab another for the road, before driving them home. Fueled by a mixture of booze and cocaine, he would take the wheel. Away they would go, off at 100 miles an hour. He did nothing slow or patient. He was not concerned.
DJ had embedded himself into Tom and Alice’s life. He tagged along at the risk of being humiliated during one of Tom’s flip-outs. This kind of behavior is common in those afflicted with cocaine addiction. Occasionally, he would get a pat on the back from Tom. DJ lived for those moments. He looked up to him, and had bought into Tom’s self-promotion and ramblings. DJ thought he was great and worked hard for his affection. He wanted to impress him. Tom was the closest thing to a Dad DJ ever had. Since he was young his mother ruined any chance at a relationship with his own biological father. Tom was his only chance at having a male role-model.
Sarah was a skittish girl, who was never sure of anything. She would compulsively ask if she was ‘doing it right’, no matter what the task was: washing her hands, walking down the street, answering the phone, or even introducing herself. She often hid, preferring to be a wallflower. She did all things with hesitation. Secretly, she did not respect adults, and why should she, she thought. They didn’t seem respectful of her, and she always thought of herself as an equal. Secretly she would curse them, and act out scenes with her dolls where she was autonomous and confident. She would put the adults in their place.
Tom was a man, who didn’t concern himself with what others thought. He did what he damned well pleased. He was a man that needed constant stimulation. Going fast wasn’t enough. Being the best wasn’t enough. Having the material items so many others sought was not enough. So, he turned to drugs to achieve the feelings he was after. Cocaine was the perfect drug for a maniac. He could blow a line of coke, and he would become whatever he thought he was. He would come home in a rage and destroy the house for not being cleaned the right way: for not looking the right way.
These were four people who occupied very different spaces within a common context. They were all busy dealing with the issues they found to be most important in life: Addiction, Love, Acceptance, and Independence.
As chaotic as their life was, the children knew no other way. So, even living with a monster can seem rather mundane. You could even learn to love a monster. This was their life. They must accept it, or drown in fear. Life takes no prisoners, and does not concern itself with the weak. Every night offered some new kind of terror. And they must be strong to make it though. This night was unlike any other.
Boom! The floor rumbled ever so slightly. DJ had experienced this often. Tom would come home stoned on High-Lifes and cocaine and decide to tear the house apart because something had not gone his way. He would make sure whoever he thought was at fault would pay, no matter what hour of night it was. It was not uncommon to be ripped from bed and screamed at or bullied. But something was different this night. The crashes were louder, and there was the faint sound of frantic whispers. DJ listened closely through the cracks in the floor. He could hear his mother desperately trying to reason with Tom. “Don’t patronize me you bitch. Do you think I’m that fucking dumb.” He heard Tom say. DJ sensed there was something different in his voice. Tom was even more in a rage than usual, and that spoke volumes about the potential the night had in store for them.
These kinds of nights always left DJ and Sarah uneasy, and often DJ would go into Sarah’s room to stay for the night. His room was right above Tom and Alice’s, and there was always unwanted arguing going on. The sounds would come right through the floor. DJ cracked Sarah’s door, and asked, “Sarah, are you awake?” “Yeah. Is everything alright down there?” She responded. “I don’t know. It sounds worse than usual. Can I stay in here tonight?” he asked. “Of course.” she said.
They lay there in total quiet trying to hear what was going on. They were always afraid one day things would go too far. Suddenly, they heard their mother screaming. And then it would be interrupted with crashing and more screaming. “Help!” you could hear barely escaping her throat. This was not common. Tom would beat Alice, but she never screamed for help. She always took it.
DJ ran to his room, and loaded his shotgun. It was just a small 4-10 for shooting squirrel: it was all he had. He went back to Sarah’s room and told her to stay hid. He shut the door, and yelled down the stairs, “What the hell is going on down there?” He heard more screaming for help. “Get your fucking hands off my mother, or you’re a dead man, Tom.” He yelled back. He tried his best to sound like he meant it, but he was sure his voice had cracked and revealed his fear. He had always known this day would come. He was always unsure if he’d be able to do it. He was not violent in nature.
“What? What? You have a gun you little mother fucker?” Tom screamed back. He let Alice fall to the ground of the closet. He had been choking her with a murderous intent. Now he had a new target. DJ panicked. He suddenly knew he could never shoot Tom. He couldn’t shoot anyone. He knew he was not capable of violence, and he could barely play the part. He ran to his room and unloaded the gun, then ran back to the top of the stairs. He pointed it down toward the landing where he knew he would see Tom. At least he might get him to leave. Tom loved himself very much, and would never risk being shot. Really he was a coward. He was no match for any other man, so he came home to beat women and children.
All of a sudden, Tom’s blood-shot eyes were piercing a hole into DJ’s face. Tom leaped up the stairs with a lunatic rage and superhuman strength. “You gonna shoot me you little piece of shit?” He snatched the gun from DJ’s hands and bashed him in the face. DJ went flying to the ground. Tom stood over him and pointed the barrel at his face. Suddenly, he began to bash the gun into the floor like a club. The walnut stock disintegrated from the barrel and hardware. DJ was sure this was the end. The man that he had looked up to was going to kill him. A moment of clarity overcame him, and he felt O.K. with this. He was tired of being let down. He was tired of starting over. He was tired of being a secondary concern for everyone. He was tired of loving someone that would never love him back. This was the way it was destined to be. He had come to peace with that. He exhaled what he believed to be his last breath in a sigh of relief.
Sarah appeared in her doorway from behind Tom. “What’s the hell’s wrong with you?” She cried. He stepped from over DJ and turned to her. Tears began to streak down his face. “What?” he asked. It was rhetorical. He knew what she had asked. He began to ball, and shout, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Please forgive me.” The intensity of the moment had worn off his high. He began to see clearly now. He knew he had fucked up. He felt like a big piece of shit. He pleaded for forgiveness. This usually worked. They would always forgive him before. But, this time was different. He had gone off the edge. There was damage done. The boy would never love him again. The girl was never going to stay in the house after that night. “Call the police!” DJ shouted to Sarah. She ran to the phone in her room and dialed 9-11. In a fit of rage and tears, Tom ran out the door and drove off. They knew they would never see him again.
An hour later, a Sheriff appeared at the door step. Alice told the officer her version of the story: how Tom had come home high and in a rage. How he began to strangle her, and how her only objective was to save her children. How she yelled for them to run away. How the boy had grabbed a gun and threatened Tom, and how Tom ran off. The sheriff, having heard this, and not wanting to do the paperwork, advised the woman to not press charges and to consider getting a divorce. Odds were this event would only land the boy in juvenile detention for threatening Tom with a loaded gun. Alice listened to the officer’s advice.
They knew they would never see Tom again, and this left a hole in all of them. It’s hard to say goodbye to a monster when that monster was the only thing they had that resembled a father. That night, they gathered their things. They would perform their ritual of moving on. Just like that, another person would disappear from their lives. It was easiest to pretend that person had died. They would shake it off. The bruises would heal and they would leave another life behind. Alice would reinvent herself, and the children would eventually get a new dad. This was the way it was. This was their life: children of the gypsy and the addict.