Monday, January 13, 2014

Out of the Blue, Into the Black

Violence is not something that I welcome into my home. It has no place here. Sure, we watch it on TV and in movies, and it is somewhat entertaining, but the real deal needs to stay away.  I’ve experienced enough violence in my life that I no longer need it to be around me.

The first violent act I ever saw was when the local neighborhood bully, Charlie, cornered me and my neighbor by a garage and he threatened to hit us.  My older sister, Melissa, who was a normally very quiet and homebody sort of person came and said, “Charlie, what the hell do you think you are doing?”  Charlie pushed her and said “Go away, bitch.”  Melissa did not hesitate before she punched him in the nose.  He was sitting on his knees and there was blood in the snow.  Melissa helped him up and then he ran home. Cool as a cucumber, she headed back into our house. Over her shoulder she said “No one talks to me like that.” In the days and years that followed, everyone around us knew you did not mess with my sister or any of her family.

I fought a lot when I was kid, because I was small and wanted to assert myself. My mother had to buy a lot of frozen foods to put on black eyes since I did not win a lot.

My father never spanked any of us kids, no matter how much my mother entreated him to. He was more into psychological warfare. When you screwed up, he would send you to your room to think about what you had done and how disappointed he was in you. Sometimes when it was really bad, he would throw his belt over the door to scare you. Still, he never laid a hand on any of us at any time except once when I was early in high school.

I spent the night out with my friends, experimenting with alcohol, not a huge amount but enough. When I got home I was tired, snarky, and a general pain in the ass. I didn’t realize what had happened while I was gone.   During the night my mother’s appendix burst and my father had to rush her to the hospital.  That morning when I got home, I mouthed off to my father, which was a bad decision. He picked me up, pinned me to the wall with his arm across my throat and said, “Listen, asshole. I almost lost a wife last night and you almost lost a mother.  I don’t need your shit right now.”  I looked up at the ceiling and said “Dad, I‘m sorry. You’re afraid, aren’t you?”   He nodded his head. I said, ”Ok, Dad, why don’t you let me down and then you go upstairs to sleep. Melissa and I will take care of everything.  When you are ready, we will go to the hospital to visit Mom.”  He nodded again, yes, and let me down. He went to sleep. Melissa and I cleaned the house and took care of the younger children.

Later on that afternoon when we did sit with Mom in the hospital, she asked me why I had bruises on my neck.  I just said, “Very aggressive date last night.”  She  sighed and said, “You don’t date ever." I said, “And this is why.”

When we got home that night my father took me into the garage and made a promise to me that he would never hurt me again.  I said, "Dad, I am a jerk sometimes but I'm always here for you . We're too much alike so we butt heads. It is the nature of who we are." My father smiled. I asked him, "What do you need, Pop?"  He said as he left the garage, "Nothing. I got all that I need."

John O’Leary was a boxer. He set up a ring in his backyard. We fought among comparably sized guys. Tommy Darfler kicked my ass. I asked my dad to teach me how to box, because I knew he did in the army, but he refused.  A couple of nights later he came to me and said, “If you want to box, Mr. Mellander will teach you.”  I went and worked out with Bob.  I asked him once why my father wouldn’t teach me to fight.  He said, “It is because he is afraid. When he fights, he goes black.” I asked “What do you mean?” He said, “When he fights he will not stop until someone has pulled him off or someone is dead.”  I thought about that same instinct in me and I never went back to O’Leary’s to box again.

I have not hit another person in almost twenty years. Good record. The last time I hit a person this is how it went down.  My best friend from the time I was in third grade was Kevin Dooley.  When we were older we made a special point of going out the night before Thanksgiving, like we always did when we were young men. My wife was always patient and knew we would end up at her parents' or somewhere safe at some point. On one particular night like this we were in a bar in Palatine and a guy came up to me.  He was someone who had dated and lived with my younger sister.  He tried to be all “buddy, buddy” and buy me a beer but I refused.  He, in seeming good nature, kept pressing but I wanted nothing to do with him.  As he kept talking I got angrier and angrier.  Finally, I reached the limit with him, swept his glass off the bar, shattering it on the floor, and I hit him in the face as hard as I could. When he was down, I kept hitting him, going into the black,.

I was trembling when Kevin took me by the arm, raised me up.  He said, “I think we need to go somewhere else…before the cops come.”  I nodded my head and said “Just one minute please.” I said to the man on the floor that I had pounded: “How did that feel? You like it?  Feel good?  Don’t you ever get near my sister or any of my family ever again. You might want to watch out too. There are a lot of people besides me that also want to kick your ass.” We left.
Kevin took me away and we went to another bar. It was a foggy evening.  There was a lot of condensation on the windows.  He asked me why I behaved the way I had. I told him, and he said, “I’m just curious because I don’t advocate violence but…if you hadn’t hit him, I might have, so I'm just wondering. I don’t have sisters, so your sisters are my sisters. I would do anything for them, but it's not the same. Still, while I think I understand why you did what you did; on behalf of your wife and your family you need to make a promise to me not to do that ever again.” He took his finger and drew two hearts on the window. One was captioned for my mother and the other one for my sisters and my wife. They were sweet and beautiful.

I said, “I promise, Kevin.” It is a promise I keep to this day. There is no room for violence in my house.