I bashed the tractor tire in our backyard. I hit it repeatedly with the sledge hammer as instructed by my cousin. furious, it was more than just letting off some steam, it was unadulterated hate. I don’t know how long I attacked the tire for but I must have been back there for a few hours. The neighbors had probably grown tired of the continuous thudding of the sledge hammer hitting the rubber and the loud suction cup snap of the tire popping up off of the cement. At that point and time I didn’t really give a fuck about annoying them or not. The neighbors were the least of my concerns.
My arms were swollen, dead tired, and twitching. My shoulder cried each time I forced the hammer up and fought to throw it back down again. My hands were blistered and stung with pus and blood. I was hurt, but the pain was inside of my chest, my heart was ripped up worse than my hands, and it hurt like hell because I knew. I knew that deep down that I wanted to leave too. It hurt because I was just like her.
I didn’t want to do that to my father, whereas my mother had no regard for his feelings, or was it maybe she just couldn’t help herself. This was always going to happen. This was meant to be.
Kenny walked into the backyard, “Hey Colm. How are you holding up, man?”
“I’m fine.” I hit the tire again. “Never better.”
My parents never thought to check on me, they never asked me how I was doing, if everything was alright in school, they never wondered about my interests, nothing. Kenny was the only one. I couldn’t fault them for it and now it wouldn’t matter because she was gone forever, and he was a puddle, a stain on the furniture.
My father couldn’t respond to anyone else’s pain but his own. His heart break trumped everyone else’s. He was incapable of empathy. Nothing existed outside of the minute world which crumbled all around him. Anyone who knew me could tell I was lying about being content with my mother’s departure, but I wouldn’t need to lie or mask my feelings to him because I barely existed to my father anymore as well. He was disembodied, a ghost. When she left all reason for living left with her. She broke out all the time, short lived escapes and that tormented him, but she was always back in a few days time with empty apologies. There was a possibility she’d be back, he had hoped, only I knew she wasn’t because I felt it. Kenny and I were fully aware that my father wouldn’t be able to handle this, this would be too much for him to bear so I would have to deal with it. Each blow my mother dealt him crippled him emotionally, banishing him to his own personal hell, a prisoner. Her behavior, her betrayals and inevitable abandonment carved a gorge of self loathing and anxiety in the pit of his rotting stomach. He would leave the house less, work less, the only thing he did was sit in front of the television, drink more and tie knots with his ropes.
“Yeah. My father told you?” I asked, shocked he was able to speak at all.
“I told him. I broke the news to him. She didn’t leave a note or anything. I don’t give a fuck where she goes and I don’t give a fuck what she does.” I hit the tractor tire trying to split it in two.
“Ease up. You’re going to hurt yourself. Ok?” The way Kenny looked at me I knew he felt bad for me but that wasn’t what I wanted from him, especially him, or anyone, ever. Kenny and I had a bond, much like the bond I had with Ozzy and Martin and the boys, the only difference was Kenny and I were actual blood relatives. But what was blood worth if your own blood hurt you the most?
The neighborhood was now dreadfully quiet and he held his hand out for the sledge hammer. He wore a Cannibal Corpse, Tomb Of The Mutilated long sleeve, I thought of the cassette tape he made for me with Cannibal Corpse’s second album on one side and Deicide’s self titled on the other. I remember how shitty Kenny’s handwriting was. Those cassettes were the greatest gifts. It meant something, it took time, a little effort and some love to make a tape for someone. I remember thinking about stealing that shirt the next time he left for Ireland, though I’d have to wait a couple years for it to fit right.
“I don’t love her.”
“Well, now you’re just lying through your teeth. I know all this nonsense hurts and all but listen to me. You don’t ever have to say things that you don’t mean to me. Not to me. Not ever. Fuck all that shite. This world is a shower of cunts. You and I know this, right? While there remains to be a shortage of sincerity or decency for that matter, there never has to be any bullshit between us. I’m here for you. We’re family. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Be upfront and in return I’ll always be honest with you. What are you thirteen? You’re thirteen and just that alone is rough, being thirteen and all. And none of this shit helps but you’re smart and tough. You’re a kind boy, a little weird but all boys are weird. You’re going to be just fine, I know it. And you know what your Ma is going to show up in a couple of days.”
“Maybe she shouldn’t. Maybe that is the fucking problem.”
“How so?” Kenny asked.
I’m never as mad at my mom for leaving as I am for my dad always taking her back, I told Kenny.
“Your Da is a good man?”
“He’s a weak man.”
“He’s a good man, and that is why he takes her back. He’s just trying to keep your family together. He accepts her, the good and the bad, that’s love, mate.”
“He tries the only way he knows how.”
“Kenny, why would he let her treat him like that? Why do people let other people treat them like shit? Why?”
“There’s all sorts of reasons I guess. It’s complicated. It could be because of selfishness. Egos. Low self esteem. People are manipulative and cruel. There is a relative of ours, you’ve never met him, he’s on me ma’s side, my namesake actually. Uncle Kenneth is a big old fella, a bleeding beast, a fucking hulk of a man. He told me a long time ago to never let anyone in, he was drunk and I think he may have pissed himself. But there was a grain of truth in there. You know what I’m saying? Don’t get close to people. Whenever he sees me in town he grabs me in a fucking bear hug and tries to squeeze the life out of me. Kind of like this.” Kenny grabbed me and squeezed. I dropped the sledge hammer and it clanked on the pavement.
“Get off of me, Kenny,” I protested.
“Life is supposed to hurt. The only lessons you learn from are the hard ones.”
“Alright, let me go.” Kenny released me, and I took a deep breath. I had no strength to fight him off.
“The thing is you don’t have to let the ones who hurt know they’ve hurt you. You have me and you have the lads but be cautious. Always be wary of others, always be weary of women. They will ruin you, but never let them know that they have indeed done so. Don’t let anyone think they even have that kind of power. Stay collected. Like if you get into a fight and the cunt hits you and it fucking hurts like hell, do everything in your power to shrug it off, let him think you ate that shit even if you didn’t. And keep moving in, calm. Collected.”
But what if you can’t, I asked.
“If you can’t you can’t but always try. Here’s a talk that most don’t get. I’m going to try and enlighten you, Colm. I’m not saying to treat anyone like shit or walk around emotionless, I’m saying to just beware. Always keep up your guard. You’re going to make mistakes, just don’t keep making the same mistake. Just because someone else acts like a cunt doesn’t mean you have to behave like a cunt, to a certain degree anyway. You can’t be held accountable for other people’s actions or poor decisions. We can’t control what other people do. With that being said, you are in control of yourself and how you react to the people around you. Try to treat people respectfully until they’ve proven themselves unworthy of your respect. Your parents might have lost your respect but that’s a complicated situation, they are still your parents. That’s a tough one, but anyone else who reveals their true cunt self you leave behind. Move forward. When people talk, especially those who like to talk slick or loose, listen to what they say, observe their behavior and take diligent notes on how they handle themselves. You are not required to be anyone but yourself. Don’t let your sadness or anything allow you to be manipulated or mistreated. You will be alright. You’re alright.”
“When did you become a motivational speaker?”
“I’m trying to give you the advice I could have used when I was a wee weird lad. I learned all my lessons the hard way. You’re going to get the lock-hard from me. Your life is not easy, without the extra adolescent neighborhood bullshit making it any worse. I mean that in the most sincere way, bud. Here is another valuable life lesson from your favorite cousin from across the Atlantic. This is gold. Sound advice. A personal fuck up. Do you happen to make fun of any of the lasses in your shit hole school?”
“I don’t know. I guess a little here and there.”
“Not cool Colm, you muppet. So later on when you’ve grown a bit, some of these poor lasses will mature into beautiful women. You might run into her somewhere and instead of being that boy that was always nice to her, you’ll be just another cunt from primary school who gets no shot. Do you have the glad eye for any of them?”
“The what? I’m in eighth grade,” I said, puffing up my chest a bit.
“Who gives a fuck? The point is don’t be a fucking idiot. The problem right now for you is you’re consumed in a tiny shite world, you’re in a strip of time that seems meaningful and more important than it truly is. Sure, you’re in the throes of a developmental stage but it’s not end all be all. Time passes. Integrity matters. Don’t lose sight of that. You’re a good lad. There is a brain in there. I wish someone said this shit to me.” Kenny knocked on my head.
“Would you have listened?”
“Unlikely. But I’d like to think maybe I would have, then maybe,, just maybe I wouldn’t have made so many mistakes, you know? If someone tried to school me and all. Maybe then my own behavior wouldn’t have been so erratic. I want you, and myself, I want us to become good men. It’s a constant work in progress, man. I know that you, Colm, will become one despite everything. Not quite sure if I will.” I thought of Mr. Craven and his record player in their basement. I pictured the Them Two song, Am I A Good Man, the black and yellow label revolting on the record player. Deep City Records lasted how long? Would I become a good man or a fool? Was I a fool already?
“You already are a good man, Kenny.”
“I’m trying. You and I both have had some obstacles along the way. Some similar, some not so much. Some things in life are just beyond our control. Just use your brain and try to be smart even if your in dumb situations. Careful who you trust.”
“Should I trust you?” I asked.
“You should but to an extent. You should ponder and think about these things and decide for yourself who is trustworthy. Read people. Pay attention. Look at how people act and listen to what they say. Observe. Stop and think why. What are their motivations? Don’t invest yourself in undeserving people.”
“Ok. I have one question before we conclude today’s lecture.”
Kenny said shoot.
“What was the girl’s name?”
“The girl you obviously ridiculed and then clearly rejected you.”
“Ah. That girl. Mo chroí. Her name is Saoirse, Saoirse O’Meara. She is going to be my bride. Mark my word.”
“You just said don’t get close to people and now you’re talking about getting fucking married. What?” I shook my head.
“You can if it’s true. I’m trying to help, Colm.”
I know, I said.
“I know you’re angry and maybe you don’t fully grasp the situation, but you will. One day you’ll understand better. You have every right to be upset. It’s normal to be angry, just don’t let it get the better of you. You have to find a way to deal with your parents disappointing you. You have to because it’s family but by no means do you have to allow anyone else to disappoint you. Everything is corrupted, know that, and be careful what you share with people. Mind your mouth. Don’t gossip, don’t badmouth, it’s a shite habit for weak people.”
“Alright,” I said, “Have you been drinking?”
“I might have had a taste. Remember if someone has to tell you how tough they are, they are only trying to convince themselves. You should never have to convince anyone of anything. You’re capable. A tough lad. Don’t let what happens in this house or what happens in this town affect who you are for the rest of your life. You got all that?”
“I got all of that. I don’t want to stay here anymore. Can I go with you back to Ireland? Can I live with you in Finglas?”
“Colm, I don’t think Finglas is any better than Whitestone. Things aren’t so great there right now.”
I understand, I said beyond crushed, embarrassed I asked for help, and that the tears were on standby.
“Ok. I tell you what, when I go to university and have me own flat, you can come and live with me. You just have to be patient.”
“We’ll see.” It wasn’t going to happen. I was never leaving Queens. I knew Kenny felt bad but he wasn’t in a position to help me at that time. I put on a brave face. There were things going on in Ireland with my uncle and Kenny that I wasn’t privy to, his parents’ marriage was also dissolving and my uncle was facing prison time. Kenny would have told me what was going on but I never asked.
“I’m sorry, Colm.” I don’t think anyone ever apologized to me before. I couldn’t remember a single apology before that one.