LIFE AT HOME IS SAD & DREARY
Like all good things, this time in my childhood comes to an end. One day I am sent home from school after Miss Rosenblum feels my head and says I have a fever. Instead of going straight to the garage, I go into my room and change clothes. I turn around and Jeff is standing in the doorway. He must have skipped that day.
“Why are you home, runt?”
“I was sent home with a fever.”
“Let me see,” he comes toward me to touch my forehead. I am scared but do not flinch.
“Well, the little faggot’s got a fever,” he decides after feeling my head.
“I’ll go lay down,” I decide.
“No. I know what will fix you.”
Jeff grabs me by the arm and pulls me to my bed. He sits beside me. His breathing quickens and the look in his eye scares me.
“Let me go be with Max,” I half-cry.
“Does the little faggot miss his dog?”
“I need to go to sleep.”
“This will make it easy to go to sleep.”
He unbuckles his belt. I cower at the end of my bed, sure he’s going to smack me with the belt. He lowers his jeans, reaching into his underwear. I’m really scared now. He grabs my head and pushes it into his lap. I must have blacked out or something. All I remember is him pushing me away with spit coming out my mouth, snot out my nose and tears running down my cheeks. I am a wet mess. All I could think is at least I did not wet my pants. Some relief.
“If you ever tell anyone, I’ll come in every night and rape you over and over and John too. If you tell, everyone will know you really are a faggot.”
I do not know what a faggot is.
I lay on my bed sniffling until John comes home. He looks concerned.
“Feeling better? Your teacher said you came home sick.”
I do not say anything.
He looks at my bed with all the covers messed up. “You must be really sick. Did you have fits?”
I nod, too ashamed to tell the truth. I just want to forget what happened.
“I know what will help,” he announces as he gets up and leaves. In just a minute or so, Max comes bounding into the room jumping up on my bed and snuggling into me. He feels so good. I hug him as tightly as I can. I worry that Max will be discovered in the house. We go to the garage. Max and I lay in his bed. John lays down on the other side of Max. We all fall asleep.
I wake up when Max jumps out of our blanket bed and starts growling. Jeff and Edith are standing in the doorway.
“I told you, Mom. Jace is a pervert. He’s making John sleep with him and his dog.”
“Get up this instant,” Edith orders.
John scurries out of the blankets. The fever makes my thinking fuzzy. I lay there trying to remember what happened.
“Why are you sleeping with that filthy dog?” she asks.
“They sneak out here every night and do nasty things,” Jeff lies to his mom.
“That’s over tonight and any other night,” she comes over and pulls me to my feet. Then she slaps me across my face. I start shaking.
Jeff drags me to my room and throws me on my bed. “Stay here, or I’ll tell,” he warns me.
I curl up and soon go to sleep.
It is dark when John quietly wakes me up. I am soaked from sweating and shivering as if I am cold. He goes and brings me aspirin and a glass of water. He fills the glass two more times. I try to get up to piss but fall back exhausted. John pulls me out of bed and walks me to the bathroom, staying outside while I drain my bladder. I feel better as the aspirin kicks in and I am able to walk back to bed. John sits on the edge of my bed, watching me as I fall back to sleep.
The next day I am still feverish. John tells me to stay in bed all day. There is no way I am going to be home alone. The thought of Jeff attacking me again makes me get dressed and walk to school with John. Class is a blur and soon my head is on my desk. I am unable to stop dozing off. Miss Rosenblum ignores me until it’s time for recess. She comes over and gently puts her hand on my shoulder to wake me up.
“Are you okay, Jace?” she speaks softly.
I am startled. “Keep your hands off me, Nosy Rosie Butt,” I yell.
She draws back and leaves me alone for the rest of the day. John walks me home after the final bell. He gets me more aspirin and water while I climb into bed. He is being so nice, I am afraid I am about to cry.
“What’s wrong, Jace,” John notices my agitation.
“I’m just sick, John. Thanks for the aspirin.”
There is no way I can tell him what happened with Jeff. I quickly fall asleep, not waking up until it is time for school. I recover over the next few days.
“Ya still got the plague?” Robby asks on Friday at school. Michael and he have been avoiding me. I am sitting with John at the second grade table during lunch.
“It was just a fever,” I mumble.
“I got a new bike. Wanna go riding Saturday? Michael’s coming.”
I don’t want to tell him I do not have a bike, so I just shake my head.
“No bike?” Robby knows. “You can use my old one. I’ll ride circles around ya,” he laughs.
“Can John come?” I ask hopefully.
“Why do you hang around with a second grader anyway?”
“He’s my brother,” I assert.
“Your step-brother. Does he have a bike?”
“Yup.” I know he does.
“Well, come to my house after school. I’ll show you my new bike. Do you even know how to ride?”
I just look at my feet.
Well, I‘ll show you how. It’s easy.”
“Thanks, Robby,” I sniff.
“Christ, Jace. What’s wrong with you? You still sick?”
“Well, suck it up. Otherwise you hang out with the second graders.”
I tell John about Saturday. He is happy to be included with fourth graders. Maybe he is glad to be with me, his new brother, but I do not want to jink it by hoping so. I am still afraid of Robby’s mom, the witch. We do not go into the house. Robby is excited about his new bike, a racing bike, he claims. It looks like Michael’s ten speed except it only has one speed – fast. There are no brakes
and the tires are thin – ‘subject to flats’ supposedly. Robby almost gets run over twice because he does not brake. He ends up riding on the sidewalks to avoid cars.
“See how light it is,” he lifts it by one hand. “I’m going to make it even lighter by drilling extra holes in the crank and drilling out holes in the frame.”
I lift it. It is totally lightweight. Michael tells him the frame will break if he drills it out. They argue for a minute and get into a fist fight about who is right. This is normal behavior for them. Somehow it makes me feel better that they are fighting. John and I watch as they roll around on the ground, finally getting up and laughing about it.
He lets me use his Stingray, with fat wheels, high handle bars and a banana seat, but much shorter than his new bike. It’s easy to learn how to ride, as I can keep both feet on the ground when I stop. Robby shoves me for my first ride and I take off. It seems so fast until Michael rides circles around me. At least I do not fall down.
“Fuck,” Michael swears. “I thought we were past having to wait for Robby all the time on this old little kids bike. Let’s go to my house. I have an old ten speed you can borrow.”
I am glad not to see Robby’s mom, the witch. Michael, John and I walk, while Robby peddles around us, getting used to his new racing bike. Michael’s old bike seems perfectly fine, but he has a newer version. A ten speed is much more complicated than the Stingray. Michael tells me to not change gears until I am used to riding bent over with my head peering forward. No more both feet on the ground. Michael shows me how to jump on, pushing off instantly with one foot, and getting my feet into the pedal straps. I crash about five times. They say nothing as I get up and try again, over and over. John looks worried. Finally I am able to make it around the block once without falling. Everyone cheers.
“You’re tough,” Robby declares.
I don’t feel that way, but I am stubborn.
We make plans to ride on Saturday to Matheson Hammock, a park at the end of Old Cutler Road, south of Coral Gables. John asks if his friends can come.
“You second graders can organize your own rides. You’re coming ‘cause you’re Jace’s brother.”
That shuts up, John. It kind of makes me feel important but still sorry for John. He does not seem to care as long as he still can come. We do not tell Jeff or Edith that we have plans for Saturday.
On Saturdays, Edith and Dad always sleep in. Jeff is lurking about, so we skip breakfast to ride to Robby’s. I stopped worrying about the witch. We pick up Michael on the way. Once he is ready to go, Jeff shows up, having followed us on foot.
“What’s going on?” he asks John.
John can only stutter an answer, “Rrridin’ bbbikes.”
“No one said you could go,” Jeff asserts.
“What do you want?” Michael stands up for John.
“Shut up, dick. He’s my brother.”
“This is my house. You have to leave.”
“I’ll get my dad. You’re trespassing.”
Jeff is stopped in his tracks. He turns away. “I’ll deal with you later,” he shoots John an angry look. “You too, fag,” he glares at me.
We all glare back. Jeff stomps away. I am scared, but it feels like we won a victory over the teenage world, even though Jeff is just 13. We ride to Robby’s in high spirits. John and Michael are riding circles around me. I am still learning to ride straight ahead. Michael leads us to Robby’s window. The witch is avoided. We wait while Robby wakes up and gets his new bike.
The day stretches before us. It is still fairly cool in the morning as we ride down Riviera, finally getting to Old Cutler Road.
“We’re halfway there,” Michael makes it seem like it is nothing. I am huffing and puffing just trying to keep up.
“Let’s get water,” John points to a 7-11 on Dixie Highway while we cross.
“Oh, thank heaven for 7-11,” we all sing. We walk in and order waters. They have to give it to us for free. The Cuban clerk scowls and then laughs. We are 7 to 10-year-olds.
I relax a bit and the ride down Old Cutler Road seems easier. I convince myself that going south is going downhill. Believing makes it so. I am in high spirits and try circling around everyone like they are doing. The result is another tear in the knees of my jeans. Everyone laughs at my pratfall, including me.
The park is really cool, with a lagoon that empties into Biscayne Bay. After the long bike ride, it is time for a swim. We strip down to our tightie whities (mine are not really white anymore) and run into the lagoon. I stop when the water reaches my knees. I have no idea how to swim. John notices my hesitation and comes back for me.
“You need to get underwater. Standing here in your underwear will get us kicked out,” Robby comes over and orders. I sit down, thinking it’s the holes in my briefs that will get us ejected.
“You can’t swim, can you?” Michael observes.
I shake my head, which goes under water, causing me to choke and gasp.
“I’ll stay with him,” John volunteers, my seven-year-old minder.
They all stay and start splashing each other and me. It is fun. I learn getting water in my face is okay if I do not swallow it. Michael shows me how to float which is easy until Robby dunks me and I panic. They love watching me drown until I realize I just need to stand up. John attacks Robby. They attack him back. Even I am having fun, until I go out too far and cannot stand on the bottom. Michael gets me floating on my back again. My flapping arms work to keep me from sinking as long as I stay on my back. He shows me how to kick my feet and paddle my hands to propel me backwards. I am swimming. It works so well that I am soon way over my head from not knowing where I am going. Michael and John stay with me and rescue me several times until I relax and stay floating on my back.
“Try this,” Michael shows me how to float on my stomach by tucking my legs under me and putting my face in the water. Every time I take a breath, I am able to float by putting my face back in the water.
“You’re doing the turtle,” he announces.
I roll on my back and find that much easier to breathe. They point me in the direction of the far shore. Soon, we’re all sitting there, drying off in the sun. I’m out of breath, just sitting there.
“You swam across the whole lagoon, Jace,” John congratulates me with a big grin.
“Not a total retard now,” Robby sticks the knife in.
“My step-dad never pays him any attention. He learned to ride a bike and swim in just one day,” John is my defender. It is embarrassing.
“What about his mom?” Robby needs to know. I never talk about her because I did not even know what a mom was until I went to school.
John knows. “She abandoned the family when Jace was born. She’s a waste case.”
I am crushed. I get up and start walking around the lagoon.
“Stop,” Robby orders. “We cannot just walk around in our underwear here. We have to swim back to where our clothes are.”
That sounds so hard. I plop down on the sand.
They stay with me and keep me pointed in the right direction as I float on my back. We make it across with minimal drowning.
“It’s the backward stroke,” Michael names my swimming style. “Once you learn to get your arms out of the water, it will be the backstroke.”
We get dressed and ride around the many trails in the park. John and I have no money, so Michael pays for our burgers and fries. I think I died and went to heaven. It’s so much better than school lunch, my only source of nutrition. I burp. Robby calls me Sir Burpalot.
It is time for more swimming. We splash around in the shallow water, until I get in over my head. I easily turn over and float. Robby attacks me. John tries to stop him. I move back where I can stand and splash Robby who attacks me again. Michael watches until he cannot help jumping in. No one is on anyone’s side – grade school chaos. I use the turtle float to go over my head. Every time I lift my head to breath, I splash the others for a brief second. Finally they all give up from laughing at my lame attacks. Michael dunks me, putting me on his shoulders and walking on the bottom until his head is above the water. John gets on Robby’s shoulders. We have a real jousting match. We are exhausted and lay on the beach to catch our breath. The lifeguard tells us we have to wear swimsuits next time we come. No one says we must have an adult to supervise us.
Riding back to the Gables, we turn left on Old Cutler to Red Road. Robby wants to investigate the new housing that is being built in Kendall. We find a construction site and sneak over the fence. We play king of the mountain on a huge pile of dirt. John and I try to take on Robby and Michael. Only when Michael switches sides and attacks Robby do we win. John looks like a caveman all covered in dirt. Everyone does. There is a canal near the new homes in which we wash off most of the dirt. The water is gross but no one cares. We ride around the construction project. Hundreds of homes are going in. I wonder who will move here. It is a totally deserted area. That reminds me of what John said: my mother had ‘deserted us’. No one ever told me anything about her. Maybe if I had a real mom I would not be such a retard, unable to do anything other kids take for granted, like swimming and bike riding. Maybe I was such an ugly baby she did not want to be my mom. Then Robby starts doing wheelies on his racing bike. We are all riding around crazily. I am so happy to have friends. I do not care if my real mom did not want me.
Boy, am I red when we get home. Not from embarrassment this time but from my first sunburn. John finds some skin lotion and applies it on my back. Then, Jeff walks into our room and makes nasty comments about me turning his brother into a pervert. John doesn’t say anything. We go into the garage where Max is pouting from not going with us on our bike adventure.
“You can’t go to the park, Max. It’s against the rules,” I try to explain. He just whines.
We take him outside and give him a belly rub. He forgets he is mad at us. I show him the bike Michael is lending me. We ride around the block with Max trotting along beside John and me. We race each other. Max easily keeps up.
When we get home, John has dinner with Jeff. Dad has taken Edith out for the evening.
“You ain’t my brother, so, make your own food, fag,” Jeff sneers at me.
John looks embarrassed. I do not care. I am used to having just one meal a day. Nothing is going to beat the hamburger and fries Michael bought us.