People say “You can never go back.” But that’s not true. Because, yes, yes you can go back.
First of all, I’m weird. And I throw that out there not to give the impression that I think “weird” is somehow “better” or “worse” than normal. I don’t think in terms of better or worse. It’s just that during my 54 years of life it has become quite undeniably clear that I am different from every other person in this world. But it’s not like there are any bodies buried in the back yard. I’m not that kind of weird.
The reason I tell you that I am weird is in order that I may somehow qualify the emotions you are about to read. (If indeed you are about to read them.)
Over this past weekend I had the opportunity to walk through my childhood home for the first time in 36 years.
Now everyone has their own reasons for wanting to visit their childhood home. And some would never even want to….. My reasons are that true happiness is about love.
This past Sunday morning my only brother within our clan of 7 kids, who incidentally is the only one of us who never left our hometown, called to tell me the house was for sale and would be open to the public at noon. Mike knows me. Which is strange because most people in this world so don’t know me at all.
Since Mike knows me he felt comfortable saying over the phone to me “Hey, you like all that memory shit. You interested in seeing our old house?”
This is my older brother Mike. While living in that house when we were young, 10 and 7 respectively, Mike and I visited a neighbor on the next street over because their adult mentally challenged son “Jeff” stayed at his home alone through out the day and would pay us 50 cents to let him spank us…. And 50 cents was a lot of money in 1967. At 7 years old it never once occurred to me that he was a freak. We had done this a half-dozen times before in order to get money for the matinée without incident.
This particular day was different. It was wet out, but not raining. Completely overcast and just a shitty, shitty day. We got into Jeff’s house and Mike bent over Jeff’s lap to “get his spanking” when a really weird look came over Jeff’s face. Weirder than his normal weird. Jeff picked up Mike, who was always skinny and weighed less than 100 pounds, and carried Mike into his bedroom. Jeff closed his door and locked it. I tried the door and yelled for Jeff to let my brother go. Within two minutes my brother was screaming bloody murder, begging for me to call the police. I could hear Jeff struggling with my brother, breathing in that disgusting, deep breathing he would always do during “the spankings,” telling my brother to shut up or he would kill him.
Now at 7 years of age I did not know what penis’ are for. I did not know what sex was, nor that sex drive was even a thing. All I knew was that this guy who normally just paid us for spankings picked my brother up and was threatening to kill him behind a locked door.
Now, listen. I was 7. I did not know how to call the police. But I was going to try. Fortunately every house in our neighborhood was a similar style ranch and every one of them had a single phone – always on the kitchen wall. I ran to the kitchen and picked up the receiver. Fucking party line! Two housewives were chatting up the line like they always seemed to do. Normally you would just politely hang up the receiver and wait a while until they finished their call. This was not a normal day. “Can you call the police for me please. I need the police.”
“Who is this?” one of the ladies asked. “It’s John.”
“Where are you John?”
“I’m in the B——-‘s house.”
“Why do you want the police?”
“Jeff has my brother in his bedroom and has a knife and wants to kill my brother….”
Now, a party line is a phone system where every three or four houses on a given block had the same phone line and they needed to share that line. Whoever this lady was, she was also Jeff’s neighbor and probably knew the family well.
“Johnny, I want you to go home now. I’m going to hang up and call Jeff’s brother. His mother gave me his number for emergencies.”
I was not in the habit of disobeying adults. But a team of wild horses could not have dragged me away from that house while my brother was in that room. The next ten minutes listening to his screams was just absolutely agonizing.
Finally I heard Jeff’s brother pull up in the street outside, brakes squealing. He dashed into the front door with an incredibly angry look on his face, glared at me and said “What are you doing in my house?”
“Jeff has my brother in his room and he has a knife and he wants to kill my brother.” Mike’s screams were still wailing out of the room.
Jeff’s brother walked up to the bedroom door, tried the handle once and then in one full swoop threw his body against the door and it came completely off of its hinges, smashing to the ground. I could only see him run into the room. Two seconds later I saw Jeff come running out of the room screaming, his brother hanging around him with a choke hold and punching him violently in the back of the head. Fucking hard.
And then Mike came out looking dazed. I grabbed his arm and we went out the side door, heading through the yards to our street. Mike couldn’t. or wouldn’t run. The short walk home seemed to take hours, all the while Mike was mumbling something apparently to Jeff, I think not fully realizing that he was out of Jeff’s room.
The reason I’m weird is because of all the different, incredibly emotional things that happened that day in 1967, the clearest memory I have is how overcast it was, and what a shitty, shitty day it was, holding my brother’s hand walking home. Today he does not remember this ever happening.
“sure Mike. Give me a couple of hours to drive up there. We’ll have lunch and then go to the open house.”
A few months after that day in 1967 my brother and I were at the municipal swimming pool, a city Parks and Recreation pool. I couldn’t find him so I went searching and found him sitting alone in the boys locker room on a bench, mumbling again. I sat down next to him and asked if he was alright. “Yeah,” he said. “But I accidentally pooped in the pool. Can you call mom to get us?”
“Yes Mike, I’ll call mom. Wait here for me.”
The day after “the pool” incident in 1967 our mother painted our bathroom, the one and only bathroom in the house with a tub and shower. One of my five sisters, Sue, who was 15 or 16 at the time, complained that one of her horse-shoe ear rings went missing. Now I’m a sibling to 5 sisters and a dad to two girls. I don’t now why females place so much value on shiny things, I only know they do. And Sue threw a fit over this one.
Well, ours was a small little bathroom. While sitting on the toilet in this tiny bathroom there is not much to focus on except the opposite wall (which is only about 30 inches from your eyeballs.) Low and behold, in 1967 I discovered a glob of paint in the newly painted wall that looked kind of like a horse shoe. Now I don’t know if that was Sue’s ear-ring that might have somehow accidentally fallen into mother’s paint tray and then inadvertently been transferred to the wall by her roller. I doubt it. I think it was just an amazing coincidence that this glob of paint somehow dried to look like a tiny horse shoe. But I thought about that little glob of paint every time I sat on that toilet for the next eight years.
After 36 years (actually 42 years since mother painted that wall) I checked to see if the glob was still there. It is. I took a picture of it.
In fact, I took many pictures of paint globs, closet doors, windows, and Dad’s space in the living room, where he sat night after night, doing the cross word puzzle… All of those things tell a thousand stories to me. But not without my brother there.