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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Those Defining Moments

A writer friend of mine said we have three or four defining moments in our lives and they heavily influence who we are and the lives we lead.

I've been thinking about this a lot.  And I have come to realize that one of the most defining moments of my life was really a period from my childhood.

People are always giving me shit for writing horror.  They wonder why I make morbid comments, laugh about terrible things and feel totally comfortable in darkness.  I live inside my head and speak very little.  In fact, when I'm not at work, I can go days without even using my vocal chords.

I leave my apartment only when I absolutely have to and even then, it's straight there and straight back.  I purposefully choose basement apartments with small windows.

I isolate.

That is my comfort zone.

But it wasn't always like that.  When I was a kid, my first job was newspaper delivery boy for the Sterling-Rock Falls Daily Gazette.  The route originally belonged to Jeff Corwell, an older boy across the street, who I think got it from his older brother years before.  I looked up to Jeff and wanted to be just like him.  For a while, he was like an older brother.  Jeff was getting rid of the route so he could play football and wrestle.  My dad decided it was time I started to earn some money.

My first day was in the last week of the Second Grade.  I was so young, my dad had to agree to walk the route with me.  He did walk it with me for about two months, but then he got bored with it, so I was on my own from then.

I later found out the reason so many of the older businessmen would be standing outside waiting for me was because they were watching out for me.  They later told me how I was way too young to have that route by myself and they thought my dad was wrong.  

It was a good route.  I lived on the street and would walk up one side, then down the other.  About two miles total.  Seventy-three or so customers.

I had some really great people on my route.  Doctors, lawyers, businessmen, engineers, accountants.  Some of the best houses in Sterling were there.

But there were some really bad folks, too.  And I saw a lot of things no child should ever have to see.  I saw them more often than was healthy and I wasn't old enough to understand any of it.  

There was a man on my route everybody called Santa Clause because they didn't know Mr. McSorely's name.  He was old, bald and had a huge white beard.  Every time I delivered to his house, it smelled like sauerkraut.  I think he was a retired corrections officer or something.

Anyways, about three months into my new job, he chatted with me.  He told me about how he prayed every night that God would kill him because he didn't want to live anymore.  He pointed out his liver spots, told me about how he couldn't be with a woman and how lonely he was.  He cried.

Keep in mind, I really thought he might be Santa, because I was six years old and still believed in that stuff.

When you walk up to somebody's house, you never know what you'll catch them in the middle of doing.  I've walked up on people having sex in their enclosed front porch on numerous occasions.  One of the rules I was told by my dad was I had to walk up to their doors and put the paper in a safe spot so it wouldn't get blown away or wet.  He wouldn't allow me to use rubber bands at first.  I did later anyways. 

This meant I was walking right up to people's front doors.

In that time, I saw all manner of domestic strife.  It wasn't the first time.  While my dad never beat up my mom or anything like that, I did watch the baby sitter beat up her husband with a vacuum hose as he tumbled down the stairs.  I was sitting on steps that lead to the stairs and I remember very clearly putting my head down and covering my eyes.  I think I was about three years old at the time.  I remember being terrified.

But when I went to some of these houses, I saw men hitting their wives.  I saw a woman get drunk and fall down while her husband kicked her.  I saw all manner of arguments, verbal attacks and emotional abuse.

I even once walked up to a house while the couple were doing a BDSM scene.  I thought it was rape, or something similar.  He was shouting at her, "You're gonna suck it, bitch!"
She cried and kept saying, "I don't wanna!"
I heard slapping.  It was only until much later I realized they were playing a game.  

This is where I learned not to talk.  Somehow in all of this, I learned to simply not say anything and not talk about what I saw.  I withdrew from everybody.

As I got older, I knew more about what I was seeing.  I learned to enjoy the nakedness a few of the women willingly showed me.  I remember one women in shorts was husking corn while sitting on the steps on a hot day and when I delivered her paper, she spread her legs to show me a very thick patch of hair.  She smiled at me, I smiled back and gave her a "thumbs up" before going back to my route.

That was about 33 years ago and this is the first time I've told anybody.

I saw a lot of nudity.  Some accidental, some not so much.  Growing up in an extremely conservative Catholic family, and living in small-town Midwest, such things were unheard of.

Because a lot of these old houses had big picture windows, and for some reason everybody puts a couch in front of the big picture window, I saw a lot of sex.  A ton of it, really.  I even saw Jeff with a girl once.  

There was a married, but obviously bored, housewife on my route who used to tease me.  She would tell me about her nipples and how she thought they were perfect.  She would tell me about how soft her skin was, and really drove me nuts.  This went on for about a month until I asked to see them.  I made it sound like I totally didn't believe her.  She walked up to me slowly, never breaking eye contact, then slipped one out of her bra for a few seconds, then back in.  All the while, she looked at me closely and at my reactions.  After she put it back in, she smiled thinly and said, "have a nice day."  We never spoke again.  When I delivered her papers she was always busy.  She wouldn't even look at me and I thought I had done something wrong.

I was convinced, for years, that my reactions were wrong and that's why she rejected me.  And since those reactions were involuntary, then something was wrong with me.  Logically, the less I react, then the less people would know something was wrong with me.

This is how I thought of myself when I was in the Fifth Grade.  Something was wrong with me on a deep level so the less I spoke or reacted, the harder time you'll have seeing that. 

When I was in the Fifth Grade, I was able to save up my money to buy a set of radio headphones.  they were big, bulky and went through batteries very quickly.  I only got a couple of stations with them, which was fine, because back then we all listened to WLS out of Chicago.  They were the only ones that played music.

It was my way to tune out the world.  I didn't have to hear people fighting, or insulting each other, or any of that mess.

This didn't stop the insanity.  I once had a married couple, while sitting on their front porch drunk, tell me about their sex life.  In detail, too.  I even understood some of it because I was about ten at the time.  That was when I learned what a G-spot was. 

One of the nicer aspects were the dogs.  Some houses had dogs and they loved me.  I'm a dog person anyways.  Sometimes, people left their dogs outside alone, and when I delivered the paper I would sit and pet the dogs.  I had grown really attached to a few of them.  Sometimes I bought a box of dog treats and would take a couple with me, or I'd sneak a bone from dinner the night before.  I was really attached to some of these dogs.

One family had this small dog that was just a sweetheart.  She and I would play and all kinds of stuff.  They neglected her.  I brought her bones, a toy and sometimes I put water in her dish during the summer.  During a harsh winter, they left her outside and she froze to death.  I thought it was my fault and I cried the whole way home, saying how sorry I was to her because I let her die.  It was my fault, I knew, because I didn't do anything.  When I got home, I covered up by saying it was really cold outside and that's why my eyes were watery. 

I saw car accidents.  Lots of them, really.  Locust Street is Illinois 40, so it's busy.  Usually just minor fender-benders.  I saw so many of them the local police knew my name and would ask me what I saw.

There was one I saw that was horrific and happened right in front of my house at the corner of Locust & 10th street on a nice Saturday afternoon.  An old man had a heart attack and crossed the center line.  He hit, head-on, a very large old barge of a car and careened into somebody's yard.  The woman got out and began to scream in this awful voice I can still hear to this day, "My baby!  My baby!"  Sure enough, she had an infant with her and back then, nobody used car seats.

I will admit, though, that I wasn't the best kid in the world.  The darkness had taken root and was spreading.  I did some ugly things.  

There was an apartment building with about six units and it was full of functionally disabled people.  I'm not sure what the proper term for it is in today's lingo, but back then we just said they were retards that paid their own bills.  Most of them worked odd jobs and got a check from the government.

But they drank beer, too.  And when I was in the Fifth Grade, I learned I could slip them a couple of extra bucks and they'd buy me a six-pack.  I used to drink beer while doing my route.  I came home buzzed a few times and nobody noticed.  On Friday nights, I would go over there and they'd buy me beer so I could share with my friend.  (I only had one, I was a loner back then, too.)

In that apartment building, there was an old man who would let me look at his porn magazines.  They were wretched things full of ugly women doing nasty stuff.  But when you're in the Fifth Grade, it's the best shit in the world.  It was fun until he the old man asked me if I wanted to see the real thing and to go upstairs with him.  That ended the fun right there.  I never saw him again.  He moved out the next week.  

But there is something else I need to say.  There is one more story I need to tell about this period.

Johnny Gosch. 

He was a newspaper boy like myself.  In fact, if you look at a picture of Johnny next to a picture of myself from the same period, we look like brothers.  But there's more to it.

Back during this period of time, I remember having a very hard time.  I was constantly anxious during my route.  I would have terrible stomach pains when I got home from school and my mom would have to do my route.  I would almost run between houses and sometimes just randomly knock on people's doors and make up some excuse about their delivery service.

I was scared.  I don't know why.  I just felt something bad.  So, I kept moving, kept seen, hid when I needed to.

My mom was about to strangle me for all the times I would come home too sick to do my route.  She would come home from working at a factory and have to deal with this nonsense.

And the pain was intense.  It felt like I was being stabbed from the inside.  But as soon as the route was done, it went away.  And I was too young and not smart enough to piece things together.

So at the same time, Johnny Gosch was abducted from his paper route, just a few miles from me.  After a couple months of this, the pain went away and I no longer felt scared or anxious.  But Johnny was gone.

I had never met him, but I think about him a lot.  I have a few theories about this.

First, maybe my reactions were what many animals feel when a predator is near.  All manner of mammal and fish react a certain way when something dangerous is close by.  Maybe I saw somebody look at me funny and a survival instinct in my brain picked up on it.  That would explain my actions without knowing what they meant.  This would also mean I saw the evil bastards who did that to him and they were looking at me. 

Second, maybe it was something else.  Maybe a guardian angel or spirit was watching out for me.  Maybe they knew what was happening so they whispered in my ear or screamed in my brain.

Sometimes I feel guilty about Johnny.  But then again, I blame myself for a lot of things I had no control over.  It's what those of us who live inside our heads often do.  I didn't make those evil bastards choose him, I just made it harder for them to grab me.

And I know I'm so very fucking lucky. 

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