Excerpt for Broken: The Life and Times of Erik Daniels by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Broken

Defective

Crushed

Fragmented

Crippled

Mangled

Damaged

Dysfunctional

Smashed

Demolished

Death

Memorial



BROKEN

The Life and Times of Erik Daniels









Terry Austin

Broken: The Life and Times of Erik Daniels

© 2017 by Terry Austin

Published by Austin Brothers Publishing


Smashwords Edition


No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.


Broken is based on real life experiences. Some names, characters, places, and incidents are changed at times to protect the privacy of certain individuals.



Printed in the United States

Broken



I’ve never understood why, but broken people have frequently been attracted to me like a thirsty dog is drawn to a puddle of rainwater. Perhaps it’s because I’m in a wheelchair and people naturally assume I must be broken as well, that maybe I will understand them better than others. However, I don’t think that’s the only reason because sometimes it even happens before people know I’m crippled.

I just typed the word “crippled,” and it caused me to think that being crippled might be the reason for some. Crippled people have a compulsion to be around other crippled people. Like they say, “Birds of a feather…”

Yet, as I said, not every broken person drawn to me has known that I’m crippled. Besides, personally, as a crippled person, I’m not drawn to other crippled people. To be honest, I don’t like to be cast among the handicapped. When I neared seminary graduation, well-intentioned friends and others tried to point me in the direction of counseling, thinking it would be a good outlet for me in ministry without the physically demanding duties of preaching and pastoring a church.

But that wasn’t for me. The seminary even set up an appointment for me to visit a place called Warm Springs in Georgia, to interview for a chaplain position. You might have heard of Warm Springs. It’s the place where FDR went for therapy to treat his polio when he was President. Although polio is no longer a plague faced by many, the facility now treats people with all kinds of paralyzing maladies.

I traveled south to visit the place, took the tour, and even sat for the interview, all the while knowing this was not for me. I’m not comfortable around people in wheelchairs. Although I’m not well-versed in the psychological arts, I think I know the reason. I don’t like to be considered “one of them.” I understand their condition and know first-hand the difficulties they face, but I don’t want to be labeled as one of them.

I rambled on about all of this because I want to make the point that crippled people are not necessarily attracted to other crippled people. I don’t think that’s why so many broken people have found their way into my life. There has to be another reason.

Let me add that when I say “broken,” I don’t mean crippled. Some of the broken that I reference have had some kind of physical malady, but for most of them it’s more of a social awkwardness, or a history of bad behavior, or something else that makes them an outcast.

There have been many of them during my six and a half decades. Even as a kid, for some reason the kids that no one else liked wanted to be my friend. It wasn’t always easy to know what to do, and to be honest, I didn’t always respond the right way.

One of the most painful episodes in my life is one of those memories which still produces embarrassment, even though it happened fifty years ago. The incident transpired in a musty church basement which was the home of our youth Sunday School class.

My friend Steve had arrived early, and we were discussing the activities from the previous week. Steve was a good friend, mainly because he and I were always at every church event. Steve and I had very little in common. We attended different schools and lived several miles apart. His father was a leader in the church where my father was the pastor.

Steve and I did share our music—we both loved to sing. We were allowed to join the adult choir, probably because they were in need of tenors. When we got warmed up, Steve and I could drown out the entire choir with our high-pitched resonant tones.

Outside of the choir, Steve and I didn’t share many common interests, but we were still friends at church. Perhaps it was a shared tragedy which had united us. Steve was not much bigger than me, but one Sunday night he was carrying me down the stairs at church. Three steps from the bottom, he tripped, and we both tumbled. The wall at the foot of the steps broke our fall and my collarbone. The broken bone was painful, but Steve suffered even more.

My bone mended and his spirits lifted, and we became closer friends. We both had the ability to overlook our differences and concentrate on our similarities. I did not condemn him for his lack of interest in baseball. I enjoyed visiting his house, even though he often ended up in a fist fight with one of his four brothers. We shared many good times, but few of them remain in my memory today.

The Sunday morning that sticks so firmly in my recollection involved Steve and a girl named Sandy. I don’t really recall much about Sandy other than what occurred on this fateful Sunday. She was one of those kids who just appeared at church, without any family or friends. Looking back from my adult perspective, I realize that she was probably looking for someone to care for her.

If I remember correctly, Sandy was a tad bit heavy and several inches taller than me (but who wasn’t; the tallest I ever stood on my crutches was 5’4”). She had shoulder length hair that flipped up on the end, which was the popular trend of the day. Sandy walked into the classroom where Steve and I were goofing off before the majority of kids arrived. Steve and I were minding our own business, probably laughing about something mundane. Sandy walked over to us and spoke, but her attention seemed singularly focused on me. I’m not normally self-conscious, but for some reason, she made me uncomfortable.

After exchanging our meaningless greetings, she stretched out her hand which had been tucked behind her back. In her grasp was a brightly wrapped gift, which she stuck in my face. It was one of the few times in my life when I was nearly speechless, but I did manage to mumble something unrecognizable.

Sandy responded, “This is for you.”

It was summertime. Therefore, I knew immediately it was not my birthday, so I stammered, “What for?”

Her words almost knocked me unconscious. “Just because I like you,” she said.

As she was speaking these words, it seemed as if the entire church youth group walked through the door. I was on the verge of facing one of the most awkward situations of my life—everyone hearing how an unpopular girl liked me. I would never hear the end of this. Making quick decisions during a crisis has always been one of my strengths, and this time was no exception. I immediately discerned that no one except my friend Steve had witnessed this transaction. Without even examining the present, I quickly handed it to Steve and said, “Here, you can have this!”

Being unaware of my discomfort, Steve was just glad to get a present. He immediately tore away the wrapping paper and uncovered a bottle of cheap aftershave. Neither one of us was old enough to shave, but he splashed some on his face like an experienced barber.

My initial reaction was to breathe a sigh of relief because it seemed that no one noticed my embarrassment. However, I then began to think about Sandy. By the time I looked up, she had walked away and taken a seat in the back of the room.

I don’t remember ever feeling so shameful. For some reason, Sandy had come to believe that I was someone who might care about her. Almost in desperation, she had reached out for my friendship only to be rejected once again. Within a few weeks, Sandy quit coming to church, and I have never seen her again.

As I said, this experience still haunts me today, fifty years later. Perhaps that memory is what attracts the broken to me. I find it difficult to turn people away. Whenever someone catches my eye, I tend to acknowledge them in some way—a nod, smile, wave, or a spoken word. I think it was Sandy who taught me the importance of always leaving the door open to continued conversation and relationship, even when the gap between you is enormous. I remember the shame of that Sunday morning and have no desire to experience it once again.

Sandy was not especially repulsive in appearance. Neither did she have an overbearing personality nor any disgusting traits. The only thing unacceptable about Sandy was her dissimilarity. For some reason, she did not fit in with us normal kids. For a fifteen-year-old boy, this is an obstacle the size of Mt. Everest.

She didn’t have what we considered a normal family with a father and mother who participated in her life. Sandy was obviously from a lower social class than most of us, and she just did not meet our expectations. She was different.

Sandy was not the first broken person to find a place in my life, nor was she the last. I remember a kid named Troy in grade school. The teacher refused to allow him to push my wheelchair. He had a propensity to throw temper fits, and she feared he might get mad and roll me down a steep hill next to the playground.

In High School, there was Louis whose mother was a professional wrestler, and Carl who played the trumpet next to me in band. Others are still around, so I’ll not mention their names lest they’re not aware I considered them broken back then. It continued through college and seminary. My wife could easily describe Clay and C.J. and a handful of others whom we have reminisced about over the years—wondering whatever happened to them.

However, the attraction didn’t stop once I graduated and entered the world of adulthood. There was Jose, a farm worker, an illegal immigrant who latched on to our family. He came to our house to teach Sharon how to make tortillas and chili Rellenos. Jose occasionally disappeared for months, or even a couple of years at a time. But he always came back. He called one day from the airport in Amarillo, seventy-five miles away, and wanted me to come get him. I did, of course. Drove him up to Kansas where he had a job and then heard later he beat up his wife/girlfriend (I’m not sure which) and went back to Mexico. Jose even got me thrown out of a funeral once, but that’s a story for another day.

Another young man who was hired to work on a farm in our community became a part of our family. He was just a poor country boy with no family and nothing to his name. We took him in, fed him occasionally. He even babysat for us a time or two, so we could have an evening out. He returned to Oklahoma where he was from and was promptly arrested on an outstanding warrant. We heard that shortly after getting to jail, he broke out with the chicken pox that he apparently caught from our boys a week earlier.

The list of people like this is long, and I remember more of them each time I travel down this particular memory lane. People who were often discarded by others, sometimes considered untouchable by some, and frequently excluded from friendship by most. Somehow, they made it into my life and usually into our home.

I know I have stretched Sharon far beyond her comfort level with some who have come knocking on our door. I have to tell you that I’m extremely proud when I see some of this same trait in my sons. Some people like to pick up stray dogs and cats. It seems that I am more in the stray people business.

I’ve wandered a far piece from the question of why broken people are attracted to me so let me take another stab at it. I hesitate offering this suggestion because I don’t want to propose there is something admirable about me. I’m just a guy with the same struggles and fears that other people possess. In fact, to be honest, the reason for the attraction of others has nothing to do with anything I have ever done or have the ability to do. It is an inherited trait, like my blue eyes.

I don’t know what it is but for some reason people like me. It is an innate skill. The reason I say that is because I saw it clearly in my father. When Daddy walked in a room, there was just something about him that communicated, “This is a guy you want to know.” He wasn’t gregarious or especially social. In fact, he once told me that he would rather sit in a corner by himself than be in the middle of a group of people. I can identify with that.

But Daddy taught me something else, and my mother pitched in with this as well. They stressed the importance of always giving preference to other people. Let them have first choice, step out of the way if they're coming through, renounce your spot if it’s where they want to be, lend a hand when someone is in need, and always speak kind words. I learned it, and it is a part of how I live. Again, that’s not something I take credit for any more than a jockey’s son would take credit for knowing how to ride a horse.

But the following pages are not about all the broken people who have graced my life. Nor do I intend to bore you with tales of great things I have done to help those who have been down and out. I’m going to tell you about a new friend. I know it is the most broken friendship I have ever had, and I would not be surprised if it is also one of the strangest friendships you have ever heard about as well.


Our relationship began when I visited a website looking for a writing job. It was a site I had viewed a few times previously but never experienced any success finding work—but it doesn’t hurt to check occasionally. The way this site works is that people who need something written post information about the job. If you are a writer and think you can handle the task, then you write a response.

Most of the posted jobs are from people who are seeking writers who are cheap. I don’t mean people who are spendthrifts, but those who will work for very little pay. That’s not me, so most of the postings are of no interest to me. However, on this Friday afternoon, one opportunity struck me as interesting.

It might have been the brevity of the post that caught my attention. Some guy named James Fisher posted these words: “Write a tell all book.” That was the complete description. Nothing about a particular subject or anything you normally saw in the job postings. However, it was categorized under the three dollar sign “Expert Level” category and a 1-3 month time frame. I can and have written a book in three months time. Since he was looking for someone to write an entire book, he must be willing to pay significantly. I responded to the ad with two short paragraphs. The first paragraph was an explanation of my experience and the second described the process I use in ghost writing.

When I have applied for work before on this site, the usual response is silence. I don’t know if I’m not good enough, too over-qualified, boring, or what, but I had only received one response from previous postings. It was a job I replied to several weeks earlier. I decided to get creative and wrote a funny reply to a post just to see if anyone actually read them. Sure enough, the woman wrote back, said she liked my approach, but went on to say she already had another writer. Oh well, try again.

The next morning, I received a reply from James Fisher concerning his tell-all book. It read, I hate trying to talk through messaging. Can you text me at xxx-xxx-xxxx so we can discuss my project.

It was Saturday morning, and we had plans to go to our grandson’s birthday party, so on the way out the door I sent him a quick text and told him I would call in the afternoon. I’ll admit the thought of finding a good job floated through my mind several times that morning in the midst of the melee of a child’s birthday party. I was especially curious about the “tell all” aspect of the assignment. What did he want to tell?

After lunch, I picked up my phone to call James Fisher and secure this job. If I can talk to a prospective customer on the phone, I feel confident about having success. Remember how I described that people like me for some reason. That has advantages when seeking a job assignment.

Mr. Fisher didn’t answer the phone. In fact, the phone didn’t even ring. It immediately went to a recording that said the phone was not available. I think that means that either the phone is turned off, out of the service area, or the bill was not paid. I was hoping for one of the first two. I tried several other times throughout the afternoon and always the same result. He already said he doesn’t like messaging, and I don’t like texting, but I thought I might get a response if I send a text.

I received an immediate reply.


I am in yellowstone no service for calls just texting til about 5.


Before I finished reading that message, a second came through.


Will 5000 dollars get my book wrote?


I was not ready to commit to that because five thousand might not be nearly enough for what he wanted. So I replied, asking him what he wanted and how big of a book was he expecting.

His response this time signaled the beginning of our adventure.


Well I'm 39 years old mother was a raging alcoholic sexually abused by grandfather from 12 to 14 youth group homes prison first time at 21 got out got married ran a group of skinheads til about 30 in which time (now is when I need discreet) I ordered people's deaths lots of robberies at 33 I got a new name and started my life over


At this point, James Fisher definitely had my attention. This is not the kind of stuff I normally write, but I’m fascinated with police shows on television and I love a good mystery. “Breaking Bad” was one of my favorite television shows and maybe we could spice up his story to be comparable. I’ll tell you now, there was no need to spice up his story. In fact, if we want it to resemble “Breaking Bad” we may need to tone it down a bit.

For the next thirty-five minutes, we texted back and forth with negotiations about how much to pay, how to pay, and what I would do. At one point he offered a situation that included publishing the book as well as writing that was far more lucrative for me than I normally do. I told him I wouldn’t accept that and countered with a better proposal for him. Perhaps that’s one reason we stayed engaged; he saw I was not out to gouge him.

Once we finally settled on a price, he then wanted to negotiate about when and how to pay. That went back and forth a few times and I finally just said,


You’re one of those guys who has to have the last word. With that, we settled the deal. I was excited about the project, and I think he was happy as well.


He then wrote,


Look by the time this project is done you will think I was the devil back then


I assured him that I was not a kid and that I could handle anything he had to say. His response:


I didn't mean it that way, I am gonna reveal things that could put me in prison for the rest of my life. I know your not a kid but I know many adults who Couldn't handle hearing about things I've done I am asking that please don't take this lightly. Yes we are good


He provided an email address so I could send a contract to spell out the specifics of our agreement. Then he replied with a curious statement:


I’ll get that paid when I get back from the island.


Up to that point, the only thing I knew about his location was that he mentioned being in Yellowstone where he couldn’t get a phone signal. Now, there might be another Yellowstone I’m not familiar with, but I assumed that meant he was in Montana or somewhere like that. When he referenced an island, I began to wrack my brain to figure out where there might be an island anywhere near Yellowstone.

We also agreed to an extended phone conversation so he could begin recounting his story for me. I was excited to get started and was eager to hear what he had done, where he had been, and what caused him fear of future trouble. The adventure began even before our Monday conversation.

Before I could put down the phone and catch the ballgame on TV, he texted the message:


First arrest 9 years old for stealing stuffed animals and giving them to a disabled kid down the road I got caught because after I took him 3 bran new in the box flipping dog stuffed animals I have no idea why I did it that may be the last time I remember feeling good for anyone.


Who wouldn’t be interested in this?



I confess, Saturday evening and all-day Sunday I was a little distracted by the opportunity to hear and tell the story of James Fisher. I felt like a kid whose parents promised to take him to Six Flags next week. Oh, before I go any further, when we discussed the contract spelling out our agreement, I asked what name he wanted to use. I had no idea James Fisher wasn’t his real name, but I’ve discovered that when it comes to contracts, people sometimes want to use a company name or a legal name or something, so I’ve learned to ask.

He told me that his name is Erik Daniels. From that moment on, neither of us have used James Fisher again. When I initially entered his phone number on my contact list I entered it under the name James Fisher, thinking that’s who he was. Now, every time he calls, the name James Fisher pops up. (I really need to change that.)

Anyway, all day Sunday I thought about Erik and his story, whatever it was going to be. I tried to reign in my imagination and not get too carried away, but I’m a writer, and I can’t help but be intrigued by a good story.

Monday came around and I made a phone call to Erik. No answer once again. Left a message. Nothing happened. Several hours later I made another call—same result. At 8:30 Monday evening, I sent a text:


Erik, I tried to call today but no luck. Will you be available tomorrow?


Ten minutes later my phone beeps:


Yes I am so sorry I got horribly sick today spent all day at hospital


Wow! I'm sorry. Call me when you feel better. My schedule is flexible.


Tomorrow 1 oclock?


Works for me.


I really do apologize


Don't worry, I've been sick before so I understand.


The next day at 1:00 I sent another text. I’m assuming he is in Montana so it is actually noon for him.


Are you available today for a call?


1 thing I have yet to tell you is I have been diagnosed with liver cancer doctors have given me outside 6 months Can I put you off til 5 o'clock they are running some tests but I will be available at 5


This revelation caught me off guard, but as I previously indicated, I’ve always been able to think quickly. I can write a book in six months, in fact, I once wrote an entire book in one month. The funny thing is that more copies of that book were sold than everything else I have written combined. Six months would be a piece of cake.


Sure, just call when you can. I'll be ready.


I'm sorry they have admitted me again I am so sorry. I need to get on this though can we do any of it by text til I get released (hopefully tomorrow) and we can talk


Just get well!! I'm not sure how we could do anything by text. I need to hear your story from beginning to end and you would wear out your thumbs too quickly. I am aware of your urgency to get this project finished Just get to feeling better and we will make it happen.


The next day began with this conversation and progress was underway.


What time do you want to talk today?


I'm available anytime.


They are not releasing me but I can go downstairs on bench and talk to you?


Call whenever you’re ready


About 11:45 on August 9th, we were finally on the phone together and I was ready to hear Erik’s story. This is what I heard.



Defective


If you ever find yourself driving north out of Portland, headed toward Seattle, for most of the trip you will be able to see Mt. Rainier. It’s a majestic snow-covered mass that draws tourists from around the world. Don’t confuse it with Mount St. Helens; the infamous volcano to the south of Mt. Rainier. Both of these mountains are snow covered year-round and dominate the skyline in most of the Northwest. Nestled near the base of the massive Rainier is a small town that you will only see if you drive through on Highway 507. As they often say about small towns, if you blink you’ll miss it.

I was born in that nondescript little village in 1978. It is not a town filled with historical markers or must-see sights. I would be surprised if any tour guide has veered off a planned route in order to present a spell-binding description of long ago tales of heroism. I have no idea who is the most famous or most important person from Rainier, Washington, but I do know it’s not me. When I was young, my grandmother spoke of my entrance into the world as quite an experience for those involved. I’m not sure if that means anything coming from a grandmother. My mother’s doctor had some archaic notion that labor should never be induced. He held firm to the belief that when the baby was ready to emerge, the mother’s body would cooperate. When my mother was ripe and ready, she had a few cramps and some discomfort, but no labor.

The doctor, unwilling to see this as an exception to his rule, chose to wait, and wait some more. Nearly a month later he came to the conclusion that something had to be done or my mother was going to burst open like an over ripe melon left too long in the patch. With my mother in his office, and I suspect in grave discomfort, he gave the medicine to induce her labor. The only problem was that the hospital was not actually in Rainier where his office was located. She was loaded in an ambulance, and they headed toward the nearest hospital in Olympia, thirty minutes away.

As you have no doubt concluded from the first three paragraphs of my story, I survived that ordeal. I remember my Grandmother saying several times that since my birth was so unusual, there was something special about me. She talked about God having a plan for my life somehow. As you will soon discover, there was nothing else in my life to confirm those early predictions. I don’t know what you believe about God, but I doubt if any theological doctrine would advocate what was to happen in my life.

Shortly after my birth, my mother and father split up, one of many marriages on her ledger–at least fourteen, as far as I know, today. It was nearly two decades later that I actually met my real father, but that’s a story for later in this adventure.

You can imagine, since she squeezed at least fourteen marriages into her life, it wasn’t long before my mother was remarried. Apparently, she started dating this guy before divorce papers had even been filed on my father. The man who I called “Dad” for the first decade of my life moved in with my mom, and they shared my real father’s monthly allowance from the Navy.

My real father had joined the Navy, and the plan was for my mother to connect with him shortly in San Francisco where he was stationed. From what I know now, perhaps his true plan was to find a means of getting away from her. Mom didn’t want to leave the area, so she just stayed and shacked up with my stepfather. When Dad discovered she was living with this guy, he had all the justification needed, so he quickly filed for divorce, and the checks stopped coming.

I need to tell you about my childhood, and I can sum it up by simply saying it consisted of a lot of beating. Honestly, I can’t remember one good moment from childhood. The years were filled with violence and constant dumb shit. During those years there were three of us boys and one girl. I didn’t share the same parents with any of the others. The only thing we had in common was Mom.

Our family lived on the cusp of survival and desperation. We always had food to eat and a place to live, but it was never a well-balanced diet or a house with more than the bare essentials. My step father worked hard, but he and Mom consumed a good portion of his income via booze and cigarettes.

Mom was an especially good looking woman, which partially explains her ability to have so many husbands. Her long streaked golden hair and freckles were the ideal topping for her five-foot-nine-inch curvy body. She was still young when “liver spots,” caused by her excessive drinking, began to appear on her face. Not only did she have this visible reminder of her lack of sobriety, but she always carried the smell of alcohol—always. I never thought much about it when I was a kid, but I’m sure parents, teachers, shop owners, and others in the community took a double take when she entered. The stench was strong and unmistakable. Always!

Her wardrobe consisted of nothing other than jeans and t-shirts. I never saw her in a dress, no matter the occasion. The only jewelry she wore was a wedding ring. It was tarnished and well-worn, which is not surprising because she wore the same wedding ring through all of her marriages. Whoever bought the ring to begin with must have spent a good amount because it lasted for decades and served a plethora of marriages. I never knew which man actually gave it to her, and I guess it really didn’t matter to her. One other feature comes to mind, and that is she never wore makeup. I don’t know if she didn’t want to spend the money or if she just felt comfortable enough with her natural looks.

I’m pretty confident my mother hated me since she continually did everything she could to make my life miserable. Perhaps she loathed me because of the difficulty I caused at birth, or it might be that I was a constant reminder of my father who divorced her and cut off the monthly checks. Whenever she had the opportunity to make a decision that would affect my future, she always chose the option that was the worst for me. It began when she brought my stepfather into my life. I always called him “Richard Cranium,” a nickname that somehow went over his head (if you will pardon the pun). You see, a person named “Richard” is often called “Dick.” I used “cranium” to mean “head.” When you put it together, it was my secret way of calling him “Dick Head.”

He was tall, which made him especially intimidating to a young child. He had spent his life working in the woods as a timber logger, and even though he was somewhat thin and wiry, his muscles were well-toned. He was no Paul Bunyan, but he was certainly powerful enough to inflict significant pain on me whenever he wanted.

His jet-black hair was a perfect match for the cheesy mustache resting on his upper lip. It always reminded me of a porn “stach.” He came home from work one day with a large gash in his leg caused by a miscreant chainsaw. Although it was several inches deep, he managed to wrap the cut with his shirt and make it home. The bleeding had been stopped to a slow, steady ooze, but he needed someone to sew it up. Mom couldn’t handle the blood, so she jumped into the pickup and drove to the bar, which is how she handled most of the problems and decisions of her life. He had to grab the phone and call my Grandma to come stitch him up.

His life was characterized by consistency—always wearing shirts that were made with long sleeves, but he would cut them off. You would seldom see him without a file in his pocket and a log counter hanging from a short chain attached to his shirt. The only shoes he owned were work books, usually Caulk Boots. If you’re not from logging country you need to know that it’s pronounced “Cork,” and they are a favorite in the Northwest States and Canada, among those who work with lumber. They were made with short spikes built into the sole to make it easier to get around the soggy soil of the forest.

I grew to hate those boots because they were often used to kick me across the room. The short spikes made a grinding sound as he walked across the floor, especially after I had tracked dirt and sand in from the outside. There were countless times when I was lying on the couch, or my bed, and I heard that soft grinding sound of his heavy boots. Instinctively, I would be as quiet as a graveyard, hoping he would keep on walking past me and leave me alone. It was always better for me if he didn’t notice or acknowledge my presence.

The one thing my parents did very well together was drink. They would frequently spend an evening out together by driving down to a local bar with me in the truck. They knew better than to take me inside, probably because of the fear of being turned over to authorities. Instead, they simply made me remain in the truck while they drank.

What does a kid do when you leave him alone in a vehicle? I was afraid to get out and walk home because I didn’t enjoy the back of my stepfather’s hand upside my cheek or his fat leather belt across my backside. So I found ways to pass the time. I would rummage through the contents of the glove box, or fish around under the seat for any stray item that might provide a distraction of some kind. Being bored was better than being beaten. It was usually dark, so most of my entertainment was limited to the imagination. Of course, the imagination of a child can be limitless, and with as much practice as I had, mine became quite active.

Sometimes they would be inside drinking for hours—I told you they were good at it. One evening while sitting in the parked truck in front of a bar, I noticed a man I didn’t recognize walking toward the vehicle. I wasn’t afraid. I’ve never been one to fear people. I stared at him as he deliberately walked straight toward the car. His pace was purposeful as if he was intent on completing a task. I looked around to see what cars might be parked nearby, but every time I turned my gaze back toward the man he made his way closer and closer. He kept looking at me as if he were deliberately walking my way. When he yanked open the driver’s door, he leaned inside, looked me over for a quick second, and extended his hand holding a large plastic glass filled with water. Somehow, I’m sure my parents hadn’t said anything, he knew I was in the truck by myself and how long I had been there.

I think I recall that experience because it was unusual for me to be on the receiving end of a kind gesture. He brought me a drink of water because he knew I had to be thirsty. Now that I think about it, I probably received more compassion from strangers during my childhood than from my parents.

My stepfather was mean to my brothers and sister who lived with us, but it was just meanness. He wasn’t physically abusive toward them like he was toward me. For some reason, he reserved all the actual suffering for me. My grandmother said it was because of the way he felt about my Dad. Although I didn’t even know my Dad at this point, he was upset because of the loss of Navy income when Dad divorced Mom. Since he couldn’t take his anger out on the real culprit, I was the best target, in his thinking.

In spite of his attitude toward me, I still believed he was my father; a belief I maintained for a long time. For some reason, he did actually adopt me so legally he was my father. I think it’s natural for a boy to desire to please his father and win his approval, and I was no different. It made sense that the best way to accomplish this task was to be like him. Looking back, I realize it sounds utterly stupid that I would want to please a man who was this cruel to me, but I did. That’s a part of the human psyche I’ll never understand.

He was a rugged outdoorsman, and like many outdoorsmen in that day, he loved to chew Copenhagen. It was rare to see him without a can in his back pocket. I studied him carefully as he pinched off a piece of the tobacco and carefully placed it inside his mouth. My mistake was not paying attention to what he did with the stuff after he put it in his mouth.

We were off on a fishing trip one afternoon and found a secluded place close to the road where we parked the truck. I was about eight-years-old at the time, and I was constantly waiting for the opportunity to do something to catch his attention and win his approval—a worthy goal.

Dad was down at the creek bed trying to catch a few fish, and I was back and forth and all around—fishing for a while, throwing rocks sometimes, aggravating my brother occasionally—generally being a kid. On one of my many trips back toward the pickup, I noticed that he had left a can of his Copenhagen on the front seat. There was nothing unusual about that, but for some reason I knew this was my opportunity. I looked around to make sure nobody, especially my Dad, was there to stop me as I climbed into the cab of the truck. Opening the can was easy even though it was still factory sealed. I knew exactly what to do since I had watched him hundreds of times. The plan was to put the stuff in my mouth and strut down to the creek. As I casually walked up to him and started a conversation, he would see how much I was like him and realize how much he loved me. What could go wrong?

You almost needed a stopwatch to time how long it took before I started feeling sick. The taste was bad enough, but then I began to feel it going all the way down my throat until it hit my stomach like a ripe watermelon dropped on an asphalt parking lot—splat. I puked all over the place. I guess the noise I made was horrifying because my stepfather came running from the creek to the truck. He quickly surmised what I had done. The open Copenhagen can was a clear giveaway.

He made me lie down in the back of the truck until I felt better. It took quite some time, but I did start to feel better; at least enough to realize I wasn’t going to die. He waited patiently until I felt good enough to sit up and then he walked toward me with the can of tobacco I had already opened. He twisted open the cap and handed it to me. Then he made me eat the entire can of the nasty stuff—not just chew it up and spit it out, but swallow it.

It not only cured me of ever wanting to chew tobacco, but it also erased my desire to be like him. I gave that up as I clutched my stomach, rolling in sickness in the back of my stepfather’s pickup.

The sibling I remember best is my brother, Dallas. He was Mom’s son, which meant our father was mean to him, but never physically abusive. From watching our father, Dallas learned how to treat me. He was several years older and that caused me to strive hard to be close to him. Being just like your older brother is every young boy’s goal.

When I was seven or eight, I was a pest. I wanted to be with him all the time. Everywhere he went, I tagged along. I got to know his friends and became familiar with his mannerisms. His likes were my likes, and his dislikes were my dislikes—except for one thing. I never understood it, but for some reason, he really disliked me. And he was mean.

Living in the country meant there was an endless supply of places to play and create problems. One of our favorites was an old barn. It was probably more like a death trap than a playhouse. Splinter filled lumber and rusty nails abounded. Inside was a pile of hay that we used as a landing spot when we jumped from the loft. I was in the loft with Dallas and his obnoxious friend, Chris Edmond, thinking I had finally arrived—I was enjoying life in the inner circle. It felt even more special when they told me I could be the first to jump from the loft into the hay.

Without a moment’s hesitation, I shot toward the stairs and climbed to the top of the loft, barely touching half the rungs on the ladder. Once I was in the loft, I looked over at Dallas and Chris, and they were both shouting encouragement to jump as far as I could. I felt the excitement of being at the top of a rollercoaster just before peaking at the first climb, and I took the leap. The feeling of being suspended in air without a care in the world is only experienced by an eight-year old who feels like the most important person in the world. That feeling came to a sudden end as I crashed onto the hard wood surface below. It seems that Dallas and Chris had separated the hay, put a stack of wood in the bundle, and then re-covered the top with a thin deceptive coating. My arm was broken, but I didn’t give up on striving to be my brother’s best friend.

We had several Mustangs that we had adopted while living at that place. I don’t mean the Ford sports car, but genuine wild horses. We kept them in the pen, and it was our job to feed and tend to their needs. One of the perks was that we got to ride them on occasion. Having the opportunity to ride horses alongside Dallas was a big treat that I took seriously.

It wasn’t long after my arm had healed from the collision in the barn that I was riding one of the horses and Dallas was nearby. It wasn’t unusual for him to have a BB gun since we lived in the country. We frequently carried them and shot random objects we encountered in the woods. I watched as Dallas carefully aimed one of the guns in my direction and deliberately shot the horse I was riding in the hind quarter. The horse bucked, which was too much for my little grip on the reins, and I was thrown aside like a discarded sack of trash. Now my other arm was broken.

The reason Dallas didn’t stop doing things to cause me physical harm was because he had no reason to fear our parents. If I ended up with a broken bone or deep cut, it was always my fault. Once, after stabbing me in the back with an ice pick that we kept near the front door to clear the ice after a freezing rain, his punishment was to spend five minutes on the couch. I specifically remember the doctor saying, “That was really close!” All it warranted from my parents was a short stay on the couch for my brother.

The meanness and abuse from Dallas didn’t stop for a long time. When I was about seventeen, my friend Scott Biller suggested that I should just stand up to him. The result was a short scuffle, but then I hit him, he fell, and I never had another issue with him. We didn’t become good friends, but at least the constant abuse ended.

Dallas and I never got along. Even as adults, we never had a brotherly relationship. Though he stopped bullying and abusing me, my anger toward him seethed well into our adult years. Honestly, it didn’t even stop when he died.

At that time, I had been recently incarcerated in Colorado—we’ll get to that story in due course. One night after getting out of jail, I came home and found a note from my Grandmother. It was a notification that my brother had died. Later, I learned that he was killed when struck by a truck on the highway.

For some reason, I traveled to Oregon to attend his funeral. It certainly wasn’t to pay my last respects. The night before the funeral, I was with some friends, and we partied hard all night long. In fact, I barely had time to rush to my motel room, take a quick shower and put on clean clothes. I didn’t even have time to get some sleep before the funeral started. I arrived late to the cemetery where they were preparing to place the casket in the ground. Driving a Dodge 2500 with loud pipes, everyone heard me coming from a mile away.

A narrow gravel road wound its way into the cemetery to allow visitors to get close to the graves. As I drove down the path toward the crowd gathered near the back of the cemetery, I determined that I didn’t want to park my truck on the road, so I drove onto the grass, knocking over several tombstones in the process. It was quite a sight—marble stones rolling across the lawn, sod flying in the air behind my back tires, and the loud roar of an unmuffled engine.

When the truck finally came to rest on the grass, I got out and walked toward the grave. A man, I didn’t know him or who he was, tried to stop me. I just shoved him aside and said, “Get the fuck out of my way or I’ll knock the shit out of you!”

All of this happened in front of my Mom, my adoptive father, my Grandmother, and other family members.

The next person to step in front of me was the preacher. I really respect that guy. He wasn’t very big, but he said to me, “You’re not coming in here.”

“I don’t believe he’s fucking dead! I’m going to look,” I replied.

I walked past him toward the casket. It was resting on those supports with wheels that they use to roll the casket around. It had been closed, and no one was allowed to see the body because Dallas had been disfigured in the accident. I was not deterred. I flung open the lid, and sure enough, there he was.

I don’t know if it was anger or gratitude that caused me to slam the casket lid shut. But, when I did, it began to roll toward the open grave. The box didn’t take a straight path into the hole, but instead, one of the rollers stuck on a dirt clod, which caused the casket to lean over sideways to the point where the entire casket fell open. The body flopped out and rolled onto the ground.

My work was finished. I arrogantly walked back to my truck and drove off. Once my wife and I were back at the motel, she was genuinely pissed, and we fought. Finally, I crashed on the bed and fell asleep. About thirty minutes later, my wife responded to a knock on the door. It was the sheriff. Someone from the funeral had reported the scene at the graveyard. He was angry and said if he could charge me with a crime he would be happy to do so. After making a few idle threats and warnings, he left.


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