A Needed Respite
Chapter Eleven: A Needed Respite
For nearly a week, the man I had once considered my father, woke us up in the middle of the night screaming in his sleep.
We were all staying upstairs – Valerie included. My mother had taken to slumbering with Elijah in his room, while my sister took over the guest bedroom. Things had deteriorated to the point where we didn’t want to be around my mother’s husband any more than we had to. Errant comments and off-hand greetings and good-byes were enough.
For me, even looking at him was almost too much to ask. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t get passed those images in my head. I couldn’t reconcile his choices over us. I could not see from his vantage no matter how hard I tried. There was nothing in my mind worth losing a wife and children – a family. What was he thinking?
So, he interrupted our dreams, each night, with his muffled shouts, seeping through the walls from the Master Suite downstairs. Most of the time, we heard only incoherent cries and jumbled yells, but once and a while something cognizant issued forth. They were strange utterings, horrified, in the throes of sheer terror.
“…please, no, no, no…!”
“…no, not again… it hurts… oh god, it hurts…!”
“…I know who you are! I know! I know! I know!”
And one night, the second to last he was there.
“LEAVE ME ALOOOONE!!!”
Then, silence. Thirty minutes later, we heard him leave. Whether he left for work early or just had to get out of the house, we never knew. The only certainty we knew was the sun had yet to poke its’ brilliant head over the horizon. Leonard Favor was finding his stay at 1052 Lincoln Drive unbearable.
I didn’t get the chance to ask him about his dreams, but whatever they were, they scared him shitless.
On the sixth day after that revealing night, Lenny - the man I would no longer call dad after what I’d seen - left for an extended trip to Canada. It was a much needed break, a joyous separation between us and the idiot who’d conceived me, my sister and brother. We were all happy at the prospect he wouldn’t be living in the house with us until June. The idea I wouldn’t have to see him, or hear about Roxanna (or the Rump Ranger, Teej) until right before my high school graduation was beautiful!
Four months of Lenny-less bliss!
I was more than looking forward to it.
Everything, during this time, seemed to flourish whenever I think back on it.
My relationship with my girlfriend deepened. Pretty much as my mother said it would if we took the time to get to know one another without the clouds of irrational temptation raining down on us. We weren’t completely guiltless, though. By the time the both of us were gearing up for walking amongst our friends to get our diplomas, we’d been having sex on a regular basis. It was our approach to the act that was different. We weren’t crazy with our wants and needs. We made sure we’d covered all the bases, approached it analytically than overly passionate and otherwise ignorant. Myra got on the pill. We indulged in a lot of foreplay as we got to know each other’s bodies. We learned our weak spots, what turned us on the most, searched for the ever-elusive female orgasm and much, much more before we finally felt we were ready. After that, it was merely a matter of finding the right time, a time where we wouldn’t be interrupted or rushed. We wanted to make certain when we lost our virginity it would be a slow, endearing event and not some random fumbling in the dark. We wanted the “lights” on!
As I think about on it, I’m glad we did it the way we ended up doing it. I’m glad we weren’t plagued with an early pregnancy. Though Myra and I have had our rough patches, if we hadn’t laid the foundation for a lasting relationship way back then, some of the things we’ve had to endure since would’ve made it impossible to salvage our marriage. It has made for a successful existence with the girl of my dreams.
Valerie, believe it or not, actually found a boy she liked during this time as well. His name was Jose Lopez, a nice kid from down the street. He was her age, somewhat smallish, though not terribly so. He had long, wavy hair, the color of deciduous leaves in the fall, as if his hair couldn’t decide what color to be in the play of the sunlight. In artificial light, it was somewhere between chamoisee and chestnut. In the sun, it was so many colors put together it was hard to tell which one it truly was.
He had delicate features for a boy, which made him approachable. That’s probably why Val liked him so much. He had a wide mouth with thin lips, high-set cheekbones, but they weren’t angular like my sister’s. They were smoothed as if rounded in his mother’s stomach prior to his birth. He was muscled, in a wiry sort of manner, much smaller than me, but he was two years younger and he wasn’t a big sports kind of guy. Though I hadn’t heard him play up to that point, Valerie said he was a musician. That was explanation enough for me, so I let the subject tumble into the rear recesses of my mind.
She’d told me, after a few weeks of talking on the phone and exchanging letters, she was thinking of dating him in a more serious, exclusive sort of way. Valerie had asked me if I liked him.
I was a little taken aback, because my independent, rambunctious little sister had never cared for my opinion, especially in the area she’d just inquired. I could tell in her eyes, this was heartfelt. The boy must’ve meant something special to her indeed, if she was going to go out on a limb like this. I told her, following the necessary pause of thought, I did like him. I even told her I thought they made a good match, which wasn’t a lie. They did look good together.
Then, I went so far as to tell her precisely what she’d told me months ago: “Just don’t get caught up in the mix.”
Her stare was level. The Valerie I knew was back. “It is so not like that between us, Jerry.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. I mean, what the hell were brothers for, right?
The biggest change for the better, during the spring of 1987, was within Elijah. He became the little boy he was supposed to have been. Not the borderline neurotic Lenny had nearly pushed him into being. His play became less intense, involving less conflict. It seemed to be more about fun, than an expression of the wear and tear of his environment. He smiled more, talked all the time, asked questions incessantly as his big brain began to show its’ true potential.
We embraced it – all of us, even Myra – rather than endured it. Seeing Eli blossom was more important than anything we could imagine. So, we encouraged him, egged him on, and answered every question dutifully and to the best of our ability. There was no way we were going to blunt what Lenny had purposefully tried to retard over the years. No way.
I often saw him off in the distance, messing around with this, that and the other thing. I could see his lips moving. Sometimes it appeared as though he was talking to himself. At other times, it didn’t. It was like he was having a calm, but meaningful conversation with someone who wasn’t there. It was puzzling, but his demeanor was so relaxed it was like he was speaking to my mother or one of my many aunts, so it didn’t cause alarm other than a characteristic of marginal note I filed somewhere in the murky depths of my brain. He seemed fine to me.
When I asked Myra about it, she said it was normal for kids his age to have an imaginary friend. She’d been filing her immaculate fingernails, her legs crossed, thighs bared by a mini-skirt that was just a little too high.
But, hey, who was complaining? Me? Hell no!
“Did you have one?” I had asked, thinking she was blowing off the subject as unimportant.
She never skipped a beat. “Yeah, but I killed her…” She never even stopped the back and forth motion of her hand as she formed the nail of the other.
“Why?” I inquired through an outburst of laughter.
“She started hitting on my boyfriends.” There was a twinkle in her eye.
I took her in my arms and forgot what I’d been talking about.
My mother, like the rest of us, seemed to go from Cloud-9 to the Pearly Gates themselves. With Lenny gone, she began to have the house fixed-up with gusto. She completely threw herself into the renovations. By April, she was putting in as much work as some of the contractors, working forty to fifty hours a weeks, right alongside the very men she’d hired to do the work for her. But, that was her to a tee. She wanted to make sure everything was perfect and she wanted to be involved every step of the way. This was her house, this was her baby. She was going to rebuild Her (we’d been calling the house a “she” for some time now) exactly the way she wanted.
First to be upgraded was the kitchen. It got new appliances, new tile on the floor and all the cabinetry was refurbished. The paint on them was painstakingly peeled off and the wood beneath was brought to a full shine beneath layers of stain and shellac. It came out wonderful. The hard wood finished went perfect with the rest of the house.
Following the kitchen, she had the front porch and the street-facing foundation replaced, because it was literally falling apart underneath our feet.
Once that task was accomplished, she had the roof replaced – entirely, all the way down to the support beams.
Next, all the existing carpeting on the first floor was pulled up and the hard wood floors below redone like she’d had done in the kitchen. Then the downstairs bathroom was entirely upgraded – new fixturing and plumbing was installed, and a smaller version of the kitchen tile was set into the floor.
Simultaneously, she had the sunroom sectioned entirely off of the master suite by adding thick, opaque glass bricks atop the partition-wall that had separated the two areas. It had been waist-high, so one could see into from space from the other. She had effectively made one sectionalized chamber into two, which was nice. When the setting rays of the sun filtered through the glass bricks, the effect within the master bedroom was magnificent. It was like being in the crystal cave straight out of Arthurian Legend. The streams of light, the refracted photons, bounced and played across the surfaces with every step. From each vantage, the room was illuminated differently. My mother’s eye for detail was amazing.
She had the deck resurfaced, then immediately thereafter, had all the wood in the front room stripped and stained, restored to their original state.
The grounds of the property weren’t left undisturbed either. She had new carpeting and paint for the back house, reinforced the walls of the root cellar and had all of the structures painted and weather-coated.
The week the painters finished was the same week the last of the landscaping was completed as well. Julio and his colleagues had done a magnificent job. The front yard, though neat and orderly, didn’t look like it had been manicured beyond trimming here and there. It was part of the illusion my mother had been striving for all along. She wanted the yard to be terraced, have the ability to drain without the loss of much needed topsoil, and still be appealing. Most of the retaining walls blended into the curve of the hill itself, so their impact upon the eye was minimal. She and Julio, and the rest of the landscapers, had worked tirelessly to make it seem as though a given plant had sprouted in place, though its’ placement had nothing to do with the randomness of nature. It just appeared to look that way.
It was a masterful job.
I’d been sitting with Elijah, admiring her work, on the pair of steps leading up to the patio directly beneath the kitchen windows. He had come to sit with me after I’d said good-bye to Myra with a long, languorous kiss. It was the 7th of June. My girlfriend and I had just two weeks left of school and then we’d be thrown to the wolves of the world.
In reality, things weren’t as dramatic as that. We were both going to go to college in Arizona for the fall semester. It was to be the beginning of our “master plan” together, the one taking us from high school to college to career to marriage to family and beyond.
I recall I’d been mulling over my future, wearing no more than shorts, a tank and flip-flops – all royal blue. The day had been warm. I’d been wondering what things would be like being with Myra without the proximity of parents. We’d both be living on campus our freshman year, but we had plans to move in together and live off-campus for the remainder of our college years. I kept running the scenario through my head. What would be like to have her overnight, every night? What would it be like not to have a curfew? What would it be like to be on our own? Would it be fun the first time we bought groceries together, did our laundry in the Laundromat without the guidance of our mothers or had to clean our apartment? Sure, all of it wasn’t going to happen for some time, but still the idea of getting my life started was intriguing, and I found I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Little Elijah had come up and plopped himself next to me in his faded overalls, shirtless against the heat of the day and a pair of Velcro sneakers on his feet. He was bubbling with nervous energy.
I could tell he wanted to ask a question. “What’s up, little man?”
“Are you happy Dad’s going to be here in a week?”
Thoughts of the past intervened with my musings of the days–to-come. “At one time, Eli, him coming home was a happy time. For me, at least,” I remedied, reconciling the truth with what I recalled when I was his age. “Not sure about mom or Valerie. They’ve had it harder when it comes to him.”
He swallowed it like he would his cough medicine. He knew it was good for him. It was just a little hard to relax and let it slide down his throat. “Why is he so mean?” His voice was hoarse.
Inside, I wanted to curse and scream at the reality of what our father was truly. I wanted to explain to Elijah how sick and perverted he was, how abnormal was his frame of mind. I wanted to explain it to him more than anything else. Yet, as I sat there looking down at my little brother, my eyes darting over his broad, young face, none of it seemed all that important. The need to protect Eli outweighed anything Lenny had ever done to me a hundredfold. Just him being there, asking questions made our father irrelevant.
“Some people are made different than others, little man,” I started, squinting down at him through the near-summer heat of the day. “Len-, I mean, Dad, is one such person.”
He turned his head to the side, one eyes shutting as he contemplated what I’d said.
“He probably doesn’t think he’s being mean. He probably thinks he’s helping, though in reality he’s hurting everyone around him.” It felt like a lie passing over my tongue, but it was the simplest way I could describe it to Elijah. I wanted him to understand, with life, there are always two sides to every story. Though my mind was telling me my father’s “side” was too pathetic to mention, my heart was saying otherwise. How was Elijah going to grow up a healthy adult if I (we) didn’t raise him properly?
But, Jesus Christ, Lenny soooo did not deserve the benefit of the doubt!
“Really?” The concept was hard for him to digest.
“He’s that stupid?”
I had to laugh. Sometimes I felt my baby brother was smarter than the lot of us put together. His ability to cut through the bullshit was uncanny.
He was grinning too, but he didn’t let it develop to the next step. “Sometimes, I wish he would stay away forever.”
His voice was shaky. The truth of what he felt deep in his heart was difficult to convey devoid of emotion. Elijah was a good kid. I could tell an admonition such as this was wearing on him. He said it almost as if he were confessing, as if it was something he had to get off his conscience.
“You’re not the only one.”
We stayed silent for a while, watching the thousands of shades of green, yellow and brown cavort in the light breeze.
Though I was counting the days to the beginning of my life, there was another side of me that was deathly scared. I tried not to think about it or the guilt I felt every time the notion took root. I wanted to be free of Lenny more than anything, and yet, if I left, who would protect Eli? Sure, my mother would do whatever it took to keep him safe, but if Lenny ever came after Elijah with the intent to hurt him bad, who could stop him? He’d already threatened to do just that those months before when I discovered he liked more than just women.
I could hear the words as clear as a bell.
“Remember, asshole, I don’t have to hurt you in order to hurt you.”
I knew what he was talking about. I know who he was threatening.
If he wanted to hurt us all, bad, simultaneously, all he had to do was get a hold of Elijah. I wanted so much to be excited over the coming months. I wanted to revel in my upcoming freedom. I wanted to lose myself with thoughts of Myra and me alone, night after night. But, the dread had other plans for me. Those joyous thoughts turned ambiguous. I couldn’t keep a grip on them. They scurried away like so many roaches. Only disquiet remained – heavy, burdensome foreboding that wouldn’t go away.
Yeah, the sonofabitch was that kind of coward.