A New Life
Chapter Fifteen: A New Life
The second night after Lenny destroyed the family he had helped create, Myra and I made love in my bed for most of the night. It wasn’t to make up for the time we’d lost the night of graduation or because we had the house to ourselves, though it had something to do with getting us started in the first place. What we experienced was about something else entirely.
I will not skirt the truth or water-down anything of that night. It was passionate, vocal and very fulfilling for both of us. We watched the growing light of the dawn from between the sheets of my bed, feeling sated and sore, sweaty and sticky from our nocturnal exploits. We were happy to be alive. We were gladdened my mother and my siblings had survived Lenny as well. It was our intimate way of celebrating life, and, being teenagers and in love, with little money; we did it the best way we could imagine – together.
Even with one broken hand and another smarting like hell, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
There was much change for my family that summer, some of it extenuated from that fateful night, some of it was self-induced as a direct result of the very same event.
A few days after the love-fest with my girlfriend, my mother came home from the hospital. Her face was still puffy from the fractures in her cheekbones and around the left eye-socket, but her spirits were up and she looked pleased to finally be home.
She wasted little time and got to work restructuring our lives without Lenny in the picture. Her filing for divorce was being contested by him and his lawyers. He had the audacity to countersue me for the beating I had given him. I was scared at first, but our lawyer told me the case was ridiculous and would eventually be thrown out. Everyone knew I’d been acting in defense of my mother and my brother. The fact I’d rearranged his face a bit apparently didn’t factor, because of the injuries Eli had sustained. The good Sargent Detective I’d talked to in my room the morning I awoke from the altercation had ascertained my intentions that night were simple. I was making sure Lenny remained on the ground.
He had written in his report: “It was Mr. Jeremiah Favor’s fear for Elijah Favor’s life, a minor, which forced him to continue with the beating of Mr. Leonard G. Favor. If Leonard Favor had been capable, he would’ve killed Elijah Favor on the of night June 25th, 1987. Jeremiah was acting in defense of his helpless younger brother.”
How he was able to garner that from our conversation, we would never know. We never asked either.
Initially, my mom wanted to press assault charges against him, but decided not to. For her, it was easier to get her husband out of her life a quickly as possible. A criminal trial would’ve taken longer than a year and she didn’t want to wait that long.
In the process, though, all of the family’s assets had been frozen. Lenny was ordered to continue paying the family’s expenses. Failure to do so would result in a Contempt of Court charge levied upon him, which would prove detrimental to his side of the case overall, so it behooved him not to miss any sort of payments due.
We all knew it was in his best interest to keep paying the mortgage and the utilities and credit cards, but we really never knew what to expect. Lenny abhorred being told what to do. It was one of his most consistent traits. None of us would’ve been surprised if one day we were told the house was in foreclosure and we had to vacate the premises. So, we waited, walking on eggshells, hoping that wouldn’t happen. We were uneasy and jumped every time the phone rang, praying it wasn’t the bank.
But (this was most likely what kept us going during the summer of 1987) it also meant the house was no longer for sale and couldn’t be until my parents’ divorce was finalized. So, there was some consolation there.
Not everything was easy though. For my mom, it was the nights that were the hardest. When the lights were turned out and our heads were resting upon our pillows was when the memories came back to haunt her. I’m sure there was a good peppering of remorse as well. I know she blamed herself for what happened to Elijah. I know she felt she was partially at fault, because she hadn’t moved my brother out of harm’s way. This was despite the fact she had been planning to leave my dad for some time. Events had outpaced her, though, and she felt ashamed because of it.
It was the calm sanity of Valerie that kept the worst away from my mother. My sister’s no-nonsense approach to life was exactly what my mother needed. This wasn’t a time for self-recrimination. This wasn’t a time to wallow in “what might’ve been”. Valerie knew this and helped my mom get through the low points whenever and wherever they cropped up.
They slept in the same bed, took long walks around the Rose Bowl or down in the LA River. They’d take lawn chairs down below the front porch and sit underneath the giant magnolia, amongst the ivy and talk for hours on end. They were inseparable. They did everything together.
It wasn’t like I felt left out. I didn’t feel alone or pushed aside in any way. I had Myra. She was my hard surface to bounce the tough stuff against. She was my big hug, my languorous kiss, my warm lover. No, I was fine.
Besides, I knew what was transpiring. It just wasn’t my time. It was Valerie’s. It was her turn to take care of my mother. She had tools in her war chest I’d never come to comprehend, let alone use. She had been the right person at the right time. She stepped up to that plate and hit the ball out of the fucking park.
I was so proud to call myself her brother.
Overtime, things did get easier. Routine and time, routine and time – we used to say it like a chant whenever things began to wear on us. After the third or fourth time, we’d be smiling at one another, warmth in our hearts. We were in this until the end. We were a team.
It turned out, the court system in the United States being what it is, there were still aspect of our lives that didn’t fall under the prevue of the judge in our case. There was no provision in the court’s ruling demanding Lenny provide for expenses beyond the bills and Eli’s medical care (which was covered by insurance through his work), so after she had healed, my mother took a part-time job as a receptionist in a doctor’s office. It didn’t pay much, but she didn’t need to make much to feed us either. Her paycheck was more than enough to pay for our food and her gas, which was all she had to worry about.
This helped my mom as well. Getting out of the house and working in the world proved distraction enough and eventually her despondency edged toward confidence. The emotional “hunch” in her back disappeared and she became more like herself, like the woman who had flowered while refurbishing the house.
My grandfather, Lenny’s dad, felt horrible over what had happened. The fact it had been his progeny who had nearly killed Elijah, his grandson, made things all the more worse for the poor old man. He was beside himself with nervous energy and came over as often as he could, doing what he could around the house, which wasn’t much, because there was me and Bruce and Julio to help my mom in that department.
After a couple of weeks of “putzing” it became apparent that his skill as a master-mechanic (self-taught) was what would benefit us the most. Since none of us younger gentlemen knew much about the combustion engine, it fell to him to ensure my mother’s car was in tip-top shape at all times. Because being under the hood of a car was second nature to him, he came over often. Sometimes he dropped by for nothing more than to listen to the car, to make sure everything was in working according to his standards. How he could tell what was wrong with a car just by listening to it, I don’t know. I could sit here and write volumes of how baffling it was to me. The car always sounded the same, how he knew if the engine was receiving too heavy or too thin a mixture was completely beyond me.
We just chalked it up and left it at that. He was genius with cars. There was little else to be said.
So, from then on, my mom never had to pay for oil changes or new tires or anything of that nature.
To Lenny’s obvious chagrin, my grandpa James – his father - took care of my mom the only way he could. He made sure she was safe on the road.
It was nice to have him around. Though he was a gruff, short-tempered old coot, I enjoyed the time, however brief, I shared with him. Up to that point, I really hadn’t known the man all that well. I saw him at family functions and for the holidays, but he typically stayed to himself, watching TV, beer in hand, ignoring the lot of us. Having alone time, learning whatever little I did about cars, doing so with grandpa James was cool.
It made me wonder why Lenny was such a world-class scumbag. There was an obvious disconnect there. Father and son were nothing alike.
Elijah’s condition didn’t worsen, which was good, but after a month, it hadn’t improved either, which was frustrating. He remained in a coma as his ribs healed, as he recovered from surgery. With my mother’s added workload, this made things hard. Our days were full. It helped it was summer, so Valerie and I did most of the household chores and, believe it or not, the cooking. By the time my mother got home, we typically had an early dinner ready for us, which we’d wolf it down and then head straight away for the hospital. We typically stayed until visiting hours ended and then left for the night. Occasionally, one of us would stay, but that became a less frequent occurrence as the days turned into weeks and still, there was no change.
We had heard Lenny ended up staying in the hospital for a week and a half, then had a lot of outpatient reconstructive surgery done to his face following his encounter with my fists. There was banter about the family saying he went under the knife more than was necessary, so he’d emerge the whole episode looking younger. If it was true, I didn’t know. Frankly, I didn’t care. But, it was sure funny as shit to talk about.
Another thing that came to the fore after the blow-up on the deck was the true identity of Roxanna. Apparently, she did not work with Lenny at the studio (as I suspected ever since my conversation with the detective). Her real name was Rosalyn Galtier. She was a waitress at the IHOP coffee shop in Glendale, someone my one-time-father had met over breakfast. She must’ve seen he was dressed nice, drove a nice car and went for the gold, but that’s purely speculation. From what I saw, she had tapped into another, heretofore, hidden side of my one-time father and had him wrapped around her little finger. She’d become his everything. How she’d done it was becoming more and more obvious to the rest of us. She gave him what no one else had in the past, a doorway to the real him.
We were told, they’d moved in together and were living somewhere on the West Side of Los Angeles in a high-rise apartment. No doubt they were spending money that should’ve been ear-marked for us, especially for Valerie and Elijah. Yet, whoever said Lenny was a caring father? He wasn’t. As long as his dick and his ass were getting a decent pounding on a regular basis, he could care less about us kids.
It was cool with me, though. The further he was out of our lives the better. If he died… well, oh well…
The biggest change was college and where I’d attend it. Both Myra and I had been accepted to Arizona State and had been looking forward to starting our lives together, but with Elijah in a constant state of catatonia, I couldn’t leave my mother, or Valerie. I didn’t care if it was my future was at stake. I would’ve gladly sacrificed it to care for them. Together with Eli and Myra, they were everything to me.
I told Myra to go ahead with her plans and maybe after a year or so I could join her.
It resulted in our first major argument in our fledgling relationship. She, quite simply, went ballistic. It took me half an hour to get calm her enough so we could speak civilly to one another. In the end, she won. There was no way she was ever going to leave me, or my family, for that matter, and that’s all there was to it. She spent most of August on the phone, meeting with counselors and potential mentors, and a whole slew of administrators and was able to get our scholarships – hers in Sociology and mine in English - transferred to Cal State LA.
The day she came to the house to tell me, I was so proud of her. I was literally in awe. I mean, true, I had to tag along and put my signature down here and there, but all of the legwork was done by her. It was incredible. I was seeing a glimpse of the balls-out determination she’d harbor whenever she did something for our family later in life. She revealed that relentless side of her, the big slice of her that never gives up, that keeps striving forth no matter what. I guess Timex had it right. She “…takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’…”
During this time, Valerie and Jose became a serious item, which culminated one afternoon with her knocking on my bedroom door and asking if she could speak with Myra in private. I was aghast at first, but my girlfriend calmed me down and escorted me from my own sanctum. Her and my sister proceeded to talk for nearly an hour.
When they were finished, Myra came and found me in the backyard talking with Bruce and deftly edged me away from the conversation. It was then she told me, in confidence, that my sister was contemplating sex. I was surprised, but then again, I wasn’t. She was sixteen, beautiful and was dating a very respectful, doting young man, who worshipped every step she took. What more could a brother ask for?
I’d never been the over-protective type to begin with. Some of that was rooted in the fact Valerie was so darned independent. Even when we were kids she preferred to do things on her own, swooshing away help most of the time it was offered. “I wanna doooo it, Jewie. I wanna doooo it.” I can hear it like it was yesterday. She’d been twenty-six months old the first time she’d said that to me.
Myra informed me she was going to help my sister in whatever she wanted to do and asked my politely to not intervene.
I wanted to protest, but she shut me up by saying Valerie was only contemplating the act and hadn’t decided what to do. My sister wasn’t entirely ready “to go there” with her boyfriend, but she wanted to be sure she was of a sound mind when she did.
I knew then it was an exploratory conversation and let it go.
Although, Myra did promise me she would make certain Valerie was cared for and she guaranteed my sister wouldn’t get pregnant, if, somewhere down the road, she actually decided to have sex with Jose.
I nodded and moved on. Life was too short to waste it horrified over one’s sister’s sex life.
The only other major alteration turned out to be more saddening than any of us expected and it proved to be the furthest from our collective minds. After the explosive fight upon the deck, the poltergeist, the spectral vestige of Mrs. Gates, disappeared.
I noticed it one day, five weeks or so after the big blow-out, while I was sitting in the dining room eating lunch. Valerie had been in her room listening to Duran Duran on her Walkman. I glanced up, peered about, realizing I hadn’t heard or felt anything welcoming in the house for quite some time. I recall sitting there, ears straining when it hit me. She was gone. I couldn’t remember precisely the last time I’d heard a rhythmic creak or felt a gentle waft of air touching the nape of my neck. There were no footfalls, nothing missing or out of place. The house wasn’t the same.
I frowned, finished my sandwich and went to ask Valerie about it.
She looked at me like I was crazy. For the first time in a year she actually felt safe. She said she felt like she was finally home.
I told her she was a weirdo and left.
But, the house was indeed different. Now that I’d realized there’d been something missing, I began to see there were other changes as well. They had been so subtle, gradual, I hadn’t noticed them before. They were the type of thing one didn’t notice until the change became drastic enough to register on the human psyche, and even then you’d have to be searching.
It was strange, but I was certain the shadows were longer, capable to pushing aside the light, gathering in corners and thickening. Sometimes it felt as though they were following me, from one room to the next, building upon one another, oppressive, about ready to take form. Instead of the cool presence of Mrs. Gates, there were shockingly cold, abrupt changes in temperature that made me start, jump away.
There were loud “pops” and “snaps” coming at odd times in the day and night. Anyone not living there would’ve said it was just the house settling. But, I lived there, I knew. Wooden houses typically settled at dawn or at dusk when the ambient temperature outside shifted the most dramatically, which causes the beams to contract or expand – breathe, my mom used to say.
This was nothing like that. These were like tantrums, wild lashings of a frustrated child, loud and random. There was nothing playful or amusing about them. They didn’t make you smile or shake your head and think what a trip. No, I shied from these. It was instinctual. It was basic. Whatever this was, it was hardcoded into my brain to avoid.
It probably would’ve driven me crazy, if Lenny hadn’t started a whole new barrage of pain-in-the-ass tactics meant to unnerve my mother. At times, I was so aggravated by him, I could think of nothing else, but rearranging his plastic face for all times sake. (We all said his face was plastic now, because he’d had so much work done to it after I had pulp’ed his nose.)
It had all started with a man, a different man, but one who showed interest in my mother.
His name was Scott Brubaker. He was an investment broker whose firm was near the doctor’s office where my mom worked. Apparently, he’d seen her more than a few times during the lunch hour and had gone out of his way to “meet” her. My mother had been stand-offish at first. Years of conditioning herself against the wiles of intrigued men had kicked-in before she knew what she was doing.
Funny thing was, she probably would’ve continued to rebuff Scott’s advances (they were harmless, nothing obscene), if Lenny hadn’t had “eyes” on her and reacted in typical Lenny-fashion. He began to harass her.
It was near the end of August when the phone calls began. Those annoying rings that would interrupt us at the most inopportune times, put our teeth on edge only to have the caller hang up the moment we’d say “hello”. After the fifth or sixth one, we realized it was Lenny.
About a week later, Valerie saw his car parked at the top of Lincoln Drive. Her and I raced upstairs, got my pair of binoculars and ran to the guest bedroom and trained the large glasses on the vehicle. Sure enough, he was there, sitting in the driver’s seat, smoking one of his dark cigarettes, his eyes blood-shot from too much booze, his nose running from too much blow.
We didn’t tell my mom at first, because she was in such a good place. Though her days were long and intense, she appeared genuinely depression-free and we didn’t want to mess that up. In the end, though, it was a safety issue. She had to know she was being stalked just in case he tried to do something stupid.
Her reaction was swift and decisive. She had all the locks changes, new ones put on the all the windows and had a security system installed. When he began calling her at work and leaving messages on our answering machine, she went out and bought a gun and spent the next four weekends at the gun range learning how to use it properly.
My mother wasn’t a pushover anymore. My mother wasn’t afraid. She was determined to get on with her life and she was going to do it on her terms, regardless of Lenny and his bullying tactics.
By the middle of September, she went on her first date with Mr. Brubaker and did something that shocked both Valerie and I. She stayed out the entire night.
Valerie and I were at the dining table eating cereal when she walked in a little sheepish, though she was smiling from ear to ear. It was like I was seeing a teenage girl in the flower of her sexuality. It was so unlike the woman I knew as my mother.
I will never forget Valerie’s expression or the tone of her voice. Every time I think about it, it makes me smile and then, I’m laughing.
“Mom,” she implored when my mom had closed the door behind her. Then my sister saw the look on my mother’s face. “Mom!” she exclaimed. Two words, the same one repeated, were all she said, but it was like she’d spoken a thousand.
My mother busted-up with loud guffaws and I was beside myself with merriment.
Valerie’s head swiveled back and forth between the two of us, robotic, her eyes wide with outrage. I guess my sister hadn’t thought of our mother as a sexual being like the rest of us on the planet. The truth had apparently shocked her senseless.
I remember my mom and me laughing until our sides hurt, while Valerie, clearly affronted, stared at us as though we were mad.
In the end, my mother told us she and Scott were an item, and that we’d being seeing a bit more of him in the near future. Not a whole lot, but moreso than in the past.
I was pleased to see my mom more than a little giddy over a man. It was all so new, it was like going to Disneyland for the first time. Everything about her sparkled and sang. It took eighteen years, but I saw it all the same. My mother was finally her own person.
On a Thursday, during the fourth week of September of that year, Eli woke-up. It had been in the late morning when the phone rang. I was the only one home at the time. During my first semester of college, I had somehow managed to have no classes on Thursday, which was fortuitous, because we might’ve missed the initial call. Valerie was at school, having just started her junior year and my mom was at work.
I took the call in the kitchen and felt the whole world brighten. My little brother, after three months, was back. He was in the world of the living. I was so ecstatic, I called my mother at work. She was bellowing with joy and fear, and probably a thousand other emotions as she rushed to tell me she was on the way.
“Be curbside, kid, because I’m only slowing to five. So, be ready to jump in the car when I come by the house!” she’d warned and hung up on me before I could say anything else.
How she got there from LA’s metro area and managed to pick up Valerie at school in less than twenty minutes I will never know. I imagine she’d been driving on two wheels part of the way. And she hadn’t been lying about me jumping in the car. She paused for no more than a millisecond before she floored the gas pedal and we went careening down Lincoln Drive like a drag-racers.
At the hospital, we were amazed by Elijah, but then again when weren’t we amazed by the youngest of our family? He had always been an incredible person. He was sitting up, eating chocolate pudding of all things, though he was still pale from lack of sun and appeared gaunt. His slumber had taken a toll on him or so his doctor told us. Atrophy had already begun to take root in his limbs and though he’d been turned every eight hours, he had still developed nasty rashes and sores from lying down for an extended period of time.
But, his spirits were good and his bubbling curiosity was peaked almost from the moment he opened his eyes. He asked the obvious questions, which we answered vaguely that first day, but with ever-growing detail as the days progressed. We told him about Lenny, about the divorce and, of course, about our mother’s new boyfriend, who stayed away purposely, graciously allowing our family unit to reunite and finish with the last of the healing necessary to allow us to move forward.
He was in the hospital for another month rehabilitating, getting stronger, while we began to rearrange our schedules to allow for his care once he was released and was back home with us. Between us, Myra and the extended family we were able to figure out who would be taking care of Eli until he was ready to reenter school in the spring. We rationalized he’d be ready to “hit the hallways” of Garvanza Elementary School after two and a half more months of being home, regaining much needed strength. By mid-January, we knew he’d be ready to be a kid again and not a victim of child abuse. We were all confident that he’d pull through with flying colors.
And, for the most part, he did. We were all so relieved.
Around Halloween, though, he came into my room, walking much steadier than he had even the week before. His face was downtrodden and wistful. I was immediately afraid. With everything that had happened to him, none of wanted him to feel or experience anything negative, no matter how ridiculous it may sound to the rest of the world. How could one keep “The World” away from a child? I know it seems like an impossibility, but we were determined to keep him cheerful.
“What’s up, little man?” I asked at once, wanting to extinguish whatever bad thoughts were coursing through his powerful, young mind.
“She’s gone, huh?” His voice was plaintive, forlorn.
I knew what he meant at once. “Yeah.”
“Since that night, I think,” I began. “I haven’t felt her in the house at all.”
Then he said something that put me on edge. When I think back, trying to find the correct starting point, I am evermore certain his statement was the origin of this bothersome sense of doom that began to settle upon my shoulders for the remainder of the 1987. It was small at first, but it grew precipitously as the fall waned and the winter began. I cannot tell you why I felt it or the specificity of what made me feel that way to begin with. I can only tell you when I began to feel it and it started with Elijah.
He said, “There’s something else here now.”
The moment he said it, I knew he was right. That was why I was shying away from all the new sensations. That was why the house was suddenly more menacing, why it snapped at us for no reason. It had to be. Eli had hit the nail right on the head. It was like a flood-gate of understanding burst open and it washed away all the indecision and fogginess. Everything became clear, focused.
I had looked over at him, sucking the inside of my left cheek.
“It’s not nice.”
To this day, I have no idea how or why we said it simultaneously. It was the only time we’d ever done so.
The following day, Eli said during dinner, “Mom, did you know your knife is gone?”
My mother froze in mid-chew. “What knife, honey?”
Valerie and I exchanged frowns.
“The one you found in the Library closet,” he said nonchalantly, putting a dabble of mashed potatoes in his mouth.
“What?” she’d said, pushing away from the table. She walked into the kitchen to look upon the window sill above the sink, where she displayed it.
There was silence among us. Not even forks clinked against the tableware.
Then, “Jerry, have you seen it?”
I was dumbfounded. “It isn’t there?”
“No.” My mother’s voice quivered.
Someone had taken Affliction’s Key. How long ago was anyone’s guess…