I speak Southwestern Pennsylvania back country. Maryland back country. North Carolina back country, from up the mountains, down the hills, in the blizzards, out of doors in the deep slush, high winds. The weather’s been gray with cold, without shelter or coin, as well as the opposite extreme, as a baptism in the experience of being a child runaway. I speak all those experiences and more, alone in the woods and on the streets by my own choosing, to avoid my dad.
There was no alternative at the time, since dad was practicing violence at home.
The Holy One, The Great One, has been my God, from The Place Where Souls Are Made. At the time, aborting myself was my personal choice. Dad himself chose to break down our door, while I was still in the Oven. He did not hurt mom and me. The Great One came inside and Spoke My Full Name to my unborn heart, so I would not abort, but live through to term. The Lord my God walked me through all of it, and I was was never safe again in or out of my mother’s womb, until that man left us.
We lived in a small town in the mountains then, so I suppose it wasn’t so bad for me, being a daily runaway at the age of five. There was a boy then, who taught me how to smoke, and all the tricks smokers need to know. Tap the pack to get an individual smoke out of the pack without breaking one. You have to hale on the end of the cigarette to light it and smoke it. There were a few drunks and a few derelicts, but there was no one to kidnap a boy, at least for a while there.
I had to be older when that happened.
No one knew I was a smoker. I speak plenty of smoke. I speak serrupticious, sacrificial grape juice and unleavened bread. I speak rowdy, well read, well schooled, well educated rebellion. I was determined to be the bad boy of the family, and I was. I speak leather straps against stinging flesh and yard sticks breaking against my childish legs. I speak pricey cars in expensive garages at mysterious people’s houses. I speak stone mansions, with ashtrays overflowing in smokey deathbeds.
I knew I wasn’t the only rebel in the family watching grandma, the way she smoked.
Grandma smoked herself to death, at a rate of a mere three hales per cigarette, almost each single drag she took was a fresh cigarette, much less than what the cigarette, lit in her hand would accommodate. She smoked 100’s. Her compulsion turned out to be so strong it pulled the breath right out of her, as she drew in her priceless fog. Her grandchildren stood there incredulous, the children’s mother stood flabbergasted, as grandma smoked.
Our otherwise violent father tenderly helped his breathless, feeble, halting mother, old before her time, walk with great effort, the few feet to the rest room from what was destined to become her deathbed. We did not watch our grandmother died, although she teetered on the brink for a long time. It was too late for grandma to give up smoking, but I found myself delivered again, like so many times over so many habits and addictions. I don’t walk the same road as grandma, ultimately.
My own smoking went on from the time I was five, before grandma died, until I’d sneak back into the house, during my most recent elopement. Late in the evening I’d sneak back in. I’d drink dad’s sacrificial grape juice, and eat some of his sacrificial bread, because, of everything, those things were what I could get my hands on quickly, on the sly, before dad came around to survey his brutal domain. At five, I scarcely knew anything about a sanctity assumed over food in sacrament. I was too young to understand that I was violating, using the unleavened bread and grape juice for food, while I starved.
At five, I didn’t know or care, because I had no reverence for my father, the ordained monster.
I speak an unending series of drafty parsonages, a different one every year. We went to town after small town, never having enough, except for the old man’s whippings, and getting sexually abused by totals strangers in various communities. Any old time someone wanted a little boy, I was on the street close by. There was plenty of that going on, while I starved all day, with nightly beatings inexorably waiting, before I could ever get to sleep in my own, as an abused child.
I paid the price of being a whipping boy, for a bed most nights. I awoke in a lake.
I would finally sleep, with or without a meal, once a day. Sometimes the Reverend monster would forbid mother from feeding me. Being beaten was the price of accommodations when I was a runaway. I eventually became a natural delivery driver, finding my way around to a different parsonage in a different town every year, till I was a full thirteen. Dad was not a successful preacher, for some reason, in spite of all his vociferous intentions. Nor was he a sex abuser. Those people were town folk, whomever they were. I neither trusted my parents nor the Police in those days.
I could almost always finding the parsonage when I wanted to.
I voluntarily attended grade school, as well as high school, because I valued education.
We spent every year, till I was eleven, moving to a different parsonage, in a different town, all over Southwestern Pennsylvania. We were always a stone’s throw away from the Steel Capital of the World. Dad couldn’t keep it together, to hold his job as a Preacher. I think it must have been about 1962, when I was a very grown up eleven years old, that dad finally got fired by the Church. Mom found us yet another house to live in. I could find that house too, except for once.
Once, some people waylay-ed me, when I was in my own, sacred sanctuary, the woods, solitary and spectacular. They kidnapped and traumatized me until I ended up deep in shock, got lost for hours at night in a small town. I was denied my supper, which I probably couldn’t have eaten anyway. Then I was beaten again by the reverend monster. It was a great mystery why it was that I had enuresis into adulthood. Mother couldn’t imagine why, as if nothing could have ever happened to the preacher’s son.
What neither one of my parents seemed to realize, was that I was a traumatized, starved, exposed, beaten kid, all over the mountains and hills of southwestern Pennsylvania. I’d been down by the river, and all over the places they took us, until one day mother’s sister came along in her big, comfortable car and took us. Since I’d made it a habit to come home regularly for food and sleep, I didn’t miss the trip to grandma’s. Auntie took us to live at grandma’s, in Maryland, in the lowlands.
I never had it so famously as after we moved to grandma’s.
This had been childhood for me. There were brothers I couldn’t relate to, and a sister I’d always loved. Our relationship was always as if we were twins. As it was, she and I were born only fifteen months apart. My siblings had a somewhat different reality from the one I knew, since they stayed home, although theirs was not greatly different from mine. I eventually got an early osteoporosis, busily studying extracurricular activities from the age of a preteen. I looked into such issues as counting twenty cigarettes per pack, but only eighteen matches per book. Fascinating.
I found alcohol soon after we got to grandma’s. He who finds is looking.
Osteoporosis is a possible side effect of too much alcohol, and too much tobacco, at too young an age. That was me alright. I’ve come up with an early case of a bone density problem, which knows no remedy or cure. By the time I was in my fifties, I was spontaneously falling, and breaking bones needed for standing tall, and walking itself. I broke my hip bone first, before I was diagnosed. This cancels my hopes of ever drive a car again. Osteoporosis is normally for the very elderly.
I broke my clavicle too.
In the past, I related to the cars I drove by singing, as if all those things are living, breathing things. I used to sing my heart out when I was behind the wheel of any car. Singing aimlessly was a liberating thing for me to do when I was young. I have no more voice to sing, nor is there a song in my heart anymore. The woods were my companions for half a lifetime. Now that I don’t drive, I am bereft of my most relaxing environment, of surrounding myself with nature behind the wheel.
Walking has become a singular challenge to me, ever since my hip fracture. That fall was certainly not my first fall, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I was falling regularly under certain conditions, for several years already. Just before I fell, I was walking down a hallway, vividly dreaming I was the first human being to ever learn to fly, without the use of an aircraft. The Wright Brothers probably crashed the first time too. Now, I faithfully use a rollator.
My youth was squandered in the deep south, where I was introduced to many more extracurricular disciplines, of an even greater influence and authority over my health, than my curiosity about cigarettes and books of matches had ever had. More than half the population of the country, it seemed, tuned in, turned on and dropped out, like me. When those disciplines began imposing themselves on my health, I found myself in dire straits at the age of twenty.
My! Life has been known to be demanding on a person!