Tag Archive | drugs

The Blood I Cried

Want to read the whole story? Well, now you can! For a limited time (until June 15), Dancing in Hellfire is finally available for sale, for only $3.49. You can buy it here, through this very site, using PayPal or a typical credit/debit card (payment is processed by PayPal, so I don’t see the info), after which you’ll be given access to the book as both a PDF and an ePub.

Introduction

Whether being four years old and watching one of my parents’ friends shoot up peanut butter on our couch and dying before my eyes; whether being effectively kidnapped at the age of eight by my meth-addicted mother and forced to endure a summer of being too poor to buy food, with our water turned off due to non-payment, and with mom being beaten mercilessly by a violent alcoholic; whether coming to terms with her disappearance like something out of a murder mystery show; or whether being transgender in the midst of all of this and trying desperately to come to terms with it while surrounded by a fundamentalist Christian family that forced me to not merely repress who I was but also to forget who I was, I have seen a great deal of tragedy.

It’s strangely easy to forget how devastating all of this must truly have been, even as I was the one who experienced it, because it’s easy to forget how it truly felt to lie awake, crying and listening to the sounds of shattering glass as my mother was thrown brutally through windows. It’s easy to forget how angry I have the right to be at my father and grandmother, for forcing me to oppress myself and attempting to turn me into something that I am not.

Today I am a transgender woman and resident of the state of Mississippi. This is as frustrating, difficult, and dangerous as one would expect, but I survive, and I roll with the punches. I have no choice, just as I had no choice those early mornings as I bore witness to horrific domestic violence.

So this is my story–a story of how low human depravity can sink, but also how the human spirit can stand resilient and refuse to surrender. However, I know that I am one of the lucky ones. The majority of people who endure such childhood trauma, and who are forced by religiously oppressive authorities to repress their own natures, are not so fortunate. Most of the former lose themselves in a sea of drugs that allow them to forget, while the latter often lose themselves to the blade of a razor. Yet I know, because I have lived it, that we can survive the struggles–and not merely survive, but become stronger through them.

Where to begin, in this sordid tale of devils and demons?

My family is exactly what one would expect of a north Mississippi lower middle class / upper lower class white Christian family; it was only a few years ago that I first heard the acronym WASP, but I have to admit: aside from its redundancy, there is no more apt description of my family. They are almost stereotypical in how typical they are of an ordinary white fundamentalist Christian family from the southern United States.

Everyone in Mississippi isn’t like that, however, which is a point I’ve tried to stress in the past: Mississippi does contain many people like myself. As a friend recently put it, “We grew up in an area that is run-down, poor, and stupid, over all, where most of the populace is indoctrinated by religious nonsense to the point where they can’t even recognize rational thought. We pushed through what it takes to fit in here, and we defined ourselves. That’s something to embrace and be proud of.”

My friends and I have reached the end of a long and grueling journey that was filled with adversity and people who would use any means at their disposal—terrorism, fear, violence, and coercion—to bend us to their wills, and we’ve looked back at the paths we traveled and rejoiced that we survived and stayed true to ourselves. Friends are priceless when one is transgender in a family full of fundamentalist Christians.

Both of my paternal grandparents would reject me entirely—they do not yet know, and they will be among the last to know, since I see them only a few times a year. “You don’t know how they’ll react,” I’ve had people tell me. “Give them a chance. Sometimes people surprise you.”

With all due respect, those allies and friends have no idea the type of people we’re really dealing with. My Mississippian friends know better, too; they know that there is no chance that my family will ever welcome me at Christmas dinner as a female. When my grandfather (who, for the record, is on his tenth or eleventh wife) learned that my sister was living with her boyfriend, he wrote her a lengthy letter, wherein he quoted Biblical passages and called her a whore. When my grandmother found girls’ clothes hidden between my mattresses, she wanted to send me to a foster home and asserted that she would not have that in her house. If they had thought I was gay, they would have sent me to one of those awful “pray the gay away” camps.

This isn’t to say that I’m perfect, and acknowledging my own faults and mistakes will be the most difficult part of writing this. I have made plenty of mistakes and stupid decisions that brought people around me severe difficulty and hardship, particularly regarding past relationships.

My memory is also not perfect, and I am likely to make mistakes, and, given that some of the information comes from extremely unreliable sources (like my father), some of that can’t really be helped. It doesn’t matter, though. The point of this is to show how awful parenting shaped me, and the countless lies that my dad told me are part of that. I strive for honesty, integrity, and sincerity in all things. Consider this my vow that everything within is, to the best of my knowledge, the unaltered truth, except that names have been changed.

South Pontotoc

I was born premature, thankfully, since the umbilical cord had wrapped around my throat and I was choking to death. This was surely a result of my mother’s cigarette smoking and eating painkillers while pregnant. My father insists that she didn’t do drugs while she carried us, but… Yeah, she did.

I certainly don’t remember my birth, but I do remember some things from shortly after my birth. Though my family says there is no way I could remember it, my introduction to the world came with overwhelming confusion: I was in some sort of cradle, and the back of my right hand hurt because a number of needles and tubes penetrated my flesh. The details are blurry and fuzzy, as one would expect from such early memories, but the needles burned and itched. They irritated me, and I wanted them out. I was afraid and confused, with no idea why these things penetrated my hand and no understanding of what was going on. I knew only that I was hurting and helpless to do anything about it.

Confusion—pure confusion. I didn’t even have a sense of self. I had no idea that I existed, that I was a baby in a hospital, and that I was a being. I could feel the needles in the back of my hand, and they hurt. The pain, however, was not unbearable, and wasn’t the main facet of that moment. It was confusion. I was not afraid—I didn’t have enough self-awareness for the confusion to make me scared. I simply knew nothing. I was a blank slate, onto which was being written reality in the ink of experience. I didn’t even know that I was a blank slate. I knew only that I hurt, and that I was confused. I was not in the arms of a loving mother whose warmth brought me comfort. I did not stare up and into the eyes of a nurse who was delighted to see a baby growing healthier by the hour. I was not being cooed by an older brother, or rocked in the cradle while a loving grandparent read a story. I was alone and hurting in a room bathed in fluorescent light.

That was my first experience with the world. That was how I was introduced to the universe—in the sterilizing, emotionless light of an empty hospital room, not the gentle and soothing light of a home. I heard the beeps and sounds of monitoring equipment, not the joyous laughter of a loving family. I lie alone in a hospital contraption with the shrill, uncomfortable hospital sheets, not wrapped in a blanket and the arms of a doting mother.

And the worst part—the indisputable worst part—is that I remember this.

The first few years of my life were probably normal, about what anyone would expect from a southern, lower middle class white family that subsisted more on the successes of previous generations than the merits of its own. There were some oddities, though, and signs even then of who I really was, but it was the mid-80s. It wouldn’t really be fair to blame my parents for not recognizing and embracing that I was transgender.

Of course, I was born male, “with a penis and everything.” But whenever all of my underwear was dirty, my mother would put me in my sister’s panties; it wasn’t a punishment, to clarify. Being the clever child that I was, I began hiding all of my underwear, just so that I could tell my mom that I didn’t have any, and so that I could wear panties instead. Somewhere around three years old, I took all of my underwear and threw them into the back of a closet that no one ever opened, and then I reported to my mother that, strangely, all of my underwear was suddenly gone.

So when I say that I’ve been transgender since birth, it’s as close to “since birth” as one can get. I couldn’t have been older than three years old at that point, because my sister hadn’t begun kindergarten herself. I knew then that I preferred women to men: I loved my mother and sister, and, even at that age, I had a deep appreciation for feminine beauty. I also thought that my Aunt Diane was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, and my mother used to make fun of me for my enamorment with my aunt.

My experience with men at this point was limited to my father (who was fat and not overly pleasant to look at), my brother (who was thin, but who had nothing on my mother), my grandfather (who was also overweight, and a jerk), and my Uncle Danny (who has always been an asshole). Although it’s typical for young boys to love their mothers, I wanted to be just like mine, and I suspect that had a lot to do it with, but who can say? I was three when it began, and I simply wanted to be a girl.

I had a blanket (what most people would call a “blankie,” though I never called it that), and it was one of those cotton-threaded ones similar to fishnet. I refused to sleep without it and my pillow. The pillow actually wasn’t that important, but the pillowcase certainly was. I rubbed the pillowcase between my finger and thumbnail, sleeping on the central heating vents in the floor and driving my father crazy with all of it.

A Look at My Father

I would love to say that my father isn’t a bad man.

But he is.

That’s a difficult thing to say and accept, but I have to stress that it doesn’t really make me love him any less, and that the dominant emotion I have for my father is pity. Even so, I would be lying if I said that he was a good man who simply made some mistakes; that isn’t the case at all. He’s a bad man who has made some good decisions, not a good man who has made a few bad ones.

His own childhood was no walk in the park, damaged by my alcoholic and abusive grandfather beating the hell out of my grandmother. Though not much of that has been shared with me, I can certainly relate to what he has said, and it’s clear the recollections are as painful to him as it is for me to recall the abuse my mother endured at the hands of alcoholics.

At some point, my grandparents divorced—Go, grandma!—because my grandmother wouldn’t put up with the abuse. My grandmother is easily worthy of her own story, because she is an unsung hero of the feminist movement without even trying. In the sixties and seventies, she left her violent husband and blazed her own path in Mississippi, won the house in the divorce, and then worked at a college until she retired at the age of 67.

True to the family history, my grandmother endured her own screwed up childhood, and was even sent away by her mother to live with Uncle Bill and Aunt Edna on their farm. Evidently, Aunt Edna didn’t like my grandmother one bit, and was very unkind to her. What internal strength caused my grandmother, in what must have been the 40s, to graduate as the valedictorian of her class? What quiet resolve allowed my grandmother to learn the necessary skills to work in the administration section of a college during the 60s?

These are questions to which I would love answers, but I’ll never have them, because they are not things that my grandmother is willing to discuss. Questions about her past are met with short answers, and I can’t blame her for not wanting to talk about it.

On one particular drunken rampage, my father held a gun on my grandfather so that my grandmother could limp out of the house. While I truly hate that he had to do such a thing in the first place, I’m also jealous that he was old enough to do something about it. When my mother suffered under Everett’s hands, I was in the second grade, and too young and weak to do anything to intervene.

For years, my father insisted that he was drafted to Vietnam, and he even talked about how he was called a murderer and spit upon when he returned. Eventually my sister and I realized that there’s no way this is true. Either he was actually the oldest between him and his brother (and thus wouldn’t have been drafted), or the Vietnam War ended when he was 16. In this little alternate reality he had constructed, he had to be older than our mother was (which was blatantly false—she had always been recognized as the older one), his brother had to be lying about his own age, and almost everyone had to have falsified birth records.

He changed his story to say that he was in Vietnam during the 80s, through another offensive that we did, but I have been unable to find any military record for him. Whether he actually fought in Vietnam, he did mislead us into believing he’d fought in the Vietnam War, which is a lie of such magnitude and scope that one has to marvel at it.

He is a religious man, though it’s hard to tell by his behavior: heavy drug usage, constant lies, and steady manipulation. Although he is less religious than other family members are, his secularism is applied selectively, and he’s generally as fundamental as everyone else is. He continues to believe that President Obama is a Muslim, is more or less openly racist, and is a diehard Republican, despite that he’s effectively a ward of the state who benefits substantially from liberal policies.

I obviously don’t see eye-to-eye with him, but we do have some similar interests. It was he who introduced me to Fantasy literature and tabletop gaming, both of which almost immediately became passions for me. In turn, I exposed him to the tenth installment of a popular roleplaying video game, and I’m still happy that I was able to show him to something that he enjoyed so immensely. He must have played through it a dozen times, and he certainly discovered more of its secrets than I ever would have.

There is some kinship between us, and I do love him, despite the numerous differences, and in spite of the fact that he has done me far more harm than good. More than anything, I pity him, because his childhood evidently destroyed him; he is one those who did not escape unscathed. He was swallowed by the mentality that the world owes him something, and oblivious to the reality that the world will never give it.

The rifts between us began because I was not the son that he wanted. He hated that I loved sleeping on the heating vents—I’ve always loved heat. I wouldn’t sleep anywhere else. I had to sleep on one of the floor vents, and the heat had to be on. There in the floor, I had the pillow and pillowcase that I refused to sleep without, and the blanket that I required as I slept.

My father hated all of these things. We went to visit some relatives at one point, and I left my blanket and pillow at home. With no other way to shut me up, my parents took me to a store to get a new pillow, and there I went from one to the next, tearing open the plastic just slightly, and “testing” it until I found one that was satisfactory. When we got back to our trailer a few nights later, dad went outside and told me to bring my pillow.

As I stepped out into the night air, I saw him kneeling just outside the small stone circle beside our front steps. It had once been a flower garden—conceived during one of mom’s highs, when she was bolstered with energy from painkillers. The high wore off, but the flowers remained in that little circle of rocks—at least for a while. Then they died, shriveled, neglected, and forgotten.

Almost like a demon out of a child’s horror story, there was my dad, grinning devilishly and eagerly, urging me to throw my old pillow onto a mess of crumbled newspapers soaked in lighter fluid as he held his flaming lighter above it. “We need to burn it!” he said, but I refused. There was no need to burn it. They were already making me throw it away—they were already making me discard this pillow that I loved and had slept with every night for years. Was that not enough?

“We need to burn it!” he said again, as I ran inside and cried to mom that dad wanted to burn the pillow that I loved. It may seem strange that I had such attachment to a pillow, but I did, and both of my parents knew it. My father certainly knew very well that I loved that pillow.

That’s why he wanted to burn it. Because I loved it.

We didn’t burn random things, and I doubt that we ever burned anything there at all. He wasn’t content to force me to throw away this pillow, the symbol that I was an emotional person and not the crass son that he apparently wanted. The pillow had to be destroyed in flames because I loved it, and because “real men don’t love.” This silly, feminine weakness, this emotional attachment to an object—it had to be gotten rid of, and in the most dramatic way possible.

It was not the pillow that my dad wanted to burn.

It was my heart.

My mother intervened, though my father came inside and continued insisting that we needed to burn the pillow, because he was afraid that I would be able to talk my mother into letting me keep it. One has to wonder why it was an issue that I wanted to keep it. In the end, I placed it gingerly on top of the garbage can in the kitchen and told it goodbye. I hated to do so, and I cried, because it didn’t make sense to me.

It’s understandable that I developed such strong emotional ties to objects, as neither parent spent much time with me, and there was not much hugging in the family. Mom and dad were always high on one drug or another, lying on the couch and borderline comatose. I don’t know how Brandi handled it then, or what she did in order to get through the long and miserable days, but it was surely as awful for her as it was for me. Unlike our older brother, we didn’t have friends with whom we could go hang out. Or, at least, I didn’t. Brandi was friends with a girl who didn’t live too far from us, and I hope that my sister was happy then.

Aunt May and Kay-Kay

For a while, mom did work, as did my father. While Brandi and Eric were gone to school and my parents were at work, I was babysat by our great aunt who lived next door, a relatively kind woman who I remember as mostly humorless. My father fleeced her out of most of her money, just as he did to my great-grandmother, and just as he is currently doing to my grandmother. However, I was too young to comprehend that, and there isn’t much that I remember about Aunt May.

It was horrendously boring at Aunt May’s. There were few places worse for my pre-school self. I wasn’t allowed to take my Nintendo, which left me there alone with an eighty-year-old woman and very little to actually do, because there was no one to play with and nowhere to play at. Aunt May wasn’t unkind, but she was also not particularly joyful. I don’t blame her for that—she was a very old woman, and probably not happy to babysit a four-year-old.

I should have been outside having fun, rather than sitting in a living room with an eighty-year-old woman and playing with paper dolls that she cut out of a magazine. Of course, such things seem droll only from a modern perspective, but I was accustomed to video games and cartoons, the heightened entertainment possibilities of the late 1980s. In the 1880s, a child would have been thrilled to sit on a couch in an air-conditioned house and idle away the hours with paper dolls.

However, imagine the horrified response one would get if a modern child was asked to spend day after day in that environment, with only a very old woman as company. There would probably be allegations of child abuse, though I’m not making that claim. However, many modern parents would likely consider that to be, at the least, borderline child abuse. To me, it was simply boring, and the time passed so slowly that I probably lived more moments there at Aunt May’s house than all the moments I have lived since.

I don’t intend any of this to be disparaging to Aunt May. I have no doubt that she did the best she could, and significantly better than many people in her position would have. Still, I dreaded those days when both parents had to work, and it was routine for me to ask mom each afternoon, “Do you have to work tomorrow?”

Aunt May had a moustache, as well, but I never noticed it. It wasn’t until I was a teenager and I was shown a picture of her that I learned she had a moustache. I was pre-kindergarten when I spent time with Aunt May, so the idea that a woman didn’t have facial hair wasn’t in my head yet, so it seemed perfectly normal to me. My father had a moustache and Aunt May had a moustache. Cars had tires, and houses had walls.

One horrible day, as Aunt May sat in her recliner, concealed from view of the kitchen as I sat on the couch near the front door, there was suddenly a crash in the kitchen. The backdoor entered into the kitchen, and I will never forget the fear that fell over this old woman’s face. Someone had broken in through the back door.

She and I hid in the living room, cowering in the corner behind her chair. I don’t believe she ever called the police (she didn’t have a phone), or did anything about it, but my memory of that ordeal is vague. I recall only the noise, the unmistakable terror in her eyes that I was able to recognize even at four years old, and the hiding.

Because she was very old, it simply wasn’t possible for Aunt May to always babysit me, and I had another sitter called Kay-Kay—a hefty, middle-aged woman who seemed to be doing pretty well in life. She had a house, at least, which I recognized to mean that she was okay—we lived in a trailer, and most of the people we knew lived in a trailer. Living in a house… That was a grand thing to me. I didn’t mind that we lived in a trailer, and I was much too young to know that being the child of two fast-food workers (even if they were supervisors) who raised Confederate flags, shot up heroin, and ate Xanax made me the definitive example of “trailer trash,” but I knew that it was a great thing to have a house.

Kay-Kay was an ordinary woman, and there was much going on beneath the surface that most people never saw. As I sat in one of her bedrooms, playing a video game, there was suddenly a banging on the door and people shouting, demanding to be allowed inside and promising that, if Kay-Kay refused, they would tear the house down.

Although I was shocked and scared at first, Kay-Kay put my fears to rest by handling it expertly. She answered in an almost aloof way, as though she had no concern about it. Even as they banged and screamed, I was unafraid, because Kay-Kay didn’t appear to take it seriously. After a minute or so, the banging stopped, and then the rhythmic pounding echoed through her home, coming from somewhere in the back.

“They’re going to tear the house down!” I shouted to Kay-Kay, scared once more. In my head, I had the image of two enormous, burly, and angry men outside with huge hammers, smashing away the bricks and crashing through the walls.

“Oh, no, they’re not, sweetie,” came Kay-Kay’s reply as she dropped to a knee and hugged me. “They’re just mad. They’ll get over it and leave in a few minutes.”

Sure enough, Kay-Kay was right: they did leave shortly thereafter. In actuality, they probably just had given up on the front door and gone to try the back door. Finding it locked, they banged and shouted some more, and then left. I never learned what it was about, and Kay-Kay asked me not to mention it to my parents, which made sense: that isn’t the sort of thing a mother wants happening at the selected babysitter’s home. I didn’t stay quiet, though, and that was the last time Kay-Kay ever babysat me. It was also the last time that I saw her.

The Rise of Tumult

There was a “friend of the family” called Doc, and I liked him a lot. Everyone liked Doc—he was a friendly, charismatic person. Being my parents’ friend, he was heavily on drugs, but Doc was also in a motorcycle gang, which created a problem, because shooting up was explicitly against the gang’s laws. Just to be clear here: this is the world I grew up in. This was normal to my three-year-old self. On any given day, I was likely to see one or both of my parents shoot up heroin with a buddy who was in a motorcycle gang, smoke a joint or two, and collapse onto the couch in a stupor and droning out “Yeah…” to no one.

I watched my mother, laid out on the loveseat, look to my father on the other side of the living room. She held up, toward my father, a syringe full of some red liquid, and then she asked in a seductive voice, “John, do you want some of this?” And as she spoke, she pressed in the syringe and sent a jet stream of this stuff—whatever it was—flying across the living room. They were both out of their minds, just high as hell.

Disheveled, frantic, panicked, and terrified, Doc stopped by our trailer and wanted to sell my father a half-pound of weed for fifty bucks. My father had twenty dollars he could pay. Knowing my father, it’s amazing that he had any money, but he did, and he explained to Doc what he had.

Doc in turn explained that he had to get out of town. “Had to,” he said, and my father understood what that meant. The gang somehow learned that Doc was shooting up, so Doc had to get out of town before they found him and forced him to run “The Gauntlet.” Because, apparently, that actually happens. My father bought the weed, and Doc fled, but it was to no avail, and he was later found dead.

We frequently drove north to visit my Aunt Diane and Uncle Danny (the man who would later go to prison for murder and, in all likelihood, killed my mother, though there is no body or evidence), as well as our cousins. One of these trips proved to be one of the most traumatic experiences of my childhood.

As Brandi and I rode with dad in his yellow truck, in a secluded area where the road was surrounded by steep ditches that spelled death for anyone who lost control and went over, a truck driver decided to pass us. The trucker blew his horn a few times, and then he went for it. As he passed, he veered to the right—or dad swerved to the left. The enormous side view mirror of the rig crashed through the window beside dad and sent a spray of glass shards through the cab of our truck. Luckily, neither my sister nor I sustained any injuries.

The fault was probably my father’s (driving under the influence of one drug or another), but the reason officially given was that the highway wasn’t wide enough to pass. This excuse came much later in the day, after the trip got significantly worse.

We passed through Memphis as we traveled, and came upon an intersection. Not paying attention, I couldn’t tell you exactly how it happened, but there was shaking and noise. We rear-ended another vehicle. It’s possible that my father didn’t stop quickly enough, and it’s possible that he pressed the gas too hard and too quickly after the light turned green. Regardless, we hit the vehicle hard and sent it careening into the intersection. Reportedly, it traveled fifty feet from the impact.

The woman driving that car died on the spot with a broken neck.

Someone obviously called the police, and they arrested my father. The police placed Brandi and me in the back of the police car with him, which made us feel as though we were also being arrested, and that is terrifying when you’re four or five years old and have no comprehension of what is going on. As though we were playing out a scene in a movie, the very same trucker who had hit us earlier happened upon the accident, and presumably told the police that dad was driving erratically. The next thing I knew, the trucker was banging on the glass beside me, shouting obscenities at us—not just at our dad, but honestly at the five-year-old children, too. I was terrified, confused, and frightened out of my mind, and it didn’t help that dad, with his hands cuffed behind his back, was frothing at the mouth, rocking the police car, and demanding to be let out so that he could fight the truck driver.

My sister and I were taken to the hospital, and police, doctors, and therapists repeatedly questioned us about the accidents. We were separated from our father, but also from each other, and that made the experience more traumatic than it had to be. We were finally told that we would be going into the care of Aunt Diane and Uncle Danny briefly, and they were the ones who picked us up from the hospital. My grandmother acquired a good lawyer for my father, and he was able to go to rehabilitation rather than prison, or something to that effect.

For a long time, my nerves were absolutely shot, and it was nearly impossible to get me into a vehicle, which is probably the normal response of a four year old child after being in two accidents in a single day, one of which resulted in a death, all because the parents didn’t mind driving after eating a bunch of pills. Naturally, their solution was to shove pills down my throat, giving me what they called “nerve pills” that were probably Xanax or Klonopin. This was the only way to get me into an automobile for several months after the accidents, because otherwise I would scream and throw fits. Eventually the anxiety faded, but knocking me out with drugs was the only way to get me into a car for a while.

Things returned to what we considered normal, though that isn’t to say that either of my parents stopped doing drugs. I doubt either parent was clean for any notable period, and they continued inviting friends over. These parties, while they were more or less tame and consisted of people drinking, doing drugs, and playing spades, would not constitute “normal” for most kids.

On one such occasion, one of the people with whom they were hanging out decided that it would be a brilliant idea to inject peanut butter. Presumably, he’d heard that “The high is incredible, man!” and wasn’t much interested in maybe asking a doctor before doing something so horrendously and creatively stupid. According to my father—who is a known pathological liar, it’s worth remembering—the man died on the spot, so they took him home and left him on his couch, dead. I have no memory of this, but it allegedly happened sometime around my fifth birthday.

I started kindergarten, and I loathed it. Up until that point, my life was fantastic. I could wake up whenever I wanted, spend the entire day watching cartoons and playing videogames, snacking whenever I desired, and just doing anything I pleased. Then suddenly I couldn’t do that any longer; I had to wake up at a specific time, go spend the entire day in a boring school, and then only had a few hours afterward to do the things that I enjoyed doing. As early as kindergarten, it struck me as absurd: if the point of life is to be happy, as everyone constantly insisted to me, then why did I have to go to school?

We were poor—dirt poor, as you might expect, given the heavy drug usage. Although both parents were managers at various fast food restaurants at times, my mother eventually quit working altogether and got onto disability for her migraines. It was with tremendous excitement that we were approved for food stamps, and we waited for weeks with palpable eagerness in the air, though I had no idea what it even meant. There are two times that I distinctly recall the entire family waiting anxiously for something to happen, and the anticipation was identical on both occasions; we waited for food stamps and we waited for our cable to be activated with the same sense of impending thrill, as did I, even though I had no understanding of what either meant.

Being approved for food stamps felt like having a birthday, and so did the cable company finally coming out, after weeks of waiting, to connect our cable television. While I understood that having cable meant that we would have Nickelodeon, there was no way that I understood the concept of food stamps, so my excitement was surely nothing more than a mirror of my parents’ own eager anticipations. It was just months after this that I began school, and that mom became convinced that dad was not really working, that he was only disappearing while he was supposed to be at work.

It was a school day when it happened, because we were supposed to be in class, but mom kept us at home. My much older brother, my slightly older sister, and I were told that we were leaving dad, and I’m sure I handled that as well as any six year old child would, which is to say with naked emotion untempered by the jaded self-control we are taught to exercise in later years. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I was devastated nonetheless. First, the life I had come to know and love was wrecked by having to go to school, and then what little semblance of it remained was being irretrievably shattered by this upheaval. I spent the entire day in tears, as did my sister. Whatever was going on between our parents had nothing to do with us, and our lives were being cast into the hurricane because of it.

Too young to truly understand what was really going on, my primary concern was whether to leave my father “the good Nintendo” or the bad one. They both worked, but one of them was much more difficult to get working. Both my dad and I were big on video games, and so was my older brother, and even my mom and sister played occasionally. There were lots of family moments when we all took turns, and we even had a device that allowed four controllers to be used.

I agonized over that decision far more than a six year old should, and my mom didn’t give the situation nearly as much attention as it deserved. My entire world, prior to school, consisted almost entirely of playing video games. That I even debated which one to leave was a tremendous indicator of how much I loved my father, how much I didn’t want to leave, and, above all, how poorly equipped I was to cope with the chaos I suddenly was confronting. Mom was tearing our family apart, breaking it into two pieces, and she never sat down with my sister and me to explain what was happening, to assure us that we’d still see our dad, or to promise us that it would be okay. While to some extent that’s understandable, since she had to pack and load things up, the utter failure to remember that she was literally wrecking her youngest kids’ lives is very difficult to excuse.

To make matters worse, she was cowardly about it, too, because all of this happened while my father was at work. We lived in a trailer on my grandfather’s land, and it’s very likely that my grandfather was the one who alerted my father to the moving truck that was at his home. However, seeing as my grandfather later offered to shoot my mother for my dad, I doubt he would have showed the restraint simply to inform my dad of what was happening.

Regardless, dad pulled up while we were finishing and preparing to leave. The next little bit is a blur of anger, hostility, and shouting from which I am able to pull very few details. In a flash, dad went from anger to pleading, but mom refused to listen; her mind was made up, and she cranked the car, put it into gear, and hit the gas. Dad threw himself into the side of the car and then hit the ground, fell onto his back, and then lie there in the grass. My sister and I screamed and cried—our dad had just been run over!—and mom shouted at us to stop yelling. I gazed out of the back window at my father as we drove away, and there he was, lying unmoving in the grass, and all I could think was the horrible thought, “Dad is dead.”

There in the back of the car, crying quietly, having just watched my father die from being hit by a car, I sat at the age of six years old, being shouted at by my mom to shut up because I freaked out when I saw her kill my dad.

Want to read the whole story? Well, now you can! For a limited time (until June 15), Dancing in Hellfire is finally available for sale, for only $3.49. You can buy it here, through this very site, using PayPal or a typical credit/debit card (payment is processed by PayPal, so I don’t see the info), after which you’ll be given access to the book as both a PDF and an ePub.

Dancing in Hellfire, 2nd Draft Preview

This is essentially the first few sections (because the manuscript isn’t divided into chapters) of the upcoming autobiography Dancing in Hellfire and is, basically, the Submission Sample. While I’m not submitting yet, because I won’t until the final draft is 75% done (I really dropped the ball on it, but have recommitted to x pages per day, which is the only way to do such things), I think that this will get the job done. I’m going to continue rewriting those first few paragraphs until they leave people fucking speechless, though. Anyway–I hope you enjoy. Well… I hope you find it fascinating and interesting, because it’s not the sort of thing anyone should really enjoy…

You could also watch this video, where I tell a very small portion of the story–only a few parts that relate to being transgender–in video form, with wickedly appropriate music in the background. 😀

Introduction

 

The absolute best that I can say about my mother is that: even if she was kidnapped and wasn’t murdered outright, it has been seventeen years, and she has surely been killed by now—so, even if she was tortured in some psycho’s basement, it’s over now.

It’s the greatest of the series of tragedies that characterized my early life, and the worst part is that there is only truth in the above; that is the best that I can say of her fate. She vanished when I was twelve years old, and no body has ever been recovered. Since the last person with whom she lived has served a prison sentence for an unrelated murder, and that all he had to say back then was that “She left with a truck driver named Tim,” it’s not hard to piece the puzzle together, but it never grows beyond speculation. Without her body, it can never be more than baseless speculation.

And though that is surely the worst of the true and unembellished tales I can impart, it is far from the only such story. Instead, there are more horrors to be uncovered and shared—a reminder of the terrible depths to which human depravity can sink, and of the extraordinariy resilience of the human spirit that refuses to surrender. Because it’s possible—and I know it’s possible. Sometimes other people delay things and force transgender people to be something they’re not, but survival is always an option, and nothing can truly destroy someone’s spirit, hope, or identity.

It’s strangely easy to forget how much all of this really sucks. It’s easy to forget how horrible it was to lie awake, crying and listening to the screaming and sounds of shattering glass as my mother was beaten by her alcoholic boyfriend at two in the morning. It’s easy to forget how angry I have the right to be at my father and grandmother, for forcing me to oppress myself, to make myself forget who I am. And it’s easy to forget how terrible it was when my father killed a woman, when I was interrogated by police at the age of five, and how deeply the emotional scars of that childhood really extend.

When my mother disappeared off the face of the Earth, never to be seen again, I was only twelve years old, and people today are stunned that I speak of her murder so matter-of-factly, though her body has never been recovered and the only real evidence of her death is that the man with whom she was living has since been to prison for another murder. It’s amazing what the human spirit can become accustomed to, a fact clearly evidenced by the almost lackadaisical way I approach these would-be bitter memories.

But that’s all they are: memories.

Today I am a transgender woman and resident of the state of Mississisppi—the U.S. state that just passed a law allowing discrimination on religious grounds. Really, this is about as frustrating and difficult as one would expect, and the only thing that keeps me safe is the secrecy that surrounds me—not many people can link my male identity to my female one. That’s only dealing with what people do under the radar, though—in the open is another story, because it was already impossible for me to find a job as my true self, which forced me to live a lie to some degree as long as I am here, so the new laws don’t really have any impact for me. And I survive. As always, I simply roll with the punches. There is no choice. Nor was there a choice those early mornings as I became witness to horrific domestic violence.

C’est la vie.

I once uttered that phrase almost ironically, but it’s now one that I speak with the greatest of sighs, because there is no truer expression in any language: “Such is life.” It’s not that I consider existence meaningless and bleak, but I have been looking upon an unnecessarily brutal world since before my mind was capable of even grasping its tragedies. I did not live the sheltered life, and that delusion, that there is a Great Justice that one day is due us all, was ripped from my hands before I had even taken my first steps into a school.

I don’t begrudge the past. If anything, I am thankful for it, because we are all shaped by our experiences, and I’m pleased with the person I am. However, I am one of the lucky ones. The majority of people who endure such childhood trauma, and who are forced by religiously oppressive authorities to repress their own natures, are not so fortunate. Most of the former lose themselves in a sea of drugs that allow them to forget, while the latter are, perhaps, even more unlucky, and lose themselves to the blade of a razor.

Where to begin, in this sordid tale of devils and demons? Obviously, with the family that is, to be frank, to blame. Though I am not perfect and have done plenty wrong, my mistakes generally come after I was shaped by that childhood and adolescence.

My family is exactly what one would expect of a north Mississippi lower middle class / upper lower class white Christian family; it was only a few years ago that I first heard the acronym WASP, and I have to admit: aside from its redundancy, there is no more apt description of my family. With the exception of only myself and one of my cousins, the family is almost stereotypical in how typical they are of an ordinary white fundamentalist Christian family from the southern United States.

Everyone in Mississippi isn’t like that, however, and that’s one of the main points I’ve attempted to make in online communities: Mississippi does contain many people like myself. It must be acknowledged, though, that the common thread between us is that we’ve broken free of the terrorizing and gripping fears of the local religion. As a friend recently put it, “We grew up in an area that is run-down, poor, and stupid, over all, where most of the populace is indoctrinated by religious nonsense to the point where they can’t even recognize rational thought. We pushed through what it takes to fit in here, and we defined ourselves. That’s something to embrace and be proud of.”

My friends and I have reached the end of a long and grueling journey that was filled with adversity and people who would use any means at their disposal—terrorism, fear, violence, and coercion—to bend us to their will,s and we’ve looked back at the paths we traveled, and rejoiced that we survived and stayed true to ourselves. Friends are… absolutely priceless when one is transgender in a family full of fundamentalist Christians.

Both of my paternal grandparents would reject me entirely—they do not yet know, and they will be among the last to know, since I see them only a few times a year. “You don’t know how they’ll react,” I’ve had people tell me. “Give them a chance. Sometimes people surprise you.”

With all due respect, to everyone involved, those allies and friends have no idea the type of people we’re really dealing with. My Mississippian friends know better, too; they know that there is no chance that my family will ever welcome me at Christmas dinner as a female. When my grandfather (who, for the record, is on his tenth or eleventh wife) learned that my sister was living with her boyfriend, he wrote her a lengthy letter, wherein he quoted Biblical passages and called her a whore. When my grandmother found girls’ clothes hidden between my mattresses, she wanted to send me to a foster home and asserted that she would not have that in her house; if they had thought I was gay, they would have sent me to one of those awful “pray the gay away” camps. These are the type of people that comprise my family.

Again, this isn’t to say that I’m perfect, and acknowledging my own faults and mistakes will be the most difficult part of writing this. I have made plenty of mistakes, blunders, and stupid decisions that brought myself, and people around me, severe difficulty and hardship, and that is particularly true regarding past relationships.

My memory is also not perfect, and I am likely to make mistakes, and, given that some of the information comes from extremely unreliable sources (like my father), some of that can’t really be helped. It honestly doesn’t matter, though. The point of this is to show how awful parenting shaped me, and the countless lies that my dad told me are part of that. That said, I strive for honesty, integrity, and sincerity in all things. Consider this my vow that everything within is, to the best of my knowledge, the unaltered truth, except that names have been changed.

 

South Pontotoc

I was born premature, thankfully, too, because the umbilical cord had wrapped around my throat and I was born black, reportedly. This was surely a result of my mother’s cigarette smoking and eating painkillers while pregnant. My father insists that she didn’t do drugs while she carried us, but… Yeah, she did.

I don’t remember my birth, but I do remember some things from shortly after my birth. Though my family says there is no way I could remember it, my introduction to the world came with overwhelming confusion: I was in some sort of cradle, and the back of my right hand hurt like hell, and it was pained because a number of needles and tubes penetrated my flesh. The details are blurry and fuzzy, as we’d expect from such early memories, but the needles hurt and itched. They irritated me, and I wanted them out. I was afraid and confused, with no idea why these things were stabbed through my hand and no understanding of what was going on. I knew only that I was hurting and helpless to do anything about it.

Confusion—pure confusion. I didn’t even have a sense of self. I had no idea that I existed, that I was a baby in a hospital, and that I was a being. I could feel the needles in the back of my hand, and they hurt. The pain, however, was not unbearable, and that wasn’t the main facet of that moment. It was confusion. I was not afraid—I didn’t have enough self-awareness for the confusion to make me scared. I simply knew… nothing. I was a blank slate, onto which was being written reality in the ink of experience. And then I didn’t even know that I was a blank slate; I knew only that I hurt, and that I was confused. I was not in the arms of a loving mother whose warmth brought me comfort. I did not stare up and into the eyes of a nurse who was delighted to see a baby growing healthier by the hour. I was not being cooed by an older brother happy to have a new sibling, or rocked in the cradle while the soothing voice of a loving grandparent read a story. I was in a room shining in fluorescent light, alone, and hurting.

That was my first experience with the world. That was how I was introduced to the universe—in the sterilizing, emotionless light of an empty hospital room, not the gentle and soothing light of a home. I heard the beeps and sounds of monitoring equipment, not the joyous laughter of a loving family. I lie alone in a hospital contraption with the shrill, uncomfortable hospital sheets, not wrapped in a blanket and the arms of a doting mother.

And the worst part—the indisputable worst part—is that I remember this.

The first few years of my life were probably normal, about what anyone would expect from a southern, lower middle class white family that subsisted more on the successes of previous generations than the merits of its own. There were some oddities, though, and signs even then of who I really was, but it was the mid-80s, then. It wouldn’t really be fair to blame my parents for not recognizing it and embracing it.

I was, of course, born male, “with a penis and everything.” But whenever all of my underwear was dirty, my mother would put me in my sister’s panties; it wasn’t a punishment, to clarify. Being the clever child that I was, I soon began hiding all of my underwear, just so that I could tell my mom I didn’t have any, and so that I could then wear panties instead. There I was, at three years old, taking all of my tidy-whities and throwing them into the back of the closet that no one ever opened, and then I reported to my mother that, strangely, all of my underwear was suddenly gone.

So when I say that I’ve been transgender since birth, it’s as close to “since birth” as one can get. I couldn’t have been older than three years old at that point, because my sister hadn’t begun kindergarten herself. I knew then that I preferred women to men: I loved my mother and sister, and, even at that age, I had a deep appreciation for feminine beauty. I also thought that my Aunt Daisy was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, and my mother used to laughingly make fun of me for my enamorment with my aunt.

My experience with men at this point was limited to my father (who was fat and not overly pleasant to look at), my brother (who was thin, but who had nothing on my mother), my grandfather (who was also overweight, and a jerk), and my Uncle Dickbag (who has always been an asshole). Although it’s typical for young boys to love their mothers, I wanted to be just like mine, and I suspect that had a lot to do it with, but who can say? I was three when it began, and I simply wanted to be a girl.

I had a blanket (what most people would call a “blankie,” though I never called it that), and it was one of those cotton-threaded ones similar to fishnet. I refused to sleep without it and my pillow. The pillow actually wasn’t that important, but the pillowcase certainly was. I rubbed the pillowcase between my finger and thumbnail, sleeping on the central heating vents in the floor and driving my father crazy with all of it.

 

A Look At My Father

I would love to say that my father isn’t a bad man.

But he is.

That’s a difficult thing to say and accept, but I have to stress that it doesn’t really make me love him any less, and that the predominant emotion I have for my father, even now, is pity. Even so, I would be lying if I said that he was a good man who simply made some mistakes; that isn’t the case at all. He’s a bad man who has made some good decisions, not a good man who has made a few bad ones.

His own childhood was no walk in the park, and was tarnished by my alcoholic and abusive grandfather beating the hell out of my grandmother. Though not much of that has been shared with me, I can certainly relate to what he has said, and it’s clear the the recollections are as painful to him as it is for me to recall the abuse my mother endured at the hands of alcoholics.

At some point, my grandparents divorced—Go, grandma!—because my grandmother wouldn’t put up with the abuse. My grandmother is easily worthy of her own story, because she is an unsung hero of the feminist movement without even trying. In the sixties and seventies, she left her violent husband and blazed her own path, winning the house in the divorce, and then worked at a college the rest of her days, finally retiring at the age of 67.

True to the family history, my grandmother endured her own screwed up childhood, and was even sent away by her mother, for undisclosed reasons, to live with Uncle Ben and Aunt Ethel on their farm. Evidently, Aunt Ethel didn’t like my grandmother one bit, and was very unkind to her. What set of circumstances caused Jessica—I’ve never heard my grandmother refer to her own mother by anything other than her name—to send my grandmother off to this farm? What internal strength caused my grandmother, in what must have been the 40s, to graduate as the valedictorian of her class? What quite resolve allowed my grandmother to learn the necessary skills to work in the administration section of a college during the 60s?

These are questions to which I would dearly love the answers, but I’ll never have them; they are not things that my grandmother is happy to discuss. Questions about her past are met with short answers, and I can’t really blame her for not wanting to talk about it. She lived a difficult life, but she’s also the strongest woman I’ve ever heard of. I would love little more than for her story to be known, and that’s part of what makes her so remarkable: she doesn’t want her story to be told. Her humility and sincerity are matched only by the courage and wisdom it must have taken to craft the life she did in a time when women were “not allowed” to be more than housewives.

On one particular drunken rampage, my father was forced to hold a gun on my grandfather so that my grandmother could limp out of the house. While I truly hate that he even had to do such a thing in the first place, I’m also jealous that he was old enough to do something about it. When my mother suffered under Assface’s hands, I was in the second grade, and too young and weak to do anything to get in the way.

For years, my father insisted that he had been drafted to Vietnam, and he even pulled the whole John Rambo thing, where he talked about how he was called a murderer and spit upon when he returned. At one point, though, my sister and I realized that… there’s no way. Either he was actually the oldest between him and his brother (and thus wouldn’t have been drafted), or the Vietnam War ended when he was 16. In this little alternate reality he had crafted, he had to be older than our mother (which was blatantly false—she had always been recognized as the older one, by several years), his brother had to be lying about his own age, and almost everyone had to have falsified birth records.

He retconned his story to say that he was in Vietnam during the 80s, through another offensive that we did, but I have been unable to find any military record for him, and have even signed up for one of the paid services to look. Whether he did fight in Vietnam or not, he did mislead us into believing he’d fought in the Vietnam War, which is a lie of such magnitude and scope that one has to marvel at it.

He is a religious man, though it’s hard to tell by looking at his behavior: heavy drug usage, constant lies, and steady manipulation. Although he is less religious than other members of the family, the secularism is applied in strangely selective ways, and he’s generally just as fundamental as everyone else in the family—he continues to believe that Obama is a Muslim, is more or less openly racist, and is a diehard Republican, despite the fact that he’s effectively a ward of the state who benefits substantially from liberal policies.

I obviously don’t see eye-to-eye with him, but we do have some similar interests. It was he who introduced me to Fantasy literature and tabletop gaming, both of which almost immediately became passions for me. In turn, I exposed him to the tenth installment of a wildly popular roleplaying video game, and I’m still happy that I was able to show him to something that he enjoyed so immensely. He must have played through it a dozen times, and he certainly discovered more of its secrets than I ever would have.

As an aside, with the recent HD Remaster of said video game’s release to PC, I actually installed it onto my grandmother’s computer for him, thereby allowing him to play through it again. He’s been really excited, and I’m glad for that. Though I’d name him Lardnugget if I had to “All names have been changed” him, I’m still glad that I was able to do that for him.

There is some kinship between us, and I do love him, despite the more numerous differences, and in spite of the fact that he has done me far more harm than good. More than anything, I pity him, because the traumatic childhood seems to have destroyed him; he is one of the ones who did not come through unscathed. He was swallowed by the mentality that the world owes him something, whereas I left with the same feeling and the certainty that, whether the world owed it or not, it would never give it willingly.

The rifts between us began because I was just… not the son that he wanted. He hated that I loved sleeping on the heating vents—I’ve always loved heat. I would wager the guess that, particularly at those young ages, it was related to my premature birth, but, regardless, I wouldn’t sleep anywhere else. I had to sleep on one of the floor vents, and the heat had to be on. There in the floor, I had the pillow and pillowcase that I refused to sleep without, and the blanket that I really wanted with me when I slept.

My father hated all of these things. We went to visit some relatives at one point, and I left my blanket and pillow at home. With no other way to shut me up, my parents took me to a store to get a new pillow, and there I went from one to the next, tearing open the plastic just slightly, and “testing” it with my finger and thumbnail until I found one that was satisfactory. When we got back to our trailer a few nights later, dad told me to bring my pillow outside.

As I stepped out into the night air, I saw him kneeling just outside the small stone circle beside our front steps. It had once been a flower garden—conceived and implemented during one of mom’s highs, when she was bolstered with energy and had the random idea to start a flower garden. Naturally, the high wore off, but the flowers remained in that little circle of stones—at least for a while. Then they died, unwatered, neglected, and forgotten.

Almost like a demon out of a child’s horror story, there was my dad, grinning devilishly and eagerly with the flickering glow of his lighter shining on his face, urging me to throw my old pillow onto a mess of crumbled newspapers soaked in lighter fluid. “We need to burn it!” he said, and I refused. There was no need to burn it. They were already making me throw it away—they were already making me discard into the trash this pillow that I loved and had slept with every night for years. Was that not enough?

“We need to burn it!” he said again, and I ran back inside, crying to mom that dad wanted to make me burn the pillow that I loved. It may seem strange that I had such attachment to a pillow, but I did, and both of my parents knew it. My father knew it; he knew very well that I loved that pillow.

And that’s why he wanted to burn it. Because I loved it.

We didn’t burn random things, and I doubt that we ever burned anything there at all. But he wasn’t content to simply force me to throw away this pillow that I loved, this symbol that I was an emotional person and not the crass son that he so desperately wanted. The pillow had to be destroyed in flames because I loved it, and because “real men don’t love.” This silly, feminine weakness, this emotional attachment to an object—it had to be gotten rid of, and in the most dramatic way possible.

It was not the pillow that my dad wanted to burn.

It was my heart.

My mother intervened, though my father came inside and continued insisting that we needed to burn the pillow, because he was afraid that I would be able to talk my mother into letting me keep it. One has to wonder why it was even an issue that I wanted to keep my pillow. In the end, I placed it gingerly on top of the garbage can in the kitchen and told it goodbye. I hated to do so, and I cried, because it didn’t make sense to me (and still doesn’t).

It’s understandable that I developed such strong emotional ties to inanimate objects: even before the separation, neither parent spent much time with me, and there wasn’t much hugging in the family. Mom and dad were always high on one drug or another, lying on the couch and borderline comatose. I don’t know how Brandi handled it then, or what she did in order to get through the long and miserable days, but it was surely as awful for her as it was for me. Unlike our older brother, we didn’t have friends with whom we could go hang out. Or, at least, I didn’t. Brittney was friends with a girl who didn’t live too far from us, and I hope that my sister was happy then.

 

Aunt May and Kay-Kay

For a while, mom did work, as did my father. While Brittney and Anthony were gone to school and my parents were at work, I was babysat by our great aunt who lived next door, a relatively kind woman who I remember as mostly humorless. Sadly, I’ve also been told that my father fleeced her out of most of her money, which is the same thing he did to my great-grandmother and is currently doing to my grandmother. However, I was too young to comprehend any of that, and there isn’t much that I remember about Aunt May.

It sucked at Aunt May’s, though. There was probably nowhere that would have been worse for my three or four-year-old self. I wasn’t allowed to take my Nintendo the vast majority of the time, which left me there alone with an eight-year-old woman and very little to actually do, because there was no one to play with and nowhere to play at. Aunt May wasn’t unkind, but she was not particularly joyful. I don’t blame her for that—she was a very old woman, and probably not really able or happy to babysit a four-year-old.

A kid at that age should be outside playing and having fun, not sitting in a living room with an eighty-year-old woman and playing with paper dolls that she cut out of a magazine. Of course, such things seem droll only from a modern perspective, but I was accustomed to video games and cartoons, the heightened entertainment possibilities of the late 1980s. In the 1880s a child would have been thrilled beyond measure to sit on a couch in an air-conditioned house and idle away the hours with paper dolls.

But just imagine the blank and horrified response one would get if a modern child was asked to spend day after day in that environment, with only a very old woman as company. There would probably be allegations of child abuse! Of course, I’m not making that claim. However, many modern parents would likely consider that to be, at the least, borderline child abuse. To me, it was simply boring, and the time passed so slowly that I probably lived more moments there at Aunt May’s house than all the moments I have lived since.

I don’t mean any of this to be disparaging to Aunt May. I have no doubt that she did the best she could, and significantly better than many people in her position would have. Still, I dreaded those days when both my parents had to work, and it was routine for me to ask mom each afternoon, “Do you have to work tomorrow?”

Aunt May had a moustache, as well, but I never noticed it. It wasn’t until I was a teenager and I was shown a picture of her that I learned she had a moustache. I was pre-kindergarten when I spent time with Autn May; the idea that a woman didn’t have facial hair wasn’t in my head at that point, so it was perfectly normal to me. My father had a moustache and Aunt May had a moustahce. Cars have tires, and cows go “moo.” It simply was.

One horrible day, as Aunt May sat in her recliner, concealed in the corner from view of the kitchen as I sat on the couch near the front door, there was suddenly a crash in the kitchen. The kitchen was near the back of the house, and had a door to the outside attached to it, and I will never forget the fear that fell over this old woman’s face. Someone had broken in through the back door.

She and I hid in the living room, cowering in the corner behind her chair. I don’t believe she ever called the police (I don’t think she even had a phone), or did anything else about it, but my memory of that ordeal is really vague. I recall only the noise, the unmistakable terror in her eyes that I was able to recognize even at four years old, and the hiding.

Because she was very old, it simply wasn’t possible for Aunt May to always babysit me, and I had another sitter called Kay-Kay—a hefty, middle-aged woman who seemed to be doing pretty well in life. She had a house, at least, and I recognized that as an indication she was alright—we lived in a trailer, and most of the people we knew lived in a trailer. Living in a house… That was a grand thing to me. I didn’t mind that we lived in a trailer, and I was much too young to know that being the child of two fast-food workers (even if they were supervisors) who raised Confederate flags, shot up heroin, and ate Xanax made me the definitive example of “trailer trash,” but I knew enough to know that it was a great thing to have a house.

Kay-Kay, however, was a pretty ordinary woman, but there was a lot going on beneath the surface that most people never saw. As I sat in one of her bedrooms, playing a video game, there was suddenly a banging on the door and people shouting, demanding to be allowed inside and promising that, if Kay-Kay refused, they would tear the house down.

Although I was shocked and scared at first, Kay-Kay expertly put my fears to rest by handling it so well. She answered in an almost aloof way, as though she had no concern about it whatsoever. Even as they banged and screamed, I was unafraid, because Kay-Kay didn’t appear to take it seriously. After a minute or so, they stopped for a moment, and then the rhythmic pounding echoed through her home, clearly coming from somewhere in the back.

“They’re going to tear the house down!” I shouted to Kay-Kay, scared once more. In my head there was the image of two enormous, burly, and angry men outside with huge hammers, smashing away the bricks and crashing through the walls.

“Oh, no, they’re not, sweetie,” came Kay-Kay’s reply as she dropped to a knee and hugged me. “They’re just mad. They’ll get over it and leave in a few minutes.”

Sure enough, Kay-Kay was right: they did leave shortly thereafter. In actuality, they probably just had given up on the front door and gone to try the back door. Finding it locked, they banged and shouted some more, and then stopped. I never learned what any of this was about, and Kay-Kay asked me to not mention it to my parents, which made sense: that isn’t the sort of thing a mother wants happening at the selected babysitter’s home. I didn’t stay quiet, though, and that was the last time Kay-Kay ever babysat me. It was also the last time that I saw her.

The Rise of Tumult

There was a “friend of the family” called Doc, and I liked him a lot. Everyone liked Doc—he was a friendly, charismatic guy. Being my parents’ friend, he was also heavily on drugs, but Doc was also in a motorcycle gang, which created a bit of a problem, because shooting up was explicitly against the gang’s laws. Just to be clear here: this is the world I grew up in. This was normal to my three-year-old self. On any given day, I was likely to see one or both of my parents shoot up heroin, smoke a joint or two, and collapse onto the couch, unmoving and in a stupor, droning out “Yeah…” to no one.

I watched my mother, laid out in the loveseat on one side of the living room, look over at my father. She held up and toward my father a syringe full of some red liquid, and then she asked in a seductive voice, “Lardnugget, do you want some of this?” And as she spoke, she pressed in the syringe and sent a jet stream of this stuff—whatever it was—flying across the living room. They were both just out of their minds, just high as hell.

Disheveled, frantic, panicked, and terrified, Doc stopped by our trailer one day and wanted to sell my father a half-pound of weed for fifty bucks. My father had twenty dollars he could pay. Knowing my father as I do, it’s amazing that he had any money at all, but he did, and he explained to Doc what he had.

Doc in turn explained that he had to get out of town. “Had to,” and my father understood what that meant: Doc had been caught shooting up by the gang. Doc had to get out of town before the gang could find him; whoever had discovered the secret would tell the others, and they would force Doc to run the Gauntlet. Because, apparently, that actually happens. My father bought the weed, and Doc fled, but it was to no avail. Doc was eventually found, and he did not survive.

We also frequently drove north to visit my Aunt Danielle and Uncle Dickbag (the man who would later go to prison for murder and, though there is no body or evidence, would one day murder my mother), as well as our cousins. We did this regularly, and one of these trips proved to be one of the most traumatic experiences of my childhood.

As Brittney and I rode with dad in his yellow truck, in a secluded area where the road was surrounded on both sides by trees and steep ditches that spelled certain death for anyone who lost control and went over, an 18-wheeler decided that he needed to pass us. The trucker blew his horn a few times, and then he went for it. As he passed, he veered to the right—or dad swerved to the left. The enormous sideview mirror of the rig crashed through the window beside dad and sent a spray of glass shards through the cab of our truck. Luckily, neither my sister nor I were cut.

The fault was probably my father’s, driving under the influence of one drug or another, but the reason officially given was that the highway there simply wasn’t wide enough to feasibly pass. This excuse was given much later in the day—after the trip got significantly worse. Whether the trucker stopped after the incident is anyone’s guess, but I don’t blame my father for continuing on; in an age before cell phones were common, it would have been stupid to stop in an isolated place and confront a trucker who had, whoever was to blame, just smashed a torrent of glass through the truck that held two children (Anthony rode with our mother).

We ended up in Memphis as we traveled, and came upon an intersection. Not paying attention, I couldn’t tell you exactly how it happened, but there was shaking and noise. We rear-ended another vehicle. It’s possible that my father simply didn’t stop quickly enough, and it’s possible that he pressed the gas too hard and too quickly after the light turned green. Regardless, we hit the vehicle hard and sent it careening into the intersection—reportedly, it traveled fifty feet from the impact.

The driver of that car died on the spot with a broken neck.

Obviously, the police were called, and my father was arrested. The police had Brittney and me wait in the back of the police car with him, which made us feel as though we were also being arrested, and that is terrifying when you’re four or five years old and have literally no comprehension of what is going on. As though we were playing out a scene in a movie, the very same trucker who had hit us earlier happened upon the accident, and presumably told the police that dad was driving erratically. The next thing I knew, the trucker was banging on the glass beside me, shouting obscenities at us—not just at our dad, but honestly at the five-year-old children, too. I was terrified, confused, and frightened out of my mind, and it didn’t help that dad, with his hands cuffed behind his back, was frothing at the mouth, rocking the police car, and demanding to be let out so that he could fight the truck driver.

My sister and I were taken to the hospital, and we were repeatedly questioned about the accidents by police, doctors, and therapists. Of course, we were separated from our father, but also from each other, and that served only to make the experience more traumatic than it had to be. We were finally told that we would be going into the care of Aunt Danielle and Uncle Dickbag briefly, and they were the ones who picked us up from the hospital. My grandmother acquired a good lawyer for my father, and he was able to go to rehabilitation rather than prison, or something to that effect.

For a long time, my nerves were absolutely shot, and it was nearly impossible to get me into a vehicle, which is probably the normal response of a four year old child after having been in two accidents in a single day, one of which resulted in a death, because the parents didn’t mind driving after eating a bunch of pills. Naturally, to fix the problem, they shoved pills down my throat, giving me what they called “nerve pills” that were probably simply Xanax or Klonopin. This was the only way to get me into an automobile for several months after the accidents, because otherwise I would scream and throw fits; knocking me out with drugs was the only way they could get me into one, though eventually that anxiety faded.

Things returned to what we considered normal, though that isn’t to say that either of my parents stopped doing drugs. I doubt either parent was ever clean for any noteworthy period of time, and they continued inviting friends over frequently. These parties, while they were more or less tame and simply consisted of people drinking, doing drugs, and playing spades, they were not what would constitute “normal” for most kids.

On one such occasion, one of the people with whom they were hanging out decided that it would be a brilliant idea to inject peanut butter. Presumably, he’d heard that “The high is incredible, man!” and wasn’t much interested in maybe asking a doctor before doing something so horrendously and creatively stupid. According to my father—who is a known pathological liar, it’s worth remembering—the man died on the spot, so they took him home and left him on his couch, dead. I have no memory of this, but it allegedly happened some time around my fifth birthday.

I started kindergarten, and I loathed it. Up until that point, my life was fantastic. I could wake up whenever I wanted, spend the entire day watching cartoons and playing video games, snacking whenever I desired, and just basically doing any damned thing I pleased. Then suddenly I couldn’t do that any longer; I had to wake up at a specific time, go spend the entire day in a boring school, and then only had a few hours afterward to do the things that I enjoyed doing. As early as kindergarten, it struck me as absurd: if the point of life is to be happy, as everyone constantly insisted to me, then why did I have to go to school?

We were poor—dirt poor, as you might expect, given the heavy drug usage. Although both parents were managers at various fast food restaurants at times, my mother eventually quit working altogether and got onto disability for her migraines. It was with tremendous excitement that we were approved for food stamps, and we waited for weeks with palpable eagerness in the air, though I had no idea what it even meant. There are two times that I distinctly recall the entire family waiting anxiously for something to happen, and the anticipation was identical on both occasions; we waited for food stamps and we waited for our cable to be activated with the same sense of impending thrill, as did I, even though I had no understanding of what either meant.

Getting approved for food stamps felt like having a birthday, and so did the cable company finally coming out, after weeks of waiting, to connect our cable television. While I understood that having cable meant that we would have Nickelodeon, there was no way that I understood the concept of food stamps, so my excitement was surely nothing more than a mirror of my parents’ own eager anticipations. It was just months after this that I began school, and just months later that mom became convinced that dad was not really working, and that he was just disappearing while he was supposed to be at work.

It was a schoolday when it happened, because we were supposed to be in class, but mom kept us at home. My much older brother, my slightly older sister, and I were told that we were leaving dad, and I’m sure I handled that as well as any six year old child would, which is to say with naked emotion untempered by the jaded self-control we are taught to exercise in later years. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I was devastated nonetheless. First, the life I had come to know and love was wrecked by having to go to school, and then what little semblance of it remained was being irretrievably shattered by this upheaval. I spent the entire day in tears, as did my sister. Whatever was going on between our parents had nothing to do with us, and our lives were being cast into the hurricane because of it.

Too young to truly understand what was really going on, my primary concern was whether to leave my father “the good Nintendo” or the bad one. They both worked, but one of them was much more difficult to get working. Both my dad and I were big on video games, and so was my older brother, and even my mom and sister played occasionally. There were lots of family moments when we all took turns, and we even had one of the NES Satellite devices that allowed four controllers to be used.

I agonized over that decision far more than a six year old should, and my mom didn’t give the situation nearly as much attention as it deserved. My entire world, prior to school, consisted almost entirely of playing video games. That I even debated which one to leave was a tremendous indicator of how much I loved my father, how much I didn’t want to leave, and, above all, how poorly equipped I was to cope with the chaos I suddenly was confronting. Mom was tearing our family apart, breaking it into two pieces, and she never sat down with my sister and me to explain what was happening, to assure us that we’d still see our dad, or to promise us that it would be okay. While to some extent that’s understandable, since she had to pack and load things up, the utter failure to remember that she was literally wrecking her youngest kids’ lives is very difficult to excuse.

To make matters worse, she was cowardly about it, too, because all of this happened while my father was at work. We lived in a trailer on my grandfather’s land, and it’s very likely that my grandfather was the one who alerted my father to the moving truck that was at his home. However, seeing as my grandfather later offered to shoot my mother for my dad, I doubt he would have showed the restraint to simply inform my dad of what was happening.

Regardless, dad pulled up while we were finishing and preparing to leave. The next little bit is a blur of anger, hostility, and shouting from which I am able to pull very few details. In a flash, dad went from anger to pleading, but mom refused to listen; her mind was made up, and she cranked the car, put it into gear, and hit the gas. Dad threw himself into the side of the car and then hit the ground, fell onto his back, and then lie there in the grass. My sister and I screamed and cried—our dad had just been run over!—and mom shouted at us to stop yelling. I gazed out of the back window at my father as we drove away, and there he was, lying unmoving in the grass, and all I could think was the horrible thought, “Dad is dead.”

There in the back of the car, crying quietly, having just watched my father die from being hit by a car, I sat at the age of six years old, being shouted at by my mom to shut up because I freaked out when I saw her kill my dad.

The story goes on to explain that, obviously, my dad wasn’t dead. He just, quite pathetically, wanted my mother to think he was hurt so that she’d stop and check on him.