Clearing the path


My brothers and I got together for a little bit tonight.  We do that once in awhile.  Sometimes the subject of our childhood comes up.  We actually laugh about it, believe it or not, in a gallows humor kind of way.  Like the time our mother’s estranged husband sneaked into the house one morning and stole the truck keys off my mom’s dresser.  My younger brother Garth was half asleep and watched him do it.  When Danny left (I’ll refer to him by his given name.  I have other names for him that are way more appropriate, just not in this venue), Garth woke up Mom.

“Go find the truck,” she said.  “Pull some wires, or something.”

So Garth and I were walking the streets at the crack of dawn.  We had a pretty good idea that the truck would be parked at a seedy apartment building on the other side of town.  We weren’t sure what we were going to do if Danny should appear while we were disabling the truck.

“We should just kick his ass,” said Garth.

Danny was a grown ass man and we were young boys yet.  We were both pretty healthy kids at 16 and 17 though, and probably could have taken the bastard out.  We had spent most of our childhood being afraid of him, so Danny had that going for him.  Then again, fear and adrenaline, coupled with years of pent up anger, might have put Danny in the hospital, or worse.  It would be like hitting a spider with a brick—you want to make sure it can’t get up and scare you again.

Anyway, we’re walking along, and a police car pulls up beside us.  The window rolls down.  The cops in this town knew our faces, and they damn sure knew Danny.  They had been out to our house over the years dealing with his dumb drunk ass enough.

“What are you boys doing out so early?” asked the cop.

“Going to get our truck,” I said.  “Danny took it.”

The cop looked like he just bit a lemon--Danny acting up again, right at the end of his shift.  “Listen,” he said, “When you find him, thump him.”  And then he drove away.

There was an idea.  Garth and I looked at each other.  We continued on for a block or two, and then the same cop rolls up again.  He’d thought about it.

“Better to stay away from him,” said the cop. 

“We were just going to mess up the truck a little so he couldn't drive it,” said Garth.

“Okay, do that, and then get home,” said the cop.  “We’ll get the keys back for you.”

I’d like to report that we did indeed hang Danny by his ankles over a balcony, but we never saw him.  We found the truck, just where we thought it would be, and yanked out the distributor cap, along with the spark plug wires, and then we went home. 

Soon after that, I remember sitting at home on the couch reading a book.  I did that a lot.  Books were kind of cool, and the bad guys nearly always got their asses righteously kicked.  Life was fair in fantasy land.   Danny was at the house and he and Mom were going at it.  By going at it, I mean that she had finally had enough of his shit and was chasing him around our kitchen table with a big fat knife.  I feigned nonchalance, sitting there with my nose in my book, but I was watching to see how things would turn out.  There had been blow outs like this before; usually once or twice a week when we were kids, but this was the first time cutlery was involved.

Mom seemed to have the situation in hand.  My little sister had run screaming across the street, where Garth was hanging out with a buddy of his.

“She was screaming ‘She’s gonna kill Danny, she’s gonna kill Danny!’” said Garth, reliving the story.    “We run to the house, and there is Darren on the couch with his book, and Mom and Danny running around the table.” 

This is where the story gets weird for me. Garth remembers things that I don’t.  Maybe it’s because he needed for me, the big brother, to be the hero in our own book.  I don’t know.  Most of what I remember during these altercations was fear, paralyzing and mind numbing.  Anyway, according to Garth, as he and his friend burst through the door, they saw me get off the couch, snatch Danny by the throat, and wall slam him so hard the windows rattled.

“Enough,” Garth says I said. 

And Danny, seeing Garth and his barrel-chested friend standing in the living room, swept my hand away and ran outside, the three of us close behind, where he engaged in a lot of chest thumping and saber rattling until the cops showed up and took him away.  We had seen Danny in the back of a patrol car once or twice over the years, but this time was different.

“He looked happy,” I said to Garth.

“Yeah,” said Garth, “Happy we weren't kicking his ass.”  

That may have been true, and maybe I really was the heroic big brother that my younger siblings said I was.  What I do know is that after that day, however it played out, none of us were afraid of Danny anymore.

Fear is a monster, every bit as overpowering as any slithering creature in a horror novel.  Some people never seem to get past it—it’s always in their way, blocking the light and clogging their future.  We were lucky, my siblings and I.  We faced the beast and won.

Sometimes the monsters aren't as big as we thought.