violence

Roommates

bushmills

“Happy New Year” Anthony said, holding the bottle of Bushmills Irish Whiskey up and waving it around. For a moment I  worried that he was about to club me over the head with it, but then I realized it was unopened and full. Anthony wouldn’t dare break it over anybody’s head until it was completely consumed. It was a nightly ritual for Anthony, the ceremonial draining of the whiskey bottle, followed by the sacrifice of the bottle by breaking it in some supremely violent manner. Two nights ago he broke it over his own head, and told me next time it was my turn. I had never been so terrified of a whisky bottle in someone’s hand.

“Well,” he asked, “are you going to drink for New Year’s, or what?”

“Maybe,” I said, despite my best intentions. I had so far avoided  drinking with Anthony by explaining that I only drank for special occasions. I had yet to claim illness, and since I was suddenly feeling a little sick I considered this new excuse. I was terrified to drink with him, because when he drank he turned into a homicidal maniac, and I didn’t want to become his next victim. He liked to fight, a lot. He hadn’t tried to fight me yet, but I figured it was only a matter of time.

I once asked him why he liked to fight so much, and he told me he didn’t really like fighting. It was the drinking that made him want to fight. I told him if he didn’t like fighting then he should just stop drinking. Then he told me he liked drinking way too much for that, right before he punched a hole in the wall, because of course he was already drunk at the time.

Anthony grinned and I saw the dead, dark tooth splitting his smile like a dim ghost in a well lit window. When he had first come to interview for the room for rent he had  informed us that his nickname was Spooky Tooth. Some people actually called him that like it was his name, though I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’d had mixed feelings about taking him on as a roommate, but he had actually seemed pretty normal at the time. Also, he had shown up with cash, fifteen one hundred dollar bills folded into the wallet chained to his belt. Our rent was almost a month late and we were desperate. He showed us the money and we took it, and he had moved in immediately and begun tearing up our lives like a wrecking ball.

Anthony held the bottle up for me, and when I didn’t take it he opened it up himself and took a three second swig. When he was done he lowered it down and he wasn’t smiling anymore. He squinted at me, and then raised his hand that wasn’t holding the bottle. He clenched it into an enormous fist and squeezed until three of the knuckles cracked.  “I don’t like drinking alone,” he said. Then he lowered his fist and offered me the bottle again. I took it without thinking, and he flashed his spooky tooth smile. I decided that if he had a good side I wanted to be on it, so I took the bottle and gulped down a burning swig. I figured the more whiskey I ingested the less would be left for him, and the less violent Spooky Tooth would become.

Also, it wouldn’t  hurt as bad when he finally broke the bottle the over my head later.

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Fear

I used to be fearless. Nothing short of my father’s alcohol induced explosions scared me, and those were so scary that it almost made up for everything else. I was fifteen years old and couldn’t wait to reach sixteen, get my license and hit the road. I wanted to go everywhere and see everything. I had planned to steal my father’s car and just keep driving toward the horizon until I found someplace worth stopping, or until I got caught or arrested and eventually beat up by my father again. But fifteen was the year my father left for work one day and never came home.

Two months later we learned that he had been stabbed and killed in a barroom brawl in Houston, and they had no leads in catching the killer. Not that I cared. I was glad he was dead. He had never been anything to me but abusive and menacing. The only time he seemed to notice me was when he had some sort of complaint, some reason to yell and scream and belittle me, some reason to strike and slap me until the tears rolled down my cheeks like I had sprung a leak. My tears and screams just infuriated him more. His favorite saying was I’ll give you something to cry about as he hit me harder. Sometimes I was able to escape and hide on my own accord, but usually my mother would step in like a sacrificial lamb and distract him, and I could escape while he refocused his drunken fury on her.

When I learned he was dead I felt relieved, like some huge, oppressive burden had been lifted. The weight of his anger and abuse was a herd of elephants perched on my spine, and knowing I would never see him again felt like a pardon from crimes I had never committed. I had been freed from my fear, a sweet and joyous relief.

It wasn’t until I hit my own son years later that I realized how heavy the burden truly was, and found a brand new thing to be afraid of.

Day 29: Knockout! (by Anamorphic Mike)