He tried so hard to be good, to be the man everybody could be proud of. His alcoholic father Donald was eternally disappointed. For Don it was a cocktail of issues 2oz of missed opportunity, 2oz of confused enabling wife, 4oz of mentally challenged son. Don was angry, it helped him understand and interact with the world. It wasn't his fault, fuck if you had his life you would be angry also. This story isn't about about Don but he needs to be seen to understand the mold in which Michael was struck. People in the gravitational pull of a charismatic drunk will understand.
Laurie, his wife and Mike were his disciples. They were trained in the order of Donald, expected to perform rituals to ease the Father and provider's pain. Mistakes were not tolerated. When the sun shined it was magnificent, the Father beaming and showering love and understanding onto his unwilling successor. Michael had learning disabilities that made school unbearable.
He was only able to fight. His father had passed his bulky frame and had trained him how to hide physical pain. He took no pleasure in being a bully. He didn't want to hurt those children around him, just to be accepted. Being the well learned braggart, understanding the result of the perfect lie but not how to craft it. His potential companions saw his lies before he could finish them. The first day of school ended with him crying to Laurie. Hours later when Don returned from a busy day of entertaining a local bar he boxed the ears of Mike to toughen him. If you aren't tough then no one will respect you, do you want to end up like your mother? He loved his mother more than anything he ever knew. He was confused. What was wrong with his mother. Why did Don hit her? For her own good was his response. She was dumb and could not understand how the world worked. Michael was just as dumb but a man so he could make something of his life.
In the rare undrunk moment he could almost explain his dreams for his son. Don was a salesman, a natural salesman. If he could have gotten his shit together he would have been a force. He was a great story teller, because in his mind his world was real. He was able to create effortless scenarios where he could be the hero. He would always make selfless decision in the nick of time. Enwrapped, the audience could suspend their disbelief to enjoy the tales. Many of his acts of heroism occurred in the Vietnam conflict. Certainly some of the stories had truth hiding behind hem of the dressings. No one knew what had been the foundation of the hero's tale and after the telling Don wouldn't have been able to recount it with historical accuracy. Mike loved the stories. They were inappropriate but the spotlight reflected on him.
His favorite were ones that talked about Michael's misremembered youth. How he saved his little sister when they were left unattended, by their stupid mother, in a car on a hill. Somehow the parking brake failed. Mike instead of jumping out and saving himself he climbed into the driver's seat. Unable to reach the pedals he could only steer. His beautiful baby sister was crying in her car seat. I'll save you reassured Mike. Swerving while standing on the seat dodging oncoming traffic. He guided the car to a stop against the telephone pole leaving the children almost unharmed.
At night he would wake up, no audience in sight, the truth would awake in a quieter part of his brain. He was trying to run away with his perfect sister. He was driving to The Farm. Grandma would protect them. His summers with his grandparents were the only harbor that he could be a dingy instead of a warship. You are perfect in God's eyes. That was the kindest thing anybody had bestowed on him. She would get upset when he was caught being cruel to God's creatures. The love was ever present as were the cookies. Her kindness wasn't strong enough to counter weigh his nature buoyed by his father's treatment and mother's excuses. Had he been able to drive to The Farm, he could have had a fulfilling life. He would dream of this life while the teacher droned on about subject alien to his muddled brain.
The thing his brain could do well was imagine. Unfortunately there were locked gates that would not allow these wonders out. Some gates were naturally formed internally but most were constructed by his environment. It frustrated Mike. He tried reading his stories in class. His stories were clear when formed perfectly in his damaged brain. When released into the world they became a bloody mess, literally. All the anger got infused with a simple tale. While stumbling through reading it to the class, he heard the snickering welling up from the back of the room. It soon became a tidal wave engulfing him into a familiar drowning shame. He walked out of class with his large shaggy head hung. The children and teacher saw the tears. He could hear the teacher admonishing the class on his behalf echoing in the empty hall. He paused, hope welling in his genetically weak heart. He can't help it he isn't as smart as you. Was the last sentence he overheard before he fled to accept his imposed limitations.
His sister star was bright. He loved her wholly, unfortunate his jealousy overshadowed. She was the apple of their parents eye. Naturally smart, funny and kind Erika seemed to endear herself to all. In public she was an adversary, in private purity and light. He tried to be as kind to her as she was to him. Impossible, he was his father's son as much as she was their mother's daughter. He tarnished her, hurting himself more the he could hurt her. She didn't accept him in spite of his actions, she just accepted him as her big brother. Name calling was water off her back. Being left behind and excluded was the only way she could be cause to bleed. The trips to the farm, sitting quietly while Mike tormented her in the backseat, always brought promise. Baking with grandma. Riding on the trailer of the tractor feet dragging down the big hill. Picking tiny sweet wild strawberries in the morning for breakfast. Building dams in the creek. Running unrestrained through the never ending woods. Climbing all the way to the top of Doug's waterfall. The world filled with the smell of grape blossoms. It was an enchanted place out of time. But when the station wagon crunched the gravel in the front lane the car had not stopped before Mike's door shot open releasing him to The Farm.
You are too young to play with the boys and they were gone in a cloud of dust headed upstream. Mom and the car were gone for a month. Grandma was there to hold her, dry her tears and say boys will be boys. She couldn't understand Erika's pain. She loved her grandma but it wasn't the same. She thirsted for high adventure unsuited for a girl in grandma's old fashioned world. She was Erika the fair, princess pirate. Fantasy spinning around her. Magic of the trees infused her with power. The elves and woodland creatures brought her gifts. She scolded the wayward boys after saving them from whatever calamity they caused themselves. They always saw her wisdom in the end. In the morning only the hunger would keep them at the table for breakfast. They would launch themselves through the door to the side porch, slip into their creek shoes and be gone til at least lunch time. Left again with grandma and her books.
I lost Michael. He went with the rest of my relatives into a parallel universe. In my relationships distance equals space. Holes open between us. Time falls in. I loved him but never understood him. In a different world I'm sure we would not be friends. I am no better nor worse than him. He had a difficult row to hoe. I had my own problems. I wish him peace where he resides, if only in our memories. Running free with him creating stories in the woods I hope he had chance to feel painlessness. Acceptance and love. Two blond boys in a galvanized tub.