Note: This is a non-fiction story of my early life growing up with a horrible, abusive monster. It’s not a pretty story, but it’s something I feel compelled to write, and not just because it’s an assignment for my Creative Writing – Non-Fiction class in college. I’ll add more as I get it written, and likely eventually turn it into a book. My hope is that it will give others who have lived through similar terrors some catharsis like it does me, and more importantly, serves as a way to let people know that such horrific childhoods can still lead to a quality life of happiness.
Moving On – The Monster
I shivered but remained silent as the monster’s shadow fell over me. The terror that filled me nearly caused my bladder to let go, but I knew that would only incur more of the monster’s wrath. I knew if I kept quiet, did as I was told, she would go away.
“Put your hands up here,” the monster said, indicating with one hand that I should grab the rails of the bed’s headboard.
I followed her instructions, wincing as the tough hemp string dug into my wrists. Once the knot was finished, I held my hand in place while she tied the other end of the string to the rail, then waited with my eyes closed as she tied my other hand in the same fashion.
“Your brother and sister will be home by four,” she said, then turned and walked out of the bedroom.
I strained my ears, listening for the sounds of her heavy footsteps in the kitchen, the jingle of keys, then the front door opening and closing. I held my breath, afraid she would decide I needed another reminder of the rules and rush back into the house. I heard the car start, then the fading sound of it backing out of the duplex’s driveway. I waited another minute before taking a breath, followed by tears that streamed from my four-year-old eyes.
I hadn’t done anything wrong that I could remember, not since I “cleaned the fish” by pouring half a bottle of Mr. Clean into the aquarium two months earlier after overhearing the monster yelling at Shawn, my sister, for not cleaning it in a timely manner. I remembered the distinct thwap sounds of the monster’s open palm slaps to my sister’s face punctuating each syllable of the reminder that chores were to be done not only quickly when commanded, but to the letter without deviation. My only thought had been to help Shawn avoid more punishment, which led me to put two and two together. Mr. Clean was what my brother and sister used to clean everything else in the house, so of course (to my young brain), it would easily clean the fish and the tank they resided in.
I lay in the bed, hands bound to the headboard, crying off and on as the hours passed. At some point, the urge to urinate came, then went, then came again, then went again. I did everything humanly possible to make the urge go away, knowing that if I wet the bed, whatever trouble I had been in before would seem like a holiday compared to what the monster would do. Wetting the bed was something not even my brother and sister could cover up to protect me, and would likely lead to trouble for both of them as well. More hours passed, but I couldn’t guess how many since my brother’s alarm clock was on the other side of the room, and I couldn’t even turn over to crane my neck around the old stereo stand that separated our halves of the bedroom.
I burst into tears when I heard the front door open. The morning sun had become afternoon sun, and I only knew it was four o’clock because that’s what time the monster said one of my siblings would be home from school. I dreaded the footsteps approaching the bedroom, even though they were far lighter than the massive creature’s that regularly tormented the three of us. I did my best to stop my tears, embarrassed that I was still a baby at four years old. My brother came into the bedroom, looked at me, and shook his head in disgust. I almost burst into tears again at his expression, sure that it was because of me, his little brother, and how big of a crybaby I had been about being tied to my bed while mom went to work and he was in school.
“It’s okay,” Michael said, sitting on the edge of my half of the bunk bed that had been separated once my mother had kicked our sister out for the umpteenth time. “Let me get the scissors.”
I wanted to cry more, but this time in joy, thankful that my brother would free me from my bonds. I closed my eyes and waited for what seemed like an eternity. He finally returned, the same disgusted look on his face, but I knew it wasn’t for me. I smiled at him as he slipped the scissors between my wrist and the string. The instant the cut was made, my arm flopped around for a few seconds, most of the feeling having been bled from it for however many hours I had been tied up. He cut the second string, freeing my other arm, then rubbed them for a few seconds to help the nerves in them reconnect to my brain.
“Are you hungry?” he asked, standing up and shaking his head once again after cutting the strings from the headboard rails.
“Yes,” I answered in a small voice, my stomach rumbling with displeasure.
“Come on,” he said, helping me off the bed. “I’ll make you a sandwich.
I followed him like a puppy to the kitchen, sitting down at the table after he pulled out one of the chairs. My eyes never left him as he toiled away, spreading peanut butter then grape jelly on two slices of white Wonder Bread. I was so hungry that I wolfed down half of the sandwich in seconds, almost choking as the peanut butter and soft bread stuck to the back of my throat. I nearly pitched forward from my chair at the thump of my brother’s hand whacking me in the back. He handed me his can of Shasta soda and I took a drink to help clear the sandwich from my throat.
“I wish she would stop doing that,” he said, mostly to himself after sitting down with his own sandwich. “Don’t backwash into the can,” he admonished after I took another long drink.
I shook my head and set the can of soda down. My brother, seven years and seven days older than me, was a god as far as I was concerned. He was unable to save me or our sister from the terrors that we were subjected to regularly, but he was the comfort I needed after each round of punishment was over. We never hugged, never made any physical or even verbal overtures to each other to show how close we were, but we both knew that we cared for each other, loved each other. Expressions of love or sympathy were forbidden, but like slaves in the old days, we had a secret code that we shared when the monster wasn’t around. Sometimes it was a simple look, sometimes it was a punch in the arm, sometimes it was us throwing the baseball to each other in the yard or the small park in the center of “the courts,” our name for the low-income duplex projects we lived in.
“Go watch Sesame Street,” he said after I finished the rest of my PB&J sandwich.
I did as he commanded, plopping down in front of the television to watch Bert, Ernie, Big Bird, The Count, and the rest of the crew as they taught me the alphabet, numbers, how to count, and how to be a good human being—something almost foreign to me since I had only known pain, fear, hatred, and defeat for all of the short life I had lived up to that point. I tuned out the sounds of my brother doing his chores, too engrossed in Cookie Monster, my favorite, as he ransacked an entire cupboard of chips while on the hunt for chocolate chip cookies. When the scene shifted to two young girls talking to Big Bird, I briefly wondered where Shawn was. My sister was two years older than Michael, and had suffered the majority of abuse from our mother for reasons I wouldn’t understand until I was a little older.
All I knew at that moment was that the monster had kicked her out of the house once again, shipping her off to Fruitland to live with Grandma and Grandpa at the Gas-A-Mat they owned right at the border between Idaho and Oregon. My last memory of her was from a few weeks earlier. She and my brother had been lined up against the large chest freezer in the kitchen, hands on the lid, backs facing me and the monster. Each swing of the belt and the resulting snap as it connected to their flesh made me cry a little harder, until the monster threatened to line me up along with them if I didn’t stop my bawling. I couldn’t remember how long it went on, but it seemed like hours. I couldn’t even remember why they were being beaten with the belt. They probably couldn’t remember either, as it took very little provocation to graduate from a slapped face to a session with one of my brother’s leather belts.
“Mom will be home soon,” Michael warned some time later.
I broke my gaze away from the TV, surprised that the sun was almost below the horizon, dark shadows overpowering the fading light within the duplex. He turned on the living room lamps, then nodded toward the bedroom to let me know it was time to wrap it up and make myself scarce. A few minutes later, my heart began beating at triple speed when I heard the old Mercury Comet pull into the driveway. My heart sped up to quintuple speed when the front door opened and the monster’s thudding footsteps made most of the glass knick-knacks rattle on their cheap glass shelves in the living room.
“Did he piss the bed?” her growling voice asked my brother, forgoing any sort of greeting.
“No,” Michael answered softly.
“Good. Set the table.” Two more plodding footsteps, then a pause. “Did you heat up what I left in the fridge for dinner?”
The floors creaked and popped as the monster entered the tiny hallway then her room. I lay on my bed in the dark, willing myself to become as invisible as I was silent. When the footsteps resumed after she had changed out of her work clothes, I closed my eyes. The footsteps paused in the hallway, and I knew the monster was trying to decide if she wanted to look into our bedroom, checking to see if I had been starting fires, slicing open mattresses, or whatever other activity she regularly assumed her worthless, troublesome son normally engaged in. I was thankful when I heard the footsteps enter the kitchen, the sounds of the oven being opened barely audible above the clink of plates and silverware as my brother set the table.
“TRAVIS!” the growling, gravelly, terrifying voice shouted, my name echoing off the walls as it rebounded repeatedly until it met my ears.
I quickly entered the kitchen and sat down at the table, silently thankful that dinner wouldn’t have peas as one of its components. I hated peas, and regardless of threats or punishments, I refused to eat them for as long as possible. Sometimes that meant sitting at the dinner table until midnight, slowly feeding one pea at a time to Benji, our mutt-poodle mix—though Benji betrayed me more often than not by taking each offered pea then dropping it on the floor instead of eating it.
I didn’t even care that dinner tonight would be pork chops and Stove Top Stuffing. I loved the stuffing. It was so simple that not even the monster could screw it up. The pork chops on the other hand… The monster had never learned to cook, which to this day still amazes me, considering how wonderful of a cook my grandmother was. The monster’s solution to every type of meat imaginable was to use Shake ‘N Bake then roast it in the oven until there wasn’t a single molecule of moisture left in it. Even when we had meals that couldn’t be Shake ‘N Baked, such as Swiss Steak or pot roast, where the meat was cooked inside an oven bag with plenty of liquid, the meat always turned out dryer than a vat of salt left in the desert.
The monster said nothing to us, her eyes focused on the television that could be seen from her seat at the tale. My brother never once looked up from his plate, and I only did once in a while to turn around to see bits and pieces of the wrestling match on TV. I loved Tommy Rich, Ric Flair, Jake the Snake, the Junkyard Dog, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, and even the bad guys like The Iron Sheik and Abdullah the Butcher. But I was careful to only take quick glances whenever Mean Gene Okerlund’s voice rose with excitement because of whatever was going on in a match. Taking too much liberty with the wrestling match instead of finishing my dinner always led to a sudden explosion of stars and spots in my eyes from a smack to my head. Even at four years old, I had learned enough of the monster’s habits to avoid some of her repetitive lessons, though she would remain almost entirely unpredictable for many more years until I was older.