Leaving Childhood Behind

I was collecting comics regularly till I was fourteen; I had a pull list at my local comics store, the Laughing Ogre, and I would go when I could get my parents or brother to drive me. I would earn money mowing the lawn for my mom or writing reports for my dad, and then go choose my buys. There was a comics convention annually at a hotel on the East side of town, and I would have this as my goal: I saved $100, and then went to buy as many comics.

In my mom’s house, I had a footlocker from my aunt, and a filing cabinet from my dad. All my books were alphabetized, and I tried to pull from them on a regular basis, so I wasn’t only re-reading those issues I liked the best, but also the ones I didn’t know as well. It was a question of fairness, I guess, and trying to expose myself to new characters and creators. It was like when I bought a new CD: I listened to it straight through three or four times until I learned to like the songs, even if I didn’t get them all at first.

One of the last series I became really excited about was Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. Everything seemed so ominous and mythic. There was a reckoning on hand, and the heroes of the past would have to return to their greatest shame and weakness in order to right the balance.

It had a flavor similar to a few of my other favorite series’, read in complete in Barnes and Noble while waiting for my dad. There was Watchmen, and The Golden Age, both about the sins hiding behind the smiles of the past, of history and legacy and corruption. Watchmen raised the issue of nuclear war, which I would later hear formulated by Noam Chomsky: with the real existential threat of nuclear annihilation at hand, old rules about who’s good and who’s bad don’t apply.

Moments of Watchmen stay with me: Hollis Mason bludgeoned to death with his own trophy for protecting the community; Sally Jupiter nearly raped, and the perpetrator let off with a punch in the face; Rorschach executed in the Arctic to protect a lie. These moments, dripping with irony and tragedy, characterized my adolescent outlook: people did bad things behind closed doors. Authority was a lie. Altruism cloaked self interest.

When I was a freshman in high school, and fourteen and three quarters years old, I got my first job outside the family, bagging groceries for Kroger’s. Fourteen and three quarters was the minimum age to start, $4.75 an hour, minimum wage. I wanted that job, so I could have my own money, and so I could feel like I had made something of myself, not just been handed a living by my family.

My older brother, Eric, had a driver’s license. He was two years older, strong and broad, while I was smaller and thinner. He had his own car, a Camaro my mother had bought for him. He lived in the basement of my mother’s house: I lived in the first floor bedroom, and my mother lived opposite Craig, my youngest brother, on the second floor.

My parents had been divorced for several years. My father’s house was in a separate suburb, and I was the only one of my brothers who still complied with the visiting orders, of spending two days at each house and then every other weekend. The other two stayed with my Mom, who wasn’t strict, and brought us meals in our rooms instead of at the table, where we fought with each other. My brothers didn’t visit my Dad because they fought with him.

While I don’t recall the exact series of events, the inciting incident that Friday night was when Craig called my father and left him a message telling him that he wasn’t going to come back and live with him, and that he was going to stay with my mom. He said some really nasty things, and we could hear it throughout the entire house.

Eric charged up there, and began pounding on Craig’s door. Craig was even smaller than me – if I was 120 lb at the time, Craig was 80 lb. Eric was easily 160-180 lb, and four years older than Craig. I went up there. Eric had already blackened both my eyes that year on the way to school for saying something that he didn’t like (two separate occasions). He always liked to say, “I’m bigger than you, stronger than you, and I always will be.”

Eric was screaming at Craig to let him in, and he had torn off the top portion of the molding. I told Eric I wasn’t going to let him get to Craig. Though I was upset with our youngest brother too, I worried Eric would really hurt him, given how crazy he was acting. Eric grabbed me by my shirt and dangled me over the stairs, to let him through. I didn’t back down. My mother was screaming at him from the base of the stairs to quit, and told him she was calling the police.

The police came. They talked to Eric, who came down from the top of the stairs, but still wasn’t calmed down. They told him to get in his car and to leave. He got in his camaro and started revving the engine, shouting and honking his horn. The police didn’t like that, and they pulled him out of the car, cuffed him, and took him to juvenile hall.

I called my dad, again and again, but he wasn’t picking up the phone. I left a message. He later told me he had turned the ringer off after he had heard the message from Craig.

Because it was Friday night, Eric had to stay for the weekend in juvenile hall, “juvie.” He later told me, as he was meeting with a lawyer over the charges, that the situation was all my fault, because if I had just trusted him to hit Craig and walk away, then it would have all been over and the police wouldn’t have been called.

Saturday morning was my first day to start at Kroger’s. There was a cold rain outside. My mom wasn’t answering her door. My brother was gone, my dad was unreachable. I rode my bike in the rain to my job. And I stopped collecting comics after that. Even with the money I now earned, I didn’t return to the store.

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