“Hey kiddo!” said my uncle, ever so cheerfully.
“H…h…he, he did it again” I responded, just above a whisper.
“Where are you? Are you safe? I’m coming to get you” he responded, calmly, with a hint of urgency.
“I’m safe, yes. Just come up county 14, you know, by the state park. I’ll be on the road.”
“Ok. On my way. Hang in there kiddo.”
“I love you.”
“Love you too.”
I picked myself up and walked my way toward the road. I stayed on the crushed rock ditch, following the rapidly setting sun to the west. The lower the sun got, the more underdressed I felt. I hugged myself tightly and tried to pick up the pace, to try to warm myself up. About twenty minutes later I saw a set of headlights approaching from the far distance. Thankfully it was my uncle. I was really starting to tire out.
He pulled onto the shoulder in front of me and ran from the car toward me.
“Jesus Christ! What did he do to you?”
He wrapped his arms around me tight, holding the back of my head into his chest.
“You’re ice cold. Let’s get you into the car.”
He opened my door for me, ran around to his side, and turned the heater up. He whipped a u-turn and headed back to his apartment.
“I would have brought you a jacket, if I had known. You look like shit man. This has GOT to stop Daniel. Do you need a doctor or anything?”
He looked over at me with such care and worry on his face, yet I couldn’t contain the smile that crept across my face.
“Ooookkkkkaaay…so what’s so funny?”
“Umm…well…I…ahh…I did most of this to myself.”
“I kind of freaked out and sort of, beat up that farm behind my house. I went crazy. My dad slapped me, but I did all the rest.”
He sat silent for a minute. Occasionally looking at me with a half smile, but I could tell the gears in his head were turning.
“I said release. How did it feel when you went crazy? How do you feel now?”
“I don’t know…it felt kind of good I guess. I mean, actually it felt really good, I think, but now I’m just tired and sore.”
“Daniel, I think you’ve been bottling up so much stress and you hit the roof, you know. You had a release of emotions. I’m sure it felt good, but it’s not healthy. I mean look at you. You hurt yourself. Next time you might hurt yourself even more. You need to control your emotions. Figure out how to release your anxiety a little at a time.”
“I don’t know actually, but we’ll figure something out. But that’s not the biggest issue right now. You know that, right?”
I had to admit he was right, even if I didn’t want to. “Yeah” I said quietly, lowering my head.
“This has to stop Daniel, and there’s only one way to make it stop. We have to tell your mother.”
“I can’t! We can’t. I don’t want to ruin everything for everybody else. What would they do to him?”
“Daniel, they would protect YOU. So you won’t have to be afraid all the time, and you won’t have to be abused anymore.”
“But I don’t want that. It would make everything bad for my mom and sister. They would hate me if I made my dad go away!”
“Daniel. Your father is dangerous. He needs help. I cannot sit back knowing what I know, and see you get hurt. I can’t do it. This has to stop.”
“Please don’t tell my mom. Look, I screwed up. He hasn’t got me for like two years. But today I was dumb. It won’t happen again. I learned my lesson. Ok? Promise me you won’t tell my mom. I can figure out something else.”
By this time tears had started dripping out of my eyes again. I had such a strong belief that letting this spill, would destroy my family. I could tell my uncle was having a terrible struggle between doing what he thought was the right thing to do, and confiding in me, trusting that I knew what I wanted to do.
“Ok. I tell you what. I will keep this quiet just this once. This is the last time Daniel. I mean it. If he lays one finger on you again, I will tell your mother. You may hate me for it, but it’s killing me to see you hurt. You being safe is all that matters to me.”
He reached over and put his hand under mine. I accepted his hand and whispered “thank you.”
We drove in silence for a while. Keeping our thoughts to ourselves. I was hoping we could change the topic. I was ready to not think about all this confusing drama. Finally I thought of something to say that would break the silence.
“Big plans tonight? Did I interrupt anything important?”
“Nope. Not at all. Avery and I were just going to lay low tonight. We rented a few DVDs. Thinking of getting some Chinese. Do you like Chinese?”
“Ok. Cool. Why don’t we swing in for some on the way back.”
“I…uumm…don’t have any money.”
“And that means what exactly?”
” I don’t want to like, mooch all the time.”
“Who are you and what have you done with Daniel? You could never possibly ever be a mooch or burden for me. Ok. You know this Daniel.”
“Thanks. It’s just sometimes I wish I could, you know, help out.”
“You do kiddo. Believe me. You do.”
We chatted a bit more and then stopped by a Chinese place that was no bigger than a closet. We got a ton of different things, including sweet and sour chicken, and lo mein, by my request.
I followed my uncle Aaron up to his third floor apartment and we stepped in.
“Hi sweetie!” Avery smiled as she met me at the door with a big hug.
“I haven’t seen you in forever. Have you grown? I swear you look taller.”
Avery is my uncle’s long time girlfriend. I think they’ve been together about three years. She is a beautiful, kind woman. I have always thought they were great together and that they should get married someday. Whenever I say it to him, he turns red and doesn’t want to talk about it, but I know he loves her too.
“What in the world happened to you?” Avery asked, while examining my hands.
Clearly, my uncle didn’t tell her what happened, or she is a convincing liar.
“Oh…umm, just messing around. I’m clumsy.”
“Ok. Well I’d hate to see what the other guy looks like” she responded, with a wink.
My uncle jumped in to save me from digging myself even deeper.
“Daniel. Why don’t you head to the bathroom and start a shower. I’ll set some clothes on the bed in the guest room for you. Then we can eat, and we’ll have Avery take a look at your hands.”
Avery is a nurse, so she’ll be able to see how bad things look, and how to fix me up.
I stripped down and got into the shower. I just stood and watched as a long stream of blood and dirt washed down the drain. The hot water did sting on my knuckles, but I needed to clean them up. The rest of my body was very thankful for the shower as well. It took the chill off of me and loosened some of the tension in my muscles.
I wrapped a towel around myself and went into the spare room. It was kind of cluttered with old computer equipment and music gear, but it was clean enough for me. My uncle set a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt on the bed. I didn’t have an extra pair of underwear, but luckily the sweats had a draw string on them. They are my uncle’s clothes after all, and he’s quite a bit bigger than me.
I emerged from the room, looking like a clown show, swimming in his clothes. They both looked over from the couch and got a good laugh.
“We’ll get you taken care of tomorrow gangster” my uncle said, before saying “let’s eat.”
We loaded up our plates and took them back to the living room, putting on the first DVD. After we finished eating, Avery inspected my hands. She applied some triple-cream and put a few band aids on some of the worst cuts. She said it was nothing serious as long as I kept everything clean.
“I do want to redo that soft cast for you. I can get what we need tomorrow. If you want that thing to heal, you need to keep off that foot and take better care of yourself. Ok?”
“Yes. I know. Thanks Avery.”
With a full belly and clean clothes, I started to drift off, finding it very difficult to watch the movie. At one point, I was jolted awake by a buzz in my pocket. It was a text from Kayla.
“Are you home tonight? Wanna hang out?”
I couldn’t be bothered to answer. Not tonight. I saw that it was only 8:00, but I only had one thing on my mind. Sleep. I thanked Avery and my uncle and went to bed. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. Sleep would be a welcome friend.
I slept like a rock. I’m pretty sure I woke up in the same position I fell asleep in. However, falling asleep so early, meant I woke up really early too. I tiptoed to the bathroom and then the kitchen, for a glass of orange juice. I took the juice out in the tiny, little deck that hung off the living room. It was a rare glimpse at peace and quiet for this part of town.
My uncle lives in an area just outside of downtown, called uptown. It’s very crowded and always busy. It’s sort of a haven for artists and musicians. Most of the people are in their twenties or thirties. Not a lot of families, so not a lot of kids. When I hang out down here, I really stick out.
So sitting on the deck, it’s unusual to see the streets empty, and quiet. I decided it was too chilly on the deck with no socks, so I went back into my make-shift bedroom. I picked up one of my uncle’s acoustic guitars and quietly strummed the strings. I didn’t know anything about playing guitar, but I really wanted to learn. I plucked on just the fat string and moved my fingers up and down the fret board. After a few minutes, I felt like I figured out the basic rhythm to Nirvana’s song Polly.
A few minutes later I heard a tap on my door. Then it cautiously swung open, and my uncle peered inside.
“When did you learn to play guitar?”
I giggled. “I don’t play guitar. I’m just messing around…sorry. I should have asked.”
“Psshh. You can play any of my stuff, but seriously, how long have you been playing?”
“Uhhh…this is the first time.”
“Damn! You’ve got a good ear for music. A natural. You were just playing Polly.”
“Was it right? That’s what I was trying to play.”
He came over and sat next to me on the bed. “Well, you’re playing the right notes, but not the chords.”
He took my hand and bent my fingers to land on different frets.
“These are chords.”
“Ouch! My fingers don’t bend like this.”
“Sure they do. You just have to train them. You do have really small hands, but you can do it. If you want, I can set you up with a chord chart, and give you a guitar to practice on. I mean, if you want to learn guitar.”
“That would be sick! Yeah. I do want to learn.”
“Ok, but now, you need to get ready. We’re all going out for a coffee.”
“Don’t worry. They have other stuff too, and huge muffins.”
Fifteen minutes later, I was back in my oversized clown suit, now topped off with a pull-over hoodie that went to my knees. We went down to Bob’s Java Hut. I’ve seen the place before, but never went there. It’s a big hangout for bikers, but not like Harley bikers. There’s always a lot of vintage bikes, and cruisers. Old Honda’s, BSA’s, Triumph’s, BMW’s, and other bikes like that.
At 9:00 on a Sunday morning, there weren’t many bikes there yet, but they did have the big garage doors open, pumping loud punk rock music. The place is very, very cool. I sipped a hot chocolate, and nibbled on a blueberry muffin, that was so big, I would never be able to finish it. My uncle and Avery drank down some coffees that looked more like motor oil. Black as night. They knew everybody in there, and the fact that they let me tag along, made me feel good. We stayed there for quite a while, just chilling out and talking.
“Ok. You and I are going to the burbs, to find a mall, and Avery is going to go back to her place. She’ll come over later to fix up that cast. Also, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and I want to share a few ideas with you.”
And with that, it was off to the shopping mall with uncle Aaron.