Authors: Patrick Connolly
Copyright © 2012 by Patrick Connolly
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212 3rd Ave North, Suite 290
Minneapolis, MN 55401
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This book is dedicated to my stepfather, Dean Barber, who rescued us from the violence
Walking along the Susquehanna River with its heavy growth of high grass, fishing pole in hand, I watch the winding worn path for the snakes I see here occasionally. Whenever the high grass is lower on my right, I look out on the river that is moving along at a peaceful rate on this chilly and overcast day. The forest is exciting to explore, even for a ten-year-old boy like myself, and I look at the trees, their bark and the different shapes of the leaves. There are many birch trees and oaks growing to my left where the forest deepens. I feel safe and on an adventure because I frequently go fishing here.
Suddenly, I hear a crunching sound to my left and behind me. I look around but I cannot see what is making that noise, but it scares me so I walk faster. I am only a few blocks from home so I should be safe here. I hear a different noise that sounds like something moving through the high grass, this time directly behind me. Looking at the grass, I can see a large shape still hidden from my view. Whatever it is, it is watching me.
I start to run but my legs do not move very fast for some reason and I hear something running behind me. Turning my head to the left, I see it. It is a big lion, and I am overwhelmed with fear and panic, and desperately run as fast as I can. Suddenly, the creature catches me. I can feel its claws on my chest and its teeth sink into my back. Screaming, I struggle to get loose but now the lion bites me on the neck and begins to eat me alive.
Waking up in a cold sweat, I shiver in my small bed. It is that awful nightmare again. I hate to go to bed at night for fear I will have that dream. Still early in the morning, it is not time for me to get up yet.
Then I have to face that other nightmare of going to school every morning not knowing what will happen during my day. The big problem is that I cannot just wake up from the real nightmare of daily conflicts. Real bullies are just like the lion, I thought, but worse. If I ever really had a lion chasing me, it would be OK to shoot it. Even though I can probably get a gun somewhere, I cannot shoot my bullies, because that would be against the 10 Commandments. This is not right, somehow, because the bullies hurt and scare me just as much, or more, as that lion.
Frequently called names, shoved, and punched, these things happen to me on the way to school and back as well as in the bathroom at school. Even though over the last few years they occurred on an irregular basis, I try to avoid this any way possible. Lately, this happens more regularly.
As I leave my house on the way to school in the morning, I know the walk will take about twenty minutes to travel the four and half blocks to school. I usually leave by the front door of Grandma’s house downstairs. Arriving at the sidewalk, I look to my left because this is the direction is where other kids will be coming from on their way to school. About a block away, I see five brothers coming in a group with the biggest brothers, Rick and Freddy. I feel the fear. I must hurry, I thought, so I can keep ahead of them. Walking as fast as I can, I run and walk down the sidewalk.
After a block, I look behind me and am terrified to see that the Brown brothers are gaining on me, and I still have three long blocks to go. Passing the Boys Club across the street on my right, I feel them getting closer.
“Hey, freckle face, we got you”, yelled Freddy.
Rick grabbed me by the hood on my jacket and I dropped by books.
“Queer Weirdo, you dropped something,” Rick said, as he punched me in the arm. As he did so, Freddy punched me in the chest. The other brothers also punched me as they passed. Turning, Rick pushed me with both hands on the chest and I fell down on the grass between the sidewalk and the curb.
Feeling the pain and humiliation, I get up, pick up my books and watch the five brothers walking toward the school, laughing. I hate these guys, and someday I am going to get even with them, I thought. I hate fighting and violence, but I have no choice, if I want to live.
As I walked behind them, I could see them laughing as they sauntered victoriously toward the schoolyard. I walked behind them at a cautious distance knowing that they could always turn and hit me some more if I got too close. I particularly watched the oldest and biggest brother, Rick, who was the most violent and abusive of the brothers. Coming from a Catholic family whose father worked at IBM, the five brothers were always trouble whenever I ran into them. Just last week when I was going to visit a friend who lived two blocks from my house, I had also run into them.
“Hey, freckle face, what are you doing in our neighborhood?” Michael, one of the brothers said.
“Oh, nothing, going to see my friends,” I said.
“We don’t like you in our neighborhood,” Michael said.
Michael was younger than I was, and bigger, but, even at ten, I knew I was probably stronger and a better fighter but I had to be careful because his bigger brothers, Freddy and Rick were only a few yards away. He also had his two younger brothers near him and I knew that fighting one of them meant I was fighting all of them.
Michael came over toward me and pushed me in the chest. Not wanting to fight, I turned and walked rapidly toward my home blocks away. As I did so, they yelled and taunted me with names. I had to get away or all of them would punch me again. Frightened and sad, I had to walk home rather than complete the journey to my friends’ house. I don’t like being afraid all the time, but I am, and no one can help me. I hate feeling fear.
So here we are, with the familiar beginning of another school day with a familiar situation for me of running into Rick and his brothers. Except for Rick, I might be able to handle each of the younger brothers, assuming I could take them on one at a time. I am a little uncertain about Freddy because although younger, he is taller than I am by about six inches, but they are all taller than I am. I would probably fight him if I had no choice and if I could get him alone. As for Rick, I know there is no way I stand any chance against him. The main problem for me is that they are always in a group.
I am tired of being afraid all the time due to these big people that I have to deal with daily. I am glad that I can avoid the bullies sometimes, but for some reason, that is getting more difficult to do. Now these encounters are the last thing I think about at night and the first thought I have every morning. As for the mornings, there is also that pain from the middle of my thighs to the center of my chest that I wake up with every morning from the fear. I do not remember when this pain started but as I recall, at first it would be there in the morning occasionally. Now, it was just a normal part of waking up and starting my day. I heard one of the Sisters say once that, “pain is part of life”, so maybe this morning pain is what she meant.
Now that it is June, it feels wonderful to finally be out of fifth grade and free from the terrors of going to school every day. It has been a very long school year. I look forward to lots of baseball and basketball at the Boys Club, and the swimming and summertime celebrations at the park. The Endicott Johnson shoe factory always sponsors activities during the summer and everyone who lives in the area can attend, whether or not their families work at the EJ factory.
My Mom still works at General Electric as a secretary and her schedule is the same, 8 AM to 5 PM every day. We are all together in our big two story white house and Grandpa works at IBM. Mary, Mom's Sister, is not home too much because she is at college studying. She has even been spending most of the summers away from home. I miss her a lot. She was always my favorite person in the family, and my second Mom.
This is going to be an exciting month because Mary is getting married. She is going to marry someone named Ted. Ted can be nice to us kids sometimes, but most of the time he acts as if he thinks he is smarter than everyone is. I still think Mary is the smartest and nicest person in the family. She is also the first person in our family to go to college, and Grandma and Grandpa are very proud of her. I do not understand why she would pick Ted to marry but I will miss her.
Now it is finally the day of the big event. For the last few months since the announcement of their marriage, I have been thinking about Mary and her wedding. I have my camera and many rolls of film ready. The Mass is a high Mass with lots of candles. Sitting with my Mom and my younger sister, Lauren, I can see that my cousins Danny and Donna are also here. After the event, we file outside, stand in front of the church and wait a long time for the photographer to take pictures of Mary and Ted inside the church.
Finally, the photographer comes out and yells for Mary and Ted to come out so he can get their picture coming down the stairs. Lauren, Donna and I quickly climb the stairs to watch them from the right side of the stairway. The photographer seemed to like this because he told us to stand on different steps, get close to the iron railing dividing the wide staircase and smile while Mary and Ted come down the stairs.
After the pictures, we pile into cars and travel a few blocks to the wedding reception. It is in a big hall with a bar, a dancing area and many tables. Having a great time, I take many pictures and, as I do, I see an older friend of mine named Wendy. Wendy is a polite retarded man in his early twenties. My Grandmother knows him because he does odd jobs around the neighborhood and is a friendly person that always says hello to everyone. One day a few months ago, I was walking to school in the morning and carrying my heavy saxophone. Wendy saw me struggling with it and carried it for a few blocks to school for me. I told my Grandmother about this she had thanked him for this kind deed. He is my friend and I am glad to see him at the reception party sitting at the bar having a drink in celebration.
Wendy is still at the bar when my cousins, Tim and Tom, walk up to him and tell him that, since he is not on the invitation list, he has to leave. When he tries to ignore them and finish his drink, Tim and Tom grab him; pull him off his stool screaming, and take him out of the hall, and into the street. Afterward, they swagger back into the room with big grins on their faces and seem very proud of themselves. I am shocked and stunned by this senseless violence on my friend. Why do people in my family, and others, get so much pleasure out of hurting a nice person like Wendy? I am sad and, at the same time, angry at this bullying attitude. This violent treatment of Wendy is very similar to what I have to often deal with. Except for this event, I have a great time at the wedding reception and enjoy seeing Mary and Ted off on their honeymoon.
After the wedding, the summer months are an adventure. Now that I am ten, I can go more places than in previous summers. My favorite place in town is the Enjoi park pool where I frequently swim during the hot summer days. As a family rule, I had to learn to swim several years ago, when I was four, so I feel OK about going there and enjoying the cool water with lots of other kids.
What I like to do most at the pool, is jump off the diving board, then swim to the side, climb up to the deck, go back to the diving board and jump again. Sometimes I dive off the high diving board, but the lower diving board is just as much fun and it takes me less time to climb up to it. Today it is very crowded in the pool with kids just hanging on the side of the pool and staying cool in the water. When swimming to the side, I find that kids on to the sides of the pool will not let me pass so I can climb out. While treading water and trying to find a place to get out, I notice another kid, smaller than me, that was also trying to climb out. The bigger kids like Rick and his four brothers keep pushing him away. The second biggest of six brothers, Rick is a large, quiet, sad boy with dark hair easily twice my size and two years older than I am. He never seems to smile except when he is hurting me.
Today, on this hot summer day, they are all in the pool and just hanging on to the side of the pool in the deep water near the diving board. They will not let the other little kid out and I know they probably will not let me climb out either. The other child, who was at least a year younger than I was, was not too good at treading water and seemed panicked, not knowing what to do to climb out of the pool. I am glad that I am a better swimmer than he is but I am having the same trouble. Rick and his brothers keep shoving me away from the side, too.
“Get your own space, Faggot, I am here”, said Rick.
“I need to climb up to the deck,” I said.
“Go somewhere else,” Rick said.
“Yeah, go somewhere else”, Freddy said.
I keep treading water and moving down the bank until I am nearly at shallow water when I find a place where I can climb out of the pool. Looking down the pools deck, I can see kids hanging on most of the poolside. I guess that diving off the boards today is not a good idea, so I go back to the shallow end of the pool where I can touch the bottom.
Suddenly, the lifeguards begin blowing their whistles loudly and telling everyone to get out of the pool. Everyone has to climb out of the water and file directly through the gates to the area outside the fence surrounding the pool. As I watched from outside the fence, the lifeguards do artificial respiration on a small child they just pulled out of the water. Struggling through the crowd, I get as close as I can so I can see his face. It was the kid I saw just a few minutes ago who was treading water when Rick and his brothers would not let him climb out of the pool.