I was about seven or eight when my dad left Mom and me. He was busy loading things into his truck. I followed him with each trip from the house to the truck asking, "Daddy, what are you doing?" He continued his task without answering. Again I asked, "Daddy, what are you doing?"
"Moving," he finally answered with that single word.
"Where are we moving to?"
"I'm moving, but you're staying here with your mom," he said as he started his truck and began driving way.
I remember chasing after his truck as he drove down the street toward the main highway that passed through our small town. "Daddy, Daddy, don't go," I cried as I ran after him. He never looked back as he turned the corner at the post office. He hadn't even bothered to hug me goodbye before he left.
I was left alone at the house that had once been my paternal grandparents' home. It was the only home I'd ever known. Dad had said that it had belonged to a gangster and that there was a hidden room where the gangster owner hid from the law. I looked for that almost every day, but Dad laughed and said, "I don't think there is a room. I looked for it from the time I was your age until I was a teenager."
I was sitting on the front steps with my head down and still wiping tears when Mom came home from her job at the town's only grocery store. "Where's your dad?" she asked when she saw that I was home alone. Neither of my parents were great parents, but they never left me unsupervised and saw that I had food and clothing.
"Gone," I said.
"Gone where?" Mom asked.
"I don't know," I said. "He's just gone."
As I was growing up, I never saw my dad. He never called or even sent me a birthday or Christmas card. Mom arranged for me to stay with Old Mrs. Cochran when I got home from school. Mrs. Cochran was a nice lady, but her arthritis prevented her from doing much. She gave me a snack when I got home from school and then sat down and cursed at the political talk shows on TV. I had nothing else to do except read or do my homework. Mrs. Cochran wouldn't let me play outside because as she said, "There is no way I can keep up with you."
Life wasn't great, but it was okay. I had few friends since I wasn't allowed to play outside when I got home from school. When Mom was home I was only allowed to play in my own back yard. Since we lived in a small town most other kids were allowed to pretty much roam free. Because I always had good grades and my homework completed and turned in on time the other kids called me the teacher's pet.
Things changed when I was ten and Mom quit working at the grocery store to take a job at My Place Bar. She said she could make more money with the tips at the bar. I can't say for certain if Dad paid child support, but I'm pretty sure he did. Mom wasn't the type that would let him get by not paying. I think Mom just wanted to go out at night and used the bar job as an excuse to be with adults at night.
"Ten is old enough to stay by yourself, besides you'll be safe in this town," Mom said.
The bar job was when Mom started drinking. One morning when I got up to get ready for school Mom was passed out in the hall covered with dry vomit. I was glad I ate breakfast at school since the house had the stench of vomit. The worst came when she started bringing men home with her. Neal was the worst one of all.
"Where's your boy?" I heard Neal loudly asked late one night after I had already gone to sleep.
"He's in bed asleep," Mom said. "Come on let's go to bed."
"I want to see your boy," Neal insisted as I saw the door open and he came in my room.
I tried to pretend I was asleep and Mom said, "He's asleep, leave him alone and let him sleep."
"How old is he?" Neal asked as he came closer to my bed.
"He's ten, now come on and let him sleep," Mom pleaded.
"He's a big kid for ten," Neal said as he pulled my covers down and before I could react, he put his hand on my crotch.
I don't know how Mom did it, but she managed to get Neal out of my room. I was afraid to go back to sleep that night. I kept listening for him to come back to my room. I didn't know about adults molesting kids then, but I did know that Neal's intentions were not good. When morning came I was out the door and on my way to school long before the school doors were opened. When I saw other kids going inside I made my way to the cafeteria for breakfast.
When I arrived home from school Mom was in the kitchen making spaghetti, my favorite. "I'm sorry about last night," Mom said.
I was so angry that I ignored her and went to my room. I lay down on my bed and thought of places to hide. I thought about going under my bed, but thought he might look there. I looked in the closet and saw some blankets and my sleeping bag in the corner. I crawled under the pile and decided it might do.
I didn't see Neal again for about two weeks until I was walking home from school and he stopped his truck and said, "Get in and I'll give you a ride home."
I only shook my head no and ran home. I went directly to my room and hid under the pile of blankets in case Neal followed me home. After about an hour I figured it was save and I came out of my room. I assumed Mom's attempts to make up with me were over. She had already gone to the bar and left me on my own to find something to eat.
That night I recognized Neal's loud drunk voice when Mom came home. I immediately jumped out of bed and crawled under my pile of blankets. "I want to see your boy," I heard Neal say as he opened my bedroom door. "Where is he?"
"He's probably spending the night at Mrs. Cochran's," Mom said. "I told him that if he ever got scared he was to go there."
I spent the entire night hidden under the blankets, too afraid to come out. I don't know how many nights I spent in my closet under the pile of blankets. I always felt safe during the day until one day when school was out for spring break. I saw Neal's truck pull into the drive. I ran as fast as I could and my closet. As he normally did, Neal checked my room looking for me. I'm not sure how long he was there, but I did hear him open my closet door. Thankfully, he didn't pull the blankets out.
I don't know how long I hid in the closet, but while there I was thinking that I needed to find a better hiding place. I went to the basement, but I decided it would be difficult to escape from my room and get to the basement. I went back to my room and looked in the closet again. There was a door panel in the end. I had opened it many times looking for the gangster's hiding place, but the opening was too small, even for me.
I stuck my hand inside thinking the gangster may have hidden some money there. If I had money maybe I could run away from home. There was nothing there but a stick, but maybe I could use the stick to hit Neal. I pulled the stick and part of the floor in the closet popped open. There were steps leading down to the basement. I got my flashlight and pulled the trap door behind me. As I was going down the steps I noticed a light switch. When I flipped the switch on a light came on at the bottom of the steps.
At the bottom of the steps, ten steps in all, there was door. I didn't remember seeing a door in the basement. I opened the door and the light at the bottom of the steps went off as a light inside a room came on. The room was a little larger than my room. There was a bed, a dresser, a table, and a chair in the room. There was even a toilet with a sink and a shower in the room. I turned the water on, and surprisingly there was water.
To keep Mom from becoming suspicious of missing items, I began sneaking supplies down to the room, but just a few at a time. There were plenty of blankets in my closet. I found some of Mom's older sheets that she wouldn't miss. I replaced the toilet paper with new rolls and took the old ones down. Soon I had my new room stocked with supplies, even some snack food. I almost looked forward to Neal coming to the house so I could test my escape plan.
Neal didn't come around for several days. Then one night I heard Mom and Neal come home. I quickly jumped out of bed and escaped down to my basement room. For the first time since Mom began bringing Neal home, I had a good night's sleep. The next morning when I went up to my room to dress for school I was shocked to see my room. The mattress was pulled off of the bed; the blankets from the closet were thrown out into the room.
Mom was making my bed when I got home from school. Everything was back in its place. "I'm sorry," Mom said.
"Mom, why do you bring him home with you?" I asked with tears in my eyes.
"Honey, you don't know what it's like to be alone and lonely," Mom said.
"Mom, you don't know what it's like to run and hide when I hear him come home with you," I said.
"I'm sorry," Mom said. "Where do you go anyway? We looked all over for you."
"I'll never tell you," I said. "If I told you, you would tell him."
"You know I wouldn't," Mom said.
"Mom, you bring him home with you knowing what he's like," I argued.
"I don't think he means you any harm," Mom reasoned.
I lay on my bed with a sigh. Although I was only ten, I knew Mom wasn't going to change.
It was at least a month before Neil came home with Mom again. Both were drunk as usual. I ran quickly to my hideout. This time I had remembered to take a few changes of clothes down. When I got dressed for school I wanted to get out of the house as quickly as possible.
The last day of school was near and I was excited, not because it was the end of school. I was excited because I was to receive the award for the outstanding fourth grader. When my name was called to receive my award that day I looked around with a small hope that Dad would be there to see me get the award. Instead, I saw Mom staggering in. People were laughing when she missed the seat and fell to the floor. I was so embarrassed that I didn't want to go on stage to receive the award. As soon as the bell rang I ran all the way home and went directly to my basement room.
Mom was gone the next day when I came out of the basement room. After eating a bowl of cereal, I went outside and decided to mow the lawn. I had finished mowing when Mrs. Cochran came out and asked if I would mow her lawn. She paid me $15 when I finished. That was the beginning of my lawn mowing business. Soon I was mowing for a few other elderly neighbors.
I hid almost every dollar I made in my basement. That was the beginning of an obsession with me. I wanted to make and save as much money as I could. By the end of the summer I had saved almost $500. I thought that was pretty good for a ten year old.
I asked mom to buy me new school clothes as the summer came to an end and it was time for me start back to school. "You can wear what you wore last year," she said.
"Mom most of my clothes are too small for me now," I said. I had hit a growth spurt over the summer.
"Alright," she reluctantly agreed. "I'll take you to the city tomorrow.
I had learned that Mom wasn't reliable, but I had little other choices. Surprisingly Mom was sober the next day. She spent more on clothes than I expected. I think she did this out of guilt. I didn't care; I had new clothes, shoes and even a new backpack.
I was spending more and more time in my basement room since Neil was coming home with mom more often. I always feared that Neil would trap me in my room before I could get away. I had been lucky so far.
Mom had given me the responsibility of doing my own laundry. One day while doing my laundry I saw Dad's old baseball bat. I took the bat and put it under my bed. I guess I thought I could use it on Neil if I needed too.
I managed to get through the fifth grade without Neil catching me in my room. Mom and I were arguing more than ever about Neil, but she refused to stop seeing him. During one of these arguments Mom slapped me when I called Neil a pervert. I ran from the house not knowing where I was going. I ended up at Mr. and Mrs. Turner's farm. I hid in the corner of the hayloft in the barn until after dark. I thought I could sneak back into the house since Mom would be at work.
"Shit," I said to myself when I saw Mom's car in the drive. I forgot that it was her day off. I managed to get my bedroom window open and crawled in. I took my shoes off and quietly made it to my closet. I could hear Neal talking loudly to Mom and I knew both were drunk. I was fortunate that I had a stash of food in my basement room. I was ravenous from not eating since breakfast.
I was fifteen and had managed to avoid Neil the entire time. One afternoon I was reading a book in my room. It was one of those rainy days made for reading a good book. After reading a while I dozed off and woke with Neil standing over me saying, "You're not getting away from me this time you little bastard. I've wanted some of you all these years and now I'm getting it."
Neil was on top of me pulling at my belt and I was trying to fight him off. He was bigger and stronger than I was. I was terrified. This gave me some strength to try and fight him off. He began punching me in the face. Somehow I got free and with cat like quickness I grabbed the baseball bat from under my bed and began swinging. I heard the sound of ribs breaking and Neil crying out in pain.
Mom came rushing into the room saying, "Put that bat down. Look what you've done to him."
"I should kill the son of a bitch," I yelled back.
"Give me that bat," Mom yelled.
"I'll give it up to the side of your fucking head," I yelled in anger. "You're no better than that bastard is."
I stormed out the door slamming it on my way out. I didn't know where I was going, but I had to get out of that house. I ended up going to Mr. Turner's barn. When I entered the barn I was surprised to see Mr. Turner doctoring a sick cow. "My God, what happened to you?" He asked when he saw my bloody face and clothes.
I thought of myself as a man, having growing up in the conditions I had. However, I lost it when Mr. Turner asked what happened to me. I began bawling like a baby. Somehow I managed to tell him what happened. I could see the anger in Mr. Turner's face as I told him the story of what happened, beginning with the day Dad left.
"Come inside and let Libby clean you up," Mr. Turner said. "Do you need to see a doctor?"
"No, I'll be fine," I said.
After Mrs. Turner cleaned the blood off of my face, she said, "You're not going back there to live. You'll stay here with Don and me."
"I have things back at my house that I'll need," I said.
"I'll go with you to collect your things," Mr. Turner said.
When we entered the house we heard Mom saying, "No, you can't go after him. You have some broken ribs."
"You lay a hand on this boy again and I'll personally blow your brains out," Mr. Turner said as he walked into the living room and pointed a gun at Neil's head. I hadn't seen the gun until then.
"He didn't do anything to Craig," Mom protested.
"You're as bad as this sorry asshole that beat him up," Mr. Turner said. "If anything happens to Craig I'll take care of you after I blow this sorry mother fucker's brains out. Craig, go get your things while I have a talk with these low lives here. Go ahead and put your things in my truck. You're living with Libby and me."
After I loaded all of my possessions in Mr. Turner's truck I went down to my basement room and grabbed the coffee can that contained the money I had earned. I then went to the living room where mom was writing something on a notepad. "Craig, could you go find a neighbor to witness this for us?" Mr. Turner asked.
"I'll go get Mrs. Cochran," I said as I rushed next door.
"Craig, what in the world happened to you?" Mrs. Cochran asked when she saw the swelling and bruises on my face.
"Neil beat me up," I decided not to tell that he tried to fuck me. "Mr. Turner is over at the house now and wants you to witness something."
"I knew that Neil was no good," Mrs. Cochran said as she followed me toward the house.
I didn't see the gun when Mrs. Cochran and I arrived, but Mr. Turner had his hand in his pocket. "What did you want me to witness?" Mrs. Cochran asked.
"Sharon has decided it would be better if Craig came and lived with Libby and me," Mr. Turner said. "Sharon, go ahead and sign the paper giving Libby and me guardianship and then we'll let Mrs. Cochran witness it."
"It's about time you did right by this boy," Mrs. Cochran said as she signed the document.
After Mrs. Cochran went back home Mr. Turner took the gun out of his pocket and pointed it at Neil and said, "This is my restraining order. If you come anywhere near this boy I'll be coming after. If you see him on the street you turn around and go the other direction. Do we understand each other?"
"Yes," Neil timidly answered.
"That goes for you too, Sharon," Mr. Turner said. "If you want to visit Craig, and he agrees to it, you are to do so only at our house. I can't believe a mother would choose a low life like this over her own son."
"You can put your things away later," Mrs. Turner said when we arrived back at the Turner's. "Dinner is ready. I'll bet you're hungry."
"Mrs. Turner, that was one of the best meals I've ever had," I said after enjoying the meal.
"Thank you Craig, but you don't need to call me Mrs. Turner," she said. "You can call me Libby or even mom if you feel comfortable with that."
"I've never really had much of a mom, so if you don't mind I'll call you mom," I said.
"I would be honored," Mom said.
"That goes for me too," Mr. Turner said.
"Wouldn't it be better if I called you Dad?" I teased. I was already feeling comfortable enough with my new parents to joke with them.
"He got you there," Mom laughed.
"From now on I'm going to refer to my former parents as Sharon and Dan," I said.
"This was our son's room," Mom said as she was showing me my new room.
"Where is your son?" I asked.
"He was killed in Iraq," Mom said as she wiped tears from her eyes.
"Are you sure it is okay for me to take his old room?" I asked.
"He would like you, and would like nothing better," Dad said. "You can do whatever you like with this room as long as you keep it clean and don't wreck it."
"We'll talk about house rules tomorrow," Mom said. "I think we should have the same rules for you that we had for Patrick. I put fresh sheets on the bed while you were getting your things. This room has its own bathroom. I put towels in there too along with some toiletries."
"You didn't need to bring coffee," Dad said when he saw my coffee can bank.
"That the money I've earned mowing lawns," I said.
"Maybe you should put it in a bank," Mom said. "How much money is in there?"
"Three thousand and fifty nine dollars," I said.
"That's a lot of money," Dad said. "How long have you been saving?"
"Since I was ten," I said.
"What were you saving your money for?" Mom asked.
"If things got any worse at home I planned to run away from home," I said. "Now I don't have any plans."
"You'll probably want a car when you turn sixteen," Dad said. "When you're sixteen we'll match what you have to buy a car. That is if you keep your grades up. We did the same for Patrick."
"I can't ask you to do that," I said.
"You didn't ask," Dad said.
"How did you sleep?" Mom asked the next morning when I came into the kitchen for breakfast.
"Great," I said. "It was good to go to bed and not worry about Neil coming into my room."
"Why would he go into your room," Mom asked.
"He tried to have sex with me," I said. "I always managed to hide from him until yesterday."
"That bastard," Dad said. "I'm going to kill him."
"No, he isn't worth going to jail for," I said.
"He's right," Mom said.
"Where did you hide?" Dad asked.
"You've probably heard rumors about a hidden room in our house," I said.
"Everybody in town has," Dad said.
"I found it," I said. "I probably spent more time sleeping there than I did in my bedroom."
"No shit," Dad said.
"Dad, you wouldn't believe it," I said. "There was a regular bedroom down there with a bathroom that worked. I'm sure I would have been raped if I hadn't found the room."
"I should have killed the bastard," Dad said not hiding his anger. "We're going into town today and get you a cell phone. If that asshole comes near you I want you to call me."
I had never been happier in my entire life than I was after moving in with the Turners. I helped Dad with the farm work, and even learned to drive the tractor. Farm work was hard work, but I was enjoying it. Dad paid me for my work. I argued about taking the money since they had taken me in. "The agreement that Sharon signed included child support she got from Dan," Dad said. "Besides, you don't know what a joy it is for Libby and me to have you. There was a void in our lives that you've helped fill."
"When will you turn sixteen?" Dad asked one morning at breakfast.
"August twenty-fifth," I said.
"What do you want for your birthday?" Mom asked.
"I have everything I've ever wanted," I said in complete honesty.
"We want to give you a gift anyway," Mom said. "Now give me some hints."
"I'd like to take the martial arts training class that is offered in town," I said. "If Neil or anybody like him tries anything with me again I want to be able to kick their asses."
"That's a good idea," Dad said. "We'll get you started right away."
"But, I need to help you here on the farm," I said.
"The training classes are probably evenings," Dad said. "I'll drive you into town this afternoon. While we're in town we'll get you a driver's learner permit so I can start teaching you to drive."
"I already have that," I said. "I took drivers' education in school last year."
Right after lunch Dad hardly gave me time to clear the table and put the dishes in the dishwasher when he asked, "Are you ready to go into town?" I had taken the responsibility of clearing the table after meals. Mom said that she would clean up after breakfast when school started.
"Catch," Dad said as he tossed the truck keys to me.
I caught the keys and tossed them back to Dad. "You're driving," Dad said as he tossed the keys back to me.
I was nervous as all get out driving into town, but Dad said that I did fine. We got me enrolled in the classes, but learned that I would have to have a physical. "We need to get a copy of Sharon's insurance," Mom said. "We'll drive by her house and get a copy."
I was edgy about going back to my former home, but I felt safe with Mom and Dad. Sharon appeared to be on her way to being drunk when we got there. The house was a mess. Even in the worst of her binges, the house had always been clean.
"We need a copy of your health insurance," Mom said. "Craig needs a physical examination."
"I took him off of the insurance as soon as he left," Sharon said.
"You should have told us," Mom said. "We would have put him on our policy. Give us his birth certificate, and we'll be on our way."
"I'll get it later," Sharon said.
"You'll get it now," Mom said. "We need to get him insured."
"I said that I would get it later," Sharon argued.
"You'll get it now," Mom said. "You're lucky you're not in jail after what you put this boy through. Get his birth certificate now or I'll see that you are in jail."
I could tell that Sharon was really pissed at Mom, but she knew that Mom meant business and would see that she went to jail.
"What a piece of work she is," Mom said as we drove away with my birth certificate. "I don't know how you put up with that crap."
"It wasn't easy," I admitted.
"Dan is just as bad for going off and leaving you like he did," Mom said.
"You've never seen him since he left?" Dad asked.
"No I haven't," I said. "Not even a phone call or even a birthday or Christmas card. Half of the time Sharon would forget my birthday too. Mrs. Cochran always remembered it though."
"We'll invite Mrs. Cochran to help celebrate your birthday," Mom said.
Summer passed quickly for me. Dad found a used 2005 Jeep Liberty in the next town from us for $7000. I fell in love with it the moment I saw it. Dad let me drive it the 25 miles back home. Since I had a learner's permit Mom agreed to ride with me as the licensed driver. My savings was pretty much wiped out, but I was happy.
"Who do you want to your sixteenth birthday celebration?" Mom asked me a few days before my birthday.
"Mrs. Cochran," I said.
"Anyone else, what about your friends from school?" Mom asked.
"I don't really have any friends from school," I confessed. "I avoided having friends at school because of Mom and Neil. I knew I could never have a friend come to my house."
"I hope you never feel that way about your home here," Dad said.
"I love living here and I've never been happier in my life," I said.
My birthday celebration was nice. I was surprised to get a new laptop computer from Mom and Dad. Mrs. Cochran gave me a $50 gift card from Banana Republic. "I know next to nothing about teenage clothes," She said. "I thought you would like to buy something you like."
A few days before school started Mom and I went to the high school to give the school a copy of the document Sharon had signed. "Craig, I'm so happy about this," Mrs. Oxford, the school counselor said. "I always worried about you."
I guess my embarrassment showed and Mrs. Oxford said, "Don't be embarrassed. I grew up in a home with an abusive alcoholic father. Anyway, I'm glad you came in. I was looking over your transcript and if you keep up your current grades you will be the valedictorian of your graduating class."
I couldn't help but notice the huge smile Mom had. I could tell that she was proud of me.
"I also noticed that you're not enrolled in any AP courses," Mrs. Oxford said.
"What are AP courses?" I asked.
"Through AP college-level courses and exams, you can earn college credit and advanced placement," Mrs. Oxford said. "At the end of the course you will take an exam and can earn college credit, depending on your scores. You're enrolled in chemistry and if we change that to AP you can earn ten hours of college credit. You can also earn credit from your Spanish, English, and computer sciences classes. By doing this you could actually start college as a sophomore. You would also save a lot of money in tuition."
"Do you think I can pass?" I asked. I knew I had good grades, but I had worked hard for my grades.
"I know you can," Mrs. Oxford said.
"Son, I'm so proud of you," Dad said when Mom told him of the conversation with Mrs. Oxford. "It's too bad your parents can't appreciate your accomplishments."
"You are my parents," I said.