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When I Was Five I Lived In a Lion’s Mouth

lion

When I was five years old I lived inside a lion’s mouth for a few days.

My mom and dad would stand in front of our house and watch me walk to the opposite end of the block where my school was.

I stood in front of the gigantic school and felt sick and tiny.

The twin stone lions on either side of the door horrified me.

But what was on the other side of the double doors, whatever it was, was far scarier than lions, or even my parents.

So I would walk up and stand behind one of the lions and pretend to tie my shoe (something I didn’t actually know how to do).

And when no one was looking, I would scurry up the lion’s back and climb into the lion’s mouth, where no one could see me, as long as I was lying down.

I would stay there until I heard the kids leaving and then I would climb out and walk back towards my house, where my parents would be standing, waiting for me to come home.

Eventually they caught me.

They wanted me to see a therapist.

They asked me what I was afraid of and I told them honestly.

“Everything” I said.

I have been very lucky.

Throughout my life I have had a series of therapists who have been able to work through the immense damage that came from what I now realize was an abusive childhood.

Usually it was just a school therapist who spoke with me, but I was forced into therapy at the age of 12, a result of my mother getting a court order against me.

I was arrested, taken to a juvenile detention center, forced to see a probation officer monthly and had to attend counseling each week as part of my probation.

The charge against me was something called incorrigibility.

In other words, I was a bad kid.

incorrigible

adjective

beyond correction, reform, or alteration
My probation officer, Jody, would not allow my mom into the sessions with me.
The first thing Jody said to me was “I don’t believe you are a bad kid. I have some other theories, having met your mother. I know this may sound strange, but would you be willing to take your shirt off?”
A small part of me wondered if this was another adult using me for some weird sexual pleasure, but when she saw me with my shirt off, her face reflected sadness, concern and fear.
She asked me who did this to me.
I didn’t answer.
She swore she could protect me.
I told her that it was my mother and her boyfriend.
She asked if she could photograph me and told me that she would document the photos.
She told me that she would see me weekly.
She explained that by seeing me weekly that it would ensure that they couldn’t injure me, because the wounds wouldn’t have time to heal.
I was skeptical, but wanted to believe her.
Jody asked my mom to come into her office and asked me to wait outside.
My mother was a master of crying and playing the victim.
Everywhere we went people hugged her and told her how brave she was for being such a good mother to such an awful kid.
I believed them too.
I wondered why I was such an awful kid.
I wished my mom had a good son.
So I was confused as to the yelling coming from Jodi’s office.
Why was my probation officer telling my mother that she would put her in jail if she saw “one more mark” on me?
My mother’s facade came crumbling down and the name-calling I had grown accustomed to was now being directed at this authority figure.
I remember Jody telling my mom that she “has seen a thousand mom’s play this poor me act” and that “she wasn’t fooled.”
And my life began to change.
They stopped hitting me.
As they could no longer hit me, they stopped talking to me pretty much entirely.
I still heard the conversations in the kitchen.
The conversations where my mom commiserated with her friends about how awful I was.
And I continued to believe them.
But, I really looked forward to my weekly visits with Jody.
We would play cards and talk about my home life and my future.
I felt safe in her office.
At the end of a year my probation was up, but she renewed it telling the judge that I still was not reformed.
My mom and her boyfriend still hit me, but they were limited in what they could do.
Most of it was just grabbing me by my “faggot long hair” and dragging me around and smacking me with open hands. (fists often times left bruises and opened wounds, whereas smacking left a mark that was gone within an hour usually).
When I was 15, I was jumped by a bunch of kids at the new school (I switched schools every few months due to our constant evictions and subsequent moving around).
When I came home my mom and her boyfriend were concerned, not about me, but about how the bruises and lacerations would get them into trouble with Jody.
I told them that I would tell her that they had nothing to do with it.
“So what did you do to deserve it?” her boyfriend asked.
“I was just standing there.” I said, escaping into my room.
By morning my face was so swollen that I could barely breathe.
They took me to the hospital, blaming me all the way there for being a “faggot” and “having long hair”, which was what had caused the beating, according to them.
Jaw was broke…wired shut…8 weeks without food…weight loss (I dropped from 130 to 110 lbs).
Assaults at school increased.
Kids called me oil can, after the tin-man on The Wizard of Oz, because I couldn’t open my mouth.
The guidance counselor actually told me that she wanted me to quit school.
“This place is dangerous for you.” she said.
“Isn’t it your job to protect me?” I thought.
And then she said something that blows my mind every time I think about it.
“High-school isn’t for everyone she said.”
So I stopped going.
I would walk that direction in the morning, but there where no lions at this school.
I would just walk around and wait until my house was empty and then I would climb into my second story window and play my guitar.
One day my mother came home early.
I heard her milling around.
I got into my closet and closed the door.
I heard her come into my room.
I heard her looking around.
Then the closet door opened.
She dragged me out by my hair.
I escaped.
I ran down the hall and into the kitchen.
She was right behind me.
She got me trapped against the sink and started hitting me.
She forgot about Jody.
It was just like old times.
My mother was more than twice my size.
Her huge fists rained down on my head and I covered up like a defeated boxer.
My back was against the sink.
The knives from the strainer were digging into my skin.
And I panicked.
And I hit my mother.
She lie on the linoleum, clinching her face.
A look of shock and horror on her face.
I knew I had to get out, fast.
I ran to my room and grabbed my guitar and took off out the door, her screaming behind me about how I was going to jail.
I stole a bike and rode it for hours.
I had a friend, Donald, who lived in a neighboring city who I knew would take me in.
In retrospect, I am amazed that I was able to ride a little kids bike 40 miles.
It had a banana seat and the tires were kind of flat.
If I sat down my knees hit the handlebars, so I had to ride standing up.
It took me about seven hours to get to Donald’s house and it rained hard the last two hours.
When I arrived at Donald’s house, he and his sister took me in, no questions asked.
Donald’s sister was so nurturing.
She told me to take off my wet clothes and she wrapped me in a warm blanket and put me in bed.
I fell asleep, immediately.
I lived with Donald for three months.
We were thugs.
We did all the things you expect bad kids to do and after a few months of this we were arrested.
When my mom and her boyfriend came to pick me up, I refused to go with them.
I was in a regular adult jail cell, as they had not yet processed me.
There was nothing in it except for a toilet and a cot.
The officer came into the cell and said “If you don’t go with them you will have to stay in this cell until your trial. That could be months from now.”
“They will kill me.” I told him. “They will actually kill me.”
He went out and said “I am not going to release him to you.”
They argued.
He said “I have never seen a kid who is more afraid of his parents than he is of a jail cell. Something isn’t right.”
They lost their cool and the name-calling started up again.
He told them that he had other cells that he could put them in.
They left.
He brought me magazines.
He brought me print-outs on emancipation.
He made phone calls for me.
He talked my grandparents into taking me in.
He saved me.
I never went back to that tiny apartment.
And I was too large to fit into the lion’s mouth.
Everything was new.
No one was there to hit me.
Or tell me how much I sucked.
No one was there to break my guitar.
No one was there at all.
And it was perfect.
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