Grow up” my dad, John, snarled down at me. “Grow up and try being a man and stop behaving like a snivelling cowardly little excuse for one.” John Hardaker, my dad, was a tall brute of a man and that was the only piece of paternal advice I ever got from him. But I was only ten years old at the time and all I wanted to do was run to my mum’s comforting embrace and cry. In my father’s world “only sissies and poofters cried.” I guess it would be fair to say my dad was old school in his thinking on the order of things like gender and role modelling. Old school, ramrod straight and unbending. He was fifty eight years old, a welder by trade and ten years older than my mom, Susan. He alone ruled in our home and as he saw fit and it was his god given right to do so. My name is Lee and I am the eldest child in a family of two. My baby sister, Taylor, is eight years old and is small built and petite like our mum. Susan, our mum, owns her own mobile hairdressing business and runs it from a beat-up old truck registered to her business, Sue’s House of Beauty. She goes to other ladies’ homes to style their hair and give them manicures. Mom’s youngest sister, Auntie Jane, who is twenty two, great fun and still single looks after us when myself and Taylor get home from school if mum is still working. I spend a lot of home time trying to keep my mum and sister out of harm’s way. By harm’s way I mean out of the way of my father’s frequently violent outbursts.
We live in small town U.S.A. where nothing much of note ever happens except being born then dying with a whole mess of boredom known as living stretched to varying lengths in between. Some would say “the shorter the distance between those two points the better.” But personally I have always felt it’s about the journey rather than the destination. As I already said my father is a welder, he works at a small independent auto repairs store just off main street. The pay ain’t great but it helps to keep the wolf from the door. Allied to a similar income from our moms hairdressing business we were getting by financially just fine. When my dad wasn’t working or beating up on his wife and kids he had two other pastimes, fishing and drinking and he was useless at both. At least being a useless jerk of a fisherman hurt no one except the odd fish he somehow managed to hook. The drinking was another matter entirely.
John Hardaker thought he could drink, he couldn’t. First off, and at the best of times, he wasn’t a very sociable individual but more to the point, he couldn’t hold his drink. When he wanted to drink he would go straight from work to his favourite bar, Colson’s, still dressed in his dirty old blue overalls and steel toed work boots. He felt going there dressed in his work gear added to his authenticity as a legitimate American blue collar worker. He always stood at the bar to drink, the beer went down easier that way and it was what real men did. He didn’t talk much to anyone and as everyone in our home town knew his form they tended to steer a wide path around him anyway. Everything would be fine while he drank his three or four ice cold beers. This was just to get the metallic taste of his days’ work out of his throat as he was known to say. Depending on the heat of that particular day he might even have another couple of beers but then it was on to whiskey and that was always where the real trouble begin. The crowd at the bar would slowly start drifting away from his end of the bar. And he, fool that he was, naively thought this was as a mark of respect for him.
That they were all affording him some drinking space. They, in fact, were only getting as far away from him as they could before shit started to go down.
Whiskey did strange things to my father. The first couple of shots would make him maudlin and reflective about his long lost Irish heritage. He had even been known on a couple of occasions to very softly and tunelessly hum a couple of bars of some old Irish tune whose name he couldn’t even remember. With the next couple of shots would come the anger and wanting to quarrel with whatever poor unfortunates came into his, by now, very blurred line of vision. These fights never amounted to anything much. Just a lot of mistimed and widely aimed punches along with some vaguely muttered insults about his adversaries family linage or lack thereof. This behaviour was always the cue for the bar manager to inform my dad he had more than enough drink taken and it was time he went home to his wife and kids. Bar managers are experts at moving trouble on especially before the serious shit starts to happen. Dad never argued against this point and he would slink away like a sneak thief into the night shadows. Usually he would go and cool off for an hour or two by sitting on a park bench in the bandstand of what passed for our municipal recreational area. More like a forgotten vacant lot which a few civic minded locals tried to maintain and keep free of townspeople’s junk. My dad would sit there muttering darkly to his inner demons. Cursing whatever faiths had conspired to leave him trapped in such a dull little backwater as Carnesville, Kentucky, which said backwater was so fetchingly named. The only times this vacant lot/park was ever used as a municipal amenity were as the start and end points our pathetic little fourth of July parade and a couple of other national commemorative day celebrations. Other than those sparse occasions it was mainly a hang out spot for local high school kids and the towns illegal drug users. I said my dad would usually go there to cool off but this night was different, he was the man with the plan and he needed to get home while that plan was still fresh in the drunken and confused state of mind.
It was easy to see he’d been drinking from the moment he weaved in the front door and slumped drunkenly into his favourite armchair. What also became immediately obvious to my mum and me was he was in the foulest mood he had seen him in for a very long time. Taylor had been upstairs in her bedroom doing her homework as she usually did on school day evenings. But on hearing our dad start into one of his drunken rages she came running down to the living room to stand beside us and support us. We had all hoped he would fall drunkenly asleep as he sometimes did but there was to be no such luck on this particular evening. One of the terrible things about his drunken rages was not knowing who was going to be the subject of that rage. Then again it might be more than one person and might be all of us depending on how lousy he was feeling on a specific night. The first inkling I had that I was to be singled out for special attention on this night was when he stat out “and where might that miserable little excuse for a son of mine be?” This despite the fact I was standing in the same room as him and not more than ten feet away. I had the misfortune to land myself in a fight with two of my high schools biggest bullies that same afternoon. I had taken a good beating. I hadn’t gone looking for a fight but I had heard the two of them, Les and Billy Marson were pedalling some very nasty stories around town about my eight year old sisters virtue. Hell, what’s a brother to do? My blood was already up and I was in no mood to take a second beating that day. I knew where my father kept his old service revolver and my mum had given the money me to get a spare key to the locked desk drawer it was in. When I heard him come home I had immediately gone to the drawer and got the gun and tucked it into the back of my jeans waistband. I told no one I had no plan, no thought out scenarios I was just fed up taking beatings of one sort or another. When he started hitting me something inside snapped in me. Later, I would say to the arresting officer, in many ways I grew up that day.
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