Not Your House
She’s in front of me with the blade tipped against my stomach, one of those French knives to mince, dice, and julienne vegetables. I drove her to such a rage, copping my attitude of adolescent diffidence and forcing her to desperately lunge towards her utensils drawer that she frantically dug through until she found the weapon she needed and, wielding it, flung herself around, its blade a foot long and nearly catching me across the cheek.
I’m not seething, I’m cool, restrained, but she’s fuming and as a bead of sweat hangs off her nose she faces me, there, in her kitchen and she screams, exhibiting no control, “This is my house, my house, not yours and what I say is what goes in my house! Do you understand me?”
I don’t nod. I say nothing. I’m her son, her blood, she wouldn’t dare use that blade on me. This is a joke, right? I’m chuckling inside, not really scared of her emotions but puzzled by them and I show, in return, an unearned confidence and boldness as I sneer at her, which I’ve done many times before. It says that nobody pushes me around.
She screams, letting fly the curses I’ve learned from her, that I’m now so proud to know. Few of her words make sense, popping and hissing off her wet lips, spit flying to prove her raw emotion and the bile that matches the crimson splotching across her face.
“You son of a bitch I’ll kill you, I swear.”
She glares and lunges forward, nudging the knife towards me until she sees me react, just a twitch, but it’s enough to know that she’s scared me, at last, having pinned my back against the kitchen door. I expect her to hesitate, compose herself and back down, but she keeps thrusting the knife in short jabs into my stomach while not breaking the skin. It begins to hurt and I flinch. She’s drawing power from this and raises the knife as she leans in to press the blade against my throat and that’s when I see and understand that she doesn’t know what she’s doing. She’s capable of anything and I’m not dumb enough to not be afraid.
I watch as she continues to seethe. We may be staring each other in the eye, but I know that she doesn’t see anything. We sweat and glare, furious. I don’t know how the fight started or why.
It’s not a dream. This is happening. This is my life and all I can think is that it sucks.
She keeps threatening with the knife until, for reasons unknown to me, fatigue perhaps, the tension inside her collapses. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen her angry, but I’ve never seen her this hysterical and violent, and it’s the most scared I’ve ever felt, realizing she might actually do it, make it my last day, carve me up and leave me in a stew of blood on her kitchen floor.
But I don’t care and so I shout at her. “Go ahead! I wanna die. At least it’ll get me out of this fucking house.”
She bursts into a sob and slams the knife to the floor. She howls and bawls and staggers crookedly, dazed and without control, away from me out of the kitchen and around a corner toward her bedroom. Once she’s out of sight, I hear her bedroom door sound its familiar boom as she slams it behind her.
I stand, sweat raining down my sides and I’m not sure I can think reasonably but I’m able to ask myself if I feel as much guilt as I do fear and shock. Why have I brought this out of her? What am I trying to prove? It started because I’m sick of school, of harassment on the bus, in the locker room, in corridors between classes. I’m sick of what my brother calls “the mentality,” where the same bullies we knew in Little League are now dominant in the school parking lot and in the bathrooms and in wood shop, where one of them smashed a project I was working on, meant to be a gift for my mother. He thought nothing of it, cackled and sneered with his wood shop clique behind him, a posse of supportive thugs. Smashed that wooden magazine rack, still in its infancy, a replica of a cranberry bog rake made of white pine that shattered with ease against a glazed cinder block wall. The shop teacher wasn’t around. All I did was stand there frozen, pimpled, fat and not menacing enough to take any of them on, and not a single ally to back me up.
I’ve never told this to my mother and I never will, even though a few days after the knife incident, she leaves my brother and sister to watch the house while she takes me for a long walk at twilight in our neighborhood, the crickets chirping around us, the air smelling green and sharp. We don’t hug. We don’t discuss our kitchen fight or apologize. It’s there, but it’s buried, which means I’m supposed to forget about it, as she will, though I suspect we both know we can’t. We must live with it as one more disturbing memory, add it to a growing list of spats and quarrels and confrontations, all of them painful to recall. So, I won’t. I see them as acts of recrimination and spite. To be filed away in layers that harden inside me one upon the other like the skin forming calluses on my feet.
Why do we hate each other so much? I don’t think we do. I refuse to believe it. Yet we always fight. She tells me she’s still angry with me, but that she’s still my mother. She knows I’m still angry with her. She can live with this, she says, because she also knows my anger will pass. Just as hers will. Our talk doesn’t go much beyond this. I don’t know if she’s right. I don’t know what to think. What starts to settle in eventually is this feeling of doubt about my ability to understand anything, and I suspect that it will take a long time for this doubt to change and develop into something else and become a constant and worthy of my trust.
During our walk, I don’t feel this doubt because I believe nothing will change between us and that my thoughts really don’t matter. She will dictate all terms for as long as I am around. Things will be different once I’m gone. I’ll be away from here soon and once I graduate, I’ll run away and never look back. Where I’ll go is anyone’s guess, but I’ll know the place when I see it. This is about the only thing I’m sure of.
There are two months left and as the school year goes on, I become increasingly a loner, isolated, moody. I begin a journey inward through a series of charts that I use to record, in words, various measures between emotional highs and lows. One chart begins with the heading: Moments of Stupor Awareness. I find that I like toying with words and how they connect to my emotions. Another chart is headed: Attempts to Codify-Modify. This is followed by: More Frustration Rooms. All these are drenched in what I deem a sense of new release and understanding. I collect the charts in one three-ring binder titled: Repetition X of Drama Dream. This binder feels like the only thing in my life that is my own, without religion or rules or anyone else’s approval, a guide to who I am crafted during quiet hours of privacy to help me comprehend my hunger for a question, not an answer, because I don’t know what’s wrong. Not with me, not with my mother, not with any of the culture of school. I just don’t know. When my father was alive, I might have gone to him. I can’t say. I’ve tried talking to teachers and guidance counselors, but it’s like they’ve seen too many others like me before. They don’t want any part of whatever future I must represent to them.
I write furiously, rendering crazed erratic passages that fill one page after another. I draw sketches of all sorts, many of them picturing naked women with large breasts. I write some poems that are epically long, some tiny and nasty. The key is that no one knows about them. They define themselves in my mind and hence draw their own lines of separation to fill different pages, producing their own logic. I never once write that I hate my mother. I try to, at times, but I can’t. Nor am I sure that I love her – isn’t a son bound by duty to love their mother? What is wrong with me? I don’t know. I resolve that, in time, I will weaken the thread of loneliness that holds my days together, but I don’t know how to do it.
I need a better job than the one I have at the doughnut shop. My mother, of all people, suggests I quit and see a man she knows who runs a construction business. He’s an old acquaintance of my father’s, actually attended his funeral. The man offers me a job at ten dollars an hour on Saturdays with a few hours each day after school. At school, I withdraw further, quit the baseball team, as much as I love baseball. I quit the drama club and chorus – two other pursuits that have brought steady joys as well as harassments. Everything school-related becomes secondary, of no importance, a question of time served until I graduate. I walk the corridors there as if I’m a ghost, seeing nothing, seen by none. I only visit the men’s room when I know it’s empty. I’m failing at least two classes I need to graduate, so I concentrate on them at home a little more and my little brother, who’s smart, my opposite, helps me. I mean, I actually study for the first time in my life, hoping I’ll learn enough to merit D grades. Thing is, if I hate my mother so much, why am I concerned about shaming her if I don’t graduate?
I bolt from classes early each day, cutting out an hour after lunch. I have work-study status now and this allows me to nourish a new heat within, to forget about the nightmares I have of acting out one fantasy after another, whether burning down the school or copy-catting one of the mass-killing shooters that keep popping up all over the country. I understand those kids. I get why they feel so lost, so dried-up, teeming with a desire to terrorize. But I couldn’t go that far. I talked to my brother about this and he said deep down that I want to be positive. I said he was wrong, but after some thought and a lot of scribbling, I began to see how wise he is for his age. I need a change of scene. I do for my construction boss whatever I’m told, no matter how dull or dirty, in order to earn my pay. This I really like. If asked, I can show others how, in my own way, without “the mentality,” I have a knack for the ability to live well.
Still, I feel so alone. Though I believe, one day, I’ll get the life I’m destined to have with love that isn’t doubted and show them all they were wrong for shutting me out. I’ll get my revenge.
John Michael Flynn was the 2017 Writer in Residence at Carl Sandburg’s
home, Connemara, in North Carolina. In 2015 he completed a one-year English
Language Fellowship through the US State Department in Khabarovsk, Russia.
Poetry collections include *Restless Vanishings*, and *Keepers Meet* *Questing
Eyes* from Leaf Garden Press. (www.leafgarden.blogspot.com), and *Blackbird
Once Wild Now* *Tame* translated from the Romanian of Nicolae Dabija. He’s
published three collections of short stories, his most recent, *Off To The
Next Wherever* from Fomite Books (www.fomitepress.com). He teaches at TED
University in Ankara, Turkey. Visit him at www.basilrosa.com.
*Fabrice Poussin is the advisor for The Chimes, the Shorter University award winning poetry and arts publication. His writing and photography have been published in print, including Kestrel, Symposium, La Pensee Universelle, Paris, and other art and literature magazines in the United States and abroad.