Five a.m. came quick for Chris. It wasn’t a late night with the boys, or an argument with his wife that brought the morning on so quick. No, he was just worn out from his new carpentry job. Setting in his favorite chair, he realized he had fallen asleep with his work boots on. A small quilt covered him; a sure sign his wife took care of him.
Slowly making his way to the kitchen his body ached. Every joint popped like a bowl of milk and rice-crispies. Setting at the kitchen table, he untied his boots and kicked them off. Pulling his socks off too, he placed his feet on the cold hardwood floor. The cool flat surface brought relief as he made his way to the coffeepot. First the a precise measurement of grounds, then a pot full of water was added. As the first drip of coffee fell, Chris began to stretch. How could he be this young and feel this old? His hands still felt tight from gripping a hammer all day. Hand cramps were a sign of learning. Gotta let the hammer do the work. He told himself as he stretched his fingers out. The morning fog cleared from his thoughts as he stood there watching the pot fill. I could be getting ready for the day.
A quick shower and fresh clothes helped him face the morning. Moving with more ease, he poured his first cup. Not sure if it was his youth, inexperience or the excitement of learning a new trade, but he was actually excited to go to work. His career choice was the foundation he was building his life on.
Life didn’t come with instructions. It came with those before us showing what works and what doesn’t. Like Chris, we have all stepped out with uncertainty. But our youthful vigor perpetuated us all to achieve our greatness. As our work kicks back with pain, we are reminded five a.m. comes quick for us all.
The engine raced as adrenaline rushed through Levi’s veins. Tires screamed in horror, fighting to hang onto the morning asphalt of each corner. Machine and man danced around each chicane resembling two familiar lovers, knowing each other’s moves. This was not loved; this was passion. Cresting at the last hill, three miles of straight road filled his eyes. With ears tuned to each signature shift point, Levi was pulled deeper into his seat. The speedometer’s needle slowly made it’s way past 150mph. At the end of the straightaway, a hairpin corner waited patiently. Nerves tingles as a 20mph sign flew by in a blur beckoning him to slow down. Was this stupidity or just craziness? Whichever, he knew he was coming in too hot. This is where experience and reflexes demanded perfection. One hesitation, or one miscalculation could send car and driver to an early grave. Like four permanent markers, the wide tires marked the pavement in a howling pain. Levi’s body was pushed to the side making it difficult to move. Knuckles turned white, fighting to stay in control. The car careened sideways around the corner. A downward shift and the sound of an accelerating engine shot Levi out of the hairpin. A quick glimpse at the side mirror revealed no space between the tire marks and the unforgiving grass-line. Once again he escaped death’s clutches. However, an old oak stood six feet from the line, baring scars from the many drivers it had caught; a sacred reminder of past mistakes made with confidence. Such is life through the eyes of Levi and why he loved to dance around the corners.
When the consolidating cool air is upon me. I will ban with others, and bring the storm. Winds, thunder, and lightening will join in our crusade. Within this war we wage, I will fall. Plummeting at a chaotic rate, the winds of change will rip at the fabric of my soul. Though I’ll fight to stay together, fragments will be lost. Others around me will fall with me with no Calvary in sight. We are all fighting the same fight, but we are so individual.
A catastrophic amount of myself will be lost within the realm of my descending impact. I will only be a fraction of what I was. Yet, my days of demise are not upon me. For as the sun rises and brings the heat of the day, I too shall rise far above this earth, only to wage another storm.
Same day continued.
How many times can one hit a dog before it bites? Once too many is the answer. Although Christian had never struck is mother verbally or physically, he understood this saying very well. She was a constant stumbling block for him. Always carrying a negative air, she rarely shown appreciation. It was as though she hated the fact he was born and made it a point to show that hate everyday. Some days it was a storm of ridicule, breaking his soul until there was no will to live. Other days he was nothing more than a punching bag catching her closed fists. One would think after all of this abuse he would hate his mother. No, for Christian it was apathy. He had no hate nor did he have any love. In the end she was his mother and there was no changing that.
Tracy, the thin built, blonde wiry haired woman slowly rose and followed Christian into his apartment. Her eyes shifted around the room as to take note of its inventory.
A smirk gleamed across her face, “I see Luke came for a visit.” She pause to see his reaction. “That restraining order you put on him was a little uncalled for.” She watched as Christian filled a cup with water. His silence was unnerving. “It’s not like he waltzed in here and tried to take YOUR son away from YOU.” She prodded.
“How have you been?” Christian asked as he handed her the cup of water.
Grabbing the cup, her postured changed. “I’ve been doing. I got fired from the store and I’m waiting to hear back from my last interview. Hey, that reminds me, you wouldn’t happen to have $50 I can borrow, would you?”
“No.” he calmly answered, knowing that even if he did have it, he would never see it again.
Returning to her former posture she belted, “See that’s what’s wrong with you. You think you can raise your brother better than I can, but your don’t even have fifty dollars to your name. You couldn’t possibly begin to afford to raise your brother. Do you realize how rich I’d be if I didn’t have to raise you two? I have labored and toiled and broke my back bending over taking on every job that I could to raise you two. And what thanks do I get? NONE. I get a son who wants to divide this family.” Pausing she gazed at Christian with disgust. “I should have killed you as an infant.”
Christian kept his voice calm. “You’re a junky mother. You’re an abusive, drug using, mother. You have resented me from the day you pushed my out of the womb. I have been that unpickable splinter, constantly digging at you. Now you have went and involved Luke. When things get too tough you throw others in the middle of it. You don’t deserve to be Benjamin’s mother.”
Popping up as though a reminder dinged in her head, Tracy retorted. “Oh that reminds me. The service is on Saturday. That’s the whole reason I came over.” Laughing at her simple mind she continued. “You’re brother got in a car wreck. Paramedics said that he died at the scene. Sad, he had such a bright future ahead of him. Well, I’m off. I have to get everything in order before Saturday.” She left as though her job was finished as she was off to her next agenda.
The room began to spin as Christian sat at his kitchen table. All of his efforts to save his brother was thrown to the wind. Words were lost as a wave of emotions crushed his soul. Tears began to fall as he fought to repress his hatred. She doesn’t deserve your emotion. Benjamin is in a better place far from her abuse.
Twenty years later.
Looking back I see clearly what was meant to be. I would have never went to college, landed the job of my dreams. married the love of my life, nor had two sons of my own. No, life has a way of saying ‘You’re about to make the wrong choice for the right reason.’ Soon after my brother’s death I moved to the west coast. It’s funny how, with all the miles in between us, I can still hear my mother’s hatred filled voice. My psychology professor once said the voice of encouragement that lies within us is the voice of our parents. How true this is.
I don’t regret trying to adopt my brother. In fact, had I not done anything, my pain would have been deeper.
“After going over your finances, there are some areas I would like to cover with you.” The caseworker’s rehearsed tone predicted a forecast of brick walls, not speed bumps.
Christian sat silent as he listened. With each visit he risked the chance of being fired, This was the second time he had to request time off from work. Warnings from his foreman added to the tension. He was still in the 90 day probation. Any excuse to get fired was one excuse too many. Family first. He reminded himself … at the end of the day we all stop working, we do not stop being family. However, I need this job to show I can support my brother.
“I understand that you make minimum wage.” The caseworker’s dark smooth skin deeply contrasting with her eye’s sclera, accented her concerned look.
A bit of embarrassment came over Christian. He knew he made minimum wage, but to hear someone say it out loud actually brought a sense of lowliness to it. “Yes, and because of such, I will qualify for government assistance.”
“Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.” she paused, “We are in the process of reducing people needing government aid. Your brother would be better off where he is, or in a more financially stable home.”
Without raising his voice Christian made his rebuttal “That’s absurd. A single woman, making minimum wage can give birth to a child, but I cannot adopt my own brother. Child services has been called to her house on serval occasions.”
“…And the police has recently been called to your house.” the caseworker added as she glanced at his swollen nose. “If I bring this to my superior right now, she would laugh at it. There is no way that I can allow you to adopt your brother. Trust me when I say I understand what you are doing. I was that single mother you mentioned, and yes, I was on government support. Is it fair? No. But that’s how the system works. I am fighting for you. I need you to show me that you have a stable income and a safe home.”
The words sank deep with Christian. She was right. “So, what type of budget are we talking about?”
“It’s tight but it’s what I used when raising my little girl.” The caseworker pulled out a slip of paper. “Just fill this out and you’ll see where you stand.”
His heart sank. There was no way he could make these numbers work. Sacrifices had to be made. That was the simple truth. Taking a deep breath, Christian thanked Ashley for her time, then headed home.
On the ride home, Christian swarmed around how he could make the budget work. He wasn’t that far off, he just needed to take sack lunches in, sell his car, walk to work, never use the a/c or lights and bath only at work. Yea, he could make this work. I can do this. Just need to plan it out and stay the course. Pulling into the driveway, he looked at his apartment unit on the second floor. Good news is, I don’t need to look for a cheaper apartment. I already have it.
A buzz from his phone signaled a missed call and a voice mail.
“Hey Christian, this is George. Don’t worry about coming into work this week. Management has decided to give you the rest of the week off without pay. Hope you get everything worked out, and we’ll see you next Monday.”
How could he sound to nonchalant about that? Hey, we’re gonna take a quarter of your paycheck. Hope you don’t mind.
Walking up to his apartment, he found his mother setting by his door.
“When it rains, it pours.” Christian exhaled.
Two weeks later.
A cool morning breeze carried the aroma of fresh Columbian coffee across Christian’s nose as he realized he had fallen asleep in the living room again. Slowly stretching as he stood up, he zombie walked to the bathroom. Splashing cold water on his face instantly brought a sense of rejuvenation.
Pouring his first cup of java and placing two waffles in the toaster, Christian started to plan his day. Saturday was his relax-day. A day for sight-seeing, visiting museums, or just staying in and doing nothing at all. With his first sip, he thought about his brother. He would love to go visit him this weekend, but after initiating adoption paperwork, it just seemed awkward going to his mother’s house. It had been a couple of weeks since filing with his caseworker, and he was sure his mother received notification of his intent. Two waffles interrupted his thoughts as they jumped up. A topping of butter and syrup completed the ensemble.
Three solid knocks erupted from the front door. Christian almost spilt his coffee.
“Yeah?” Christian shouted his inquiry.
“Hey Christian, open up it’s Luke.”
A puzzled looked crossed Christian’s face. Uncle Luke? He doesn’t even come around for the holidays. What does he want?
Outside the door stood an average build five foot ten inch man, with a face weathered by hard times. Christian knew his uncle served a prison term, and this visit was not for pleasantries. Opening the door, he gave his uncle the benefit of the doubt and started with a smile.
“Good morning Uncle.”
A fist came out of nowhere and Christian fell flat against a wall. Wall? There wasn’t a wall behind me. With his head ringing he realized he was, in fact, lying on the floor. That was the first time he had ever been knocked off of his feet like that.
“Get up!” Luke shouted.
I have to find my legs first. Christian thought as he rolled over to his stomach.
The floor under him began to slide away as his uncle started dragging him to the bathroom by his leg. Oh! There’s my legs. His humor maintain what composure he had left. The sliding stopped, but was soon followed by two more fists to his face.
Shouting expletives as pain riddled his nose bridge, Christian began to ask why his uncle was attacking him. Grabbing him by the scruff of the neck, Luke plunged his head into the toilet. The sound of his uncle shouting an explanation could be heard, but the splashing of the water prevented any comprehension. Besides, the only thing Christian was thinking at this time was, Thank god I flushed this morning.
“Do you understand?” Luke shouted as he pulled Christian’s head out of the toilet.
“Yes!” In truth he had no idea what he was agreeing to, but Christian knew saying yes would end his uncle’s fury, at least he hoped it would.
“Good.” and with that Luke left.
Soaked, Christian just sat on the floor. His face was a pulsating heartbeat. Looking around, everything was wet. How did so much water come from his toilet? He had to have flushed while my head was in there. This is a lot of water. Standing up, he hurt all over as a bloody reflection revealed a broken nose.
“Hello?” a male voice inquired. “This is the police, anyone there.”
“Yeah, in the bathroom.” Christian answered.
A neighbor had called complaining about the noise. A couple of paramedics helped clean and evaluated his face. A broken nose needs resetting, but without proper insurance that wasn’t happening. Christian talked one of the paramedic into setting it for him.
“How are you going to get good at it if you don’t practice?” he smile.
Crackling cartilage and a few choice words signaled his regret for making that statement, But, the relief that followed made it worthwhile. After seeing the three patrons to the door and giving the police the information he needed, Christian returned to the kitchen.
Nothing says Saturday morning like coffee, waffles and a visit from Uncle Luke.
“So, how long will it be before I can adopt my brother?” Christian inquired,
Confusion burned his thoughts as he grappled to make sense of the process.
“I don’t have time to wait. He is in a volatile home.” he explained.
“If his life is in danger, then I would suggest calling child services. They will be able to help.” The caseworker shot him a quick glance then continued typing.
Christian could feel the heat from his neck rising. Twice he called them for help, and twice they called his mother notifying her of what date they were stopping by for an evaluation. His mother deserved an Oscar for her acting abilities. Why couldn’t she be that kind of mother everyday? Memories of the abuse he received before he moved out on his own vexed his thoughts. No, this is how I’m going to beat her. I will let the system work. A calm air of confidence lowered his shoulders. He knew this was the best way. This was how he was going to save his brother.
Patiently he filed his adoption request via his caseworker, then headed home. His two bedroom apartment wasn’t much, but it was his. Someday he would own a two story home with a three car garage. Someday takes a long time to arrive. He chuckled to himself. His mind sorted out the events of the day as he sat on his futon, blankly staring at the network TV show. Despite the caseworkers numb attitude, her “post-script” hung in his ears. Repeating her words he softly muttered “I really do hope everything works out.” Was that part of her act or was she sincere? Social confusion or misunderstanding resulted from the mental abuse his mother dished out. It was hard to tell what others really meant. Sarcasm was difficult to grasp. His eyes grew heavy as the day’s adventure began to take it’s toll.
His mind turned towards the events to come. A call from his mother stating her disapproval was certain. How would he handle it? Like a change in the air before a storm, he knew hard times were coming. It was time for him to adult-up and do what was right, regardless of the cost.