A song came on the radio today, an early 2000s song, one of those catchy ones whose meaning is lost. It’s one of those songs that obviously lays out the sexual nature in its lyrics but is lost in the catchy music (think R Kelley, Ginuwine, Usher, etc).
Having had a few fermented friends at a buddy’s house, I look at my wife and say, “I once got my ass beat to this song. I was about 12. The song was on the radio, and I was told to turn it off by one of my parents. I said, ‘No’ and what ensued was a violent series of kicking and stomping onto me.”
My wife looked at me, “You know you didn’t have to always be so defiant, the kicking was not right, but you did not always have to instigate things.” (I still instigate things).
Me, “Yeah, true, but still, I was 12.”
Wife, “You should not have been listening to that kind of music at 12… but I guess I was listening to that kind of stuff at 12… But still.”
I have thought about this conversation for a few hours now. The stories of my childhood are plentiful and shocking. This is but a small notch among a much larger series of issues. So jaded are our conversations that we might debate the validity of a 12-year-old’s right to listen to popularly sexualized music over the reality of an adult kicking a child in response. Are we jaded enough to debate a child’s ability to understand and regulate their behavior? The truth is my wife knows this is what I would tell myself.
Before I ever hit double digits, death had stared me in the face. I had watched as the same kicker threaten to kill themselves in front of me. I watched them drag me into the kitchen, grab the knife, and poke at their own wrists. They asked me if that was what I really wanted after I told them I wished they were dead. My answer was often a shrug with a request to stand back so as not to be soaked in blood, oh, and, by the way, make sure you go wrist to elbow, not side to side.
These attempts of compliance quickly escalated to jabbing at my own wrists, which I often offered up without hesitation, along with instructions on how to clean up the crime scene (thank you FBI and Forensic Files). What did I care? One parent was a resentful and neglectful drunk. And the other lies in this story.
Fuck, what did I care? Death seemed like an escape. I look upon my wrists to this day, decades later, and still see the scars of when the bluffs were enhanced as they stuck the tip into my skin on multiple occasions. The sight of blood always equated to a rapid dropping of the knife, a hug with an “I am sorry.” It was not to say that in those moments I did not believe they would do it, that I did not want them to do it, because I did. I fully and wholeheartedly believed that one of those times they would follow through. That the knife might strip away the life of misery. The beatings might one day go too far. That one day I might be lucky enough to breathe my last breath.
My wife was aware that the kicking I received resulted from an act of defiance. It was an act of being heard. It was an act I created. The hindsight of it all, they were the only person to ever listen, to understand me. They would repeat my every word, blow after blow, kick after kick. They had heard my every word. They had listened like no one else ever did. Each and every impact was created just to know someone cared enough to listen. Even if it meant delivering them in pain.
I think it would shock the reader, having only heard one of the milder stories, to know that the kicker and I are very close today. They are actually my closest parent, having been the ONLY one to own up to their mistakes. they took steps to become someone else (stories for another time). Not sure why I felt so compelled to share, but fuck it, there it is. The story of how jaded I am.
Jake Smith is a law enforcement officer and former Army Ranger with four deployments to Afghanistan.
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