John, my biological father, wasn’t there much when I was little. I remember just one visit he made years before I would move north to Niles, Michigan to live with him and my sister. He was standing on my grandmother’s porch, with his arm against her brick wall, beaming in his blue jeans, sunglasses, and leather jacket, in a hundred degree heat.
I didn’t rush up north overnight or out of nowhere. I spent a previous summer with them, and out of that summer, two memories are the most vivid: when I crashed my cousin’s scooter into their neighbor’s shrubs and the last night before I returned home to Texas. I couldn’t sleep, so I did what anyone does when they think everyone’s asleep—I masturbated. A few minutes after I turned over to go to sleep I heard John, just a few feet away, get off the couch and walk to his room.
The night after I moved back for a more permanent stay, John told me going to church and youth group were mandatory. On the positive side, I also made extra allowance by memorizing passages of scripture.
When I inquired about my bouts of teenage sleep paralysis, John told me it was a demonic attack, and that I simply needed to pray more.
On occasion, John’s brothers and various others with no job or money would stay with us for a while. One uncle stayed in our basement almost an entire summer, which John had remodeled into a decent bedroom—he’s always been good at things like that. My uncle stayed in the room and painted. To avoid walking across the basement and up ten steps, he’d urinate in old water jugs and let them collect along his bed.
John and I were sitting at a small table in at a mall, sipping our respective coffee’s across from one another—we drank a lot of coffee together. He was trying desperately to get to know me and asked if I could skateboard. I told him I could “pop an ollie,” and he said, “I still pop ollies.” And laughed too, like he’d really done the world a favor with another dick joke. I just sat there and stared at him.
John told me Arnold Schwarzenegger was the Anti-Christ Jesus spoke of to his disciples.
One day after school Nicole pulled me into the bathroom and pointed at the shit-streak on the toilet seat John had left. She crumbled like a crushed soda can in laughter. It was a decent line too, there’s no way he could have missed that while flushing.
One of John’s big goals for a week was to rid himself of his license plate. A friend of his told him that if he bought a car with gold, and filed the proper paperwork, he was no longer obligated to have one on his car.
I was rollerblading home from school when I took the usual steep hill beside to a tiny grocer on a typically quiet road. It was too late to stop when I saw the beat-up orange Charger coming at me from the right. I tucked in hoping I could beat the car, but I lost. The corner clipped me and sent me rolling into the jagged cement curb. The force flung my backpack to the other side of the road and sent my glasses in the opposite direction. I pulled myself off the street and collected my things when a guy came running out the adjacent office building, shouting. He’d called an ambulance, so I just sat there till they came and loaded me up and drove me to the hospital. Besides the splashes of road rash across my limbs, the curb wrecked my upper right lateral. The doctor grabbed my nuts, stitched me up, prescribed pills, and gave me back to John, who’d brought his camera to take pictures of me covered in blood and smelly orange germ killer. He didn’t enjoy paying the deductible, but he relished the photo opportunity.
I went with John and his buddy Steve to Little Rock to see an elusive member of the family known as Greg. He was a beach-bum and made odd psychedelic 3-D paintings which he sold with cheap paper 3-D glasses. He was staying with Their mother in a messy shack outside of her house. He gave us a tour while explaining how he had gotten into glass blowing and was developing unbreakable glass pipes. Greg then grabbed one and hurled it across the room, shattering it into pieces. “Well, it still needs a little work,” he shrugged.
John’s sex advice consisted of three words, “Don’t have sex.” He said that hours before my first date with a short dirty-blond, with braces and big round blue eyes. She often wore tight khakis. We went on one date which wasn’t memorable in the least and very quickly lost interest after. I saw her years later at a music festival, she walked right up to me and kissed me on lips. I don’t remember how it came up in conversation, but she disclosed to me that she shot bottle rockets out of her ass on breaks between making Blizzards at DQ.
Sometimes I’d burn incense to make my musty basement dwelling smell tolerable. One of those days John stormed down and accused me of smoking weed. “I know what that stuff’s for!” I told him if he was that worried he could check my room, but he declined.
He paid another visit when he heard “Come Together” through a vent and told me not to play anything by the Beatles in his house ever again. Something about the band being demonic. Decent movies at Blockbuster were also evil.
I made the mistake of whistling at a girl (I was very young) down the street. I went home and put my rollerblades on and headed to the park. As I passed her house I found myself surrounded by six people, one of which was her boyfriend, and he wanted to knock my teeth out. As the taunts began, John came cruising by on his motorcycle with a look on his face that said you’re fucked. He never asked about it, but to be fair, I wasn’t the one who got hurt.
My sister and I bailed on school but didn’t bother telling each other. I spent all morning running around, screaming and making strange noises, banging shit together, repeating strange sounds—shit you do when you think you’re all alone. She burst out of her room and screamed, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” To this day, I wonder what horrible secrets I revealed while chatting with the furniture.
I was in an old Kung Fu movie phase. One morning when I was unusually caffeinated, my dad sleepily carried himself into the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. I started waving my arms around, imitating the ancient masters, then I drew my arm back and thrust two fingers right into the spot under the sternum that knocks all the air out of the lungs. He spat out his coffee and coughed, “I’m gonna beat the shit out you.” He didn’t, but the ride to school was incredibly awkward.
I wasn’t home much during my last two years of high school. By the time I graduated John saved a grand for me—possibly the nicest thing he’s done for me. I bought a car for $200 and moved to Las Vegas, we haven’t talked much since.