Young and Dumb
by Ryan Abbott

           Once again, I woke up in the middle of the night to yelling and screaming. I rolled my eyes and I glanced at my clock and saw that it was 2:30am. I was very used to it by now, it was all I knew. The immature bickering always took place at around this time. I rolled out of bed and put my ear to the door just to find out what I was going to walk into. I slowly opened the door and briskly walked down the hallway. I stood in between my mom and dad and listened to their back and forth screaming match about something I did not understand. All I knew was that they were mad, and no one was winning. After about one minute of looking back and forth at them,as if I was watching a heated tennis match, they finally realized I was awake and standing right there  listening, watching, and studying. This always ended in someone blaming the other for yelling in front of me and setting a “bad” example, shortly followed by something being thrown or my Dad putting his fist through one of the previously destroyed walls. This was my cue. I went back up to my room very slowly to ensure they would not yell at each other for as long as possible. The moment one of them heard my door shut, the fight was back on. I plopped down on my bed and thought about what I could possibly do to make this better, something that I have not already tried. This thought process was a daily routine for me.  Then I heard the front door slam, and I knew that this was never a good sign.

My mom came storming into my room with her wool coat on, and her collar held high. “Ry, come on honey, we have to take a ride really quick. Put your shoes on and bring your blanket.” She always told me we were going to take a “ride” as if I was totally oblivious to what was transpiring. Granted, I was only five years old, and I barely ever knew the context of the argument. But I didn’t have to know. I saw anger in their cutting glassy eyes. I heard words come out of their mouths that I would never ever be allowed to say, especially to someone I loved. Mostly, when they ignorantly said these terrible insults, they seemed like they really meant it.

I slipped on my shoes and jogged out the door. Mom was already in the car and crying like a baby. I don’t know why, but I always had to ask, “What’s wrong Mom?” It was a rhetorical question, and I knew she would never answer, but I always felt obligated to ask to show that I cared. She peeled out of the drive way and off to the races we went. We were going to chase down Dad again. He always took the same route when he left after an argument, and Mom knew exactly where he would be going. Racing through the neighborhood at fifty miles per hour, Mom caught sight of Dad’s monster truck. These high pursuit chases were so familiar to me, but Mom was desperate tonight. Dad caught site of Mom on his tail and veered off the road into an overgrown field that I rode my bike through daily. I was thinking, “This is a lost cause. There is no way Mom’s dinky Honda would keep up with Dad in this terrain.”

She made a move, and veered off right behind Dad. We plowed through tall grass, and I could hear the undercarriage of the car banging against the ground as I bounced up and down in the car. Dad was heading right for the bike route we took, and I knew there was a big hill up ahead that Mom would surely get stuck on. This was just a matter of physics. As Dad disappeared down the slope, I once again thought that Mom should have called it quits. I guess love can do some crazy things, and she hammered the gas to the floor.

The car bounced as it hit the first bump, and, just as I suspected, got high centered on the hill. So, here we were at three o’clock in the morning, teetering at the top of a ten foot hill, because my possessed Mom decided it would be a good idea to go off -roading in her front wheel drive Honda Civic. I saw all hope drain off her face. Defeat. She sank in her chair, and her head lay against the steering wheel. Her shoulders bobbed up and down as she sobbed uncontrollably. I could do nothing. We were hopeless. Just as I was getting out of the car to start walking home, Dad came peeling around the corner of the woods. He didn’t say a word. He just grabbed some chains out of the back of his truck, hooked them up to Mom’s car, and yanked her out of her predicament. No words were spoken, yelled, screamed, no insults, no problems. Just stale argument was left. It was over, for tonight.

About a year later, my Mom gave birth to my younger sister, Devin. At this point, my Dad was in and out of our lives. Sometimes he would be home and sometimes he would disappear for weeks on end. I always knew where to find him, though, and I called my Pop Pop’s house everyday just to talk to Dad. He was my hero, my role model, and starting to become my foil. During the first few months my Dad was obligated to stick around and help my Mom. That didn’t last long at all. They still argued, but a lot quieter, and Dad honed his skills in evading Mom’s pursuit tactics.

When my sister was about one year old, my mom finally had enough and demanded a divorce. Dad didn’t put up much of a fight. They were both miserable, exhausted, and constantly fighting a losing battle. Knowing this did not make me feel any better about the situation. My mom eventually exiled him from the house, never to be allowed back in again. In turn, this caused me to leave the house a lot more often and hang out with my Dad. He understood me. He listened to me. He talked to me like I was one of his friends. He gave the best advice and loved me unconditionally. I couldn’t get enough of his raw logic, toughness, and perspectives he had on life. To him, everyday was new, and there were no regrets, he did what he wanted, when he wanted to. What an amazing sense of freedom that must be.

Soon enough, my mom searched elsewhere for a man in her life to fill the holes that my dad left empty. She eventually came across a man named Kurt. Kurt was a guy that actually played high school football with my dad. He blocked on the offensive line with him. “Pretty odd, such a small world,” I thought. I was not fond of him. He was tall and goofy. He drug his feet. He had a really insecure slouch when he walked. The first time I met him, he had his mouth wired shut because he ran his mouth to the wrong guy who, in turn, broke Kurt’s jaw. I thought this was funny, and it reminded me of the advice my dad gave me: “What goes around comes around, Ryan. Give respect and you get respect.”

One day, I got home from school and did my daily routine of watching my sister while my mom was at work. As usual, I called my Dad repeatedly, only to get the answering machine every time. I had not talked to him in weeks. This was odd. The last time this happened, he was arrested on some charge that everyone refused to tell me about. They promised, “I’ll tell you when you get older.” Shortly after dinner, I was playing Sega Genesis in my room, and I heard the front door open. But before it closed, I heard my mom command, “NO. NO. You cannot be here Brian! Get out!” Dad walked past as if she did not say anything at all. He casually walked into my little sister’s room, picked her up and just held her and cried. My mom was the only one screaming, and even Devin was completely content being in his arms. She didn’t make a sound, just looked at him. She could not talk, but I knew she wanted to say a million things to him. My mom finally had enough and took things to a completely unnecessary, irrational, and simply psycho level. She walked into the kitchen, opened a drawer, and quickly came stomping back up the stairs with a large kitchen knife in her hand.

Time stopped. I was lost. I thought maybe I was dreaming, for my mom would surely not do something this crazy. I couldn’t take my eyes off of Devin. I didn’t want her to watch. I didn’t want her to see the things I have. She deserved so much more. Time started to slowly crawl again. My dad did not say anything.  It was as if he was done with the arguing. He had grown up, out of his immature ways. After all, he was twenty-three years old now. Before my mom could say another word, he reached out with his bare, calloused hands and snapped the steel knife right in half. “Are you happy now?” he rhetorically yelled. My mom, once again defeated, fell to her knees, and regretfully wept with the handle of the knife still in her hand. My mom’s new tough guy boyfriend, Kurt, just stood in the doorway and watched like the diva girls in high school gym class who fail because they refuse to even dress for class.

My dad had enough and left just as abruptly as he arrived. Kurt thought it would be appropriate to go talk to my dad and tell him that he was not allowed back in the house again. Personally, I did not really think he could be that intimidating with his jaw wired shut. However, Kurt thought he was going to give my dad “A piece of his mind.” I snickered silently inside. I knew how this would end. I have seen my short-fused Dad in many fist fights, and I’ve never seen him hit in any of them. Even at such a young age, I had seen my Dad debilitate many men. Nevertheless, Kurt walked ever so confidently out to the front yard. Before he could get his first word out, he was once again knocked out because he was putting his nose where it didn’t belong. As the night went on, the police came and went. Nosey neighbors were in and out, asking questions like they really cared. I knew better. They just wanted some gossip.

That night I got to thinking, like I usually did after my parents’ fights. But this was different. The slow motion slides of my Dad breaking that knife in his bare hands were playing through my head over and over. It was superhuman. Amazing. I could not believe it. Just as I was reveling in my Dad’s sheer power and toughness, I realized that this was not what I wanted, not what I wanted to be. He was my hero, and now it had gone too far. I could no longer think that it was cool that he snapped a knife in half, and I couldn’t be proud about how he hauled off and knocked out Kurt. But that was not the point. I wanted to be a rational, loving, patient, wise, and above all different.

This made me think about another piece of advice my dad gave me: “Ryan, if you hang around shit, the stink rubs off.” The phrase never made sense to me until now. I got it. Now I just needed to find a way to still hang out with my dad and not have his ill tempered personality rub off on me. I also never held my mom’s actions against her. Her actions were irrational, but we all make irrational decisions and do crazy things. Irrational decisions are necessary for maturity. That is when I realized that I can learn from the mistakes they made and continue to make. I can turn it into fuel, into knowledge, and into wisdom. I was determined to prosper and rise, even in front of the eyes of the weary who said I was just like my father. So here I am, making mistakes of my own but never the same ones twice.