Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Dirty Pillows and Hoegaarden

Well now.

I spoke to a great friend of mine today who's been going through a shit storm over the past year. It's been a while since we talked, and we caught up with each other; about life in general and writing more specifically.

I told her over the past few weeks my schedule had been such that I'd not been able to write hardly anything. As a result, I'd been feeling cagey, like I'd drank way too much caffeine; wanting to crawl out of my own skin.

Apparently, this isn't something singular to me, as she immediately related.

She told me to go write 500 words about anything. Toilet paper. The color of insanity. Whatever. Just go do it. And I was going to tonight. I wasn't sure of the topic, but I was going to do something other a blog post.

Then I got a call from my mother, which spun me in the direction of a six pack of Hoegaarden and I've settled down here to write this instead.

There's an old Indian adage that's been beaten to death in Hollywood westerns, but it's a conversation between a grandfather and his grandson:

"Each of us has two wolves fighting inside them. They're fighting all the time because they're so hungry." Grandfather said. "One is dark and angry and hateful. The other is light and gentle and loving."

"Which one will win?" asked the Grandson.

"The one you feed." Grandfather replied.

Some of you who come to read this blog know my childhood and others definitely don't have a clue.

Being extremely sheltered aside, overall I had a pretty great childhood, but I come from a family that's roughly 90% knuckle-dragging, rifle-rack hanging, rebel-flag waving, all-other-than-white-hating, hillbillies.

No, I didn't say rednecks. There's a difference. Rednecks will guzzle down Budweiser and watch Nascar.

Hillbillies will do the same thing, but they'll do it barefoot and their tv will be set up on old tires on the back porch so they can get better reception from the antenna.

Rednecks may have a mullet.

Hillbillies get their haircuts with an electric razor and keep a banjo handy for special occasions.

You see, on my mother's side of the family, there were nine kids, including her, and they all grew up in... (wait for it) West Virginia.

Over the course of my childhood, growing up in Northern Maryland and Pennsylvania, I saw quite a lot of those nine kids; my uncles and aunts. I was witness to many a bluegrass picking session at my grandparents, who played bass, mandolin, banjo, six and twelve string guitar, and when he was drinking heavily, my grandfather could also strum a mean ukulele when it got down to it.

But I digress.

Thing is, those nine kids as adults were the source of so many fist fights at cookouts, weddings, general get togethers, halloween, birthday and graduation parties, Christmas and New Year's Eve celebrations (oh, there was a stabbing at one of those when I was younger... sixteen maybe, but at the time I was extremely drunk on screwdrivers and really didn't care about a stabbing. I did however, care the next morning when it felt like my very soul was going to strangle my brain for my misbehavior the night before. Again, I digress).

Those nine kids spun out across the area of Maryland and Pennsylvania. One of them (as a child, he said he wanted to be a liquidator when he grew up. My grandmother asked him what that was and after explaining that it was basically a paid assassin, he got his ass beaten from one side of the house to the other) actually ran a bar in Pennsylvania (a bar... are you fucking kidding me? That's like Courtney Love running a cocaine farm)

A few kept their act together but most didn't. Their entertainment of choice was alcohol or worse and as such, they all sort of blended together when I'd describe the craziness to my friends. They became almost a single entity, like flocks of snowbirds you see all twisting and turning in the air, one mind, one purpose.

Now, I could tell you about a fight between two uncles where a right cross and a large turquoise ring busted out a tooth. I could tell you about the cops being called (then of course, I'd have to decide upon which time they were called) for domestic disputes. Or maybe my uncle throwing a tomahawk at his wife and sinking it (burying the fucker really) into the side of a truck camper as she drove off. Perhaps a drunken argument resulting in one of them screaming at my father (one of the most mild-mannered, hard to anger men you'd ever want to meet) that "Come here, you little blonde-haired son of a bitch. I'll kick your ass!" spoken with about as thick a true hillbilly drawl as you'd imagine. The Hatfields and McCoys would've been in total agreement and equally proud of him that night.

But tonight I'm writing specifically about one of my Uncles; Squeak.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Squeak? Are you fucking kidding me? Squeak's his name?

Well no. Not really. His real name is Carl Openshaw. He got the nickname "Squeak" when he was younger from the way his voice sounded. High pitched and mouse-like, Squeak was a teasing nickname at first, then it just stuck from then on.

He's crazier than a shit house rat. Always has been. He was in the military when he was younger. Spent a lot of time overseas and then in Texas when he came back to the states. Worked on helicopters (gooooood decision for our military there).

I don't know what happened to him. At some point there was a shift in him. He got married, had two children. Nuclear family, though his little girl got caught in a freak fire accident when she was very young.. six I think... and went through a tremendous ordeal of recovery. I think roughly 85% of her body had 2nd and 3rd degree burns.

He drank as long as I've know him. And I'm sure since he was overseas, he's never stopped smoking the ganja either. But other stuff... I don't know. But when he started, he never stopped.

He doesn't know it, but I owe a lot to him.

I suppose, in fact, that only about six or seven people do know this story... as, for whatever reason why, I'd never really spoken about it until this past year's HorrorFind.

For a time when I was a kid, my Uncle Squeak lived with us. He didn't act crazy then. Kind of had his shit together actually. At the time, I always had my nose buried in a book of some kind. Usually some monster comic or strange horror paperback that I was probably too young to be reading. He teased me good-naturedly about it, calling me the Little Professor, but in a weird way, I knew he was proud of me too. It felt a little odd, having someone outside of the general sphere of our family act that way. But good too.

Squeak kept a ton of his stuff out in our barn too. It was dry out there, and animals couldn't get to it.

After a few months, Squeak went off to live somewhere else, abandoning the knick-knacks and other miscellany he'd brought with him. Me, being a curious little kid with way too much time on his hands and not enough entertainment close by, decided to rummage through his stuff. I found a few High Times magazines, a Penthouse Letters (oh yeah, that was good stuff to a kid my age) and then, there it was.

This worn paperback with a black cover. There wasn't even a title on the cover, just a girl's face and the phrase "A Novel of a Girl Possessed of a Terrifying Power."

Ohhhh man. This looked like it would be quite the shit to me.

So I started reading Carrie, by Stephen King, hiding it from my parents because though my mother was pretty liberal in what she allowed me to read, after a few pages, I was pretty damn sure that I wasn't supposed to be reading this one.

Which made it all the better.

Quite honestly, I was blown the fuck away by that book.

The oddball way of breaking out sentences and thoughts. The whole freakish mentality of Carrie's mother. This poor ugly-duckling of a girl who is being chastised and picked on and is the outcast of the entire school. It all resonated and strummed just about every synapse in my brain.

My mother definitely primed the pump for me, buying me my first Famous Movie Monsters, Fangoria, Tales from the Crypt and keeping me company while we watched Tales from the Darkside and Twilight Zone. She laid the foundation brick by brick.

But by leaving that tattered paperback of Carrie behind, Squeak indirectly kick started something else entirely new in me.

Some days I'm not sure whether I should thank him or not for it though.

Over the past ten years Squeak has spiraled into a drug-induced whirlwind. I can't say that I know exactly what he's on, but if I had to guess, I'd say the predominant drug of choice is either smack or meth, both good choices for soul rot.

Last night I got a call from my mother asking if I'd seen the evening news. I hadn't, so she let me know that Squeak had gotten into a fight of some kind and ended up stabbing a man. He hadn't died, but was in the hospital for observation. Squeak was taken into custody and questioned and there was no additional information.

I can't say that I'm exactly shocked. It was a matter of time really and to be perfectly honest, the only thing I'm surprised about is that the fight didn't end in someone's death.

So many of my family have chosen to feed that dark hateful wolf inside them. It's easier to do that, I know. It's always a struggle, but it's always a choice too.

Well, I just finished my last Hoegaarden. I feel more tired tonight than I should. I feel... heavier than I should.

But tomorrow's another day. And I'm sure both wolves will still be hungry.

3 Comments:

Blogger Kelli Dunlap said...

ahhh, that's a great story...



now tell me about the toilet paper!!

;>

11:43 AM  
Blogger RossoRaven said...

Do you ever wonder what fluke in our makeups allowed us to become so opposite of our genetic pools?

Or maybe what our souls were thinking when we choose to go through the lives we're living?

Be Well,
Raven

10:17 AM  
Blogger Cissy said...

You know the key to being a good writer is getting your facts straight. The nine kids didn't grow up in West Virginia even though they lived there for a short while, only one was actually born there, ME! And although your grandfather was very talented with several instuments, he never played a ukele in his life. As far as Ravens comment on you being so different from the 'gene pool', I guess you're not so different after all; telling half truth/half fiction to make your story more interesting at the expense of the family is a natural trademark of our family. I agree that our family is 'backwoods' and even though I chose to separate myself from that, I'm thankful that your hillbilly grandmother taught me to stand up for myself and my beliefs. I just choose to do it without taking someone's tooth out with a turquoise ring.
Good Day.

1:53 PM  

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