"Mad dogs and porno stars"
copyright © 1999, Dominic A. Wilde, all rights reserved

Chapter One:  Evil is so civilized
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I am cold, tired, and humilated.

I never *really* believed that E. was my father.  But it was nice to pretend sometimes.  Why did she ever have to find out?  I never wanted her to.  It was supposed to be my little secret.  But, I guess it was all my fault, for telling Danny.  He just made me so mad sometimes that I couldn't stop myself!  The way he was gloating, because he talked to Dad on the weekend, and Dad was going to pay for him to go to college.  I wanted to tell him that the only reason that Dad even bothered to call was because Mom got him on the phone in the middle of the night, and threatened to take him to court if he didn't start  paying for something.  Was Danny really so stupid that he thought Dad would call, for the first time in three years, just because he missed us?

Danny is so smug and superior sometimes.  But still, I wish I was more like him.  Mom doesn't yell at him the way she yells at me.  And Jack, Jack leaves him alone, too.  Danny is practically an adult, and any time they start fighting, he can just get up and leave.  I've tried to do the same thing, because the loud voices and the shouting give me a stomach ache.  But when I do, Jack follows me, and when he catches up to me- the hits are even harder.  Mom hits, too- but hers are usually just slaps across the face.  Although, she did make my lip bleed the last time, and I think it suprised her.

Why don't they do that to Danny?  Because he isn't like I am, that's the only thing I can figure out.  Danny is a good kid, who gets good grades, and always knows just the right things to say.  I am bad.  I say things that I don't mean.  I know I'm not stupid, but I can't ever manage to get good grades in school.  I wish I could be different, but I don't know how to be.  Even when I'm careful about what I say, it still manages to come out wrong.

Like today, for instance.  Danny made me so mad, the way that he was going on and on about Dad, and college- like he was rubbing my face in the fact that he was leaving here, and I wasn't.  I hadn't even realized that I said it out loud.  It was supposed to be something that I only said to myself, to make myself feel better- but as soon as I saw him laughing at me, I realized that I must have slipped.

"I don't need him anyway, stupid, because he isn't really my dad.  E. is."

He just stared at me in wide eyed suprise before he started belting out his laughter, and I wished desperately that I could shrink, and disappear.  I wasn't going to cry in front of him.  I wasn't.

"Oh yeah?  When did that happen, Niko?  You have got to start living in the real world.  Hey Mom!  Guess what Niko just said!"

He shouldn't have said anything to her.  And she shouldn't have said anything to E.  Because now, I'm sitting here at this restaurant with him, and I feel like I'm going to cry again, because he knows what I've been thinking.  He's going to start thinking I'm stupid, just like everybody else does.  Danny and Mom ruined this, I think to myself.  Just like anything that ever starts out to be *mine* gets ruined.

E. kicks my shin under the table, and grumbles at me to finish my ice cream.  His grumbling is nothing new- he almost never talks in a way that's easy to understand.  He always sounds like he has to clear his throat, like there are rocks caught in there somewhere, and he's trying to talk around them.  I don't want the ice cream, but I don't want to say so, because E. knows that strawberry is my favorite and I think he's trying to let me know that it's ok, what I blurted out- he doesn't mind.  I toy with the spoon, pushing it around in the half melted pink mess, thinking about bringing it up to my lips- but the thought of shoveling another spoonful of that stuff down my throat makes my stomach clench in a solid knot.  He is tapping his cigarette on the edge of the table, packing the tobacco, and watching me with those steady, calm blue eyes.  I don't like it, being watched, when I feel this embarassed.  Exposed.  It's enough to make me shift in my seat, squirm around on the cold vinyl of the booth, which is sticking to the backs of my bare legs.  I wish I would have brought a jacket or something, because the air conditioning is on full blast in the restaurant, and I'm freezing.

E. flicks open his zippo and lights the cigarette, snapping it closed with one hand.  He tried to teach me how to do that a few times, but I've never been able to learn it.  But he doesn't make me feel stupid, he just keeps telling me that I'll pick it up one day.  That's why I like E.  He never makes me feel stupid.  He talks to me, too- and he always acts interested in what I have to say.  I can complain about school, or my teachers, and he listens.  He tells me that I'm smart, which is something that no one else bothers with.  He's the one that I run to, when I have a question about homework.  Sometimes I feel like he must know everything.

And L., his wife- I like her, too.  She reminds me of a little bird- tiny, and quiet, and brown.  Soft, too- I remember the times that she would hug me before they would go home, and I would wish that my own mom was more like her.  But my mom is the exact opposite.  Brash, loud, and blonde.  I think she likes the sound of her own voice sometimes, too much.  People tell me that I look like her.  I just wish she would hug me sometimes, the way that Lana does.  I don't understand why two people who are almost strangers like me better than my own parents do.

E. is still watching me, the corners of his mouth twisting up into a little smile.  He gives my shin another kick, this one harder than the last- more demanding.

"I said eat."

I give the spoon another half hearted push through the pink mess, and finally shake my head *no*- pushing the dish away from me.  I look up at him, meeting his steely blue eyes with my own.  Definant.  Disappointed that my fantasy isn't reality, and wanting to punish him for it.  I want to say *I don't have to listen to you, cause you're not my father*- but all I do is keep staring until I can't stand it anymore.  I blink back a few unshed tears, and look out the window.

I wonder what would happen if I kept pushing him.  If I let myself say out loud, everything that I'm thinking.  I need to take out my frustration on someone.  But I don't- I keep looking out that window, and wishing I could disappear into thin air.

There are other reasons why I like being with E.  He is nothing like Jack.  Where Jack is volatile and mean, E. is quiet.  E. is taller than Jack by at least eight inches, but still Jack manages to look bigger.  But, I know that size isn't everything.  I've seen the way that Jack looks at E. sometimes, when they're arguing over something.  I see fear in his eyes, even though he would never admit to such a thing.  I like the fact that Jack is afraid of him.  And I like that fact that Jack knows that E. goes out of his way to spend time with me.  I want him to see that someone *he* likes, and respects, likes *me*.

"Well, if you're not gonna eat it, are you ready to go home?"

E. is stubbing out his cigarette in the ashtray, looking at me with a mixture of amusement and annoyence.  I manage a nod.  I'm anxious to leave, because I'm tired.

If Danny and Mom hadn't butted in, today would have been the perfect day.  It was Friday, which meant no school for a few days.  Jack and Mom were going to be out of town for the weekend, and I was going to stay with Eddie for the entire weekend.  Ronni wanted to go over to Jack's mom's, and Danny was going to be out with friends.  I was looking forward to the fact that there wouldn't be any fights- two whole days without a stomach ache.  L. is off in San Diego for the week, because her sister just had a baby.  E. said that we could do *guy stuff* all weekend long.

I don't care about the guy stuff, I'm just thrilled by the fact that I'm not going to be spending the weekend at home.

Back to E. and L.'s house.  I'm so excited on the way over that I can't stop fidgeting in the front seat of the truck.  They have a house, not an apartment, like we do.  I love the fact that there won't be any neighbors trying to share the backyard- no screaming kids that you can hear perfectly through paper thin walls.  The house is small, with only two bedrooms- but there is only the two of them, so I suppose they really don't need much room.  They have a dog, too- a german shepperd named Yukon.  Yukon has a reputation around the neighborhood just like E., for being mean.  But, just like E.- she's never mean to me.  I love dogs, and wish we could get one- but Jack just says no.  I don't want to fight with him about it, either.

We get inside, and I can't believe the amazing sense of freedom that I feel.  I have to go from room to room, just looking.  I peek into the kitchen, the bathroom, the big main bedroom.  The living room and the dining room are almost connected- but still, I have to stop at the dining room table, and sit down for a minute.  I look up at the high ceiling, and marval at the silence.  Just us, and the tv.

E. digs a few beers out of the refrigerator, and this isn't unusual.  Jack and E. both drink, alot.  I've never understood why, because I've tasted their beer before, and I don't like it.  I would rather have Coke, because we never have any at home.  But E. is insistent about the beer, pushing one in my direction.  Still feeling the sting of my earlier embarassment, I take it.  I can't handle the thought of being humiliated again, twice in one day.  This is my chance to make up for earlier, I think.

The sticky sweet ice cream made me thirsty, and I drink the beer too quickly.  I try not to taste it, but it's cold and wet...and all of a sudden, I'm too self concious to sneak out to the kitchen to get a drink of water.  It hits my stomach and mixes with the ice cream, and I know that I'm going to have a stomach ache...probably just as bad as anything caused by loud, angry voices.  Worse than that, I don't like how it makes my head feel- light and weightless, like when I have a fever.  I want to stretch out on the couch, but the floor tilts as I try and stand up, and I feel like I'm going to fall over.

He gives me a second after I've finished the first, and I put it on the floor beside me.  I'm not going to drink this one, I tell myself.

E. lets Yukon inside, and she jumps up on the couch with me- and for a few minutes, we fight for space.  She ends up stretched out beside me, pushing me against the back of the couch.  I never really noticed how big she was before, but I don't mind.  I like this, snuggled up next to her warm body.  Her fur smells like burning leaves, and fresh air- Jack always moans and bitches about how dogs smell bad, but Yukon never does.  I throw an arm around her neck, and put my head down, listening to the drone of the TV in the background.  Monty Python's Flying Circus.  E. is down on the floor, with his back to the couch.

He keeps looking over at us, and I'm trying to make it look like I'm really not tired- but it's a losing battle.  The harder that I try, the heavier that my eyelids get.  I decide that I can close them for a few minutes.  He'll never notice...

I'm not sure how much time has gone by, but when I open my eyes again, all the lights in the living room are out, and Yukon is gone.  I'm still on the couch, on my stomach- and E. is across from me in the recliner...and I have to blink my eyes a few times because I can't believe what he's doing.  Monty Python is long gone- when I look at the TV, I can't make anything out at first, it's nothing but shapes...but judging from the sounds, I know exactly what it is, and what's going on.  I've caught Jack watching a few of these things- the last time I walked in on him, he gave me a black eye for it.  And E. is not exactly *just watching*.  His jeans are open, and he's stroking himself....

Only one thing to do.  Squeeze my eyes shut, and pretend that I didn't see anything.  Only, before I can do it, E. looks over at me.....only, he's not freaked out that I saw.  I swear, he's laughing, but I can't be too sure, because the TV is too loud, and I'm the one that's freaked out now.  I turn my face away, trying to pretend that I hadn't really seen anything.  I want to block it out and close my eyes again.  Maybe after a few minutes, he'll think that I never really woke up enough to realize what was going on....

As I lay there, with my eyes clamped down as tightly as I can manage, I feel hot and cold.  I can feel the sweat breaking out on my forehead, and on my neck- cold and prickly, just like the feeling in my stomach.  I am holding my breath, begging for the moment to pass, because I don't think I can stand another minute of this.

The TV gets switched off, and I'm ready to let my breath out in a hot rush because holding it in is smothering me, and I finally think that I'm off the hook, and he's going to bed.  But before I can do it, hands are pulling my shorts down and off.  I mean to yell in protest, but all that comes out is a startled little squeak.  What happened to my big mouth, when I really needed it?  Why can't I find my voice?  Fingers find my hips and dig in, pulling me up onto my knees, only I don't care so much about finding my voice any more.  I want to get away, because I don't know what's going on, but it feels wrong.  I try to pull my legs up under me, but his legs are pinning me down.  I twist and squirm, and for a minute my heart starts to pound faster because it feels like I'm actually going to get away- I threw him off balance.  But he pushes forward, inside me...and it hurts so bad, all I want to do is scream.  But no sound comes out.

No human being can endure this kind of pain and live, I think to myself.  This is worse than any hitting that Jack has ever done.  E. has both of my hands caught up in one of his, and the grip that he has on my wrists...I'm convinced that they're going to break.  His full weight is on me, pushing me into the couch.  I'm trying to hold my breath again, because when I don't breathe, it doesn't hurt as much.

And then, it really *is* over, and he staggers off to the bedroom.  I hear the door slam, and everything is quiet.

I lay there for a while, getting used to breathing again.  I want to move, but I can't quite bring myself to reach for my shorts.  I hate the idea of laying there like this, exposed...but everything hurts.  I don't even really understand what just happened, or why.  I just know that I'm scared, and sore.

I'm bleeding.  When I see that, I somehow become convinced that I'm going to die.

I feel like crying, but I can't....nothing comes out.  I just lay on the couch and shake, like my body isn't under my control any more.  I know I need to leave, get out of this house and never come back.  I stand up and yank my shorts back up.  Where was the phone?

I find it, in the kitchen.  I can't remember anyone's phone numbers- my mind is a complete blank.  And even if I did remember, who was home to call?  I finally remember Jack's mom's number- the lady that we're supposed to call *grandma*, but I've never been comfortable enough to.  She's a nice lady- loud and boisterous, always with a smile on her face.  But she's not my grandma.

The phone rings six times, and I can hardly stand still, I want someone to answer so bad.  When she finally does pick up, her voice is sleepy and I know that I must have gotten her out of bed.  I don't even know what time it is.

I don't want to tell her what happened, but I make it clear that I want to leave this place.  She tells me tomorrow.  She'll pick me up tomorrow, if I want.  She'll take Ronni and I out for ice cream.

Not strawberry, I think to myself.  I'll never be able to eat it again.

I call home, and Danny answers.  Just hearing his voice is enough to start it, the flood of tears that wouldn't come out before.  I'm not even trying to pretend that nothing's wrong, and I'm already sorry for all of the mean things that I thought about him earlier.  He doesn't ask why I'm crying, he just promises to come and pick me up.  He says he'll deal with Jack and Mom when they get home, if they get mad at me for leaving E.'s.

I know it'll take him at least 20 minutes to get here, but I don't want to wait around inside.  I let myself out the front door, as quietly as I can, so that he doesn't wake up.  My head hurts, and I think I'm going to throw up.....and I do, right in the rosebushes.  Too loud- I wait to see if the neighbors lights are going to come on...but they don't.  I sit on the steps and wait, jerking every time I see a pair of headlights turn down the street.

Danny finally pulls up, and I jump in the car almost before he can stop it.  He sees the blood on the backs of my legs, and my mind is racing, trying to think of how to explain it....maybe I could tell him that the dog bit me?  But he doesn't say a word.  Somehow, I think he knows already, from the way that he keeps sneaking glances at me.  He is being too nice.  No snipes, no name calling.

When we get home, he tells me to go to bed- but I can't sleep.  I lay down on my bed, but I'm too nervous to lie still.  I think about sneaking off to Danny's room, to see if he'll let me climb in bed with him, at least until I can fall asleep....but the thought of being near anybody right now makes me physically sick.

Too much has changed, too fast.  I can't find the words to describe it.  But I know that I'll never feel safe again.
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Chapter Two:  Good to be alive
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Brian wants to go to the fair.  We aren't exactly fighting over it, but he knows that I'm not happy with the idea.  I want to stay in, watch TV or maybe listen to music.  But we are at his house, so he gets to make the final decision.

He rifles through his comic books, and I can tell that he's getting tired of trying to reason with me.  But Brian never raises his voice, or gets angry....that's just how he is.  He is so reasonable sometimes, I would just like to slap him- because I envy it.  I want to be able to be *that* together.  He raises his head, and tosses a lock of blond hair out of his eyes, and for the first time, I see a little bit of anger there.  Did I make him angry?  It's funny, how easily I panic, wondering what I have to do to make things right again.  Especially considering that I was just thinking about slapping him.

"All you ever want to do anymore is stay inside."

I glare at him, ready to say something nasty and hurtful, because that sentance somehow managed to cut me to the quick.  Probably because it's true- it's easier to stay inside than it is to go out.  I tell myself that I'm not hiding, but in the same breath- what's wrong with that?  What's wrong with wanting to find a safe place, and stay there forever?

I don't like being a coward, but I know that I really have no choice.  If I was bigger, older- maybe it would be a different story.  But I can't stand up to E. on my own.

The clouds clear behind Brian's eyes, and he's smiling again.  The brief flash of uncharacteristic anger wasn't directed at me, and I feel almost overwhelming relief.  We are friends, best friends- and sometimes I feel like this is the only thing keeping me sane.

He knows.  Everything.  Because I told him.  It seemed impossible not to, even though E. threatened me within an inch of my life, not to tell anyone else.  Who else would have believed me, anyway?

It is so hot in this little bedroom that I almost suggest sneaking back to my apartment.  We would have to sneak, because his parents won't let him come over.  They realize that I'm living in a den of wolves, who are content to eat their young- and they don't want their son to be any part of it.  They like me, however.  Brian's mother feeds me inordinant amounts of food every time that I come over, because she thinks that I'm too thin.  I'm never very hungry, but I try to eat a little bit, just to make her happy.  I would rather hear her stories, anyway- like the one she always tells me, as if she forgets that I've heard it a million times before.  How she almost hit a nun, when Brian's older brother Gary was still in grade school.

I never mention that she's told this one to me before.  I like it too much.  She is a small, round woman with a thick german accent, and a very loud, friendly voice.  I've heard that voice on occasion become something other than *nice*- and I don't think I would like it too well, if she would be yelling at me.

I feel sorry for the nun that crossed her.

Brian's father is more of a mystery.  He is quiet, and stern looking.  He is a prison guard- and when I first found out what he did for a living, I was immediatly in awe, *and* afraid of him.  He is very no nonsense, and he gets angry at Brian sometimes, for the way that he doesn't seem to take anything seriously.  I try to tell him, every once in a while when I'm feeling at home, and relaxed, that Brian takes *everything* seriously- he just doesn't show it.

I'm not sure if he understands, because I'm terrible at expressing myself.  Usually, he just smiles at me indulgently and tells me that I'm a good boy, a good friend.

If he only knew.

It looks and feels like rain outside, and I bring this up to Brian- trying to use it as an excuse not to go to the fair- but he just smirks at me, and shakes his head.  A little rain never killed anybody, he tells me, and I know that his mind is made up.  I could moan and groan all I wanted, but I'm going to lose in the end.  We both know it, and I can't help but think he's smiling at me triumphantly.

I glower, and shift on the bed, trying to think of something to say, because I really don't want to do this.  It is Friday again, and I managed to slip out of the house when everyone was gone.  E. always finds me on fridays- he picks me up after school.  It is an arrangement that he made with Jack, and Mom.  I am *troubled*, he tells them.....and he's doing them a favor by helping them straighten me out.  They eagerly agree, because it's an easy way to get me out of the house on the weekends, out of their hair.

I hoped that it would stop after the first time- I believed it would.  I found many excuses for why it happened in the first place, each one a simple explanation for something that seemed impossible to fathom.  But each time it happens again, it gets a little bit worse, and harder to explain away.  Because each time, there is more thought behind it than the first.  I am learning that it wasn't an accident.

It confuses me, and I can't let myself think about it too much, because nothing makes sense.  I thought E. liked me, but now I know that he likes hurting me.  He enjoys inflicting physical pain as much as Jack does, but emotional pain isn't beneath him, either.  Jack doesn't bother with twisting emotions much- he prefers the instant gratification of chasing, catching, and hurting.  E. plays games with me that are more frightening than anything Jack could ever dream of.  He pretends that nothing ever happend, that he still likes me and cares about me.....and just when I am starting to think it's ok, the whole thing was a mistake...maybe that I even imagined all of it...it happens again.

I thought that L. being home would make it different.  It doesn't.  I know that there's something very wrong with the two of them, the more that I see.  They don't talk to each other at home.  L. goes to bed early, and they sleep in seperate bedrooms.  I have to sleep on the couch.  Sleep, that's one thing that I never do while I'm there.  How can I?  I've gotten good at staying awake, and sleeping once I get home on Sunday night.

The second time it happened, all of the screams that I kept to myself the first time, came out.  He makes sure that he gags me now, so that it feels like I'm going to choke on my own screams.  I can't breathe sometimes when he does it, and I almost wish I would just die.  But I could never get that lucky.

I realize that Brian is staring at me, and he's not smiling any more.  Probably because I did it again, managed to drift off into my own thoughts without thinking about the fact that I wasn't by myself.  His mouth opens and closes once, like he's getting ready to say something, but stops himself at the last minute.  So help me, if he does it again...tries to get me to tell his dad about what's happening, I swear I'll pound him into the carpet.  He doesn't understand why I just don't tell someone, and I can't make him see that I'm afraid to...because I think somewhere, deep down, that this is all my fault.  I don't want anyone else to know because I'm ashamed of it.

It has to be me.  There is no other explanation.

Something occurs to me, that shoots a neat little hole in Brian's plans.  We have no way to get out to the fairgrounds.  It's too far to walk, and both of his parents are gone.  I feel myself relax, realizing that we'll be able to stay here, after all.  I don't want to be anywhere where E. can find me.  I didn't cut my last class short by twenty minutes, just to get caught later.

But he's one step ahead of me.

"We can go with Jimmy.  That should make everything...alright."

Jimmy is Brian's other older brother- he's the youngest.  He knows that being with Jimmy is almost as good as being out with an adult, and all of a sudden I don't mind the idea of going out so much.  Jimmy never minds the two of us tagging along, even though he's usually chasing after girls.  He is always in trouble with their parents, because of his quick temper.  He gets into too many fights, but I like him.  Just about everyone does.  Well, girls do, at least.

Even though I feel like my stomach is made of lead, I relent and go along with them.  I hate moments like this, because I can see how different I am from them.  I can't let myself go and have a good time, because I'm constantly looking over my shoulder.  Scanning the crowds that push past us with quick, nervous eyes- wondering if E.'s face is going to jump out at me.

Every time I catch a glimpse of a blond ponytail, tied with a string of rawhide, I think that it must be him- and my heart pounds so strongly in my chest that it hurts.  I start to sweat, and I feel like I could pass out.  Jimmy notices, and asks if I'm alright.  I manage a weak smile, and tell him that I just don't like crowds- they make me nervous.  He isn't convinced.

He buys me a lemon shake-up from one of the stands, and makes me sit down for a few minutes.  The bench that he spotted was full- but he clears it easily with his big mouth.  He definately takes after his mother...and I'm a little embarrassed, because everyone looks at me as they leave.

The three of us sit down on the bench, Jimmy on one side of me, and Brian on the other.  I take a few sips of the drink, but I'm still feeling lightheaded, alternating between hot and cold.  Jimmy tells me that my lips are white, and he's afraid that I really *am* going to pass out, so he makes me lean forward until my head is between my knees.  Now, I'm really feeling stupid, because I know that everyone that walks past must be staring, but I don't really care because Jimmy's rubbing my back and telling me that I'm ok.  I actually think he's saying this out loud to convince himself.  My hands are starting to tingle, and I feel strangely disconnected all of a sudden.  But even in this state, I'm watching the feet as they go by....looking for anything that resembles steel toed cowboy boots.

But then, Jimmy's hand strays up too far, and he touches the skin on the back of my neck- and it is too close, too much- I don't want anyone touching me anymore.

Ever.

Again.

I push him away and elbow him in the stomach, not thinking about anything but getting away- and when I see his face, how suprised it looks...Brian sitting next to him, looking thunderstruck and terrified, for what reason I'm not sure- I'm sorry and angry and flat out furious with myself.

I try to apologize, but I feel like I've crossed some invisible barrior- not acting *normal* in public...and it starts to eat at me, until it's all I can think about.  I'm crying, but I don't care.  I've already messed things up, so why not go all the way?  Jimmy looks at me...really looks at me, like he's seeing me for the first time- and he says it's ok, he understands, I just don't feel good.  And I can hear my voice telling them that I just want to go home.

I don't, of course- that's a lie, but I couldn't think of anything else to say.  I want to be anywhere but at home.  And the way that Jimmy is looking at me, it's impossible not to feel the weight of the moment.  I know that this could easily spiral out of control.  For the first time, I don't trust Brian at all.  I know he could tell Jimmy, who in turn could tell their parents...and then what would happen to me?  I didn't want to know what Jack would do, if he ever found out.

They took me home.  And I knew this was going to be the last time that I saw either one of them again.  So much for my best friend.....but it would be safer this way, I tried to tell myself.  If I stayed away from them, they would forget, and I would be ok.

I would be ok.

I still have the lemon shakeup when I walk in.  No one else is in the apartment- it's so quiet that I can hear the clock over the television set ticking away.  I wonder briefly where everyone is, but I don't really care...because it's quiet, and I can have the whole place to myself for a little while.  I'm on my way to my room when I hear footsteps behind me in the hallway.  I freeze.

"Get in the fucking truck."

I am not even really suprised.  He is always here.  I want to cut my tongue out, for asking to come home.

I turn around to look at him, and I see that his face is beet red, and he's clenching and unclenching his fists.  He slams the wall for emphasis, and one of mom's pictures falls down.  The frame shatters when it hits the floor.

"Go outside, and get in the fucking truck NOW!"

I don't move, I just keep watching him.  I should be afraid, like I was at the fair.  I defied him.  I didn't come home after school.  But something strange is happening.  This is my house, not his.  He won't do anything to me here, because Jack and Mom could walk in the door at any minute.  I am angry, because I already miss Brian.  Not my fault, I tell myself.  His.  All of it.  I hate him.

But...but...at the same time, the confusion is back.  I was the one who disobeyed.  I was supposed to wait to be picked up after school, and I deliberately cut my last class.  If I had stayed like I was supposed to, he wouldn't be losing his temper right now.  It would be over and done with already.

I don't know what to do.  I'm like a deer caught in the headlights- afraid to move, frozen in place.  There is a part of my brain that is screaming at me, to do what he says.  Because he is the adult, and I'm the kid.  But what he wants me to do is bad...and if I do it, doesn't that make me bad, too?  This is why I can't move.  I'm trying to make some sense out of everything, trying to find something to cling to.  But there is nothing.  And he takes my not moving as another defiance.

He presses me up against the wall, hands out on either side of me so that if I want to get away, I would have to duck underneath them.  I can't even do that, because one of his legs is between mine, pinning me there.  Like a butterfly- first one wing, and then the other.  He commands me to look up at him, and for some reason I do.  He is glaring down at me, and I feel my stomach drop, because I know what's coming next.  I was wrong before.  He will do what he wants, where he wants.  I wonder briefly if Jack came through the door and saw us, what he would do.  Who would he kill first?  My mind is racing.  He doesn't have a gag, which means I could scream here, and someone would hear me.

But he isn't doing anything but looking at me.  I'm shaking, and my legs feel like rubber bands.  He is talking, and I'm trying to give the impression that I'm paying attention, when all I really want to do is find a way to get away.   I feel like a possum, playing dead.

Everything he says seems to make perfect sense- I've said it all to myself, before.  He has known from the beginning that I'm a bad kid...he could tell.  That's why he does what he does.....because he can tell that I want it.  I wonder how that can be, when it makes my skin crawl- but I won't say anything, because a portion of it rings true.  It makes some weird kind of sense inside my head.  And I realize that it's not him that I hate so much, it's myself.  Because I *am* bad, and I've known it all along.  He tells me that that's why Jack, Mom, and Dad can't stand me...and I just nod mutely, because I know it.  What else needs to be said?  He says it's ok, though, because he still likes me anyway....even though no one else does.  Brian likes me, I think.  But now I have to stay away from him.

It's different this time, and if I thought before it couldn't get any worse, I was wrong.  He takes me right there in the hallway- pushed onto my back, on the floor.  And it is so much worse, so much more personal, because he can see every expression on my face.  He won't let me close my eyes, even- when I try, he slaps me until I open them again.  And it is slow, so excruciatingly slow.  It feels like he is taking more than he's ever taken before, because there is nowhere to hide.  The pain is the only thing that's real, and I melt into it.  It is something to hang on to, until he finishes and gets up, leaving me in the hallway.  I can hear him open a can of beer in the kitchen.

I get up, and without another word, we leave.  I have no say in the matter.  My own parents are sending me to hell.  There is nowhere to go to get away from it.
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Chapter Three:  It doesn't really matter
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It seems impossible, but the season in hell has lasted six years.  I keep telling myself that it can't go on forever.  In two years, I'll be eighteen- and I can disappear.  It won't matter where I would go, because anything would be better than this.

Only two more years.

If I could make it through the next six months, I would be suprised.

Home has gotten steadily worse.  Jack and I go around at least once a night, if not more.  I don't know what's happening to me- I'm angry all the time.  Seething.  I don't stay quiet like I used to when I was younger.  My mouth opens all by itself, even when I know it should stay shut, and I tell him exactly what I think of him.  And Mom.  That's what seems to set Jack off the most- when she and I get into it.  Like it's any of his fucking business to step in.  He can beat the shit out of her, put a belt around her neck and tighten it until I can see the skin of her neck turning purple, and threaten to kill her- but I can't call her a whore.  She was my mother before she was his wife, and I think it's my right to be able to tell her what I think.

I tell her that it's all her fault, mothers are supposed to protect their kids- not send them off to be manually disassembeled and put back together again, in the image of a psychopath.  She gets angry, and tells me that she doesn't know what I'm talking about, and I think that's what makes me even more furious.  She would have to be blind not to know what I mean.  Even if she honestly had no idea what E. was doing, what about Jack?  Is it ok to stay with a man who takes pleasure in hurting your kids, just because you're insecure, and need a man?  I don't keep it to myself anymore, I just say it.  I say it loud enough that I think the neighbors can probably hear me, because I have learned that you have to scream to be heard in this house.  Screaming is the only thing that she responds to.

She in turn starts accusing me of all kinds of things.  She calls me a troublemaker, and tells me that I've tried to undermine her relationship with Jack from the beginning, because I've never been able to be good.  That's right, I tell her- I'm a horrible person, but does that give her the right to sit back and watch her husband kill me?  Because sometimes, I feel like that's what it's going to come down to, one of these days.

She conveniently ignores the remark, and launches into another tirade- she isn't listening to a word that I'm saying, and the silent fury keeps growing until I know that it's going to get let out, somehow.  She knows that I made a valid point, and she is choosing to ignore it.  She is living in a fantasy world, and all of a sudden- I want to shock her back to reality.  I want her to shut up, and listen to me.  Give me some fucking credit for knowing what I'm talking about.

We are in the kitchen, and Jack is in the living room.  He can see us from his vantage point, the chair sits right in the doorway- and I know he's listening to every word.  He already belted out a warning to me, telling me to shut the fuck up and not talk to my mother like that.  I pick up a glass and slam it down on the table, not meaning to bring it down with so much force, but I'm frustrated and the glass breaks into a million pieces.  I tell him to go fuck himself.  I know I'm daring him to come into the kitchen- I'm daring him to do his worst, because I don't care anymore.  When I'm in the mood, I hit back now- so I think some of his enjoyment is gone.  I never hurt him as bad as he hurts me, but the game is starting to change, and I don't think he likes it.

He mumbles something about someone needing to be taught a lesson, and I can hear the angry rustle of the newspaper.  He's not coming in yet, or getting involved.  He will wait, until I push him past any sense of reason.  He doesn't like the way that I fight, because he can't keep up with my words.  He has never been a quick thinker, and sometimes I think I make him feel stupid, because he can never come back with a quick reply to what I say.

It is the only real weapon that I have, and I use it to my advantage as much as I can.

She is completely irrational, and yelling in circles now....I might as well not even be here, for all that she's paying attention to me.  I wonder sometimes if I'm invisible.  I want to make her look at me, see what this is doing to me, because my words don't seem to be doing the trick.  I pick up a piece of the glass, and cut into my forearm while she continues to rail.  I don't even feel it, I know I'm caught up in a haze of anger and frustration, and I won't feel it until much later, when things are quiet again.  I could have sawed into my wrist, but that isn't my purpose.  I keep making cuts all over my arm, watching as the blood wells up and starts to ooze to the surface.  The deepest cut is trickling blood all over the table, and onto the floor- and when she sees it, she finally stops yelling.  She is not precisely paying attention to me, but at least she lowers her voice.  I am making a mess in her kitchen.  Fuck this, I tell her- I'm going out for a while.  I am tired of going in circles, and I want to get away.  I grab my denim jacket, not because it's cold, but because I don't want anyone else to see my arm, because that would mean another explanation.  If anyone asks, I'll just shrug it off.

I know just where to go, to find Brian.  He likes to hang out on Sunset, just like I do.  We watch all of the people who line up to get into the clubs.  We know at least half of the prostitutes, male and female, by name.  Sometimes, when we're talking to them, the tricks get confused and think we're new to the streets, and they try to pick us up.  Brian laughs and says that it might be an easy way to make money, but I think no amount of money would be worth it.  He knows how uncomfortable it makes me, so he always stops talking about it right away.

We are just discovering each other again.  For years, I kept my distance, and stayed away.  For my own safety and piece of mind.  But it was too lonely, and I never did make friends easily.  I couldn't fathom getting close to any of the people that I knew in school, because I had forgotten what it was like to be normal.  I couldn't relate to them, or their lives once they left the classroom.

Brian never held the silence against me.  He is just glad that we're together again, hanging out, like we used to when we were kids.  He claims that he knew we would be friends forever, and I wish he would have shared that detail with me.  I could have avoided alot of sleepless nights if he had.

We sit on the sidewalk, with our backs pressed up against one of the buildings- close enough to an awning to duck under it, if it starts raining, because neither one of us want to go home.  Brian is not quite the same kid that I used to know.  He is taller than I am, still with the baby face that I remember- but there is something different about his personality that I can't quite place.  He is having trouble with his father, he tells me.  Nothing that he does is ever right, or good enough.  Gary and Jimmy are both in the Army, and he never hears the end about how perfect they are.  It's funny, but I can still remember when Jimmy was the scourge of the household.  Now, the burden has fallen on Brian.

I tell him that his father doesn't know what he's talking about- he is a good kid, who has always gotten decent grades in school.  The problem is with his father, not with Brian himself.  I have never said anything that I meant more, and I wonder if he can hear the determination in my voice when I say it.  But my words don't get through the shell that he's erected for himself...and that's what's different, I suddenly think.  The shell, the protective barrior was never there before.  The last few years have taken away his openness.  I don't like it.  I miss the old Brian, and I hate the way that life changes people.  And never for the better.

He tells me that he wants his father to be proud of him, but he knows that it isn't going to happen.  He wants it so bad that I can feel it- and I understand it, because even though my own family are insane, I want the same thing.

He catches sight of the blood on my hand, and he pushes my sleeve up to see where it's coming from.  I don't pull away, because I'm too caught up in thinking about.....everything.  He gets so serious all of a sudden, asking who did that to me.  And I smirk, and proudly tell him that I did it to myself.  He is furious with me for doing it, going into a spiel that I immediatly tune out, about how I shouldn't be hurting myself.  I think about telling him that it didn't hurt, not in the least- and it got them to shut up- but I don't say a word.

"I worry about you sometimes, Niko.  You scare me."

Yeah, well- I want to say that I worry about him, too.  He isn't like me- I have survived in the eye of the storm for six years, and I'm still breathing.  I am not sure that Brian is a survivor.  And I want him to be.  I want to tell him that if I can do it, so can he- but I just shrug it off.  There is too much there that he will start in on, if I open my mouth.  And I don't feel like getting into an argument with him, about what's right and wrong.  He knows that I smoke pot, and I drink.  He wants me to stop.  But he doesn't understand that it makes everything go away, for a little while.

He puts his arms around me, and pulls my head onto his shoulder.  I don't pull away or feel uncomfortable, because there is nothing threatening in this gesture.  I like being held, when it's on my own terms.  I put my arms around him, careful not to smear blood on his shirt.  There is music blaring from a club, just down the street, and he starts to rock in tune with it.  If I'm not careful, I know that I could fall asleep here.  Days of no sleep at home are starting to catch up with me.  No one even looks at us twice.

We have never said the word *love*, but it's there, just the same.  Not romantic love- because I still don't know what the hell that is.  We give to each other whatever it is that we aren't getting from anyone else.  And I know, as we sit there, that I would kill anyone that ever tried to hurt him.  Forget the fact that I'm not so great at protecting myself- this would be different.

Very different.

We stay there until it gets dark, talking every once in a while about trivial, unimportant things.  What we say isn't important, it's the company that makes it worthwhile.  But, it's starting to get tense because Brian suddenly wants to know things that I would rather not talk about.  He wants to know how long it's been since the last time with E.  He finally understands just what it was that I told him, all those years ago...and I know he feels like he let me down then, by not understanding.  But how could he be expected to understand?  I tell him that it doesn't matter, because he's here now.  And he doesn't treat me differently because of it.   You are changing the subject, he tells me.  I want to know.  How long has it been?

He is the only person that I would tell these things to.  He knows it, and never ceases to push his advantage.

It has been two weeks- two weeks of unimaginable freedom, not just because he hasn't touched me in that time, but because he has been *gone* from the state.  Two weeks of not having to look over my shoulder.  I think to myself, if he was dead, it would be like this all the time.  Or maybe, if I was dead.  At this point, I really don't care which.

But he is supposed to be back tonight, and I know what that means.  Either I surrender myself willingly, or he will find me.

Brian is in shock- he can't believe that I'm actually thinking about finding E., on my own.  I can't stand how he's looking at me, because I think he's starting to get the idea that I actually like it.  Maybe I'm reading too much into it, because that's how *I* feel.  There is something very wrong with me.  I should be running and fighting, not just giving in.

What am I supposed to do, I ask him.  Give me any alternative, and I'll take it.  He thinks for a moment, chewing on his fingernail- the way that he always does when he has something to think about.  I don't know, he says.  But you can't just go to him, that's wrong.

I pick at the scabs that have formed on my arm, wanting to tear through the skin.  Rip it all off the bone.  Make myself hurt, because I'm feeling cornered again...and I can't think when I feel like this.  I want everything to go away, including Brian.  Go away, and leave me alone.

But *because* it's Brian, and not someone else, I try to explain it so that he can at least partially understand.  I tell him that it's only worse when I try to hide, or run away.  He always finds me anyway- like the last time I tried it, I ended up with a dislocated shoulder, and a punctured lung.  It is easier for me this way, to just go and pretend to co-operate, and get it over with.

Brian understands.  Too bad I don't.

I don't know anymore, if it's something that E.'s doing to me, or I'm doing to myself.  By going back, over and over again...is he making me do it, or am I willing?

That's when I realize that I want it to end.  Not just what is happening with E., and what's happening at home...I want everything to stop.  My life.  Me.  I don't want to be here anymore, stuck in this circle.  I can't imagine it getting any better.  I don't know what hope is, or how it feels.  I just want out.

I tell Brian that I'll talk to him later, and I leave.  I can't think of what to say anymore, and I'm afraid of gettng myself in deeper.  He is the only real friend that I have, and I am constantly afraid that I'm going to say or do something to mess things up.  I don't want to know that he thinks this is my fault.  Because that's what I think, more and more every day.  It *is*.  I am the one who goes back for more.  No one is forcing me.  I am beginning to realize that everything E. ever said about me is the truth.

I am feeling reckless and dangerous when I find him, at home, after his trip.  L. left him three years ago- she moved back to San Diego to live near her sister.  I always wanted to find her, and ask her *why*- what made her go, finally?  What did he do to her?  And did she know about what he was doing to me?  Maybe one of these days I will, I think to myself.  But I doubt it.

We don't talk, because there is nothing to say.

He has trouble getting hard, and I do something that I never do.  I laugh at him.  I wait for him to hit me...I think maybe that's why I laughed, to make him unleash the rage, and take it out on me because then I would feel better about this.  I would have some kind of outward scars to show for it.  Battle scars.  But the battle is going to be psychological tonight, not physical.

He makes me suck him off, because he knows I hate it.  Once I start, it doesn't take long for him to get hard...no, not at all.  Because he enjoys making me do things I hate.  Which brings more questions to mind, and I feel sicker than ever.  He can't get hard when it's time to fuck me any more, because I don't scream or fight.  Does that mean that I've accepted it?  Do I like it?  I want an easy answer, and I'm not sure that one exsists.  I hate *this*, I hate myself.....and yet, here I am.  Brian was right- this *is* wrong.

I swear, he's trying to choke me or make me gag, but somehow I get through it.  He is getting frustrated, because none of the usual tricks are working.  I am too wrapped up in myself- hating myself- to really acknowledge that he's alive.

This is something new, and I know that he doesn't like it.  I'm not cowering in a corner, or pleading with him to stop.  I let him do whatever he wants, any *way* he wants, and I don't make a sound.  I never break the eye contact, either.  If that's what he wants, then that's exactly what he's going to get.  He's the one that finally closes his eyes this time, and I feel like a tiny battle was won.  But I want to slap him so badly...just like he used to do to me.  I don't, however, because I am kind of attached to my arms, both in one piece.

When he's finished, I get ready to leave.  He asks me if I'm going off to see my little slut, and I realize that I had forgotten all about Kelly.  For all intents and purposes, she is my girlfriend.  I was supposed to meet her a half an hour ago.  E. hates her, hates anyone that I spend any time with.  He is always calling her a slut, or a bitch- or some other unoriginal name.  He tells me that she would hate me if she knew the truth, and he is probably right- but I don't really care.  It's amazing, this lack of feeling.  I am with Kelly as a matter of convenience, mostly.  To be normal, I need a girlfriend.  She needs a boyfriend.  We are two messed up kids who found each other, that's all.  We are both aware of this, although no one else is.

Brian is gone from our spot from earlier, and Kelly and her three girlfriends  have taken his place.  I wonder if she talked to him before he left...they don't really get along.  She is jealous of the time that I spend with him, and he thinks she's a bad influence.  He thinks she's trouble.  And in a way, I suppose he's right.  She's already tried to convince me that she was pregnant once before, and I believed her.  Two months in, she told me that she had a miscarriage.  I have heard from some of her friends that she was never *really* pregnant.  But I don't really hold it against her, because in her own way, she's as fucked up as I am.  She found out last year that she was adopted, and she isn't happy with anything any more.  She tells me that her life is a joke, a fake.  And I think to myself that she really has no idea what she's talking about.

She is all over me the minute that she sets eyes on me, kissing me and telling me that she missed me.  I wonder how much of this is an act for her friends, and I'm in no mood to keep up a good act going tonight.  I ask her if we can go somewhere else, somewhere private- and I hope she doesn't get the wrong idea.  I don't want to fuck her tonight.  I don't like it.  I don't like anything about it.  And I *know* this isn't normal.  The last thing I want right now is another reminder.

I wish Kelly would go home.  I wish Brian was still here.  I want to sit some more, like we were doing earlier.  He is a very physical person, he likes hugging and touching.  And he never does it because he wants anything from me.  That is his way to make me feel better, and it always works.  Kelly always wants something.  She wants me to make her feel something, but if I can't feel anything myself.....

She tells me that she knows the perfect place to go, up in the hills and away from everyone else.  Where we can be *ourselves*.  That has to mean something, I think.  Even though I don't really know who I am anymore, I like the idea of not having to play any games tonight.

One of her friends takes us, and drops us off out in the middle of nowhere, it seems.  Kelly tells me that this is because she doesn't let any of her friends know where this place is, because they wouldn't understand.  Right away, that catches my interest.

When we're both together, and not being anything but our fucked up selves, it seems to work.  I don't love her, and I don't think she loves me- but we both need each other to keep the appearances going.

She takes me to a house, set off by itself.  I didn't know anyone lived this far out- there aren't any neighbors for miles.  She tells me to let her do all the talking, she'll handle everything.  I tell her that I would kill for a joint.  She smiles, and says that it's time for me to broaden my horizons.

She takes me inside, and introduces me to two guys.  Both of them are older, in their twenties, at least.  Bruce is the bigger of the two, and I can't help but think he is someone that I would not want to meet in a dark alley.  The smaller one is named Rick- and he is much friendlier.  I can tell right away that Kelly knows these two, and has for a while.  I feel out of place, and Bruce is scrutinizing the fuck out of me.  But I've faced up to much worse.  I stand my ground, and when he glares at me, I glare right back.

Kelly convinces Bruce that he can trust me, and Rick disappears into the back- only to come back a few minutes later carrying something that looks like a couple of bullets.  Kelly and Bruce get up, and Kelly tells me not to worry, have a good time, she's going to take care of the *payment*.  I have no idea what she's talking about, but I'm sure she'll tell me all about it, later.

That leaves Rick and I alone, in the living room.  He takes one of the bullets, and opens it.  It's filled with white powder.  He pulls a chain out of his shirt, and on the end is a tiny spoon.

He asks me if I've ever done coke before, and I say no.  There is a first time for everything, he says- and he seems excited by the fact that I've never done it before.  He keeps telling me that it will make me feel great- and I know that I'm not going to back down, or say no.  I wonder if it can block out how I'm feeling, make me forget for a little while all the things that are on my mind.

He is right- there is a first time for everything.
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Chapter Four:  Letting go
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The coke burns, and makes my eyes run.  It's a strange feeling, like snorting drain cleaner- and I start to panic, realizing that this could have been a very bad thing to do.  But then I relax, because the burning is going away, and I feel...

Free.

No, that's not right.  It's not freedom, exactly- but it's the easiest way to describe something that I don't understand.  It feels like the parts of me that have been missing all these years were suddenly given back.  I feel whole.  I'm not sure how much is coming from the drug, and how much is coming from the fact that things felt different with E. this time.   There is no denying the fact that I was more in control.  I have never been in control before, and it's like an instant rush.  Just knowing that it's possible.

I love this.  I feel like there is nothing that I couldn't do.  I am as close to being completely fearless as I have ever been in my entire life.  I stretch out on the couch, and Rick puts a movie in.  I don't even know what it is, because I'm not watching the screen.  I'm lying on my back, with an ashtray on my chest- concentrating very hard on blowing smoke rings.  Screw the fact that I've never managed a smoke ring before, tonight I can do it.  I know I can.

Rick keeps on looking over at me and laughing.   He keeps saying Man, you are gone- like this is really suprising or something, and I think it's funny that he's enjoying this so much.  I just look back at him and smile, and that makes him laugh even more.  Just look at that grin, he says.  I don't really see what's so funny, but what do I know.  I go back to the smoke rings.  It's never once occured to me to see what time it is, to think about going home.  It feels like the outside world doesn't exsist any more.

Rick puts the movie on pause, and I can hear the rain hitting the roof.  All of a sudden, I have the urge to go outside, and play in the rain.  But there is something else.  Bedsprings creaking, from the back.  You sure have a friendly girlfriend, he says.  It only dawns on me then, just how Kelly was planning on paying.  He looks at me, and a little bit of the confidence starts to fade.  How friendly are you?  Bruce doesn't swing that way- he's strictly AC, but I'm not.  We could have some fun of our own, he says.

What is fun about it, I think to myself.  The panic starts to set in again, and I feel dizzy.  I don't know if I can say no, because what if I'm expected to pay for my share?  I don't have any money.  I open my mouth to say something, but I know the question will just sound stuipd, so I shut it again.  Rick says that I'm coming down, and he pushes more coke at me.  I want that feeling back, and fast.  I snort more, and wait to get past the burning, eye watering stage again.  It passes quicker than it did the first time.  He asks if I've ever let another guy fuck me.  This feels just as wrong as anything that E.'s ever done- almost like being crucified in public, in front of total strangers.  I keep thinking to myself that there is no way that I'll let anyone see how scared I am.  I will not be afraid.  I can be in control of this, somehow.  Doesn't it hurt, I ask.  I look down at my hands, and realize that I'm systematically shredding a cigarette.  My hands are shaking, and I drop the rest of it into the ashtray, and sit up.  I am trying so hard, but I feel like I'm failing miserably.

He takes that question as a sign that I've already said yes, even though that's the farthest thing from my mind.  He is looking at me the same way that he did, when he found out that this was my first time with coke.  He tells me that he likes my inexperience- and right away, my mind starts racing again.  He'll be able to tell that I'm *not* inexperienced....and then what?  No, it doesn't hurt if you do it right, he says.  I think that's an absolute lie, because I can't imagine that E. doesn't know what he's doing.

I realize that I'm going to do it, because I really don't think it's ok to say no.  I've never been given any choice, or any chance to refuse...my body is worthless.  What's inside it is worthless.  And this is yet another person that's somehow managed to see what E. saw, in the beginning.

We go back to another bedroom, and Rick doesn't turn any lights on.  He fumbles around in the dark, looking for two candles.  He finally finds them on his dresser, and he smiles almost sheepishly- explaining that he likes rain and candlelight, together.  Something about the way that he looks when he says this- I realize that he's not as threatening as he seems to be, although I'm still so scared that I can feel myself digging my fingernails into the palms of my hands.  He leaves the window open over the bed, after making sure that no rain is coming inside.  I'm immediately glad- I don't feel so trapped this way.

It is comepletely different than it is with E., and at first I have a hard time believing that this could even be considered the same thing.  I'm still incredibly uncomfortable, and self concious- and I would like to be anywhere else, doing anything but this.  But at least Rick is careful to make sure that he doesn't hurt me.  And when it's finished, he says that the weather is too nasty to leave, so I might as well stay for the night.  Kelly will be- he tells me that Kelly always spends the night when she's here.  This is news to me.  I suddenly wonder how long she's been doing this.  Maybe I don't know her as well as I think I do.

The wind changes direction outside, and all of a sudden I can feel a light mist of rain coming from the window up above us.  I don't want to say anything if Rick didn't notice, because I still like it, with the window open.  I like hearing the sound of the rain, and I like the way that the air smells.  The candles have melted down to nothing, but my eyes have adjusted to the dark, and I can see more than enough to keep me happy.  I can see the door- there is a tiny sliver of light shining underneath it.  I know where my clothes are, so I can jump up and leave if the panic comes back.  But right now.....it's nice.  The quilt is pulled up to my chin, and I'm warm.  No Jack, to burst through the door and drag me out into the living room, for some pointless drunken confrontation.   Nothing but peace and quiet...I am almost positive that I'll be able to sleep.  I'm facing the wall, and Rick is right behind me, with his hand resting on my hip.  A fresh gust of wind blows another light mist through the screen- I can feel it on my face.  But Rick is already asleep.  I can hear him almost snoring.

But all of a sudden, I'm not feeling so peaceful any more.  It is slowly starting to dawn on me, just how much E. tries to hurt me.  I never had anything to compare it with before- and right here, I have my proof.  Rick was a total stranger...someone that I had never even known up until a few hours ago- and he didn't go out of his way to make me scream, or beg him to stop.  I even realize that if I would have told him to stop, I think he would have.

Rape.

The word starts to take shape in my mind, and I think that sleep is going to be a long time in coming.  I've heard people say it before, but always in connection with girls.  It doesn't happen to guys....so what the hell is happening to me?  I want an answer.  I want to understand what it is about me that makes this happen, over and over again.  I know that there are kids out there who don't have to worry about getting hit for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time....they don't have to hide in the basement, or sit and have anxiety attacks so bad that they spend hours in the bathroom throwing up because it's thursday night.  They don't spend their weekends being degraded to the point that they forget what it feels like to be human.  And I want to know why that I wasn't one of *them*.  What weird twist of fate made this my life?

The solution is becoming more and more obvious.  It would be so easy, and I know I could do it.  But I can remember hearing my mom talk about a friend of hers, whose father killed himself.  Something about how if you kill yourself, you go to hell.  I don't really believe this, but at the same time, I'm afraid to test the theory.

I am getting tired of all this fear.

In the morning, Kelly and I leave, and blow school off completely.  Neither one of us are worried about going home, because we're both convinced that we weren't missed.  Rick and Bruce give us each a bullet full of coke, and we make plans to come back up again in a few days.  I almost stop myself a few times on the way back, because it feels so fucking surreal.  We are highschool kids- supposedly a couple- and we're both fucking these older guys, for drugs.  Kelly asked me if I did anything with Rick...she isn't angry or upset when she asks, she sort of knows that it happened and doesn't care...just like she blows off what she did with Bruce.  This is the way that the real world works, she tells me.  You've gotta give to get what you want.  I'm envious of the way that she pulls it apart, and breaks it down to almost nothing out of the ordinary.

We have to hitch back into LA.  It  takes forever, and the closer we get...I'm not so sure that staying out all night was a good idea.  I should have thought this through, because all of a sudden I'm certain that I'm going to be in for it when I finally walk through that door.   I just want to get back, and get it over with.  Kelly wishes me luck, and asks if I want to meet her again later.  I'm not thinking clearly- I can't concentrate on one thing.  It's like, I can see her lips moving but the words aren't making sense.  But I manage a *maybe* and take off.

I walk in the door...and the first thing I hear is Mom's voice.  I've never heard her this angry before- the screaming isn't anything new, but she is in my face, positively *shrieking* because I never came home.  You could be dead out on the highway somewhere for all I know, she says.  I'm thinking it in my head, and I don't realize that I say it out loud.

"Yeah, bet you're disappointed, huh?"

I want to say, Mom- just stop- I'm sorry.  I don't like hurting her, or making her upset.  And I do say it- over and over again, that I'm sorry and didn't mean what I said, it just came out before I could stop myself.  I'm tired, I want to sleep for a year, maybe two.  But she is still furious.  She slaps me harder than she's ever managed before, and then looks at me like she's the one in shock.  Look what you make me do, she says.  Just look.  I never hit your brother and sister, but you just make me so angry sometimes...

She is crying, and I don't understand why.  I can taste blood in my mouth- I think I bit the inside of my cheek.

Jack hears the crying, and comes out to see what the commotion is.  As soon as he sets eyes on me, I can see his whole body tense, like he was waiting for this.  He asks me where I was, and I calmly say that I was out with friends.  I am careful to look down at the floor, because this feels like I'm dealing with a rabid dog...if I look into his eyes, he'll take it as a challenge.  I say that I was with Kelly, my girlfriend.  Jack used to tease Danny about all of his girlfriends, and I think that maybe he'll understand if it involved a girl.  He always understood with Danny- understand me this time, please.

But it doesn't work, and the fact that I don't look him in the face only pisses him off even more.  Look at me when I'm talking to you damn it.  I never know which to do.  And when I finally do- as soon as I raise my eyes, it's like something inside of him snaps, and he lunges forward and shoves me back into the wall.  I can feel my head connect with the plaster and everything turns grey for a minute.  You should have more fucking respect for your mother than to stay out all night without calling, he says.

"Goddamn it, you little shit, you're on something, too!"

He keeps asking me what I took, and I can't answer quick enough because my head hurts and I just can't fucking think.  Every time I don't answer the question, he hits me again- and I'm thinking, if you just stop for a minute, and give me a chance, I would answer- but how can I when you're making it worse?  I can feel blood running down the back of my neck, soaking into my t-shirt, and I'm sure that the next thing he's going to yell about is the fact that I'm getting blood on the wall.  I can hear mom crying somewhere, off behind us.  And I think, this can't get any worse.

I should learn to stop thinking like this, because it can always get worse.

E. has been here the whole time- he comes out of the hallway, and stands just behind Jack's shoulder.  I remember laughing at him the night before, and suddenly wish that I hadn't.  Whatever measure of control that I had feels long gone, and I know I'm going to pay for it.  Times ten.

Jack, you're being too rough with the kid, let him go, he says- and all I can do is stare at him in shock, and wonder what the new game is.  I can remember for a second the reason that I used to idolize him so much.  I can see it all in one flash- the quietness, the always sticking up for me- and it feels like a little part of me dies while I look at him, because I never fully realized how much I needed that.  He was the person who made this insanity bearable, because he made me feel worthwhile, somehow.  And now I know that he's worse than them, much much worse.

It's that girlfriend of his, that little tramp.  I bet it was all her idea, wasn't it, Niko, he says.  I don't know whether to agree or disagree- I'm afraid that whatever I say is going to be wrong.  But nobody waits for an answer, anyway.  E. is saying, Jack- just let him go.  You're going to kill him one of these days, I swear- is that what you want?  Let me take him for a few days, so you can cool off.  Niko and I understand each other, don't we?

And with that last sentance, that's when I feel it.  Total and complete defeat.  I can almost feel myself deflating, right before everyone's eyes.  Yes, that's right- E. understands me, better than anyone else does.  I try to pretend that deep down I'm good, but he can see through it....he knows just what kind of person that I am.  Maybe he's been trying to help me all along, and I've somehow managed to fuck it up, twist it into something else, in my mind.  And it's like he knows just what's going through my head, because he's saying, You've got to remember, Jack- he's trying his best.  But he doesn't have much to work with.  I'll bring him around, one of these days, or die trying.

Jack says Yeah, get him out of my sight for a few days.  Now, before I change my mind.  And I am looking at Mom- trying to get her to see that I would rather die than go, I feel like I *will* die if I go- and she fucking turns her back on me.  Turns her back, and walks back out to the kitchen....where I'm convinced she spends most of her life.  Always hiding in that fucking kitchen, while everything else goes to hell.  If it was Danny, she would see.  If it was Ronni, she would have found a way to kill Eddie by now, I'm convinced.  But it's me.....and this is just how it is.

E. takes me back to the house, and as soon as we're away from the apartment- he is furious.  For how I treated him earlier, because of the fact that I stayed out with Kelly all night...and I realize that I have never been this scared before.  There is no security, nowhere to run to get away from it- I feel like the bottom has dropped out of everything.  When and if I get away, I know that I can't go back home.....because what's going to stop Jack the next time?  It's just a feeling, but it's strong...some invisible line has been crossed.  There is nothing to cling to anymore, not that there was very much in the first place.  I realize that I'm cringing against the door of the truck, and if I really wanted to get away- I could just open it and jump out, as soon as it stops.  But my head hurts too bad, and I know that I wouldn't get very far.  I don't even feel like fighting.

I still have the bullet in my pocket, and I wonder what would happen if I took it all at once.  I wonder if it would be enough to end this, end everything.  And I know that as soon as E. isn't looking, I'm going to try.
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Chapter Five:  Time to reflect
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April 16, 1999

Masks

Please hear what I'm "not" saying.

Don't be fooled by me. For I wear a mask, I wear a thousand masks,
masks that I'm afraid to take off, and none of them are mine.
Pretending is an art that's second nature with me, but don't be fooled,
for god's sake, don't be fooled.
I give you the impression that I'm secure, that all is sunny and coolness my game,
That the waters calm and I'm in command, and that I need no one.
But don't believe me. Please don't.

My surface may seem smooth, but my surface is my mask,
my ever-varying and ever-concealing mask, beneath lies no smugness, no complacence.
Beneath dwells the real me, in confusion, in fear, in aloneness.
But I hide this, I don't want anybody to know it.

I panic at the thought of my weakness and I fear being exposed.
That's why I frantically create a mask to hide behind, a nonchalant, sophisticated facade,
To help me pretend, to shield me from your glance-
a glance that KNOWS.

But such a glance is precisely my salvation. My only salvation.
and I know it......Provided that
That glance is followed by acceptance, and then followed by love.
It's the only thing that will assure me of what I can't assure myself,
that I'm really worth something.

But I don't tell you this. I don't dare. I'm afraid to.
I'm afraid you will think less of me, that you will laugh, and your laugh would kill me.
I'm afraid that deep down I'm nothing, that I'm Just no good.
and that you will see this and reject me.

So I play my game, my desperate, pretending game, with a facade of assurance on the outside,
and a trembling child within.

And so begins the parade of masks, the glittering but empty parade of masks
And my life becomes a front.
I idly chatter to you in the suave tones of surface talk.
I tell you everything that's really nothing, and nothing of that which is everything,
of what's crying within me.
So when I'm going through my routine, do not be fooled by what I am saying.
Please listen carefully and try to hear what I'm NOT saying
what I'd like to be able to say,
what, for survival, I need to say, but I can't say.

I dislike hiding. Honestly, I do.
I dislike the superficial game I'm playing the superficial, phoney game.

I'd really like to be genuine and spontaneous, and me, but you've got to help me.
help me!
You've got to hold out your hand, even when that's the last thing I seem to want or need.
only you can wipe away from my eyes the blank stare of the breathing dead.

Each time you're kind and gentle and encouraging,
each time you try to understand because you really care,
My heart begins to grow wings, very small wings, very feeble wings: But wings,
With your sensitivity, sympathy, and your power of understanding.
You can breathe life into me. I want you to know that.
I want you to know how important you are to me,
How you can be a creator of the person that is me, if you choose to.
Please choose to.

You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble,
you alone can remove my mask, you alone can release me

From my shadow-world of panic and uncertainty, from my lonely prison.
So do not pass me by.
please do not pass me by.
It will not be easy for you.
a long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.
the nearer you approach to me
the blinder I may strike back.
It's irrational, but despite what the books say about man, I am irrational.

I fight against the very thing that I cry out for.
But I am told that LOVE is stronger than strong walls, and in this lies my hope.
my only hope.
Please try to beat down those walls with firm hands,
but with gentle hands.......for a child is very sensitive,
and I AM a child.

@--->--->------

I can't really continue with things the way that they've been going, for one reason- I can't remember it.  I can remember after...when E. finally let me go home.  I know that it was a period of seven days.  I only know this because I remember the day that it was, when the situation came to a head, in school.  There are other gaps, but none of them bother me as much as this one does.  *Why* does it bother me so much?  Because by this time, I knew and understood what was going on- I can't understand why these seven days are a total blank.  I can remember other things, like the very first time that it happened, in vivid detail...but this is like a void of nothingness.  My mind skips from being in the car with E., directly to my first period math class all those days later, when Kelly got herself involved and told all of my secrets to the guidance counselor.

Since there is this gap, I'm taking a moment or two to reflect on everything.  Because reflecting seems to be all that I've been doing in the past 24 hours, and I want to see if I can get some of my thoughts down, before they disappear again.

I hardly slept last night.  When I signed off, I was feeling downright sick...and there was *alot* of crying involved.  Why??  Did what I write affect me that much?  Did it stir things up to the point of not being able to let go of it?  That was part of it, I'm sure.  The fact that I had lost a period of seven days bothered me...because I know, on some level, that the nightmares that I still have are somehow connected to this timeframe.  I never remember the nightmares, either- I just wake up in a cold sweat with my heart pounding.  Terrified.  The only way that I can think to describe it is an overwhelming feeling of menace.  Of being in danger.  Sometimes it takes me a few minutes to fully wake up enough to realize that I'm safe, and whatever was happening is long over with.

But, it wasn't just that last night.  And to understand why I reacted the way that I did, I have to do a little digging, and make myself uncomfortable in the process.

Matt wants to see what I'm writing.  He sees me everyday, sitting at the computer, pounding away at the keys...and he wants to know what it is that has me all worked up.  *Are you writing again?*  as if it wasn't totally obvious.  And for a minute, I think- ok, I'll let him read this...I can do it.  He tells me every night that no matter what happened, it won't change how he feels.  It's not going to destroy any *masks*  (ironic, no?).  He wants to understand why I act the way that I do sometimes.  He knows that there are some pretty mean demons hiding in my closet.

But I can't do it.  I get too scared.

Why?  What makes every old fear that I've ever had, rise back up again- when I know that I'm secure, and safe?

That's when it starts to dawn on me, that I'm still afraid of not being believed.  I'm waiting for someone else to say, *No, that didn't really happen.  You're making it up.*  Because when it finally *did* come out, that was almost the only reaction that I got.  And I still feel worthless enough to believe that everyone else is going to react the same way.

And this makes me realize something else:  As I'm going about my life, pretending that everything is in the past, and I'm fine- I am anything but.  This *has* affected me.  This has warped my personality to the point that deep down, I feel that I can't trust anyone.....not even the two people that I love more than anything.  There are two very distinct sides to my personality:  the rational side, which handles most of the day to day living- and the irrational side, that I try to keep hidden- but still comes out on too many occasions.  The irrational side is ruled by a very confused, very scared ten year old boy- who is trying to make sure that nothing can ever hurt him again.  He has no experience with people who genuinely care.  He doesn't know how to react when someone tells him that they love him, that they believe him- that they will be here for him no matter what.  He only knows how to hide behind his walls, where it's safe.  Not trusting anyone enough to let them in.  He is very good at making light of anything and everything, just to avoid feeling any genuine emotions.  He doesn't know *how* to feel anything but fear, mistrust, and self hatred.

This is *me*.  I am those two seperate people, and it's finally beginning to hit home.  In order to function on a day to day basis, I have to pretend that the past didn't really touch me, or change me.  I don't even really know if it's ok to admit this, that I'm not alright.  That everything is not perfect in my little world.  I don't really know any other guys that have had this happen to them...I have nothing to look up to, or base my feelings on.  I see women all around me, talking about being victimized by their fathers, or their brothers...and it's alright for them to be hurt.  It's alright for them to say that it's been a long road, but they're finally starting to heal.  The one thing that I hear over and over again is that it never really goes away.

What does this mean, for me?  Can I admit that I thought it was brutal, and unfair, and terrifying- or will that make me less of a *man*, by society's standards?  But, I have to keep telling myself that I wasn't a *man* when it happened....I was a kid.  One who didn't know which end was up.

I want to ask for help sometimes, but I don't know how.  And I don't know where to go.  Men aren't supposed to admit to being weak, or feeling vulnerable.  And god knows, I do- all the time.  That little boy comes out again, the one that I think I'm trying to help, and whispers that it's safer not to say anything.  Safer to deal with it on your own.  Just forget about it, and move on.

I have a list of questions as long as my arm, and not one answer.

And if I want to delude myself into believing that this hasn't affected me, then what about my relationships?  Tonight, I just want to get inside myself and shred through all the layers that I've wrapped myself in throughout the years.  I want to know what's *really* there.

Significant relationships with women:  Kelly.  Christina.  Kirsten.  Michelle.  Cristi.  Beth.  Significant means that these have all lasted longer than 6 months, and concerned some pretty serious, strong feelings.  Just looking at the list, I can see that they all have one thing in common- sudden total loss of interest on my part.  Nothing that they did (with the exception of Kelly) was *wrong* or out of place...there was no reason for me to suddenly get tired of their company.  As a matter of fact, (with the exception of Kelly, again) each one of these relationships was *good*.  But I know just what killed each one:  I only gave myself superficially to each of these people.  Not one of them knew the *real* me.  Some of them came close, and some knew more than others...but not one of them got past all of the layers.  Why?  Because I wouldn't let them.  It's almost as if these relationships were destined to fail from the beginning.  And each ending came about, the same way- with the gradual ending of communication.

I can actually remember getting angry at some of them for not being able to *guess* what was inside of me.  And there was always the nagging feeling that they were *too good* for me.  That they didn't deserve to be with someone like me.

Someone like me- what does that mean?

Someone who isn't capable of loving someone else the way that they deserve to be loved.  Someone who is not *normal*- who has been damaged beyond belief.

How can I keep thinking that this isn't affecting me!  I have always known that these feelings were there, but I got very good over the years at pretending not to listen to that nagging, little voice.

And what about my significant relationships with guys?  Rick.  Daryl.  Randy.  Jason.  I'm not counting any one night stands, or any of the others that only lasted a week or two, male or female.  Each one of these were a study in dysfunction.  Power and control issues...violence...chemical co-dependency...I know in each one, I found characteristics of E.- for whatever reason, I don't pretend to know or understand.

Matt was the only healthy m/m relationship that I've ever been involved in, and even *that* didn't start out that way.  And how did it end?  Not too different from all of my decent relationships with girls...by pushing him away when some invisible boundry got crossed, and I had to get *real* with my feelings.

It's been over for five years, and I think it's time I learn to deal with this stuff.  If I keep letting it go, if I keep ignoring it...I don't want to end up like my mom.  I know that she's dealt with her fair share of shit, and look what she let it do to her.  I don't want to be 46, and suddenly realize that I'm fucked up, and I've fucked up my kids, too.

Do I still feel guilty?  Oh, hells yes.  The rational voice is very good at reminding me that it wasn't my choice, and I didn't deserve what he did to me.  But it still confuses me, because of the way that things progressed.  I think that I didn't fight enough, or I didn't do enough to protect myself.  I should have avoided him more, or maybe gone to a teacher or someone *sooner*......I should have screamed it from the rooftops until someone listened to me.

But I didn't.  He didn't even have to threaten that much, because I knew that no one would believe me, anyway.  And later on, I wasn't sure of how to catagorize it.  He wasn't exactly forcing me, although that's how it started out in the beginning- that much I know.  It's the only thing that I *am* sure of.  It was forced.  It wasn't until I was older that the lines started to get blurred.  I didn't fight anymore, and I went to *him*...to make it easier on myself.  I know I keep saying this, and I don't know who I'm trying to convince more...whoever's going to read this, or *me*.

Not that I'm sure anyone is ever going to be allowed to read this.  I think I made a mistake, sharing it with *anyone*.  Why?  The doubt is back again.  I'm caught between either feeling like no one is going to believe me, or feeling like a burden.  I don't want to feel like my friends think of me as this object that needs to be fixed.

But that's what I am, in a way.

Matt keeps telling me that this is my *safe place*- where I can get everything out in the open, so I'm not keeping it inside any more.  He is having a problem with the fact that I can't just open up and talk to him about it.  He wants to help, he says- he wants to talk.  Well, what if I can't bring myself to talk to him about it?  I would probably be more comfortable talking to a total stranger, than to him.  I don't want pity, I want a little bit of understanding.  And there's always the fear that if I open up, it's going to change everything.  He's not going to look at me the same way anymore- his views are going to change.

He's always been cautious and careful, even without knowing- what's he going to be like once he knows every little detail?

So, I'll do what I've always done.  I'll relent because I'm no good at just saying *no*.  But I can already feel myself starting to pull away.

No, this still doesn't bother me.

I'm fine.

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