Matthew Lickona 3 p.m., April 28
- Community Blog
- The Abnormal Width of Normal Heights
If I Make it to Eleven (a short story)
Today I’m finally gonna do it. I’m gonna kill Frank, my stepfather.
It’s exactly thirty days since I decided I had to, before he kills Jackie first. Jackie’s my little brother, and he’s not even three yet, and you can’t beat on a toddler like Frank beats on Jackie, you just can’t do it, because their heads are still soft and they’re just big babies really, and they can die if you hit them like that. I swear Frank is gonna kill poor Jackie the next time, it’s gonna happen. My brother’s too small and can’t take it anymore, I know his little body’s too weak, so I have to kill Frank this time, I can’t chicken out again.
I turn eleven in a few months. So I’m still ten, I guess. But I’m closer to eleven officially. My stomach has been hurting again. Bad hurt, too, like someone’s stabbing me in the guts with a sword, and all I can do to make it feel better is curl up in a tight little ball and jam myself into the corner of my room. If I stay like that for a day or two, and if no one bothers me, if Frank doesn’t get pissed off and start raging, if nothing like that happens, then my stomach usually stops hurting. Sometimes it stops in a few hours, but it usually takes longer.
Last week, though, I noticed something strange. My stomach was starting to feel like it was getting stabbed again, but just then I got another idea about a way to kill Frank, by spraying his pills with bug poison, the best idea ever, I was sure it would work, and I was so excited that my stomach stopped hurting right away. I felt completely fine, isn’t that strange? It makes me feel weird about my brain. But it still might work with the pills, I suppose, and I want it to. Just like every other way to kill him that I think of, though, I still can’t get up the guts to do it. I’m too scared. But if little Jackie gets hurt or even worse, and I never stop worrying about it, then it’s gonna be all my fault. So I know I have to kill Frank, I don’t have any doubts, I just can’t find enough brave in me. But I know this whole thing’s crazy. Even I know this is no way for a ten year-old kid to be spending his days and nights, worrying about how they’re gonna kill an adult.
Gonna, but never do.
I gotta change that tonight.
If I don’t, I can’t even think about it. The future’s like being stuffed into a black pillowcase. I start to get nervous and that makes me shake, from the inside out, like my nerves are getting blasted, and I shake so hard my teeth make noise.
You can’t chicken out, you lousy coward, you sissy! Be a man!
My mother’s working late, a double shift. She’s gone a lot, or it seems like she is, and every time she leaves that’s when Frank turns into his monster self. When mom’s gone, he thinks he can do anything to us that he wants. He orders me around the house like I’m his slave, that’s how he says it, “Don’t you know you’re my son and my servant now?” I hate when he calls me his son. I wanna tell him I have a dad, and he may be a loser who left, but you’re a bigger loser who’s staying. It makes my head feel like exploding. But only Frank’s head ever does, and not for real like I wish, but just like he loses his mind when my mom leaves.
When they were first married, things were better, Frank never got angry. Then, when Jackie was born, everything sorta changed. And he lost his job too, I shoulda said that before, and he’s just been madder than his usual madness. Frank’s angry all the time now, day and night, and you can’t live like that, or with it. We used to have the most fun, Frank and me, when he and my mom were just boyfriend and girlfriend. He’d take me to the movies, we’d go to the stables at Griffith Park and ride horses, he even got us the best seats for a Dodger game ever, three rows from the field, right near third base. I could hear Tommy Lasorda yelling at the umpire. He said some words I can’t repeat here. Back then, Frank never yelled at me, never even once that I remember.
I get sad when I think about those days. I get sad when I feel happy about a time before my little brother was born. I get sad feeling like I wish he was never born, or that the new baby never will be. I get sad when I feel like I wish my mom and me could just run away from everyone here in Los Angeles, and move to another state, and just live our life without being bothered by any stupid men. When I looked at a map of the United States a month ago, I played “pin the tail on the country,” and Vermont is where my finger landed. Now I want to know everything about Vermont. So small, and green, and so far away. The opposite of L.A.. But we’ll never go to Vermont, we’ll never even leave L.A. I bet. And I’ll never tell my mother what Frank is like when she goes to work, because I’m afraid, afraid he’ll hurt me, afraid he’ll hurt her, just afraid, and because I keep chickening out with everything. But I have to change, and fast, because I have to be the one who ends this nightmare.
Jackie is eating a snack in his highchair, and I love him, and he loves me, and we’re stuck in Los Angeles, and my mother is working for the next sixteen hours, and if I don’t get the house cleaned up and vacuumed in the next hour, Frank is gonna beat me and then beat Jackie even harder. But I’m not gonna do it, I’m not gonna clean the house, I want him to get mad, so I can end him forever. I swear I will, I’m doing it, there’s no chickens tonight, I have to protect my brother, and I will, just watch me. Frank the bully won’t have to drag me into a fight this time, I’m delivering it to him special. I hate that man so much.
Last week, when Frank was hitting Jackie, and I couldn’t find the guts to kill him, to jam that knife into his back, or skull him with my little league bat, and I couldn’t watch and I was scared he was gonna hurt Jackie worse than ever, so I ran away down the hall, and hid under my bed and covered my ears so I didn’t have to hear Jackie screaming. But before long, Frank grabbed my arm and yanked me out from under the bed, and he dragged me back down the hall, yelling, “Now I’m going to beat him harder because you ran away!” And he hit him, and hit him, and hit him. I had to watch, Frank forced me, and I just don’t understand how little Jackie could take it, I don’t understand how he keeps surviving, how he doesn’t just drop over and die.
All because of me, because I ran away.
Well not tonight, not this time, fathead Frank won’t have to drag me anywhere, I’m standing up to him and doing it.
Don’t you chicken out, you prissy little whiner, no more excuses! Do it!
It’s raining right now, in the middle of July. A hot summer rain, we never have those in L.A.. So I know it’s a special day. He’s not gonna do this to us any more. He’s not gonna kill my little brother. He’s not, he’s not, he’s not. I see myself doing it in my head. He’ll be home in a few minutes, pissed and ordering me to get him a drink, get him whatever he wants, all night, and to take care of Jackie, shut him up or both of us’ll get beat. Shh, Jackie, shh, stop crying, please. I’ll give you candy later if you stop. Shh, please, shh!
Frank’ll tell me to get his pills too, order me, like he always does. And that’s when I’ll give them to him, those pills I soaked in bug poison. They may taste funny, but he’ll have them swallowed before he can tell anything, because Frank always puts the water in his mouth before the pills, then swallows. If he did it the normal way, pills first and water second, then he’d taste that poison for sure, I’d never get away with it. But I can get away with it, I can do it, it’s a smart plan, I know it is, I have to save Jackie’s life. Frank’ll swallow the poison pills, I picture it in my mind, and he’ll choke and grab his throat. I hope his eyes do funny things, they can pop right outta his head for all I care, and I hope he’s gagging and can’t breathe and turns red. He deserves it. You just don’t beat on a toddler like he beats on Jackie, his own son, no man does that who deserves to live. He deserves to die just like this. Everything is clear in my head. But even I know my head is messed up, not normal, I know that what I’m thinking and doing are wrong. But I have no choice. Jackie’ll be dead. My stomach starts feeling the sword stabbing into it again. But I knock the sword away, punch down at the air like a crazy person. This stupid pain will not stop me.
Have some balls, you wimpy shit, Jackie’s depending on you! Get your pathetic act together!
And there he is, walking in the door and looking at me like I’m nothing, like I’m something he can just step on. Frank’s tall, six four, and big as an ox, he used to play football in college. His hair is buzzed short, but it’s thick and firm, stiff really, like one of those brushes you use on a horse. Like a helmet of hair. A football helmet. My mom always hated jocks, she said, but then she met Frank and something about him was just, I can’t remember how she said it, the word she used…unresistable? He was just unresistable, she said.
I think sickos and bad guys are like that, they’re unresistable at first, that way they can get in the house with hardly any trouble, and they have all their energy left to destroy everything inside. That’s all Frank’s really done since we met him. He’s turned everything good to bad. Now he’s got a son with my mom, and she just told me she’s pregnant with another baby too, so I’ll have another little brother or sister with him for a father. I wonder how young the new baby’ll be before Frank starts beating on it? This makes my stomach hurt in a different way. Like I have to throw up. Did you know that the capitol of Vermont is Montpelier? I really want to go there. Vermont. It sounds so peaceful. I wish I could disappear into that map. Or disappear anywhere.
There you go, being a ‘fraidy cat, wanting to run and let everyone down. Run then, you scared bastard! Run away again!
Frank is yelling already, about how messy the house is, how I haven’t done my servant chores like I was supposed to. Then Jackie starts crying, and Frank really gets mad. Shut that baby up or I’ll beat both of you into a closet and lock you there all night! I have my hand in my pocket, where I finger those two poisoned pills. Get my pills, boy! I hurry into the bathroom and pretend to get them. I stare down at the murder pills in my hand. My breathing is hard to do, my lungs feel like they’re filling with cement. I’m shaking again, and my stomach’s getting stabbed by the sword. Give him those pills, you coward!
Give. Him. Those. Pills!
I can’t move.
Do you want your brother dead, is that what you want?!
My face is getting tight, my chin and my lips are doing what they do when you cry. I try not to, I really do, but I can’t control what’s going on with me, and I am crying so hard in few seconds that I can barely stand up straight. I’m crying because I am so weak, and all I want is for once, one goddamn time, to be strong. I ask God, I beg God: “Please give me strength, please let me do it! If anything happens to Jackie, it’ll be because of me! Please God, please!” But all I hear is Frank, roaring at Jackie to shut up, and now he’s threatening to get his razor strap, and my crying is impossible to stop, I don’t know what to do. I squeeze the poison pills tight in my hand, Jackie is screaming and screaming, and Frank, I hear his feet on the floor, he’s getting that strap, to hit Jackie again, and that’ll be it, the kid’s a goner.
Now, boy, now!!!
I hurry to get outta the bathroom, and I run back down the hall to the kitchen to save Jackie.
“You see a ghost, boy?”
Frank is sitting on the couch, across from Jackie’s high chair. The razor strap is over his shoulder. Jackie is still making a loud fuss. Best get that child quiet, Frank tells me, or you know what kinda thunder you’ll get hit by. Thunder doesn’t hit you, I think, lightning does. Idiot.
“What’re you crying for? Buck your ass up. Where are those pills? ” I hesitate, stammer, and I stand in place. The pills are locked in my palm.
“What the hell’s the matter with you? Give them to me.”
Frustrated and angry, he yanks my arm and I just kinda give up, scared he might punch me, and I let him have the pills. I am shaking again as I watch him, I can’t believe he’s gonna take them, I can’t believe it got this far. He fills his mouth with water and is just about to drop the pills into his ugly hole…when I reach up and punch his hand hard enough to knock the pills away. Before he can reach down and pick them up, I step on them and crush them into the shag carpet. I chickened out again, and I am gonna pay for it.
Frank’s eyes are huge and on fire with rage. Like he’s gonna kill me tonight, or pound me as close to it as he can. He chases me around the house for a minute, down the hall, and that makes Jackie laugh. But Frank catches me just inside the bathroom door and starts laying into me with that strap. Jackie can’t see us from his highchair, and he’s still laughing, but I’m just covering my head as Frank swings away. I’m taking his hits to the wrist and the back of my hand and forearms, but if he ever gets lucky and hits my head, damn, with that heavy hunk of leather, the way he’s swinging it so hard and with so much hate, I think he’d probably knock me out cold, or do me in for good. He just keeps hitting me, swing after swing, I keep my head covered and my hand starts to bleed, I can feel the blood running down my skin and dripping off. I can hear Jackie laughing and laughing in the front room, and I don’t understand why he still is, but it’s better he’s laughing than crying, it’s better I’m taking the whole beating tonight and he gets a vacation sort of. If I can’t kill Frank, at least I can give Jackie a break, like a night off. I wish I could give mom a night off, too. Fifty of them. I wish I could do it all. No one else will.
But just then, after I thought sure he was finished, Frank takes one last wild swing at me. I don’t have my head totally covered for this one, and it connects. It jerks my neck and fills my head with bright light. I fall backward, and my head hits the floor with the strangest thud I ever tasted. Even though I can barely hear him, Frank yells at me to get up, but then he realizes that he probably hurt me pretty bad. The scared look on his face just then, how he knows he’s in big trouble, police kind of trouble, that makes the beating almost worth it. Even the awful hospital food is worth it to see him afraid like that. Maybe not five days of hospital food, but at least two or three.
Mom says Frank is in jail, and that I don’t have to be afraid. She’s been crying a lot to me, apologizing. I don’t believe adults anymore. None of them. That’s another thing a ten year-old kid shouldn’t have to do. But mom’s more pregnant now, getting bigger, she swears it’s a girl, and I know she’s gonna fall for his unresistable crap again, and he’ll be back. Or some new guy will. At least Jackie’s alright, but I still worry about him, because you can’t do that to a soft little brain. The doctor says my hearing might be bad for the rest of my life. Means I won’t have to hear all those adults as much. That’s not so bad. And my stomach hasn’t been stabbing me at all lately.
If I make it to eleven years old, I really want a book about Vermont for my birthday.