I can always tell when I’m going to get an ass-chewing from my mother (she no longer bothers beating me, as I just laugh at her while bobbing and weaving through her clumsy and slow swats and slaps, or while now-fragile wooden spoons snap cleanly in half across my growing shoulders and forearms); there are several tells, actually, all situationally dependent: the rapid stomping across the kitchen floor toward the basement stairs, at the bottom of which my bedroom is as an afterthought tucked away without a door or even walls off in a corner next to a washing machine, when we’re both already home and indoors; her fucking yelling my name over and over again through open windows when I’m outside and she’s inside; in this case, when she’s just getting home from work, the way her car tears into the driveway like it’s some kind of fucking emergency. Screech, the car stops, the tires skidding, the car always almost colliding with the garage door.

And she’s always panting when she gets inside the door, which is odd, because it’s all of fucking ten feet between it and her car.

I’m sitting in the easy chair, waiting for something or thinking about something, I’m not sure, and she bursts in, just fucking freaking the fuck out, waving around a rolled-up newspaper.

what the fuck look what you fucking did, she’s raging, trembling, pink-faced and sweaty, softly yelling through clenched teeth.

Honestly having no idea what the fuck she’s talking about, I just point at her and start laughing. She lunges at me, batting at me with the newspaper while I barely bother raising my hands to protect my face.

fucking look at this and pretend it isn’t you doing those stupid gang sign things

It’s kind of coming together now, the conversation we had with the reporter some time back, the photographer clumsily trying to hide behind parked cars, in doorways.

She hurls the newspaper at me.

look at you and your stupid fucking friends

The headline: GANGS ARRIVE IN VALLEY. I start shrieking with laughter. My mother’s seated on the couch, removing her work shoes, throws one at me.

it’s not funny

it’s not fucking funny

look at you

look at that picture of you, you and all your scummy God-damned friends

The picture beneath the headline is the four of us from that day when we were interviewed; I’m making a gesture that could be someone trying to make a reindeer shadow puppet but could just as easily be some sort of menacing gang sign while everyone apart from the interviewer is stuffing his face with fries and burgers. The interviewer’s face is hidden by a large black blot, the rest of us have black bars covering our eyes but it is so obviously us I’m not surprised my mother recognized me and have no doubt others will as well, so there are some pluses and minuses here.

I’m laughing so hard I’ve dropped the paper, my head thrown back over the top of the chair.

She hurls the other shoe at me.

“Fuckin’ calm down, dude. Jesus Christ,” I say to my mother.

“How could you say that shit? How could you say you do that stuff to people?”

“I don’t… know,” I offer, confused.

“Then why say it?”

“Because it’s…fucking funny.”

She glares at me.

“That is not funny. That is not fuckin’ funny. Stealin’ and rapin’ is not fuckin’ funny.”

“What the fuck are you talkin’ about, ‘rape’?” I ask, incredulous.

“You and your stupid friends told the paper that you rape people at the Fox River Mall.”

I snatch the paper off the ground and scan the article. At the end of it is an allusion to my story about tying shoelaces together while hiding under cars, or giving wedgies, but it instead says “slashing Achilles’ tendons” and implies strongly that sexual assault follows.

“This is complete fuckin’ bullshit. I never said that part. Nobody did,” I protest.

“Why the fuck would any of you say any of it?”

“The shit we said was fuckin’ funny, though.”

She just leers at me, enraged, then glances nervously at the clock on the cable box. There’s a lengthy, nervous pause that fills me with a sense of seriousness.

“Do you really do that stuff, Peter? Do you guys go around stealin’ and rapin’?”

“Use your fuckin’ skull, Brainiac!” I scream at my mother.

She looks for another shoe to throw at me but, having expended them all, slouches back against the couch, exhausted. She takes another look at the clock. She ponders the carpet for a long while, lost. She lifts her head and looks at me again, then back to the clock, then to me.

“Are you in one of them street gangs?”

“Do I look like I’m in a fucking street gang?”

There’s a long pause while she seems to seriously consider this.

“I think I have to bring this up to your social worker.”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” I seethe, boiling over, my hands shaking, watching what should have been an absolute coup get twisted into a noose that’s about to hung around my own fucking neck.

“Could you just maybe not fuckin’ do that?” I plead.

“Well, the judge tol’ me to tell her about anything where you might not be… being… being hay. Being hayve.”

I struggle for some time to figure out what she’s trying to say, then I realize and I guffaw at her in some sort of donkey retard voice.

She hurls a couch cushion at me and tells me to shut the fuck up.

We both hear it at the same time, off in the distance; she again looks at the clock and I finally realize why: she’s been timing his return. We both know it’s him but only I recognize the song, the massive deep drums, the shrieking guitars, the guttural howls of darkness and hatred.


fucking evil Satan

Her teeth start lightly chattering and my mother rage-sighs, glaring at me, suggesting it’s somehow my fault that her other son is a fuck-up, too. But really, he’s truly on a whole fucking other level of his own.

“I didn’t give him that fuckin’ boombox. I didn’t give him that tape, either. I don’t even listen to that old shit anymore.”

“Yeah, I bet he jus’ fuckin’ came up with it all on his own,” my mother says.

It’s closer now, the sound of the music, really loud. I glance over the back of the chair and out the window as my kid brother, Henry, who prefers to be called Hank, turns from the sidewalk to approach the house, a handful of neighbors waving wildly and yelling at him about the music, animatedly but uselessly, because he doesn’t fucking care about anything.

Hank comes through the door, the boombox still howling, I cover my ears while laughing, and my mother stands to confront him, her peals of harsh, demanding scolding utterly drowned out by the music.

fuckin’ dude man

fucking evil Satan

He scowls at her defiantly and slams the door. Unsatisfied with the sound of the slam, he reopens the door and slams it again, much more violently this time, knocking a picture off the wall, shattering the frame, and having done this so many times that that was the last photo to fall from the wall, leaving only what I would discover later in college is a Chagall print, all the other framed pictures sitting in tiny heaps of broken glass, wood and metal, lining the bottoms of all the walls. Some of them have been there for years.

My mother tries and fails to wrench the boombox from his hands; even at 14 years old, he’s massive, over six feet tall, easily 210 pounds. A couple months earlier I saw him knock a college football player out cold in a single punch during a dustup at a county fair (I don’t know why I went, either) over cutting in line or something.

Instead, after shoving our mother back about three feet, he just drops the boombox and it snaps off, instantly quiet.

“MA JOLLY GOOD LET’S GO,” he barks at her, snapping his fingers.

Flustered, nervous, my mother refuses.

“MA GET IT IN GEAR GET ME A FUCKIN’ JOLLY GOOD,” he says as he continues to snap his fingers, just inches from her face, snarling, twisting his mouth into a venal and dripping smile, flashing his teeth, which are perfectly straight and apportioned, but appear to have been stained with some kind of coffee/caramel tie-die. The colors are swirled and inconsistent in their shades and intensities, loops and whorls of white and brown and tan and fawn in subtle gradations. He also has a very visible quartet of fangs, little curly, twisted hooks at the tips of his cuspids which look brittle because they’re so dainty, yet I’ve seen him use them to chew through wood and aluminum.

Our mother just stands there, defiantly; really, more petulantly, refusing to move or talk, her eyes cast down, intimidated and ashamed.

“Why don’t you ever call the fuckin’ cops on him?” I ask, laughing. He glares at me, probably the first time he’s acknowledged me in a week. One of his eyes, the left, has what an ophthalmologist called a “Christmas tree cataract”, some weird, jagged, glowing grey film covering the iris. As it doesn’t affect his vision, it’s been left untreated, but stands in stark and unsettling distinction to the other eye, which is a bright baby blue, very lively, probably the only pleasant or even remotely normal thing about his appearance.

I smile. He looks away, into the kitchen, then walks into it.

I hear the refrigerator door open, then the hissing pop of a can of Jolly Good being opened. He glugs and slurps it down in a few large, choking swallows.

“YOU BETTER RECOGNIZE,” he bellows, giggling. “YOU BETTER FUCKIN’ RECOGNIZE.” My mother snorts and shakes her head, enraged. Some time ago, when he was much smaller and somewhat more manageable, she forced him to watch some daytime talk show where they take bad little kids and send them to some kind of delinquent’s boot camp. I say forced, but that lasted only the first 30 seconds. He ultimately really enjoyed the show and instead of being frightened of the potential consequences of his misbehavior, he took on many of the attributes of those delinquent kids, in fact learning a very large complement of filthy, insulting slang and other menacing behaviors, like the finger-snapping, or telling people to recognize. One of his favorites was raising his chin so all you could see was his throat, then biting his lower lip while making this lusty moaning sound. There have been days where that was the only kind of vocalization he made.


“You ate all the fuckin’ Pop-Tarts,” she hollers back.


There’s a brief pause during which I can still hear him giggling; tears begin to well in our mother’s eyes. I stop laughing. Long lull while Henry remains in the kitchen, our mother frozen, I idle in the chair.


She folds her arms over her chest and leans against the wall.


Her mouth falls open in a scream as tears flood down her burning cheeks, but it’s soundless. I glance around the room. Every single wall is covered in marker and crayon from the floor up about three feet, from before Hank’s growth spurt. Mostly jagged, vertical lines which seem to have no meaning, but also unicorns, shooting stars, pentagrams, winged demons with long serpents’ tongues, teddy bears, what look like smiling babies but could be dwarves. Unintelligible words which are maybe horrific misspellings but could also be words I’ve never heard before, pieces of dark magic, spells, incantations summoning awful, hideous things into this home. He used to kneel before them and chant in whispers with his eyes closed. My mother made half-hearted attempts to scrub this all away or paint over it, and often forced me to help, but it proved useless. Everything reappeared within days, strangely looking almost exactly as it had before its erasure.

The only good memory I have of him comes from when he was very young. I don’t know if he remembers it.

He was around five years old, and I was just returning home from skipping school that day, walking through the eroding asphalt parking lot of the apartment complex we then lived in. Two boys just younger than me had him by handfuls of his hair and a headlock, simultaneously trying to fold him in half the wrong way while also twisting him apart. One was kicking him in the face with all the force he could generate, his shin connecting with Henry’s bleeding face in what sounded like axe chops against wood. This was the only time I can ever recall feeling indignation. Something in my face caused the two aggressors to stop, Henry falling to the crumbled asphalt as they released their grip. One boy fled instantly, halfway across the parking lot in the blink of an eye. The other, Paul, the kicker, looked as if about to say something, but I never gave him the chance. This was the only punch I’ve ever thrown in my entire life that caught the recipient so flush, so beautifully and perfectly square in the face it looked like his head was exploding around it in flying tufts of hair and stringy rivulets of blood, the skin mashed up around my fist in wrinkles like it was being peeled from the back of his skull forward and into a single, squinty point aligned against the knuckle of my middle finger, something large being sucked into a tiny little black hole. Whatever you think about your worth and status, the flesh can be commanded and ripped from you, smashed back into your mouth with such hateful velocity it will burst out the insides of your body. You can be smeared across the surfaces of things like you’re a substance and not a person. You and your black little smug soul are in fact irrelevant to everyone else and they will be littered somewhere and forgotten. The fate of all things which are not powerful and imagine themselves to be. It hurts to find out how little you mean in the face of something angrier.

Paul landed square on his ass in a filthy puddle of muddy water and engine oil, wailing loudly and insistently, his howls reverberating metallically along the sides of the empty, stinking dumpsters. His mother, the filthy cunt, was out through their apartment door before Paul even finished his first disgusting, throaty howl, rich with mucus and desperation. She had to have been standing there, watching the whole thing from before my arrival. The apartment door swung back and forth, creaking and attached by only a single hinge. Some ugly mutt dog limped out, looking like it had been set on fire a few times before being covered in tar, and shat on the concrete stoop, which appeared to have been carelessly flung just about a foot in front of the door, then limped back inside.

“You don’t punch people in the face!” she cry-belched, sounding like something more butt-faced mule/breathing turd than human, afraid to make eye contact as she rushed toward her pathetic, vanquished son, who still sat in the puddle moaning and mewling.

I walked away smirking. My brother was standing at the door of our own apartment, looking at me blankly as if he didn’t recognize me. One of his eyes seemed to have gone completely grey. I thought this should’ve ended differently.

Later in life, after I’d been expelled from high school and thrown out of our home and hadn’t seen him in a few years, Henry was passing an idling car left in the parking lot of L+F, a local convenience store. He got into it and backed it into traffic, causing his first car wreck of the day. He then peeled out and went for a joyride that lasted nearly 20 minutes before the first patrol car caught up with him.

Undaunted by the lights and sirens, he picked up speed and brought the pursuing officers right back to the place he’d stolen the car from. He raced through the alley behind L+F, expertly passing between a dumpster and the building at nearly 50 miles an hour, something the lead patrol car was unable to do. It smashed into both objects and got stuck there between them, stalling the chase for a few minutes as most of the squads smashed up into each other behind the first like a derailed train, inflicting a disabling spinal injury on the policeman in the lead car, and he was medically retired from the force shortly thereafter.

When the chase was resumed, Henry was ripping doughnuts in the municipal golf course. As the police cars closed in on him, joined by the state patrol’s helicopter, he rocketed over the greens and nearly the entire length of the course, almost all 18 holes, before burning into a sand trap and rolling the car three or four times, with it ending up on its roof.

Despite the crash, he quickly scrambled out of the smoking, burning wreck, and raced to the drainage tunnel, a place a lot of kids played or fucked around in, yelling through the grates at golfers or whatever else they might get up to, spray-painting, blowing shit up, dry humping, whatever.

Henry had planned to follow the tunnel to where it poured out at the Fox River, in the shadow of the campus of Lawrence University, evading the police and then walking back home. The police had however established an ambush at the drainage hole and pounced as soon as he emerged, using a fishing net and a taser for a first in law enforcement history, then handcuffing him four times over: two at the wrists, two at the ankles. He was caught.

This was the last straw for Judge Darrow. This, on top of the bitten teachers and librarians, the body-slammed soccer coach who spent weeks in traction, the missing cats, the social worker with the broken orbital and the concussion, the hundreds of generally useless things stolen from homes and small shops and department stores, the torched garage, the smashed windows on houses and cars and even a daycare, the bombed mailboxes, the dog that would shudder and piss and shit on the carpet at the mere sound of Henry’s voice, the classmate who stopped talking, the neighbor kid who returned home one day with a missing finger and a very clear human bitemark on his chubby cheek, the dents and scars in Henry’s knuckles and face, the mother who wept she could no longer take it and did not care what happened to the boy, the suspicion of his father’s true identity and the circumstances of his conception, the chunks of human hair not his own discovered in his pockets whenever he was arrested, sometimes even full braids or ponytails attached to chunks of scabbed-over scalp that resembled beef jerky, the mass of all these things he was known by common sense to have done even if they often went unproved due to the mute, stupored catatonia of his victims; this was finally going to send young Henry Bauer into the can for several long years, into the state’s sole youth prison at Lincoln Hills.

The rumors and horrors that circulated about that place, the rape initiations, the gladiator prizefights and prostitution organized by guards, the whole of its awful, bestial reputation that was often unverifiable but from time to time at least partially confirmed by newspaper articles or state assembly hearings did not concern me in the least. I knew how Henry would blossom and ripen fully in that environment. It was almost as if it were planned, as if they were daring him.