Still thinking about the Old Man, and my own troubles.
I was afraid of him for most of my childhood...disliked or hated him for that into my 20's...angry with myself into my 30's for not standing up to him, all because of those whippings that seemed all out of proportion to whatever I'd done, the threats of taking an ax handle to me...I wasn't a great kid, no, but I wasn't that bad or all that different from any other kid my age. Maybe it was his own upbringing; for the few years I was around his father (he died in the late '70s), most of the memories I have of Grafton were of a stern stranger. I don't remember him as a loving grandfather figure or much of anything else. And I don't know whether he whipped the tar out of his own kids.
I see other people, their closeness to family, and I wonder what it feels like. In my forties, the old fear is gone, the anger still there: I never stood up to him, or to anybody else. The closest I ever came to fighting back against bullies amounted to peeing on one. Would have been more satifying to knock him down and beat him unconscious, to make sure that was the last time he bullied anyone.
There was a teacher who was worse than that, in some ways. I was in her marketing class. One day, on the way across campus to her "portable" classroom, I found a pair of aluminum push-pins in the dirt. I like shiny things and metal, so of course I grabbed them. I had them on my desk during class (no book bag? Can't remember--but I had enough sense to not sit down with those things in a pocket).
One of the bullies got assigned to pick up trash in the room: the teacher's notion of punishment for talking. He walked up and down the rows, smirking, collecting paper or whatever and putting it in the trash can he was toting. When he got to my desk, he swept my pins into the can. I told him to put them back--and the teacher got involved.
She looked at the pins and told me I'd stolen them from her bulletin board. Wouldn't listen to my side of things. Go sit down.
As I walked away, I muttered, "you f*cking bitch."
This got me sent to the dean's office, got my mother called in for a conference with the three of them...and got me suspended for a few days. No one bothered to ask me my side. All they cared about was the disruption, not right or wrong. To this day, I stand by what I did--but I wish I'd been better at it, my own defense attorney, able to use words as weapons, with the conviction of being in the right--the pins weren't stolen, and she was a farking bitch.
Funny thing is that she was supposed to be psychic. It was years later that I thought that I could have used that--"You're psychic, right? Why don't you use your mystical powers to find the truth?"
Nah. I never had the backbone to stand up to any of them, the Old Man, his son, the bullies at school, the teachers who didn't care anymore about teaching and just wanted to get through another day of dealing with us teenaged terrorists. Then there were various management types, both in civilian and military employ, where pushing back would bring worse than schoolboy suspension...well, a boss can only fire you. Military people can throw your ass in jail whether they're wrong or not.
So many authoritarians and incompetents. Teachers fail upward and become administrators. Sergeants collect more rockers on their sleeves. Crappy team leaders become managers become district managers. Brown belts become black belts--and there's always someone who thinks his new rank should be used as a bludgeon. The new administrator wants to clean up the school, get rid of things he found offensive and could do nothing about. The new sergeant tries to shape up his platoon by becoming a shouting drill instructor. The new district manager has to be consulted for every decision, demanding that payroll be kept unrealistically low--but those sales have to go up, whether there are enough people to do the job or not. The new blackbelt looks upon simple mistakes as infractions to be punished.
They're all the same. But the stepfather, the stepbrother...where do they fit into this? An administrator or manager can be shuffled sideways, a sergeant reassigned, a black belt put through a "guantlet" where he must face the other high-ranks, to be shown how little he knows.
What the hell do you do with family?
What the hell do you do three decades later, when you're not that scared little kid--just an adult looking at new things to be afraid of--your own failing health and that of your surviving parent, looking for a new job.
What the hell do you do when that giant with a belt is just an old man?