It’s been twenty-five years since I’ve experienced some of the worst physical abuse that I could ever imagine short of rape. It was July 6th, a Tuesday in 1982, when my now ex-stepfather began the afternoon by literally whipping me in my bedroom for not tracking down and beating up my mugger from two weeks before. I was all of twelve and a half, barely five-foot-four, and still in shock from seeing him knock my mother unconscious at the end of Memorial Day that year. I got mugged at the end of June because I carelessly walked around with ten dollars in my hand at the nearby public park and swimming pool, the largest one in Mount Vernon.
So there I was two weeks later, stripped naked and being beaten with my arms and legs spread against a dirty eggshell white wall because I failed to find a man who went by “Pookie,” about five-ten and at least five years older than me. When I yelled that my stepfather wasn’t my father, the already ugly situation became criminal. I took several punches to the head, jaw, ribs and stomach, was picked up by my arms and thrown into the wall in my room. The man who had claimed to be changed by becoming a Hebrew-Israelite then said, “Go to police! I dare you… I’ll kill you!” If not for my mother coming home from work by mid-afternoon, I probably would’ve been in an emergency room, maybe even murdered. As it was, I would spend the next five weeks under constant abuse from the man who wanted me to call him “Dad.”
I discovered about a year later that my stepfather and “Pookie” actually knew each other, that he had paid “Pookie” to go to the park to mug me, to make me “into a man,” as he’d liked to say all the time.
I can’t believe that it’s been twenty-five years. Especially since I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the end of 1982 when all of this abuse stuff started. It’s the ultimate irony, though. If it weren’t for that summer of abuse at home and my experiences in the gifted track at school — not to mention a crush I had on one of my classmates — I wouldn’t be in the position to write these words. I found myself so down at times that I thought about killing myself. But the anger and rage that came from that abuse, the desire for revenge and my unrequited infatuation on a girl that I had built up as a savior of sorts all kept me going in July and August of ’82.
It’s difficult to be thankful for so much pain that was the beginning of my journey for survival and success, but in many ways I am thankful. Every moment I breathe, live, work, write, teach, learn, succeed, love, forgive and care for others is a moment of revenge, a moment that I’ve taken away from those horrible days and times. Obviously I haven’t forgotten what happened to me (I still bare a few scars on my right leg and back, not to mention in my trust of those who’ve claimed authority over me over the years). But that’s what my memoir is all about, the ability to forgive, to understand what’s been lost, to find one’s self and truth even in the midst of violence and chaos. So I mourn a little for the person that I was at twelve today, but just a little, because I also know that I have a life that my twelve-year-old self could only dream of. I hope that he can smile about that today.