I don’t exactly remember the time frame but I know it happened very quickly. Mom started drinking and began bringing this guy home. Within a week or so he had moved in. He was a half white, half Indian guy named Bob. A drinking buddy, someone she had met at a bar. We lived in the Cottage Grove low-income housing apartments in Missoula Montana. I was in second grade.
I understand that we each live in our own reality, created and constricted by our unique experiences, but there is always some collective that we all must navigate as well. The common time/space within a family, for instance, is an important collective to which all members are expected to contribute and help define. What are our expectations? What are our roles? Who is part of this clan? It is this collective experience that falls apart in a dysfunctional family and the resultant crumbling of the foundation affects all individual worlds that make up the collective; like a Venn diagram with a rotten core. The individuals can crumble with the foundation, try and repair the structure or escape the collective.
One of the main problems of living with an alcoholic parent is that they want to assume the role of “parent” in the collective and take a lead in the shaping of our collective space, but are often unable. This is usually apparent to all in the collective, except for the parent because they of course are drunk. It was like my mother was driving full speed toward a brick wall with all of us in the back seat. It seemed as though we kids were often the only ones in the car who saw where we were headed, no use telling mom to make a right turn. So many times we would try and jump out, rolling through the gravel and shit to try and scramble to our feet. Although we would try to stable her as best we could, she was the only one with a driver’s license, the only adult, so we had to let her drive.
Bob moved in and immediately assumed the role of disciplinarian and complete asshole. He was quick to backhand or serve a hard kick if one of us appeared to step out of line. Mom was happy to hand over the reins, as she was a wits end on how to control us. She would only intervene if a beating looked like it was getting out of control. Our collective experience would now include Bob through my 6th grade year. It was hard to imagine the core getting any more rotten but it was just the beginning. It was at this point that Jerry pushed back hard and began to rip through the familial Velcro, detaching himself as best he could. At first I tried to repair the structure but soon realized the cost was too great and tried to remove myself as well, staying away from home as much as I could. I recall being out on the swings at the small playground in the apartment complex late one night, after midnight. Mom was working and I would try to wait for her to come home before I would return to the apartment.
One afternoon we were all at home. Like a cat marking his territory, Bob was lounging on Jerry’s bed, in essence saying, “this is my house, I can lay wherever I please.” Jerry asked Bob to get off his bed and leave his room, but Bob wasn’t having it. Attempting to claim some fucked up Alpha roll in the collective, Bob tells Jerry, “Try and make me,” and sticks his smelly, socked foot in Jerry’s face. Now, I’m sure you’ve heard me describe Jerry as my hero in prior stories, well what Jerry did next encompasses all of the reasons he has claimed that title in my heart. Jerry is bold, he is smart, he is strong and he doesn’t take any shit from anyone. In one quick motion and without hesitation, Jerry firmly placed the beanbag (from our Toss n’ Cross game) that he was holding in his hand, squarely in the middle of Bob’s face. This would be the first of two times I would get the privilege of witnessing said event. Bob’s glasses broke in half and in an instant Bob was off the bed pummeling my 11-year old brother. Bob was too big to take on one to one, but every now and then Jerry would find these great opportunities to even the score. I was so scared for Jerry, for the pain he was enduring but so thankful for the gift he had given me, a chance to see Bob on his knees with a bloodied face. Jerry got the shit beat out of him that day but at least Bob knew that given the chance, someone would fight back for us, for all of the shit we would endure in this fucked up collective.