A Child’s Song

I’m half crazy, slightly socially retarded, and prone to mildly violent outbursts, but I come by it honestly.

We barreled down I-294 heading for home from the far Southwest Side of Chicago. It was late, it was dark, very dark, we were held in winters grip. My kid brother slept soundly in the back seat of our lime green beat up old station wagon. I never could figure out how the kid did it.

I sat up front with ma who it seemed could barely keep her eyes open. Ma tried to get me to sing. I didn’t want to. She was insistent and kept asking me to sing. Sing a song for her, any song just as long as I sang. I wasn’t in the mood, yet she insisted that I sing.

Admit it or not, there is a time in every kid’s life that they want to run away from their parents, warranted or not. Just run away to some far-off place to not be bothered with the niceties of life. Those kids that just don’t want to be bothered to do what they are supposed to, the spoiled little shits of the world never taught the rules of the road. There are plenty of them.

Others intuitively, if unwittingly, seek out a safe place. That place nothing can hurt them.

They inherently know a bad situation when they’re in one. They know when it’s time make a stand and when it’s time to run if necessary. For some kids, intuition and fear tell them all they need to know.

Kids aren’t as dumb as adults like to think they are. Sometimes an adult can be served well by kid guidance.

There in describes the bulk of my life. I learned from the lessons I was not taught. Driven by pure instinct that I learned to heed early on, survival by blood and error. Survival by instinct. The folks didn’t leave us with much. Financial skills, wise teachings, property, inheritances, amongst a host of other things weren’t in the cards. Out of the gate these weren’t things we counted on.

Still for all they lacked in their own life skills, they taught us love in their own way, especially ma. Love, loyalty and how to survive in an often-unfair world were our hard learned lessons. The unholy union of my folks bore and created survivors.

Sometimes parents simply don’t know how to instill the lessons of life in their children.

Why? Maybe they themselves never learned them. Maybe they were never taught. The inexperienced and ignorant make the worst teachers.

That’s not to say my folks were dumb, not by a long shot! Textbook wise, they were two of the most intelligent people knew. Even if they often could not afford it, they appreciated the value of a good education. Read, read, read, write, write, write, that’s what they told us to do.

For common sense, instincts and street smarts they could not be matched. They came up hard, poor and insecure but they also came from good stock. Highly intelligent genes. Inheriting a instinct helped me foster a solid intuition. An intuition that would save my life many times.

I’ve often been told by serious men that my relatives, my father and uncles in general were some of the smartest men they ever. They may have also been some of the most dangerous and violent, but smart, nonetheless. They just never knew how to get out of their own way. Another gene I inherited.

Too many people, usually the ‘adults’ in the room try to teach from a place of fear. They raise the voice, talk over you, even yell as if the louder they get the better you will hear them. YELL! YELL! THEN you child will HEAR ME and understand that my commands will SAVE YOU!

Yeah, we see how that works out.

So, we sped and swerved down the interstate. In the moment, all I knew was that I was seven years old, scared, pissed off, hungry, tired and not in the fucking mood to sing. Even if I knew it was to help her stay awake, I didn’t want sing. I didn’t care that she didn’t know how to drive like anyone had ever taken the time to teach her. All I just knew is that I didn’t how to sing.

I loved ma, shit, I am a self-professed mama’s boy, but it was one of those nights I didn’t like her. She was speeding, swerving lane to lane, no better at driving than any other day, kind of antagonizing me and I was sure she was drunk.

She reminded me at that moment of the way the old man always was, except she wasn’t screaming and punching anyone.

So, I did what any self-respecting kid who was scared and uncertain and pissed off could do; I cried and whined. All the while my kid brother slept soundly in the back seat.

After a while of that, ma didn’t insinuate, she plain out said; “If you don’t sing, I’m gonna crash then we’re gonna die”.

This would be another theme of life. The “I’m gonna die” or “you’ll be sorry when I die” shit.

Ma knew how to let us know she truly loved us but also had a way of knowing how to manipulate, cry and emotionally torture you into doing her bidding. At least she did with me, my siblings seemed able to shut that shit out and pay her crazy act no mind. Not so much I. I was a sucker for a soft touch.

I’ve always accepted the torture as part of life, a penance to pay for sins I’m not sure I committed. Kind of like ma, a lot like ma.

By the seven years old death was no big deal. I had seen my share of dead bodies lying around in caskets by then. I constantly had heard of people dying, usually badly, around the dinner tables by then. Many times, I heard how they just disappeared and were presumed dead. How does someone just disappear and be assumed dead I would ask myself?

Death was no big deal, but dying, that scared the living shit out of me, to the point I slept with my blanket over my head at night so that boogey man wouldn’t see me and left me the fuck alone. I surely didn’t want to end up like one of those MIA’s I always heard about. Even if they were always adults, not kids, screw that, I wasn’t taking any chances.

About the same time in life, I started sleeping with a knife under the pillow at night. Between the boogey man and my old man you couldn’t be too careful. I never knew if I was going to have to fight off the boogey man or protect ma and others from the old man. Situations that fortunately, never came to play.

Ma started to sing. She belted it out loud and clear. “Sing for me! Sing for mama puhleeze. Sing for me baby.” He slept through it all in the back seat. At least he acted like he was asleep. He knew better my kid brother. No dummy. He knew when to shut it down and say, fuck it you can’t win, so just act like they’re not there.

Our station wagon swerved back and forth. I thought about jumping out. But, what good would that do? All that would happen is I would die alone, I figured, at least if we crashed, we all died together. Funny how even in violence, addiction, insanity and horror we all stayed together.

Even at seven years old I made this choice and knew that loyalty made it their choice too. Blood is blood I suppose, even in bloody times.

Eventually ma laid off a bit. She gave up trying to test my vocal cords but had succeeded in testing my sanity.

Maybe it was because we were closer to home or maybe she simply blacked out and we got home on fumes and prayers.

Next up, was the old man waiting for us at home.

I remained silent and pissed as we barreled down the road.

The next day ma was extra nice to us. I mean, she was always nice, rarely in a crummy mood, around us at least. I don’t know how she was; too many people were never nice to her.

Like so many things in life it fell by the wayside, and no one spoke of the incident or even remembered it after that night.

We got home, how I’m still unsure. I jumped into the top bunk bed and pulled the sheets tightly over my head. But first, I checked to make sure I had my knife under my pillow. It was there, I was ready for them.

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Stephen P. Conrad

A Gypsy Nomad, Writer, actor, artist, semi-nomad, anti-sycophant, socially maladjusted and comfortably near complete insanity.