My mother, aunt Cynthia, Amber and I did a lot together. We drove all over the city of Columbus exploring different stores and sampling small tastes of different foods. One of our favorite places was Bicentennial Park. It was in the heart of downtown Columbus. It had three large dark pools of water rimmed by two-foot wide granite walls. Each pool was intersected by the other. The park was paved and on a slope. The first pool sat higher than the second and the third was lowest. We would come to the park at night. My mom only had enough money to buy one pair of thrift store skates. Fortunately, Amber and I wore the same size. She would take the right skate and I’d take the left. We’d kick with our sneakers and glide on one skate round and round the pools while our mothers would sit near the edge of the water and talk.
We would stop from time to time and dip our hands in the cool water. We would look for silver coins on the bottom of the pool amidst the thousands of copper pennies. Past the lowest pool was a fence that lined the muddy Scioto River. At night, colored lights reflected off the water like an abstract painting. It was dark when we arrived and it would be close to two in the morning when we’d leave. We would all climb into Aunt Cynthia’s pale green Gremlin. Amber and I would take turns flipping off drivers behind us at stoplights.
One night before Halloween, I was upstairs with Amber playing in my room. We were making spiders out of colored packing peanuts with bent paperclip legs when there was a knock at the door. When Mitchell opened the door, I instantly recognized the voice. It was my dad. “I’m here to get my son.” He said. My mother rose from the couch and rushed to the door. I heard the sounds of arguing. I peeked down the stairs and I could see Mitchell and my mother’s backs to me. My dad was standing on the front porch, his face and blue leather jacket were illuminated by the yellowish porch light. He reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out a nickel-plated pistol and pointed it at Mitchell. “I’m here to get my son!” He demanded. Mitchell stumbled backward. “Arthur, what are you doing?” My mother screamed. My dad saw me at the top of the stairs. “Come on Scooter, get your stuff. We’re going home!”
I looked at my cousin Amber for some sort of direction. My whole life if there was a situation that confused me I could always rely on her wisdom to help me know what to do. But this night, Amber sat on her knees with her hands in her lap and cried. So, that’s what I did, I cried too. I looked one last time at her then I slowly walked down the stairs. I grabbed my heavy brown coat off the hook by the door. Everything was moving in slow motion. My dad was still holding the gun steady at Mitchell’s chest. Mitchell and my mother cautiously moved to the side and let me pass. My dad grabbed me by the collar of my coat, still gazing straight ahead at Mitchell. We walked quickly in the cold night air towards the car. I looked back at my mother and Mitchell’s silhouettes in the doorway. My mother shouted something at my father. The weight of her threat dissipated like her breath in the cold night air. My father wasn’t turning back. He had what he came for.
I had a pit in my stomach when I thought about not being able to see Amber. It was then that I realized how I really felt about her. I cared about Amber in a way that was much deeper than us being cousins. It was because I completely adored her – even when she was obnoxious and angry. I looked up to her. She had been with me through every aspect of my life: moving, birthdays, Christmas, school, everything. She was my companion, my co-chef, my skating pair. She was my first love.
Coming back home with my dad was a rough transition. I didn’t realize the impact of my mother’s sudden departure on my dad. He was instantly alone. He was alone with his thoughts. He was alone with his anger. He had no purpose without his family – without his son. Having me back gave him purpose. I gave him the sense of value that was stripped away by his abusive, alcoholic father. He needed me to live, or to stay alive I would later learn.
The house was cold. Without my mother’s income, my dad couldn’t afford to keep up with the mortgage and keep the heat on. I didn’t take my jacket off. I pulled the collar tight around my face. I went up to my room, flicked on the light and looked around. It was just as I left it – minus a few toys that were still stranded at my mother’s. It was late and I had school the next morning. I didn’t have a toothbrush or pajamas so I went to bed in my worn tan corduroys and my Cleveland Browns sweatshirt. That night I slept in the bed with my dad to keep warm. The next morning at the bus stop realized I was back in the belly of the beast.
At five I stayed in the cul-de-sac. At six I could go a few houses up. By the time I was eight I was free to roam the whole neighborhood. I had my BMX bike, my thunderfoot and I was looking for some kickball. When I think back on all of the adventures Phil and I had, one would think the moment we met would be memorable. But it wasn’t. He just showed up in my life one day and we became inseparable. Phillip was small, scrawny, your typical Korean 8 year old. His father was a white, shaggy VW mechanic and his mom was a loud Korean woman with horrible English. They lived in a house just like mine in the next cul-de-sac down.
Phillip was the only other non-white kid in the neighborhood. It only made sense that the nigger would be best friends with the chink. That’s how it usually went down. At some point in the fun, one of the kids would decide to call me a nigger or Phillip a chink. The only difference was that Phillip was crazy. If you picked on him long enough he would snap and come at you. But he didn’t come bare-handed. He would grab a stick or a rock or a hammer. And when he got really mad this vein would pop out of the middle of his forehead from his scalp down between his eyes. When the vein popped out you knew Phillip was going to hurt somebody. His antagonizers would usually back down cautiously, reassuring Phillip that they were, “Only playing. Calm down!” Eventually, the kids in the neighborhood traded in chink for Dink – which they said stood for dinky. Phillip embraced it, answered to it. It would be years before I would be able to escape being called nigger. I needed to build up enough anger to nearly kill a kid.
There was a time when Phillip lost it on me. We were hanging out in his kitchen. I think we were in middle school. I found a love letter sticking out of his backpack. I unfolded the paper and slumped down in the kitchen chair to read it. It was a bunch of mushy nonsense from a slightly homely girl we both knew at school. Phillip was busy looking in the fridge. When he turned around and saw me with the letter he yelled, “Gimmie that!” Being a normal 12 year old I said, “No!” then jumped up from my chair as he came towards me. We squared off on either side of the kitchen table. He faked left then right. He chased me around the table growing more and more irritated. He upped the ante by picking up a large, blue porcelain salt shaker and threatening to throw it at me. I knew he was mad, but I couldn’t imagine him throwing it at me. It looked like it was some antique his mom probably brought with her from Korea. If it hit me it would crush my skull. “Give it to me!” He demanded. We raced one more lap around the table with Phillip pump-faking the saltshaker at me. The vein popped in the middle of his forehead and I knew I was in trouble. He cocked back and let it fly. Fortunately, as he drew back I hit the deck. The saltshaker sailed over my head and hit the sliding glass door shattering the first layer of the double pane. Phillip straightened up. His anger turned to fear. We stood in silence for a few seconds.”My dad is gonna kill me.”
Without any discussion, we began the coverup. The second pane of glass was completely intact. If we could take all of the broken glass out of the door who would know? “I’ll get a sheet.” Phillip said, then bounded up the stairs to the linen closet. He laid the sheet on the floor in front of the door. We took two screwdrivers from the kitchen drawer and started chipping away at the broken glass. The middle came out in one big chunk. We then started chipping bits of glass out of the frame. Forty minutes or so went by. In less than 30 minutes Phillip’s dad would be pulling into the driveway. With the frame cleared of any bits of glass, we bundled up the sheet and headed to the backyard. We couldn’t put the glass in the trashcan that would be too obvious. “The doghouse.” I said. “Yes!” Phillip agreed.
We took two shovels from the garage. We pushed the heavy doghouse to one side exposing the bare dirt underneath it. We started digging. Phillip’s dog Bex curiously sniffed at our progress. Soon we had a shallow hole deep enough to bury the glass. We had 10 minutes left before our plan would be discovered. We dumped the glass, spread the dirt across the yard then replaced the doghouse. We went back into the kitchen to examine the scene. There were bits of glass all over the carpet. Five minutes. We hoped he didn’t come home early. The glass pieces crackled and rattled as Phillip sucked them up in the vacuum. I heard the sound of a car door slam. “He’s here!!” Phillip threw the vacuum into the laundry room and we both plopped down at the kitchen table. Our hearts pounded in our throats. Phillip’s dad slid the sliding door open. He was in his grimy, green mechanic’s clothes carrying a paper bag with two 40oz bottles of Mickey’s malt liquor. He slid the door closed and set the bag down on the kitchen counter. We were safe. We looked at each other in relief. “So, what happened to the door?” Phillip’s dad said.
From the upcoming novel – Majestic Place