Bob Skrezyna

Writer | Editor

Excerpt from "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side"

(Forgive typos - I have yet to revise)

I didn’t know any better. I thought it tasted good. Sure, it was bitter and smacked the back of my throat the way Ike smacked Tina but that’s what it was supposed to do, right? I pretended that it was a smooth pull, one that wasn’t about to make me vomit. I needed to look like a real man in front of my friends. My nine year old friends. After all we were all men by that point. We had thrown rocks through windows and TP’d houses of teachers and even stolen a bag of candy last Halloween. But this was different. This was the validation we needed for ourselves and the proof we needed to show all the others, whoever they may have been. This was the manliest thing any of us had ever done. It involved subterfuge and a can with an intentional misspelling. It involved actively suppressing our collective gag reflexes. Only minutes before we were just boys. We were neighborhood hoodlums of the lowest order. But no more. Now we were men. Now we knew how to drink.

Obviously that isn’t as true as I’m recollecting now that I reflect with a clearer mind. The beer was Miller Lite and we had argued over how best to sneak the can away from the party and open it without making a sound. The Keystone Kops made arrests faster and with more gentility than we used in our operation. The most amazing part of the entire event is how we failed to give ourselves away before we even located the contraband. Nine year olds do very little quietly and when they think they’re being sneaky things get downright clamorous.

But we did it and we drank it, each taking a stinging swig before passing it on to the next guy like it was a really good joint, which we had yet to experiment with but was soon to join our fractured self discoveries. Those discoveries would eventually, like so many before us, take us all in different directions as they tend to do. I don’t speak to any of them anymore, not even on social media. But we were together in that moment and that was important. We all would have found booze at some point but finding it together brought us closer for that formative time. For them it was a drink and an introduction to adulthood that only alcohol could bring. But for me, it was much, much more.

I could go on for the length of this book and likely several others about how I felt when I drank. The euphoria (before the hangover), the clarity (before the fog), the witty remarks made (before the slurring) - all of it a glorious haze of…lies. It was none of those things. It was none of those things and less. But I didn’t know that at the time. Maybe it was the sheer amount of alcohol advertising kids of the 80s were subject to or maybe it was my genes but damnit if I wasn’t convinced that what I was doing and feeling was not only right but somehow ordained by a higher power. It was the 80s so Capitalism was certainly a higher power. 

My parents were both saddled with drinking issues, my father shouldering the burden more so than my mother. When he passed he had twenty seven years of sobriety - something I was sure to note in his eulogy. My mom however never stopped drinking, having had convinced herself that since she had never wrapped a car around a light post that she must not have a problem. My dad did that. I never did but still I had a problem. So while I can easily trace my issue back to my parents the chromosomes they combined to make me I can equally trace back my drinking career to that basement in December of 1988 and a can of beer and the unblinking adoration of my peers.

Soon enough that adoration was redirected to other friends in the circle who could drink socially and not straight to blackout. And very soon after that I recall thinking that I was to blame for not knowing what I did the night before, not my parents or my genes - just my decisions. So it stood to reason that if I just made better decisions that should solve all my problems. Surely elicit drugs would help cool off the steady drinking! Cocaine was the answer! How did it take me until the age of thirteen to think of that? If I was already high I wouldn’t want to drink as much. My train of good ideas had a monstrous engine, many, many cars and one humongous caboose.

For the sake of backstory I’ll say it wasn’t long before I was addicted as much to the coke as I was to the booze. My pre-school routine was drink whatever alcohol I could find, eat two tablespoons of peanut butter to mask the smell, snort if I had enough or just rub my gums with the residue if I didn’t and then go off to learn and become a future leader of America. Now that I think of it, had I been born a decade sooner I would have come of age just at the right time for this to be almost acceptable. Funny and ironic, if it wasn’t so sad.

By the time high school rolled around I was drinking everyday, coke had led to my dabbling in heroine (it was easier to obtain) and I had discovered that weed would help me relax when the coke had me just a little too wound up. I had few friends and those I did keep didn’t know about my issues. I still don’t understand how I hid it from them. I know I’m not that good a liar and I know they weren’t that obtuse. I suspect it was just that we were all teens and had our own drama going on so we didn’t pay attention to anyone outside of the mirror. It was probably best that way. I’m still very thankful that I didn’t keep those friends I began drinking with. I can only assume I would have just dragged them down with me. 

At this point I should probably absolve my parents of any wrongdoing or malfeasance. They were amazing. Always loving, attentive and caring they would do anything for anyone. That said, I was not only the youngest but also the only boy. My dad finally got the son he wanted and my mom finally got something other than a girl. My dad loved me but as soon as I didn’t reciprocate on his love of baseball we had little to bond over. My mom however doted on me. I was her son - all dirt, sweat and skinned knees. But I was also a budding lover of musical theatre and folk music. I was a perfect combination of tumble and reserve and she saw it. And she nurtured it. She was my biggest fan.

It was probably this admiration that led her to turn a blind eye to the bottle of Skol vodka I kept in the mini fridge in my bedroom. She knew it was there. She knew the level was always a little lower each time she saw it. She probably even knew why I kept the jar of peanut butter in there too. But she never said a word about it. She let me make my own choices while taking a few surreptitious glances at my progress to protect me from danger. But since I had become so adept at not letting on that I had a problem she never knew to speak up. Every teenager had a shot of booze now and again, after all, so she had no need to worry. I never gave her a good night kiss with vodka or gin on my breath so she had no need to ask if I was alright. She just kept tabs on my schoolwork and progress in theatre and choir and I kept tabs on my drinking. 

Sort of.

Let There Be Light

(This is a work of fiction.)

She had a habit of leaving her Bible open. He assumed that it was on purpose given his lifelong atheism but it wasn’t like her to be petty. Then again nothing was for certain anymore. And the fact that it was a Bible she was reading again – something holy and untouchable – made him laugh out loud.

He never paid too close attention to the page or passage she left visible. Or were they called verses? Really, he couldn’t care less what the snippets of text were called and cared even less about the contents. She had no business owning that book let alone reading it. For a brief moment, he considered grabbing it and chucking it out the open kitchen window into the light rain. It was then he realized that it wouldn’t have been the first moisture to touch the pages. They were already warped and stained with countless tiny discolorations. Teardrops? Maybe. From regret? Not damn likely. From the truth of having been found out? More likely, but it wasn’t by him. Perhaps it was the invisible man she talked to who had finally made her realize the utter shit she was putting him through. But really, did it matter? Would anything change? Did anything ever change?

No. The answer was no. It was always no. But the only word he would or could muster was Yes. Yes, I forgive you for lying. Yes, I forgive you for cheating. Yes, I forgive you for stealing. Yes, I’ll take you back. Yes, I know I’m a glutton for punishment. Yes, I know you’re the punishment and punisher. Yes, ma’am, please may I have some more of you and everything you wrought? Thank you, ma’am. Yes, that was great. Yes, we can start again from zero.

This had to stop. The time was more than right and most would argue well past. But like all things worth changing the acceptance was going to all but kill him.

Turning his attention back to the book had saw the word “version” in its title. How could the inerrant word of a savior of all mankind have any more than one version? He shook his head as he turned the book to see the spine and read aloud, “N. I. V.” He said each letter slowly as though pained from somewhere deep within to even breathe the syllables. He continued aloud, to no one, and flipped back to the page she had left open. “24. 26. Proverbs.” He ran a finger over the underlined words. “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.”

He almost collapsed from the irony. While honesty was far from his forte she was downright bad at it. Even when he caught her in the lie that led to this exact moment she would not come clean. She stammered and tried to redirect the conversation but he wouldn’t allow it. She cheated and had been cheating for some time. He didn’t know how long, and even now wasn’t totally sure, but he knew it was longer than he realized at first.

He placed the Bible back on the table and pulled out his phone. He tapped the browser icon and searched for a certain verse he recalled from childhood. He didn’t know any passages verbatim off the top of his head but this particular one came screaming back at him in a flash of physical and mental pain. The phone gave its answer and he let a slim smile make itself known. He picked the book up again and thumbed to Luke. Still smiling, a little broader now as another idea popped into his head, he picked up the red pen she had left on the table.

He dog-eared the page containing chapter 8. He circled verse 17 several times in ever thicker and deeper red lines. Then he added his own words to those of the infallible Creator:

Let there be light.

Not A Home, or A Few Direct Notes On Resentment

Sure there are cracks in the walls. The floors are uneven to the point of being dangerous. The walls don’t meet at perfect angles with the leaky ceilings. The carpet is worn and woefully dingy. The paint outside is peeling and in desperate need of attention. The grass is overgrown and patchy and the shrubs are no better. The garage lists precariously to the right as though being blown by an undetectable wind. The gravel driveway is overrun with crabgrass and dandelion sprouts so much that the city has warned us several times that it is no longer considered a driveway. There is a musty scent that won’t dissipate no matter how many candles we burn. There is a hole in the roof over the entryway.

This is our house.

This is not our home.

It used to be our home. I bought it for you. You asked. You smiled. You made your eyes glimmer in that certain way. You made me fall in love with you all over again. And I said yes. I wasn’t ready and knew it was a bad idea. But I said yes. You kissed me and I kissed back. And we owned a house.

We made two more babies in this house. We loved them all and made this pile of imperfections into a home.

But you’re gone now. You made the decision that this was no longer your home and then confessed that, if you were to be honest, it was probably never really your home.

How is that even possible? How could this place not be your home?

You picked it out. You forged memories I can only hope still reside in your long term memory and will remain there and become more and more important as the years pass within the confines of this building. This was our fortress against the world and all its heartache and grief. Little did I know that the real heartache and grief was building, completely unseen, within your mind and heart. It just had to find a way and a time to escape. A time and a way I never thought would come.

But it did. And now I’m here. And you’re not. And these walls are just walls. The garage is a garage. The carpet is just dirty. The memories are tarnished and some have already begun to fade. The walls are crooked and the entire roof seems to be coming down on top of me and crushing the dreams I once had about you and me and us.

This was your house. I bought it for you. I thought we had made it a home. You made me believe that. All the while you had a differing point of view. You were waiting – biding your time. When the time was right you flew. You didn’t walk away or even run. You flew. As soon and as fast and as far as your little wings could carry you.

I am supposed to bid you farewell and wish you the best and be humble and say that everything will work out for the best. But every night I slip into pajamas you picked out for me, I climb the stairs we made love on, I tuck our children in and kiss them goodnight, and then I lay down in the bed we shared for so many years. And all of this underneath the roof of the house I bought for you.

You. The woman who tricked me into loving her. It doesn’t matter why you did. You did it. And I’m the silly boy who fell – hook, line and pretty blue eyes.

I’m never going to thank you for the time we shared. Not now. Not that I have discovered the truth about you and what we were and what we became in your mind. No. I will not thank you.

But I will wish you good luck. I hope you get everything you never knew you needed and everything you wanted but never asked me for. I wish you understanding from within before you seek it without. I wish you honesty and self knowledge. And most of all I wish you time. Time to know yourself. Time to know others. Time to be alone. Time to become what you aren’t yet.

I wish you time with the knowledge that you have already denied yourself the luxury. And I wish for myself the gift of acceptance – because this is your mistake to make. And I need to let you make it.

So here I sit at my keyboard instead of in front of you. Typing everything I want to say instead of screaming it from the rooftops. You made a mistake. But to be clear: the mistake wasn’t that you left. The mistake is that it took you so long to do so.

Goodbye to you, my dear. It was really something, wasn’t it? We aren't in love anymore and the odds are good we never really were. And this isn’t a home anymore. Hell, it’s barely a house. A collection of walls and carpet and windows and doors can be just those things and nothing more, as sad as that thought is. It’s the people who make it more than the sum of its parts.

The trick is that those people need to be genuine and honest from the word GO. Not after eight years. After that amount of time any tiny white lie has grown into a giant monster creeping around the corner of every word you say. And sooner or later that monster is going to spring on you and knock you down. And even, in the worst cases, kill a love that at least felt real.

I don’t like this house anymore. I don’t like that monster. I don’t like you.

Now if you would excuse me I have to go to sleep and do my best not to think about what could have been.

This Is Now

I suppose you were damaged when we met. Fast forward to now and you're just plain broken. 

You say you're on to something new, something that will fix you and make you everything you were always supposed to be. And that none of this includes me.

The fact that you were broken in some way was not something you hid from me. The world, perhaps, but not me. I had come to believe that it was just "you". You were just short of comfortable and I accepted that. Little did I know what I really should have done is revolt against it and make you do the same. Perhaps if I had pushed you to be more than you were, more than even I thought you could be, things wouldn't have ended this way.

Maybe.

But probably not.

Maybe I'm part of the problem. You say I'm the key to the solution. It won't be until I'm out of your life that your life will really begin. Harsh. Hurtful. Stinging. But you say it with such apparent ease and poise that I can't help but admire the tone you use. That's the amazing thing about you: even when you're killing something you shine brighter than a supernova.

We are over. Rings are off, and so are the gloves. If friends had asked just three months ago I would have said that nothing was wrong. Nothing was wrong. I thought. Behind the curtain someone was moving the scenery of the next act of my life. It's all the same items: couch, coffee table, bed, closets of clothes - but they're rearranged and empty and in some way soiled. They will shine again with a little time and polish.

And so will I. But please do me a favor and take all your shoes. You'll need them to run far away.

That Was Then

It's pretty amazing when I think about it.

Just 12 short years ago I was the only one I had to concern myself with. No one was begging for attention. No one was asking me questions. No one was relying on me to do so much as one single thing for them. Then my daughter came. The next thing I know I'm all over the place in the best possible way. I have someone who needs attention. I have someone who asks questions (possibly too many). I have someone who relies on me for everything. 

It was me and her, her and me for a few years before I met the woman who is now my wife. Before too long we were expecting and we got married (not mutually exclusive events...or so I thought). Then two other kids came.

For those keeping score at home that's four kids and a wife. Each depends on me for one thing or another. They are all autonomous people for the most part but the kids need my paycheck, house and car. My wife needs the house. Obviously there is no blame to lay for any of this. In fact, this is how it should be. When you have a family you take care of them. But what happens when focus is shifted and things begin to...alter?

There are feelings and truths that once seemed so certain that to even contemplate the contrary would be grounds enough for admission to the best of mental institutions. These can no longer rightly be called true. And the word "feeling" no longer applies. There is so little the same as it once was that what once was seems to be a totally fabricated time that never existed anywhere but the darker corners of my mind.

The corners weren't always dark. They began that way,  and to an extent they have returned to darkness but for a glorious few years there was no darkness. There was us. There was love. There was family. There was everything that should be expected and nurtured and enjoyed.

That was then.  

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