Thursday, March 17, 2011

Catching Hell

In my therapy practice, I frequently work with adult clients who have survived childhood emotional and verbal abuse. I see the crippling, ego-smashing toll it can take, sometimes even worse than physical abuse--at least those scars heal over time. Joshua defies the odds.

Joshua spent his childhood catching hell. He didn’t even know he was chasing it.

“I swear to God, Joshua, you are good for absolutely nothing. Even that retard down the street can hammer a nail in a board,” his father yelled so loud that the neighbor down the street whose child was the said “retard” was probably offended. “Go on, get outta here before I backhand you,” Mike Perky said. “Nobody needs your help,” he mumbled under his breath as he focused his attention on aligning the board just so.

Deflated, Josh shuffled over to the old oak in their back yard, parked himself beneath the overhanging boughs in the shade and leaned back against the trunk. Through the curl of his long lashes, the kind no ten year old boy wants, he watched a singular ant crawl up and down one blade of grass after another accomplishing nothing of value that Josh could see. “Stupid ant,” he said, and thumped the insect so hard that it arced into the air and fell like a miniature comet.

The kitchen door opened and Marcella Perky, hair in pin curls partially covered with a red bandanna knotted at the base of her neck, stepped out on the back porch. She pulled the belt of her chenille robe tighter. “Joshua, what are you doing just sitting there? Nobody respects a lazy bum. The yard isn’t going to rake itself you know.” She retreated back into the kitchen slamming the door behind her.

Josh pursed his lips and expelled the air that puffed out his cheeks. It sounded like a moped engine. He dragged himself toward the potting shed where the Perkys stored their gardening tools, and grabbed the rake. In the garage, the sound of his father’s hammer rhythmically striking wood matched the pounding in his head.

Josh raked the leaves into a pile in the back yard. He wiped his forehead on his shirtsleeve and went inside. “Mom, can I have some lemonade?”

Marcella stood at the kitchen smoking a Camel cigarette. She tapped the ash into the sink basin and turned to regard her son standing just inside the door. “Your arm isn’t broken far as I can tell. Nobody wants to wait on you hand and foot, mister.”

He poured himself a glass of lemonade from the fridge, turned a kitchen chair around, and plunked himself down. “Can I go to the movies? Everyone’s going to be there.”

“Nobody’s going to want to hang out with you—look at you; you look like a ragamuffin.” His mother shook her head, rolled her eyes, and heaved a sigh. She lit another cigarette from the glowing ember of the last one and expelled a long stream of smoke through her nostrils.

Months and years faded into one another. Joshua struggled through junior high. When he brought home two Ds and a C- on his final report card, nobody cared. When he came home after midnight in the middle of the week, nobody noticed. When he started hiding boxes of cookies and crackers in his closet and munching them in bed at night, nobody knew. And when his weight shot up to 160 pounds, Marcella merely said, “Nobody likes a fat boy. Nobody will ever love you.”

Joshua, worn down by years of repetition, began to believe that was true. When he turned twenty-one, with his critical parents well internalized, Joshua moved to another town, took a job at a low-life bar on the wrong side of the tracks, and began his career as an alcoholic.

At a gathering of “influential people,” to which he was invited to tend bar, he slipped out onto the balcony for a break. A lovely young woman stood in the moonlight, sniffing, and wiping at her tears. Joshua screwed up his courage and said, “Hi, I’m Joshua. Who are you?”

“Oh, I’m nobody,” the woman replied with a sad smile and downcast eyes before turning her head away.

“I’ve been waiting my whole life to meet you,” Joshua replied.

“What’s this?” Mike Percy asked, tossing the envelop on the kitchen table.

“Looks like a card from the kid,” Marcella answered, ripping the top of the envelop with her red-polished nail.

“Haven’t heard from him for a year or so, have we?” Mike glanced at his wife.

Marcella extracted a wedding announcement from the envelop, and eyed the date which had passed a month earlier. She read from a note scrawled at the bottom of the invitation:

Mom, Dad, you were right; Nobody loves me, Nobody will take care of me, Nobody believes in me. Nobody respects me. Nobody wants to be with me. And I’ve never been happier. Joshua

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