(Excerpt from No Man’s Brooklyn.)
I was six when I found out I’d never become a superhero.
We were in the kitchen. Me, my mother, and father. My father’s hand was around my mother’s throat. He had a wild, bloodshot, not-there look in his eyes, an inflamed vacancy. He reminded me of a wolf about to savage its prey.
My mother’s eyes were big with fear. She cried out a number of times—Daniel, Daniel, he’s going to kill me. Daniel, Daniel.
My name became many things in that moment. An accusation, a weakness, an empty husk, a recrimination, a point of departure.
She kept calling out my name, it felt like a hundred times, but in reality it was probably around six or seven. Things not only look bigger when you are small, they also sound bigger. All the shouting and screaming and accusations and vitriol that filled my house felt like acoustical storms to my small pink ears. Violence was the melody upon which all other riffs were improvised.
So yea, my name, repeated—Daniel, Daniel, Daniel. But no one was home. Something vital in me had fled, had flown away to another part of the house, or out the window. It wasn’t there and without it I couldn’t move.
Frozen, I stared at my father.
He struck me as inhuman, like some lunatic in a horror film, like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. His meaty hand was clutched around my mother’s thin neck (she always had a dancer’s neck) and I knew that he could break it if he wanted to, that the possibility of him breaking it existed as a very real possibility in that moment.
What had preceded my father’s hand around my mother’s throat was my mother’s caustic verbal attack (pertaining, as usual, to drinking, drugging and gambling), which had then escalated into my mother throwing things, at first in the proximity of my father and then directly at him.
He deflected objects and ducked. It was warfare with the quality of slapstick.
My mother remained the aggressor until just after she took a swipe at his face and caught his cheek with her nails. My father touched his fingers to the fresh scratch-marks, as if needing to tactilely confirm what had happened, and then he lost it, charging at my mother like a bull and backing her into the wall, where she was now pinned, hand around her throat, calling out my name. Daniel, Daniel, Daniel.
Each time I heard it there was less of me there. My name was the hated enemy that was driving me out of myself.
Yet I had to do something to help my mother, to save her, I was her only hope, and despite my deep freeze I managed to speak—Da.
This single utterance broke his trance. He still had the wild look in his eyes (I know because he turned it on me) and he still had his hand around my mother’s throat, but the murderous intensity had slackened, just enough.
He released my mother and stormed out the front door.
Piece a shit, my mother screamed as the door slammed.
Screams and slamming doors. This was the vocabulary of the house.
My mother slid soundlessly against the wall and crumpled to the tiles.
She cried hot, loud tears.
I looked at her and didn’t move.
I felt bad for her. And hated her.
The hatred burned deep in my chest and lungs and I wasn’t sure of its source then, but now I understand that I hated her for forcing me to participate in their war, for involving me in her mess, for trying to enlist me as her savior, but mostly I hated her for showing me that I would never ever become a superhero.
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