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Knock Knock

Even though the story about Fudge finding my little brother had a happy ending, it was still incredibly traumatic for me. And for many I am sure. It was ‘isolated events’ like that that led me to constantly feeling ‘on edge’. It was almost like I lived in a state of hyper vigilance, always tensed up, waiting for the next horrible and scary thing to happen. I always knew that there was something lurking just around the corner, that I would need the space ship for. And I was never wrong. I had become so accustomed to tragedy and trauma, that I expected it. It’s kind of like I had bad days with some good sprinkled in. Now, as I continue to heal and grow, practicing self awareness I have good days with some bad sprinkled in. I had been so morbidly shaped by all of the events and on going stress of my childhood and the traumas that came along with it, that it had actually made me quite depressed at times. I remember sitting in my neighbor friend’s car one night, I was spending the night with him and we had made a trip to Kroger for snacks and stuff to watch movies. On our way back, his mother driving, for no particular reason I decided to tell him and his mother that “I don’t really see a point in this whole life thing, I don’t really have a reason to live.” Think about that. An elementary school child, who is supposed to be so full of wonder and imagination, with so much excitement and innocence actually thinking that he has no reason to live. How truly sad. But I supposed that is what happens when we as children have our innocence taken from us. I was subject to so much emotional upheaval, so many adult problems, so many devastating blows to my spirit had occurred at such an early age, that I didn’t really see a point. I mean, who would? If what I had seen, experienced, and been apart of was how life went, what was the point? More suffering? No thanks.

Like I said though, there were some good times sprinkled in. They were just few and far between. I remember that we were still at the Scatterfoot house. School had finished up for the day, We had literally just started the new school year. I had just had the honor of feeling recognized when my fifth grade class got to put our hand prints on the walls all throughout the inside walls of Kedron Elementary school. We were the very first “Graduates” of the brand new school and as a way to commemorate the occasion all of the students had our palms rolled with either purple or green paint- the school colors, and we had our hand prints placed on the walls for all of time. Then we had a big graduation ceremony in which we got to walk up to a microphone and say our names and what we were going to be when we grew up. “My name is Stevie Stepherson, and when I grow up I am going to be a Professional Baseball Player.” Was what I went with. Oh to be so young and naive. But anyways, that was last year, and this was now. I had just started at J.C.Booth Middle school, and I think we were about two weeks in.

We had finished up with school for the day, and we, our family had actually been having a really nice streak lately. No major blow outs, no fights, no ugly events. Life had actually seemed to be somewhat settled down. Which was nice. My guard was finally starting to come down a bit, and I was starting to relax and trust again. It felt good. I was laughing and joking with my neighborhood friends on the bus as we made our way toward our respective stops at the end of a long day of learning. We as friends were making plans to play for the afternoon, probably football out back in the soccer fields, or kickball or something. We are all a really active and sports centered bunch. It was gonna be a nice afternoon. A kid gets off the bus, and then another. And then another. My stop is approaching and I am preparing to stand up and make my way to the yellow line. As we bend the corner, of the large loop, or circle that Scatterfoot drive is, I can see that there is a large white truck in the drive way. It was parked with the front of it facing away from the house and down the hill. As we slowed to our stop, and I made my decent down the stairs, and bent around the front of the Blue Bird, I could see that it was another fucking U-haul. Ugh. Not again. Where in the world were we going now?

At least this time, I was not super worried, because I was at Booth Middle School, which covered a great deal of the city, so I was pretty confident that I wouldn’t have to be changing schools. And truth be told, I was actually kind of excited. I thought that maybe, finally we were gonna be moving out of Uncle’s house, and getting a place of our own. The thought of this made me happy. So I boogied up the hill as fast as I could to learn what was going on. Only to hear shouting and arguing before I got to the door, and see people visibly upset and crying when I entered the house. Something tells me this was not going to be good. Ugh.

“We’re moving to Indiana, Stevie.” I was told. What in the world? That was far! I certainly did not expect this. Holy shit. I did my best to advocate for us staying in Georgia, but it all fell on deaf ears. I remember walking away from my mother and relatives in the kitchen, and out to the garage to talk to my dad, when I noticed that the U-haul was already quite full. We didn’t have a whole lot of stuff, so I only assumed that the packing was pretty much done. “Are me, Luke, and Josh gonna have to share a room when we get there, Dad?”

“Well, no son, you’re not. Josh is staying here in Georgia with Grandma and Grandpa.”

The world stopped spinning. My mouth ran dry. I felt dizzy with overwhelm, and an absolute rage and heartbreak overcame my body and mind. I lost it. I absolutely exploded with sadness. Right back into the Space Shuttle I went. And what made matters much much worse, was that the packing was indeed done. We were going to be leaving within a matter of a few minutes. I would only have about a half an hour with my older brother, to say good bye. and zero idea of when I would see him again. This was earth shattering for me. I was beside myself. I cried and plead with every adult in the house not to let this happen. But it was indeed happening and happening fast. Everything was a blur. I felt so helpless and unheard. True powerlessness had overcome me and I was sad. Why was life like this?

It wasn’t long after, we had hugged and cried together and said our goodbyes. We pulled out of the driveway in the U-haul. Without another vehicle. Me and my little brother sitting in the back of the U-haul, talking to our parents through the little connecting area for the first few legs of the journey and napping off and on the whole way. We were going to be staying with another aunt and uncle, Luke and I, while mom and dad got on their feet. They would be staying in a homeless shelter in Valparaiso called the Spring Valley Center. Luke and I would be attending South Central in Union Mills. My aunt and uncle fostered a lot of kids I guess so at least I would have friends to play with when we got there. And I would get to see my Grama which I was very excited about! Where, oh where would this next season in life take us all? I had to say goodbye to Georgia and all that I had known, and hello to Indiana and all sorts of unknowns.

Once we had gotten settled in with aunt and uncle in LaPorte county, things seemed to level out quite a bit. We would talk to mom and dad on the phone often, and visit them on the weekends. Sometimes, we opted not to visit them in the homeless shelter though. They fought a a lot. Mom would blame dad for us being in such a place and back and forth they would go. So sometimes, we would choose not to go there, and sometimes we would go to Grama’s. Grama was the best. And she still is. She is such a sweet lady. She lived in this place in downtown Valpo, called the Valparaiso Women’s Club. I guess she was kind of the caretaker there. Cleaning and maintaining the place in exchange for reduced rent costs. When I would go and spend the weekend with her, I would “help” her clean the common areas and take the trash out and stuff. One day we had gotten ready to head up stairs to do the cleaning and stuff. Part of Grama’s responsibilities too, I guess was to check in on the other residents from time to time, so as we went about our business this day she would knock on their doors and say hello. There were about three floors inside this place and many many doors to knock on. So this was taking forever. We would dust the wood and wipe it with Pledge, clean the mirrors in the bathroom, and She would knock on a door. Empty a trash can, replace paper towels in the common area kitchen, and knock on a door. And on we went. We finally get to the top floor and are just about finished up with the days tasks, when we come to yet another door to knock on. We can both hear that the T.V is on inside the room, but no one is answering her knocks. She knocks again and again. Nothing. Finally, frustrated or “flustered” as Grama put it, she sets her cleaning supplies down and uses her master key to open the door. She announces that she is coming in, and as she pushes the door open, we can see pretty much the entirety of the room. It was basically a studio apartment with a closet. There was a dresser inside, a TV on top of a large desk, a tall floor lamp, and a queen size bed. And laying there, slumped over on her face, she had clearly fallen off the bed- on the hard wood floor was the first dead body I had ever witnessed. I immediately knew she was dead, and so did grama. She tried to give her attention briefly anyways, but it was obvious that she was long gone. I have learned in the years since that she had died of an overdose. How very sad. I was in absolute shock. I immediately disassociated and stuffed this one down. But the effects were there. This was terrifying. I don’t think I slept for a month. I swear man, it seemed like terror and chaos awaited me around every corner for most of my life. I almost didn’t have a choice later on in my adulthood but to laugh about all of my life’s misfortunes and adventures. This was no laughing matter though. I had no other tools or people to process it with. I just didn’t know what else to do. It was like life was just one big sick joke most of the time. And it all shaped me, honed me, and refined me into a very jaded, cynical, pessimistic, and mal adapted young man. That poor lady, I wonder what her story was, to get her to the point she had died at. That was someone’s daughter. It is so very sad. If we all only knew other people’s stories man. Maybe we wouldn’t be so quick to judge. I hope her family was able to find closure and heal from all of that.

Acute Trauma.

It’s so interesting to me, how this is the year 2023 and it feels like we are in some kind of revolution so to speak. People talk about quantum leaps throughout history, like the steam engine, the combustion engine, the microwave, the space shuttle, the cell phone and micro processors. Those are quantum leaps which bring about new age for humans. And I believe that we are in the midst of a quantum leap, which will bring about a new age as we speak. The revolution, the quantum leap, and the new age that is upon us though is not necessarily that of technology like before, but it is one of self awareness and mental health and wellness. We are learning more about ourselves and from each other than we ever have before in the history of mankind. And it is really exciting. Soon we will all be so well educated on the topic of self awareness and mental wellness that we will actually be dealing with well rounded and developed, and healed human beings on the regular. And it begins with, again, exposure. Many have to be brave enough to expose our own traumas, and our own struggles, to allow others to see and feel what we went through- to gain the courage to confront their own struggles and demons, which will then spur about killing stigma of mental health issues. Going to a therapist or treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues should be just as widely accepted as going to a doctor for a broken leg. And we are fast approaching that. I really hope that someone can read my experiences and feel inspired enough to take that courageous step toward conquering their own past traumas and finally fine the clarity and peace that they deserve.

You are NOT what happened to you. Things happen to us, not because of us.

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Fudge

It wasn’t long after witnessing the suicide attempt that we moved again. Another loaded up U-haul, and off we took. This time, we were moving back into the house on Scatterfoot, where ‘Rumble’ took place. I believe the house was pretty much just my uncle, and cousin at the time, as my older brother and grandparents were living in the trailer over in Shiloh. So at least that would be good, not as much commotion this time. Less people meant less personalities, and less opinions, and less fighting. So that was good.

We had a dog. A chocolate Lab, named Fudge. He was my buddy.

One regular ol day, I was hanging out, probably watching cartoons when out of no where Mom started freaking out! She was rushing all through the house, screaming, crying, and panicked. It took me a little bit to fully understand what was taking place, but when I did, I too was very concerned. My little brother had somehow gotten out of everyone’s sight, and presumably slipped outside without anyone knowing. I think he was in like first grade maybe. Just a little guy. Now, this would’t have been such a big deal if he had just gone out the back slider and into the fenced in back yard to play. He had not. I could tell by all the commotion and excitement, that extensive efforts had been made to locate him all over the property, and all throughout the house. He was no where to be found. Dad took off in the car and was driving all over the neighborhood looking for him. Very loud screams for “LUCAAASSSSSS” could be heard all the way back at the house as he drove all over searching and screaming for his return. Nothing. It wasn’t too terribly long until the police got involved. Lots of them. I was terrified. Officers coming and going, writing stuff down. I was in actual shock. What had happened to my little brother? How did he slip off so easily? Why didn’t he tell me he was going outside? I was scared. I was worried sick about my little brother and there was basically nothing I could do about the situation. I remember feeling really helpless, but also wanting to offer any kind of advice and support that I could. But what could I possibly offer that would be of use?

Time dragged on. The police searched and searched. Nothing. No sign of him. It had to have been at least a couple hours since my dad took off looking for him and the cops arrived. And still no sign of him. Relatives had arrived, aiding in the efforts. Mom was hysterical. People are crying and hysterical. And there was nothing I could do. I sat on the couch in the living room as my mother bawled her eyes out. I remember very vividly kind of locking eyes with Fudge and having this “moment”. Maybe it was my imagination, or child like wonder, but, something came over me. I knew what my idea was going to be.

“Mom, let Fudge out, He will find Lukie. I know He will.” I could tell that Mom thought this was both sweet and ridiculous. Minutes went by, the telephone would ring, someone would answer, “No, nothing yet.” And hang up. Mom would cry. Cops were driving to and from our house with no news. This was bad. So I just took it upon myself. I nonchalantly slipped off the couch, holding Fudge’s collar and walked him toward the front door. I remember Him looking up at me and then back out the front door. I quietly pushed the screen door open, and yelled “Okay, Fudge, go get him boy! Go find Lukle!” And my mom was absolutely pissed off! Not only was luke missing and this one of the most stressful experiences of her life, but now the dog was on the loose and probably gone forever. He absolutely Bolted down the hill and around the corner and out of sight.

“I’m Sorry mom, but if anyone is gonna find him it’s fudge. I just know it.”

I was now in big trouble as soon as all this was over. But I mean, I had to try something. Mom picked me up and sat me down on the couch and resumed whatever it was that I had been watching on the TV. More phone calls. More coming and going. More cops knocking on the door. More commotion. No news. Minutes dragged on like hours I am sure, although to me it was all one big blur. It all seemed to have happened at all once. I was so overwhelmed by it all. It was one of the scariest days of my family’s lives I have no doubt. This was becoming more and more serious by the minute. Everyone was absolutely beside themselves.

I remember that it had been about 3 or 4 hours since dad took off and the cops came. Night was fast approaching and everyone was worried about being able to find him in the dark, when headlights panned the back wall, indicating that a car was pulling up the driveway. It was a police car, and when Mom saw it, I could tell she was thinking and fearing the worst. You could just sense it ya know? The cop car slowed to a stop right before the garage, at the top of the hill and a uniformed man got out. He turned toward the back of the car and opened the back door. Out poured Fudge, and Luke. I cannot make this shit up. Fudge came running right up to the door and inside, and Luke followed him. We still to this day do not know where Fudge found him, but the officer spotted the two walking up a golf cart path, between two houses, heading back toward home. It had actually worked. Fudge went out and did what none of the humans could do. He found my little brother, and had brought him safely home. I could not believe it, but at the same time, I had no doubt. Something was telling me to let him go look. And I am glad I listened. This was probably my proudest moment in life up until that point. Looking back, it is one of the coolest experiences I have ever had. That dog literally saved my brother’s life.

Monty

When I was about kindergarten age, we lived in a very diverse apartment complex in Peach Tree City, Georgia. I was just like any other kindergarten kid, I just wanted to play with friends, ride my bike, and be a little boy. I had made a friend about 2 buildings down, a black boy about my age, who’s name escapes me, but I want to say that it was Monty. Me and Monty played together every single day after school. We were best buddies. We would ride bikes together and swing on the swings, and just run around the complex catching bugs and exploring life. Well, one day I rode my bike down to Monty’s door and knocked as I always did, and was prepared to ask my routine question, “Can Monty come out and play?” And when the door pulled open, I saw a couple “big kids” standing there. So I asked, but I immediately remember feeling fear, and started to kind of tread backwards, in retreat. The two big kids, who I still don’t know who they are to this day, came outside on to the stoop, and started pushing me around, picking on me and saying really mean things to me. Things like “Oh this that little honky boy Monty always talkin bout, yeah we heard about you- Stevie. Nah we done heard that Monty been runnin around with you and you need to get ya little pink ass up outta here.” They pushed me to the ground and kicked me in the face, they slapped me, they spit on me, and every time I tried getting up, they would push me down again. I remember being scared, like really scared for the first time. One of the big kids went inside and grabbed a broom, and then proceeded to beat me repeatedly with it while the other boy absolutely destroyed my little bike and threw it down into a culvert. Finally Monty came running out trying to help me, but was carried back inside crying about what was being done to his buddy. Eventually, a neighbor heard the ruckus, and came out to break it all up and help me back home. I was bloodied, scraped, crying, and my feelings were so hurt. When the neighbor finally got me back home and inside to explain what had just happened, it got even worse. My mother threw on her shoes, and walked down the sidewalk and knocked on the very door where all of this just happened. Now I couldn’t hear what was being said, but I could see that mom was very angry. I think my Dad was holding me back, as I didn’t want to see any more violence or anyone to get hurt. The mother of the big kids who just did this to me emerged from the apartment and a confrontation ensued. Out of no where the lady goes to grab or push my mom, and then got dealt a brutal right cross that sent blood, spit, and teeth flying out into the grass. I believe this lady was asleep before she even hit the ground. And as soon as she did hit the ground my mom proceeded to stomp her guts out, kicking her in the face and downward heal stomping her head. Once she was satisfied with the revenge that was just dealt she came back to the apartment, helped my dad wash all of the blood and snot and tears off my face, sat down and smoked a Marlboro Red 100. I was in Kindergarten.

This was the type of shit that I was exposed to on the regular. And I used to excuse it as, “It was Georgia in the 90’s, it was a really crazy time”, but the fact of the matter is no child should have to experience shit like this. And it didn’t stop. Shortly after this, my parents, and Monty’s parents made us fight each other, and neither one of us wanted it to happen. “Beat his ass or ill beat your ass boy” type shit, they pushed us at each other, and I refused, but Monty did not. It was very horrible and scary to not throw a single punch and to get the shit kicked out of me by my best friend. All because a little white boy wanted to be friends with a little black boy. This was my first experience with racism. I didn’t even know that Me and Monty were different at all. I just knew that he was my friend, and now I am being forced to fight him because we have different shades of skin; by our parents of all people! The very people who are supposed to be protecting us from this very type of situation are thrusting us into it! It’s disgusting and it breaks my heart.

Shortly after that, Monty and I found a way to sneak down to the park and play. His older cousin Travis caught us swinging on the swings. He tried to play nice like he wasn’t bothered at all, and had asked us if we wanted to see the new golf club he had just found in the dumpster of the apartment complex. So, being kindergarten naive kids, we said something like “oh yeah, AWESOME!!!” Well, Travis used that Iron to split my head open from the top of my eyebrow-backwards, and then had the soul less audacity to drag me up from the park and knock on a neighbors door asking for help, and he fucking got away with it too, after I was taken by ambulance and the cops had left, because he convinced them all that it was an accident, and that we were just playing around. It breaks my heart that someone could do something like this to a little boy.

I never spoke to Monty again. We would see each other on the bus, or at recess, but we never spoke another word to one another again. I hope he didn’t turn out like his predecessors.

In Control

Life was really hectic, scary, and confusing for a very long time for me. I am sure that is pretty evident just by what I have outlined thus far. And what is very interesting about this thing called life, is that up until “recently”, like the last couple years I actually thought that some of the things that I experienced were just a normal part of life. Now I don’t want any of my readers to think that I am sharing these stories for any other reasons other than my own catharsis, and to try and portray and explain what I believe to a be very real and direct link: Trauma and Addiction. I am not sharing these stories from my life for your sympathy, and I am not sharing them to play some kind of victim role. I am also not sharing them to make my parents or relatives look bad. Are we all, mostly products of our environment, yes. But if we are going to play the blame game, then we might as well take it all the way back to Adam. To blame the parents is to blame their parents, is to blame their parents is to blame their parents. make sense? The more I learn and understand myself, the more I am able to understand that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have and with who they have and the circumstances that they were born and raised in to. We all live life pretty much according to our last mistake. And life is a constantly on going learning experience. I am simply doing my best to shed some light on how the experiences that we have shape us, from very early on especially. And hopefully, by me sharing such intimate details of my own traumas, I might inspire at least one person out there to get vulnerable with their own, and perhaps take that courageous step and finally commit to therapy, or treatment, or recovery: to finally open up about some of the things that they experienced themselves. Because, one thing that I have learned in my 37.5 years here on earth is that Recovery & healing both demand exposure. We don’t have to tell everything to everyone, but I believe that we all need someone that we can tell everything to. Trauma is a living and active thing. After all, it is a Noun. And if we cannot peel our layers back, expose the pains, and lean in to our secret places; why, as they say, “What we resist, persists.” And over time those dark and ugly parts of us will ultimately end up consuming us. By learning our selves, and re-processing our pasts, gaining new perspectives on our lives with trusted individuals, and really getting “naked” with someone who can point out things that we cannot see- that’s how we can learn ourselves. That’s how we can fully audit our lives, and take an honest and objective look at who we really are. We cannot change what we refuse to confront. I learned this the hard way.

And one of the many things that I have come to learn about my own traumas is that it kind of happened (in a very abbreviated way) like this: Isolated incident, isolated incident, isolated incident and the impact that is left on me was (in a very abbreviated way) the world is bad, people can’t be trusted, love isn’t real, people will only hurt you and let you down. It’s best to just keep my walls up, stay in the space shuttle, and push people away before they hurt me. But what is also very interesting, is that because I operated on this mechanism, I am the one who ultimately ended up suffering the most. I stayed lonely, isolated, fear driven, on edge, and relied on ego and control to get me through my life. The ego came from my shame and fear. My self esteem, self worth, and feelings of invisibility and helplessness also helped to create my over inflated sense of self, Ego, as a way to protect myself from vulnerabilities. And the absolute need for control came from all of the inner turmoil, grief, and helplessness I felt going on inside of me. The less control I felt on the inside, the more control I would TRY to have on the outside, seeking and using external sources for internal validation; and doing my best to arrange, design, manipulate, and control the world and it’s people. Some interesting shit.

I never had control. I never had control of really anything. I had zero control over having to go to six different elementary schools in six different years. I had zero control over having to ask my teachers to buy me lunch at those schools because I was starving. I had zero control over being left at one of those schools until 3 o’clock in the morning.

I had been in one of those after school programs, where we would play kick ball and stuff like that until the parents got off of work and would come pick us up, one by one. And typically I would be in the last percentage of kids to be picked up because often times my parents worked later than most. Well, on this particular day something must have happened, because I was sitting there in the cafeteria of my school with one of the volunteers until 3 a.m. This was obviously before the times of the cell phone. So we were at the mercy of whatever the fuck was going on. I remember rather well, the volunteers and teachers repeatedly referring to calling CPS and the Police, because no one had ever just left their child like this. I got totally Joe Dirt-ed at my elementary school and no one could find my parents. I begged and pleaded with them every time they mentioned calling the authorities, “No! Don’t! They’ll be here I promise! They’re Just working!” And they actually listened to me, for the time being. They actually didn’t call them. This one sweet old lady just sat there with me, and we colored and we played with clay, and we walked around the hallways of the school. And finally she ended up finding some of those mats that the kindergartners used for nap time, and stacked a couple on top of each other right there in the cafeteria and covered me up and I went to sleep. I remember being woke up as my dad was scooping me up off the mats, grabbing my stuff, and casually thanking the lady for staying with me for so long. Like it was just a regular old day. I also had zero control over the fact that CPS knocked on the door of our trailer the next day, and my parents wouldn’t answer the door until they had coached us on what to say to them to make sure that they got out of this. And we did. We did as we were instructed and we told the ladies who came exactly what we were supposed to say to them. They came and went, and things resumed right back to normal. You see, all of these incidents that took place in my life left a mark. They left and impact. They helped shape my sense of reality, of self, and of the world and it’s people. All of the uncertainty, the fear, the broken trust, the lack of protection, the abandonment- shaped my mind to believe that nothing is consistent, I need to constantly be afraid, no one can be trusted, I must find a way to protect myself, and everyone is just going to leave me anyways. So why get close? The world is violent and full of people who want to violate me, so I best really hone my ability to disassociate or learn how to violently fight back. But I didn’t really posses the heart to hurt another person, so to disassociate was my only plausible option. So I continued to improve my space shuttle.

The less in control my life was, the more chaos I was subjected to, the less control I felt on the inside. And the less control I felt on the inside, as I grew older, the more I would try and control on the outside.

“Though I am not without weakness, I will define what lies ahead. I’m not out of control.”

– “In Control” by Greensky Bluegrass

Shiloh

Shortly after returning home to Georgia, the four of us- Mom, Dad, Lucas, and Myself settled into a trailer home in Peach Tree City, Georgia. Peach Tree City was and I believe still is a very economically diverse city. In some places there are homes that run in the millions of dollars, and in others there are Section 8 homes, and trailer parks. And kids can be incredibly cruel when it comes to knowing where everyone stands in the socioeconomic scope of things. I never really had any major issues with the rich kids, as I pretty much got along with everyone. But even though I never had any direct conflict with anyone from school, I heard the term “Trailer Trash” a lot. And I knew that that’s how many felt about people who came from where I came from. So it applied to me too. And It really hurt my feelings.

I did however have a lot of conflict with kids from the trailer park though. It was wild, some days were just as easy and fun as could be. Building jumps for our bikes, building forts, playing in the creek and catching critters. And other days, seemingly for no reason at all I’m being challenged and bullied by a kid who just yesterday was my friend. I think, looking back, a large majority of us came from really damaged homes and families. The instabilities we showed and projected on to one another were a direct reflection of the instabilities and brokenness going on in each of our homes. I get a very “ending of the movie The Sandlot” type of bittersweet nostalgia when I think back about these times. I wonder what happened to a lot of the kids I once called friends. Once called enemies. And called friends again.

I don’t know man. I don’t know if it’s just my experience in life, or if most kids have similar experiences as me. Like, is it normal for at one point on a weekend day- to be practicing your skills on the home made dirt jump at the end of the road- and then later that day be over at a group of older kids’ trailer and being forced into the “Fight or Fuck Room”? I’m guessing probably not. It was all very confusing to me. Like, why would one of the older kids in the Park come over, knock on our door and ask if I could come out to play and ride bikes, only to lure me into their trailer and force me to either fight a much older and larger kid who would easily beat the shit out of me, or watch the trailer park floozie blow one of the boys? Is this “playing”? Is this what “normal” was? I don’t know. But it made me afraid. It made me afraid to hang out and play with anyone. It made me disassociate even more. Like, if I just hopped into the space shuttle again, it would all be over soon. It was traumatic for me. And who could I tell? Would anyone even believe me? If I did tell, the bigger kids would surely kick my ass, I know this because they told me so. So I just bottled it up. Every single time it happened.

Now, I don’t know why, but the whole fucking trailer park seemed to be full of weirdos man, and not just the kids. A lot of the adults were creeps too. One of the more “Normal” kids I liked to play with and trade “Goosebumps” books with, his Dad was weird as shit. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I saw this man naked. It was bizarre. We would be over playing Nintendo in their front room, in the middle of a weekend day, and this man would come out and talk to us, or yell at my friend, or get something out of the kitchen butt ass naked. And one of the weirder things he would do is, sometimes we could hear his parents very loudly having sex and the dad would come out after and describe in pretty specific detail what he had just done sexually to their mother. It was fucking gross man. I always felt really bad for my friend and his little brother. They both got bullied really badly at school too. I wonder what ever happened to him.

Another group in the trailer park that were particularly sick, was this family at another end of the trailer park. A mother and father, and three boys- two were much older, like High School and Jr. High, and the youngest was about my age. I have no idea what could have possibly gone on in their family but, looking back I would venture to guess that there was a lot of drug use and sexual abuse going on. I remember one day, going down to the creek with a couple friends to catch critters, and as we made a bend at the trail we came across an opening into the woods where the two older of the three brothers were both leaning against a tree, while a girl not much older than us was on her knees in front of both of them at the same time. Shocked and afraid, my friends and I tried to turn around and hide. We knew if they saw us we could be in big trouble. “HEY!” One of them yelled. “Oh shit.” I am sure we all thought. The oldest of the two ran over and corralled us and cut us off on the path, forcing our trajectory back over to the girl and the other brother. Why were people like this? These two big bullies with a knack for pedophilia just couldn’t let us go about our business could they? No, they had to threaten to beat our asses if we told, or if we didn’t stay close by and watch while they finished what they were doing. It made me so scared and sad. Each and every time an incident like this occurred, it planted this deep deep shame inside of me. I felt so helpless and violated.

And this wasn’t the last I had heard of these three either, fucking sickos. There were numerous weird run ins with this trio. But I think the weirdest thing that I experienced with this family was a day when a group of us had gone over to knock on the youngest brother’s door. We were trying to assemble a football game, and we needed some players. Each one of our little friend’s group were all gathered in the middle of the street with our bikes and a football. We were a few guys short, so we would need to all go knock on some doors and round up some players. The “leader” of the group assigned a friend to “go get” so that we would have enough to play a game. And wouldn’t you guess it? I got assigned to go knock on the door of the brothers pedo.

“Come in!” a voice from the other side of the door responded to my third or fourth grade fist knocking on the door. So I did as requested. I mean, certainly they wouldn’t yell to come in, not knowing who was on the other side of the door if they were up to no good, would they? “Oh, hey, Stevie, you looking for ________?” I heard from a man sitting on a couch in the living room? “Yes.” I reply. “He’s back their in his room.” The man said, as he put his hand on top of a woman’s head who was sitting on her knees blowing him, and another man sitting on the end of the couch took a hit off of some kind of glass smoking pipe, who was also naked, and also getting blown by another woman who was knelt in front of him. Was this fucking real life? These four adults were all ass hole naked, smoking what I can only assume was meth with Porn on the TV while a child is walking right past them. They just yelled for me to come in like what they were doing was 100% normal. It 100% was not. More shame. More Violation. More fear. I got my friend as fast as I could and we boogied out of there to play football. Neither of us spoke of what just happened to the other. I think he knew it was shameful too. I hope he didn’t become as corrupted as his brothers did. But I am sure that he did. I’ve encountered a lot of sick people in my life. It makes me wonder how things would have turned out much different for me had I not. But there’s nothing I can do about that now.

And then there was the “Wrestling Coach” that lived on one of the end streets in the trailer park. Now this dude was fucking sick. We used to always play soccer in the street. The street had speed bumps sporadically throughout the community, and we would designate one side of the yellow perforated (split down the middle) speed bumps as a goal, and the game would only run one way. We operated the game kind of like “21” in basketball. If the goalie made a stop, you had to “take it back” and begin momentum back toward the speed bump since we only had one speed bump like every quarter mile. We made due with what little we had. Anyways, the speed bump we often utilized just so happened to be in front of the “wrestling coach’s” house. Everyone called this guy the wrestling coach because he always asked the kids in the neighborhood if they wanted to come over and learn how to wrestle. This was a grown man. Like in his 30’s or 40’s. We were all so naive still that we didn’t know what to make of this guy. Some of the kids even called him “coach” for short. I guess that was his approach. His guise or design to lure kids in. I didn’t know about any of this shit until later on, when I found myself getting a “lesson” from him. He seemed like a pretty normal guy. Not at all like the blatant other weirdos in the trailer park. He came off very polite and regular. One day I was having a hard time finding friends to come out an play and was kind of just riding my bike around by myself, when “Coach” called my name. “Hey, Stevie, did you have time for a quick lesson?” And he caught me completely unaware and unguarded. Without even thinking I was dropping my bike in front of his trailer deck, and walking into his front door. He shut the door behind me as I walked in, and locked the dead bolt. And immediately took his clothes off right in front of me. Now, he did leave his underwear on, but it was still weird. I remember telling him that I wasn’t comfortable doing the same but he ensured me that this was what all the great wrestlers did. And if I was going to do anything I wanted to be the best at it, so I took my t-shirt off, kicked my shoes off and began to take my pants off. And Literally, swear to God, the second my pants came off, the door kicked completely in, busting the dead bolt right through the wall and slamming off the counter behind it.

“No I don’t fucking think so Mother Fucker” yelled the voice of my older brother Josh. He had seen my bike out front of this guys trailer and knew I definitely should not have been inside this pervert’s house. “I, I, I, was just showing him some wrestling moves.” Stammered coach. “Nah you aint neeter, not with my little brother you fucking pervert, I’m about to let everyone know about you dog.” Josh tells the guy in his southern twang. And he grabbed me up in my underwear and scooped my clothes up off the floor and picked my bike up in the other hand and began walking me back toward our trailer. (For context here, Josh lived in a trailer with grandma and grandpa on Wagon Wheel Way, and Me, Mom, Dad, and Luke lived on Buffalo Rd. “Coach” Lived on Shiloh Drive which was visible from Grandma, Grandpa, and Josh’s trailer. ) He must have noticed my bike over there and came over to get me. Josh very well may have just saved me from a very traumatic experience. It could not have happened with any more impeccable timing. My middle school brother had just saved me from probably being raped. At first it kind of seemed like an over reaction, in my little mind. But a few days later, “Coach” had packed up and just moved out of the trailer park. No one saw or heard from him again. He was just gone. It’s crazy how one heroic act can have such a profound lasting effect, in ripples. I wonder how many of us trailer park kids were spared, simply because my brother was paying attention? Josh was always there for me.

One of the more difficult days for me in the trailer park did not involve any kind of sexual predators or weirdos, though. It was actually a rather normal and fun day for me, until it wasn’t.

My friends and I had been riding bikes, and playing at the park pretty much all day. I remember there was this big concrete slab, used for setting trailers up, and it was vacant. The slab had about 3 feet of drop off at the back end of it, as this was a lot that was on a hill back behind where the ass end of the trailer would be. And we used this as a bike jump. We would speed up to the end of the slab and pull up on our handle bars and see who could get the most air! It was fun. Sweaty, dirty, adventurous kids, having good clean fun. Out of no where I hear “Mom’s whistle”. She could use her fingers and press them into her mouth and whistle like nothing you ever heard. It was loud as shit. And the rule was, any time mom would whistle, it meant to come home. Usually the whistle occurred just as the street lights came on. But this was the middle of the day. Hmmmm. “Gotta go guys.” And then I hit one more sweet jump off the back of the slab, and made my way back to Buffalo Road. As I come up to our trailer I can see that Mom and Dad are arguing about something. And it was very heated. My little brother was inside watching TV, and as I made my way up to the house I parked my bike underneath the raised deck and boogied inside. My parents followed. Utter chaos ensued. Screaming, name calling, accusations, Mom threw a bowl at my dad and he ducked and it hit the cabinets and shattered. I gathered luke up and headed back for our bedroom and shut the door. The fighting continued until I heard something about Dad leaving. I hurried out the bedroom door and shut it behind me, just as he was walking out the front door. He was much taller and faster than I was, so it was very tough for me to keep up with him. Up the driveway, past the red and white Ford Grenada, turning left up Buffalo Road he went. And I followed. Pleading with him not to leave. Dad, don’t go. Please stop. Come back. I could feel in my little bones that something serious was going on and this might not be good. So I had to do my best to save the day here. But dad was not listening. “Go home Stevie.” He yelled back over his shoulder and continued his trek. All the way up Buffalo Road, making a left on to the main drag of the trailer park and toward the exit. I did my best to follow him. I huffed and puffed. And ran and walked. And cried. And plead. I begged. I couldn’t keep up and I could’t get him to stop. “Son, I told you to go home.” I wouldn’t listen. I was following him. This was NOT happening. Not today. On we walked. All the way to the front entrance of the trailer park, which is highway 54. Dad walked out to cross the traffic and stood in the median of the cross way traffic. Being so young I was afraid to do the same, so I stood watching and crying and pleading with him not to do this. Please don’t Dad. And he stuck his thumb out. Right there in the grass of the median of the highway. A pick up truck slows to a stop just past him, my dad sticks his head in the window, and a short talk takes place. ” I told you to go home, Stevie. I will be back son, I am not leaving you.” But he was. He jumped in the front seat of the truck. And they sped off.

I dropped onto my butt and sat there on the side of the highway and the main entrance to Shiloh Trailer Park, buried my face in my hands, and bawled my eyes out. I was in elementary school. Why is life like this?

Shortly after my mother pulled up in the Ford Grenada and put me in the car. I would again be spending some nights looking out the windows for Dad to return.

It wasn’t too terribly long this time though, maybe a week or so, until dad returned. He and Mom seemed to be really codependent and toxic with one another. But God did they love one another. That much I know. Even though they had they’re fights, and would split up from time to time, they always found their ways back together.

Fear of abandonment.

But perhaps the single most fucked up thing I witnessed during my days in the trailer park took place not long after dad returned home. Things had settled back down, and seemed to be going pretty well. Sure, there were times when I had to walk across the street and borrow water from the neighbors because ours was cut off. This was actually more common than you might think in these days. Everyone in the park struggled from time to time. There were times when a bunch of families would pitch in to pay power bills for others, and buy groceries. It was common. We didn’t all live here bcause we were high on the hog that’s for sure.

But anyways. One evening we were all at “The wall”, this white cinder block wall, about three blocks high that bent around the corner of intersecting roads and under a sign. Just hanging out and finishing up the evening playing. It was damn near dark out, and the street lights had come on, but I hadn’t heard the whistle. So I was in the clear for a little bit longer. Giant moths darted around the street lights, and one by one, each of us received our “signals” from our parents to come home. One parent would yell, another parent would bang on a large kettle pot, etc. Until It was just me and one other childhood friend of mine, sitting on the wall talking about life. Eventually, I believe we both just decided to call it a day, and head our respective ways. “Ok, man, see you tomorrow!” We exchange and off we headed. He in one direction, and me in my own. Living in the trailer park was an experience unlike anything else, we saw and heard all kinds of crazy shit back then. So it wasn’t really a shocker to me, when I saw this lady come running out of her trailer screaming her head off. Well, it wasn’t at first anyways.

Being so used to all the crazy shit we heard and seen on almost a daily basis, I wasn’t really all that worried when the lady in the white robe came running out of her trailer screaming, cordless phone in hand. Until I was able to make out what exactly she was actually screaming. It was garbled and hysterical, “He’s fucking killing himself, somebody help me!!” I pushed the pedals on my bike backwards to activate the brakes and see what the hell was going on. The lady kept running, 2,3,4, trailers down, and made a sharp cut through a yard and up a deck and into a front door. What the….. This was crazy. I guess she must have known who ever’s house she just busted in to. This was wild. “hmm”. I thought to myself, as I went to re begin my journey back home. Kicking myself up on to my seat with my left leg to get momentum going I steadied my bike to head home, only to be startled again, by a man coming out of the same trailer as the lady in the white robe. He looked drunk and wobbly. He was trying to say something to me and raised his hands out to me like some kind of fucking zombie. He shuffled and staggered toward me, and as the overhead street lights caught him I could see that he was absolutely gushing blood from both of his wrists and forearms. He made it about 5 more steps in my direction before he collapsed onto the black top road. Smashing his face into the pavement as he did so. Seconds later a group of people poured out of the trailer the lady ran into, about 5 of them came rushing toward me and the man. I inched up to kind of check on him. I had no idea what was actually taking place. “Get the fuck home Stevie, my son is killing himself and the ambulance is coming!” She screamed at me. Well now I knew. Holy shit. I pedaled faster and harder than I ever had in my life. I had just witnessed a suicide attempt.

I was in elementary school.

Butterflies

Not more than a couple days after the boxing gloves battle royale with mom, it became very clear to me that we were not going to be staying in that house anymore. It was more awkward and uncomfortable than ever. There was a lot of tension. I didn’t even know what the word tension meant at the time. I was’t even in second grade yet. But I knew that what I was feeling inside myself, that house, and within the family was definitely not good. It was clear and obvious to me that we were going to be leaving soon. And it was clear and obvious to me that we were not going to be staying with any of my mom’s family. Once mom took off it was obvious to me that her side of the family, at least the ones we shared a roof with currently, had no use or desire for my dad, or me and luke. This was just bad. Where in the world would we be going now? When? What was going to happen now? I can’t take this anymore. I knew something was coming and it was not gonna be awesome. And it was gonna be soon. I could just feel it. Plus I had learned the patterns by now, so it was only a matter of time, after a blowout like this, that something was about to happen. And I was right. Again. Here we go.

I am not certain how many days had passed since the incident where mom left, but it wasn’t many. But the day finally came. Dad told me and luke that we were gonna be leaving. Luke could barely talk and communicate, but I understood him perfectly. It’s weird how that connection happens amongst little siblings. I remember vividly, countless times when the adults and older cousins would have to ask me, “What’s Lukie saying?” But anyways, I could talk just fine. And I was perfectly up to speed with what just happened, and what was happening now. The packing of our stuff began. Dad got as much of our stuff together as he could. I gathered the essentials. Snuggles, Popples, and this white kids blanket with little Pandas on it. I loved that blanket. It had Pandas holding little pots of gold with rainbows shooting out patterned all over it.

The packing seemed to go by very quickly. Like in the blink of an eye quick. But there was also a lot of bickering and name calling between my dad and grandmother. They did not seem to like each other very much. She, along with others in the family blamed my dad for everything.

We got the last of our stuff loaded up in the red Ford Grenada with the white top, and backed out of the drive way. As we pulled off dad rolled the window down and made some kind of hand gesture out the window and said something like “fuck y’all mother fuckers.” Whatever that meant. I had absolutely no idea where we were going, but at least the three musketeers were gonna stick together. That I was almost always certain of. Until I wasn’t. But we had some snacks in the car, and we had some toys in the back seat with us. And off we drove. Into certain uncertainty.

Now, usually, when were moving it typically is to the other side of town. Or from this apartment to uncle ______’s house. Or to grandma’s. The drive usually only takes about 20 to 30 minutes. This one was taking an unusual amount of time. And I was starting to notice. Ugh. Where in the world were we going? I don’t think I had ever been in a car this long in my entire life. I didn’t even know that the world went on this far. We had to be reaching the edge of the world by now. Would we circle right back to where we came? It was night time now. Like really night time. And the incredibly tall highway signs for Waffle House, and truck stops would illuminate the back seat as we treked on through what I now know as the mountainous and hilly terrain of Northern Georgia, and Southeast Tennessee. We would pull over from time to time for gas, snacks, and to go to the bathroom. As we merge back on to the highway, somewhere in the middle of nowhere Tennessee I suppose, at about 3:00 a.m I wake up from one of my many naps in the back seat. “Where are we going, Dad?” “Well, Stevie, I am taking you and your brother to my sister’s in Tennessee for now.” “And I am going to find your mom.”

“Oh.” I thought. Somehow, in my little mind I knew it was going to be an answer like this. I cried myself to sleep in the back of the car, hugging Snuggles, saturating the stuffed bear in salt and snot on the final leg to Northwest Tennessee.

We spent the night, the three of us at my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Martin Tennessee. At first it was kind of awkward because I didn’t really know any of these people. I think I had met them before, but I didn’t actually know any of them. They lived on a really big farm with lots of animals which I thought was absolutely awesome! And I had 4 big cousins there who were always really good to me. My cousin Simone in particular. She became my best friend. I think she knew how fucked up everything had been for us and so she had empathy. We did everything together, her and me, and luke. I believe we moved there in the summer, so we had lots of time to play! I spent that whole summer exploring the nature of the farm and being lucas’ translator for my relatives. “What’s he sayin stevie?” I would be asked multiple times daily, and I was happy to oblige. It made me feel important. I had a job to do, not only as luke’s protector, but as his translator. Someone had to let the world know what my kid brother was saying.

Sometimes, I would get really sad. I would miss josh really bad. He was the best big brother, and when Mom took off, Josh stayed in Georgia. He stayed living with my grandma and them. His dad who we called “Uncle Bob” lived there too, so I guess I understand why he stayed. Grandma and them always seemed to favor him over us. I guess it was because there was so much animosity between grandma and my dad, that when she saw me and luke, she saw dad. And she let that resentment be made very clear. They were nice to us, sure. And they let us stay with them a lot. I have no doubt that they loved us very much, but I could always just feel this unspoken tension from her. It’s okay. I am not judging. I loved her and grandpa too. I wish I had gotten to bond with them more. But it is what it is.

Other times I got sad, was when I would catch myself wondering where Mom and Dad were. I would wonder if they were coming back at all, or if this was gonna be our new family. And then I would think about that option, which didn’t actually seem so bad. We had the best times there! We chased the cows around the pasture, and played with the baby chicks. We even learned how to can veggies and make home made wine! I know I know, children making wine? It sounds bad, but we never drank it. They just let us help in the process. They had these big long Muscadine vines in their yard, and we would pick them and load up buckets with them and stomp them with our bare feet! Me and luke thought it was just the coolest thing ever.

One morning, Simone came and woke me up what seemed to be much earlier than normal. “Stevie, get up, I wanna show you something.” I was instantly up and excited. She was really nice to me. Very “Tom-boyish” at the time, so she was into a lot of the stuff I was into too. This was exciting! what was she gonna show me. I knew it was gonna be something cool and I trusted her completely! It was like an adventure, as we padded around through the old farm house and clod hopped our bare foot asses right out the front door, off the deck and down toward the barnyard. We kept on walking right up to the gate of the barnyard, where all the chickens hung out and did their chicken thing. There were these big long broad leaf vines hanging down, and intertwined all throughout the chain link fence were vines. Crawling and stretching in every direction. I thought this is what she wanted me to see, and this alone was really cool! I was so happy she woke me up to show me such a cool plant growing in such a cool way! “No, Stevie, come closer, come look.” She lifted up a couple of the big broad leaves to reveal hundreds if not thousands of those big gnarly green, yellow, and white caterpillars crawling all over the leaves and chewing them to bits. I was in awe. They were so cool looking! We would pick them up and let them crawl all over us, and even let them crawl on our heads! It was such a cool moment for me. “You know what were gonna do, Stevie? We’re gonna come out here every day, and we’re gonna check on them.” “Cuz these little guys, guess what?- They’re gonna turn into butterflies! And we get to watch the whole thing!” NO WAY! This was the coolest thing ever. I just had to tell luke. So I got him up and showed him too. And we checked those leaves and the progress being made by the caterpillars every day that summer. All the way until they turned into big and bright Butterflies, and flew away. It was one of the coolest experiences of my childhood. Simone was a good friend.

The summer flew by! I think my relatives did the best they could to keep our little minds occupied. So that we weren’t constantly thinking about our parents and where they could be. I got to “drive” the tractor while uncle plowed the fields, we chased the chickens, we chased the cows, we played all summer long. It was a lot of fun.

Although I was having a lot a big fun on the farm, I still somehow knew that I was in the space shuttle. That I was still “away” from my thoughts about my parents and brother josh. Looking back on things, I was pretty disassociated most of the time. And had developed the “Skill” of jumping in and out of the shuttle as need be. I could secretly tell deep inside how much time had passed. And that Mom and Dad were still gone. I cried myself to sleep a lot of the time. And would do my best to protect lucas. I would read him books, and lay with him until he fell asleep. More nights than not, I would wait till all of the relatives were asleep and I would sneak out into the living room and hop up on the couch in front of the picture window. Knees on the cushions, and my little torso against the back of the couch, I would just stare out side. It was a very rural and remote little town, so seldom did a car pass by. But every single time one did, I would lock onto the headlights way off in the distance, and say to myself “please, please, please, please”, only for each and everyone to come and go. It was never them. And I cried a lot of tears on that couch that no one knew about.

And one night, my aunt had gotten up to get something to drink, and caught me sitting there looking out the window crying. It had to be at least midnight. I can still hear her voice, in her ol’ southern twang, “Whatcha doin hun?” And I lost it. “They’re not coming back are they?” She was the most gentle and loving lady. She was exactly who I needed at the time. And she just floated right on over to me and held me as I cried. She rocked me and “shhhhhhhh-shhhhhhhhhhh-shhhhhhhhh’d” me and did her best to ease my pain. She did everything she could to make me feel better. And then she did something that I don’t think she fully understands just how profoundly it impacted me to this day. She taught me how to pray. And she talked to me about God. She told me about the power of prayer and what it had done in her own life. And right there, in almost second grade, I offered my heart to Jesus. I didn’t know who He was or why he was so important, but I trusted my aunt and she sure seemed to think this was very important. So I followed her prompted prayers right along. Word for word. It didn’t seem to make a difference at the time for me, but trust me, it would later. I am eternally grateful for her selfless love and guidance for me. She loved me very much. And we just sat there, me on her lap. And she hummed me songs, and sometimes there were words. And sometimes there were tears. But I trusted her. And somehow I knew, that someday, everything was gonna be okay. I did not know that that day would not come until I was 37 and one half years old. But I knew it would come.

Summer was coming to a close and me and Simone and Luke did our bests to maximize the time. It had been communicated to us, that we were gonna be doing school this year in Martin with them. Which I had kinda figured by now. Our parents were still gone. And I had just kind of accepted the fact that they may not be coming back. But I knew how to talk to God now, so I did that every single night. One night, toward the end of the summer, the three of us were playing in some mud across the street where they were building the new high school. We had found a spot that we could jump from and land in a big puddle that was about knee deep and made a big splash! We were about to wrap up the evening hours and head in for dinner, and decided to all jump in one more time. Simone went, and then it was my turn. I went for the big splash! I jumped off the man hole yet to be installed into the puddle and made the biggest splash I could! And as I did I felt a really sharp pinch on my right heel. “Owwwwww!!!!!” And I quickly hopped up onto the street from the ditch to find that my entire right foot from heel up by my Achilles Tendon, running all the way under the bottom of my heel was wide open and deep rich purple blood was pulsing out with every heart beat. We all three took a look at it and took off toward the house. Simone scooped up luke as I did my best to hobble as fast as I could toward the lights spouting out through the kitchen door window. I knew this was bad and they were gonna be so worried, but I had to make it there as fast as I could. I was losing a lot of blood, and remember getting dizzier with every step. It seemed like a mile to the house, but was only about 100 yards. and I had to cross a full blown rocky ass gravel driveway, barefoot, on basically bare bone, and torn open flesh. But it had to be done. I gritted through it with all I could muster and slammed the door open. “Help!” I screamed in agony as I made my entry into the kitchen area. My aunt and uncle took one look at my foot and looked at each other. the looks on their faces said it all. This was really bad.

“Call 911 I need to go to the hospital!” But apparently that was not an option, and this needed to be dealt with now. Apparently the nearest hospital was a long ways away, and it would take forever for an ambulance to get there. So the good ol country relatives of mine did what good ol country relatives do. They handled it themselves.

Aunt threw me into the big wash tub sink in the laundry room butt ass naked and scrubbed all of the mud and filth off of me as fast as she could, while uncle got a bunch of stuff out of a cabinet above. He then cleared a table off in movie style fashion with one arm and took his belt off. My aunt flopped me down on the table on my belly and shoved the belt folded up in my mouth while uncle prepared a needle and some kind of thread. “Stevie, baby, I need you to bite this belt as hard as you can.” I can still taste the leather. “This is gonna burn really really bad, ok?” I was squirming and flopping all over the table and she leaned her entire body weight on me to pin me down. As uncle poured some kind of alcohol all over my heel, and then iodine. He wrestled my flailing leg into his grasp and pinned it to the table and began sewing away. I passed out and woke up laying in bed. Fully clothed with my foot wrapped in towels and elevated on some pillows that were wrapped in trash bags. I had just experienced some good ol fashioned country medical work. They probably saved my life honestly, as bad as I was bleeding. And whatever it was in the mud that cut me so badly, just happened to miss my Achilles Tendon by like half an inch. God was looking out for me that day. I still cannot believe to this day how good of a job they did at repairing my foot like that. I am very grateful.

The summer finally wrapped up and school was beginning. I was attending Martin Elementary school and my teacher was Miss Jackson. I think that my aunt may have filled her in on what was going on in our lives because she was really nice to me from the start. I remember she gave me a book called “A Pocket for Corduroy”. She even signed it and everything. I must have read that book to Luke 100 times. We loved that one. I think I still some how have that book too. Packed away somewhere with all of my trophies and shit. The school time really made time go by fast! It kept me busy and occupied. I would come home and watch Goof Troop every day with my cousin. And Dark Wing Duck. We would play in the pastures after school once I could run around again, and I was just pretty much accustomed to my new life now. I hadn’t sat at the window for a while now, and had kind of just accepted life as it was now. A few months had gone by into the school year now, and I would read luke books at night, and just do life as it was. One night I found myself really sad, missing my parents and crying silently in bed. But I remembered the prayer that my aunt had taught me, so I was using it and talking to God. But I just couldn’t shake this feeling that I had. Like something was up. I cried and prayed. I tossed and turned. Why was this happening? It has been such a good stretch of life lately and things were going smoothly. I prayed and I cried, but I just could not seem to shake this anxious and sad feeling I had. I better go look out the window. So I did. It was about oh, I would guess about 10, maybe 11 o’clock at night. The whole house was asleep. And I just sat there on the couch. Knees on the cushions, torso against the back of that couch. Silently crying and talking to God. When a set of head lights appeared up the county road. I latched on to those damn head lights with all of my will, and with all my might and with all of strength. “Please, please, please,please, please….” And as the head lights drew closer and closer. The approaching car passed underneath a far off street light overhead, and the white top of the Ford Grenada shown in the county road. It was them! They had finally made it back! I watched as the car drew nearer and nearer, only to pass the the house.

Brake lights. The car began to reverse backwards, back past the driveway again. And then lurch forward and finally settle into the drive way. Dad was back. He has just missed the house. But he was back. I ran to the kitchen door, and looked out through the window. They were both back! He had found mom! Oh thank God! The prayers worked! We were finally going Home!

Rumble

I stood leaning against a wall in the hallway of our home on Scatterfoot Drive in Peachtree City, Ga. It is where we lived at the time, so it was home at the time. A ranch style house with an attached garage on the right as you look up the big hill on which it sits from in front of the home. I think it was a white ranch. And inside this home lived a lot of people, at any given time. My grandma and grandpa, uncle, great uncle, mom, dad, both of my brothers, and a cousin of mine, plus myself. There was a lot of us packed in there at any given time. We seemed to live with relatives off and on. Running down the internal middle of this house was a long L shaped hallway. And right at the 90 degree corner of the hallway is where I leaned against the wall, and crouched down. It was the summer between first and second grade, and we had moved out of the Apartments where the molesting and fights had taken place, and in with my maternal relatives, for reasons unknown.

My parents had been really going through it and going at it recently. This evening was no different. They had been fighting a lot lately. And being that we were living in my mother’s family’s home, I heard a lot of blame shifting, a lot of side taking, and a lot of resentment, bitterness, judgement and conviction from both sides. This is something that really led me to feeling torn and jaded later on in life. Kids hear, see, and feel a lot more than most adults may know when there is conflict in the home and amongst family. I certainly did. The fighting scared me. The name calling hurt me. I would say from the time I was about 4 until the time I was about 37 I pretty much lived my life very much “on edge”. I would suppose this is because from the time I was a child, my emotional and nervous system dysregulation began. My “fight, flight, freeze, or fawn” mechanisms began to develop and take control of how I interacted with the world. We are shaped so much more than we know, by how we are taught, groomed, and shown how to process and deal with life at an early age. Everything in my life was reactive. I reacted to everything. There was so much stress and turmoil going on all the time that it kept me in a state of essentially shock I guess. Constantly on guard, watching for continuous and ongoing threats, perceived or real. I was always reacting to shit.

So here I was, leaning against this wall. Silently sobbing. Listening to all this shit go down. All the vulgar language, all the personal attacks, the judgement, the ugly, the threats, I just couldn’t handle what all was happening right now, or what all I was hearing. My mom was leaving my dad for the first time. And to the best of my trauma brain’s recollection it was for another man. This is also what I was told later on in life. And she was so steadfast and selfishly leaving us, that she was leaving us to stay and live in her family’s house on Scatterfoot Drive. Like that’s not gonna be an awkward breakfast in the morning. She was packing bags while her and my dad screamed and fought and plead and bargained and spewed wreckage verbally into my life from the other room. She was serious. And I was’t having it anymore. At the age of maybe 8 or 9 I was gonna handle this situation myself. I was gonna fight back against all of this. It was time to make a stand. I had prepared for this moment. I had snuck into my my older brother’s room, rooted through his closet, found his boxing gloves he used for back yard boxing with my cousins, strapped the massively over sized red Everlasts on to my tiny hands, and strapped the velcro wrists bands on as tightly as I could. And assumed the attack position.

With tears rolling down my face I was ready. This wasn’t happening. Not today. I am not about to let my family fall apart not here and not now. I had no choice. This was the only thing I knew how to do to potentially make myself heard and seen. I had long since felt invisible and brushed aside by everyone in my life, especially the adults who were supposed to me protecting me and teaching me. I did not know how to speak up concisely for myself, I did not know how to interpret what I was feeling, I did not know how to communicate maturely with adults, but I did understand taking a stand. That’s exactly what I was about to do.

I heard the suit cases hit the floor, assumingly from on top of the bed where my mom was loading it up. I heard the steps begin making their way down the hall. Four feet were now in motion toward me, mom in front, and my dad right behind, alternating between begging her not to leave and threatening her if she did. I tensed up. Ready to make my stand. Big breaths in, big breaths out. This was my chance to save my family. Right here and right now. What had been happening in my life, in our lives was wrong and my little heart knew it. Even if I couldn’t articulate it. The time was coming. They inched closer and closer. Seconds passed like minutes as I waited. Finally, mom emerged around the corner of the hallway, large suitcase in tow, and a shoulder bag slung over her shoulder, and I pounced! I punched her in the legs, thighs, butt, and hip. I let those boxing gloves go on her as best I could. You see, I had put the boxing gloves on because I didn’t actually want to hurt her, if I was even capable of doing so, but just wanted to get her attention. I wasn’t actually capable of hurting anyone. I was too soft hearted. But boy did I want to get my point across. And I did, I think. I let those gloves walk all over right side as best I could. Left jab, right jab, push, slap, tears running down my face, high pitched squeals coming out. A child’s fury and heart break exploding all over the corner of this hallway.

“If you leave right now, you’re not my mom anymore!!!!!”

I finished delivering my message and ran bawling into the bathroom closed the door behind me, locked it, and jumped into the bath tub and closed the curtain. I laid on the floor of the bathtub, balled up and cried my little eyes out. Still wearing the boxing gloved as I sobbed and sobbed over the back ground noise of them still fighting and packing bags. Silently repeating to myself, please don’t go mom. Please let that have worked.

It didn’t. The yelling and cussing continued. Probably for another half an hour. She didn’t even try and talk to me. She didn’t even knock on the door. I heard the final trip of suitcases and cussing make its way down the hall, and the screen door slam behind her then the car start. I knew she was leaving. I unlocked the bathroom door, and made my way to the bay window in front of the house, as she backed down the big hill of a drive way and out of our lives. I sobbed silently with my boxing gloves on and mustered a wave as she put the car in Drive to start her journey to wherever she was going.

“I love you mom. I hate you.” was all I could muster as my voice cracked and tears flowed.

She was gone.

Babysitter’s club

I believe the year was probably about 1992. This is a guess. I am not sure if this was before my parents and Monty’s parents made us fight each other or not. I feel like it was shortly after. Maybe like a year or so. Have I told you about the fight between me and Monty yet, and all the chaos that ensued after? If not, I will. I’m not exactly sure how all of this is going to frame out yet. But it will be in there. But anyways, we were living in the Woodsmill apartments in Peachtree City, Georgia either still, or again. But what I do know is that this is where it took place. We moved a lot, so it is kind of difficult to keep the timeline together, but anyways. Like I told you before, my parents worked a lot.

During the summer I imagine that this was particularly challenging for them as we were not in school, and they, I assume, could not afford full time day care for us. Sometimes, when our parents, aunts and uncles would all go out, or have poker night, Josh, my older brother and/or one or multiple older cousins would come and sit with us, and spend the night and we would have pillow fights and watch movies and stuff so that was always nice. Usually though it was just basically whoever was available to watch us, and it was pretty much a roll of the dice.

This one time, I am not sure who the actual sitter was from memory, but later in life I learned it was one of my Mom’s friends; was watching us during the day. I guess during this time in her life she was a big time stoner and was pretty much always high. Well the day was pretty normal I suppose. Cartoons, snacks and playing in the yard and playing with toys. I remember some time going by, and I had decided to go up into my brother Josh’s room and find a book to “read”. I was still quite young and my reading skills very undeveloped, but I remember that I loved those children’s books, with all the pictures and stuff. I began making my way upstairs to find myself a book to read. My baby sitter on this day, as I am told was out back smoking a joint and unaware that I had left my spot on the living room floor where I had previously been before she stepped outside. So I am completely unattended in my current journey up the stairs, but that’s ok. I’m a big boy. And I am just going up stairs to read a book.

I remember making entry into my brother’s room and sitting right in front of his large book shelf with all of the books, baseball cards and etc., sat a wooden rocking chair. My plan was to find myself a nice picture book to enjoy, and sit and rock in the chair and enjoy my imagination with the Bernstein Bears, or whoever else filled the pages of my selection. So I began to make my way towards the shelf. But the books were just a little bit out of reach, so I had to step up onto the seat of the rocking chair, and lean up high and grab myself a piece of childhood literature. And that I did. Standing way up on my tip toes, I was able to lean forward and upward just enough as the rocking chair leaned into the shelf, and grab myself a book.

I carefully slinked my way down the same way I had gone up. From the pads of my feet, back onto the heels, allowed the rocker to ease back to a more flat and stable resting place, twist my body around and have myself a seat and crack the book open to begin my journey through Bernstein Bears land. What I didn’t know, or realize at the time, was that this was one of those big ol’ two piece book shelves. Where the top portion actually sits on top of the bottom portion, connected by those little pegs- the thin wooden pegs that slide into the holes. And that all of the pegs were in fact broken, And that My body weight leaning against the book shelf had caused it to start to separate and cave in toward me, ever so slowly- the top half was leaning toward me little by little. And what I also didn’t realize was that at the top of the book shelf, literally sitting on top of the whole dam thing was a 50+ pound porcelain type sculpture of a bulldog. Like a real officially licensed souvenir one. Super heavy duty. My brother loved the Georgia Bulldogs, and had this one on top of the shelf, it was really cool. It had a little red sweater on and everything. Well, it was now making its way toward me. As I sat and cracked open the book, the whole shelf started tumbling down toward me, as I sat rocking. I think I had gotten about three words into the book and KABOOM! Night night.

The entire shelf had fallen in on me, and the very first things that collided was the bulldog sculpture and the back of my skull. I was knocked completely unconscious and laid pinned and bleeding profusely from the back of the head until my baby sitter finished her joint, and came looking for me. I remember coming to in the back of an ambulance on the way to the hospital, completely covered in my own blood. I still have a pretty gnarly scar on the back of my head to this day.

Another baby sitter of mine from this exact section of time and these exact apartments was a girl who lived a few buildings down. Now, I don’t really know a whole lot about her, and I believe that the trauma has blacked a little bit of this out, but what I can tell you is that I never wanted to go to her house. That much I know. I am pretty sure that she was like the last option for my parents, because of how much I hated to go there.

Ya know it’s so weird, how we can look back on our lives and see things for what they really were. I remember her being so over the top nice to my mom when it came to her being paid cash money to watch me, and she wasn’t ever really not “nice” to me. And she was always really pleasant to everyone in the neighborhood. But what she was was a fucking child molester. And every single time I was over there some weird shit happened.I remember one time, she walked me into her apartment, and immediately wedged some kind of kitchen tool into the corner of the wall and door, so that the door wouldn’t open. We lived in those section 8 / low income government subsidy places and they had those massive hinges and doors on the apartments, and if you wedged something behind the hinge it would prohibit the door from opening. Well she did this so I couldn’t open the door and get out. And then she proceeded to put some kind of porn video tapes into the VCR and made me sit there and watch it with her. I was like fucking 7 years old. Maybe 8. Was this normal? Of course it isn’t. It’s disgusting and vile, which I know now. But at the time, I was so young and innocent and impressionable that I couldn’t discern what was right and what was wrong. Plus my mother entrusted me into this woman’s care, so how would I know? I was still developing my moral compass and learning life as I went. And I am being exposed to trauma more and more, so what did I really have to judge my life against? It’s truly disgusting what people do to children behind closed doors. She would make weird little comments about what I was watching, and ask me questions about it. I didn’t know what I was watching. I just knew at the time that it was shameful, and that the adults in the videos were doing stuff to each other that involved their private parts.

It made me really uncomfortable. But I was what, maybe 8 years old? I couldn’t even articulate what I was feeling, or really identify it quite frankly. It felt weird, gross, and scary. Was this normal? You mean, your parents don’t pay a late teenage woman money to babysit you and she forces you to watch adults fuck each other and use their mouths on each other while she asks you questions like “do you like what you’re seeing?” and “Do you think you could do that?” No? Just me? Gotcha. okay.

I hated going to her house. She made me uncomfortable. Sure, sometimes she would take me down to the park and we would play on the jungle gym and swing on swings and play with sidewalk chalk. But that didn’t ever truly matter to me. I was able to block out the other stuff at times, which was a skill I learned right about this time and carried with me for decades. This is what I refer to as “getting into my space shuttle”- total disassociation. And the “Time Capsule”- total compartmentalization. Burying it. Hiding it. Stuffing it down as far as I could.

As if the videos weren’t bad enough, it wasn’t long until she started showing her body to me. Same ol fucking routine. My mom would struggle to find a sitter, and last resort and old reliable was always there to take my mom’s money, she would come down and take me by the hand while I pleaded with my mother not to make me go. I was a child and couldn’t speak up for myself as to what was happening down there. I didn’t know how to. Would anyone even believe me? Who knows. She would take me by the hand, I would put my head down in shame, or maybe not. Sometimes I would walk down with her willingly and happily- the times that she would bribe me by showing up with a toy and without words convince me that today was gonna be one of the fun trips, and we were gonna have fun and play together. And sure as shit, as soon as we would get inside, she would block the hinge, and take her top and bra off. She would walk around in her panties and smoke cigs on the phone for hours. Sometimes with Porn on the TV and sometimes she would put cartoons on. One day, in an attempt i’m sure to “break the barrier” so to speak she kept insisting that I needed a bath. So she took me upstairs to bathe me. She was topless and had her boobs fully exposed as she did so and spent a lot of time touching me in very strange and uncomfortable places. Once she got me out of the tub, she wrapped me in a towel and sat me on the toilet while I had to watch her shower and play with herself. She was fucking sick. She even made me “model” for her one time. I suppose she was some kind of aspiring artist of sorts, and made me stand in the living room fully naked while she drew very up close and very detailed sketches of my privates. She did all of this totally naked. It was very uncomfortable for me. I began to fully realize that this was absolutely not supposed to be happening. And it was wrong.

I devised a plan. Not to tell on her, because I didn’t know how to, who to tell, what to say, or if they would even believe me. But to run away. The next time I was to be baby sat by her I was gonna find a way to escape. I waited until she was well into her topless phone conversation on the phone one day. And made a B-line for the back door, which was not wedged shut. I probably would have gotten away with just being a silly kid and wanting to “run outside to play” but I made the mistake of shouting over my shoulder as I ran, “I’m tellin on you!” and she proceeded to snatch me up by the arm just before I got to the door and pulled me back into the kitchen, and then the living room. Now I am terrified. She began screaming and scolding me as she put her clothes on and hung up the phone. The next couple minutes are a bit blurry, because I was in full blown survival mode at 8 years old, but I must have said something to make her mad. The next thing I know is that she is throwing me against the couch in the living room and spraying some kind of mist in my face. I had no idea at the time, but all I remember was that it burned and hurt like nothing I had ever experienced in my life. Like tiny little needles all over my face and all over my body. My eyes felt like fire and like I was being stung by thousands of tiny little bees.

My baby sitter. A young adult woman from my neighborhood. A woman who was not only entrusted with me, but paid to take good care of me. Was spraying me directly in the face with fucking mace because I was about to run away and tell someone that she was molesting me.

I believe something came over her, and she may have realized what she had just done. And that this was not a small deal. Because then she began to panic. I remember laying there squirming and bawling and wretching in pain. Not knowing what just happened or what I could possibly do about this. I had just tried to escape, and she forcibly stopped me. So what was I to do? I had never felt so helpless and defenseless, and vulnerable and scared in all of my life. I was truly beside myself in paralyzing fear. Why is life like this? What had I done to deserve such treatment? I peed myself. I cried. Everything from here was a blur. The next thing I knew I was surrounded by EMTs and paramedics. They were washing my little face off and the neighbors were outside and there was commotion and panic everywhere. Especially inside of me. My parents finally came driving up, as I am sure someone called them and had them come home. I remember them finally getting me into their arms and I felt safe again. I had never experienced such shock and fear.

And the thing that makes the whole thing particularly sick, is that the baby sitter had the fucking evil in her heart, she had the fucking audacity to turn around and blame the whole thing on me. She told the EMTs and police and my parents that I had gotten my hands on her keys which contained the mace canister and accidentally sprayed myself in the face with it, thinking it was perfume. And they fucking believed her. The only thing I could muster from my little mouth, was “No I didn’t, no I didn’t, no I didn’t”. But it didn’t matter. I was 8 and she was like 18. They took her word over mine. Thank God that my parents saw the mace thing as instance enough to never use her as a baby sitter again. God only knows what would have happened.

Be careful with your kids. Listen to what they’re not telling you. Ask questions.

Sometimes trauma looks like a toy and a trip to the park. We never really know what is going on behind closed doors

Big Bird

My parents worked a lot. Or at least that’s the narrative that was shared with me. Now, please forgive me ahead of time if some of my timelines don’t always add up 100%. I am trying to put all of this together as best I can as things occurred. I am told, and I remind you all that the blacking out of time is common when we are talking about trauma. So I am doing my best to piece all of this together so that it flows and hopefully it comes out like watching a movie. But anyways, I was told a lot of stories throughout my life by the adults around me, to the point to where I am still not sure to this day what was true and what was made up to “protect” me and my brothers. But looking back, and watching the movie of my life in my mind- a lot of shit did not make sense.

Another form of trauma that I would like to point out here, is abandonment trauma. I believe that this is probably the one that actually ended up affecting me the most throughout my life. I remember being very little, and I am not sure exactly how old, but I would venture a guess to say it was that “Pre Kindergarten” age. Not exactly sure how old, but I do know that I was able to comprehend something: That for some reason my dad was not there. He was not around and had not been for some time and to be honest with you, I still don’t know why. I don’t even know if I would be able to find out why if I tried today. The family has been so fractured over the years, and many are gone now. And it was so long ago now, I doubt if anyone would even remember what I’m talking about. But I know. I remember it very well. I remember waking up each day and actively looking for my dad. He was no where to be found and didn’t return home for a very long time. Or, a very long time as my mind could comprehend it. I do remember talking to him on the phone a few times during this period, and the only explanation I was offered at the time was always “Daddy is at work”. But I was just old enough to start actually computing things, and my very young spidy senses told me that if he was really at work, he certainly should have come home by now. I mean, he’s gotta come home to eat and to shower and to sleep once in a while right? Well that was not happening and it was really starting to weigh on me.

I remember, probably daily, asking my mom if daddy was coming home today. And I also remember the sadness and frustration in my mom’s voice every time she would respond with something like “No, Stevie, not today baby.” “Soon though, I promise.”

I was always very bonded to my dad. I am not exactly sure why, and I don’t regret it, but typically, or so I thought, younger littles tend to bond with mom more so than dad early on. But for me I was always stuck to my dads hip. He and I did everything together. Me him and Lucas were inseparable. We always called ourselves the Three Musketeers later on life- all for one, one for all. That was our motto. Dad even took me to work on many many occasions, when he was working at the cable company. He almost killed us both in a bulldozer one night while we were burning a bunch of trees and old tires working midnights for the city of Peachtree City, but that’s a whole nother story altogether. The point is that we were always tight. I think it was because I was his first born son. Josh, although he loved him very much was fathered by my mom’s first husband and so me and lucas were his only actual sons. His bio sons.

Any ways, apparently this particular separation really impacted me at the time, because it sticks out in my trauma bank and memories like a sore thumb. I remember literally bugging the absolute shit out of my mom daily about when my dad was coming home. Throwing tantrums over it, screaming and bawling saying things like “I want daddy”, etc. And on one particular evening, I had been watching cartoons, or barney or whatever the hell else I was into at that age, I remember vividly looking up at this old picture we had of my dad up on the wall. In the picture he was wearing this PCDC tee shirt (PCDC is Peachtree City Development Corporation), he had a mustache as always, and was kind of looking of at something over the photo taker’s shoulder and I absolutely Lost it! I was freaking out so badly that my mom had to call my aunt laureen over with her son, my cousin to come over and play with me. I just knew that I was being lied to, even at that age. Not with any kind of ill intent of course, but because to the adults around me there was no way that I could possibly comprehend the fact of where my dad really was for that time. I know this may not sound like a truly deep and historical trauma in my life, but remember this one, because it will make a little bit more sense later on.

But it’s interesting to me looking back on all of this, because I can see and feel it all as if it were happening right now. And in that time, while I am losing it over the picture on the wall, finally realizing that I am being lied to. That dad is not coming home, he is not at work like they say he is and finally blowing a gasket- it was fully confirmed to me when my aunt and cousin came in the door to help soothe me. My god the immense stress my poor mother must have been feeling at that time. I was going ape shit over my father’s absence, my mother gets on the phone and talks to someone who says they are coming over, and in walks not my dad, but my aunt and cousin. And that’s when it really hit me that he was gone somewhere else. Not to work and not returning any time soon. I don’t even recall the timeline that followed this a whole lot, and I don’t even remember him finally returning home. But I do remember that when he did come home, he brought me a Big Bird giant stuffed animal. So interesting. How this mind of mine works. I don’t know how long he was gone for, and apparently I was so overcome with emotion when he did come back, that I don’t recall his actual timeline for return, but I remember that damn Big Bird. So funny.

So what’s the point? I don’t know. But I am trying my best to share with you what all, I believe went into the making of my trauma brain. And I believe this season was part of it.

Another thing I am thinking about right now, is that this story here may not strike you as something overly traumatic and that’s okay. You have a right to feel that way. But just because something like this may or may not have impacted you the same way, doesn’t mean it didn’t me. Empathy. Don’t lose it. Just because “you/I/we” have suffered worse than someone else, doesn’t mean that the other person’s pain is invalid.

I still think about where the hell he was during all that time.

Snuggles and Popples

“You know, it’s funny, how something’s you can remember and something’s you can’t?” -Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump

I remember somehow, being told that I was going to be a big brother, very well. And it’s weird because I was only like 4 years old at the time, I think. That sounds about right. Obviously it came out of no where, but I somehow remember being told that I was going to have a little brother. Now, I can’t exactly tell you the outside details of this, like where we were living, or what day or month it was, but it was a big deal to me, which I believe is why I am able to recall it. My parents had told me they were expecting a baby, and that it was going to be a little boy, and that they had already named him Lucas. And I was so happy! I vividly remember asking my mom very regularly if the baby was ready yet. I was obsessed! It was all I could think about. I would touch my Mother’s belly all the time, and feel little Lucas kick and move around. I would even talk to him and lay on Mom’s belly to nap with my little brother. I was so excited to have my own little brother. I had already had a big brother, Josh, and he was awesome too, and I just knew that now having a third, and a little brother too would just complete everything! I was so happy and proud. Even though I had not met the little guy yet, I just knew he was gonna be my best friend for life!

I suppose my parents had told me that they were expecting a few, to several months into the pregnancy, and that’s how they had already known the gender of the baby and what they were naming him. So I can only calculate that at the time, there was only so many months to go, until he was here with us. But man did it feel like forever! I couldn’t wait to meet him I would sit on my Mom’s lap all the time and ask silly questions about what he was doing in there, and how could he breathe, and all of the innocent child questions in preparation of the delivery of my new lifelong friend.

Mom’s belly grew and grew! I remember being astonished at how big it got, and a little grossed out at my mom’s belly button. LOL. But that’s one of the many things that was so fascinating about how my mother’s body was changing to accommodate the little human that was growing inside her. I remember just feeling so many emotions. Everything from curiosity to pride, from excitement and anticipation to frustration that he wasn’t “ready” yet. It seems like every day I asked her or my dad if the baby was coming soon. I am more than sure I got on their very last nerve. But I am sure that they understood. I was a little one myself, and this was my very first experience with new life, and the process of it. And this was definitely my first experience with having a new brother. I thought about all of the things we would do together as we grew up. I couldn’t wait to hold him and kiss him and feed him and protect him. I was gonna be the best big brother ever!

The months dragged on, mom’s belly continued to balloon out, as lucas got bigger and bigger, and my excitement grew right along with it! I remember for Christmas that year my parents got a bunch of baby stuff for lucas and I got a “Snuggles” stuffed teddy bear in the mail from my Grama, and a “Popples” stuffed toy from my parents. I was so excited to have gotten them both and remember wanting to “share” the stuffed animals with my new little brother when he came. He was all I could think about. I already loved him so much. I held on to that damn Snuggles bear until I was like 12 years old, and it actually makes me a little sad to think about right now, but I wonder what ever happened to that stuffed bear of mine. Not in any kind of unhealthy way, but it sure would be nice to have him back, as an heirloom of my childhood to pass on to lil luke now. But he’s been gone for a long time. Ah, yes, “little luke”. You see, I love my little brother so much, that I named my only biological son after him. But that’s a whole nother tale.

Anyways, time marched on through the holidays, and I could tell that the baby was going to be coming soon! I could tell by the way people were acting, the way they were talking, and the new crib in our bedroom! I just couldn’t take it any longer! I was so excited. The days absolutely dragged on like molasses, but I did my best to remain as patient as I could. I knew it couldn’t possibly be much longer. I remember listening in on the adults’ conversations, specifically as it pertained to lucas coming. And I could tell it was going to be literally any day now. I remember the adults joking about what to do if Lucas was born on the 29th of February. It was Leap Year that year and there was a real chance he would be born on that day, so what would everyone do about his birthday each year? Looking back, it is obvious that they would just celebrate him on either the 28th or the 1st, but I clearly remember being so awe stricken that he would be such a “magical” baby right off the bat, I mean he only has a birthday every four years?! He will never grow old! He is gonna get to be with me forever! I was blown away by this concept. The day simply could not get her any faster! I made him a card and everything! I drew him a picture of chicken scratch, showing him all the wonderful things we were gonna do and all the cool stuff I was gonna show him!

And then the day finally came! I don’t know how it all got started, but I assume it was much like when every other baby in the world has ever been born. Mom’s water broke, or she could just tell it was time. But I do remember all the commotion of the day. The hustle and bustle. Mom and Dad taking off in the car and heading to the hospital. It was a lot to take in, and this is one of the interesting parts of the memory of it all, is I don’t remember who took me to the hospital later, or if it was even that same day. I don’t recall the exact time line, but I think that’s because it was just all so much to process and take in. But I do know that it was not a very long time in between. Maybe 12 to 24 hours tops. But I will never forget what took place after this. I was still a short little guy and once I got up into the hospital room area finally about to meet my new little brother, My dad scooped me up to take a look at him. And in my eyes, he was absolutely perfect! This tiny little red looking wrinkly little guy. Arms up at his sides, little bitty diaper on him, belly button bandaged up. Just sleeping in heavenly peace. And I remember just being in such awe, and loving him so much and just wanting to pick him up and hold him. I put my own little hand up on the glass, as if he could actually feel my presence, and in that moment he could. And I just wanted him to know that I was here and that I loved him and always would. And as the weight of the moment lessened and the scope of it all broadened, I was able to take it all in. And I finally noticed that he was in a clear looking tent thing, and that there were tubes and stuff connected to him. And Doctors were paying very close attention to him. And even though I was only a little guy myself, I could just feel in my heart that something was very wrong.

“Is he sick dad?” “Please tell me he’s okay” Is what I can literally feel myself asking my dad, even right now as I write this entry. This moment is so very much branded onto my heart. But in my 4, almost 5 year old vocabulary it probably sounded something like, “what’s wong wit him” “Lukie sick?” But I remember the overwhelm. I remember the fear and the heartbreak so very well. My eyes mist just recalling all of this. I just couldn’t understand how all of this was happening. Did I do something wrong? Did I touch Mom’s belly too much? Not enough? Does he not want to stay with us? I remember being so scared and confused by all of this, and almost paralyzed. And what I am able to process about all of this now, and with the help of a therapist, is that this was my first traumatic event. Perhaps that’s why some of the details leading up, during, and after are so vivid and some are non existent or blacked out. I was experiencing overwhelm and traumatic stress for the very first time at the age of almost 5 and I just didn’t posses the faculties to process it all and it all came together as paralyzing shock.

In the days to come, my parents and I stayed right there in the hospital loving lucas and being there for him and with him. I remember at one point my Grand Mother, my mom’s mom coming to try and take me out of there. To take me home to get me some rest and give my parents a break, and I went absolutely Ape Shit. I think I bit and kicked her. And I am sorry for that, but I was a little guy and there wasn’t anyone about to separate me from lucas. He needed me to be there and I was his big brother and I was fucking staying. I didn’t care who you were or what you tried, I was not leaving that hospital. And after pitching such a fit and going crazy on my grandma, they let me stay. And I stayed in that hospital with my parents every second that they did. I believe from what I am told, that I ended up staying there with them, even over night, for a total of about 2 weeks as lucas battled pneumonia. He had somehow ended up with a very serious case of pneumonia and was clinging to life inside that tent. The tent and the tubes were what were taking care of him and there were a few times when things looked grim. But in true Stepherson fashion, he wasn’t going out without a serious fight, and he would go on to overcome it! And I was there when they finally took him off of everything, removed him from the tent, and put him in swaddling and brought him out to us. I just knew he was gonna make it and I am so happy that I was there to protect him through it all! I finally got to hold my little brother with the help of my parents and we just stared at each others eyes and I cried and was so happy! I showed him snuggles and popples and told lucas that it was us three, me and the stuffed animals he had to thank for being able to get better. We had his back and he was gonna be safe as long as he has us three and Josh he had nothing to worry about!

I remember such a peace and ease and joy and happiness coming into the world as we were finally able to take him home. The car ride back to the house, all I could do was talk to little lucas, and tell him everything! It was one of the best days of my life. But what I didn’t know then, or up until recently is that all of this little glimpse of my life, all of this happening. This event, and everything building up to it, was my very first trauma. Even though it had a happy ending, all the in’s and out’s of it were very much traumatic for me, and for many I am sure. But that was okay in the moment. Lucas was coming home, and he had me, snuggles, and Popples to protect him.