This month’s author of the month is a young man my husband and I met while searching for a nice restaurant in our area. We live in a rural area now and getting a nice dinner seemed out of the question until we landed at a locally owned BBQ place with a unique menu. After our first visit we made friends with several staff members, some more special than others.
Ryan was one those uncommon people who leave you better than they found you and once you read his story you’ll understand why. He has a flare for words. Only “flare” is not a word to describe his gift for writing. Passionate, raw, and exquisite are far better adjectives. I must warn you, the story below will cause you to remember when someone touched you with angry hands or flung their words across your face with intensity and cruelty. It will take you inside the soul of a shattered young man who was rescued by a book of all things. Words do have power, and this story will leave you wanting more. You can find Ryan Hunters on Tumblr and hopefully one day in a book store near you!
“Satan is a Bald Man Drinking Bud Light”
I don’t tend to talk about the past, or how I got to be who I am now. If you’ve heard my stories before they all tend to happen between the ages of sixteen to present. There’s always a reason for such a gap, but sometimes the story begs to be told anyway.
My mother and father divorced within a year of me being born, and despite them telling me repeatedly that it wasn’t my fault, after all I was just a baby, I couldn’t help but blame myself for their divorce growing up. My mother became the single mother, raising her son, while working sixty to eighty hours a week at two different jobs. Saturdays would come, her only day off, and my weekend. While I was young I learned that even if that was our day, there were rules. I did not wake her, and let her catch up on sleep. This required me learning to be self-sufficient very early on. Most parents would cringe at the thoughts of a four or five year old cooking in a kitchen unsupervised, but it allowed myself not only to eat, but for my mother to wake up sometime after noon to food already prepared for her. While often nothing more than slightly burned bacon, eggs, and toast it was the thought that mattered.
Yet we were still what you would call struggling poor, I never knew for certain why we moved so often, seventeen times in a few years, but I always assumed it was the money. Yet worries seemed to diminish for a few months after my fifth birthday my parents started seeing each other again. Those few months seemed great to me, yet like most fairy tales, it was not meant to last. Within the year they stopped seeing each other, and my mother and I moved in with another man, who I learned would soon be my step-father (a foreign concept for he was never a father to me), and that I would soon have a brother (or half brother, as he is not, nor ever will be my father). Welcome Home.
The first few memories I had once we moved in with him to this day stay vague, perhaps on purpose, just the smell of Marlboro reds and bud light everywhere, then my first black eye. When my mother asked about it, I blamed a boy in the neighborhood. She told me just to stay away from him, but there were no boys in our neighborhood beside myself, and she knew that. My mother went into labor on April fools day with my brother, and no one believed her, we did believe my step father was going to attack my father when he picked me up from the hospital that afternoon to take me for a few days, good deeds never go unpunished, but the fight was not that day. Slightly over a year later my (half, once more) sister was born. Once again the fight was delayed.
Shortly after she was born, we built our own home. This was it, the complete family abode, our place of safety, which was never quite safe. Meanwhile we had to invest in bigger trashcans, bud light cans take up a lot of space. Around the age of nine I stole my first Marlboro, and was promptly caught. When my mother saw the burn marks on my arm, I told her it was from the electric fence. I was told to be careful.
A year or so later, we constructed the first barn, and since I was getting older I was put to work to help in the construction. A “random” 2×4 slammed across my temple on the third day of construction, and I awoke on the ground with my head still ringing, seeing that I had fallen from the roof. I staggered off towards the house, yet never made it. I passed out from my first migraine, yet it would not be the last.
I open my eyes again and I am twelve years old. The divorce papers have stated since 1991 that I can choose which parent I wanted to live with at the age of thirteen, I’m counting down the days. But I can’t leave my mother. I didn’t get a birthday party that year, I invited only male friends that had come the year before, I was promptly informed such behavior was gay, and had all previous plans cancelled. It was okay; my friends hated coming out anyway. It was during this time that my mother got a job in the school systems. Our pantry began to hold the most food I had ever seen in it. But then my stepfather lost his job. Food went back to how it had always been. That was the year we had to kill three of our cows to eat. That was also the year that the knife hilts in the house began to crack, and the year of full body second-degree sunburns. When my father sees those pictures to this day he still cries.
For my father love was a Toyota truck, in this truck is where we got to talk one weekend a month as he got his partial custody. Then one day he took me back to my moms, only to drive up to an angry storm of cheap hops wreaking destruction. He never forgave my step dad for the dents he put into his truck with his fists, my step dad never forgave my father for the teeth he lost that day. I went and cried that night; I slept with a knife under my pillow from then on, just in case.
If you could find my old chest of drawers, you’d have a hard time missing the massive dent on the front, the one that matches my brother’s back almost perfectly. I had never felt such rage, but had already learned I had no control.
I am finally thirteen…I can’t move. I can’t leave my mother in this beast’s cave alone. I keep wearing long sleeves in the summer, everyone calls me fashionable, I just wanted to keep their eyes off of me. This was the year that a horse almost liberated us all. One drunken Sunday (like they all were) my stepfather decided to take on an unbroken horse. The horse won, throwing him like a rag doll to the ground and proceeding to stomp him. The doctors said the horse missed his heart by four inches, and missed his skull by less than an inch, they could sew the ear that had been ripped off back on, but hearing would be missing on that side. I fed the horse many sugar cubes that day, that night he shot the horse.
It’s October, and I’m realizing I love my English class. My teacher seems to truly care and keeps holding me back, she seems suspicious of me for something. I put it out of my mind. She changes the syllabus and introduces us to the book The Outsiders, this became the only book I’ve never finished. I cannot truthfully tell you how far I got in the book before I started to cry, I can say it wasn’t much longer before I had a complete mental break down. I closed my eyes, when I opened them; it was only my English teacher and myself. I started telling my story as memories flooded back to me, she picked me up and took me to the counselor of the school. They both heard my story, and before I knew it police were guarding the door to this office, I feared what I had done, but knew I had no choice. I assumed (being young and naïve) that the cops would take me away, yet was assured they were there to protect me, and that I would not be touched. My dad appeared within twenty minutes. The counselor spoke with him; I don’t know what was said. Then cops escorted me to my fathers Toyota, and proceeded to escort us to Campbellsville.
I broke my mothers heart when I told her I couldn’t live with her as long as that man was there. I told her that I loved her but I couldn’t be in that house. Within a few years as my siblings went to college they offered similar responses, I always felt terrible, I abandoned them in seeking safety, they didn’t have that option.
I am who I am, because one teacher saw through my disguise and asked me to be open, and because a piece of literature saved me from something I was too afraid to face on my own. I realized I was not alone, and that no one deserves to be treated that way. I will always remember him asking me why I kept my nose in books and my head in the clouds; the answer was survival, for those “damned” books were my safe haven, a place he couldn’t invade. The books were my home.