Friday was release day for a book I wrote called Beacon, book one of the Nation of Five series. The book is about young men and an impossible task they set before themselves. Well, I know a lot about impossible tasks. I’m a DID survivor who suffers from hallucinations. I have bipolar and Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder. Getting through a day where I make dinner, hang out with my kids, be a husband to my wife, and not end the day screaming, is the completion of an impossible task. Well, it may be an impossible task that’s undertaken in the book Beacon, but it’s only even considered because of the friendship between four boys. Four teenage boys attempt this daunting feat. Got me thinking about the boys and men in my life. And so this weekend to celebrate the release of Beacon, I will be dropping upon you chapters from Reality of the Unreal Mind. These chapters are from the unreleased third volume, titled The Keep. I start at 7:30 in the evening on Friday, and will end at 9 at night on Sunday. So follow me now into the story of the men who made me possible.
What do I have from the early years?
Well, my grandparents’ house was the place to be. Uncle Ball’s friends came by, Uncle Wrath’s. They would gather in the kitchen. It was pretty big, as I remember it, but the last time I was there I was about thirteen. The counters were large and the cabinets shallow, and it was exactly the right size to fit a teenager’s ass. So, lined up along all the cabinets sat teenagers. My grandfather had a throne, and my grandma, then there was a lot of standing room and the fun would start. There were jokes, a lot of cussing, and I heard stories about the “gangs” in my Uncle Ball’s school.
Swirlies. Wedgies. I heard a lot about bullying. I am not sure that my uncle was involved in the bullying, but I can’t be sure. His friends had a lot to say about basketball. About baseball, and all of this. But Ball is not where I want the camera to swing tonight. Maybe he will get a chapter, but Guardian is still pretty pissed about the kids. What I want to spend time on is Uncle Wrath and the time we spent together in the end. It will take a while to get there, but let’s get started.
First the whiskey.
I remember a lot of drinking was done at my grandparents’ house. Grandma liked screwdrivers. Grandpa, beer and whiskey, I think. Uncle Wrath’s crew came in a lot and everyone had a drink in their hand. Sly kept the place laughing. Bramble flirted with my mother, whether she was married or not. And I would climb Giant.
Well one day at that house, while amazing stories were flying around my head and I was riding my grandma’s table, someone pulled a bottle of whiskey out and poured a shot.
Shit, the riding the table thing. Well let’s get into that before I tell about my first shot of whiskey.
I was very short and I wanted to be at that table. They would try to chase me away, but I would come back from the living room, or wherever the kids were set up, every time so I could hear the stories. I liked to stand between grandfather and grandma because that was where the most cigarette smoke was, and I liked the smell. So I would end up either jumping up on the table, catching myself with my elbows, and swinging my legs, or I would plant my elbows and lean on the table. I was pretty excited all the time I was there, so I would be swinging or jumping up and catching myself on that table, and about every twenty minutes my grandma would yell at me.
“Quit riding the damn table, Jesse, or I am kicking you out. You’re ruining my table!” It sounded like yelling back then, and there was a bit of cursing because this was before Grandma moved down to Missouri and reignited the Southern Baptist flame in her soul. I would drop down and run to Grandfather, who would wrap an arm around me and pull me in tight. He would scowl at her, and his scowl could stop a room. He would drink and laugh, and soon I would be back on the table.
Well, one day the whiskey is poured and Uncle Wrath dropped it in front of me. “Go ahead, Jesse, drink it,” he said. The room burst into laughter and my mother started up.
“No! Wrath, God dammit, you are not getting my kid drunk. He is only six years old and that stuff will kill him.”
My mother ran to get me, but I looked up, saw a room full of men I adored looking at me with devilish smiles, and I picked it up.
“One big gulp,” Sly said.
And I shot a glass of whiskey.
I remember it burned like fire all the way down my throat and into my gut. I had never felt something travel down to my gut before. I stared at Wrath, who smiled, and I dropped my forehead on the empty chair before me. I pounded my tiny fists on both sides of the chair top, and I don’t remember thinking anything. I don’t remember feeling anything. I just pounded my fists with my head planted in the seat of that chair as the entire room dropped to complete silence.
I threw my head up, swaying, and looked around. Every face was frozen in anticipation. They didn’t know if I would wail or throw up. Scream or laugh. They didn’t know if I would fall down or run. No one knew what to expect, but every eye was on me.
I grabbed my shot glass and held it up to Wrath. “Give me another piece of that whiskey,” I slurred.
The room broke into applause and laughter, and Uncle Wrath smiled at me and laughed. When Wrath does that, you are the only person in the world. He makes you feel important and impressive, as if you are special and one of his guys. He grabbed the bottle, made to pour me another shot, and my mother snatched the glass out of my hand and pulled me away.
“No sir, he has had enough, Wrath. No!” Rose said.
The room groaned and I stumbled back with my mother. The entire room began to spin. Giant caught me, picked me up, and placed me on his shoulders. I swayed while I was up there, and all the guys patted me on the back and asked if I was okay. My stomach felt sick, but I was fine.
I talked. Everyone listened. I laughed and told stories, and all of them hung on my every word. I was interrupted and everyone shushed the person interrupting me. I was the star of the show, and I was very, very drunk.
I never threw up, but I fell asleep on the car ride home, and that is all I remember.
Once he was married and away from his crew, Uncle Wrath was a different man.
See, tragedy had struck the group he hung out with. I don’t know the details, so I won’t get into it. I love those men too much to write their history out of ignorance, but I do know that one of them died, bad. It scared Wrath and he joined the army. When, I don’t know. He might have been home on leave when he gave me the whiskey. All the stories I have of him and his crew might be on visits he had on leave.
But he got out of the army and stayed in Waynesville, Missouri, right next to the last base he had been stationed at. My grandparents had little money, and the city life was fast around them, so he talked them into moving down by him. And so, little at a time, everyone but my Aunt moved to Waynesville.
When we got there, Uncle Wrath was larger than life. He met us at the door to our house the day we arrived, and with Uncle Ball, he led a family-wide unloading of the moving truck that took less than an hour. He commanded everyone grab something and drop it off in the living room, and when we were done, we had a living room filled to the brim with every bit of furniture.
Moving furniture where it belonged and every box to its proper place took ages. Moving into that house was made so much more difficult, but this is how Wrath saw it.
He knew he was going to have to help. It was nearing summer in Missouri and he didn’t want to be there all day. He unloaded that truck as fast as he could so he could go home, and left us with the chore of cleaning up after. It became the tone for the relationship with him. He never wanted to wait. He always wanted to be in charge and it was always done his way.
See, my grandfather had always run the family as he saw fit and everyone fell in line. But after his heart attacks, he was left quiet and had given up the ruling of the family. Someone had to step in and keep the family rolling, and that job fell to Uncle Wrath.
He loved baseball cards and had always taught me about them, but when he got to Missouri it became a different kind of fascination for him. He could sell them and make a profit, so he immediately set to it.
He bought in bulk. He bought entire collections, and he had a few rooms of his trailer dedicated to baseball cards. He was always sorting and stacking, and with my aunt’s help, he made a business out of it.
He would take me to shows, where he sold copious amounts of baseball cards. He started buying up other collectibles and selling them, and within about four years, he bought a huge house with a massive yard partially on the profits of his collectibles.
He taught me something almost every time I was with him. He was a force to reckon with in all things, and I was fascinated with him. When I was in the room with Uncle Wrath, I would just stare at him, transfixed by the things he said and the things he did. The things that made him smile puzzled me at times, but always I was watching when he was in the room.
Now when I was a senior in high school, I was planning to go into the army, and he was excited. At my grandmother’s, they had a bit of a going away thing for me. At the end of that night, before he left, he pulled me aside. Took me out into the night of the driveway and pulled me close.
“Whatever you do, do not let your mother get ahold of your money,” he said.
I froze. I didn’t ask him why. I just stared at him.
“Tell me I am wrong if I am, but if I know my sister, she has already come up with some sort of twisted plan to get her hands on that money.”
I opened my mouth to talk.
He held up his finger. “Matter of fact, don’t tell me. It will just piss me off. But you know I am right. I can tell by your face. Don’t let her do it. That will be how she controls you.” He slapped my shoulder. “You’re going to do fine.”
In the car and off he went.
And she did have a plan to get my money. Her house, the house I had grown up in, was right down the street from the fort I would do basic at. I would also do my truck driver training there. She and I, mostly she, came up with a plan where I would send her all my money and she would put it in savings for me. Otherwise I would blow it on things I didn’t need. When I got off on weekend leave, I would come and stay at her house in the room she had set up for me, and she would give me a little bit of my money so I could do whatever I wanted.
I would not be drinking all my money away like the other stupid guys in basic training. I would be saving it, and when I was done I would have a “nest egg” to get myself on my feet. It was her plan, but she made me think it was mine. She even started the savings account.
When Uncle Wrath said what he did, he walked away and stopped at the door to his car, might have been a truck. “When you get out of that house, you’re a man.” He pointed his finger at me. “Don’t let her tell you that you are anything else.”
When Guardian’s War with my family had been fought and lost, Uncle Wrath was the only one who came to find me. He called, having found my number in South Towers, and wanted to get together with me.
He and my aunt came to see me. Saw the apartment. Saw that it was not wholly bad. They took me out for dinners, talked to me, and welcomed me into their home. My aunt seemed proud of me. She told me often that I had done the right thing.
They came to my house with food. They came to my house with money. They visited me often.
This was until I found out that Uncle Ball was letting Grasp back into the kids’ lives. When I found that out, I stopped answering their calls. I stopped going out to see them and I stopped all contact with them.
I managed to go to my cousin’s wedding. Otherwise, nothing.
A few years later, when talking to his daughter Tigress, she said that Uncle Wrath had said Grasp was “quite a man.”
She said they would have to agree to disagree.
Since he said that, I have not gotten ahold of him. I have not reached out to him at all. I feel the loss of Uncle Wrath deeply. He and I will never see eye to eye.
And I will never get another piece of that whiskey from him.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep.