December 24th, 2007
“Hey, you girly boy! Get off your worthless butt, and get down here! It’s suppertime!”, yelled a gruff voice in disgust. “Or you can stay up there, you loser, I don’t care!”
A couple of young voices chanted in unison: “Girly boy loser! Girly boy loser!” One of them, a boy whose voice was changing, continued, “Hey, fairy, we got ya some pink panties for Chri-“
A woman stormed in from the kitchen, and got in the boy’s face, cutting him off mid-sentence. “That’s enough, Carl! There’s no reason to be like that on Christmas Eve!”
The other boy, older than the first, stuck his finger in the woman’s face. “Bitch, you ain’t tellin’ us nothin’ “, he yelled. “You ain’t our momma!”
The man stood up. “Boys, That’s enough!”, he said, face reddened with anger. “You will not disrespect your stepmother in this house! Now, apologize, and sit down!”
The younger boy, was 14 years old, and was midway through his growth spurt. He could stare his stepmother directly in the eye, but decided to cast them down, his greasy, shaggy brown hair covering them. “Sorry”, he mumbled in a low tone, and sat down at the kitchen table.
The older boy remained standing, defiant, staring at the woman he hated. He was old enough to remember his father at home, and blamed the woman across the room for his father leaving, although this was not true, as his father was promiscuous years before his first marriage crumbled. No greasy hair covered his brown eyes, as he kept his hair almost to a buzz cut. 16 and feeling every year of it, he stood every bit of his father’s 5’10”, and carried some of his father’s stocky build, although he was not obese, as his father was.
“Rick. Park it. Now.”, repeated the gruff voice, full of authority, and anger. Frank Howe may have been 100 pounds overweight, and on medical disability from his job at an auto assembly plant, but he was not going to be embarrassed by anyone, much less a punk kid. Without apologizing, the boy sat next to his brother, staring off into space.
Sylvia Howe took a deep breath, all the while not acknowledging her husband, or his two sons. “Soon, their mother will be here, and the boys will be gone.”, she thought to herself, and turned her attention to the stairs. Softly, she spoke: “Dakotah. Dakotah, honey. It’s time for supper. I made your favorite. Fried pork chops, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese. C’mon, sweetie.”
A door opened in the upstairs hall. the light went out, and the door closed again. Without a sound, a wraithlike figure appeared at the top of the stairs. Although only six feet tall, his ectomorphic frame made him look six inches taller. Thin, straight, shoulder length sandy hair that framed a pallid face also contributed to his ghostlike appearance.
“Nice of you to join us.”, Frank scowled. He never cared much for Dakotah in the ten years that he knew him, nine of which was in Sylvia’s house. Dakotah was always soft, weak, and too quiet. Never showed interest in girls, or in boys either, somewhat to his relief. He was glad they didn’t carry guns in the house, as he thought his stepson would someday snap, and shoot them all up, as well as many as he could at school.
Dakotah sat without making a sound. His mother handed him a plate with pork chops on it, and he selected the most browned one, which was also the largest. “Hey, that was mine!”, yelled Carl. “Sylvia, you promised!” She took a chop, nearly as large as the first one, and put it on his plate.
“That’s not the biggest! I want his!”, the younger brother continued to whine. “See brother, I knew we wouldn’t get treated right here! Dad, make him switch me his pork chop!”
“Yours is big enough!”, interjected his father. “Has your mother spoiled you so much that you’re going to bitch over less of an ounce of pork chop? Shut up, and get some mashed potatoes.”
“She don’t make them right!”, continued Rick, becoming louder and more shrill, his pubescent voice cracking under the strain. “They’re always too lumpy, and there’s not enough butter in them!”
“Shut up, you loser!”, snapped Rick to his younger brother. “You’re always crying about something. I wished you stayed home. No, I take that back. I wished I stayed home. God, I wished I stayed home! “
Dakotah stood up, and switched his plate with Carl, taking the pork chop that his brother had, and putting it on the pile. “Here.”, he said in a low, quiet voice. “I’m not very hungry, anyway.”
His mother looked her son with eyes wide open. “But this is your favorite! Why are you doing this? Son, I beg of you, sit, and eat!”
Dakotah gave the slightest of smiles. “I’m just giving him my coat, mom. I think I’m going to get some fresh air, and go visit Grandma for a little while. Besides, it’s snowing a little bit, and I like how the town looks with a fresh layer.” He put on his heavy coat, his rubber boots, and his leather gloves. He turned to his stepbrothers with a big smile, and shouted, “Merry Christmas, guys! Hope you get what you want!” Opening the door, he said, in a lower tone, “Love you, mom!”, and he stepped out into the snowy darkness.
“Fag”, muttered Rick. Carl wasn’t saying anything, as he was chowing on his second pork chop.
Frank shook his head. “I hope that loser gets out of the house quick, after he graduates.”, he thought to himself.
Dakotah took a deep breath, and exhaled as he stepped off the porch. “Well, that’s over”, he said to himself. “I so wish I was out of here. I don’t even care where. Afghanistan or North Korea’s gotta be better than this.”
Keeping a lackadaisical pace, he looked both ways, and seeing no traffic, crossed the street. It was only a half mile walk to his grandmother’s, but he was in no hurry, even as he noticed the snow coming down harder. “Awesome.”, he thought. “National Weather Service said six inches tonight. Might get more. That’d be cool!”
He continued on, awash in the extra light the snow reflected, and in the silence it brought. He began to relax, and his eyes began to moisten. “Lord, why do you put me through this? I haven’t done anything to deserve all the crap people put me through. I hate my life, I hate it. I’m a loser in school, I’m a loser at home, I really don’t have any friends to speak of, girls mock me, and freshmen even want to pick fights. I just don’t understand.”
Stopping, his eyes remained down. Dakotah still had a couple of more blocks to go before he reached his Grandma’s, and he didn’t want her to see him crying. “She worries too much about me as it is.”, he thought.
Just then, he looked up, and saw one of the nicer Christmas displays in town. There wasn’t any inflatable snowmen or animated Santas, just a 3/4 scale Nativity, with lighted angels suspended from wires above. Christmas hymns played from a speaker within the manger. Dakotah listened to the one playing at the moment:
What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
” I guess you didn’t have it too easy either, did you?”, Dakotah said aloud. “I’d better get before I get too wet. Grandma’d have a fit.” With that, he picked up the pace, hustling the rest of the way.
Dakotah’s paternal grandmother lived in a simple small Cape Cod style house with white aluminum siding, green shutters, and a small porch. No Christmas lights adorned it, and there was only one room lit, a heavy blind blocking most of the light from escaping. Surrounded with hedges and small gardens, the home was park-like during the warmer seasons, but seemed oddly bleak now.
He knocked on the door: “Grandma, it’s me!”, he yelled.
“Me, who?”, a voice shouted from within.
“C’mon, Grandma, it’s me! Your grandson. Dakotah!”, he shouted back, a little perturbed.
The door opened, revealing a thin gray-haired lady in a Christmas themed green housecoat. “Get your rear end in here and get that wet stuff off before you catch pneumonia!”, she scolded. “Didn’t I teach you better than that?”
“Yes, Grandma”, Dakotah replied, somewhat dejectedly. “Couldn’t you tell it was me outside?”
“Sweetie, don’t you remember when your father used to drop you off while he was on he way to work, and your grandpa would answer you that way when you knocked on the door, and said “me”?”, she replied. “Do you even remember your father? Take that coat off. I’ll go get you some dry clothes.” She hurried off to her bedroom.
“Barely.”, he replied, staring blankly. “I wish she hadn’t brought him up.”, he thought. “How old was I, when he left? Four? Five? I wouldn’t know what he looked like, if it wasn’t for the pictures hanging on the walls in this house.”
After a minute, she brought out an old red flannel shirt, and some blue sweatpants. “Here, Dak, put these on.”, she ordered. They’re a little short on you, but it’ll do while your clothes dry out.”
Dakotah looked at the clothes uneasily. “Aren’t these grandpa’s?”, he asked, warily, as if they had some unknown disease.
“Why sure they are.”, she said, with a hint of irritation. “What’s wrong with them?”
“But he’s …….dead.”
“So? It’s not like he died in them! Boy, when you get a little age to you, you’ll realize that you have to be practical, and make do with what you got! A lot of people wanted me to sell this place, and move to a retirement community after your grandpa died. Now, why would I do a foolish thing like that? It’s paid for, everything’s in good shape, and most importantly, most of my memories, good and bad, are in this place! See that kitchen table in there? I’ve had it ever since we were married. I can’t tell you how many thousands of times your grandpa Harry and I shared meals and talked and played cards on that table.” She wiped a tear.
Dakotah felt a tear too. “If Grandpa being gone still hurts, then why don’t you leave for a happier place? Leave the pain behind for a new tomorrow?”
“Boy, if you weren’t a kid, and my grandson, I’d be tempted to give you a cussin’.”, she shot back. “You can’t run from pain, Dakotah. Pain and suffering, and how you deal with it, makes a person who they are a lot more than even love. People nowadays want to cover up pain. Hide it. Numb it. Run away from it. It makes them weak, so when things get worse, and trust me, it always will get worse, they just can’t cope. You have to embrace the pain, learn to conquer it. Pray for the Lord to take it,, if it is His will. Most of the time, He won’t, because He knows you need it to grow stronger.” She looked Dakotah in the eye. “You want to know about your daddy?”
“N-not really.”, he stammered. His mother never spoke of him, especially after Frank moved in. And he was perfectly okay with that.
“Well, too bad.”, she said, forcefully. “It’s high time you knew about him. You’re 18, and all but grown. I’ll call your mama, and tell her you’re spending the night here. And get your butt in that bathroom, and change, I don’t want you seeing your grandpa anytime soon!”
Dakotah emerged a few minutes later, dry and warm. He heard his grandmother talking animatedly over the telephone.
“Don’t worry; he’ll be over first thing in the morning. I really don’t give a damn what that fatass loser husband of yours thinks. It’s more Dakotah’s house over there than Frank’s, anyway. Goodnight, Sylvia.”
“G-g-grandma?”, Dakotah stammered. He’d never heard his grandmother talk like that to anyone before, much less his mother.
“I’m sorry, Dak, but sometimes people just tick me off, and that crew over there does a pretty consistent job. I love your mother like a daughter, but she’s so stupid sometimes, especially when it comes to men. You can see that Frank’s no good, that he’s just using her for a place to live.”
“Your mother is insecure, and feels like she needs a man to take care of her, which is ironic, since she wound up having to take care of the two men that’s been in her life, first your father, then Frank. Sometimes I think she’s hanging on by just a thread.”
And YOU!”, she exclaimed, pointer her finger at him. “You’re not helping matters much! What’s this I hear about you walking out of the meal your mother cooked? You hurt her feelings, and I expect you to apologize to her tomorrow morning when you see her. You’re better than that, and you know it.”
“Grandma, it was horrible over there!”, he retorted. Those boys were calling me names, cussing Mom, just being a couple of brats. Of course, Frank wasn’t helping.”
“So your solution was to give the boy your pork chop, and leave.”
“What was I supposed to do? Take the pork chop and smack Carl across the face with it? I would’ve got pounded, if not by Rick, then by Frank. I did what Jesus said, and offered him my coat.”
“Dak, honey, it’s not that simple.”, his grandmother said, sadly. “Jesus was also so disgusted with the moneychangers, he ran them out of the temple, quite forcibly. And when he comes back, he’s going to judge the whole world, and a lot of folks aren’t going to need coats or cloaks where they’re going. I’m sure you’ve heard of World War 2?”
“Sometimes you have to fight evil for the greater good.”, she continued. “What would the world have been like if we didn’t fight? I know I wouldn’t want to live in it. Let me show you something.”
She reached into a large oak bookcase, and pulled out an old photo album. She turned the pages to one of a soldier. “That’s my Uncle Zachary, your great-great uncle. He was killed in Italy.” She flipped a couple more pages, showing a man in a Marine uniform. “This was my cousin Cecil. He was killed on Iwo Jima”
Dakotah stared at the photographs. They were young men, not much older, if any, than he was.
“Now Dak, was the United States in the wrong for going to war against Germany and Japan? According to you, if the U.S. was to follow your example, we would just let them walk over us, and enslave us? Is this right?”
Dakotah became confused. “I-I don’t know.”
“You see, the passage you drew you inspiration from tonight doesn’t mean for you to let the oppressors walk all over you. It means that you must forgive them, and help them, if necessary. Tell me, what did we do to the Axis powers after we won the war?”
Dakotah thought for a minute. “We rebuilt their countries?”
“That’s correct, Dak.” Although part of Germany was divided to the Soviet Union as part of the peace process, most of Germany, and all of Japan, was rebuilt, largely by the U.S. In centuries past, to the victor went the spoils of war. We instead followed Jesus’ example, forgave our enemies, and help them rebuild, so that today, Japan and Germany are two of the larger economies in the world. Now do you understand?”
Dakotah was trying to understand. “A little. So I should stand up to Frank and the boys, even if it means I get my butt kicked?”
“Yes, though I doubt it would come to that, especially in Frank’s case.”, she said, reassuringly. “I believe your mother feels she’s all alone in this fight, that you’re not someone she could depend on. It’s time for you to step up. So far, in your life, you’ve never been made accountable for anything, save your grades, and maybe the cleanliness of your room. Your ancestors had to make a tough choice, and ultimately made the supreme sacrifice, so you, I, your mother, even Frank and the boys, could live in freedom. I think the least you could do is grow a little backbone.”
She smiled. “Now, do you want something to eat? I have some leftover baked ham in the fridge. I’m just getting warmed up, and you need some energy so can comprehend all this grown-up stuff.”
“Why are you unloading this on me now, on Christmas Eve? Couldn’t you have given me bits and pieces of this info over the years?”
“Because I wanted to wait and see if you would pick up anything on your own, and to see if your mother would teach you anything. Looks like a big fat no, on both accounts. So tonight, on the eve of Christ’s birth, is another birth, of sorts. Yours, into adulthood.”