"Life isn't fair, son, and anybody who said otherwise is full of shit."

Wise words from a woman who learned the hard way - my mom. She desperately wanted me to not have to learn the hard way, but I did anyway, thanks to a combination of youthful folly, willful ignorance, and personal exceptionalism. She grew up dirt poor, with a single mother, in an era where that sort of thing wasn't even talked about, let alone accepted.

No, she didn't want it to be hard, but a lot of the choices I made for myself were deliberately that way. Maybe to prove I could do it. Maybe to prove I didn't have to take the easy way. Maybe to prove I could handle anything life could throw at me. Yeah, it was probably all of that and then some, I guess. But then, I learned the really hard way about a lot of things before I ever had a chance to give it all the finger and paddle out.

Old man didn't have a lot by way of practical advice until much later in my life. He was mostly content to illustrate his lessons by a sort of exaggerated, negative example. Blackout drunks, roaring anger, and abuse told me everything I needed to know about the dark corners of my genetic inheritance and what to look out for. It was mostly scathing, self-esteem crushing verbal abuse, but I got my fair share of sick days off school until the bruises faded.

Spent a lot of time crying. My mom did, too, but she never had the courage to leave him. She decided, after two aborted attempts at taking us away from him, that it was better "for the kids" to stay with him. Looking back, well, she probably shouldn't have, even if it'd meant him drinking himself to death in our absence. About the only thing that kept him together was knowing he had to be at least sober enough to not get into trouble at work, because he had to provide for us. Crush us into piles of whimpering jelly, sure, but Goddamn if there wasn't food on the table, new clothes for school, and a pile of glittering presents in the livingroom every Christmas morning.

He was a hard man. Is a hard man. I remember the first time I had to sucker punch him to end what my mom calls "a rage".

He and mom had gone out drinking. Dad came home a few hours later, pissed off. He promptly went to bed. Mom wasn't with him.

Four hours later she came home with two black eyes, covered in her own blood and vomit. After dad had left, she'd stuck around and kept drinking. At some indeterminate point later, she'd been ambushed in the womens' bathroom at the bar by some methed out bitch who thought my mom was someone else. And so, while I'm trying to clean my fall-down drunk mother up and get her into some of my clothes, the old man wakes up.

He came trundling out of the bedroom, eyes glazed and half closed, lit cigarette in his mouth, and spewing some of the most vile, horrible shit I've ever heard come from a human being.

Among other inhuman abuse, he was offering to "drive (my mom) down to the bar to go another round with whoever did (my dad) the biggest favor of (his) life", and telling her how much she deserved it for being "a dumb, drunk bitch cunt who doesn't even appreciate her husband".

My mom was incoherently drunk, still, and trying to explain what happened to him, wounded animal hurt pouring out of her physically and emotionally, and he just stood there drinking it in and aiming for every soft spot he could find.

He managed to reduce her into a puddle of hate before flicking his butt at her and walking off to get another.

After ten more minutes of this, my mom wailing like the survivors at an Indian funeral pyre, the dog barking, and me barely able to not melt down myself while trying to get mom to let me check for broken bones in her face, I realized that if I was going to take care of her, I was going to have to take care of him.

So, I waited for him to come over and get in her face again, waited for him to bend over to point his finger right in her face, waited until he was so close that I could smell him, and got him with an uppercut in the jaw, with the full force of everything in my body. Legs, arm, back, all of it. Every ounce of fear and anger that I had, I shoved it up into the tip of his jaw through my fist. I remember yelling "SHUT THE FUCK UP!" when I did it, but I don't remember if I did, or was just thinking it.

As soon as it landed, he went down like a puppet with the strings cut, and I was so scared I pissed myself with about half of what was in my bladder. I took a little while to decide if I was going to throw up or not, decided not to, and started dragging him back into the bedroom.

I had him halfway down the hall when I didn't see, I heard my little sister's doorknob rattling. I think she was holding the doorknob and too afraid to come out, so I told her the worst lie I ever told her: "Everything's fine, go to bed," and much to my relief she did.

I got the old man into bed. It was hard. He outweighed my by two, maybe two and a half times. Got the covers on him, opened his mouth to check his teeth with a flashlight. No blood, nothing looked messed up, couldn't see any broken teeth. Looking back, it's probably because he yelled through clenched teeth most of the time. He ended up not even remembering it.

Anyway. I got my mom tucked into the daybed in the guest room, and she finally cried herself to sleep.

The next morning, we had my thirteenth birthday and pretended it never happened. Mom wore makeup and everything.

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