The Ghost never gave me anything he didn’t take back and sell. There was one gift he gave me that he never knew about. At first, neither did I.
I forgave him as he beat me on the last night I’d ever seen him. That was July 4th, 1999. With each blow I asked God to forgive him. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. I could tell his pain was worse than mine, in fact I was numb to his blows.
I knew his story. He told me about how his childhood was stolen from him. He told me about the pigeon coop. How he use to train pigeons and built a coop for them on the roof of his building with the help of his stepfather. Dick is what he called him. I never found out if that was his real name – short for Richard – or just what he called him. Dick did what all pedophiles do; gained this nine year old boy’s trust – seduced him as it were – with the lure of pigeons. Building a coop and teaching the young, blue eyed boy all about bird flight training. These were not “street rat” pigeons, mind you, but flights, tiplets… those are the only names I remembered from what he told me. There are a whole group of bird flyers and trainers all over NYC, the outer boroughs – and the world. Apparently flying pigeons is a thing.
The Ghost grew up in The Bronx. In his neighborhood it was not uncommon for there to be coops on the rooftops of buildings. He told me how he used to run up to the roof every day after school to clean the coop and feed the pigeons. He spoke about it with such pride. He use to compete with the other kids on the buildings across the street and a few blocks down. He’d brag about how he had the cleanest coop and the nicest birds. One day while he was up there cleaning the coop, Dick came up to have a chat with him. He stood there with his Brill Creamed hair, thin lips and his pen protector holding always exactly three Bic pens. He smelled of Old Spice and Doublemint gum. The Ghost always got a strange feeling when he was around Dick. He told me something about Dick creeped him out and gave him the chills. The instincts of a child are powerful.
So, he endured sexual abuse by his stepfather. Of course he told his mother immediately. She just stared at him and then told him to stop telling lies. Accused her golden haired blue-eyed cherub of lying. Lying and trying to ruin her happiness. Again. She’d blamed him for everything since he was three. He was the bad one and Mickey was the good one. It had always felt that way, at least. The Ghost was always trying to win back her love, but his attempts were futile at best.
She blamed him for everything. You see, when The Ghost was three years old, his mother told him to draw a bath for his brother and himself. Bathing together was not uncommon, as the boys were only a year apart. Irish twins, everyone called them. Proud to take on this big boy job, he marched into the bathroom plugged up the tub with the rubber stopper, and turned one of the handles. He couldn’t reach the second handle but he turned the one closest to him. The one with the letter “H” on it. He’s seen his mommy do this many times. She had tossed her finger under the tap but he wasn’t sure why, but he did that to. The tub began to fill and he gave the Mr. Bubble bottle a squeeze. He watched the bubbles grow a bit. He left the bathroom and went to find his brother, Mickey.
Mickey, short for Michael, was in their room. The Ghost announced it was time for their bath, and as the boys undressed the Ghost pulling his shirt of his head, Mickey shouted, “Last one in is a rotten egg!” and ran out of the room. The Ghost wanted to be first in the tub. He fumbled with is shirt, but got it off. He started looking for his Popeye doll to bring to the tub. In the background he could hear the tub filling and his mother talking on the phone in the kitchen. She was cooking dinner. Irish stew. Mickey’s favorite. The smells were wafting through the small Bronx apartment. The Ghost was getting hungry. He found his Popeye doll and turned toward their bedroom door. Before he could get to the bathroom he heard his brother screaming. A scary sound unlike any he’d heard before. The Ghost froze. He peered out the bedroom door and saw his mother running. He walked slowly toward the bathroom, the dark wood floorboards creaking under his feet and stopped when he reached threshold of the bathroom. His mother was screaming “Why did you do this? Why him? This is all your fault!” She cradled Mickey’s shivering body, fell on the floor and rocked her scalded baby in her arms. Mickey was screaming and crying. His wrinkled red body was shiny from the water and he had Mr. Bubbles shiny foam bubbles in his hair. It all happened so fast. All The Ghost could see was the bright red wrinkled skin on the right side of Mickey’s face and neck. He looked like a monster from one of the comic books at the corner store. He’d later learn the monster’s name “Creature from the Black Lagoon”. It scared him. That wasn’t Mickey? What was wrong with him? I was looking for Popeye. What happened? Mommy, what did I do?
Mickey never healed completely. They were able to do a skin graft, but he spent his life feeling self-conscious and fought off stares all through his adolescence. Eventually he married and had children of his own. He grew up hating his brother. Resenting what he had done to him. He blamed The Ghost for his disfigurement. So did their mother. By the time The Ghost encountered Dick, there was no one to listen. No one to help. No one who believed him.
It was the beginning of the end and this child was doomed to a life of mistrust and misfortune.
When he told me this story, I knew The Ghost had given me a gift but I could not identify it at the time. It took some time for me to come to this realization, but I came to understand that the gift he gave me was gratitude. Because of his story, I was able to truly appreciate my happy childhood.
It was my happy childhood that saved me when The Ghost’s damaged childhood came to visit him in the form of drugs, alcohol and the abuse he inflicted on my body. There came a time when I could no longer take his blows. I could no longer let his words penetrate my spirit. For years I would tell my story saying I had no choice but to leave. I had no choice because he beat me out of our home. The truth is, I knew I could not take one more moment in his presence. The love was gone long before that night. I don’t know what made me stay. If I stayed I knew he would kill me and I wasn’t ready to be dead.
So I left with nothing but the clothes on my back – not even shoes on my feet – and the gift he didn’t even know he had given me.