By John C. Gyorki
Part I of my story starts off about how I received a wonderful gift when I turned thirteen years old and what it was like living with an alcoholic parent.
You can also revisit my story or if you care to start from the beginning. You can view it here in Part I.
Part II of my story continues about how our family problems grew worse over a two year period. I decided I would have to take care of a problem on my own. It was an act that could have drastically altered my life.
You can revisit Part II as well.
The past is never dead. It’s not even past. ~William Faulkner
SHOW TIME: HAPPY BIRTHDAY
Click, safety OFF! I patiently waited for Harry to arrive. My back pressed up against the tree so hard I could feel the jagged edges of the bark dig into my flesh, through my shirt. I had no coat on because I did not want my movements restricted. My Heart is thumping so hard I could hear it echoing in my ears. There I stood, barrel up in the air with left-hand gripping the forearm of my rifle, right-hand gripping the stock, and finger on the trigger, waiting.
It was eerily quiet and still on this particular morning, just like the calm before the storm. There was no breeze of any kind. I never noticed or saw anyone come outdoors to leave for school or work. It’s as if time froze. I peered around the corner to see if my target was coming. I noticed headlights faint in the distance, but increasing in brightness as it made its way towards me. As always, Harry was punctual for my morning torment. I confirmed the identity of his vehicle from one of the other street lights further down from me. My body was tingling all over. I was anxious to the point of vomiting. My hypervigilant senses were on high alert. That morning, I became the stalker and predator, but for all the wrong reasons.
I watched his vehicle travel towards me on the street. I began calculating in my head when it would be the best time to fire my weapon. Then at the last minute, it occurred to me, shooting from the side, at his vehicle may result in missing the target. My round could enter my neighbor’s house across the street if I missed as he passed! So at the last second, I reacted. I walked out to the middle of the road, turned left and positioned my feet in preparation to absorb the blast from my rifle’s recoil. I raised my rifle to plant the butt of the stock into my shoulder firmly and then proceeded to sight in on the oncoming car using my open site on my rifle. I was laser-focused on putting a bullet in his head. I’m ashamed to admit how much I loathed this individual that I haven’t physically met. This insane ordeal was our introduction to one another.
There I stood under the brightly lit streetlight. The car came to a screeching halt. There the two of us stood motionless. It was a standoff. My right eye is looking down the barrel of my rifle through my iron sight, my finger holding the trigger. My heart’s racing, head pounding, breathing heavy, nostrils flared like a bull because I felt I couldn’t inhale enough air. I tried to hold my aim steady but found it difficult with my erratic breathing. I held my breath momentarily to keep from moving. I could only see the image of his head through the windshield. The glare from the streetlight obstructed any visual clarity. He quickly noticed I was staring at him. I can only imagine what it looked like from his perspective. He was not going to stick around to see what would happen. In that small fragment of time, I committed to doing the unthinkable. I was beyond the point of no return.
I begin to squeeze the trigger to follow through – nothing happens! The trigger is frozen. Then out of nowhere a deafening thought entered my mind. I heard my sister’s name out of thin air, “AMY!” Then my thoughts shifted to absolute remorse and regretted even being where I was standing. I became so overwhelmed with grief thinking about what could happen to her if the authorities took me away to a detention center. What would she think of me for doing something so horrific? What kind of example am I displaying? These were the thoughts swirling around in my head.
At the same moment that I am having these thoughts, my enemy is slamming his car in reverse screeching his tires. He hurriedly backs into a driveway then proceeds to put his shifter in forward squealing his tires into the direction he came. His tail lights disappearing into the night. So I lower my rifle. I look around and notice not one porch light came on. You would have thought the neighborhood would have lit up like a Christmas tree from all the commotion. Nobody leaving to work or school, nothing! To my knowledge, no one ever came forward, or maybe no one wanted to talk about seeing anything. Like I said, time halted; it was very weird.
NOW WHAT HAVE I DONE
I quickly headed for the back door of my home up the driveway. Before I entered the house, I used the faint light of the moon to check the positioning of my safety button on my rifle. It was off, but I could not understand why it did not fire. So I pushed the safety button on and began to frantically unload live rounds and letting them fall on the concrete ground. I could hear the TINK TINK TINK of the bullets hitting the driveway. Not the brightest idea, if any one of those live rounds would have hit the cement just right. It could have fired off, but I was desperate to get back in the house to my room in the basement. I picked up all my ammo, slipped them into my pocket, and proceed to open the door to my home.
I quietly stand on the landing before I make my way down the stairs. To my horror, my radio alarm clock is blaring its repetitious annoying WAH! WAH! WAH! sound. OH CRAP! I forgot to turn it off before I went outside! I rush down the stairs and lay my rifle on the floor. I hurriedly reach for the clock, almost falling to the floor. My foot caught the leg of the end table, causing me to fall anyway. Finally, I shut off my clock. I sit in the dark hoping nobody heard anything. Not more than twenty seconds goes by I hear my dad, “Johnny.” I said, “Yeeeahhh.” I’m thinking, I am a stinking DEAD MAN! “Johnny, time to get up.” I respond, “ok.” I pause for a second asking myself. Did he hear anything? Did anybody hear anything? I get up and rush into the laundry room over to the deep sink puking my guts out. I turn the water on to refresh my mouth, face, and to rinse the tub. My remorse was getting the best of me. Finally, I regain my composure. I gathered the rest of my gear, and school books, to take on our trip.
TIME TO GO
I slowly make my way up the stairs thinking my father was going to be standing in the kitchen waiting with a hang man’s noose or worse -castrate me. Instead, there is a little present on the kitchen table with my name on it. I stood in the empty room staring at it. My dad walks in with a slight smile on his face. I’m sure he’s still miffed at me from the last few days. “Are you ready?” He asked. I’m thinking, is this truly happening to me? After what has happened these past few days, a gift? not to mention what just happened a few minutes ago? “Yeah, I’m ready,” with a soft, faint voice. Dad says, “What are you waiting for, next week? Go ahead open it.” I open it, and it’s a brand new hunting knife. My dad says, “Happy Birthday Johnny.” I stood there speechless. “Are you ok, are you sick or something?” “Yeah, just a little bit,” I said. I thanked him for the gift and stood in disbelief at what was happening to me at this moment; it all felt so surreal. My dad said, “Go tell your mother and sister goodbye.” So I went into my sister’s room knelt down to hug her. I asked her if she was going to be all right. She said yes. I told her to stay with grandma and grandpa as much as possible. I promised to call her every night. If she needed us to come home, we would. I left her room and went into my mom’s room. She sat up and wished me a happy birthday. I thanked her from the doorway entry, but I would not hug her. She said it was ok that I didn’t. I left and waited outside in my dad’s pickup truck while he said his goodbyes. Then dad came outside and walked across the street to my grandparent’s house to let them know we were departing. All the while I’m looking around at the neighbor’s houses thinking, nobody saw anything? My dad comes back jumps in the truck, looks at me and says, “Do you have your school homework?” I nodded yes, and off we go towards the Mackinaw Bridge.
My father enters the on-ramp of I-75 North. I just sat there in disbelief, feeling terribly guilty over my actions earlier in the morning. My dad tried making small talk, but I just stared out the window deep in my thoughts. I would ask myself. How can this be? No one took notice of what happened? Is my father clueless? What’s my little sister going to think about her big brother? I’m positive when we get to our destination my mother will be giving me an earful over the telephone? What’s Harry going to do now? I subjected myself to my own mental tormenting of worry the entire trip. So we continued north to our destination. I anticipated verbal abuse over the phone from my mother when we arrive. My dad kept asking me repeatedly if I was alright. I, in turn, kept responding the same. “I’m ok.” I’m sure my father was thinking of ways to put my mind at ease with all the chaos that has plagued our family for the last few years. Unfortunately, I believe he had a hard time processing it himself. I noticed he would stare off into space too. My guess, his thoughts were trying to come up with a solution for his predicament. Our way of dealing with most situations was to continue to ignore the white elephant in the room.
While we drove, I noticed the wind picking up. I felt our vehicle sway as we drove forward. I saw the trees gently wave along the roadside. I asked my dad if he was aware of any inclement weather or if he happened to watch Sunny Elliott’s weather forecast the night before. He said he did not. We both noticed overcast skies in the direction we were traveling. I said to my dad, “Doesn’t look promising up ahead does it?” My father replied, “Not really,” we continued anyway. The weather progressively got worse as we made our way towards the bridge. It was taking longer than usual because we were driving slower to reach our destination. At least the two of us had something to talk about.
We made a quick stop at a gas station to refuel and use the restroom.
We started to walk back towards our truck fighting the wind. We noticed the weather temperature alternated between warm and cool, drastically. Just a few days prior it was unusually warmer for November. Upon re-entering our vehicle, a huge gust of air slammed the door shut on me. My father and I just looked at each other in amazement at what just happened. Dad said, “looks like the weather is getting worse.” I replied, “I will search for an AM weather station on the radio.” We left the gas station lot to make our way back to I-75 North.
While we continued to drive towards the bridge, my thoughts kept drifting back to my morning incident. My guilt and worry festered. I kept anticipating how much trouble I was going to encounter once the news hit my parents ears. I knew the longer I stalled telling them, the worse it was going to get, but I just could not confess my wrongdoing. I tried to convince myself, to speak the truth. I anticipated he would be angry, but perhaps not as angry as he would be if I did not say anything to him. Every time I wanted to blurt it out. I choked. My anxiety level escalated when I started thinking about why my rifle didn’t fire when I thought I squeezed the trigger, or worse, what if it did? Mentally, I became exhausted from all the scenarios I played over in my mind.
Finally, my dad said with a stern voice, “Johnny! What’s eating at you? What are you thinking?” I was in such deep thought that my father’s words startled me. Of course, I knew what I should have said, but instead, I lied some more. I replied, “I was thinking about my new knife I received for my birthday. It’s real nice.” Then my dad cracked a smile, “It is a nice knife.” Whew! My diversion was a success.
Our conversation, for the most part, was about weather conditions. My dad had a hard time driving the truck straight. We were basically at a snail’s pace on the freeway. I saw a sign that read Grayling, next exit. My dad must have seen the sign as well. He glanced at his wristwatch, “It’s 1 pm, let’s stop and get a bite to eat at a restaurant. Maybe the winds will die down while we take a break.” I said, “Sounds good to me.” After we had eaten, we looked around at some of the souvenir shops in town. We spent about an hour and half waiting for the weather fade, but it did not. Dad said, “It doesn’t look like it’s getting any better. I say we get in the truck and get over the bridge as soon as possible. It will be about another hour till we get there.” I agreed with him.
Weather conditions made traveling quite hazardous, to say the least. All morning long I could not focus or relax. I didn’t quite know how to process all that I had done. I just kept silent. We drove for another hour. We could barely visibly see the Mackinaw Bridge off in the distance. The closer we came to the bridge the more I noticed something odd. I asked, “Hey dad, can that bridge move?” He replied, “Yes, it’s a suspension bridge. It was designed that way because of the distance across the lake.” I said, “LAKE! It looks like an ocean.” We started to make our way onto the road approach of the bridge. We noticed caution signs flashing to drive slowly across the bridge. As we climbed higher, the winds began to howl, and the winds increased intensely. The bridge was designed to allow air to pass under and through the bridge to keep it from extreme swinging.
All the while we traveled the bridge, I am scared stiff. The truck moved all over the place. My dad was white knuckling the steering wheel the whole time. I shout, “Dad! This wind is crazy! How much longer before we get off this bridge?” My dad was doing his best to keep plenty of distance from the other motorist. Now, we are a little over halfway across the bridge. We are traveling in the worst possible weather conditions, and I, decide I’m going to tell my dad what happened this morning. “Hey dad, I need to tell you something.” He glances at me with the LOOK, are you kidding me! At that precise instant, my dad had his eyes off the road; a huge wind surge elevated our truck up off of the bridge momentarily. My father yells, “Holy S#@T! I can’t feel the blankety blank road under me!” We did not have our seat belts on because it was not law back then, so I just held onto the dashboard best I could. Our tires finally landed back on the bridge. My dad had temporarily lost control of the truck but quickly recovered. I’m looking out the side window down at the water. I notice the waves surging like I have never seen before. I then look over at my dad. All his energy is used to keep us moving straight. Finally, we make it to the other side and off the bridge. My dad is shaking his head and quietly saying to himself, “Kiss my backside! That scared the living s@#t out of me!” I said, “me too!” We get about fifteen minutes away from the bridge, and dad says to me, “did you want to tell me something?” I said, “Nah, wasn’t important.”
We made it to our destination of Paradise, Michigan. We drove up to Curly’s motel to check into our tiny rented cabin right on Lake Superior. The lady at the check-in desk gave us our key. Afterward, my dad backed the truck up to the door of the cottage to unload our belongings. It surprised me to see how close our cabin was on the lake. We could visibly see how far the water was traveling up the sandy beach towards us. The noise of the water hitting the shoreline was a sight to behold. It was still slightly light out so we could see the waves off of the lake swelling into massive towering whitecaps slamming into the shoreline. The winds were blowing so hard we could barely stand straight to walk. After we had unloaded, we walked back outside to observe the waves some more. We could not believe how ferociously violent they behaved. My father and I turned towards each other in utter amazement over Mother Nature’s fury. Then my dad says, “Let’s call home.”
We locked the door to the cabin, then turned and jumped back in our truck. Immediately, I become nauseous with fear. We drove towards the gas station, at the end of the road. We wanted to use the pay phone to place a call home. I was sick to my stomach. I thought to myself, here we go! The cat’s out of the bag! My life is over as I know it. I should have told dad what I did. Now he will be caught off guard.
My dad pulls the truck up close to the pay phone. He uses it to shield himself best he could from the wind. He says, “wait here.” He jumps out of our vehicle and heads towards the phone booth. He pulls his hat down tightly over his head so the wind gusts won’t blow it off. He zips his coat up as far up as he could to his chin. He enters into the phone booth and closes the door behind him. He picks up the pay phone receiver with his left hand and begins to drop coins into the phone slot. Once he finished, he turns his back towards me. Now, I can’t see his face any longer. My imagination is running rampant watching every movement my father is making. So far he seems to be fairly still. When dad gets upset, he tends to get fidgety. Nothing happens; he is leaning against the booth window as if he were relaxing. I, on the other hand, am waiting for him to bust out of the phone booth to come after me. As a precaution, I depressed both lock buttons of the vehicle doors. I don’t know why I did this? Perhaps, to buy some time before he terminated my existence.
After about five minutes of waiting, my dad exits the phone booth and reaches for the truck door. He looks through the glass window of the vehicle, right at me, and tries to open it, but could not because I locked it. I began an evaluation of his body language to determine whether it was safe to unlock the door. I deemed it safe, so I reached over and pulled the button up. Dad entered the vehicle with a puzzled look on his face. With a smile, he said, “Why did you lock the doors? Are you worried about the black bears getting at you?” I remained silent. His words dumbfounded me. Doesn’t anyone know what happened this morning? Did I scare Harry so bad that he stayed quiet, I thought to myself? Then dad said,” Now go talk to your mom and sister on the phone.” I quickly jumped out of the truck fighting the wind and then entered the phone both. All the while I am sick with anticipation of my mother’s verbal tongue lashing. I picked up the telephone receiver and placed it to my ear. I slowly said, “Hello?” My little six-year-old sister blurts out, “Hi Johnny!” To my surprise, she sounded fine. I proceeded to ask her if everything was alright with her. She assured me she was. Then she said, “mom wants to talk to you.” Immediately, I felt as if I were going to have another vomiting episode like I did earlier this morning. With great anticipation, I said, “suuuure.” My mother begins to talk to me with absolutely no indication or knowledge of my morning showdown with Harry, NOTHING! We chatted for a short time. I tried in a roundabout way to extract clues from our conversation. There was no indication she knew anything. Mom and I finished our talk. I placed the phone receiver back on the cradle of the pay phone. I paused for a moment and thought. Maybe she won’t say anything to me until we’re home? How can this be? Did I get away with it? My endless self-induced worry continued.
We left the phone booth and drove across the street to Nick’s Tavern. My dad parked his truck, turned off the ignition switch and said, “Let’s goes inside, are you hungry?” I said, “Not really, maybe an order of fries, I’m not feeling so good.” We walked and entered the dimly lit tavern. You could smell the stale smoke and beer inside. The windows and the perimeter of the saloon were garnished with old beer-can-pull-tabs overlapped and bent together, strung all over the place. Every wall was cluttered with taxidermy deer and bear heads all around. Usually, the patrons inside, would stop talking, turn and look to see who walked in through the door. Once inside, my father yelled out to the owner. “Hey, Nick! How ya doing?” My dad asked for a beer and one order of fries. My father walked towards the bar to engage in some small talk with Nick. I wandered off over to the old vintage shuffleboard to amuse myself by sliding the weights back and forth across the board. After a while, I saw my dad shake Nick’s hand. That was an indication he was ready to leave. I glanced up at the old dated black label beer clock. It was 7 pm. luckily; it would only take about 5 minutes or less to get back to our cabin. I was happy about that because I was dead tired. I desperately wanted to lie down and call it a day.
We left the tavern to return to our rented cottage. While riding in the truck, I asked dad if he noticed how the weather temperature was warmer than usual for this time of the year. Typically, it would be a lot colder with snow on the ground, particularly for as far North as we were. My father explained how the extreme temperature changes were the cause of the horrible weather conditions. He said the combination of the hot and cold air colliding was the culprit for the storms aggression.
We arrived at our temporary home. My dad parked the truck. We exited the vehicle, only to be greeted by extreme, inclement weather and pitch black darkness. The winds never subsided, in fact, it seemed worse. Dad and I stopped dead in our tracks to listen to the waves thrashing against the shoreline with such brutal force. The air was pleasant to breathe despite the anger of the lake. I again asked my dad, “Are you sure this isn’t the ocean?” He laughed, “Nope, it’s a LAKE; it’s one of Michigan’s Great Lakes!” I expressed concern to my father about our cabin being washed away while we slept. He said, “I hope not.” That answer did not comfort me, but I left it at that. I compared the behavior of this raging storm to my own personal turmoil, deep in my soul. I got lost in my thoughts when all of a sudden, we both heard this unusual faint, but distinct sound, out of nowhere wrapped inside the slamming waves. I said, “Dad! Did you hear anything?” He replied, “I did hear something, but I don’t know what?” We listened for a few more minutes. We could clearly hear something strange. Then, as fast as the sound came, it ended.
Finally, the day was over, and it was time to relax. I told my dad I wanted to lay down because I was exhausted. I thanked him once again for my new hunting knife. I retired to my tiny room which faced the huge lake. My nerves wore out, my gut still in knots. I could hear the continued slamming and thrashing of the water. I laid in the dark, wondering what the faint sound was outside, along with my curiosity of how Harry’s day ended. I was still unsettled mentally. My mind, body, and spirit had enough for one day. I could hardly keep my eyes open any longer. As I lay in my bed, I kept asking for God’s forgiveness and peace. Eventually, I drifted asleep.
To my surprise, I awoke and realized the storm had ended. I left my bed to sit in a chair at the kitchen table. I slid the curtain off to the side to gaze out across the most beautiful still water. The sun was rising out of the East. The outdoors looked so peaceful. The skies had cleared to unveil its spectacular blue. I marveled over the difference in weather conditions in such a short period of time. Needless to say, my spirit still deeply troubled by yesterday’s events. I rehashed the memory of it over and over, but what I most desired was to hold on to the peace I felt when I looked out over the lake. I made a conscious decision then and there to seek more of it.
My father heard me rustling around from the bedroom he was occupying. He called out, “Hey Johnny, turn on the radio. Try to find news or a weather station.” I reached for the radio and did as he asked. I found a news station that said it would have a weather report soon, but before it gave it, they had a breaking news story to share. A newscaster came on and said, “On the night of November 10th, 1975, the iron ore carrier, the Edmund Fitzgerald, sank in Lake Superior, just North of Whitefish Point. The Captain of the Fitzgerald made last radio contact at approximately 7 pm Eastern time. No further contact made all 29 crew members perished.” My dad heard this news. He immediately sat down at the table with me. He was silent in disbelief. His face had a grave look on it, his head slightly cocked, one eyebrow lower than the other, listening intently to the news report. I tried to speak, but my father raised his left hand for me to hold off. We both continued to monitor the rest of the newscasters report until he finished. My dad turned the radio off and looked at me. We both sat quietly looking at each other. I broke the silence by saying, “Do you think the weird noise we heard last night was the ship sinking?” My dad replied, “Maybe, I’m not sure.” Then I replied back, “The Edmund Fitzgerald isn’t that the ship you worked on in 1958 shortly after you arrived here in the U.S.?” My dad said, “Yes it is, I have pictures of Fitzgerald at home after it launched from the shipyard.” We sat and talked awhile about the ship. It was nice to have a conversation with dad about something different for a change. When he finished, he told me to get ready while he made some breakfast.
I went back to my room and sat on the edge of the bed. I slipped my socks onto my feet. Then I paused for a moment and thought. What a horrible day the crew of the Fitzgerald and I shared the day before. We both battled storms of a different kind. I survived mine; they did not.
We only stayed five of the ten days of our hunting escapade. We never made it to opening day. Worry got the best of my father and me. We just could not relax long enough to enjoy our trip. So, we cut our trip short. Every time we called home, I feared my mother calling me out over my showdown with Harry. We packed up our gear and headed home to Allen Park. The entire trip we spoke only of the shipwreck. Not one time did I ever mention my sniper debacle ever again? As a matter of fact, it was never brought up by anyone, EVER!
NOT PROUD OF MY BEHAVIOR
It was not a proud moment in my life history. I did learn many valuable lessons from that incident. However, it took me a couple more years to get it right. I did have two more tense encounters with Harry in person. However, he never brought up that fateful morning. I’m not quite sure why? For some strange reason, Harry’s 1966 Dodge Coronet always had problems with its tires, windshield, side and back windows. He always drove around with taped cardboard were glass should be. Not really sure why? My guess he did not earn much as an apartment complex manager. My mother did confront me on the latter episodes I mentioned because Harry complained about his property always coming up destroyed. I always denied the accusations Harry had against me. I told my mother he was drunk and out of his mind. I not sure what he’s talking about.
I also convinced her of the improbability of being in two locations at once :). Eventually, Harry finally faded away for good around the summer of 1978. I never saw him again. I enlisted in the Marine Corp fall of the same year. I have to be honest, joining the Corp saved my life and scared me straight. The Corp instilled the discipline I needed for my life and my faith gave me the peace I needed. I’ve had some ups and downs in life. For the most part, I have done well.
My parents finally divorced the spring of 1979. Mom continued her destructive lifestyle until it finally ended on January 17th, 1989, age forty-nine. That’s a story for another day.
I FINALLY CONFESSED
Finally, at age forty-seven I confessed all of my antics to my dad. When I did tell him, he said, “What? That’s crazy!”
Dear readers, this concludes my three part story. Thank you for your kindness. I appreciate you following me along on this journey. I hope your effort for reading my story proved to be worthy of your time. I value each one of you. John
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing
Our published contributors enjoy becoming a part of an established, award-winning blog. They gain exposure from our ever growing audience. In turn, we gain the audience that they bring with their writing. Join the Two Drops of Ink family. Read our submission guidelines and send us your submission.
We have more than 20 wonderful contributing authors who have been published on this site. Check out their bios. Read their work. Visit their sites. Check out our list of ‘Published Contributors.’
Sell your book from our page, ‘The Book Shelf‘