The first place I lived away from home was my father’s boat.
It was the summer of 2003, a week before my seventeenth birthday. Eddie was fifteen at the time, a formidable JV defensive tackle who was extremely socially awkward—in a very outgoing way, unfortunately—and basically had zero friends at school. I was in a punk band and when we weren’t practicing or playing out I spent most of my time around town on my skateboard, getting high and drunk at the beach, in parks or at friends’ houses. One Friday afternoon, Dad took us to lunch at a Chinese place off Highway 1 in Santa Carla and announced that he was leaving our mom.
Ever since Mom retired from running dad’s law practice three years prior she’d been a housewife. It wasn’t pretty. She had a lingering painkiller addiction from an orthopedic surgery, and basically spent all day getting high and drunk and cleaning the house to a sparkle. Their marriage had always been rocky. Now, if she and Dad interacted at all, it was either totally sterile and perfunctory, or a horrific fight. He started spending more and more time at the office. The last-straw knock-down drag-out happened out of town a week before the Chinese lunch. I hadn’t been home in all that time, and I didn’t want to go back, but I knew my mom was there alone.
For the next few months, on top of all the garden-variety agonies that go along with being seventeen, I became an emotional crutch for an increasingly embittered and scarily delusional fifty-year old woman. At one point she gave me a ride drunk—she drove drunk a lot, actually—and when we got home I made a comment about it, whereupon she completely broke from reality and violently attacked me, shrieking senselessly like a stuck pig, with beet-red eyes and foam gathering at the corners of her mouth. It became clear that in the moment she didn’t even know who I was; it was as if she had dementia. When I broke and ran, not wanting to hit her back, she hurled one of those big, wooden, high-backed domestic bar chairs at my head with impressive velocity. I swerved; it careened past me and shattered a wall-mirror in our inner hallway. The whole thing was like living in Grendel’s cave, but I felt I had no choice because otherwise no one would be there for my mom and she would drown in psychic torment.
That summer, Dad and Eddie stayed with my uncle, but before long, Dad bought a sailboat, rented a slip in the harbor and decided he was going to live on it. He wanted to sell the house though, and around Christmastime obtained a court order to have Mom thrown out. So while she was carpetbagging at friends’ houses pending a final disposition of the divorce, I had to stay on the boat.
Eddie and I had never been close, and he felt like I was encroaching on his space—which went without saying because, for one thing, it was a fucking boat. But also, he and Dad had really bonded over the sprucing up and maintenance of the place, and he felt very defensive of Dad, whom I was not getting along with at all. Dad had been the one who dumped Mom, and his newfound power to emotionally detach extended to me and my resentment of his self-centeredness. I was mad that he’d left me to clean up after him, and he’d been royally chickenshit to kick Mom out of the house at Christmas.
So I was snarky. As best I could, I stayed away for days and sometimes weeks, but while I was there I acted entitled and avoided doing chores, which especially pissed off Eddie. One day while Dad was out we got into it. I was always the verbal contortionist of the family and to this day I can be very frustrating to argue with. Things just ratcheted up and pretty soon Eddie stormed down into the hull where Dad’s room was. I heard him rack the slide on the .45 and he stormed back up the deck and brandished it right in my face. It was late on a clear, windy March afternoon in northern California. The air was crisp, and in my peripheral vision the tide was rising against the south jetty.
I could see Eddie’s finger to the side of the trigger guard and I was betting the safety was on. He was infuriated, but he didn’t know what he was doing, and I quickly disarmed him and pistol-whipped him hard, so hard I immediately jumped back, shaking from shame and remorse. He dropped into a corner on one knee and looked up at me with huge, watery eyes, his cheek slashed open and bleeding badly. I de-chambered the round, removed the magazine and threw it in the water. Then I dropped the gun, grabbed my skateboard and left, and never came back. Aside from a handful of shouting matches off to the side of weddings and funerals, after that my brother and I didn’t have a substantive interaction for over a decade.
(Part II here…)