Tommy grows up in a violent and broken home searching for answers and hoping his luck would change when his father starts to raise him and his brother.
Jeremiah 29:13 "And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye search for me with all your heart."
My mother's stern voice ushered us boys into the living room. She had something important to discuss. In all my eleven years, I hadn't recalled her having a serious sit-down conversation. Waves of fear rushed through me.
My brother Robert planted himself on the couch first. Then I bounded in beside him with a brave face. My brother hardly ever showed his emotions. Since he was pushing thirteen, he may have been shedding more of his childhood than me.
The house was small. My brother and I slept in bunkbeds. My older sister, a senior about to graduate had a room to herself. That left my mother with our little sister in her room. It didn't take more than a second or two to get from one room to another. The walls were thin too, that's why I suspected this conversation would be about the time I ran away and tried living with my father.
Mother wouldn't blow smoke in our face, so she put the cigarette out in the kitchen and within seconds loomed over us. It was like a spotlight bore down and my mother had center stage.
My sister Ann listened in from the kitchen. I was sure glad her future husband Allan was nowhere to be found. He was probably bragging to his friends about how he had pinned my father into submission.
"You boys need to decide where you want to live," she announced. Mother was never one to mince words. She'd get to the point no matter how sharp.
Stunned into silence, us boys looked at each other. Confusion wouldn't linger long.
"I've talked things out with your father," she said. "He wants to come live here with you boys. He wants the house."
My heart squeezed into a fist. I needed to breath.
"Ann and you're little sister, the three of us are going to move into an apartment. But not far away." She looked us over, maybe tried to measure our reaction. "It means you can stay here! keep your friends, your school, and you get to live with your dad. That's not so bad now, is it?"
My brother was the first one to rupture. I'd never seen him rain tears before. He often had a certain far-off look in his brown eyes. There was no way to stop his spasms. The child inside him came out. "You mean...your leaving us?"
"Yes, but I won't be that far away. And I will come by to see you every week. Promise."
I waited for her to say, "I cross my heart and hope to die." But it didn't happen. My brother stood up. Hiccupped through tears. "I don't want... you to...to go."
My mother knelt down and put her arms around Robert. She looked at me, like I'm getting what I wanted. Somehow it was my fault. If I could read her mind, she was saying something like, "Be careful what you wish for."
She stood and wiped his face. "Don't you want to live with your father?"
My brother blurted out. I want you both! I don't want it to be like this..."
Mom injected. "I'm sorry son. I know it's not what you want. But it would be best to stay in the house with your father. Afterall, you have your school, your friends. And I will see you every week."
I was no dumb kid. she'd already made the decision for us. I'm sure I must have been hurt. I must have masked it. I recalled my brain brewing with ideas good and bad. What if I needed mom in the middle of the night? What if I had an accident? Then thoughts of living with my father took over. I imagined all the things we could do: Fishing, hunting, camping. What an adventure!
After my brother calmed down, we had to go to bed. It was timed for us to sleep on it. I'm sure we must have talked from our bunkbeds in the night. I think he cried himself to sleep. Somehow, we'd have to accept it. We really had no choice. Boys with father. Girls with mom.
I'm not sure what day it was, days later, maybe not even a week, my mother and all her belongings emptied from the house into a trailer and cars. Something emptied from me that day, more like hole formed in my little boy heart. Fat Allan came around, but I gave him a wide enough birth.
I wanted to live with my father. I got what I wished for, but my heart sank. Did I make them want to leave? If it was possible to be happy and sad all in one, that was me. But I knew my brother didn't care to live with dad. I don't think anyone saw it coming when he turned to drugs in his teen years and bitterness ate his soul.
Finally, the day came, and my father walked through the door. I helped him unload so many bags and boxes, I wondered how he kept so much in that tiny garage apartment. The biggest thing I remembered about that day was how he couldn't stop smiling. Over time, I realized how important the country was to him, the house, and especially the garden.
The garden was where we spent our best time together. It helped me heal some of my hurt. I loved watching things grow, digging up red potatoes like finding gold nuggets, or plucking sweet corn, breaking them off the stalk.
Our neighbors remarked how we had the best, sandy soil for a garden. We'd often found seashells when tilling the garden. I once asked my father, "Where'd the shells come from? I thought they are only on beaches by the water?"
He'd look at me with his hardened, weathered face, his straw hat casting a shadow in the garden. "It's possible there was once a lake where our land sits, maybe even an ancient flood." He winked.
My father may have loved his brothers and sisters to a fault, but his love wasn't lost on me either. His love for the land was almost equal to family. The garden was my first serious introduction to a creator, even though I'd gone to church, stuck my hand in holy water, did the sign of the cross. All those church lessons were lost on me, but not the ones from the garden.
Once when he was spreading manure around the leaves and vegetables he remarked how he couldn't understand why his little brother Johnny was an atheist. He'd take his soiled finger and wave it around. "Just think how there's a delicate cycle where manure, crap, pure crap makes the sweetest and best vegetables grow. It has to be something only God can do."
I was just glad my father was standing again and not flat on his back. He seemed content. But there was something about invoking God outdoors. It made me wonder, that he was out there somewhere beyond the blue, but as a kid, I couldn't put my finger on him. To me, no matter the religion pumped into me, he, this God was no better than the great Wizard of Oz, and I was Dorothy fighting my fears to find him.
On the very first night my brother and I had our own room! It should have been exciting. The bunk bed had been broken down and I was able to have my own dresser, my own window, my own lair. When the lights went out and I could hear the sounds of crickets in the yard, there was something in me, leftover. I loved my mom. I always wanted to be a momma's boy.
My father tucked me in for the night. It was a moment, a memory of him tucking me in, giving me a sense of security, that no harm would come. "Sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite." I wasn't sure what a bed bug looked like, never had been bitten by one. I'm sure if I'd know that they were little vampire blood suckers, I would have been more terrified.
But as the night wore on, I tossed and turned. As I stared at the ceiling, it dawned on me, my mother was gone. She was really gone!
I threw off my covers and wandered through the house to my father's bedroom, bumping into things until the small child inside me hounded my father awake. "I want my Mom. I need mom."
He leaped from his bed. Shouted at me. "Get to bed! Now!" He slammed the door shut.
I scampered away to my room, crawled in bed, and cried myself to sleep. I needed someone to talk to. If only I could find God and talk to him.