prologue

It was a hot Sunday afternoon in late June of 1974. I was sixteen years old and had just gotten off work at the car wash and was driving home. I felt tired and hungover from the night before, and all I could think about was Valencia Diaz: her dark hair and deep eyes, that time I kissed her. She was such an elusive girl, sometimes I still wonder if she was even real.

After I got home and showered I made my way to the kitchen where Dad was frying chicken and Mom was seated on a stool behind the bar.

“We’re expecting you to stay home and eat dinner with the rest of the family,” Mom said.

The rest of the family was my brother and sister-in-law who were in town for the weekend and were expected to arrive, shortly. There was a lot of tension within my family at that time and I had no intention of eating with them.

When I grabbed a drumstick that was cooling on a plate, Dad began yelling.

“Goddammit, put that piece of chicken back and wait for the rest of the family.”

I could feel my anger rising.

“You can take your chicken and shove it up your ass,” I screamed!

I knew I was losing control when I hurled the piece of chicken across the dining room. It made a loud thud when it hit the wall. I’d never felt so angry and knew I had to get out of the house, but when I rounded the corner to exit my father reared back to hit me.

“You’re a goddamned disgrace,” he growled.

I remember unleashing a volley of punches and going fucking crazy.

“Stop! Stop! Please don’t hurt your father! He’s not feeling well,” Mom pleaded!

When Mom jumped in and tried to break us up I warned her to get out of the way, but she wouldn’t listen. I felt horrible when I accidentally grazed her head and she collapsed against the back bar and glasses and liquor bottles crashed to the floor.

I felt like a lunatic as I ran out of the house to my car. I was barely out of the drive when I realized I’d left some cash in my room, but as soon as I pulled back in and stepped on the porch I heard the door lock and could see Dad peering through the window with a mean look on his face.

“Let me in, goddammit,” I screamed!

Then I began yelling and beating on the door. I punched it, kicked it, cursed it, then beat the hell out of it some more. I was so angry I ripped the mailbox off the house and gave it a toss. It made a crashing sound when it hit the street. I’m sure it surprised Dad when I put my fist through the window and glass exploded onto the living room floor.

I don’t know how long my assault lasted but when I paused to catch my breath I remembered my keys were in my car and I could unlock the door, but it didn’t seem to matter because I knew I’d probably never see Valencia again. When I gazed through the broken window I could see shards of glass on the carpet and Dad on the other side of the living room, starring me down. As angry as I was at my father, I felt nothing but self-hatred when I chopped the remaining glass along the window frame and blood started gushing out of my wrist.

It wasn’t the first time I’d been wounded in my father’s war. I could still feel the tingle of frostbite and the rumble of artillery fire from our previous battle.

I was squeezing my wrist, trying to stop the bleeding when I heard the back gate pop open. When I jumped off the porch and peeked around the corner Dad was creeping along the side of the house, armed with his shotgun. His hair was disheveled and he looked a ghost in his own war. He trembled as he pumped a shell into the chamber.

Dad taught me everything I know about weapons and when be began lowering the shotgun, I couldn’t help but remember his first rule:

Never aim a weapon at a man unless you intend to kill him.

 

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