When I was 11 years-old I got kidnapped. I guess I should tell somebody about it.
[NOTE: If you are a member of my family, I can't stop you from reading this, but I would prefer you didn't. I don't know that I'm ready to discuss it with you. So if you do read it, please pretend you didn't. I'm working through some stuff here. Do me a favor, and give me a little time before we talk about it.]
I wasn’t kidnapped like those ladies in Cleveland who were on the news a few years ago, held hostage in a basement. I wasn’t kidnapped like The Lindbergh baby. There wasn’t a ransom demand or a stranger who wanted to do weird things to me, kill me, & dump my body. My kidnapping wasn’t nearly as harrowing as that, but I will say that it probably screwed me up for years to come. In many ways, it’s the greatest adventure of my life. I was kidnapped by my mom.
The year was 1991. I had just started the 6th grade. Middle school. I was a chubby outcast who needed a haircut. I loved professional wrestling. The Gulf War had just ended and Hulk Hogan was the WWF champion, having defeated Sergeant Slaughter in a bloody match that was the culmination of WrestleMania VII. The other thing that I loved was rock and roll - specifically the hair metal bands of that era.
My best friend was Tad Watkins. We had met in 5th grade when he casually mentioned Motley Crue in conversation. My ears perked up, and we started talking music. Hair metal had peaked at that point, and was about a year away from its decline as grunge music emerged. Most of the cool kids were less into guitar solos and more into Vanilla Ice. Tad and I started talking music and soon found ourselves inseparable. Each of us had finally found a kindred spirit.
We spent our weekends walking around Edmond, Oklahoma, talking about bands. Occasionally, we would take a break from walking to stop into a store & shoplift the latest Hit Parader or Metal Edge magazine. We weren’t just into hair metal - we were into the idea of metal - the sounds, the aesthetic, skulls, darkness, and sex - even though we were too young to really understand what it all meant. Tad got me into bands that were heavier - Maiden, Metallica, Slayer. We rented videos of Iron Maiden concerts and dream of what we’d do if we had a band of our own.
Eventually, our talking turned serious. We had shoplifted some cassette tapes from the local Skaggs Alpha Beta grocery store, and traded a copy of The Black Crowes' Shake Your Money Maker and The Scorpions' Crazy World to a classmate of ours named Chris, in exchange for a crappy electric guitar that he had never learned to play. I say crappy, because I assume it must’ve been crappy. The guy traded it to us for two cassettes - it couldn’t be worth much. It was made by a company named Victoria. The name, Victoria, was printed right on the handle next to the tuning pegs. To us, she was the most beautiful girl in the world. She was the key to our dreams coming true. Victoria wasn’t just her brand - it became her name. In our eyes, this was the first piece of our band coming together. It didn’t matter that neither of us could play the guitar. It didn’t matter that I had no chance of getting my mother to carve out part of our welfare budget for lessons. Our band was formed. We made a vow that each of us would keep Victoria for two weeks, then custody would shift to the other. In retrospect, we were as delusional as Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Tedd Theodore Logan when they formed Wyld Stallyns, but who can fault a couple of kids for dreaming?
Looking back, I think these rock n’ roll dreams were my way of escaping the turmoil that I had at home. Things were rough. About a year and a half prior, my mother divorced her second husband. He was a middle-eastern man, named Suleiman (prounounced Solomon). He was from Jordan, and while he wasn’t a strict religious man, he did bring a strict sense of discipline with him to the United States, especially when it came to raising young boys. And, being a young boy myself, I received the brunt of that “discipline.”
The instance that sticks out the most in my mind happened when I was in the 1st grade. He and my mother hadn’t been married very long. We had gone to my grandparents house for dinner. After we ate, I was playing in the front yard with my Uncle Mark. Mark is only 6 years older than me, and our relationship has always been more like brothers than uncle-nephew. I looked up to him and wanted to spend as much time with him as I could. At some point, Suleiman came outside and told me to come get my things. It was time to go home. I didn’t want to. I begged him to let us stay a little longer. He gave me 5 minutes to be inside. I had recently learned the meaning of raising your middle finger at someone, but hadn’t had much experience flipping the bird. As the door shut and he went inside, I flipped him off. I think I was probably showing off or Mark. I figured I was in the clear, as the door was closed and he couldn’t possibly see me. I was wrong. But I wouldn’t find out he saw my lewd gesture until an hour later.
By the time we drove our beat-up, old Mercury Cougar home, my six-year old self had forgotten the incident entirely. I had school tomorrow, and my mind was now on finding a way to avoid having to go to bed. My mother remembered she needed to pick up some things at the store. She took my little sister with her, leaving me and Suleiman at the house alone. As the car left the driveway, he walked outside without saying a word. A moment later, he returned. He stood, framed in the doorway with a sour look on his face and the branch of a tree in his hand. I don’t mean a switch - I mean a branch of a tree - about 3-4 feet long, and as thick as a teenager’s wrist. He started to yell at me. “You don’t think I saw that? I saw you flipping me off? You tell me fuck you? You don’t tell me fuck you.!”
“I’m sorry,” I screamed in fear.
“Why you flip me off?” he said in his thick accent.
“I don’t know.”
And then it came down. This huge branch on my small body. The rest is a blur. Him screaming “Why you did that?” over and over. He never waited for an answer. Instead, he brought the branch down again and again, breaking it into 3 pieces on my tiny, young frame.
Then, as I sat there, shaking and crying in the corner, he did something worse. He opened the drawer of the end-table by the couch. He pulled out a tube of super-glue, and used it to put the branch back together. Once it was glued, he held the tree branch in his hand and said he glued it back together so that he could break it over my body again. And I believe he fully intended to do so that night, but he never got the chance. Lights flashed in the driveway and my mother was pulling in. Suleiman never broke eye contact as he casually set the branch against the wall in the corner of the room. I didn’t think to tell my mother what happened. I didn’t want to face her. I didn’t want to face anyone. I was ashamed and ran to my bedroom. The next day, I took the branch outside and broke it into several pieces and left it strewn throughout the backyard. That wouldn’t stop the abuse.
It wasn’t like he beat me up every day. But, the promise was there that it could happen at any moment. We moved out of that house and into Oklahoma City. We didn’t make much money. My mother was attempting to put herself through community college and was on welfare, while he worked unde-the-counter as a cook at an all-night diner. We were barely scraping by, and the frustrations that were taking place in Suleiman’s life would regularly manifest in me getting a beating. He liked to use a belt, and one time my mother caught him beating me badly enough that she had me stay home from school, because the bruises were too bad. Another time, when my grandmother was visiting, she discovered that I had taken every belt in the house and hidden it. We had a talk that I think broke her heart. Still, I don’t think she fully understood the seriousness of it. Her own husband, my grandfather, had administered spankings with a belt. But these weren’t spankings.
On one occasion, my mother caught me with the phone in my hand, dialing the number for child protective services. She sat me down to have a talk. “Do you want them to take you away from me? Because that is what will happen. They will take you away from me.” In retrospect, that’s a fucked up tactic, right? I mean, manipulating a kid like that. But, my mom loved me. She still does, and I know she didn’t mean to use those tactics to further the abuse. But, it did.
There was no escape. We lived in a rough neighborhood, fraught with gang-violence and crime. I was one of few white kids in the area, which made me a target for the children of parents who were, no-doubt, vocal about their own frustrations at the hands of white people. I can’t blame them, but it sucks that their kids took it out on me. I was constantly getting beat-up at school and in the neighborhood. If I escaped the beatings outside, I had to go home where more beatings were waiting, and vice versa.
I skipped school a lot to avoid it. There was a vacant field next to our house with an abandoned metal-shed building. It was in view of our front porch, but if you stood behind the shed, you could hide from sight while still keeping an eye on the house. I would leave for the bus stop, but instead would go to the field and hide behind the shed until my mom and Suleiman would leave for work. Then, I would go back into the house and watch tv all day on the cable that we were pirating. One day, I had successfully made it back into the house and was dining on generic Cap'n Crunch and watching an episode of Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp on Nickelodeon when I heard keys rattling in the front door. Holy shit - my parents were home! Thinking fast, I ran out the back door before they entered the house. I snuck around to the front, but at this point couldn’t risk running to the field. I tiptoed around to the back of the car and saw that it was unlocked. I quietly opened the door and slid onto the floor of the backseat, my heart pounding out of my chest.
I didn’t really have a plan at this point. I guess I thought I could figure out my next step while waiting in the backseat. Maybe, I’d give them time to get settled into the house before finding the right time to run to the field. I would never get that chance. A few minutes later, my mother and Suleiman came out of the front door and got into the car. The ignition switched, and we were backing out of the driveway. Oh, shit! We ended up at a Venture, which is just a lower-end Target or Wal-Mart. Poor people go to Wal-Mart. Poor-er people go to Venture. I stayed in the backseat, frozen, as they went in and did their shopping. I somehow remained undetected. When they returned to the car, I nearly shit my pants as Suleiman opened the door to the backseat. I was caught, for sure. Only, I wasn’t. He threw a bag into the backseat and never saw me! He got back into the front seat and they took off for home. When they returned, I waited until they went inside and bolted for the field. For some reason he didn't retrieve the bag from the backseat. I waited there for two hours until I saw the school bus return and then made my way home. It was an abused child’s miracle!
One of the most memorable times I got beat up in that neighborhood happened at the same bus stop that I spent a lot of time avoiding. There was a kid there. I can’t remember his name, but his face is forever emblazoned in my memory. “Yo mama” jokes were becoming a popular thing at the time, but kids did not take them laughing. No sir! If someone made a joke about your mother, you had to fight them to defend your family’s honor. It was part of the code that we all lived by. If you wanted to start a fight with someone, talking shit on their mom was a sure-fire way to do it. The day before at the bus stop, a couple of kids got into it when one youth talked smack about the other’s matriarch. The incident fresh in his mind, this kid wanted to make sure we all knew that his entire family was off-limits. So, he ran down a laundry list of who we better not talk about. He said, “Nobody better say nothin’ about my mama, my grandmama, my auntie, my uncle, my cousins, my sister, my brother…” You get the idea. He named every family member he could think of.
I thought it was ridiculous. He could have just said “Nobody better say anything about my family,” and we would have gotten the idea. So me, being a smartass, stated, “Just to be clear, I better not say anything about your mama, your grandmama, your auntie, your uncle, your cousins, your sister, or your brother, is that right?” But, he misunderstood me. He thought my question meant that was my way of talking shit about every single member of his family. I had just broken every single rule he just asked me not to. And his honor would not stand such a besmirching. The neighborhood was pretty run-down, and there happened to be a few loose bricks sitting at our bus stop. This kid picked up one of those bricks, and to my surprise and disdain, brought it down upon my skull. I fell to the ground, with blood gushing out of my head. I was in shock. He hit me one more time for good measure and before he got a 3rd one in, I managed to scramble away, get up, and run. What the hell had just happened?! When I got out of danger, I slowed my run to a walk, and ambled home with a face covered in blood.
The kid never got in trouble. Once I returned home, my shocked mother demanded to know who had done it. I knew the code of the streets, but this incident wasn’t one she would let go. Eventually, I gave up the culprit’s name. She marched to the school, and demanded justice from the principal. But, the kid denied the incident happened and none of the other kids would say a thing. Of course they wouldn’t. Snitches get stitches. And I had to keep going to school with the guy who took a brick to my skull. When I avoided him by staying home, I got a beating from Suleiman. Life was grand!
Eventually, things came to a head. I had to walk on eggshells at home, and the moment I stepped out of line or really just into his eyesight, I got a fist. I remember that when I cried, he would say that my crying sounded like music to him, and that he loved the sound. It was too much. I didn’t care if child protective services took me away. Enough was enough. I told my mother that she had to make a choice. It was me or him. In all honesty, I expected her to choose him. Most of his abuse happened beyond her eyesight, and I really do think she believed I was exaggerating a lot of it. I know she loved me, but also know she truly did love him. He wasn’t abusive towards her or even my sister. She had also had a 3rd child during their marriage. My half-brother, Jamal, was a baby who I absolutely adored. Even though I loved him, I couldn’t stand being a target any longer. I was fully ready to accept my fate and a life in the foster care system. But, that didn’t happen. She said, “okay.” And she filed for divorce. In that moment, I forgave her for telling me that they would take me away from her. She didn’t want that. And she didn’t mean to turn a blind eye. Love makes people blind sometimes, but her eyes were open now. And when it all came to a head - she chose me. Little did I know how far that choice would go.
I realize I haven’t gotten to the kidnapping part yet. So far, it’s just been a bunch of poor-me stuff and maybe this has gotten more graphic than you hoped when you started reading. Stay with me. There’ll be some more graphic content, some more sad stuff, and my band with Tad will even come back before we get there. If it’s too graphic for you at this point, you can stop reading. If you want to know what happened next, CLICK HERE for Part 2. Thanks for reading. Honestly, this is not an easy story to get out, and as I try to write it, more memories keep flooding my brain. I didn't realize this would be a multi-part story, but I guess that's where it's heading. See you on the other side.