This is Part 2 of a multi-part series. For PART 1, click here.
[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'm working through some stuff here. If you do read it, do me a favor, and give me a little time before we talk about it.]
Second verse. Same as the first.
If you read the first part of this, you know that I was kidnapped when I was 11 years old - not by some weirdo who wanted to molest me & kill me or by a naive soul looking for ransom. The kidnapper was my own mother. If you didn’t read the first part, you can catch up by clicking here.
Let’s get back into it. Set your Swatches to the year 1991. Anthony Hopkins creeped everyone out in Silence of the Lambs. Johnny Carson was wrapping up his run as host of The Tonight Show. And, most importantly, the Super Nintendo was released! I was there, too, about to embark on the weirdest year of my life.
My best friend, if you recall, was a kid named Tad Watkins. He and I were planning on starting our own heavy metal band, although neither of us could sing or play an instrument. That didn’t matter. It was a detail we’d work out after we’d handled more important issues, like what our band name would be. You can’t really do anything until your band has a name. How can you write a song? Who would even be writing that song? Without a name, you have no identity. YOU DO NOT EXIST. I cannot stress the importance of this decision. Your band’s name has to be epic. It has to be fun to draw on notebooks. It has to be something that looks great on t-shirts. Mostly, it just has to sound cool. Tad and I sat in my living room, playing Nintendo while suggesting countless names, but nothing was sticking. I suggested "Rabies Babies." Tad suggested "Defibrillator." I tossed out "Labia Menorah." (Not really. I actually came up with that one just now, but wouldn’t that be a badass name for an all-female band that only plays bat mitzvahs?!) Nothing we were coming up with felt right, and we were out of ideas. Then it hit me. The name of our band was staring me right in the face. It was the name of the video game we were playing - Rampage!
In case you don’t remember, or simply weren’t around, the video game Rampage lets you play as monster characters - King Kong, Godzilla, etc. You destroy buildings, throw cars, and punch helicopters - going on a rampage, as the title implies. It was almost too simple. Honestly, I couldn’t believe there wasn’t already a metal band named Rampage. It rolled right off the tongue, instantly stated what we were all about (duh - destruction!), and would look great on notebooks and t-shirts. In that moment, Tad and I BECAME Rampage. The stars aligned and our fate was sealed - or so we thought. In actuality, that upcoming Halloween would be the last time we would ever see each other.
* * *
I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Is it cool if we go back? I mean, if we don’t, you’re going to be pretty confused as to why this kidnapping happens. I ended the first installment of this story near the end of my mother’s marriage to her second husband, Suleiman. Around this time, my mom took a break from community college, got off of welfare, and started a job at that bastion of corporate opportunity - McDonald’s. As a fat kid, I loved it. Sometimes she’d bring me home a Big Mac or a McRib, and my sister and I had our pick of Happy Meal toys.
My favorite was the Mac Tonight character. He was a personified moon who was created to advertise their new late-night drive-thru hours. The toy was just him driving a car. A moon driving a car? One of these things is not to scale.
With my mom’s marriage on the rocks (turns out beating the crap out of a kid isn’t much of an aphrodisiac), her heart was open to outside advances, and it wasn’t long until she fell into a trap that plagues most women - an affair with an assistant manager at McDonald’s. Charles was a good looking guy. He was a charming black man with a bold mustache in an era before they were worn with irony. I imagine all of the tension at home made my mother easier to woo. Just having someone excited to see her and listening to what she had to say was probably enough to make her heart skip a beat. Plus, if you’re looking for romantic ambience, you can’t beat the smell of burning cowflesh and fluorescent lighting.
It was kind of confusing knowing my mom had both a husband and a boyfriend. She couldn’t hide it. As a fat kid whose mom worked at a fast food establishment, I visited her job every chance I could. Anytime she and Charles were on the same shift, she was giddy like a schoolgirl. Even Helen Keller would’ve known something was up. I asked her what was going on between them. To my surprise, she confessed the whole thing. I was now an accomplice to an affair. That’s a little heavy for a kid to deal with, but it was a secret I wouldn't have to keep for long. She was about to file for divorce.
While the proceedings were underway, my sister and I went to stay with our grandparents. I was thrilled to be living under the same roof as my Uncle Mark. He was a sophomore in high school, and to me, there was no cooler person on the planet.
Everything that I’ve mentioned about my love for the heavy metal of that era stems directly from the fact that it was what Mark was into. When we were younger, we would hold our own pretend-concerts in my grandmother’s garage. Mark would take a piece of cardboard and cut it out in the shape of a guitar, oftentimes a V-neck. Then, he would attach that cardboard to a piece of 1X4 lumber, and draw out the strings, frets, and even a whammy bar, making what were, without a doubt, the coolest toy guitars in the world. Then, we’d take a boombox out of the garage, pretending we were the ones playing the music to an imaginary stadium full of rabid fans. Mark would even pause the cassette between songs so that we could talk to the crowd a-la-Paul Stanley.
Now, my uncle was 15, and had outgrown toy guitars. Now, he had his very own drumset. This wasn’t a marching-band set-up. This was rock and roll during the era that the quality of a drumset was measured by it's size. Mark's had a double-bass, floor toms, regular (non floor?) toms, a snare, crash and ride cymbals, a high-hat, and (long before Will Ferrell clamored for it) a motherfuckin’ cowbell! (I realize this just constitutes a pretty standard drumkit, but as a kid, I was very proud to know the names of all the pieces.) I would sit in his room for hours, listening to him practice. It drove the neighbors nuts, but I loved every minute of it.
Even though he was older than me, Mark took me under his wing and let me hang around with his friends. They never made me feel like a 3rd wheel, and I was stoked to be along for the ride. They taught me the “trashbag game.” This is where you drive through town on the night that everyone sets their trash by the curb. The person on the passenger-side reaches out the window, grabs a full bag of garbage, and drags it along the asphalt until the bag tears, leaving garbage strewn about the street. It wasn’t exactly high-crime, and was kind-of a dick move in retrospect, but being in on these acts of rebellion made me feel like I belonged. Mark & his friends also taught me how to swim. Sort of. They threw me into the deep end of a guy named Trey’s pool and told me to figure it out. This period was the closest to “normal,” that my childhood ever got.
* * *.
I finished fourth grade as my mother’s divorce was finalized. She got a new apartment in Edmond, Oklahoma. My sister and I packed our things and moved back in with her . . and our new rooomate, Charles. The guy moved fast, but I was okay with it.
I really liked Charles. I’d never seen anyone be so tender towards my mother. They weren’t just in love. They were like, storybook in-love. They wrote long love letters to each other and left them all over the apartment. It seemed strange to write letters to someone you lived with - I mean, couldn’t you just tell them in-person? They would go on long walks, hand-in-hand. It was weird, because they had to bring the kids with them. There’s nothing more boring than accompanying your mom and her boyfriend on a romantic walk. I had never seen her so happy.
Charles also taught me how to take care of things - particularly my shoes. To this day, a pair of sneakers will last me years. That wasn’t always the case. In 5th grade, the Reebok Pump came out and, for the first time in my life, shoes became important. They were no longer just feet-covers. They were a status symbol; a fashion statement. For some people, the Air Jordan was their holy grail. For me, it was the Reebok Pump. These shoes had a built-in air-pump that would inflate the shoe to give you the perfect fit, and enhanced athletic performance. I wasn’t into sports. I wanted them because they were the epitome of cool. They were also $100, and with a household on a McDonald’s employee budget, were out of the question. I might as well have asked for a car.
When I approached Charles, requesting a pair of these high-top Mona Lisas, he laughed at me. I think I caught him off-guard. I had never even remotely cared about footwear, and it showed. He looked at the shoes I was wearing. They were only a few months old, but were already stained, scuffed, and falling apart. “I’ll make you a deal,” he said. “I am going to buy you a pair of shoes from Payless and, in 3 months time, we’ll see what kind of shape they’re in. if you have taken care of them, I’ll buy you a pair of Reebok Pumps.”
He said YES. . . sort of. I mean - there was a chance! I became a man on a mission and went from being careless with everything I owned to being outright anal about my shoe maintenance. I stepped over puddles, avoided running through the grass, and if I there was even a chance they might get dirty, would take them off and wear my old, beat-up pair. Every other night, I wiped them down with a wash cloth. I would NOT be denied my Pumps.
Charles was true to his word. In three months time, he looked at how well I took care of those Pro Wings from Payless and drove me to the mall. Actually, he was better than his word. Foot Locker was having a buy one pair get a second pair for half-price sale, and he not only bought me a pair of Reebok Pumps, but a pair of the new Bo Jackson Nikes, too! I was a poor kid with rich kid’s feet. It seemed too good to be true.
There are moments of joy in our lives that we would live in forever if we could. In those moments, it feels like the universe is sending a signal to let you know that everything is going to be okay. It’s the rainbow after the flood. It’s Dorothy waking up from her dream. This was one of those moments for me. It wasn’t about shoes. It was about a kept promise. It was about feeling, for the first time in a long time, safe.
And then the roof caved in.
* * *
Sorry, guys. I know that was an abrupt ending. And I realize I still haven’t gotten to the actual kidnapping. I promise to get there in Part 3, which you can get to by CLICKING HERE. Thanks for reading, while I work through this emotional landfill. Until next time, I leave you with this:
This is PART 2 of a multi-part series. For PART 1, click HERE.