Like Brother, Like Fatheron February 26, 2011 at 12:07 am
A piece written in Ernie’s perspective, regailing the time Jaybird stood up to Mr. Aliberti on Ern’s behalf. I really wanted to show a slice of Ernie’s home life. I actually wrote this bout a year ago, so I had to modify it more to Ernie’s current voice. Hope you enjoy!
Heh, you could say Jaybird was somewhat of a hero t’me, really. I didn’t understand what a great guy he was until that day he spoke with my fatha’. See, Papa… bless his heart, he’s a good man, but… he used to get real carried away. You know… with punishments and what not. I knew I was in real trouble when he’d tell my sisters to go to their rooms. Then the scene could start, see?
Papa’d call me to the living room; Mama would be sittin’ in her rockin’ chair, not even lookin’ at me cuz she was cryin’ in her apron, an’ Papa would come in, takin’ off the belt. Yeah, he was one of those guys. Only wore a belt for the sole purpose a’ beatin‘ my rear red as a baboon‘s. Course, that was only when I was real little. I started gettin’ into “big boy” trouble come Junior High. Then the belt wa’nit enough, so he’d come at me pullin’ my hair or ears. See, that’s how he’d get my attention. ‘Look at me when I’m talkin’ to you, Ernest’ Then he’d grab me by my ears and force me to watch him yell at me. Course, I couldn’t hear much; my ears were ringin’ louder‘n Saint Mary‘s bells, haha, heh. Well it wa’nit funny at the time, in fact, it was downright embarrassing. I hated seein’ my mother cry, and she hated seein’ me hurt. Then came the reddening shame as I had to make the long march back upstairs to my room, my little sisters peekin’ out their door to see why their hero turned into a sap as he’d shout at me, ‘Ten minutes, and I’m coming up to talk with you!’ Ha ha, ten minutes nothin’. To a guy awaitin’ their death sentence, ten minutes stretched for hours. Each passin’ second I could feel myself agin’ so that by the time Papa would get in, I’d feel like I was too old and wise to hear what he had to say. But I’d still sit there, an’ he’d sit across from me, and we’d have to look each other in the eyes and he’d go on how disappointed he and Mama were in me, and how he didn’t raise a common criminal. Ho ho, me, a criminal. Well he didn’t know the meanin’ of the word till he met Ron, but that’s another story. The point was, I had shamed the whole Aliberti name, and if I didn’t shape up, somehow it would bring the end of the world as we knew it. That’s a lot of weight to carry when you’re, like, 13.
Well come Freshman year a’ High School, I met Jay. First day of a new school. No problem for a social butterfly like myself. I found my niche in shop class, hangin’ in the back with those backsliders, Jaybird and Ronnie. We made a good clique, we did; smokin’ in the bathrooms between classes, or just lazin’ round the shop. No one messed with us on account a’ Jaybird lookin’ so tall and menacin’ if you didn’t know him. That, and Ron’s ugly mug could make a grown man hide under his covers! HA HA! For whichever reason, people didn’t bother us. It felt good to be somebody, y’know? For the first time in my life, I felt like a man; paradin’ around in my leather bomber and fine Italian shoes. Things were goin’ real good at school. It was my home life that was… well, I wouldn’t say bad. Nah, I love my family, but accordin’ to Jaybird, it weren’t right how I was livin. See, he found out that my father had a knack for beatin’ one day when me and the gang were at the hop… well ‘dance night‘ at the local diner, really. We were tryin’ to pick us up some chicks, or rather, Jaybird was tryin’ to get me and Ron a pair. Boy was that ridiculous, me and Ron, the only sole roosters in the whole hen house without a mate, flappin’ our wings as wild and crazy as if we were havin’ a seizure. . . Course that didn’t work. Just ended up overexerting myself and havin’ to sit out the next dance, writhing in my own sweat. Jaybird came over, ordered me and his girl Penny somethin’ to drink while I tried to shed my drenched leather before it shrunk haha!
That’s when Jaybird noticed the bruise across my collar bone. I considered that one a trophy; a testament to my survival of one of the worst nights of my life, when Papa caught me doin’ the hand jive under the covers to one of Mama’s old housekeeping. mags, … Ahh all those pretty little housewives with the ankle-length skirts. Haha, okay so I didn’t have good taste when I was a Freshman, but Papa seemed to think it was an abomination, ‘specially since it was a Sunday, and I said I couldn’t attend mass cuz I was sick and didn’t want to puke in the pews… or so I told him. Well Papa gave me the rappin’ of a lifetime. See, the belt must’a … “missed” my bum, cuz after that, my whole body was so tenderized you coulda‘ thrown me in the oven and had a real good tenderloin dinner. He didn’t mean to go overboard that night… or so he told me. I tried coverin’ it up in the morning, wearing my coat even though it was over 75 out that day. Still, Jay to noticed, which didn’t take much since he was always analyzin’ me. I think he was on to what was goin’ on for a while, but the bruise was all the proof he finally needed to talk to my father about it. See, that’s the kinda guy Jay was. Had his own moral code so to speak. To him, a father should be a role model, and that there was a difference between discipline and abuse; said my father was abusin’ me. Course I denied it at the time cuz I didn’t know nothin’ bout this code, cuz our family never had no discrepancy. To Papa, discipline meant whatever it took to make me into the man I was meant to be. . . Him and Jaybird had their own different way of doin’ things, and I didn’t want to mess with either of their codes, or rules or whatever you wanted to call ’em. I told Jaybird to leave it well alone, but he’s the kinda guy that wasn’t gonna sit by and watch a perfectly good man like myself turn into a yellow bellied yutz; said that he learned in his mandatory psychology class, that that kinda abuse is what turns a man into a coward. Now I dunno if it was those words exactly, but that’s how he understood it. No matter what I said, Jay wa’nit gonna take no for an answer and bein’ the get-up-and-go type guy he was, he insisted we leave the hop early to pay a visit to my family. What a guy, right? Would leave his own girl hangin’ just to make sure his ol’ pal was all straightened out. Haha! Nah, I kid. Penny was alright with it, cuz she was like him in a lot of rights. She knew about me and Papa long before Jaybird caught on. Girl’s intuition, I suppose.
So the whole gang agreed, and before I knew it, Jay and I were at my front door. I remember the tension in the air as I waited for Papa to answer. I didn’t know how he was gonna take it. He respected Jay, knew him to be a good man, but see Papa was as Navy man, and didn’t take instructions from just anybody, especially in raisin’ his own kids. When my father opened the door, Jay greeted him with his usual firm handshake and polite demeanor. Papa welcomed him in, but knew somethin’ was up by the way I was shakin’ in my boots. Gah, I’m so transparent. We all sat down in the family room, and Jay requested we talk alone. Mama wasn’t allowed in any of Papa’s ‘big talks’ anyway. . . So there we sat, and I watched my whole life unravel before me.
Jaybird had this way about speaking that just commanded respect, and yet he was kinda soft spoken at the same time, never raisin’ his tone or nothin‘. He just sat there, real polite-like, hands folded in his lap as he spoke to my father. Jay was sayin’ all the things I always wanted to say to him, but never could… Maybe it was the way he was able to hold his gaze on my father, never relenting. He weren’t no coward like me. And my father just sat there and listened, the whole time not saying a word, just glancing at me occasionally which made me real nervous cuz I couldn’t tell what he was thinkin’. Jaybird went on about how it’s embarrassing for me to be scolded in front of my sisters, and how they’d think less of me every time they saw me get beaten down. I was surprised Papa let him critique him like that. Instead, he tried to explain that they never saw, but he knew that they was the only ones to comfort me after the traumatizing ordeal was over with. So he let Jay continue. At the time, my head was swimmin’ with fear to the point where I had to leave the room, I felt so dizzy. I don’t know what Jay said then, when I was out of the room, but when I came back in there was a tension in the air thick enough to cut with a knife. Neither one of them were looking at each other now, cuz all eyes were on me. Heh, I don’t do so good under pressure. . .
“Have a seat, Ern,” Papa said to me. So I sat across him like I always did, glancing to Jay for reassurance, but he wouldn’t return the look. I never seen my father look so serious before, so perplexed like what he was about to say would mean the end of the world, and to some extent, maybe it did, cuz what he said next blew my mind. “Maybe I’ve been treating you too harsh,” he said, “and maybe I have gone too far. That is not the father I want to be,” he says. Ho ho, and you can imagine how I felt. I wasn’t relieved just yet, cuz I was still caught off guard, expecting some other intent. But no. There was somethin’ about the way Papa was talkin’ that time that was unlike the other times where he’d try to say things to me just to make Mama feel better, only to take it all back with a beating once he got upstairs with me. No, Jay said somethin’ to him that really changed the way he thought. Or must have… cuz Papa said a lot of stuff that night that was real unlike him. When he was through with me, I think I was cryin’ like a sap, heh. It was real embarrassing in front of Jaybird like that, but I didn’t care. I was cryin’ with a sense of relief for once, a different crying than I used to, after a talk with my father. Heh, yeah I never asked what Jaybird said to him that night. It almost didn’t seem right, y’know? I think it would have ruined the mysterious way that Jay worked. He stuck up for me that night, and I think we’ve been a better family since. Jay was like a brother to me, made a real man outta me, at least I’d like to think.