I was 16 when I finally stood up to my step dad. He was just one of many men she’d brought home to bully us around since my father left when I was three. That day I had come home from school to find Mom curled in the kitchen floor with a new black eye and three broken ribs as the bastard stood over her screaming about her burning a piece of toast. The past just boiled over and I was consumed with a rage.
I weighed a good 250 pounds back then and I’d been lifting weights for two years. Not to mention I was still pumped up from football practice. Tackling him to the floor wasn’t hard and once my fist connected with his jaw everything seemed to fade into the background. All I could feel was the anger and rage boiling inside of me as I swung again and again.
I hadn’t known Mom was holding a phone clenched in her hand. When the cops came they dragged me in cuffs and my stepdad was loaded into an ambulance. I was charged with aggravated assault but one look at the pictures Mom showed the judge and the charges were dropped. They signed divorce papers right there in the courtroom.
Everything started falling apart from there. We moved out of town and into a tiny little one bedroom house with rented furniture. Mom had to get a new car and a new job. I had to repeat my sophomore year in a new school. Worse than all that though, I felt like I had somehow lost my mother too.
I ran the 2 miles home after 4th period, like I had since school started, and found Mom sitting in the kitchen floor with nothing but a long t shirt and a thong on surrounded by empty beer bottles smoking a Marlboro 100. The entire house looked like a hurricane had struck it.
“Mom, you should be at work,” I walked slowly towards her.
“Budget cuts,” she burped and took a drag off her cigarette.
That made her third job in six months. Things were not looking good for either of us. I groaned and slid into the floor beside her. She clumsily tucked the cigarette between my lips and reached for her beer.
“What are we going to do Mom?” I puffed.
“Don’t know bout you, but I’m gettin drunk,” she took a big swig.
I traded the cigarette for the beer and finished it off, “looks like you’re already drunk.”
“Nother 12 pack in the fridge,” she waved her arm and her hand landed on my crotch.
I moved her hand to the floor before leaning over and opening the fridge. From where I was I could plainly see that other than an old pizza box from 4 days ago, a 12 pack was all we had. I pulled out another beer and popped the top.
“What are we having for supper?” I took a big drink.
“Budweiser,” she giggled and hiccupped before trading me for the beer again.
I looked up at the coffee can on top the fridge. I was almost afraid to look inside but knew I had to. I took a puff then slid the cigarette between her strawberry pink lips and stood. Her hand slid down my butt as I reached and pulled the can down. It jingled with the clanking of loose change. I peeled the top off and fell back into the floor.
I’d been bussing tables and washing dishes at a little diner not far from the house since we moved in 4 and a half months ago. After finding a stack of unpaid bills I’d put everything I had into the can, almost two grand. It looked like there was about $10 in loose change and maybe $50 in cash.
I looked over at her and saw the deep well of misery in her eyes, the loneliness and pain she tried to hide. I sighed and finished off the beer.
“I’ll call and see if I can get a loan on my next check,” I reached for the cigarette.
“They took the car, the furniture, it’s all gone,” she fell against me and cried, “I tried so hard baby, tried to be a good mother, a good wife, a good woman.”