Squinting with eyes swollen and corner sludge the sunlight pierced the windshield. White reflection, a green hue colored my washed out skin as I drove on. The Day People about me, sharp, chattering and in a hurry, passed on the left.
I let the window down, the air in and exhaled my newly lit smoke. The coffee warm between my legs, the music an acoustic jam floated out of the speakers from an east end radio station. The embrace of the day slowly wrapping itself around me.
If you can not take joy from the struggle there is no point in going on. Everyone seemed to be going about their business. The highway flowed with work trucks and cars in the commuter lane as I turned my blinker on and headed for the shore. There seemed no point in looking for a job today. The water was calling.
I stopped at Seven Eleven for a few cold Poland Springs, checked my tackle and gear in the trunk and put my water shoes on. Back on the road I thought about my conversation with my cousin the night before confirming that I have not gone about life the wrong way, that there was still hope for me. I could not play along, ultimately I would not play along. There is no sense in struggling against a rip tide.
Seasoned and salted I have managed this way of life for 44 years. Today would be no different. The water from the bottle, washing away the whiskey from the bottle the night before. My ingrained hope a secular faith started whispering to me. It always works out in the end.
Unafraid of the light I walked into the towering daylight without sunscreen or companionship. I threaded my way through the crowd of people until the beach opened up and few souls could be found. I reached into my old canvas surf bag, pulled out my clam knife and opened up a mussel that washed ashore.
With bleary eyed optimism I launched the bait into the open water and watched the wake echo across the surface. I sat back and relaxed in defiance of everything that was wrong with me.
Spit out and gurgling into waiting hands. Born of violence and love, contradiction is forever a part of the soul. That childhood picture of me giving the peace sign next to the one of me holding a hose, spraying my cowering brother with cold water will forever remind me of who I am. For my brothers, out of loyalty, I would pulverize any foe to young for them to beat on. I would often warn these boys, tell them I had no choice.
“Put down the radio man cause I’m going to hit you.”
“No you’re not”
“Oh?…Oh yes I am.”
D Batteries, blood and broken plastic erupting onto the asphalt followed by hugs and acceptance.
“I’m sorry… It was you or me. It’s nothing personal.”
It was always personal. It was personal for me, it was my place, my role, fighting was done out of love for my brothers, for my family name, to earn the right to be called a McNasty. It felt good to be in control. King of the clan for a day.
Followed the next day by my brothers breaking the 300 hundred balloons I blew up with my little lungs. Light colorful delicate balloons bouncing around the basement, covering the cheap indoor outdoor rug that hid the cold foundation. All that work destroyed in an instant by the stomping feet of older brothers.
The boy who could have been a priest tainted every Christmas with gifts of boxing gloves. Tuck your elbow in; don’t lose your cool, lead with your weak hand. Don’t let anger rule. Victory is your joy. Bust their eye socket with the overhand right.
By seventeen I was dropping freight trains who charged me with a single overhand right. My brothers were in the Navy unable to pick fights for me and my talent for hurting moved away from bullying. I could no longer stand the bully. I packed a punch of righteousness. I converted drunks into straight men and used my fists for a god I no longer believed in. I was sickened by the mass of men. I was a contradiction of love and violence. Beating up new versions of the old me.
I was fighting for goodness, for a god I never did understand. I became angry at the worild. I curbed the ankle of guy who date raped a girl I knew and I still don’t regret it. I would have broken both if I had the chance.
Pushed out, pushed in, it’s the struggle I enjoy. It’s the meanness of men I cannot stand. It’s that boy giving the peace sign I want to be.
I live with guilt even when ankles need to be broken.