Steve Grogan is an ongoing contributor to Writer to Writers. He has published several short stories on the site, which can be found on the main page under the heading “Steve Grogan’s Fiction.” He has had several poems and short stories published over the years, some of which are available on Amazon. (See the announcement at the end of this post.)
He is the writer and creator of the ongoing, zombie, post-apocalyptic, Romero-meets-Dungeons-and-Dragons webcomic REDemption. Alternatively, Steve describes the comic by saying, “It is to zombie fiction what KILL BILL was to kung fu movies: everything I love about the genre housed under one roof and mixed with my voice.”
September 17, 2008
There was a time in my life (although now my recollection of it is very vague) when I do remember being normal. When did it end? A few years ago, but I don’t want to get into that now. My whole purpose behind writing this journal is to get my story out on paper in chronological order, to lay everything out in a straight line so my brain can stop going around the problem in circles like it has been ever since this nightmare began. Maybe then I can find a solution and bring all of this to an end.
I was an only child (born August 24, 1982) who went through the usual only child crap. Adoration so severe it bordered on delusional. Overprotection that thoroughly smothered my self-confidence. Spoiling that came with minimal amounts of whining.
My earliest memories are of my mother and father fighting. To this day, I can still vividly see the first argument they had in my presence. They were in the kitchen, and I was in my bedroom. As the disagreement wore on, they got louder and louder. I cowered in my room, frightened because I couldn’t understand what caused all this.
Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me. I just HAD to peek out to see where they were positioned, what kind of hand motions they were making, the facial expressions that accompanied their rage. On top of that, I also wanted to ask if they could please stop fighting because it was scaring me.
However, I never got the chance to make that request. I looked out of my room just in time to see my father punch the kitchen wall. It wasn’t the hardest hit in the world because he was probably worried about breaking his hand, but the noise was still loud enough to scare me right back into my room.
I shut the door and stood there shaking. Then I spotted a duffle bag sitting at the foot of my bed. As if on autopilot, I picked the bag up and started stuffing underwear, socks, shirts, and pants into it. Enough clothing to last me what my five-year-old brain thought was a significant amount of time.
I remember it was fall, October to be exact, so I knew enough to grab a jacket before I left my room. I flipped the hood up, pulled the strings to tighten it, and then headed toward my door, duffle bag in hand.
I paused and realized the rest of the house had gone silent. No more fighting. Were they done? Did that mean it was safe to stay? Probably not. I was only five, but I had enough wits about me to realize they would most likely fight again, with the same total lack of regard for how it affected me. With this realization, I decided to stick to my course of action. Time to run away from this madness. Of course, I had no idea where I was going, but I could always figure that out later.
Taking a deep breath, as if sucking in more oxygen would give me more bravery, I stepped out of my room. To my surprise, my parents were both still in the kitchen. Mom was at the stove, boiling something in a pan, while Dad sat at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and reading a newspaper.
I stood there for a moment, staring at the first people in the world that I ever loved and wondering how they could do this. How could they be so insensitive as to have such a large blowout when I was in hearing distance, only to turn around and give the appearance of a Norman Rockwell painting a few minutes later? Why couldn’t you have skipped all the yelling and avoided traumatizing me, if it was so easy to get over? It was infuriating, almost enough to make me wish they had STAYED mad at each other!
Neither one of them looked my way. With a sigh, I turned to exit the house. That was when my father’s voice drifted over my shoulder.
“Hey, buddy,” he said, “where are you going?”
I turned around to see they were both looking at me. My eyes flitted from Dad to Mom and back again. I wanted to answer his question, but that’s when I realized I was about to start crying. My parents realized it too, and they both came over to comfort me. These days, I am amazed when I realize even my kindergartener brain could see the foolishness of their gesture: the same people who had upset me so much were now the ones in charge of calming me down. How absurd!
Dad knelt before me. Mom stood behind him and to the left. He put a hand on my shoulder, then rubbed it up and down my arm.
“Buddy, what’s the matter?” Dad asked.
Somehow I managed to force the words through my clenched-up throat: “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to hear you two fight anymore!”
A look of guilt and shame flooded my father’s eyes. He looked up at Mom. I was too sad to point my eyes anywhere other than the floor, plus they were too full of tears to see anything. To this day, I wonder what I would have seen if I had gazed up at her face that day. Would she have had the same sadness as Dad? Given what I have come to know about that woman, I don’t think that is likely. Odds are better that I would have seen a look of annoyance or frustration. After all, who was this five-year-old little shit to tell her she couldn’t have an argument with her husband, just because HE could hear it?
Dad looked back at me. “I’m sorry you heard all of that, buddy. We’ll do our best to avoid that in the future, okay? I’m so sorry.”
I could only nod in acknowledgement. Dad pulled me into his warm, strong embrace. He smelled of Brut aftershave, coffee, oil, and cut grass. (The latter two aromas came from his job because he was a grounds keeper at a nearby college.) We remained in that position for quite some time. He held me until my sobbing and shaking stopped.
As I look back on the memory now, there is one thing that stands out about it: all during Dad’s apology and our embrace, Mom didn’t utter a single sound. Not even, “I’m sorry too.” And when he hugged me, she made no effort to join in, or put a hand on my shoulder, or run her fingers through my hair. It didn’t dawn on me at the time, but if it had, then maybe the rest of my piss-poor life wouldn’t have come as such a shock.
Let me be blunt here and state the obvious.
I would not say I had a happy childhood.
Things got even worse when I was ten, and Dad decided to split. I can’t tell you what the deciding factor was for him, as we never had the kind of relationship where he would bare his soul and tell me such things, and Mom was tight-lipped on the subject.
Certain clues lead me to believe Mom cheated on Dad. For example, Dad did not keep the promise to not fight in front of me anymore, so I know the fighting was not what caused his departure. The other hint was the rapid-fire way in which he left. He lived in that house for ten years, and then suddenly he got all his belongings out in the matter of one weekend. Finally, there was Mom’s reluctance to go in depth on the issue. I remember her going to a therapy session with me once, and when the psychotherapist asked her why she and Dad divorced, she hesitate before giving the bland, generic, cookie cutter reply, “We just grew apart.”
That may have been a lie for what happened between Mom and Dad, but it was an accurate description of what happened between the man and I. He didn’t drop out of my life entirely. Not at first. When he moved, he mailed me a letter with his address and phone number. We stayed in touch, and every now and then, Dad would get me for the weekend or take me out on a weeknight for dinner.
Still, I wouldn’t say what we had was a relationship. I would bring up topics with him that would have inspired a line of questions from any other parent, but they would elicit nothing but an “uh huh” from him. For example:
ME: I like my English teacher this year.
DAD: Uh huh.
I would sit there waiting for a follow-up question. Something along the lines of, “Why do you like them?” Or maybe, “What’s their name?” That wasn’t in the cards. “Uh huh” was the end of the road.
One time I tried to strong arm the Monotone Man into a reaction. I told him I had gotten into writing short stories and poems. That got the standard “uh huh” reply. I didn’t expect him to say anything further, so I was prepared with an inquiry of my own, which was, “Would you like to read some?” He gave a less than enthusiastic “sure,” but I tried to ignore the lack of energy in his voice. I wanted to maintain hope. I HAD to. This was the last thing I could think of to get any kind of emotion out of this man. Once he read my material, once he saw how crazy talented his son was, then he would be proud. He would say something. I mean beyond “uh huh.”
I reached into my bookbag and found the three best poems I’d written, and I handed them to him. I remember it so well. We were eating lunch in McDonald’s. For the next few minutes, the only sound between us was me nervously munching on my French fries while he read the three pages.
When he was done, Dad handed them back over to me. Then he picked up his Big Mac and resumed eating.
“So?” I said.
“So what?” Dad replied.
I was on the verge of tears. No, this couldn’t be happening! How was it possible that my writing couldn’t drag ANY emotion out of this man, even if it came out kicking and screaming? What the hell was going on here?
“What did you think of the poems?” I asked.
“Oh,” he said as if he had already forgotten he read them. “Very nice, son.”
And that was it. The biggest response I’d ever gotten from the man, and it was still one that was soulless, gutless, bloodless. Lifeless.
I’d like to say I learned my lesson from this exchange, but that would be a lie. I was a big fan of the “three strikes, you’re out” rule, so I gave Dad two more chances. Once I gave him a poem that won first place in a contest. Naturally, when I announced my victory, the initial response was the usual “uh huh.” Then I gave him the winning piece to read, and once again I got “very nice” as a reply.
So that was it. I never tried engaging Dad in any meaningful conversation ever again. My weekend visits dwindled to every other weekend, and our daily phone calls shrunk down to just once a week.
By the time I was thirteen, he had remarried. His new wife didn’t like me at all, openly saying I was a spoiled brat and a weird little shit that she just didn’t “get.” One would think that, being my father, Dad would have told her to take a step back and shut the fuck up, but that’s not how it went down. Instead, he started making excuses for why he couldn’t get me on the weekends.
At one point, I overheard Mom confront him on the porch about my lack of visits. That was when Dad uttered the one line that let me know our relationship was dead, if it had even had life at all.
“Look, my marriage has enough problems without him coming around.”
I had the urge to run into my room and take my own life right on the spot. I was nothing to this man. I thought back to the fellow who had knelt before me when I tried to run away at age five, the only one of my parents who said or did anything to comfort and reassure me things would be okay. Yes, it turned out to be a lie, but at least he got an A for effort. I wondered where that man was, and who the hell this emotionless husk was that had found his way into my life.
Naturally, there were no answers, and there was nothing I could do to change anything about my situation. There was no relief for me. Once upon a time Dad had been my only protection against my overprotective Mom. Now he was gone. Not only did he not live in the house anymore, but his emotions were also MIA.
Well, it’s getting late. I should probably wrap it up for tonight. Actually, that is a fantastic idea. After all, this journal is the only thing that helps me pass the time these days. Don’t want to blow my load by writing my entire story in one night.
If you like what you have read and would like to purchase this serialized novel as one complete PDF, then please send $3.50 to Steve via PayPal: email@example.com
Also, don’t forget to check out his other writing at the following links below:
Author: Redemption Comics
Steve Grogan was born in the often-filmed city of Troy, NY. He has written in a variety of formats (novels, short stories, poems, screen and stage plays, blogs/articles) and genres (horror, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, drama).
Steve is also a father, a boyfriend, a musician, a fitness fanatic, and a martial artist. He has been studying Wing Chun Kung Fu since 1995, and he maintains a blog/YouTube channel that describe his training habits, epiphanies, and advancement. It also candidly discusses his stumbling blocks, such as his struggle with nutrition and mental health issues.
He is no relation to the New England Patriots quarterback from the 1980’s.