There were many more nights like that, more than I could even begin to count. At least some were quick, not like the times he’d make me wait for it. I hated those nights the most. I’d spend the whole day tending to the animals and the grounds, praying the entire time that he might forget about punishment he’d promised. He always remembered though. With a wicked smile on his face, he would pull me inside the barn, laughing whenever I pleaded with him to give me another chance. I would beg, promising to try harder… be better, more obedient, but he was completely unaffected. I soon learned it was pointless. He relished in the pain that he inflicted on me; I could see it in the way his eyes would glaze over. It seemed my pleas were just a pre-game warm-up filling him with anticipation for the main event. He was one sick son-of-a-bitch.
Over time I got stronger. I learned to take myself out of the moment, dreaming of the day I might be able to get away – the day I would be free from him. I was almost fifteen before that time finally came. That was the night he almost killed me. The night he decided to trade in his leather strap for a strand of barbed wire. As the metal spikes gouged into my back, he’d yank them free, ripping away my flesh. When he was done, he left me to bleed to death in one of the horse stalls. I had no idea how long I’d been lying there when Emerson managed to sneak out to help me. She tended to the wounds on my back and shoulders, crying the entire time. She pleaded with me to run away, to get away while I still could. I knew she was right. I didn’t have a choice. I took the clothes and food she’d thrown in my backpack and left. I hated that I had to leave Emerson behind. I wanted to take her with me, keep her close. But I knew Grandmother Louise would look after her and keep her safe, something my grandfather would never allow her to do for me.
I thought that living on the streets would be better. I thought I’d be able to free myself from all the abuse, fear and suffering my grandfather inflicted on me, but l was wrong. So fucking wrong. I’d only traded one hell for another. What my grandfather failed to teach me, I learned the hard way while living out on the streets. I was scared all of the time, and starving most of the time. There was no one that I could trust; it seemed like everyone was out to get me. I had to be smarter and meaner than any of the filth that surrounded me. I stole. I fought. I even killed a guy – stabbed the son-of-a-bitch right in the throat when he tried to force himself on me.
The hunger, the fear, and the emptiness almost broke me. When I’d finally had enough, I decided to take the advice of a man who ran a halfway house down on the eastside. He was more decent than most and he seemed to really care about the kids that came to him over and over. He told me that since I had managed to stay out of jail, there was a good chance that I could join the military.
Despite how much I loathed my grandfather, I decided it was something I needed to do. Maybe it was to prove the old man wrong, show him that I could face adversity and thrive. It was probably the same reason my father joined all those years ago, just to prove that bastard wrong. Regardless of the reason, I needed the stability the military could give me. I craved it and being in the service was one of the best things I’d ever done. My troop became my family. We trained together… fought together. We became stronger, more disciplined together. It was the first time I had someone watching my back, caring whether I lived or died and I was actually happy there. I figured I’d spend my life serving my country, but just when things were going well, everything fell apart. My platoon was transporting supplies to one of the neighboring villages when the lead carrier ran over a land mine. Soon after the second carrier was ambushed, leaving most of my troop either dead or dismembered. It was a sight that will be forever burned into my memory. Seeing my brothers either dead or missing limbs broke something inside of me. The old hardness and coldness returned. Whatever weakness or compassion that was left in me was wiped out that day. When I left the service, I was capable of doing unthinkable things, and I could do them without a touch of remorse.
They say your past defines you. I’d say they were right.
“Five more minutes, and then it’s time to finish up your homework and have dinner,” I warned Wyatt. He looked so content sitting at the end of the sofa with his little legs tucked underneath him. His fingers were rapidly tapping the screen as he worked diligently to create a new world on his video game. The things he could create on that little device always amazed me.
“But I’m just about to slay the dragon,” he whined, never looking up from his game. His little nose crinkled into a pout at the thought of having to stop.