Friday, November 9, 2012

Stories from my life: Chapter 3

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time came out on Nintendo 64 in North America on November 23, 1998. I was 12 years old when I begged my Mom to buy it for me for Hanukkah. Back then, we alternated holidays between various relatives' houses. This Hanukkah was being celebrated at ours located on the "spice streets" of Costa Mesa.

I remember being SOOOO excited when I got the game, tearing through the wrapping paper like it was cheap toilet paper. And thrown away just as fast. I raced to my room, put it in the slot and turned on the console. I remember my grandma and nieces came in to watch for a time. We were all just hanging out, pretty much.

Then, my Uncle Joe came in. Let me tell ya... I have few good memories of my Uncle Joe. He was always the... "physical type," the kind of guy who couldn't really articulate his emotions and always acted younger than he was. He also grew up in an abusive Chicago Irish family. And he always seemed to think everyone else had it so easy that they almost needed a little abuse.

I remember when stretch at his house with my Aunt while my Mom was recuperating from chemo. I was 8 and not wanting to get up for school in the morning. Instead of doing the adult thing and grounding me, giving me a lecture, no food, or other consequences. He decided to dump me out of my sleeping bag (slept on the floor) and onto the carpet. From shoulder level. He's about 6 foot. I fell on my neck, nearly broke it, and blacked out for about 5 minutes.

But back to 1998. So I'm playing my brand-new game that I am SOOOO excited about. I get to this part where I unlock a Great Fairy cave to get some power-ups. While the cut-scene plays Uncle Joe starts making fun of my game. I tell him to stop but he just keeps ragging on it, on me, and he won't let up! I tell him to stop again and again but eventually I just get so mad that I scream out, "WILL YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP?"

The next thing I know his hand is around my throat, my back is to the wall by my bed, and I can't breath. I can vaguely see/hear my Grandma and nieces shouting behind him. Meanwhile, Joe's trying to give me some kind of lecture on how you talk to adults and how dare I use that language because in his day kids had the shit beaten out of them for that. But I can't really focus because I can't breath. My Grandma starts shouting even more, saying, "JOE stop it!" My younger niece just starts crying. My older niece, the older niece just stares.

After his spiel, Joe let's go of me and storms out. I choke on the sudden rush of air into my lungs. I'm so scared I can hardly think to cry. Mostly I'm just in shock. But finally, like most people who've been attacked, I run and hide somewhere.

Meanwhile, as I found out, my Mom rushed Uncle Joe, my aunt, and my cousins out of the house before anyone could find out what had happened. My older brothers were pissed. So was my Dad but we did not tell him for a long time. (My parents were divorced.) As for me, I vowed never to let anyone hurt me like that again. My Mom tried to play peace-maker and decided we wouldn't have family gatherings like this as much. We never celebrated Hanukkah at our house with the whole family ever again.

To this day I look back on the sight of my Uncle Joe's long, hairy arm stretched out to thick fingers wrapped around my skinny throat and... I think about what it felt like to be young and helpless. I think about bullies, about standing up for yourself, about adults versus kids, about abuse, about my family. I think about a lot of things but the most important thing I think about is how I never cried, how I never backed down, and how I, to this day, refuse to give in to bullies. It's one of those things that makes me proud of myself, even as the memory of those bullies infuriates me.

As for my Uncle Joe? Well, let's just say his life is a sad excuse for a joke. And mine has really hit its stride. So I guess that counts for something.

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