This is Chapter Nine of my Novel, Waiting for Ray
Ray had grown up hard. Hard from his father’s beatings and drunken cruelty. Hard from playing every sport available in his school system. Hard from having to steal at night as he grew older, in order to have food for himself and whiskey for his father. He was not only hard, but smart. Despite his active life as a young criminal, he had never been caught, and was never even suspected. Everyone regarded him as a kid who'd managed to make good, despite having the too-common problem of living with a drunken father.
When he first realized that his mother's insurance money would not hold out until his father got a job, Ray was only eight. His father had stopped pretending to try to get any kind of job, was living on some kind of welfare from the state (milk money went to whiskey, not milk), and his mother's insurance was long gone.
They were kicked out of their house for several months of unpaid rent, so they went to live with Curt's uncle, Dick, who owned a house outright. Uncle Dick bragged that all he had to pay were the taxes once a year. Ray heard Curt and his Uncle Dick laugh once that the taxes were nice and low. But then, that was because the ceiling of the house was nice and low. The two laughed about this for at least an hour off and on.
Ray looked at the tiny house, realized it was what some folks in town called a shack, and that was a nice way to refer to it. The largest room, about 20 by 15 feet, held the "living room", the kitchen (a sink, a small refrigerator, a wood stove and an ancient electric stovetop), and Ray's cot. Curt and Dick slept in two small beds in the only other room in the place. Ray thought he should have that room, since these two stayed up half the night drinking and watching the broken-down television right by his head. They usually fell asleep in their chairs anyway, and rarely used the beds. The toilet was an outhouse, in the back. Baths were performed at the sink, with a dirty washcloth and a rare bit of soap.
The worst part about living with Uncle Dick, or Great Uncle Dick, as the man preferred to be called (this became Big Dick to Ray when he had a few moments to talk to himself about his loving relative), was not the size of the house or the closeness of quarters. The worst thing was the dirt and filth and stink the man had accrued over the years.
After they'd first moved in, Ray spent at least two hours a day, after school and homework and cooking supper, cleaning the place up. Eventually, no more rats crawled in with Ray when he tried to sleep. Eventually, the number of cockroaches parading through the kitchen diminished to a number easily squashed. Eventually the stink from filthy living was reduced to a manageable odor, enriched only when one of the two Goddard men decided it wasn't worth going to the outhouse to relieve their bladder, and they missed the "chamber pot" coffee can. Ray always cleaned up those messes.
Ray then learned to spend some parts of his weekends scouring the dump for useful items. His pride and joy was an old, large tin bathtub that he used to clean himself up in a way his mother would have appreciated. He would find money enough to keep soap in the house, so he always managed to keep clean, despite his housemates.
His teacher, Mrs. Kavanaugh, gave him an old iron and ironing board she was planning to give away to Good Will. She also managed to provide him with hand-me downs from her sister's two boys who were older than Ray.
Mrs. Kavanaugh was Ray's third grade teacher. Once Ray finished third grade, she had new eight or nine year old children to care for, and she could no longer look after her needy child from the previous year. Ray's other teachers were good and kind, but they were not in the business of providing charity to all their poor children. Ray had to find another way of keeping himself in clothes which were neat and clean and in shoes which didn't fall off his feet. He began a paper route, and he mowed lawns. He would sometimes find something useful at the dump which he didn't need, and would manage to find a buyer. Soon, he'd learned a lot about the people in his small town.
Through his job delivering papers, Ray met a couple "big city slickers". The man who brought the Seattle newspaper to Ray's hometown would sometimes stay in the town for breakfast, since it was the last town on his delivery route. While he waited for the café to open up, he'd sit and gab while Ray got his papers ready.
Ray liked Manic Mannie. Mannie called himself Manic Mannie, and he asked the paperboys to call him that, too. Manic Mannie would tell him stories about the big city, Seattle. Mannie said Seattle wasn't really a big city, like New York or Chicago, but it was big enough, and it was really exciting. Ray, who'd heard nothing but bad things about the cities from his father, listened to Manic's stories, first with disbelief, then with yearning.
Manic Mannie did have a lot of stories; some of them were even true . He also had a desire to earn more money than his lousy newspaper job could give him, so he started doing some another type of business. This new business included shipments of a different nature. In each town, he'd get one of the newspaper boys to make further deliveries, and a new distribution system for Seattle's drug lords was begun. Ray, as one of Mannie's favorite paperboys was an obvious choice. Ray liked the money, and he liked how easy the job was. Unfortunately, he didn't like the cargo.
As soon as he was old enough to venture out on his own, he used some of Manic Mannie's contacts to get into some deals other than the drug trade. He promised to never get back into dealing with drugs, if he could help it. Since he was good at everything he did, his new bosses were happy to keep him busy with many different things.
Throughout his school years, Ray managed to maintain an "A" average and to be a star athlete in football, basketball and baseball. At night, after his team practice, he'd go to work. His father didn't care what he did, but if Curt or Great Uncle Dick ever asked, he was helping in products distribution. They never asked what kind of products, and if they suspected the products were stolen, they never complained.
Ray used the money to improve his own lifestyle. He had built a cheap extension to the house for himself when he was only ten, but when he was thirteen, he actually hired contractors to build a real room for his bedroom, with its own bathroom. He had already paid for real plumbing in the house, and a connection to the town sewage system (Big Dick complained about the increase in taxes, goddamn it). Other improvements to the home were barely noticed by the two adults. Ray didn’t mind.
When he was fifteen, Curt would sometimes ask Ray why he never went on a date; so, after a few drunken rantings about how Curt's son better not turn out to be queer, Ray would occasionally ask one of the town girls on a movie date. He liked the girls well enough, and he wasn't interested in guys despite his father's worries, but he never found himself wanting to spend a lot of time with girls.
He didn't need to impress anyone about his manhood. His athletic prowess made everyone assume that he was a lady killer. He wasn't particularly handsome, but several girls loved the intensity they saw in his eyes. The intensity was rarely directed at the girls, however, so they would figure he had other things on his mind.
Though everyone wanted to be Ray's friend, no one noticed that he really didn't hang around with anyone. When he dated a girl who was known to "put-out", the guys in the locker room would harass him mercilessly, but he'd never discuss any sexual details with them. He soon became the legend of the school, since all the guys figured if he didn't say anything, he must be really good or he must be gay. Since they didn't want to think of their star player as a queer, they figured he was a super-stud.
He normally had little time for dates, since he had too many other things on his mind, and on his shoulders.
Getting good grades was easy, since he usually finished his homework in class, or immediately after. The subjects seemed easy, and his teachers were always encouraging him to expand his horizons and take college-level courses. Ray thanked his teachers, but he told them he had to work at night and couldn't spend time on more difficult subjects. They all knew Curt Goddard, since it was such a small town, so they didn't press him further.
Getting his work done at night and on weekends was almost a pleasure. He was treated like an adult, and he was admired for his abilities. He never let himself think about the ethics of his distributing stolen goods. Since he'd gotten out of distributing drugs, he felt that he had made an ethical step up and didn't want to consider it any further.
The worst part of his life was taking care of Curt and Big Uncle Dick; it took little time, but a lot of energy whenever one of them got a wild hair and decided to vent their frustration on "the kid."
Though he would never say that he really loved his father, Ray felt a commitment to take care of him despite his constant drunkenness. When he'd been old enough to realize why he had been getting in that van all those years ago, he's felt an unexplained, but unavoidable guilt at having been a part of his mother's leaving. He realized that, if it hadn't been for him, his mother would have found it easier to leave Curt much earlier than she had, so he felt guilty for her death. He also felt guilty for having almost left his father so willingly, and with that crazy stranger, Sam. Though he'd only been a kid doing as his mother wanted, he'd felt good about starting a new life somewhere away from his drunken father. He didn't need a shrink to tell him his guilt was unfounded. He knew he had only been an innocent player in the whole mess, but he learned to live with the guilt, not to deny it or to be crushed by it.
If Ray ever took the time to consider his life, he wouldn’t think any further than realizing that, for a teenage kid, he did a good job keeping his messed up world together.
Copyright P-M Terry Lamar, 2000