High school was a place of forgetting and of unbecoming. Stephen had attended five schools in eight years, and had managed not to make a single lasting friend. He blamed his parents, his life, his circumstance, but never himself. He was a young man comprised of parts; the places he lived, the men who’d hurt him, the women who hadn’t given him the ability to see their value, and the hopelessness that comes from being slow. He wasn’t slow, he told himself. It hadn’t been his fault that he’d repeated first grade. It was a matter of starting late. He’d started everything late.
He was the third child of a loveless home. His older brother Reggie had joined the Army before he’d finished high school, and became a hero in his absence. His sister Nikki had a way with men, barely a woman herself, and gave little appreciation to the image she was instilling in her younger brother. She’d had no regard for the restrictions of society and good grace, and instead had embarked upon nightly journeys through the taverns and truck stops of their small town, bringing home strays to make them beg for her. The noises through the wall from her room to his often sounded like a confrontation of dogs. When the parents were away, she’d lock in him his room, his only entertainment being the sounds of laughter, grunting, screaming, and then the drunken requests for him to do something funny, or painful for the sake of entertaining the unknown guests. Stephen observed all of this, and saw what a woman would do for a man’s attention. He learned the lessons she taught very well.
His father had broken him. His face had become numb to the fingers that after years had become fists, and he learned to retaliate by hating him. The more the man would strike him, the more he would wish the most horrific death upon him. Stephen didn’t know that a son was supposed to love his father, but he did know that a son should follow in a father’s footsteps. What hurt him more than his own abuse was watching his mother, as he peeked from behind a chair or a cracked door, while the old man would lay into her, pulling her hair so hard sometimes it made a tearing sound like a ripping burlap, and her cries sounded like they were coming from the lowest, deepest part of her. This, too, he observed, and learned that despite harsh treatment, a good woman took it and stayed.
In high school he had unbecome. He didn’t want to be the poor kid a grade behind. He had anger. He had retribution to bestow. He joined the football team and no one could hit harder than he could, run faster than he could, or play with such brutality. His violence made him a star.
But a girl had made him question once. She was pretty, and had smiled at him. He’d asked her name and that night had said it a thousand times to himself, wondering if she’d say yes if he asked her for a date. He felt vulnerable, weak, and he began to loath her. Loathing felt a lot like love, and somewhere the two got mixed up inside him until he couldn’t tell them apart.
There were things she did that made him feel like he was flying, and things she did that made him feel like he wanted to kill her.
And then there was Franklin.