Vincent James Malone, Wholly at Large and For Good
He tells me sad tales of Buffalo. Its dark winter skies and bare-branched trees, vast pot-holed grocery store parking lots, abandoned steel factories and forlorn glass towers frowning in an icy sky. The cold, filthy slush along the roadways after cars sloshed through the snow and made a mess of it.
The filthy brown face of slush depressed him after the pretty innocence of the snow that gave birth to it. He recalled too-warm and too-crowded houses during those winters where his parents fought with kitchen utensils -- his mother chasing his father with a spatula or a wooden spoon and beating him on his back. His father always turned his back to her onslaughts, almost stoically at first, moving away, and his voice coldly warning her to cease the action. The children always stopped whatever they were doing, swallowed. All eyes turned toward the kitchen, its Victorian, flowered wallpaper, its sentimental ducks and home-sweet-home insipidness. They were terrified by their mother's wrath, which they couldn't understand, and full of dread at their father's inevitable breaking point which always came when he turned finally to face her, his jaw cold and firm, his eyes blank. Then he swung his fist into their mother's holy face. She would scream and fall; wail; and they all would freeze momentarily, then bolt as their father ordered them to go to their rooms.
One time when he was five, he made the mistake of running up to console and comfort his mother, huddled on the ground crying. Like pimp and whore, locked in their mutual hatred like a bond of loyalty, both his parents turned on him, screaming and beating him profusely, until he was sent to his room for two days where his father beat him again for his meddling.
In the basement there is a rec room and a bathroom where his father takes him while his mother is at church with his sisters. His father explains to him that religion is for girls, not boys. He turns on the shower and undresses himself, nodding for Vince to do the same. Vince says he liked this part of it. He was excited to be naked with his father at first. He knew it was special. And even entering the shower -- the warm water, holding his father's thigh, touching his skin -- was sweet. That felt giving, an invitation. But after that, his father wanted something from him. It seemed like he'd disappeared into what he wanted and would manipulate Vince like a chair or a toy. Vince remembers what it was: It's too big, it's too big, as he cries out, as if it would have almost been okay if it hadn't hurt so much, if his father had been gentler, or, at least, not so big. He couldn't see his father by then or look him in the face, but he knew how his eyes looked. He knew. He wanted his mother, but she was still gone at church, which was for girls, and this, he was made to believe, was for boys. But all he really knew was that something painful was happening and when he asked his father to stop, his father ignored his plea. He'd always say the same thing when it was over: "If you tell your mother about this, I'll beat you to death."
In the garage is an old station wagon with fake wood on its sides. Snow chains lie in a pile in the corner next to spooled jumper cables and slumping boxes full of old magazines. He used to spend a lot of time in the car in the garage -- it was a place to be alone, his place. A cold place in winter. Even in the summer, the vinyl seats were cold like sheets. He would lie there with his seven-year-old musings, staring at the patterned fabric of the roof, making shapes from the minutiae of ventilation holes -- continents and faces, flowers, trees, and even words. What must he have dreamed?
In spring, the world turned violent and delicious like popcorn. All the skeletal trees burst green and full, gray turned chartreuse and yellow and purple and red. The steel towers in the distance looked like they were smiling now, soaking up the sun, flashing prisms of glare, sitting on a soft green cushion of trees. When all the popcorn is gone, he thought, the bowl will be empty again. He remembers being tired of the place by the time he was seven. He wanted to go somewhere else. He started to walk the long way home and began to make friends so that he could go to their houses after school. His mother harangued him about how cruel he was to avoid her and his sisters who only wanted his company.
"You're just like your father."
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are -- selfish and rude and uncaring."
The spatula stings as it slaps against his forearm. He's caught off guard as she catches fire (that's how he always saw her when she was angry -- a woman on fire), screaming, "How dare you talk back to me! How dare you!" And he's running through the house, a madwoman on his heels, flames licking at his ears, the slap of the back screen door, the decreasing volume of her voice because she always stops at the door and he keeps going.
At the little desk in the school classroom, he feels for gum and boogers under the table while the teacher reads Tom Sawyer and he begins to daydream about fatherless boys. In the little cell of his brain where the shower exists he thinks of his father's words: "You're not like me at all. You're not a real boy. You should have been a girl. You're too soft, too skinny, too much like your mother."
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are -- whining and devious and disobedient."
Mostly he was silent when his father talked now, thinking of other things, his father's voice a far-off radio or TV, while Vince floated down the river on a raft, fatherless and full of adventurous visions as he winced and sniffled his tears, knowing now it was no use to plead. The river would be different than this sterile place -- this grim Auschwitz gas chamber that never had the decency to finish the job -- with its harsh fluorescent light and loud falling water that had lost the power to clean. On the river, there would be soft, dark earth, big trees hanging their heavy branches into slow, deep, moving water. Towns would come and go, with white church towers and grand, pillared mansions looking across lawns to him and all things that flowed downstream. And nothing would reach him. His parents could pace along the shore like hungry lions, but they couldn't get to him on his raft.
"There were rats in that place," he once told me. He was only twelve but he was squatting with a bunch of teenagers in an old brick building in downtown Buffalo. It only lasted a week. His mother sent the police looking for him, and he knew it wasn't because she cared, but because she wanted him punished for betraying her secret. He ran away again when he was fourteen. This time he made it all the way to Rochester. When he asked the policeman why they always took him home when they found him instead of to jail, the officer answered that he hadn't committed any crime. So he knew what he had to do.
The next week, he smashed a window open at the drugstore and stole a bunch of candy and cigarettes. He sat at the door smoking and eating candy bars under the deafening sound of the alarm until the police arrived. It didn't bother him since he was used to blocking out loud noises around him. Empty suburban Main Street of old brick buildings, where cars loll by as he sits, unconcerned with the alarm. He vows to never come back to this town -- ever -- and he looks out upon the street, his mouth full of chocolate and peanuts. He's stuffing himself and not even hungry. He looks at the shoe repair across the street, the stationers next to it, and the beauty parlor across the parking lot, as if for the last time. He starts to cry but he doesn't know why and he tells himself he doesn't want to cry in front of the police. He doesn't want anyone feeling sorry for him. They always touch you; want to help you. It disgusts him. He knows he doesn't want to be touched or helped -- he just wants to get out of here. He sniffles it up and decides he'll hit the policeman; he'll fight him. Maybe he'll get shot or slammed down against the pavement. He wants to be hurt. He likes how it feels substantial, not vague like all this 'good and bad,' and 'you're like your mother; you're like your father; you're a girl, blah, blah'. He wants something he can feel against his skin, but he doesn't want it to be emotional. He wants it be indifferently cruel, anonymous. He's been betrayed by tenderness and hate.
Suddenly he wants his father to fuck him like he used to do. He wants it to hurt and he wants his father to be cruel. And he wants to spit in his face and then maybe kill him, beat him with a tire iron or a plumber's wrench. His mother he thinks deserves a bullet. He doesn't want to get too near her. He wants to blow her away from 20 feet out, keep all that nagging, all that clawing and scratching at bay. Somehow his father's cruelty is preferable, blunt and abrupt. She, on the other hand, has always scratched at him, slapped him, stingy, skittish pains. She's a mosquito to his father's dog bites. He doesn't know if he'd rather just get it over with or if it's the irritation that really gets him. He doesn't care.
He gets up and runs when the police car pulls up and an officer gets out, sauntering over in his slow cowboy cop-walk. He runs faster than he's ever run before and he laughs to see the uniformed cop chasing him. It must be awful trying to run in that polyester uniform with all those things hanging off your belt. He knows the cop doesn't want to run; hates this part of it. He wants to hurt every adult he can; ruin this cop's day. But Vince feels light -- like he could run forever. He runs fast and hard like a kid can; he dodges and darts; jumps over a low brick wall in the adjacent parking lot; rolls -- like he's seen on TV -- over a car hood, but flubs it and ends up falling flat on his back. He loses time and the cop gains on him. Now he's in the park and he's losing wind and he slows down, but not too much -- he wants the abrupt hit of the cop. He feels the back of his shirt yanked hard from behind and he goes flying like a rag doll. He's only 14, maybe 5'4", 110 pounds tops. He eats the grass, feels it pressed into his cheek, his whole body pinned and forced hard into the cold lawn. The cop has him face down, cuffing him. He struggles and feels the cop's knee in his back. He notices his cock is hard.
The cop utters profanities at him; drills him with questions, but he only smiles. He's got what he wanted -- fuck what the cop wants. He's thrown in the back of another car that's pulled up. The place is teeming now: three squad cars, five or six cops milling. He laughs at how he's beckoned society, beckoned authority to his person. All he had to do was break one window and the strongest nation on earth shows up to look him in the eye. He feels like thanking the cop who caught him.
This time he ends up in a group home with other juvenile delinquents. That's where he first has sex. There's nothing tender about it. A big black boy wants to fuck him and they do it in a closet one night. The young black boy is even bigger than his father and it hurts terribly. He bites his lip and takes it, notices that this boy is just like his father -- he doesn't care if it hurts -- which is fine with Vince.
He doesn't know how but one of the counselors finds out and they interview them both. It's all blah, blah, why? You know sex is against the rules. Did he force himself on you? He says as little as possible and the black kid gets kicked out and Vince is allowed to stay. He figures it's either because the other boy is black or because he's the one who it was easier to pin a rape charge on -- the inserter is always the perpetrator? Vince doesn't care; he didn't even know the kid. It's each man for himself, that's clear, and if it's a racist world, well, no kidding, things are bad all over.
There's a woman there, Sandy, who takes an interest in him. This pisses him off at first, but then she offers to let him draw, read, cut pictures out of magazines for collages, all sorts of stuff. And in her office. He knows she's got some kind of do-gooder agenda, so he's suspicious, but he craves the privacy of her office as opposed to the fucking jungle of the common rooms where he has to deal with up to ten other adolescent boys. Beasts all.
He likes to make the collages especially. She laughs at them as if she gets what he's up to, and he appreciates it but warns himself to be careful. She's trying to get a foothold. He doesn't like footholds or fire; he's interested in water, a river.
"Well, when I had to go back, after leaving the group home, I decided that I'd just totally try to be myself and take no shit. A mistake of course." He rolls his eyes and grins, and I see in those eyes the dignity and nobility of a child -- laughed at because it's just too devastating to ponder. "I pierced both ears, dyed my hair -- which was still a queer thing to do back then. Now every little straight boy's doing it -- they always follow us. They'll be sucking dick in 5 years." He chuckles. "Anyway, I digress," and he says it slowly and sarcastically, as if to relish his story all the more. "My mother got suspicious eventually, looked at me with her shitty look, and asked me what the fuck I was doing? I always muttered 'nothing' or something stupid like that. I didn't speak to her unless I had to. And it was driving her crazy. She just had to know," and he rolls his eyes. "She followed me once to a gay bar, this one I'd started hanging out at."
"I can still see her," he nods his head back and forth, "the dumb bitch," and I feel the years of bile, bubbling up. "She rolled down her window and started screaming at me from across the street as I stood there talking to the doorman."
Her voice is high-pitched and almost frantic. The content of her speech hasn't mattered for years. It's all just venom dressed up in words anyway. She is forever trying to get a foothold in the total chaos she experiences as her life. If she can just hit one pin with this bowling ball we call the human personality, she'll be on her way. But it's one gutter ball after another. She throws them harder, faster, but it's always the same. The pins mock her, standing still, gathering dust.
"Don't you go in there, Vincent Malone. You come here!" He only stares, amazed she's pursued him this far into town. "You better not be gay!" she shouts. He starts to laugh at her, then he yells: "Get the fuck away from me, you crazy bitch! Get the fuck out of here!" And he shoos her with his hand, but he's embarrassed in front of the doorman and worried other friends and acquaintances might see this shameful ruin that bore him. He picks up a bottle and bounces it off the roof of her car. He crouches down and picks up pebbles, a pizza crust, a spark plug -- anything he can get his hands on -- and flings them all at her car and its open window, which she's now desperately rolling up, ducking. Momentarily, she guns it, skidding and heading down the street. He is his mother's son; she's trained him well. "You fuckin' whore!" he screams at her, running out to throw a final stone.
Vince runs away again after that. He'd only been able to hold out a total of about four months. Actually, he didn't really run away this time, so much as get kicked out for good. She wouldn't let him in the house the next morning after the shouting incident in front of the bar. He knew better than to go home that night, figuring he'd let her cool down, and instead went home with yet another nameless boy with whom he spent his anger by having furious sex all night.
She'd opened the door a crack, not removing the chain, as he crossed the lawn the next morning -- the frozen, parched, dead lawn of Buffalo winter. Pressed down by the freeze of snow, mildewed by slush; it was a brown, smashed thing in the first clear days of March.
She tells him she's called the police and to get off her property. He stops, wonders whether she's bluffing. Is she capable of this? Would she really do that? It would be a final insult, but not terribly surprising, considering. He stands there, still, as she slams the door. He stands for 5 minutes, not moving an inch, seeing if she'd really do this, waiting for the 'alleged' cop. Did she think she could scare him off by threatening the police? Did she think he was afraid of the police? "Dumb, game-playing bitch," he mutters to himself, kicking at the lawn.
Just then a police cruiser pulls up. It's the same old thing, the cowboy-cop-walk of controlling the situation, the set jaw, the 'I'm a reasonable man, I expect you to be, too' smirk on his face. Vince turns and sees his mother staring out of the kitchen window, from around the curtains.
The cop says 'how ya doin'?' or something faux-friendly like that, and Vince answers: "I live here." It's overcast and very cold in East Buffalo; the street is replete with expired lawns, cyclone fences, poorly kept one-story homes, no sidewalks, or curbs. Vince stands in the middle of the dead grass in his ragged punk outfit -- the long, tattered black overcoat and combat boots; his orange, messy spiked hair. He's pointing, gesticulating, explaining to the cop that this is where he lives; he's not doing anything wrong.
His mother stares out the kitchen window and the cop turns to look in that direction as she guiltily pulls the drapes closed. The cop goes to the door, knocks, does his cop thing, peering in the side window. She opens it a crack and he asks her if this is her son, pointing to Vince in the middle of the lawn, wholly exposed to the elements.
"Yes, he's my son, and he's not welcome here anymore. He's been kicked out, so he's trespassing. I'd like him arrested, please," she says with uncharacteristic poise.
"Ma'am, I can't arrest your son for trespassing on his own property."
"It's not his property. He doesn't pay the mortgage on this house." Vince wants to yell: 'No, I don't, your cunt does!' But he bides his time so as to watch her sweat.
The cop explains to her that Vince is a minor, but what could be the point of talking legalities to this crazed woman, so full of hatred and ruin she would bar her own son entrance to his house? "Ma'am, would you like to step out here and talk to your son? You must have a reason to have kicked him out. Perhaps you two can talk this out?"
"There's nothing left to say. I don't consider him my child. I don't want to ever speak to him again. Let him go to his father's."
"Ma'am, do you and your -- I assume --ex-husband have joint custody?"
"Of course not, he's a child molester." She's coming apart as she always does -- it doesn't take more than a small breeze or a couple of innocent questions. By this time, Vince has turned to go, and has proceeded across the lawn, past the police car, and onto the pot-holed street. He feels a sudden enormous need to cry. He feels it in his throat, like a flood or a wave pushing up. He doesn't want them to see it. But he hears the cop's voice, "Mr. Malone, excuse me, Mr. Malone, can you come back here for a minute?"
He turns to see the cop and his mother, huddled in her pink bathrobe, standing together on the lawn. The weather is awful; this whole street is hell, the whole scene irrevocably sad. He can't bear another minute of it, but he can't let her see him cry so he screams it out: "You fucking bitch, whore, cunt!" ad infinitum...
She turns, throwing her hands up, and marches back toward the door. The cop is left holding the bag, losing control of a situation he obviously would rather get away from as soon as possible. "Ma'am, you need to tell your son why you won't speak to him or let him into your house, which is rightfully his residence."
She stops, and leans forward, pathetic-looking in her curlers, her faded bathrobe. "Isn't it obvious? He's a faggot, officer. A homosexual, a pansy, a sissy, a poof!" And she ends her litany of insults with a crescendo of exclamation aimed at Vince, who she now glares at maliciously. The cop turns to Vince.
Calmly, Vince responds, "She's right officer. And she's just jealous that I'm getting more dick than she is." Infuriated, she runs at him, but the policeman intercepts her, her fists flailing on his shoulders. She pushes at him and screams 'let me go' which he eventually does, sensing she's spent her anger. She pushes him away ungratefully and walks into the house, not looking back, and slams the door loudly behind her. A dried-out, emaciated wreath bounces on the door as it slams. 'Home Sweet Home' Vince thinks cynically.
The cop turns to Vince: "I can give you a ride to your father's if you'd like."
"Fuck you," Vince snaps, irritated by this stranger, sitting smack dab in the middle of his exposed and shamefully ugly life.
"What did you say?"
"I told you to get the fuck out of here. We don't need you."
"Yes, I can see you're handling things very well. Now you listen, punk," and the cop is moving toward him now, hands like parentheses to his hips, "You want me to take you in? Hmm, is that it? Because I can, and I will." Vince realizes the cop has to at least deflate the situation if not solve it, and he's nowhere standing here outside his mother's house and unable to gain entrance, so he agrees to take the ride to his father's. He hasn't seen the old kidfucker in close to 5 years but he knows where he lives.
The cop asks him questions on the ride: 'How old are you? What school do you go to? What's the problem between you and your mother?' Vince will only answer that she's a bitch.
"You're gay?" the cop eventually inquires.
"Didn't you believe my mother?" he answers. The cop snorts derisively and turns to look out his window before continuing his casual interrogation.
"Are you aware that if you are gay and are having sex with men, that statutory rape is a crime punishable by prison?"
"Only for the men though right?" Vince answers tiredly.
"Regardless, you shouldn't be encouraging criminal behavior. We can nail you for that. It's called contributing to the delinquency of a minor."
"Who better to contribute?" Vince knows he's a wiseass but he can't help himself, there's too much built up behind the dam of his life to even attempt any kind of real conversation with this policeman.
"Listen, kid, I'm only putting up with your bullshit because I feel sorry for you."
"Don't feel sorry for me -- you're the cop."
"And you're the smart aleck kid."
"The smart aleck faggot actually."
They make the final turn in silence. Vince sees the big Tudor house at the end of the block that looks like a sick Polish castle full of Nazis who've most likely got Jews down in the cellar that they're torturing.
As he pulls to a stop, the cop looks Vince in the eye. "Now tell me the truth. Your mother called your father a child molester. Is that true? Because if it is, I can't leave you here if there's any injunction against him seeing you."
"He doesn't have a record and I have hair on my dick now, so you don't have to worry. I'd worry about his two sons who live in there. But it's probably too late. Thanks for the ride." Vince hops out, having delivered his final cocky remark.
The cop is leaning across the seat as Vince grabs the door to slam it closed. "One word kid: AIDS. Be care-" But Vince doesn't hesitate, and the door clips off anything else the officer had to say. The police car pulls away, and as Vince crosses his father's lawn, he carries on the conversation with himself as if there were someone listening in his head. "Actually that would be four words made into an acronym," he says sarcastically, shaking his finger out in front of him.
He takes a deep breath, riding completely on momentum now, knowing that if he stops to think, everything will quickly implode and swallow him whole. So he raps hard and confidently on the door three times, which is soon after answered by the new wife he's never actually met, but who must know who he is. She looks suspicious; he just smiles.
"Can I help you with something?"
Vince walks past her. "I'm here to see the kidfucker."
She has a horrified and frightened, worried look on her face, but she attempts to stay calm, albeit with great effort. "Excuse me? Jim!" she yells out. And then to Vince, with just a hint of relief, and maybe even some concern, "Are you his son?"
"Yes, I'm the boy he molested." Vince hears himself saying these things and can't believe it's actually him saying it. The words are simply blossoming off his tongue. He feels giddy and out of control.
"Jim!" She doesn't know what else to do but yell for him into the vast thirty-foot ceiling of the living room entryway. He momentarily appears at the top of the stairs, looking down over the railing. Vince's father has done surprisingly well as a college math professor, now tenured with his new, younger, mellower wife, and two small children. His short auburn hair is graying above his hazel eyes; he's thickened considerably and wears reading glasses which make him look intelligent and cruelly distant, both of which he is. He goes to church now, too, Vince has heard, but he knows he likely hasn't changed.
"Vince." He says it like a statement of recognition, like an acknowledgment of a chronic foot fungus that has once again returned, a bother. "What are you doing here?" He's obviously surprised, but stone-faced about it.
"Looking for a place to stay I guess." But he reconsiders, knowing his plan to run away is not up for review and this would be an insane idea. It's all happening too fast, and he doesn't seem to be directing it anymore. "Maybe I just came to take one last look at you."
"Why?" his father asks indifferently.
That hurts; he feels it pierce right through him. If you have to ask... Surprised and unable to come up with a comeback, Vince answers dryly, "Why not?"
"You're not staying here," his father commands.
Vince feigns being relaxed and in good humor and mockingly replies, "Ah, come on Dad, it'll be just like old times -- " He wants to say it, but he can't; it sticks in his throat. He's still intimidated by this man and he is back now in the shower, helpless. It had been so easy to say it just now to the new wife and to the cop, but to look into the eyes of the beast itself and tell that truth seemed terrifying and near impossible. Why did he come here? He feels an awful panic in his chest. "Are you gonna come down and give me a hug?" Where did that come from? He feels tears again.
"I think it's best you go, Vince."
"You can't do this," Vince blubbers as he starts to cry. "You can't kick me out..." and he raises his voice, as the tears push to get out. "You can't kick me out of your fucking house!" He looks around frantically then and grabs a large vase, flinging it hard onto the tiled entryway floor where it shatters violently. The wife throws up her hands hysterically and runs into the living room. Calmly, James Malone comes down the stairs, his jaw set firmly. He orders his wife to please go upstairs -- she readily complies -- and grabs Vince hard by the arm.
"Listen, you little punk, you get the fuck out of here or I'm calling the police."
"Mom already did. It doesn't work. I'm your kid. Besides, that's who brought me here." He's still blubbering, but breaking the vase released something and he's gaining his composure again, his sense of humor.
His father flings Vince's arm away. "What the fuck do you want -- money? What can I give you that will make you go away?"
Vince thinks of something corny and pathos-laden. He thinks to answer, 'How about my childhood or my virginity?' But he'd never allow those words to cross his lips. "Give me 200 dollars."
His father grabs his wallet, and, in one motion, quickly peels two one-hundred dollar bills out of it as Vince thinks he should have asked for more. "Here," and he shoves the money into Vince's open hand -- a boy's hand, a faggot's hand, a hand of shame because he greedily takes the bills. His father goes to the door and opens it. "Now go!"
Tear-stained, Vince approaches the doorway, and out of the corner of his eye, sees the two young boys at the rail at the top of the stairway. "Are you fucking them, too?" he asks point blank with those cruel black eyes he has learned to use so well to inflict pain when necessary.
It must have been like looking into a mirror for his father, who now compulsively cuffs Vince hard on the back of the neck, sending him through the door, which he slams behind him. Vince is amazed he was able to even say it. Or that it was able to speak through him. He's still sniffling as he walks across the lawn, but he feels a renewed strength, and approaches the living room window. He stops momentarily, and then kicks his boot through the glass. Then he runs away down the street. He looks back once to see if his father has come out, but the door is still closed, the windows empty, and the curtains drawn -- all is silent as if he'd never been there at all, or if he had been, he's already long forgotten, as dismissed as the Avon Lady or a Fuller Brush man or some embarrassing thing you did a long time ago when you drank too much at some insignificant and not-very-good party.