An Oral History of Myself #5: Kevin


In 2005 I began interviewing people I grew up with. Because I left home at thirteen and spent four years in group homes, my social network was significantly wider than most people of that age. What’s most interesting about these interviews turns out not so much to be the things we remember differently as the things we remember the same. This is the fifth interview; you can read the interviews with Roger, John, Dan, and Aaron.


Kevin – Auto Mechanic

Don’t get married.

I see my mother once or twice a month. She’s doing OK.

My earliest memory of you is in eighth grade. I was the new kid. You were the outcast. You weren’t homeless when we started hanging out. I don’t think so. You gave me my first hit of acid. We used to stand on the fence outside your house and watch your dad and his girlfriend. I didn’t know your mother had just died.

We would eat instant coffee. Your room was covered in art and poems. Mostly poems. They were all over your walls.

My mom went on vacation and she sent me to my babysitter back in Indiana. My babysitter was a Christian group home. I had been there before. But this was just for a couple of weeks so I didn’t think of myself as a resident. I was fifteen years old but I was in eighth grade. I had failed a year. I was smoking a cigarette and they told me to put it out and I told them I wasn’t going to do that then I got in a fistfight with the counselor. I took all my stuff, slept in a cornfield, then got a Greyhound back to Chicago. You had run away by then and you were sleeping in a broom closet so I moved in with you. The broom closet became home.

That was the second time I ran away with you. The first time was when my mother hit me in the face with a phone.

We used to rob parking meters.

I remember you coming to my house with your wrists slit. You drank a whole bottle of Puerto Rican Rum and slit your wrist. This is all still eighth grade. You were getting hell from your dad. He handcuffed you and shaved your head. But even still I couldn’t understrand why someone would want to slit their wrists. To this day that just doesn’t compute in my head. Especially when you leave. I mean you left. It’s not like you stayed home. So I don’t know. Maybe you felt like nobody cared.

Don’t you want to forget this stuff?

I remember when you and John left for California. You had a duffle bag full of stuff. You called me from California. I was like, “How is it?” You were like, “It sucks. I have no clothes, no shoes, no money. I’ve got a can of tuna fish with no opener.” Where’d your clothes go? I can’t believe you guys made it to California. I mean, who would think some punk kids could hitchhike to California? That was too crazy for me. I wasn’t about to hitchhike to California. I knew where my food was.

Twice I went with Aaron on those little burglary things. I went with him one time, it was a basement apartment. The window was open and I got stuck. Another was a place right near the grammar school. Robbing the houses was a bigger rush than doing the drugs. A natural high. I remember Aaron busting the lock. I remember we did what every stupid criminal did, we ate. We went through the house, the drawers, looking for cash. Then, when we were done, we went in the kitchen and made sandwiches.

Even when my mom kicked me out I would climb back in through the porch. I had to climb over the ledge and get myself in my own windows. This was on the third floor. She put security bars on the windows to keep me out.

I went with John and your uncle to visit you in the mental hospital. There was some guy there, walking down the hallway picking cigarette butts out of the ashtray and eating them. After seeing that and then visiting John when he got put in Edison Park I remember thinking I don’t want to end up in these places. I started doing my own thing. It was time to work, make money. So you can get all this crap (gestures around. We’re in the basement of his house. His daughter is playing an educational game on the computer. Behind her is a fish tank with no fish. Kevin is holding a can of beer. The floors are white tile.)

I think in Freshman year I got suspended for tapping my gym teacher on the shoulder. She had me suspended for assault. So I go to school anyway, I don’t have anywhere else to go. Then I get arrested for trespassing. Of course I have pot on me so now I’m busted for possession. My mother wouldn’t pick me up. She called my dad, who I hadn’t seen since I was three years old. I’m waiting in the police station and I see this guy hobbling in on a cane and I’m thinking, Please don’t let that be him. Of course it is. That’s when I moved out by Diversey and California. It was like living with a stranger. I didn’t know him or what he was about. He had back problems. I moved in with him and his wife. They had to rent a bigger apartment. He would buy my cigarettes for me. I guess I liked him but we had a falling out too, somewhere about when I turned eighteen. Probably over staying out or something. Spending nights with Penny. Just being free. God I wish I could go through that again.


I’m with Roger and when we’re done talking we ask Kevin if he wants to go out to eat. He lives almost an hour away from the Chicago neighborhood we grew up in. He mentions restaurants nearby, all chains. He can’t go because his wife has snuck away and taken the van leaving Kevin with the two children, one thirteen, one three. He and his wife don’t talk anymore, haven’t talked in a while. They pass notes back and forth through the children.

“I’m simmering with rage now,” Kevin says, opening the garage door, standing inside in the giant square of light. The suburb is quiet.

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Stephen Elliott is the author of eight books, including The Adderall Diaries. More from this author →