An Oral History of Myself #1: Roger

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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.

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Roger – Graduate Student

I was walking down Washtenaw by myself. I was probably seven or eight and you were playing soccer with your dad. I stopped and observed and I think your dad saw me and invited me in so he could do something else. I have no idea what I was doing alone walking down the street at that age.

We were best friends. We had our routine where we would go to McDonalds on Western and talk about current events I remember we were talking about a satellite going past Pluto and some pissed off mother leaned in to tell us we weren’t as smart as we thought we were. Which is a strange thing for an adult to tell a couple of small children.

We did a lot of reflecting. These long conversations in your bedroom. We talked often about running way.

We would play chess for hours. Tournaments. Three out of five. Four out of seven. I think we were pretty evenly matched. We were very competetive. We competed in all these different things which is how we gave each other affection. We would race. I was faster than you.

I remember you seeing my mother naked.

We must have been eight or nine when we found your dad’s porn stuff. I was always more into the pictures and you were into the stories. You were particularly fond of the bondage type stuff. We’d read though the porn books on the shelf. I don’t think we knew that your dad had written a lot of those books.

Your grandmother would make us food. I remember your grandmother being very sweet, going out of her way. And I remember your father being very verbally abusive toward her. He would yell at her to shut up or get out. I remember him as a huge guy. Big, barrel chested. He would walk around with his shirt off. Imposing, threatening. He was very volatile. Sometimes he seemed very sweet, other times very explosive. I have lots of memories of him wearing his sheriff’s outfit. That’s kind of who he was, tough imposing bailiff sheriff type.

I remember learning about the money in the top drawer of your father’s dresser. I remember you taking money a number of times.

I remember your mom when she could walk, seeing her moving around the house. She never really liked me. She called me an alley kid. She criticized my clothes. Then I remember her slowly degrading and ending up on the couch and you having do more and more things for her. She had a piss bucket you had to empty out regularly. She shook when she talked. I don’t remember her having a ton of interaction with you or your sister who was always up in her room. Your interactions were all about getting chores done.

We had a fist fight once. I was pissed off at your for being selfish in some way. We got in some verbal fight. I made some comment about your mom being in a wheelchair. Then we started swinging.

Then my mother remarried and I moved to Florida when I was eleven and you were ten. We would send each other letters. We’d even send each other audio tapes because it was too expensive to talk on the phone. I would come back in the summers and see snapshots of you. Your hair was growing. You hit puberty early. You were the first to have armpit hair and a beard.

I remember sneaking out with you in the summer and learning how to open parking meters. There was a period of time we were robbing cars. I remember Albert had to sneak out by stepping over his sleeping mother. My grandparents caught me sneaking out once and forbid me to hang out with you.

One summer I came and you’re thirteen and experimenting with acid and whatever else. At that point I felt very much that you weren’t the same anymore. You were going down a path I couldn’t go down and it scared me.

The next year you’re homeless. You stay at my grandma’s with me for a little bit and my grandma calls your dad and gives him a hard time so he comes over screaming, “Where the fuck is my son.” You took off through the back door, ran down the alley. I thought your father was going to beat up my grandparents.

I moved back when I was sixteen and you were fifteen. My mother had broken up with that man who had been abusing me. You were in a group home by then and I would hang out with you and your friends.

Our neighborhood was overrepresented with violent kids with no sense of other people. I remember Pat getting hit with a golf club, Albert smacked in the head with a wooden board. We were just a violent, unempathic bunch. We had more than our share of socio-paths.

There was only one honest way to get attention and that was to be better than everybody else. There was no concept of loving each other. There was no parenting, no modeling. We were a safe-haven for the worst kids but the irony is that we were incapable of being supportive. We always saw things in terms of what people could do for us.

There were so many times we could have done more. Take Dave. His parents wouldn’t let him live with them so he got sent to live with his grandmother who was out of touch with reality. Early teens, he’s totally on his own. Now, if I knew a twelve year old in that situation today I would think it was fucked up. But we had a lot of situations like that.

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