I don’t remember the first day Marty Martinez showed up in my life, but he was to become my father – the man who raised me. My earliest memories are of him at my mother’s workplace. She worked in the kitchen at a hospital in Whittier, and I remember him giving me a copy of Highlights magazine. I loved those magazines – you’d find them in doctor’s offices. They were written for kids and they had little stories and activities, and I devoured it. He may have given me one or two of those in an effort to convince my mother that he liked me, since he was trying to date her. It worked – I thought he was a good guy. I’d later learn that he was a thief and a scoundrel, and those magazines most likely were pilfered from the hospital.
I also don’t remember my mother marrying Marty. She’s never told me that story – I’ll have to ask her about it someday. Maybe they snuck off to Vegas? Anyway, all I know is that we ended up living together, the three of us, in a little 1-bedroom apartment on the second floor on Macy Street in La Habra, California. I slept on a cot from a military surplus store out in the main living area. I believe I was five years old. I slept with my baby blanket, which was very important to me – my mother called it my “security blanket”.
I remember Marty telling us that now that he was the man of the house, things were going to be changing around here. One of the first things that had to go was that security blanket. My mother shared this story with me and was surprised that I have no recollection of it at all. Marty had us stand around a bonfire together and I was forced to throw my blanket into the fire. My “masculinization” had begun, as had his reign of terror over me. Things were indeed going to change.
I remember him drinking big cans of beer when we lived on Macy Street. I don’t think my mom liked it very much.
I remember “boxing” with dad. He would be sitting down and he’d call me over and say, “Put up your dukes!”. At which point I was required to put up my fists and play box with him. He’d play around and act like we were boxing for awhile, and then he’d throw his arms into the air. At five years old I had a strong mirror response to this, and my arms would mimic his, even though I knew what was coming. Once my arms were in the air he’d punch me square in the solar plexus, so that my diaphragm would spasm and I’d be unable to breathe. As a five year old, this was terrifying, and so I only did this willingly the first time. After that when he’d call me over to box with him, I’d cry and try to run away because I knew what was coming. I’m not sure how he ever got a second shot at me, because you’d think Mom would have stopped him. But I remember this happening multiple times and knowing what was coming. I’m not sure what was worse – the feeling of suffocating, hearing him mock me as I was doubled over in pain, or knowing that mom was letting this happen.
I don’t remember any physical affection from my parents. Indeed the only hug I actually remember was as a young adult and I was having girlfriend trouble and my mom gave me a hug. It felt awkward because when you’re not used to being hugged by someone, well, it’s just awkward I guess. I was looking through some old artwork in my memorabilia pile, and I found a picture that I drew of Mommy that said, “I love my mommy because she kisses me at bedtime.” Those kisses must have been pretty important to me.
One evening, sitting on my cot, I was feeling very sick to my stomach. I’m not sure if it was food poisoning or the flu, but I knew that I was going to vomit. My mom kept a pink kidney shaped bowl specifically for this purpose from her days at the hospital. I remember begging for someone to bring it to me because I was feeling so sick. Dad told me that I needed to go get it myself. Thinking back on it now, at that age I’ve no idea how I would have known where such a thing was stored, and at that moment I wasn’t thinking well enough to know where to start looking. I remember vomiting all over myself and my bed. Dad found this pretty amusing.
When we lived on Macy Street, both my mom and dad were working. My mother worked a graveyard shift, and wasn’t home by the time I needed to go to kindergarten in the morning. I remember a clock that she’d set up on a table with some food for my breakfast, and a time-teaching clock with its hands set to the time I was supposed to leave. I’d get myself ready for school, eat my breakfast, and watch the clock until the hands were in the proper position, then I’d walk a couple of blocks to school. I wasn’t very good at remembering all the stuff I needed to do, and I remember a day that I went to school in my slippers. One day I forgot to change my clothes completely and ended up locked outside the apartment in my bathrobe. I think it was the cold on my skin that made me realize I had forgotten to put on my school clothes. I was pretty scared, and eventually the manager let me back into the apartment. I was late to school that morning.
I remember spending time in child care with one of my mother’s friends, Winnie Black. I thought that was funny, her name being Black and mine being Brown. I remember playing doctor with the kids there – my first sexual experience. I quickly grew to like that sort of attention. The lack of physical affection at home left me with a ceaseless craving for physical touch and acceptance. I remember my mom giving me an explanation for the lack of physical affection from her. She told me that she couldn’t get too close to me because Dad was jealous. I was a reminder to Dad of her former marriage. Later in life I discovered that Mom’s parents didn’t give her or her siblings any physical affection either, so this may just have been an excuse. You can’t give what you don’t have.
I remember being at Winnie’s house and her husband sitting on the couch watching TV. Back in those days remote controls were pretty new, and were, apparently, based on sound waves. One day I discovered that I could change the channel by running around pushing the corn popper toy as fast as I could manage. They had to take that toy away from me because I was having so much fun annoying Mr. Black with it. Finally I was able to pull a caper on a grown man. Think of it!
I only remember playing catch once with my dad. Back then the lot next to our apartment on Macy Street was not yet paved over and Marty was throwing a ball back and forth with me. He was smiling and talking to me, and for a brief moment I thought maybe he was accepting me as his son. That didn’t last long once he started speaking. He started telling me about where bad kids go. Bad kids go to a place called Ju-Ven-Ile-Hall. It’s like jail for kids. He also told me that those bad kids really like young, blonde, blue-eyed boys. I didn’t have a clue what he was implying at that time, but something about the way he was saying this told me all I needed to know – if I went there, it would be bad for me. This was a mantra he would repeat many times during my young years.
One night, my dad asked me how I liked flying on a plane all by myself to Idaho. Mom must have told him about how she’d sent me away to the farm when I was little. I told him that the farm was the best place, and that I really loved spending time with my cousins there. Then he asked me if I wanted to go there again. I said, oh yes! I’d love that. When can I go? He told me to pack my bags, I could go tonight! I was ecstatic. I ran to my mom and asked her to help me. She found my little bag and helped me pack my clothes into it. I remember the look on her face wasn’t very happy and I was confused about that. My next memory is pretty vivid – my mother and I standing in the doorway together, me with my little bag all packed up and ready to go, facing him. And then my world turned upside down. He pointed at the door and told me to go to the airport. He said that he would give me a thirty-minute head start before he called the police and reported me as a runaway. I was confused, terrified, and convinced that I was about to be sent to Ju-Ven-Ile-Hall, where they liked little boys with blue eyes and blonde hair. I immediately broke down and cried, please don’t send me away. He forced me to leave. The door closed behind me and I stood outside, under the glowing yellow porch lamp. I remember the little bugs flying around that lamp. I remember peering down the dark street waiting for the police cars to come. I knew I’d hear them coming and see the rotating beacons on the roofs of their cars. I knew they would grab me and take me to Ju-Ven-Ile-Hall to be with the bad kids. It felt like forever, standing out there all alone with my little bag, weeping so hard that my insides ached and I could hardly breathe. I don’t remember anything after that – I’m not sure when they let me back in the house.
Of all the abuse I experienced, this episode was the one that made it clear how much I was not wanted in that household. I was an outsider; no place was safe. I had nowhere to run. I needed to stay quiet, small, and out of sight in order to survive.
My dad liked to move a lot. We didn’t stay in one house for long. This was one of the things my mom would yell at him about when they’d fight. I don’t think she liked all the moving around. It makes me wonder why he felt the need to move so often – perhaps he wasn’t following the rogue’s advice, “Don’t piss in your own backyard.” Anyway, it wasn’t long before we moved to a different neighborhood in Whittier, California. This house was on Aeolian Street, near Norwalk Blvd. I remember it having a long driveway – I think there may have been another house in front of ours on the street, because one of the stupidest things I ever did happened on that driveway.
I think I had a little bike at that time, and I decided, with my great six-year-old wisdom to mimic one of my greatest heroes at the time, Evel Knievel, the daredevil who was famous at the time for jumping his motorcycle long distances. I got a shovel and dug up some dirt and used it to fashion a little ramp at the end of the driveway. I must have envisioned jumping over the cars coming down the street – I dunno what I was thinking. Anyway, I remember getting on my bike, pumping with all the speed I could muster, and hitting that jump, and landing it successfully, of course right in the middle of the street as a car was coming. The lady driving the car slammed on her brakes, and I laid down my bike on the ground as the front end of her car came to a stop right over my knees. Naturally, she thought that she’d killed me. After the scare wore off and I realized I was alive, I knew I was in trouble. This lady wouldn’t stop shrieking thinking she’d killed me. My parents were going to find out quick and I was gonna be in big trouble.
The house on Aeolian had avocado trees on it, and man did they leave a huge mess when they dropped their leaves. My dad decided that was going to be my job – raking those leaves up. I remember spending the entire afternoon working on it out there, sweating my ass off, huge piles of leaves that were as big as I was. It was pretty fun until dad came to evaluate my work. He wasn’t happy. I’d not gotten all the leaves up, or I had too many piles, or something. I don’t remember. I just remember being shocked with his displeasure because I’d worked so hard and I was so little and those piles of leaves were so big. I was really proud of myself and was really confused as to why he was so mad.
Around that time he introduced me to his best friend, his black belt that he wore every day. When he wasn’t happy with me, he’d beat me with it. He’d make me pull down my pants, put my hands on the edge of my bed, and he’d hit me just as hard as he could on my ass. At first I cried right away because it hurt so bad. As these beatings continued, I got to the point where I’d not cry at all just to show him how tough I was. It was my little way of saying, “Fuck you, asshole,” although I didn’t know those words at the time. That wasn’t a good strategy, because from then on, he moved his aim down to my thighs and behind my knees. And if you’ve ever been beaten there, you know how painful that is. So I learned to do what was expected, although I must admit that as soon as he started taking off that belt, I’d start wailing right away because I knew the pain that was coming. I remember thinking, I’m crying uncontrollably. Isn’t that what you want? You don’t have to beat me – I’m already doing what you want. You win already.
He must have left marks on me, he hit me so hard. Maybe that’s why mom bought me long pants for school.
- “I’m the engine that pulls the train”
- Ms. Frand
- The teletype machine
- Raking leaves
- The neighborhood boys
- The ‘stolen’ ball
- The black cat
- Gatehall neighborhood
- Guitar lessons
- Playing for the kids
- Playing catch with Wayne
- Exploring sexuality with Karen
- Wasp nest
- Swastikas on the blackboard
- The borrowed game
- Star Wars
- Jesus camp