The year after that Santa you brought me clothes and a suitcase.
I guess because I was going away to boarding school.
That would have been 1965, when I was twelve.
My stepmom said boarding school would do me some good, and maybe even make a man out of me.
My dad looked down at his feet and said yeah son, like she said, it would maybe do you some good and make a …
“But I don’t want to go away!” I cried. “I don’t want to be a man yet!”
Too bad, they said. They understood, they added, they really did. But what could they do?
After all, it was for my own good.
“So stop crying mister!” said my dad. “And be glad you have a swell stepmom like the one you’ve got, whose always thinking of you!”
Little sissy, he added, but I don’t think he meant it.
He’d started drinking again and sometimes said things he didn’t mean.
“Well,” said my stepmother. “That’s all settled then. Now be a good boy and go make us a couple drinks.”
“And don’t fuck it up like you always do!” she added. “Dumb kid.”
Then her and my father turned to watch tv.
So it was off to boarding school for me.
My stepmom’s younger brother moved in and took over my room, even before I left.
For my last two weeks at home, I had to sleep on the couch.
His name, believe it or not, was Boris.
You might remember him, Santa. He was a really big guy with a mean streak a mile wide.
He was probably on your Naughty list.
Unless your list is totally up the creek.
Boris tore down my drawings and smashed all my model airplanes and he laughed as he spilled my books unto the floor and kicked them around.
Reading was for shit-heads, he told me.
Please don’t hurt my books, I pleaded.
“Shit-head!” he called me, proving his point.
Then he beat me up.
I hid my bruises and kept quiet, because Boris said he’d have my stepmother tell the men at the hospital to come and take my dad away again if I told. Then he called my father some nasty names, just like aunt Tootsie and the milkman had.
I didn’t want to go stay with aunt Tootsie again, so I kept quiet.
That Boris! What a two weeks that was!
He was always up to mischief.
Like a little devil, only he wasn’t so little.
He did a lot of stuff that was no good and made sure I got the blame.
“What’s wrong with you lately?” asked my father. “You gone crazy or something?”
I had no answer, which only proved to my father how crazy I’d gone.
Now he knew that putting me in boarding school was the right decision, he said.
Boris thought it was very funny.
He even let my pet turtle go free.
Which he knew would kill the turtle.
I told him, Please, I said. Some things cannot survive on their own.
Some things need love and care.
But Boris just laughed and dumped the turtle out in the bushes.
Then he beat me up to distract me so I couldn’t find Clarke.
I came back later, but Clarke was gone.
I figure the neighbor’s cat got him.
He was always sneaking around, that cat, and chasing the birds away.
The turtle’s name was Clarke, by the way, after the writer.
Because I’d used Bradbury for my pet axolotl.
(And Asimov, you may remember, for my robot.)
ABC. Get it?
I figured you would, Santa, having delivered as many books as you have.
An axolotl is a type of salamander with beautiful long external gills which are filled with blood and very red. They have friendly faces too, with wide smiley mouths and little button eyes.
They don’t actually do very much though.
Boy! I must have drawn Bradbury a thousand times! Floating at the bottom of his fishbowl on weightless legs, his glorious gills waving in the current from the pump, his button eyes unblinking, he himself immobile, waiting for his dinner.
Bradbury died a few days before I left for boarding school.
Boris fed him chocolate instead of hamburger.
Which he knew would kill an axolotl.
I told him. Please Boris, meat only, I said.
But Boris didn’t pay attention to me and offered Bradbury a piece of chocolate on the sharp end of a knitting needle, just how he likes it.
Poor Bradbury! He didn’t know better and he ate it right up. Gulp and down it went! A minute later he twitched in pain and sort of lathered up all over, while Boris laughed his head off.
Bradbury thrashed in his fishbowl as his beautiful long red gills faded and wilted, then he died.
I cried that night before I fell asleep on the couch.
Why would Boris do that, I wondered through my tears, and then laugh about it?
What harm had Bradbury or Clarke ever done him?
Then I cried for me, because what harm had I ever done him either?
And once I’d started crying I couldn’t stop so I cried for my dead mother and my disappointed father and my mean stepmother and for Asimov in the deep end and lemon not fucking lime in the G&Ts and having to go away to boarding school and everything else in the whole mean world that never seemed to let me be happy.
I suppose it was about then, Santa, that I stopped believing in you for awhile.
To be continued…