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---   D E R E K   D .  W H I T E  

The social worker gave me this cat to take care of- a skittish female tortoiseshell. She said it would give me a sense of responsibility and affection towards others. It's all part of my rehab program here in juvenile detention. She also gave one to my buddy Eric, a longhaired black female.

The night dad brought Sheila home I was in the living room watching TV. I stayed up for Saturday Night Live, but fell asleep before Mr. Bill. I was dreaming I was on a sinking sailboat when they woke me up. Dad made the introductions, then had to lean against the TV set to prop himself up. Sheila had the same glassy-eyed smile as dad. Her hair was dark and full and she was top-heavy. She was wearing tight synthetic pants, but I don't remember the color.

Dad started to fall over, with the TV in tow. Sheila grabbed his arm to catch him and I jumped up to catch the teetering TV. It made me dizzy and sick to my stomach. Dad regained his composure then shifted his weight to brace himself against Sheila instead of the TV. I switched it off and went downstairs. Last thing I saw was Sheila helping him through the bedroom door.

Their bedsprings didn't squeak that night, but they did the next. Things in the house were different after that. No more TV dinners and leaving the dishes in the sink. Dad drank at home instead of at Henry Woo's. I had to vacuum the carpet in my room.

A couple of days later I came home from school and Sheila was in the kitchen cooking. My little brother Danny was sitting up on the counter talking to her- the little kiss-ass that he is. Dad wasn't home from work yet.

She said- "hi honey" to me. "How was your day?"

I said- "what are you doing here?" and headed straight for my room.

A few hours later she knocks and comes in before I can answer. "What's the point of knocking if you're gonna barge in anyways?" -I asked.

"Dinner's ready."

"Where's dad?"

She said he was still at work and kept calling me "honey". Her breath smelled like bourbon and it wasn't even six o'clock.

I told her over and over I wasn't hungry.

When dad came home, he sat on my bed and told me I should get along with Sheila- that I should get used to her because she might take mom's place. As he lectured me, he didn't know what to do with his hands. They alternated between resting on his knees and opening upward.

A couple of weeks later, Sheila was driving a Cutlass Supreme that dad bought her. She drove it to JC Pennys to buy new drapes and matching towel sets. I would come home from school and there would be new clothes laid out on my bed. She bought me this pair of shoes there was no way I was going to wear. They were made out of burgundy leather and had chunky high heels. I threw them in my closet and continued to wear my Nike's. Dad asked me one morning why I wasn't wearing the new shoes Sheila bought me. I said they were dumb. He tried to tell me in an authoritative voice that I had to wear them. It was pathetic.

Then there was the lame circus scene. Sheila put it on my wall without even asking me- a cellophane stick-up mural. It had this ridiculous looking beast master whipping a smiling lion- all life-sized. It covered up my whole wall. She took down my black velvet motor cross posters to find space.

Sheila came in as I was peeling the lion tamer off my wall. "I was just trying to cheer up your room" -she said.

I didn't answer back. She just watched me as I ripped it down. "Look, I know you're angry. But I'm willing to make an effort here to get along-"

"Where's Evel Knievel?"

"You didn't want those ugly posters, did you?"

"Where are my posters?"

"I put them away in your closet. I was just trying to make it better in here."

"Look here bitch, don't even think for one second that you're my mother."

She stood in my doorway with her mouth gaping open for a minute. "Where did you learn this language?" -she asked, then turned and left the room, shutting the door behind her.

When I went up for dinner she was crying all over the stove. Dad told me I had to apologize to her- that I hurt her feelings. He had an amber-colored drink in his hand that was shrouded in a condensation-soaked napkin. I said I didn't want her sticking shit on my walls. Dad raised his free hand to hit me but hesitated. He didn't have the balls. I felt empowered. I made a dash out of the house, down the street to Eric's. Eric's mom was really cool. She let me eat over at their house whenever I wanted.

We ate dinner and afterward Eric and I snuck out to Valley Plaza to vandalize stuff. We went to work on our collection of car emblems. We'd pry them off with the Swiss army knife dad gave me. We had a lot of fun with that knife. If we got bored stealing emblems we'd slit bicycle tires. Or if we were really bored, we'd go into Valley Lanes and sneak bowling balls out to bowl into the oncoming traffic on Jamieson road. Eric and I had lots of fun together.

Sheila brought her stupid cat with her when she moved in, along with her polyester wardrobe and Norman Rockwell plates. It was a fat calico named Miki Moto- a really bitchy cat that wouldn't let anyone pet it except Sheila. Not that I wanted to pet it anyway. It used to kill birds in the yard and not eat them. Sheila named it "Miki Moto" after some Japanese emperor I had never heard of. When it wasn't killing birds, Miki Moto would sit on the heating vent in the kitchen all day.

Sheila cooked us the worse shit imaginable- cow tongue and cabbage, Swedish meatballs with frozen spinach, or Salisbury steaks with lima beans. She and dad would eat later in front of the TV. They ate sirloin steaks and baked potatoes with sour cream and chives and washed it down with mixed drinks. Without fail, Danny and I got mushy vegetables with every meal. At first I'd just shovel them down the disposal, but it was hard to get away with that as the disposal made too much noise. Sheila would hear it or find the veggies and tell dad to ground me. Then I discovered the heat register on the floor that Miki Moto squatted on. I would kick the fat cat out of the way, lift up the register and dump my vegetables down. Then I'd put the grating back and Miki Moto would return to perch on it. Danny always ate his vegetables and asked for more even though I knew he didn't like them.

One day Danny found this baby robin that fell out of its nest. Eric was pitching me balls in the yard. We tried to tell Danny that something was wrong with the little bird to make the mother shove it out of the nest. He still wanted to feed it and make it a pet. He set it down on the grass and started digging for earthworms. The little bird's eye started to twitch and roll back in its head. Then a little white maggot appeared, burrowing its way out of the infested brain. I took the tip of the bat and placed it on the little bird's head. I leaned on the bat, applying enough pressure to squish its brains out. Danny started bawling and ran inside to tattle-tell. I was grounded for two weeks even though I tried to explain that I was putting the bird out of its misery.

That didn't keep me from sneaking Becky in through my window. If I got a magnifying glass out, I could see my sprouting little hairs. Becky was sprouting little hairs too, above her hole. She let me see the progress sometimes and we'd French kiss. But that afternoon, Sheila walked into my room without knocking, just as I was taking off my belt.

Sheila asked me what we were doing and I said- "what does it look like we're doing? We're playing lion tamer, Becky's the lion and I'm the beast master."

Becky went along with it. She got down on all fours and went- "grrrrrr."

I started whipping her, but not really hard. Sheila tried to wrestle the belt out of my hands, but I gave her a good pop. It felt good, the buckle hit solidly across her cheek- enough to make her face welt up and bleed. I ran out of the room and left Becky there. Becky hasn't talked to me since. I got grounded for a month for that. Sheila told dad that I was "getting into Becky's little panties" before she broke it up. Dad tried to sit down and have a heart to heart with me about it. It was pathetically obvious Sheila had prodded him to talk to me.

Since I couldn't play after school because I was grounded, I skipped school so I could play then. Eric was cool and skipped school with me. We'd hide in the trees off Jamieson and egg the school bus. We used to egg a lot of stuff. The grocer started to figure out what we were doing with all the eggs and stopped selling them to us. So we'd go to seven eleven and steal shaving cream. One time Eric managed to steal four rolls of toilet paper and we TP'ed Becky's house.

Then Sheila found my stash of car emblems. I called her a "sneaky whore" for snooping through my stuff. Dad gave me fifty with the fanny paddle for that one and tagged another month onto my sentence. They told me I couldn't see Eric any more because they figured he was the one teaching me these words. Now I was serving two months back to back. What pissed Sheila off most was that she found her Cutlass Supreme emblem in the collection. I didn't steal it from her car, but I wished I'd thought of it. Eric pulled off that brilliant move, then traded it to me for a Torino. On top of it, they found out about me ditching school and drove me themselves after that. They always fought about who had to drive me. I could still arrange stuff for Eric to do though.

We were all watching TV as one happy family in the living room when we heard the eggs smack against the window. Dad ran to the window and pulled back the curtains. Through the trickling egg splatter, we saw that all the trees in the yard were covered with toilet paper and Sheila's Cutlass was smothered in shaving cream. It was a beautiful sight. Danny was laughing too. They made me clean it up even though I said I didn't know who did it. I had to scrape the shaving cream off the Cutlass but it was hopeless. The paint job was ruined. Eric came by while I was cleaning it up and asked for the five dollars I told him I'd give him. It was totally worth it. "Way to go!" -I said. "This was your best job yet."

Sheila was making it harder and harder to have fun. Dad was keeping a watchful eye on me. I could tell my behavior was straining their engagement. Miki Moto started spending a lot of time meowing at the heat register until Sheila found all the vegetables I'd been tossing down the duct. I got fifty more with the fanny paddle for that. And another month tagged on to my sentence.

Since I was home all the time now, Sheila demanded a night out away from me. They hired this baby-sitter that was a total pushover. It wasn't hard to make her fear me- just a few threats with a kitchen knife and she was out of there. I took the keys to the Cutlass and grabbed Miki Moto just for the hell of it. She scratched the shit out of me while I was putting her in the trunk. I swung by Eric's place and picked him up. The look on his face was priceless. The keys to the beach house were on the key ring. It didn't take me long to figure out how to drive the Cutlass. I could have driven it faster but we had to watch out for cops.

We had fun when we got to the beach house. I drove the Cutlass through the garage and into the living room, barely missing dad's stocked liquor cabinet. We found some cokes to mix some drinks. After a few drinks we got bored and decided to get Miki Moto out of the trunk. We found some rope and tied her to a cinder block from the damaged wall. I grabbed Miki Moto and Eric grabbed the block and we hurdled them into the waves. The cat had nothing to do with Eric, he was just a good friend for helping me do it.

We trashed the beach house as best we could but sometimes it was hard because we were laughing hysterically. It was the funnest thing I've ever done, though I knew it was wrong. It was a fun we knew would have to come to an end. We ripped up the couch cushions and mattresses with a kitchen knife. We broke every plate in the house against the fake stone fireplace. We drank my dad's liquor and destroyed what we could until we passed out on the damp shag carpet.

The cops were there to wake us up. Dad and Sheila made the drive out and told them to prosecute us to the full extent of the law. We got in a lot of trouble for the beach house, but it was well worth it. The only thing I regret was Miki Moto. I should've set her free.

These are things I'm learning as the cat the social worker gave me purrs on my lap. I have earned its trust and it feels good. They tell me if I take good care of the cat I will get out of here soon. I talked to dad on the phone and he said that Sheila left him. He couldn't repair the damage I had done. Sheila couldn't take it any more. He blamed it on me, but deep down I know dad is happier without her. But I've got my own life to worry about now. It's starting to feel more real.

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