"A moonlit lane," by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Minus the Methadone: 2000s

The following short story focuses on how one learns to accept and heal from the hurt they felt from the most intimate of places — childhood. How do we forgive ourselves and, therefore, others?

It was either fits of rage or bouts of depression; he wasn’t taught how to express himself, how to understand his emotions, or at the very least, relocate them and put his energy into something worthwhile. Most of the time, if he didn’t hurt someone else, he hurt himself. It’s interesting how there were no precursors to the existence he was living, except being a biracial kid who didn’t know his identity in a community that saw him as a token, and parents who neglected him. Like, here’s a dollar kid, now get away from me kind of parenting.

He was raised in the suburbs. To many, a quaint place; to him, a hell that sprang out the demons that preyed on him. Everything was just too robotic for him. How when he was a teenager, he saw the same families move in: a husband who worked too much, a wife who was overlooked, a couple of kids who were like, “Yes mommy, Yes daddy.” But behind their parents’ back they were smoking weed, sloshing back alcohol, popping prescription medicine they called a trail mix and throwing parties when their parents weren’t home. Oh, and a dog. A dog that was usually forgotten about. He always felt like that dog: lost, forgotten, wanting to be loyal and friendly, but instead, kicked down a notch and not even fed.

***

He didn’t need the methadone anymore. He was two years clean, as clean as a whistle without saliva in it. However, therapy hadn’t helped his anger problems much. In a city like New York, it was a surprise he never blew up and went on a rampage. Even though less frequently, his depression still would pop up. It didn’t help that he broke up with his girlfriend of five years. He was too vocally and emotionally abusive towards her, he didn’t know anyway else to act. He was upset she left, but the truthful thing was, he knew she was better off without him. He couldn’t comprehend why she even stayed that long. He never left physical bruises but that didn’t mean bruises weren’t left. When he was angry with her, he would usually slam and throw things around or scream until her spirit curled up and broke apart, and then went to the bar to wait for someone to fight. Usually, at the bar, nothing ever happened, his anger faded as fast as the happy hour crowd, and he was left with unresolved feelings and a little voice in the back of his head that said, “What the fuck are you doing, Stock?”

Stockton was his name. He hated how his supervisor would say it: “Stockton, can you get this, Stockton, can you get that.” If his supervisor really needed something, he would say it like: “Stock, I’ll do a favor for you if you do this one thing for me….”

He knew he was a whipping-boy, but for some sick reason he enjoyed it; however, on the other hand, he wished he were like Edward Norton in Fight Club. He just wanted to rip away from all of it, to march to his own drum beat, to punch someone in the face even if it were his, to revel in some type of victory, or maybe, just to be peaceful.

He didn’t have many friends, heck, he really didn’t have any. He read that a baby could die if the baby didn’t get enough human contact, so he wondered what that was — a slow death? No wonder, he thought on most mornings his face looked like a death mask. It’s not like he hated people, he just hated himself around people, but he was sociable enough. He would joke to himself before he would step outside, “Stock, don’t use your inside voice, out there.”

***

Stockton took a stay-cation. He was no longer a whipping-boy for at least a week. “Who knows, maybe longer than that,” he joked to himself. He told one of his co-workers that if there came a day he didn’t come back to work, he was either a goner or simply, gone.

He thought the week off would be a festival of good old-fashioned self-indulging: watching B-rated movies, masturbating, taking too long showers, napping in the middle of the day and eating gross junk food that might have left holes in his intestines or his butthole. That first day off he didn’t have much planned, he wanted to self-indulge but couldn’t. He also wanted to call his ex-girlfriend but he knew that was a bad idea. Instead, he went to do laundry, which was piled up like some abnormal mass. When he was done with his laundry, he did some more errands and went home to surf the Internet to see if he could skim through an interesting article or two as he ate chicken tikka masala. He normally didn’t check his email, but he was already at the computer so he took a peek. As he scrolled through the emails, he saw one that was from two and a half months ago from his only sibling, his half-brother. It read:

Hey Stock,

I really hope all is going well. If you read this, I just wanted to mention our mom is sick. If you can come and see her it will mean a lot.

Much love,

Greg

“Head of a Dog,” Edvard Munch

***

He went back to the suburbs that Wednesday, he was reluctant to go, but he didn’t have anything going on for him in the city so he thought, “Might as well.” To him, it could have been any suburb in Bergen County or Hunterdon County or Monmouth County or Sussex County, but it was in Gloucester County in the town of Woodbury where his parents recently moved. He met his half-brother, Greg, before he settled into his hotel, which was in a different township.

“How’s your dad?” Stockton asked.

Stock really loved Greg’s dad. He would sometimes think, “If I had Greg’s father in my life, I would have turned out differently — just like Greg turned out: an upbeat man with a Herculean type physique from his days of practicing bodybuilding, who quit his management position at BMW to become a successful day trader and who’s speaking at conferences to motivate people.”

Stockton kept wondering as Greg said, “He’s amazing, he’s been traveling. Last time I heard from him he was in Maldives.”

“If you hear from him again, tell him I said, hi.”

“Will do, Stock…and how are you doing?” Greg asked like a nosy sister.

“I’m fine, Reggie — ”

“You know that’s a terrible word, fine. Stock, that means things aren’t fine. You can tell me the truth or at least lie, and say you’re fantastic. You know, Tony Robbins said — ”

“Shut up! I don’t need your motivational and philosophical bullshit right now!” Stockton roared like a belligerent lion.

Stockton knew Greg was right though — things weren’t fine — they hadn’t been for a long time. Stockton might have been maintaining but it definitely wasn’t fine. For some reason he could never take Greg’s advice no matter how polite and profound he articulated it. Stockton was envious of Greg. He couldn’t get over the fact that Greg always had this gleam about him.

“I’m sorry, Stock, I shouldn’t have pressed the point.”

“No worries, Reggie. I told you, you should have been a preacher, now look at you…a motivational speaker.”

“I guess I never knew when to stop talking.”

“You think…”

“So, are you going to see mom today?” Greg quickly questioned.

“Nah, not today, maybe tomorrow.”

“Your dad asked, too, to come.”

“I highly doubt that.”

“But tell me when you’re going and I can take you there.”

“I can manage,” Stock said while pressing his lips towards the stale air.

***

The next day Stockton did go see his mother. He took at least a good half an hour to work up the courage to ring the doorbell. So, for half an hour he was walking around the neighborhood like a roaming dog. Well, that’s what he thought, the reason why he rang the doorbell sooner than he would have. In that brief second before his dad opened the door, he thought about his whole childhood. How bumpy and rocky it was, how he couldn’t buy it back, how he couldn’t erase the memories, how there were no do-overs. “No one ever gets do-overs,” he thought.

“Hey, dad?”

“Stock…” his dad said in a peculiar way. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to see, mom.”

“She’s inside,” his dad stated while brushing past him.

“Good to see you, too, dad,” Stockton said sarcastically.

His dad looked back at Stockton and made a disgusted face, while Stockton just shook his head and slightly smiled and walked inside. The house was very clean, no surprise to him, his parents were always clean freaks — the house seemed eerily undisturbed too.

“Hi,” a woman in a nursing uniform said.

“Hey? I’m Stockton,” he said while he put his hand out to shake hers.

“Are you a relative of Mrs. Tucker?”

“Yes, I’m her son.”

“Oh…I’m her caretaker, Melissa. Let me show you where she is.”

The house was big. They walked past an enormous living room and a beautifully ornate kitchen, which looked even more undisturbed than the rest of the house. It seemed like his parents didn’t eat. They walked up the stairs as Melissa’s posture gave off signs of weariness until they reached the first room. She opened the door and there lied his mom, in an oversized bed that made her look like a little girl. She looked frail, frailer than she normally did, he remembered. The bones throughout her body seemed visible and she was pale — not knocking-on-death’s-door pale— but a pale that made her look very sick. Melissa checked on his mom, asked her a couple of questions that his mom didn’t respond to and then Melissa approached him.

“Let me give you and her your space together,” Melissa said.

“What’s wrong with her?” Stockton asked.

“She has the onset of Alzheimer’s, but besides that, she is pretty healthy. Ultimately, her mindset just shut down. Some days she’ll be normal and spry, but other days she is like this.”

“Okay…?”

“So, don’t expect much communication today,” she said while storming out of the room like she was going to take a siesta of some sorts.  

Stockton moved closer to his mom; he saw she was in and out of sleep — her eyes would flutter open, then close again in a pattern. He sat on the bed as softly as possible and lightly stroked her thin leg feeling the ridges of her shinbone. In all his life he couldn’t remember any time where he ever touched his mother this compassionately. Maybe he felt bad for her, seeing her in that bed like that.

Stockton remembered she was such an outgoing, perky person: shopping, brunches, yoga classes, fake book clubs that played for daytime-drinking-get-togethers, trip-taking. He really hated that perkiness about her when he was younger. He felt she didn’t care about him or anybody else — that she was so self-absorbed. But at that moment, he wanted her to get up like she’d taken a shot of pure adrenaline — her zombie-like form shed — and become that old perky self of hers. He wanted to say something to her, anything, but he didn’t; he stayed by her side for a couple of hours, hoping she would still get up and ask him if he wanted to go to a brunch Prix Fixe in Midtown.

“Head of an Old Woman,” Hieronymus Bosch

***

The thunder shook him, the rain was pouring down; he was stuck in his hotel room. His time off was officially over but he decided not to return to his job. He thought about his supervisor’s face and how he would react when he finally knew he wasn’t there to do his bidding. A tide of happiness and confidence blew in Stockton’s chest, but then he thought, “Shit, they might not even notice.”

He was supposed to send a check to his landlord back in New York, but he said, “Fuck it,” and wasn’t planning to go back to his apartment. His lease was up in a couple of months anyway. Even though he felt a bit relieved and victorious, he couldn’t get over the way his family was pissing him off. How Greg kept trying to give him advice and how he kept saying that what their mom was going through could be mentally overcome. Stockton couldn’t believe Greg’s capacity to be an utter douchebag-know-it-all at times, and Stockton couldn’t believe he — himself — was actually defending their mom. He thought, maybe Greg’s success was getting to him, inflating his head, or maybe, in some regard, Greg was right. Either way, Stockton almost body slammed Greg a handful of days after he first saw their mom, but Greg threw him back before he could. They then scuffled for a moment but stopped quickly because they were in no shape for fighting.

Stockton almost relapsed that night: he stole a bunch of cold medicine from a pharmacy and he bought two ultra-sized bottles of vodka. He was going to combine them; however, before he entered the hotel, he decided to throw all of it away.

***

He went back to see his mom a couple more times during the next week. Her demeanor didn’t change much, she would make some noises and move more and eat and get up, but to normal standards — you could say — she was in an unresponsive state. Sometimes that pissed him off, sometimes compassion came back to his battle-weathered heart. He also had multiple arguments with his dad. The worst of it ending in another harsh scuffle. Greg had to break it up.

“Fuck you, dad! You never understood me! You never gave a shit!”

“How could I, look at you, Stockton!”

“Man, did you even want me?”

Stockton’s dad paused then stated with a stern, rigid, honest scowl, “NO.” Then he walked away. He never came back to the house in Woodbury — he had enough of it. However, whatever love he had in his heart for Stockton and Greg’s mom, he put it into providing care for her and letting her keep the house. Greg and Stock looked at each other when Stockton’s dad walked away. In that moment, even in complete intestines-curling-silence, they never were closer.

***

The gym was boisterous and filled with focus. The members inside were harnessing their best physical selves, while pushing past some of their internal limits. Stockton was there, too, ready to train; he needed an outlet, something to purge his frustrations.

His college friend, Marc, invited him to train with one of the top boxing trainers in the Eastern part of the country. It was Marc’s gym. Him and Stockton were always fond of each other and kept in contact whenever they could. They saw each other when Stockton and Greg were out to dinner. Marc told them to come down to the gym, but it was Stockton who only came.

“You good, Stock!” Marc said like he was psyched up, while helping Stockton wrap his hands.

“Hell yeah! And thanks for letting me train.”

“No biggie, man. Stock, you had always helped me in college, just returning the favor.”

They both heckled like they never forgot about each other. Stockton started jumping rope and Marc stepped away to help a couple of members. The reputable boxing trainer then gave Stockton pointers on his jump-roping technique. After Stockton stopped jumping rope, he went through all the punches with the trainer to polish up any deficiency in his technique, and did plyometric movements to finish his warm-up. He then put on boxing gloves that he was borrowing. The trainer picked up the focus mitts and started directing Stockton on which punches to throw. In a fluid, annotated rhythm the trainer said, “Jab, jab — hook — move, move — triple jab — cross….”

Stockton was getting a kick out of training, but at one point his frustration and anger started to surface because he couldn’t grasp a couple of punch combinations.

“Dammit!” Stockton exclaimed with disgust.

“Relax, relax,” the trainer calmly said.

“How am I supposed to do that and still hit the pads hard?”

The trainer looked at him and answered, “Anger and anxiousness are never the right tools to box with.”

“Come on? I thought you need that fury and rage to box — to win a fight?”

“Yeah, many think that, and yes anger can be there, anger is good, especially if you harness it properly, but it’s not the only factor that makes a boxer succeed.” The trainer turned off the timer, put the focus mitts down and continued, “Back at my main gym in Chicago, I train a lot of at-risk youth. And most of them are not going to be world champions, but all of them have emotions. I tell them it’s okay to get angry, to get frustrated, to be disappointed, to hurt, to feel pain, to cry, but I tell them it’s not okay for those emotions to defeat them, or run their lives. Some parents and teachers think I’m making more hardened individuals or making them more violent, but I’m actually trying to make those kids better human beings, to show them how to handle life. Cuz, you know what, life is the most fucked up in the most intimate places.”

Stockton didn’t move much, the sweat now was stuck to his skin; he put his hands down, his breathing slowed. The trainer wiped at his shirt near his chest area and said, “You were just never taught to open tragic mail with a ready heart. If you know what I mean.”

Stockton did know what he meant as they continued their session, and when they finished, Stockton thanked the trainer and Marc again and made it back to his hotel. He drank a vegan protein shake, took a cold shower, then bundled up in his hotel bed and thought and thought about what the trainer said — he didn’t feel the same the rest of the week.

“The Black Boxer,” Isaac Israels

***

Stockton had a couple of weeks to move out all his stuff from his apartment in New York. He was doing customer service calls, part-time, to pick up some extra cash on the side, while he fixed up his resume. He rented a small place in the Downtown Jersey City area, and for the first time, Stockton felt just a little bit more whole. 

He asked to borrow one of Greg’s cars for the day. Before he drove to Woodbury, he wanted to meet his dad for a quick bite. His dad said he would meet him where they agreed to meet, but sadly his dad never came. However, Stockton didn’t get angry, he passively drove off.

When he walked into the house, it was still eerily undisturbed, freakishly clean and empty, but something was different. Maybe it wasn’t the house, though, maybe it was him. He greeted Melissa with a brandished smile that she really appreciated. She had a nurse top on but this time she was wearing jeans and a pair of Vans that made her seem more sensitive. They talked about the past couple of The Sopranos episodes, mentioning their favorite parts of the episodes, and then Stockton asked her if it was possible to take his mom on a drive. Melissa was surprised at first, then apprehensive; but eventually she couldn’t deny him. In all this time taking care of Stockton’s mom, which was a couple of years, nobody within the family ever asked her if they could do something for Mrs. Tucker.

Melissa gave Stockton her number just in case. She then dressed Stockton’s mom or Mrs. Tucker in the nicest clothes she could find. Even though Stockton’s mom was in motion, she was still blank and unresponsive. After Melissa was done getting her ready, Melissa and Stockton ushered her outside. Stockton’s mom reacted to the bright sun. She squinted like she was a vampire burning. Then they helped her into the passenger’s seat of Greg’s car and Stockton hopped behind the driver’s wheel, excited. They drove off.

It was the first time Stockton really saw his mom’s eyes. No exaggerated sunglasses over them or quick obscure glances. As he was driving, he noticed her head whipping back and forth because she was watching the scenery flow by through the passenger side window. He was alive at that moment.

They drove to Fort Lee where they parked the car. At first, Stockton was nervous his mom wouldn’t be able to handle this, but before he could help her out of the car, she jolted upward like a lightning bolt zipped through her body. “Let’s go, mom,” Stockton said enthusiastically and she followed with a strut that pulsated the ground she was walking on. They headed toward the George Washington Bridge. The day was perfect for them.

When they walked along the bridge, they saw couples holding hands, a family with ice pops, bicycles and runners whipping by and some tourists aiming their cameras. The cars were rushing alongside each other as the sky radiated a blue that made them feel like they were wrapped inside a time capsule. Stockton pointed out to his mom a particular set of clouds that formed a misshapen heart or the bunny’s head from Donnie Darko. His mom smiled; her teeth looked like conch pearls to him. They continued through the beating down sun, but the wind kissed and quenched their skin.

“Stock…” his mom could barely say.

Stockton was overwhelmingly surprised by his mother’s voice; how coherent she was. He tried to trap his excitement within him and quietly capture the moment in that battled-weathered heart of his.

“Yes…I’m your son…Stockton.”

“Stockton, my beautiful son,” she said while cupping his cheeks inside her hands. They strolled down the bridge feeling jubilant and released.

“Mom, do you remember taking me and my brother Greg on bike rides over this bridge?” Stockton asked intently.

His mom thought a little. Stockton was scared she wouldn’t remember the times he enjoyed the very most. But before he could think about more negative thoughts, she said confidently, “Yes, I do remember. We used to ride all the way to the World Trade Center sometimes. Then, of course, grab pizza or pretzels somewhere….” She wandered off in her thoughts.

“Yes!” he exclaimed like he was speaking to some kind of God above him.

“Where is your brother?” she asked.

“Greg’s working.”

“Oh, alright.”

“Maybe next time he can come with us,” Stockton added.

His mom smiled as big as an upside-down Gateway Arch, and said, “Stockton, that would be nice.”


Adam Que is a writer and creator from Union City, New Jersey. He competed as an amateur mixed martial artist and was working to become a professional fighter/athlete, until he rediscovered a need to share his raw creativity. This has led him down a path and journey that has truly sparked open his soul, which is shown through his work. His work has recently appeared in Carcosa Magazine, Wingless Dreamer, The Purpled Nail, GRIFFEL and The Anonymous Quarterly. You can also check out his photography and other creative expressions on Instagram: @que_fessions Twitter: @AdamQue201

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