I was eleven. She was twenty-eight. These were one of the few times that I had been in a moving vehicle with my brother driving. This was yet another one of the many times that I felt uneasy about him. The household I was raised in had made me this way. We were pseudo urban black Americana family that was thrown a slight twist with my brother's involvement. But I'll touch more on that later. I remember being feeling old enough to not wear my seat belt in the back seat, which felt like more of an accomplishment than anything. My brother didn't have a license. April let him drive the car anyway. I couldn't remember whether it was her father's or her uncle's vehicle. We were on our way to someplace close. My brother's warrants and criminal record didn't allow him the leisure of peaceful living without interactions from police. Sometimes detectives. Some of them had even come to know me by face and name. I guess for once we had some resemblance. The speed he drove at was that of a reckless adult. Maybe he was showing off to himself. Maybe somewhere in his mind he was showing off to me. Who knows? To be honest much of my child hood is a blur so I apologize for not being able to describe more elements of the scenery. But from what I remember in clear vision is unquestionable.
As we hit sixty down a back street, April asked him to slow down. She was braver than I was. I had been hit by the man too often to care for another bout. The fourteen-year age gap between us had really taken a shot at my confidence level in fights. It amazes me now how I was less afraid of us crashing in the car and more afraid of his temper. I had seen car crashes; even been in a few. But I had never seen a car destroy as many lives as he did. At the age of eleven I still had hope for him. He could change I told myself. "He is trying", my mother told herself. There were certain things in my mind that I didn't want to accept him as, because of this hope, this love for him. A similar love for him was in April. Her love was from that of his lover and oldest friend. She begged him to slow down. I remember her screaming at him. What followed was the reality of who my brother was. Seeing is believing, I guess. I had seen my brother raise his hand in attempts to strike my mother. Perhaps my youth didn't allow me to channel that resolve into scenarios of lesser respect. He took his right hand off the wheel and struck April with the back of his fist.
I had seen men fight. I had seen the violence shared through that brotherhood. In that moment it was violated. Her neck snapped in such a manner that I thought she was dead. Necks aren't supposed to move like that. Women aren't supposed to raise their arms up in defense like that. Not against a grown man. Or any man. Shit, he had never even hit me that hard. At least, I don't think so. The incident resembled an animal cruelty commercial. April wasn't defenseless, nor was she less than human, but what happened was disturbing. Fortunately, my father, not our father, had always raised me to be my brother's opposite. I didn't want to do what he did. I didn't think that was acceptable. And from that moment on I had lost hope. April cried a little. But her response of merely shutting up had told me that this had happened before. How many times had he hit her?
We got back to the house a short while later. I went to go play video games. April went with him to go someplace else. I remember hearing the car streak off as I made my way up the stairs. The studio apartment was empty. I think both of my parents were either at work or doing whatever two people that hated each other did. After an exhausting day of going to school and watching a man vs. woman battle arena in a moving vehicle, I just wanted to do normal kid stuff. During that time, videos games were my get away from everything. I was eager to practice in fighting games so I could win against my friends. For an eleven year old, this was a point of pride. But as I picked up the controller I could not get my mind off April. In between my combinations of up, down, back, forward, Kick, I couldn't help but wonder why did she stay? Did she like getting hit? I hated my brother. Did she actually like him? A few nights later she was outside of our house crying and I finally got the chance to ask her.
I don't remember the night, or the weather, but I do remember that she didn't have a jacket on. Before I could expose the pink elephant in the room, I first asked her if she was Ok and offered to get her a napkin. Though, she wasn't my parent, she was still an adult. I understood that children shouldn't ask adults these questions. My prior attempt at trying to be an adult in front of an adult, lead to me getting slapped in the mouth. Don't ask me why I thought I could say the word "bitch" in front of my mother. April said "thank you" for the napkin and began wiping her face off. Now that she was cleaned I could finally ask her the question. "April why do you let him hit you"? I tried to add as much base into my voice as an eleven year old could. I could have hit a better falsetto note than a tenor. To my surprise, April answered in my brother's defense. "I love your bother, Theo. And he's not all bad". I had never heard anyone say that before. "He isn't? When"? I asked. I had tried my hardest to find things to like about my brother for years. How could I have missed something? I waited for her to tell me some new fact that I hadn't yet discovered but I shot down her attempts with faster quips then she could.
April: "He takes me out sometimes".
Me: "Well, he steals from us".
April: "He punched this guy once for talking rudely towards me".
Me: "He tried to punch my mom".
Her: "He.....", In her pause to find an answer, I cut her off before she could get a word in.
Me: "He also tried to fight my dad. He's always drunk. I hate him".
Her eyes had widened enough in her face to shrink the tears forming at the bottom. I wasn't too sure weather she was more surprised that I understood all of these things, or that he really was the man that I knew him as. "Jesus Theo, he tried to fight your dad"? She questioned. "Yup, just the other night", I replied. "Well Theo not all of those things are bad. I smoked with your brother a few times. But I didn't smoke anything laced. He tried to get me to do that shit with him but I wouldn't". At the time I didn't know what she was talking about. It made more sense later when I would catch him in rooms arguing with himself. "I don't like when he hits you. You’re nice. When I get bigger than him I'll hit him back for you and everyone else. Ok"? April smiled at me. My eleven year old ass had treated her better than any man ever had. "You might be able to take him now" She said. "Maybe not upfront. I did pee in his apple juice once" I replied. April laughed hysterically. "Are you serious"? She said. "Hell no, but when I handed him his apple juice I told him that I might've pee'd in it. He laughed but I didn't. The cup was still full by the time he was done eating". April laughed even harder. "You and your brother are nothing alike" she said. "I know. I'm actually smart" I replied. From that point forward we formed a tight friendship out of our mutual distaste for my brother. She would call up and speak on the phone with me for 10 minutes before even speaking with him. Or opposed to crying over him after an argument, her and I would go outside and just laugh at everything. One time we had even placed a bet on what age he would die. Her guess was 40, mine was thirty-two. I lost by the way. Eventually my brother started to get jealous of our friendship. Several times he confronted me on it. All of the confrontations ended with some sort of threat. Then again my brother threatened me for everything. Naturally, the threats only added to our hatred of each other and the closeness between April and I. April finally had someone she could talk to and I was finally able to speak as an adult to an adult. Unlike any of my brother's previous girl friends she would ask about me. She even bought me gifts on Christmas.
As time passed on my brother got worse. The beatings and cheatings had taken their toll on her. Then like all twisted love stories of modern day, April became pregnant. This was her first child and his fourth. I loved April, so I loved the child. April smiled differently after becoming a mother but she also cried differently. Brad was her new everything. Unfortunately, his father wasn't ready to be his father. Nor was he ready to stop putting his hands on April. I grew older to resent him for not only hitting a woman but for now hitting my friend. April made an attempt at living with him. In my youth I had no idea why she would do something so stupid, but after becoming a parent myself I understood that she did it for the sake of her family. The attempt only lasted for a couple months. I didn't know what exactly happened. But I do know that it resulted in April's family turning against her. She eventually lost the apartment. From that point forward her and my nephew slept from place to place. Some of those places being shelters. My brother slept comfortably back at our place. I knew the monster he was. I didn't know the monster he was becoming. Phone arguments between the two turned into threats. Fuck you's turned into "Fuck you and that kid". I didn't know how April was doing. We couldn't speak as much obviously. I was growing up and going through my own issues. And she was dealing with obstacles that I couldn't even fathom. I went through the teenage male rebellions. I'm sure most teenagers rebelled against their families or parents, but instead I was standing up for mine. The continued cycle of my hatred, my brother's violence, my parents fighting, and my mother's continuous forgiveness of my brother, pushed me into going away for college. So I left. Something in me felt a sense of guilt for leaving behind April and Brad.
From there I was given bits and pieces of April's life from my mother. One week April was still in a shelter. The next month April met a guy. Another year April had cancer. A few months later she had beat cancer. We had grown so far apart. The eleven year old and twenty-eight year old were not eleven and twenty-eight anymore. I became an adult. And she didn't need to relate to anyone about my brother. Now April is happily married. My nephew Brad is fifteen or so. He may not have his actual father as a dominant role in his life but he has a great man as a father figure and a pretty cool uncle that still thinks about him. At a young age April taught me many things about women and life. Our conversations developed my abilities to not only empathized with people but to find commonalities at any angle. She slightly messed up my normal interactions with girls my age though. Regardless, I learned a lot from April. I learned a lot from false love. I learned a lot from the abuse. Many people hear of the horror stories of domestic violence. Unfortunately, other people see it. More importantly children see it. I was lucky enough to have a father that was around to steer me away from becoming like my brother. And I'm sure had my father had better health during my youth, he would have done more to stop my brother. But he wasn't. An untamed son found substance in the abuse of his strength. Then an untamed man found his hands frequently misplaced on women. April if you're reading this, tell Brad his uncle says hi. And just know that I'm bigger than my brother now.