Finally, after years of being bullied, I stood up to Jon Bell.
We were occupying a double-wide mobile home located in the rural edges of Carson City during that time. After being evicted from our last residence – an ugly turn of events that was all thanks to Jon, my mother’s long-term boyfriend, a mean drunk and equal-opportunity manipulator – it was the best thing we could find at a moment’s notice. We were only two miles west of where we used to live, but those two miles made all the difference in the world. We might as well have lived in another state. I couldn’t even call 911 when Jon was on a hellish rampage because we would be directed to the Douglas County Police Department, which had no authority in Carson City. I had to memorize the direct line to the Carson City Sheriff’s Office for those times when things got really bad. Sometimes I had to give them directions to our place.
It’s odd to think about what situation designated a need for police intervention. After dealing with Jon for a decade and slowly watching my mother give in to his demands and abuses simply because she was too tired to resist, it was easy to become all too desensitized to the continuous drama. I kept my door closed and my music loud whenever they started their shouting matches. I would only step in when my mother felt like the situation was about to get out of hand. I would hear her scream through the walls, “Justin! Justin! Justin!” It was always three times, each time with more urgency than before, usually followed by a guttural yell unleashed by Jon. Calling on me to play referee frustrated him to no end because I was underage, thus untouchable, and he was quite aware that I was the last thing stopping him from completely controlling my mother. He knew he could dominate her, but if he pushed too hard on me, she would suddenly come to her senses and realize how dire our situation truly was with him in our lives.
Jon’s bark was generally worse than his bite. After spending plenty of time in and out of jail cells for any number of misdemeanors and two or three minor felonies, he knew better than to get too rough. Nevada had tough laws on domestic violence, so it was best not to hit your partner. Shouting and psychological bullying were hard to prove and even harder to prevent – especially when you’re so codependent that you continue to forgive and support the same deadbeat who terrorizes you – so those were his weapons of choice. And that motherfucker knew how to use them well.
His threats became more menacing around the time I turned sixteen. I felt as if he were sizing me up in anticipation for the day it would be legal to pummel me without child abuse charges being added to his lengthy rap sheet. He became more aggressive whenever I was called in to referee another epic shouting match gone awry. When he hollered at me these days, he would make sure to be right in my face, his raw, hot breath reeking of his most recent swig of Jack Daniels. I didn’t mind the yelling or the spittle so much as that goddamn breath. It always caused me to flinch. He took that as a sign of weakness, thus inspiring him to go on until he felt he had sufficiently proven his dominance.
Of course, this was bound to happen. With familiarity comes escalation. After years of yelling at us, we were no longer afraid of him. Sure, we dreaded his tantrums, but we also knew that he would only go so far with it. At least that’s what we hoped. After all, Jon had a short fuse and big fists. And when bullies feel like they no longer strike fear into the hearts of their prey, they tend to take desperate measures to protect the status quo.
Now we were isolated out in the boonies of Carson City in a home filled with discord, resentment and loathing. My mother had been worn down by Jon so much that she had all but given up on her interests and friendships; when she reneged on her promise that Jon wouldn’t be moving with us after the eviction, I knew without a doubt that she had given up on me, too. Jon seemed content to drink, work on his truck and keep us walking on pins and needles. By this time I had slowly pulled myself back from the brink of sharing the same fate as my mother and had promised myself to finish school and get the fuck out. I hated home, I hated school, I hated my peers and most of all I hated Jon Bell. It was the first time I started counting the days until I would be gone.
The afternoon I stood up to Jon was like any other. It was mid-October and unseasonably warm. I had been home for about two hours when Jon arrived in a particularly foul mood. My presence alone was enough to set him off, and he proceeded to open up and tell me what exactly he thought about me. I’d usually ignore him and his insults and go back to the sanctuary of my room, but he was on a mission to let me know just how much of a waste of space I was to him and his preferred lifestyle.
All to which I simply rebutted, “Go fuck yourself, Jon.”
Of course, this didn’t go over well, so Jon decided to dig in his heels and amp up the volume. It was obvious that he’d been leaning on the bottle earlier than usual today, and he wasn’t about to back down to the likes of me, especially when another adult wasn’t around to rein him in. No, we were all alone, and this led him to the conclusion that I just might be fair game after all.
He decided to start things off by stomping around the house, in and out of rooms, yelling that I’m worth shit. One minute I would hear him hollering through his bedroom walls that I’m “a cock-sucking sonofabitch,” and then the next he would be in my face screaming that I’m nothing but “a pussy,” “a fuckin’ faggot” and “a momma’s boy.”
At some point he finally blurted out, “If you weren’t underage, I would take you outside and kick your ass!”
I was seventeen years old. Seven months shy of independence yet old enough to be tired of this life. Old enough to be tired of Jon Bell.
This had been going on for a decade – a fucking decade. And for what? Fear and anger had matured me into a sensible young man, but at what cost? My childhood? My home? My mother’s love? Hadn’t I given up enough for this parasite? What more did this abusive, co-dependent piece of shit need from me! Fuck this!
“That’s it, Jon!” I screamed back, my voice becoming unexpectedly shrill. I sounded like a young banshee trying to master its screech, but the tone was nothing to laugh at. “You wanna go, asshole, LET’S GO! Stop using my age as an excuse! If you’re so fuckin’ tough, let’s cut the crap and end it RIGHT NOW!”
His bloodshot eyes filled with rage, Jon thrust his face an inch away from mine and shouted, “All right, you little punk, let’s go outside! I’m gonna beat your sorry ass! And I don’t want you crying to your mother when I kick the living shit out of you!”
My face became flushed as my fury boiled over. I wiped his spit off my face and headed to my bedroom.
“Where you going, pussy? Too scared to fight me, you little bitch!”
“No, you fuckin’ prick!” I responded coldly. “I’m putting on my shoes.”
And I was. Jon wore steel-toed boots for his job as a fence builder. The toughest thing I had were my pair of sneakers, but it was better than going at him barefoot. No way in hell was I giving him any advantage once we took it outside. This was it. This was the end. No more hiding, no more backing down to the likes of this monster. If Jon wanted a fight, he was going to get a goddamn fight. And he better put me in a coma or kill me. Those were his only options as far as I was concerned.
Otherwise, I was going to kill him.
This wasn’t a joke. I wasn’t playing the overzealous teenager who wished everyone would go away and leave him alone. As I slipped on my shoes, I realized how much this one malicious, self-destructive, miserable individual had destroyed my life, my family, my home. That was going to stop today. I would exact my revenge, and there was no doubt in my mind that his blood was going to spill.
My mind raced through the possibilities, and I knew it was best to keep it simple: Knock him on the ground and take a rock to his skull. And. Don’t. Stop. Don’t stop until you can’t recognize who he is anymore. Don’t you dare stop until his face is crushed so badly that the police will have to use his fingerprints to identify the body. Got it?
Got it. I was ready to do this.
I was ready because I decided in that instant that I was no longer going to live in fear of anyone, especially not him. Jon Bell’s reign of terror was up. All I knew these past six months was hate. This hideous animosity had devoured every other emotion inside my heart, and I no longer had any space left for dread. All I wanted now was to unleash this hatred with my fists and claws and a howl that would break glass and shatter eardrums. Only then would I get a chance to free myself of his misery.
Fuck the consequences, I was going to dance on his grave.
“You ready, Jon?” I roared out. “This ends today!”
“You know what, Justin? Fuck this! You’re not worth it, you fuckin’ punk!”
I stormed out of my room only to witness Jon slamming the front door. I walked over to the living room window to watch him get in his truck and take off. He peeled out of the driveway, the beat-up engine thundering as he stepped on the accelerator.
That was that. I had won.
I won the fight without a single swing.
And all I had to do was call his bluff.
I sat on the couch. I tried to collect my thoughts, take this moment in and remember every detail, but all I could do was shake. My temples pounded, my heart raced and I suddenly felt sick. This hate inside me didn’t get to feed, and now it was mutating into something else, something all too familiar:
It was as if something had broken inside me. I didn’t get my opportunity. Vengeance was denied, and I was once again lost, confused and completely terrified.
Only this time I wasn’t afraid of Jon.
I was afraid of me.
What the fuck had just happened here? I was ready to kill Jon without a second thought. I had allowed this hatred to consume me to the point where I had backed myself into a corner. I had made it so that there was no other escape. Somewhere along the line I had purposely arranged it so that it would come down to him or me. I had made myself believe that this was the only way to freedom.
But now that I had gotten so close to that reality, it didn’t feel right at all. I wasn’t a killer. I didn’t have a hard heart, a black soul or ice in my veins. I had been harvesting my anger for months, but I had been using it to concentrate on escaping this dead-end existence, to build up the nerve to pick up and go when the time came and have the courage to leave all my worries and troubles behind. I couldn’t afford to squander my rage like this and lose my head. If I did that, I’d never make it out of here. Even worse, I would become the one thing I promised I never would be:
With that simple, harsh and blindingly obvious insight, my vision quickly blurred. The tears came fast and hard, and the sobs soon followed. I admonished myself for being so goddamn ignorant. I had stood up to Jon thinking that I was asserting my independence, but it turned out that I had been trained by him all too well.
I feared myself.
I hated myself.
I had Jon to thank for it, but I knew that I had also allowed it to happen. In the end, I had no one to blame but myself.
So, yeah, I stood up to Jon Bell that afternoon. It took a lot of nerve, too.
But I certainly wouldn’t call it a victory.