Whilst I was living at the shelter I noticed they placed free newspapers in the cafeteria every Sunday, and around the same time, McDonalds began their Monopoly game promotion again. They had just introduced a new hamburger – the Arch Deluxe – and I developed an unexplained obsession with it. I can't even remember all the trimmings it came with, but I remember it being delicious – I couldn't stop eating it! So, when I found a stack of newspapers in the cafeteria, I scored plenty of free French fries and soft drinks prizes from all of the pieces I pulled out of the papers, but no Arch Deluxe prizes.
I was having breakfast one Sunday morning when I noticed a newspaper just sitting at an empty table, so I walked over and began flipping through it to find the Monopoly pieces. I was engrossed in my search when I heard a deep and gravelly voice from behind...I turned around and saw the weathered face of an older black man.
“Don't touch my paper,” he barked.
“This was just sitting here,” I replied.
“I left it there and was going to come back to it.”
“Yeah, whatever. I just wanted to see the ads...It's not a big deal.”
“It is to me.” He said.
“So, what? You think you're going to intimidate me over a newspaper?” I asked, feeling a conflict rising. It really wasn't that big of a deal and I should've just walked away like I normally would do, but I was in no mood to be challenged anymore.
“Yeah, white boy...I think this is exactly what I'm going to do to your punk ass.”
I was just about to say something else when Nancy walked into the cafeteria and called my name. “Randy, come here!”
My adrenaline was up and I could feel anger rising in me, but as soon as she called me over I calmed down. I was a bit surprised she was there, but also relieved. The last thing I wanted to do was to get into a fight over a stupid chance at winning an Arch Deluxe, no matter how good it was.
“Why are you in here on a Sunday?” I asked her, in a surprised tone.
“Go get some decent clothes on, I'm taking you to church,” Nancy replied.
“That's fine. You're going to help me out with a fish fry. You ever done that before?” She asked.
“I know what they are, but no, I've never actually attended one,” I said.
“Go throw some slacks on if you've got them, and a nice shirt.”
I headed back to my locker, opened it up, and it still stung to see that all of my music was gone, but I grabbed some navy blue dockers and a dress shirt, and changed quickly. I spritzed myself with the bit of remaining cologne I had and headed out to the lobby. Becca was just coming into work as I headed out with Nancy.
“Wow, you clean up well!” She said. “Now you just need to do something about that hair and you'd pass as a regular Joe.”
“The hair gives him character,” Nancy replied.
“That it does,” Becca said, smiling at me.
“Tell Ronnie I said 'what's up?'” I said, walking towards the door.
We hopped into Nancy's car and talked as she drove us to a nearby town where the church fish fry was taking place. She told me that one of the Lexington news channels wanted to do a story on the shelter and single out a couple of people they could highlight.
“I told them I had a young guy who played piano really well, and they're interested in letting you tell your story.”
“I, uhhh, I don't know...I get nervous with those sorts of things,” I said.
“You don't have to do it. I just think it might be good to get you out there and who knows, maybe some opportunities will open up for you.”
“When are they going to do the report?” I asked.
“Probably towards the end of June. Just think about it...I'd really like people to see and hear you play piano.”
“I'll think about it,” I said.
The church was a small one with a gravel parking lot. We pulled in, and as the sun rose higher in the sky it became quite warm. There was a man outside on a BBQ grill, and putting meats into a nearby metal pan, whilst another man was setting up tables on the gravel lot.
“Who'd you bring with ya?” The man on the grill asked Nancy.
“This is Randy. He's gonna give us a hand.”
“Sounds good to me. I'm Pastor John.” He said, holding out his hand.
I looked at it like it was a foreign object. He held it there for a second and then I shook it. He squeezed my hand and said, “You acted like I was going to bite.”
“I'm sorry. I just have a general mistrust of Christian people right now.”
“Oh, that so? Wanna tell me why?”
“Bad school experience.” I said.
“Where'd you go to school?” He asked.
“Oneida Baptist Institute.”
“Bunch of whack jobs there! I can understand that. Listen, they might say they're standing on God's word, Randy, but they're not. I've had to minister to several kids expelled from there and I'm taking it you are one of them.”
“Yeah,” I said, letting my guard down.
“Well, you'll hear no judgement from me. If Nancy brought you here then that means you're good people. Come on and help me with this grill.” He said, handing me some tongs.
As we grilled together, Nancy disappeared and began to bring other food items out. Soon, other cars began to show up and the church area was full of people. Some delivered food dishes and cakes, others went into the church itself. Nancy called me away from Pastor John and told me to follow her inside.
“So, I really had ulterior motives,” she said.
“You wanted me to be saved?” I asked, feeling defensive again.
“No! Not at all! Randy, I'm a Christian in my heart...I don't need church to show you God's love. I needed a piano player and I want you to play some songs while we have a little service. Is that okay with you?”
“Sure!” Just give me some sheet music.”
She handed me a hymnal book and said, “I marked the songs we're going to do. John will say a little prayer and then we'll get to eatin'! He's a straight up preacher. Straight meat and potatoes, none of that flashy stuff or fire and brimstone.”
Some people came in and filled the pews, and John took the stand. I was a bit rusty on the hymnal songs, and made some mistakes, but it was nice to hear everyone singing along. When the songs were finished, Pastor John asked everyone to bow their heads and pray, and then he said, “Go out and get your bellies full! I don't want a scrap left over.”
I helped dish out food on plates, and I remember there being some small kids that I wrestled around with. We played tag and 'red rover', and it was a good time. I felt normal again for a bit, but the ache of missing my brothers returned. As we were driving back to Lexington, and the Hope Center, I told Nancy, “I really want to go back home. I should be doing things with my little brothers...Taking them to the mall, to an amusement park. Not trapped in Lexington and losing myself.
She dropped me off in the parking lot and I went into the shelter and tried calling home, but no one answered...I went up to the dorm area and laid down for the evening, staring at the ceiling until I fell asleep.
On Monday, I went to work and Bill was already waiting at the temporary labor place. I told him I was seriously considering just hopping on a greyhound bus, and heading back to Texas. I needed to save up some money first, but I was formulating a plan. It was a long shot, but I thought it just might work.
“Dude, you're going to leave at the start of summer? Are you serious? Do you know what Tolly Ho is like during the summer? You could get laid every night if you wanted to! Just stay for a bit and save your money up...Wait 'til fall comes, man.”
“We'll see,” I said.
The rest of June was pretty much work, help at the shelter, and partying at night. I was running myself ragged. One night, coming back in the early hours of dawn, I was crossing the train tracks in the dark...I heard someone come out of nowhere, but I could barely make them out, except for the smell of alcohol on his breath. He was wielding a knife! I was a little tipsy myself, so I said, “Take it easy, man. I really don't have anything on me.”
“Give me what you do have,” the voice said.
I reached in my wallet and handed him the ten dollars I had left. He grabbed the money, hit the side of the road, and took off running. I was so scared I began to cry and felt like I was going to throw up. When I got back to the shelter, Rusty let me in and could see I was spooked by something.
“Yeah. I'm fine. I gotta get away from this place.” I said, and headed to bed.
On another night, I was doing acid and Bill disappeared on me. It had put me in a bad mood so I decided to go back to the shelter and ride it out. I sat on a picnic bench just staring off into the distance when Becca came outside and asked if I was okay.
“Sure,” I said.
“I sure am, but I don't want to be...I want this stuff to be over with so I can just go to bed...I'm tired...I'm worn out...I want my life back.”
“You thought about going home?” She asked.
“Every single day. I just don't know how to get there. I can't seem to keep money, and when I want to get away from Bill or the pull of the UK campus, I can't seem to escape its gravity.”
“I'm going back to Arlington for the 4thof July. You know, I could drive you there if you want to go. I've been meaning to ask you for a bit now, as Ronnie suggested it. But honestly, I didn't think you'd want to leave Kentucky.”
“I've been wanting to leave this place since 1992”
“Okay...I've got some rules,” she said.
“I'll do anything.” I replied.
“No drugs. Nothing, Randy. You need to be clean for the rest of the week and I want to go through your things to make sure. You also have to buy your own meals. That's it. I'm your friend, and I really want to help you. Maybe when you get back to Arlington you can hit the reset button.”
“I'm gonna do that. Just tell me when we're leaving and I'm there.”
A day or two later I met up with Bill and told him I was going back to Texas. He tried convincing me to stay until fall, but I 'pulled a Danielle' on him and gave him the speech about the winds of destiny, and ignoring the signs telling me to leave. He laughed, “Well, if that's how you feel. Do you think your parents are really just going to let you waltz back in? You don't even have a back up plan if this goes south.”
“Bill, if my parents truly love me, and they see the sincerity in my eyes, I just don't see how they can turn me away. I will do anything I have to. If my dad wants rent, he's got that. If he wants me to work with him, I'll do it...I just need structure. I can't wander around aimlessly like this. I'm not built for this shit, Bill. I need love. I thrive on love. I need encouragement...I need people to believe in me. I can't sleep with random chicks and do drugs for the rest of my life...I feel empty inside. I need my brothers, and their love. I'm 18 years old and should be driving them where they want to go...embarrassing them in front of girlfriends, and being the 'cool older brother'. I've always wanted to be the brother that had the car and they would say, 'my brother is going to pick us up and drive us there.' THAT'S the brother I want to be...NOT this dude running around living in shelters and hanging out on a college campus. I want to be normal.”
“I can dig it. I really can. I'll miss the shit out of you, brother...Just don't disappear before saying goodbye.” Bill said.
“Bill, there are memories I'll carry with me for the rest of my life, I'm just not built for this kind of life. We had some real fun, man!” I said.
“Yeah...that night with the gel tabs! That's one for the ages. Jesus! You're built a lot tougher than you think you are.”
He hugged me and I told him I'd let him know when I was leaving. On Thursday, June 27th, 1996, Becca told me to meet her at a nearby gas station early on Friday morning. Her plan was to be in Texas later that evening. I said I'd be there. I wanted to thank Nancy for her kindness, and whilst I never told her anything about Becca's plan to take me back home – because I didn't want her to get in trouble – I did at least want to say goodbye and thank her properly, but I couldn't find her.
I left that afternoon to meet up with Bill at Kristy's place, and they were waiting on me. Bill suggested we go to Tolly Ho 'one last time' and I told him I'd go but I wouldn't drink or do anything. So, we headed out, Kristy bought me plate of chilli cheese fries, and as I ate them for the last time, I knew that this place would always be in my memories. One day when I had kids of my own, I thought, I'd tell them about the time I nearly lost myself, but picked myself back...And a few funny stories as well! We finished eating and I hugged them both, wished them well, and told them to have the best life they possibly could. Then I walked back to the shelter alone, taking the long route.
Friday was a new beginning...On Friday, everything would be back to normal...On Friday, I'd pick myself up off the floor.
On that Friday morning, June 28th, 1996, I woke up around 5am and cleared out my locker. I shoved everything I wanted to keep in my soccer bag, and ditched the rest. After all, if I was going back home I still had a room full of clothes and stuff...I didn't need anything else.
Rusty was the only person in the shelter who knew I was leaving, and he wished me luck before letting me out the door. As I walked to meet Becca, soccer bag strap draped over my shoulder, I was taking my last few really deep breaths of Kentucky air. When I got to the gas station, Becca soon showed up and she asked me to go over to the tire compressor area so she could check my stuff; she rummaged through everything very carefully, and then asked me to empty out my pockets. It was slightly embarrassing, but I wouldn't have wanted to get pulled over by the police and have them find drugs in her car either, so I understood. Once we were done, I zipped the bag closed and pushed it into the trunk with her stuff, before climbing into the passenger side, and off we went!
Along the way we made small talk, and she asked me, “Besides your brothers, what do you want to see most in Arlington?”
“Probably my synagogue. I really need to attend a service, and maybe run into some old friends.”
Becca drove like a demon, and whilst she thought we'd get to Arlington late that night, we were already in the Dallas area by 5 that evening. When we reached the Arlington city limits I told her to drive to Dalworthington Gardens, and then I'd give her the rest of the instructions. “But be careful, there's speed traps everywhere.” I warned.
“Oh believe me, I know. They used to get me all the time in Dalworthington and in Pantego,” she replied.
I told her to turn onto Roosevelt Drive, and drive past Key Elementary school. She did exactly that, and then I told her, “Turn onto Oak Trail Court.” As we turned into my old street, a flood of memories came back to me and I suddenly felt a bit queasy from nervousness. “You okay?” She asked. “You look a bit green.”
“Just nervous. I really hope my dad will talk to me,” I said.
When we were in front of my old home, Becca pulled into the driveway. She turned the car off and asked if I wanted her to go up to the front door with me.
“No...I've got this.” I replied, and opened the car door to step out. I took a deep breath, cut across our lawn and up the side walk to the front door. I rang the doorbell, half expecting to hear Jimmy and Kevin yelling that someone was at the door...When there was no answer I rang it again, then knocked my secret knock that I'd developed with my brothers so they knew it was me. Again, nothing.
I ran across the grass and to the driver's side door, and told Becca, “Hold on, just let me see if my neighbours know if they're out or not.”
She nodded, and I ran over to my neighbour's house and rang their door bell. A woman answered the door, “Hi,” I said. “I don't know if you remember me...I'm Randy Halprin, and I used to live here.”
“I know who you are. How can I help you?” She said, tersely. Something felt off about everything.
“Do you know if my family is out? Maybe gone to dinner? Or did they go on vacation? I don't see any cars, and normally they would leave a key with a neighbour for emergencies?”
“No. We don't have anything. Sorry.”
“So, you won't tell me if they're home or not? I just need to talk to my dad really quickly...I'm not here to start trouble, I promise.”
“Sorry, but we can't help you.” She said, and closed her door quickly. Feeling frustrated, I walked back to my old driveway and got back in the car.” The neighbours won't tell me anything...Something feels odd here. They were acting really strangely, like I was some kind of stranger.”
“Well, we can sit here for a few minutes, but Randy, I've got to get to my own place. Do you know where you want to go if this doesn't work out?”
“I didn't think that far.”
“You didn't what? Randy!”
“I'm sorry...I just wanted to get back home!”
Becca was visibly mad, and before I could even attempt to ask, she said, “You are not staying with me. Don't even think about it.”
Just as she said that a Dalworthington Gardens Police Cruiser came down the street. It wasn't an uncommon sight, so I didn't think anything of it at first, but then it pulled in behind Becca's car and a voice on a bullhorn blasted out, “Randy, I need you to step out of the vehicle.”
“Great.” I said. “Don't worry. It's no big deal...I'll tell them I just want to talk to my dad. They know me.”
I stepped outside of the car and nervously put my hands in my pockets. I didn't even think about my appearance - green hair, an ear piercing, a long chained wallet...I definitely no longer resembled the clean cut suburban kid I once was.
“Hands out of your pockets.” The voice blared. I did as I was told and an Officer stepped out of his car. “Let me see your ID Randy.”
Frustrated that I was being treated like a suspect in a crime, I said, “Dude! You just said my name and you're asking me for my ID? Jesus...” Then, nervously, I put my hands back in my pockets...
“Take your hands out of your pockets! That's the last warning!”
“I'm not here to start trouble; I just want to talk to my dad. I used to live here!”
“I'm aware of that. So, here's the deal...Chief Waybourn said that if you want to talk to your dad, you can do it through him. You can call him and he'll forward any messages, but he also warned that if you show back up here he's going to arrest you for trespassing, or theft. He still has the forged cheque your father gave him and could throw you in jail at any minute, but he's not doing that out of respect for your father. So, you need to get back into the car and tell your friend to drive away.”
“Are you serious? I just want to talk to my parents!” I pleaded.
“I told you how to do that, Randy. You can contact the Chief.”
After the threat of having me locked up for a forged cheque the year before? Yeah, right! I climbed back into the car and Becca yelled at me, “What have you gotten me into?”
“It wasn't supposed to happen like this! I swear!”
“Where do we go? Do you have any old friends that might take you in?”
My best friend, Chad, had moved away a year before and I scrambled about in my brain trying to think of anything and anyone. “The Goldbergs!” I said, and told her how to get there. When we arrived at the house, Becca took on a different demeanour and she was in counsellor mode...She walked me to the door and I pushed the door bell. Mrs Goldberg answered and surprised, she said, “Randy?”
“I really need some help right now,” I pleaded.
“Well, you and your friend can come in, just give me a second.” She said.
“I'm not his friend, I'm his counsellor.” Becca said. It wasn't that she said she was my counsellor, but the tone of how she said it that hurt. Mrs Goldberg let us in and offered us a drink. I passed and asked where my old friend Jason was. “He's in the Air Force now.” She said...The irony wasn't lost on me!
I told Mrs Goldberg my story and she listened. “I'm just needing a place I can stay until I can either talk to my parents or get back on my feet. I'm willing to do anything it takes...I don't want a free ride.” I pleaded.
She took on a contemplative expression and then began to shake her head. “I'm sorry, Randy. You know your father and I don't get along and I can't get involved. I'm sorry. I do know some people at the Arlington Night Shelter who can get you in until you get on your feet. That's the best I can do for you.
I dropped my head down...Back to a freaking shelter!
Becca asked for instructions and Mrs Goldberg told us how to get there. “I'll make the call as y'all are driving up there, and everything should be fine.”
We got there around 9pm, and Becca popped her trunk so I could grab my bag. I told her I was sorry for the mess, and thanked her for driving me back to Arlington.
“I will take you back to Kentucky if you want. Just call me and I'll pick you up.”
I shook my head and said, “No fucking way...I'm never stepping back into that State again! I'll get back on my feet somehow, and show my parents I'm serious.”
“Best of luck, Randy.”
“Yeah.” I replied, before she drove away...
I rang the doorbell of the night shelter and a guy answered the door, “You Randy? Come in.”
Back into a shelter...
Inside, there was a security guard who asked if he could check my soccer bag, and I told him, “Have it all...” The guy who let me in introduced himself as Steve, and said, “I'm a case worker here. Tonight is temporary; you'll have to come back at 6pm tomorrow to get back in, then we'll open a file on you and go from there. It's a zero tolerance policy here – you arrive one minute past 6pm, you don't get back in. No excuses.” He also said that they normally didn't allow late night walk-ins, but because Mrs Goldberg called, they were making an exception.
“Okay,” I said. “Do you have a payphone I can use?”
He pointed to where the phone was and I dug out a quarter to call home. The phone rang, but it never went to the answering machine, which was odd. Maybe they had caller ID...It was a relatively new technology and my parents usually were on the ground floor with that stuff. I then called my dad's business answering machine and left a message...
“Dad, I'm in Texas...I'm trying to reach you to talk. I'm sorry for the lies, for the drugs, for everything...I'm trying to get my life straight, I promise you. Please just talk to me. I'll keep calling home until someone answers the phone.”
I hung up and Steve told me I could crash on a couch in the living area, for the night. As I settled down to sleep, I prayed for things to get better.
The next morning everyone was ushered out of the shelter and told the doors would remain closed until 6pm. I had no idea what I would do for the day, but an older black lady told me there was a “day shelter” where people could hang out, and possibly get picked up for work doing temporary labor. I thanked her for letting me know, but then decided to head to South Cooper Street, not very far from my old house, and start applying for jobs.
I'd spent most of my childhood and early teens hanging out and around on Cooper Street, and I knew that I had a good chance of being hired relatively quickly by someone, because the street was lined with fast food chains, restaurants, and shopping centres – including the largest mall, The Parks, Arlington. I had enough money to last me a few days so the first thing I did was get breakfast at McDonalds. I looked to see if there was a hiring sign, but nothing was posted. After I finished eating I decided to call my dad's work number and left a message on his answering machine.
“Dad, I still don't know if the family is home or on vacation, and I assure you I won't be going to our house to find out. I just need to talk to you and mom and let you know why I came back to Texas. I'm sincerely trying to get my life back on track. I don't want to talk to Chief Waybourn...I want to talk to you. Please.”
I hung up the pay phone and continued on down Cooper Street. I saw my reflection in a store window and thought, geeze, that look is not going to get you a job...I passed another strip of stores and there was a Pro Cuts Hair Salon that was just opening its doors, so I decided to get my hair cut and dyed back to its original colour. It felt odd after it was done because my hair was the shortest it had been in a year, and I'd been well settled into my alternative look. Now I looked clean cut again...The all-American kid. However, I knew it was the only way people would take me seriously.
There was a What-A-Burger (pronounced “Waterburger” in Texan dialect) fast food place with a 'Hiring' sign outside, so I went in and asked for an application form. Again, I was faced with the obstacle of having no fixed address – I didn't even have a phone number to put on the form, so I decided to take a chance and ask to speak directly to the manager. After asking one of the employees if he would speak to me, the manager appeared, “How can I help you?” He asked.
“Hello.” I said. “I'm Randy Halprin, and I'm applying for a job here, but I have a couple of things I'd like to speak to you about because I want to shoot straight with you...I just came back from Kentucky under some serious stresses in my life, and I thought I'd be able to return home. It didn't exactly work out that way, so I'm staying in the Arlington Night Shelter.”
“You some kind of trouble maker? The man asked.
“No, sir, quite the opposite. I will work to the fullest of my ability and if you just want to give me a mop and have me clean bathrooms, that's fine with me...But I need a job and I don't plan on staying in the shelter. The sooner I get out of there, the better.”
“Got a phone number where I can reach you? Maybe a pager number?”
“No, but one of the first things I plan on doing is buying a pager when I can afford it.”
“You know, you might've been better off lying on that application because it sounds like you have more baggage than I'm willing to put up with. I'm sorry. There's a few more places hiring up and and down the road. Try them out, and best of luck to you.”
“Thanks.” I said, and walked out of the restaurant. I crumpled the application up and threw it in a trash bin.
I couldn't believe it! The dude actually wanted me to lie to him? I couldn't do anything right – lie, tell the truth...What did adults want from me?
I continued on to several other places – some I used to even eat at with my own family when I lived at home. As I approached The Parks Mall, memories of me and my best friend Chad flooded my mind. In a strip mall across the street from the mall, we used to ride our bikes around and skate board. In the Grundy's restaurant nearby we'd buy a dozen biscuits for a few dollars and smear butter and honey all over them until we couldn't eat any more. A nearby Cinnabon was a frequent breakfast destination place for us...I stopped and sat on the curb, watching cars speed by as the memories played out before me. I was confused. I was hurt. I'd never felt more lost in my life! I was willing to accept responsibility for my many mistakes and poor choices, and all I really wanted was some guidance from someone who claimed to love me. All I wanted was a chance.
As the morning sun rose higher I began to sweat, so I decided to head towards the mall and walk around. Maybe I'd get lucky and find a job there. When I got there the mall was coming alive, and a few elderly people had head bands and wrist bands on – they were part of the 'Mall Walker' club. My dad had once joined them when he wanted to lose some weight, and I half expected to see him shoot by in his shorts and over-sized Reebok shoes. One elderly man looked vaguely familiar, so as he walked by I said “hello” and he replied, “Good day, son!” before breezing by. He didn't recognize me.
I went from store to store but everyone told me they weren't hiring - the summer jobs were all taken. It had slipped my mind that school was out. Not far from the mall was Arlington High, Gunn Junior High, and another Junior High...I knew my odds were slim. I continued walking around a bit more when a guy in khaki dockers and a blue dress shirt approached me. He looked familiar but I couldn't recall where I knew him from. He had a clipboard and in his hand was a name tag that said he was a representative of RC Cola, a popular southern soda.
“Hi! I'm Jeremy from RC Cola! Would you like to take our survey and help us with our latest promotional campaign?” He said, enthusiastically.
I looked at him a bit closer when he told me his name. “Jeremy Weiner?”
“Yeah. Do I know you?” He asked.
“Beth Shalom. Hebrew class...I'm Randy!”
“Holy cow, man! I didn't even recognise you! How have you been?”
“Been rough, but I'm trying to get back on my feet. I'll do your survey though, just to help you. What do I have to do?”
“Follow me. I was going to add that we are paying people 10 dollars for their time.” He said, leading me to a set of partitions set up like a small office.
We entered and he gave me the clipboard and asked me to fill it out with my name, and other information. The he pulled out what looked like three soda cans with covers on them.
“These are three new can designs. Have a good look at them when I pull the cover off, and write down which one you like best, and why, on the clipboard.”
I looked at the three cans – I wasn't particularly impressed with any of them and said, “I kind of like the original can better, if I'm honest. It looked like it belonged in Texas. These look like they're trying to be too hip.”
“Write that down then. Now, I'm going to show you three short commercials. Tell me which one was the best, or if you didn't like them, and why.”
There was a TV and VCR set up on a table, and he leaned over and pressed 'play'. The first commercial was horrible – cheaply animated, and an obviously exaggerated and fake southern accent narrated the video...
“You've got to be kidding me,” I said. It sounds like a hill-billy narrated that thing!” I said, laughing. Another came on with kids riding BMX bikes, jumping over a creek, and doing tricks.” “Too hip.” I said. Mountain Dew would produce similar extreme sport commercials and catapult the soda to top amongst the more hip soda drinkers in the late 1990s. The final video was a bit more southern with an old man sitting on a porch sipping a bottle of RC Cola – that one seemed more appropriate for the drink, so I made a note of that.
When it was all done, Jeremy thanked me and gave me a ten dollar bill. I asked him if he still attended Beth Shalom and he said that his family had moved to Ft. Worth and they attended a more conservative congregation in that area.
“Do you keep up with anyone from our class?” I asked him.
“Nah, not really. I think my parents might. I'm getting ready to go to University, and once I leave Texas I don't plan on coming back.”
“Alright, dude,” I said. It was great catching up with you and I appreciate the ten bucks. Hey, do you know any place that might be hiring?”
“Not really...Sorry, wait – they're about to break ground down the road next to the hypermarket for a Burlington Coat Factory, or maybe they've already built it. Anyway, they might be hiring over there. Give them a shot!”
I appreciate it.” I said, and shook his hand before walking away.
I looked around a bit more and decided to see if the movie theater across the street – another old hangout growing up – had any good movies playing. Most of the movies they were showing I'd seen already back in Kentucky, but there was a poster advertising “Independence Day” starring Will Smith that said it came out on July 3rd. I made a mental note and thought to myself, “Oh yeah! Definitely can't miss that!”
The day had gone by relatively fast, and I needed to get back to the shelter. I made the several-mile walk back, and waited outside of the shelter as more people arrived from the day shelter and other places. A few commented on my 'new' look, and I thanked them.
At 6pm the doors opened and they allowed people to enter. I made it in and a counsellor told me that I needed to do a proper orientation. He pulled me into his office, had me fill out some paperwork, and explained the rules to me.
“You have a certain amount of time to find a job, and if it looks like you're not looking for a job or you can't find one, we will have to ask you to find another place to stay. This program is about getting people back on their feet, and we don't want drifters and wanderers. Don't think for a second that we won't give your bed to someone more serious about getting back on their own two feet. Once you find a job, you'll be allowed to stay for an additional 90 days. This will allow you to save up money for a new residence which we will help you to find. There's a lot we can do to help you, but we need to see that you're helping yourself as well.”
He told me that under no circumstances – unless I had a job at night – was I to come to the shelter past 6pm. I told him I had wanted to attend my synagogue on Friday nights and he said, “I'll give you a religious pass for services, but if you go out, you go to the service and come straight back. No exceptions.”
I couldn't help but notice how strict the place was compared to the Hope Center, but Texas had always been a “pull yourself up by the bootstrap” kind of State, with little aid for welfare or government assistance. I knew I had to be absolutely serious in everything I did.
Another day or two passed and I was still having no luck with finding a job. I couldn't get a hold of my parents either. I was beginning to slip into depression...On July 3rd I went to the movie theater to see Independence Day, walked around the mall, and then headed back to the shelter. On July 4th we were allowed to spend the day at the night shelter, and some volunteer groups threw a big barbecue for the holiday. That evening we were allowed to go to a nearby park to watch the fireworks display that the Six Flags amusement park put on, as well as another display over at the city baseball park for the Texas Rangers baseball teams.
There was a group of children playing in the park and I decided to wrestle around with them in the hope it would lift my spirits. One child was wandering around unattended and I said, “Whoa there little fella, where's your mom?” A group of adults and a heavy set woman in her early 20s were laughing and eating watermelon nearby. “Is this anyone's kid?” I asked. The young woman came up to me and said, “Oops! Lost track of him!” Before taking him from my arms. She introduced herself as Charity, and I introduced myself in return. “Thanks for keeping an eye out for him.” She said.
“Sure. No problem.”
The fireworks went off overhead and I watched, unsure of what I was going to do if I didn't find a job. Then, my mind wandered and I began to wonder what Bill was doing for the July 4th celebrations...I imagined him at Tally Ho, being an idiot! I felt pangs...I wanted some acid...I wanted to be tripping, watching the fireworks overhead. I forced my mind to focus on my family, on my brothers...I was doing this for them as much as I was doing it for myself. I knew if I could somehow focus and get a hold of my dad, I would be able to show and convince him how serious I was.
Friday 5th came and I began to think that I'd be able to catch my dad at our Synagogue, or at the very least, run into someone who knew him and could talk to him for me – maybe arrange a meeting somewhere. I respected Chief Waybourn, but with his recent threats when I returned to Texas, I could no longer trust him, and it broke my heart because of the respect I had for him when I was growing up. My best bet was attending Friday night services. I received permission to stay out for the services, from the shelter, and was told to head home as soon as the service ended. I had to explain that our synagogue had an Oneg – a small feast – after the service, where everyone chatted and caught up on their daily lives. They allowed me an extra hour for that.
I dressed nicely, and headed out to my old Synagogue, but was shocked when I saw it! They'd been talking about renovations to it for years, and I guess they had finally gone through with it because the temple was three times the size it was and they had even bought out several of the houses and land across the street from it. The old playground had been moved, and I looked anxiously around for the tree we had planted when I was a child, to see how it had grown, but it was nowhere in sight! My heart dropped...I had been so excited to see that tree, and wondered if they had moved it somewhere else.
I went inside, hoping to run into some family friends – especially the S's – but they were nowhere to be found. Mr and Mrs S were founders and regulars, so it was disappointing to not see them, and get to talk to them...They were also my best shot at reaching my father. Their daughter Mindi had been a long time friend of mine and we'd gone out several times as young teens. They'd always been extremely warm and inviting towards me. I grabbed a Kipa, put it on my head, and entered the worship area. There was a new Rabbi and a few other people I didn't recognise, but no one I thought knew my father. Still, being there, saying the old prayers, and realising I hadn't actually forgotten any of the Hebrew I learned over the years, warmed my heart and lifted my spirits. I felt at peace.
After the service I introduced myself as Randy Halprin, “Dan's son” but no one recognised the name. How long had it been since my dad attended services? The Rabbi invited everyone to the table where challah was laid out, and asked us to join him in a prayer. Then I grabbed a white paper plate and loaded it down with cheeses, grapes, and some cake. I said “hello” to a few other new faces, and then left, heading back to the shelter.
The next day I felt spiritually at peace, so I decided to try and call my parents at home directly again, hoping that G-d would be with me...Hoping he had heard my prayers and my heart. My mom answered the phone...Before she could say anything I blurted, “Mom! Please don't hang up!”
“How did you get back to Texas?” She asked.
“A woman from the shelter who lives in Arlington, brought me here.”
“Why did you come back?”
“I need help. I want to get my life straightened out. Please.”
“I'm going to put your father on,” my mother said.
“Wait mom! Please just talk to me first?” I pleaded.
“You had a lot of nerve coming back to Arlington.” My dad's voice said, in anger.
“Dad...” I said, trying to choke back tears...
“I don't want to hear your shit. I don't want to hear your, 'oh dad, please' bullshit manipulations.”
“I'm not trying to manipulate you dad! I'm trying to get my life straightened out and I can't do it on my own!” I pleaded.
“You stole from us, you lied to us. You tried to use the military to manipulate me.” He said.
“I'm sorry for everything. I'm trying...I came back to say I'm sorry in person...So you can see I'm sincere!” I cried.
“Dan...My mom said, re-entering the conversation.
“No! No, you need to tell him what I decided because I'm done with this conversation. Tell him what we decided so we can be done with this.”
I heard a click of the phone as my dad got off, leaving me with my mom.
“What, mom? What's going on?” I asked, confused.
“Randy...We're removing you from our Will.” She said.
I was confused. Removing me from the Will? I was 18 years old! The last thing I'd ever thought about was being in my parents Will, or what I'd get out of it. In my mind, and I'm sure in any kid's mind, I believed my parents would live forever.
“I don't understand,” I said. “Are you saying you are so finished with me that you're removing me from the Will? As if I don't exist?”
“Mom?” I said, beginning to shake.
“Mom...I'm trying to do things right!” I said.
“Get back on your feet...Show us, and we'll talk then.”
The phone clicked and my mom was gone. I stood there for a second and then when the phone made an electronic screeching sound, I hung it up and walked to the bathroom, entered a stall, and cried like I had never cried before in my life. My heart had broken completely in two, and the shattered vessel filled with an anger I'd never experienced before in my life. It scared me...I pushed it down as far as I could and hoped it would never rear its ugly face.
I tried to navigate the next few days as best I could, but I felt like I was carrying a ten ton boulder. My heart hurt so badly and I couldn't understand what I had done that was so bad to cause my parents to essentially disown me, and push me out of their lives. I had to push the pain down as far as I could, and try to prove them wrong...But I knew I was in a rudderless ship. I never operated well without direction and guidance; I've never needed anyone to hold my hand, but I did need a Jiminy Cricket to my Pinocchio.
At the shelter, some parents noticed how well I interacted with the children there, and they would sometimes ask if I didn't mind watching their kids so they could run some errands, or if they were busy looking for a job. They'd pay me 10 or 20 bucks here and there, but I would've done it for free because it brought me immense joy, and oddly enough it helped me feel close to my own little brothers who I missed so much...I felt like an older brother to these children who were at the shelter. I couldn't imagine what was going on in their minds, and the best I could do is make them laugh and forget about their hardships for a short amount of time. I also had a catalog of children's songs and jokes from my own childhood which were stuck in my brain, and there was nothing that gave me a bigger smile than to sing Raffi songs like “Baby Beluga” to a gaggle of kids,, and have them sing back at me.
The mother I met at the July 4thbarbecue – Charity – began to push her child, Jarrod, into the group. More and more she'd disappear for hours at a time without even asking me, and it began to feel like I was being taken advantage of. I needed to look for a job, and the other parents were careful not to burn me out or take advantage of me. Some would ask if I'd planned on going out to look for a job or do temporary labor on a particular day, and if I said I was, they'd understand. Not Charity though...She'd just push her child towards me and disappear.
I wasn't having much luck finding a job. Most summer jobs were filled by high school students, and even though I had heard about the potential hirings at the Burlington Coat Factory, it was miles away from the shelter and I didn't feel like making the trek five days a week. I was considering buying a bicycle, but a person at the shelter told me not to because bikes had a way of disappearing overnight. I felt like there was no way for me to get the start I so desperately needed.
The black woman I had met in my first days at the shelter took me under her wing and began to call me 'son'. She told me she had escaped an abusive relationship and was just trying to get her son through school. I admired her tenacity; she worked at the amusement park, Six Flags, and told me, “I can't make no promises, but I'm talking to a few people to see about getting your foot in the door. The job would only last until fall, as they cut their staff during the autumn season, but it would give you enough time to save up and get the hell out of this damn place.”
She could tell I was stressed. “Hon, you need a break. How 'bout I get you into Six Flags for a day? I'll feed you and you can ride some roller coasters and forget about things for a day.”
“No, that's okay, thank you. I don't want you to spend your money on me,” I replied.
“Who said anything about spending money? I'm allowed to bring a guest into the park and I work at a concession stand, so I can get you some free food.”
“Well in that case, I'm down for it!” I said, excitedly.
She had a car and so we picked a day in the week to go. When we arrived, she drove down a back road behind Six Flags and into the employee parking lot. I was excited about getting a 'behind the scenes' look! They had a large employee swimming pool, an area set up for beach volley ball, and an arcade. She parked the car and told me to swing by her concession stand for lunch and dinner, and then to meet her again at 10pm when the park began to close, and we'd drive back to the shelter. I forgot about the 6pm curfew and panicked. “Don't worry about that, son. I talked to Steve and he owes me a favour. You're good. They'll let you in.”
There was a security guard who asked for her ID, and then asked who I was. “He's my guest,” she said. The security guard asked me to hold out my hand and he pulled out an ink pad and rubber stamp, then stamped both my hands with an ultraviolet ink telling me, “If you leave the park you'll have to show someone the stamps to get back in.”
We entered the park and she told me, “Have some fun. Come and get lunch later on and I'll get you the biggest plate of nachos you've ever had.”
I hadn't been to Six Flags in over a year. My family had season passes and I knew the park like the back of my hand, but I suddenly felt lost. I know she intended to give me a day to forget my troubles, but the cloud of pain followed me as I began to walk around the park. I thought about all of the times I was there with my family...Carrying around my brother's diaper bags and baby formula, and feeling both embarrassed and proud at the same time. I thought about riding new roller coasters with Wesley, and the time when we rode a brand new loopty-loop roller coaster called 'The Flash Back'. Wesley had his glasses on and they flew off his face! He began to cry hysterically thinking dad was going to be angry at him for losing his glasses, and whilst I felt bad for him, I couldn't help but laugh at the situation because I kept seeing the glasses being pulled right off his face, in my mind. As we were exiting the ride, miraculously, there was a man holding a pair of glasses and yelling, “Did anyone lose their glasses?” He said that they fell out of the sky and by instinct he caught them like a baseball. Wesley and I were amazed, and as we walked away I said to him, “I don't know how you have the luck that you do, you little turd.” If it had been my glasses they would've struck the guy in the head, knocked him out, and I would've been escorted right out of the park for assaulting him.
I eventually jumped on a few rides, but they brought me no joy. I skipped lunch, but when it was time for dinner I headed to the concession stand. The black woman had an upset look on her face and yelled from behind the counter, “Where were you at lunch?”
“I wasn't hungry.” I said, shrugging my shoulders.
“Boy, when I tell you I've got lunch for you, you better bring your ass over here!” She chastised.
I smiled. “Yes, ma'am!” I said, rolling my eyes.
“I will slap you. Don't think I won't.” She smiled back.
She disappeared for a second and brought back a huge tray wrapped in tin foil.
What do you want to drink?” She asked.
“Uhhh, Hmmm. I don't really feel like soda. Can I get a tea?”
She grabbed a paper cup and filled it up with iced tea, then plopped a lemon wedge in it. I thanked her and found a table to sit at. Pulling back the tin foil cover, my eyes bulged at all of the food. She wasn't kidding when she said she was going to make me the biggest plate of nachos I've ever had! They were loaded down with shredded cheese, black olives, refried beans, and crumbled meat, and dolloped with guacamole. I tore into them like it was the last meal I'd ever eat, and my spirits lifted a bit. By the time I finished I felt like I was going to burst open like the dude in the Alien movie. I grabbed my trash, threw it in the bin, and thanked her for a wonderful meal.
“Be back at 10!” She told me, as I walked away.
I didn't ride any more rides because I feared it would be a disaster with all of the food I'd had to eat, so I walked around the park for a while. As I was heading to another area of Six Flags, I passed one of those old timey photo places – the kind where you could dress up like you were straight out of the wild west, and have a sepia toned picture taken. There was a blond girl with her head on the counter, looking quite bored. As I passed, her head raised...I kept on a few paces and then stopped – she looked familiar so I backed up, and as I did she cocked her head, recognizing me as well.
“Randy?” She asked.
“Mindi?” I returned.
“AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!” She let out, flipping a section of the counter back and running out to grab me in a hug. I had known Mindi since I was five and a half years old. Her family was one of the first families I had met when Wesley and I were adopted; I attended Hebrew school with her and her father was one of my Bar-Mitzvah teachers. Mindi and I also went out a couple of times in the 7thgrade, and she was the second girl I'd ever kissed. We'd always remained friends, but I hadn't seen her since late 1994 when I was coming back to Texas less frequently.
“What are you doing back in Texas?” She asked.
“Long story. I'm sure there's been rumors,” I replied.
“Oh, there's been rumors a plenty! We've heard you were a crack head, had gotten some girl pregnant – to name but a few.”
“Well, I hope I haven't gotten anyone pregnant, and I'm definitely not a crack head, but yeah, I was taking drugs for a while. That's true.”
She paused. Mindi had always been one of the purest people I'd ever known. In my mind she'd never been in trouble and whilst I'm sure she was no angel, that was always the impression I had of her. “Are you still doing drugs?” She asked.
“No. I came back home to get away from all of the mess.” I was being honest.
“Where are you staying?”
“Arlington Night Shelter. I met a kind woman there, and she brought me with her today as her guest.” I said.
“Well you're coming home with me, tonight. I want you to talk to my parents.”
“I need to let the woman know I'm leaving with you. What time are you closing down?”
“At 10. Meet me back here and I'll take you out.” She said.
“Great! I said, excitedly, and left to go and see the black woman.
When I got back to the concession stand she smiled and said, “Back for more nachos?”
“You nearly killed me with the last batch! I won't be hungry for days.” I said with a grim.
“You look happier. What's up?” She asked.
“I just met up with a life long friend! If it's okay with you, she's invited me to back to her place tonight. I just wanted to thank you for today, though. I needed this.”
“This some kind of booty call?” She asked with concern on her face...
“No! Hellllll no! I've known Mindi since I was 5!” I said, feeling embarrassed.
“Don't mean you can't be knocking boots with her. If you do, make sure you wear a rubber!”
“I'm not knocking boots with anyone.” I said, laughing.
“I just don't want you getting some girl pregnant. You think you got problems now? You don't need no kid.”
“Don't worry. This might be my ticket to get back on my feet.” I said, feeling hopeful.
“Alright. You be good now, hear me?”
“Loud and clear. Again, thank you.”
“You're welcome, son.”
I waved to her as I walked off and headed back to meet up with Mindi. When it was time to close I carried a bag for her and we exited the employee area and headed towards a small white car. She climbed into the driver's side, popped the passenger door, and I got in – bag sitting on my lap – and we drove to her place.
On the ride back to her house, we caught up and she told me she had a boyfriend, but she worried what would happen to their relationship when she went off to College. She told me she'd been accepted into Texas A&M. “Better an Aggie than a Longhorn,” I offered.
We pulled into her driveway and she pressed a button on her visor to open the garage door, and in we went. We walked through a utility door and into the house, where I was greeted by several cats miaowing and purring...I'd forgotten that Mrs S was a cat lover and they'd always had a litter of cats in their home. One cat wasn't too pleased to see a stranger and hissed at me! “Don't mind him. He doesn't like anyone.” Mindi said.
I walked into their living room and sat on the couch as Mindi called for her parents. Mrs S came out first, and I stood up as she walked towards me and grabbed me in a warm embrace, kissing my cheek. Mr S followed shortly after, stuck out his hand, and I shook it firmly. They motioned for me to sit back down on the couch.
“We'd heard so much. Catch us up.” Mrs S said. I ran through everything I could from the summer of 1995 to the present.
“I was always against the idea of your dad sending you to that Baptist school,” Mr S said. “Are you still using drugs?” He asked, with concern.
“Absolutely not...The whole point of me coming back to Texas was to get away from that mess...To start over.”
“Well, you're looking healthy.” Mrs S said.
“You're going to sleep here for the night, right?” Mr S invited.
“If that's okay with you, I'd love to.” I said, thanking them.
They said goodnight to us and headed off to their bedroom. Mindi told me I could crash on the floor in her bedroom, and she'd drop me off at the day shelter in the morning.
We got up, went to her bedroom and she called her boyfriend. When she mentioned me staying over they began to argue and she slammed the phone down. “He doesn't get it that I've known you my whole life. He can be such a retard at times.”
She threw a blanket and pillow at me and said, “Get some sleep.” So I grabbed a spot on the floor and fell asleep. with slightly more hope in my heart...
Not long after reconnecting with Mindi, I made a friend at the shelter – a guy named Todd. He was a Gulf War veteran from the early '90s, and he and his wife had fallen on hard times due to what was diagnosed as “Gulf War Syndrome.” He told me that doctors didn't know the cause of it, but more and more veterans from the Iraq war in the early '90s were suddenly becoming ill. It had incapacitated him enough that he could no longer keep a job for a long period of time, and so he was waiting on benefits from the government, and an apartment.
One day, Todd asked me if I smoked weed and I told him I had in the past, but I was trying to not do any drugs at all now. Then he asked me if I did acid and I told him that it was my favourite thing to do, but again, I was trying to stay clean.
“I respect that, bro. I'm just saying I can get it if you need it.”
I really was trying so hard to fly straight...Having seen Mindi and her family, I didn't want to let them down and I wanted so desperately to show my parents that I could do it on my own, and that I could get my life straightened out. Mindi worked during the day at Six Flags, but told me she was going to leave to start preparing to go to college, so if I wasn't doing some kind of temporary labor I could swing by or she could pick me up, and we could hang out. I'd go to various stores with her and help her to pick out college stuff, and things for her dorm room, and sometimes I'd hang out with her friends and boyfriend too.
The summer Olympics were in full swing in Atlanta, Georgia, so we'd watch some of the events at her place. I remember one day when Mindi got up to use the bathroom, and her boyfriend asked me if I'd ever slept with Mindi.
“What? No! Dude, we were 13 when we went out...Look man, Mindi is just a life long friend. I'm not a threat, so it's cool,” I said.
I felt sorry for him. I could empathise with being in love so deeply with someone, and then the fear of losing them...You feel like holding on tighter.
“She loves you, man. Don't let it be your fall.” I advised.
“I appreciate that.” He said.
Back at the shelter, Todd offered to drive me back and forth to the Burlington Coat Factory if I wanted to try for the job. I couldn't pass up the opportunity and believed that if I had a more secure job, I could then try to approach my parents. I took him up on the offer and he drove me down Cooper Street to the new store. I went in and the place looked bare boned. It had clearly just been built and there were some carpenters there building shelves, and people laying carpet. I approached a guy in khaki dress pants and dress shirt, and asked if he knew where I could apply for a job.
“I'm the person you need to talk to,” he said.
“Are you hiring?” I asked.
“We are. Let me get you an application form and go ahead and fill it out. When you're finished, come back and talk to me.”
He grabbed a form and pen, handed it to me and I filled it out. I put my home address on it because I was tired of being turned down for being homeless. When I was done I handed it back to him, he scanned it and said, “Can you work today?”
“Yeah!” I said.
“You're hired. I want to be straight up with you, though...I'm only hiring on a temporary basis. We want to have this place opened in time for the Back to School sales, and so we're working around the clock. Once we have the place ready to roll, we'll pull in employees from other stores to work here, but you'll be more than welcome to re-apply for a sales clerk job.”
I ran out and asked Todd to come back at 5pm, as I'd been hired. I was a little disappointed that it wasn't a permanent job like I wanted, but I couldn't pass up the pay – a little above minimum wage – and I needed the money. When I went back inside, the guy who hired me told me I'd be building clothing racks that came in kits, but were easy to assemble. He lead me to a small group of people who had metal poles, and other bits and pieces strewn across the ground and told them, “Show him how to put these together.”
Everyone said hello and we all introduced ourselves to one another. A stereo system was cranked all the way up to my favourite alternative station, The Edge, and I got to work, bobbing my head to the music.
As we were working, a commercial came on that immediately caught my attention...
“Coming August 25thto Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas, for their US Mood Swing Tour...THE CURE!!!” My head jerked up and I was so excited! I had a chance to see The Cure? The Gods were surely smiling upon me! Meeting up with Mindi, finally getting a job – even if only temporary – and now The Cure coming to Texas? I didn't know how I'd get to Dallas, but I knew that when I received my first pay cheque some of it was going towards a ticket to see them...It had long been one of my wishes to see them in concert. I went back to work with a new found pep in my step.
At the end of the day I asked the guy in charge when we'd be paid, and he said the following week. Then I walked out to the parking lot to wait for Todd to pick me up and take us back to the shelter. On the way back he told me that he'd been approved for an apartment in Fort Worth, and would be leaving the shelter in early August. I congratulated him, and told him of my own good fortune.
“I'll go to The Cure concert with you, but you gotta buy the tickets.”
“That's totally worth you driving me to the Reunion Arena!” I agreed.
When we got back to the shelter, I decided that nothing could go wrong for me and decided to call home. My mom answered and I told her, “I've got some good news, mom. I've got a job at the new Burlington Coat Factory. Well, it's just until it opens up, but there's a chance I could be a sales clerk after it's opened up officially.”
“I feel like things are looking up.”
“Is that why you called?” She asked.
“Well, I wanted to talk to Jimmy and Kevin. Will you put them on?”
“No.” She said.
I was shocked.
“What do you mean, 'no'? Mom, they're my brothers!” I pleaded.
“I'll let you walk to Wesley, but not Jimmy and Kevin.”
“Why? Why just Wesley?” I asked, confused.
“We don't want you to negatively influence them.”
“Seriously? No, I get it...Wesley is my 'real' brother, so it's okay to talk to him, but Jimmy and Kevin aren't? I changed their diapers, patiently dealt with Jimmy when he'd pee in my bed late at night...I cooked eggs with them and did other brotherly things, and they aren't my 'real' brothers? That's such bullshit...I'd never hurt them...How could you ever think I'd 'influence' them?”
“Randy...” My mom said, but I cut her off.
“No, I understand. I'm such a screw up you don't want me around them. Just know that even though they aren't my blood brothers, I have never seen them as anything but my REAL brothers! You've truly taken away everything I have ever loved. Thank you.” I said, and hung up the phone.
Everything inside of me fell again, and the anger returned to the surface. I saw now that no matter how hard I tried with my parents, I was as good as dead to them. I surrendered to that fact...Raised the white flag within myself, and any motivation I had just died in that moment.
Todd was sitting on a couch with his wife and he could tell I was upset.
“What's wrong, dude?”
“Nothing. Hey...Remember what you asked me about a couple of days ago? Can you get some?”
“Yeah. Give me a couple of days and I've got you.”
I still hung out with Mindi for a little longer. I remember one night she was going to try to hook me up with one of her friends, and we all went out to see the movie, 'Paranormal' with Michael J. Fox, and then we ate in an Irish restaurant called, “Bennigans.” The friend and I never made a connection, but it was one of the last nights I'd see Mindi.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
My first serious blow up came on an off day from work, I was hanging out at the day shelter, napping on a bench, when a female case worker from the Arlington Night Shelter showed up and said, “I need some people to help drive some cars.” I had long lost my driver's permit, so when she made the announcement, I laid back down on the bench.
“How about you, Halprin?” Want to drive some cars? We're paying.” She asked.
“I can't. I don't have a driver's license.”
She didn't say anything, but a couple of other people jumped at the opportunity. When we all returned to the Night Shelter that evening, one of the counsellors called me into his office. He told me to sit down, he needed to ask me some questions.
“What's up?” I asked.
“I know you have the job at the Burlington Coat Factory, but as you know, temporary jobs don't count. I really need you to show us that you're looking for a permanent job. A letter, something that we can put in your file. You're getting dangerously close to the time we need people to have a job by.”
“I'm doing my best. No one wants to hire a homeless person.” I said.
“Well, you didn't take the job offered today. Mary said she asked you to work and you refused.”
“I didn't fucking refuse! I told her I didn't have a driver's licence! She's lying!” I snapped.
“Calm down,” he said.
“No! This is bullshit! I'm trying to find a job, I'm working, I'm doing all that I can and I'm still being shit on and lied about? Do you know how hard it is for a homeless 18 year old to find a job when they don't even have a high school diploma? I can't even get a Burger King to hire me.”
I was so angry I was shaking, and I had a sudden impulse to throw the desk in front of me, across the room...
“Take a breath. I know. I know. We're just trying to encourage you.”
“Well, you don't 'encourage' me by lying about me. It's bullshit. If I had my license, I would've jumped at the opportunity.”
“Okay. I'll make a note of that.”
“So, is her bullshit going to stay on my file?”
“I'm afraid so. I can't change it, even if it isn't true.”
I stormed out of the office and went to find Todd so I could tell him what just happened. “Well, I can take you to one of those employment centers and we can make a fake document saying you've been hired somewhere.”
“I don't know about that.”
“They'll never know and it'll buy you some time in the shelter at the very least.” I thought about it and felt it was harmless, so why not? I was beginning to feel like things were starting to spin out of control again, and if this offered some stability, I couldn't pass on the idea.
The next day Todd drove me to an employment center that had computers, printers, and office supplies.
“What's the name of the business where your friend works?” He asked.
“Mindi? I don't know. It was some kind of photo company at Six Flags.”
Todd looked through the yellow pages and found the name of the company, wrote it down, and handed it to me. “Now, you'll make a letter head with that company name, and say that you've been hired. Then sign it with Mindi's name.”
“She's not a manager or anything.”
“It doesn't matter. It'll look good enough to buy you time. That's all.”
I went to work on the computer and did as Todd instructed, making what looked like a credible business letter. We printed it out and he signed it in her name. I felt extremely guilty for using my friend like this, but I had hoped if she ever found out she'd understand the circumstances.
Later that evening I handed the letter to a counsellor and he said, “This is great. We'll put it in your file.” I breathed a sigh of relief!
I was still extremely stressed though...I'd started using acid again, and at the shelter, Charity would continue to push her kid off on me. I tried to avoid her as much as possible, and I noticed she was starting to flirt with Todd more and more, and he was eating it up. He was a married man, but I knew he wasn't faithful. I didn't think he was a bad guy, but in my normal circumstances, I wouldn't have chosen to hang out with him.
I also remember a girl being forced to do some community service at the shelter. She had dyed her hair, and she was extremely attractive and just a year or two younger than me. We hit it off talking about music and spent hours hanging out on nights at the shelter. One night she asked me if I did drugs and I said, “Yeah...” She pulled out a bottle of mini thins – something I hadn't seen since Bill shared some with me in Kentucky, and whilst I didn't like the experience at the time, she shook them at me and said, “We can take these and fuck.”
I held out my hand and she poured some out, then we swallowed them...I was soon amped up, but my stomach didn't feel right. We had sex on a couch, and shortly afterwards I passed out. I woke up feeling like someone was shaking my shoulder very delicately, and then I heard the girl's voice...
I opened my eyes and was confused. “Yeah?”
“You messed yourself,” she said.
I didn't know what she was talking about, but then I felt something warm and wet on the backside of my pants...I had shit myself. I felt so embarrassed and humiliated. What was it about taking anything that sped me up that made me so sick? Whether it was caffeine pills I popped back at OBI, or the mini thins in Kentucky, and now...It never ended well for me.
I jumped up, ran to the shower area, and washed off. By the time I had finished, the girl had left the shelter, her community hours over with. I never saw her again. I couldn't help but think that is how I will forever be remembered by her – the guy she had sex with, who then shit his pants.
My life sucked.
Burlington Coat Factory was a week or two away from opening, and new sales clerks had begun their training. The manager had called the temporary labor people together, into a semi-circle, and told us it was time to let us go. He no longer needed our assistance. When I asked if jobs were still available, he looked at us and said, “I'm sorry y'all...We've pulled in enough people from surrounding stores, to get us opened up.” Then he wrote our last pay cheques and wished us luck. To say I was upset was an understatement.
When Todd came by and picked me up, I told him the job was over and I didn't know what I was going to do.
“Look on the bright side, dude, if it weren't for the job, you wouldn't have been able to afford the tickets to see The Cure.”
I did smile as I thought back to the day I purchased the tickets. I didn't get great seats, but the fact I was going to see Robert Smith on stage, and hear them live? Well, you couldn't put a price on that and the big day would come around sooner than I knew!
“Still...” I said. “It's all bullshit, Todd. I can't wrap my head around how disposable people seem to be. Especially if you're homeless. Nobody cares...They pretend to care, but I guarantee if I were in rags, smelled like dog crap, and walked up to a church and begged for help, they'd tell me to go away.”
“How do you think I feel? I go to war, come home and get sick, and I had to fight the government tooth and nail to get any benefits, after risking my life for them. Iraq wasn't an existential threat to the US, and mark my words – that war didn't end. We'll end up back over there at some point.”
“I don't know, man. I'm just saying that in the past year I've seen an uglier side to humanity. I liked it better when I was blissfully ignorant and living a sheltered life. I can't think straight at times I'm so stressed. I should be with friends at fucking Disney World right now, and not wondering how I'm going to survive.”
“Get in line, brother,” Todd replied.
When we returned to the shelter, somebody told me that the nice black woman had checked out, and I was a little sad that I didn't get to thank her for being so nice to me, but I was happy she was getting her life back on track. Todd and I met up with Ramie, his wife, and we all went inside. Charity followed behind us and when we walked inside she asked if I'd watch Jarrod for her whilst she used the bathroom. When she hadn't returned after an hour or so, I was upset thinking that she kept doing this to me. When she came back to collect her child she thanked me and I said, “Sure.” And she turned her attention to Todd again, and began flirting with him.
Ramie and I were sitting on the couch and she said, “I can't stand her. Todd knows I don't like this shit and he does it anyway. If it weren't for our kids, I'd leave him.”
It was the first time I'd heard they had kids; neither of them had mentioned kids, and they weren't living with them at the shelter.
“You've got children?” I asked.
“Yeah. A three year old, Kyle, and a six year old, Nikki.” She replied.
“Where are they?”
“With my grandparents until Todd gets the apartment.”
“Oh. Why haven't you mentioned them until now?”
“Because we weren't supposed to be here long enough to get close to anyone. Todd and I have a soft spot for you though. Did Todd tell you what we were thinking about?”
“He hasn't told me anything. What's up?”
“Would you like to move out to Fort Worth with us? You'd have to sleep on the couch and it'll only be until you're on your feet, but I think you should be able to find a job quickly. There's a lot of shops around where we're going to move, and if you don't find a job quickly, you can watch Kyle and Nikki as payment for your rent, and to help us out.”
“That would be fantastic!” I said. “But to be clear, you know I like to do acid, and I'd want some time for myself. You don't have to worry, I'm a happy go lucky drug user...I get goofy, but I'd rather not babysit if I'm high.”
“Yeah. Todd does it too, so I definitely wouldn't have you watching the kids whilst you're high.”
“Cool. I'd love to go out with y'all...When do we leave?”
“In a few days.”
I was so excited that I decided to call the S's and let them know I was moving to Fort Worth. I didn't want them to worry about me, but when I called all I received was the answering machine, so I left a message. I also told Mindi that if I couldn't see her before she left for college, I wished her all the luck in the world.
In spite of the good news, I was still feeling extremely stressed. I had my second serious blow up a couple of days later at the day shelter. It would be one of my last days of being homeless, but I felt incredibly restless, like my intuition was telling me that going to Fort Worth wasn't the greatest idea in the world.
On this particular day, I hung out at the shelter all day long and at the end of the day it was a requirement to do a chore. I told people around me that I'd handle the bathroom this time, so I scrubbed the toilet and sprayed everything with disinfectant, and put the trash out. As we were leaving, an older black man who supervised the place, stopped me...
“Don't come back tomorrow.” He said.
“What do you mean?” I asked, confused.
“You didn't do a chore,” he replied.
“Yes I did. I cleaned the bathroom.”
“I saw you just walk out. You didn't do jack.” He said.
Anger bubbled to the surface...
“Well, maybe you need some glasses 'cause I cleaned the fucking bathroom.” I said, more forcefully.
“Get out of here” he demanded.
“Or what? What you going to do old man?” I said.
“Leave, or I'll call the police!”
“You'll call the police? I cleaned the bathroom! I did what I was supposed to do! Call the fucking police! I'm on public property.”
“Or what? You going to threaten to pull your knife out on me? I'll knock the thing out of your hand! Come on! Do something!” I spat, approaching him.
People were standing around as I was screaming at the top of my lungs. I felt like I was having an outer body experience, and being this angry, making a fool of myself and making threats, was contrary to who I was – the soft-spoken kid who avoids conflict if he can. I wasn't someone who went around picking fights.
Someone grabbed me from behind and began to pull me away. “Calm down, man! Calm down.”
“No! Fuck him! The mother fucker is lying about me!”
“Just breathe, kid. Calm down...” The voice said.
I stopped, and came back to my senses, shrugged him off and said, “I'm cool.”
“You good, man? Want to smoke a joint or something to settle your nerves?”
We headed to his car.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Time came to leave the shelter. I grabbed my soccer bag and we drove to an apartment complex off Las Vegas trail in Fort Worth. We passed the old air force base and the YMCA camp near Burgers Lake, where I used to go in my early teens. I knew Fort Worth fairly well as my family spent more time in that city than in Dallas, and it had far more cultural institutions than Dallas. The city was known for being a cattle town - “Cow Town” - but it was far more cultural than the name suggested, and boasted science museums, world famous art institutions, and one of the first IMAX theaters in the country – the Onmi Theater – which all drew socialites to the ciy in the early '80s.
We turned into the apartment complex and parked the car before heading towards our new place. Across the street was an old mall and I figured I'd have no problem finding a job. Something just had to change for me.
There was no furniture in the apartment, but Todd said he was going to get some from a Veteran's service in the next day or two. He also told me that there was a plasma center nearby, and we could get a little extra cash if we wanted to.
Later that evening, Ramie's grandparents dropped off Kyle and Nikki, and I met them. Kyle was a blast and he warmed up to me very quickly. Nikki was a bit on the shy side, but I knew having them around would be good for my spirit. Ramie told Kyle that I could do a bunch of cartoon voices, and Kyle started yelling out cartoon characters for me to mimic. I had him in stitches with my 'Bobby' from the 'Bobby's World' cartoon.
Over the next few days we picked up furniture and I applied for numerous jobs, but hadn't heard back on anything. We went to see a few movies with the plasma money – 'The Crow: City of Angels', 'Multiplicity', and 'Jack'. All were let downs...But the one movie I did find exceptional was 'A Time to Kill'. Ramie said she was going to order a new satellite service that was relatively cheap. The dish technology was small enough now to have in an apartment. “You can watch as many movies as you want with that shit,” Todd said.
About a week after we left the shelter, Todd received a call on his cell phone. It was Charity, and she was in tears because Jarrod had come down with the chicken pox and had a really bad ear infection, and the shelter had asked them to leave until he was better, so they could eliminate the risk of infecting other children staying there.
She told Todd she had nowhere to go, but Ramie was immediately against the idea. “I don't want her here.” She said.
As much as I couldn't stand Charity and the way she'd taken advantage of my kindness, and inability to say 'no' to things, I felt sorry for Jarrod...My heart broke to know the little guy was suffering, so I said, “We can't let them go out on the streets,” I interjected. Ramie looked at me, surprised...”It's the right thing to do. Just let her stay here until he gets better.” I said.
I don't regret the decision as my heart was coming from a pure place, and genuinely wanting to help. But it would soon lead to events that would forever alter the course of my life, and haunt me and torment me with regret to this day.
Todd had to drive back to Arlington to pick up Charity. I asked him if I could get a hold of my brother, Wesley, and arrange to see him...It would be mind blowing to see him! He said it wouldn't be a problem and so I called my brother up at home hoping that he would be the one to pick up the phone – fortunately, he did.
“Where are you?” Wesley asked.
“I've moved to Fort Worth. I made some friends at the shelter and they invited me to move in with them.”
“That's cool.” He said.
“Yeah, it is. Anyway, we're going to Arlington to do something and I was wondering if you wanted to meet up. Can you get out of the house?”
“Sure. I'll tell dad I'm going on a walk. Where do you want to meet?”
“How about McDonalds next to the bank?” I suggested.
“Okay, I'll be there around noon. See you there!” Wesley said, and hung up the phone.
I hadn't seen Wesley since I came back to Texas and was eager to see him. I really missed him. Todd and I hopped into his car and headed to Arlington.
He dropped me off on South Cooper Street, and drove off to go pick up Charity and Jarrod from the shelter. I decided to walk around the shopping centers until noon – again, memories of my childhood and early teens came flooding back in waves. I needed some batteries for the portable CD player I had just bought, and decided to pick some up at a drug store. I walked to the battery aisle and grabbed some Duracells before heading back towards the check out counter and stood in line behind an elderly woman whilst she wrote out a cheque. The check out girl waited on her patiently, and we eventually made eye contact and she smiled. She looked vaguely familiar but I couldn't figure out where I had seen her. Her hair was different...fiery red, cut in a pixie style, and she had numerous piercings in her ears, nose and eyebrow. I remember thinking, “Damn, that's hot!” I couldn't take my eyes off her! She kept looking at me and I could see from the expression on her face that she was trying to figure me out – like she'd seen me before as well.
The elderly woman finished at the counter, and walked away, so I stepped forward...
“Hi,” she said. “This is all you're getting?”
“Yeah...” I said, shyly. Damn my nerves!
She rang it up and as she did I looked at her name tag, “Hillary.” Hillary...Hillary, Hillary? I know this name! Where do I know this name from? I kept thinking to myself.
“$3.05,” she said.
I reached into my pocket and gave her a five dollar bill. She opened the register and gave me my change...
“Thanks,” I said.
“Have a good day!” She smiled.
“You too!” I said, walking away.
As I reached the exit door, it all came back to me, “Hillary! THE Hillary!” In the fifth grade of elementary school, all of the schools in Arlington got together for an event at the University of Texas, Arlington. We were invited to see a play of some sort at the end of the school year. I sat there with a friend from class and a girl tapped on my shoulder from behind...I turned around and she said, “My friend, Hillary, wants to give you her phone number.”
“Where is she?” I asked. Surprised that a girl would want to give me her phone number. “She's right here next to me, the girl said. A brown haired girl smiled shyly and waved her hand...I waved back. “Okay!” I said, maybe a little too excitedly.
The girl pulled out a pen and told me to give her my hand, and she scribbled a phone number on it. I pulled my hand back and looked at it in disbelief. Wow...a girl gave me her phone number! I stared at it the entire play. When we returned back to school after the play, one of the popular girls – a pretty blonde named Tonya – mocked me.
“Who would want to give you their number? You're a geek! It's probably fake.”
It might've been, I thought, but I was sure enough going to try. Turns out it was absolutely real, and whilst nothing ever happened between us, we often ran into one another at school dances, the mall, and the movies, over the next few years. Now, it was happening again! Every bit of me was saying turn around idiot, and tell her who you are – Randy! See how she reacts! This could be the start of something! Turn around idiot! Another sliding doors moment...Instead, my nerves got the better of me and I kept walking towards the parking lot. The moment had passed.
I met up with Wesley at noon, at the McDonalds across the street. I bought him lunch, and we talked about how he was doing. I noticed his ear was pierced and said, “Dad actually lets you have that? I was forbidden!”
Todd showed up with Charity and Jarrod, and I hugged Wesley goodbye. It would be the last time I physically hugged my brother again, in my lifetime. On the drive back to Fort Worth, Charity asked me how my arrangement worked with Todd and Ramie if I didn't have a job. “I babysit.” I said.
“Good! You can watch my kid whilst I go out too.” She said.
I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to be a jerk and refuse to do it. I kept silent when Jarrod started to cry, his face was covered in chicken pox, and my heart went out to him. I knew he had to have been miserable, and now his life was being uprooted again whilst he suffered through this. I turned back toward him and tried to make goofy faces at him to make him laugh. He stopped crying, and started to giggle back at me.
We arrived back at the apartment and climbed out of the car. Charity handed Jarrod to me, and I kept making silly faces at him and making him laugh as we entered the apartment. Kyle and Nikki ran to me when we entered and I put Jarrod down on the floor, grabbed Kyle, and swung him around. He was laughing uncontrollably.
Over the next week I would watch Kyle, Nikki and Jarrod, when Todd, Ramie, and Charity would go out during the day time. By the evening I would be exhausted and want time to myself. I started drinking heavily, even though I didn't really like the taste of alcohol, but I'd developed a serious liking to this Arizona non-alcoholic Piña Colada drink. Todd had a huge bottle of Bacardi rum, and I'd drink about a third of the Arizona drink, then pour the rum into the bottle to fill it back up, shake it, and sip on that. Also, about three times a week, I'd trip on acid.
Charity began taking advantage of me more and more, and push her son off on me. She'd disappear with Todd and I could tell it was beginning to bother Ramie, and we both had suspicions that they were messing around. I didn't know what to do...I didn't know how to say enough was enough. Jarrod's chicken pox were healing, but he had developed a serious ear infection, and also a bunch of cold sores, and I knew the child was miserable. It was time for Charity to head back to the shelter, but somehow she'd convinced Todd into letting her stay. Ramie wasn't happy at all, but I think Ramie and I were in the same position – we didn't have anywhere else to go.
One night I drank way too much...I was tired and stressed, and I was having no luck in finding a job, but admittedly, I was doing a half-ass job of searching for one. I stumbled to the living room where Charity was watching TV, and threw myself onto the couch, propping my feet up in her lap. At some point, I blacked out, and when I came around, Charity was on top of me – naked – and riding me. I was inside of her and panicked, so I asked her to stop, and pushed her off me. She kept trying to pull me back to her, but I managed to get away from her and went straight to the bathroom to wash off my penis. I couldn't think straight...but somehow stumbled back to the living room, and passed out on the floor.
The next morning I woke up and felt like garbage, thinking it had all been a dream. I dragged myself to the bathroom to wash my face, and when I looked into the mirror, I saw a huge hickey on my neck, and a bite mark on my chest. “Ohhhhh, man...” I said to myself. I went to Todd and Ramie's bedroom. Ramie was still asleep, but Todd was up watching TV in bed. I sat on a wooden chest and put my head in my hands. “I think Charity and I had sex last night,” I said.
“Oh, you definitely did, buddy!” Todd said, excitedly. “When I got up to grab a drink, she was riding you like a bucking bronco, so I backed up and headed back to bed.”
“Shit!” I said, suddenly filled with anger. I wasn't happy. I was mad at myself and felt she'd taken advantage of me...I couldn't believe it had happened! I wasn't attracted to her in any kind of way, and didn't like her attitude at all. I didn't like the way she treated her son either...I just plain didn't like her. How could I have slept with her? I didn't understand it, and was really angry at the situation. I took a shower and got dressed, and when I went back to the living room, Charity was up and said, “We should talk.”
“There's nothing to talk about, cow!” I said. I was shocked the word came out of my mouth! I'd never talked to a girl that way in my life. For the next few days I talked to her like she was garbage. My anger was consuming me and I couldn't help it – things were building up...I didn't know what to do or where to get help...I felt so angry about everything.
But The Cure concert was quickly approaching, and maybe seeing something I loved so much would help to calm me down.
The following days I did my best to avoid Charity, but it was impossible. My anger at her, the way she treated Jarrod, and my own situation, all compounded like a festering wound. I did my best to push it all down and be my typically happy spirited self, but I also began to hate who I was. I hated my life – my existence. The only thing I found joy in was music and watching the kids.
Todd and I went out to run some errands and give plasma at a place in Fort Worth, and afterwards I told him I needed a hair cut. We stopped at a Pro-Cuts, and Todd told me he'd come back to pick me up in a bit, and I went inside.
“How do you want me to trim it?” the hair-stylist asked. She wore thick glasses and had a bob cut.
“Take it all off,” I said.
She looked at me, aghast...
“Are you sure?” She asked, grabbing a pair of clippers, but before she committed to taking all my hair off, she asked again, “Are you really, really sure?”
“Just get it over with, please.” I replied.
She got to work and began working the clippers on my hair from front to back...I watched – in slight horror – as clumps of dark hair dropped onto the apron she put on to cover me. When it was all over and done with, she wiped my head with a damp towel and cleaned me up as best she could.
“Well?” she said as I stared at myself in the mirror, once again not recognizing the face I was seeing...
I shrugged my shoulders and said, “It's different.”
She took the apron off and I paid her. Todd showed up and said, “Whoa, dude! Why did you cut all your hair off?”
“I don't know...It's kind of like starting over, or at least that my rationale.”
“Want to go to Putt-Putt? Play a round of golf...smoke a joint?” He asked.
“Yeah, I guess.”
On the way to Putt-Putt golf park, he lit up a joint and passed it to me. I took a puff and began to cough. “I hate this shit,” I said, but it did lighten my mood. We spent most of the day at Putt-Putt, and left with a cone of ice cream – I can still taste that last scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream in freedom, to this day.
On the way back to Todd's apartment we passed a Chuck E Cheese restaurant – a place for kids parties – and they had a 'hiring' sign in the window.
“Stop! Stop the car! Let me run in and apply!” I demanded.
“You want to work at Chuck E Cheese?” He said in disbelief.
“Hell yeah! I had my first ever birthday party there...It's like everything has come full circle.” I said, like I'd had an epiphany of sorts.
Todd pulled into the parking lot and I ran inside. The electronic beeps and blips of video games and skee ball filled the entire place. In the background I could hear the unmistakeable Chuck E Cheese band playing bad copies of replica '80s and '90s hits. Otherwise, the place was completely empty. I saw a large guy wiping a table down and I asked if I could get an application form.
“You want to work in here, huh?”
“It's a job I desperately need,” I said.
“Okay.” He disappeared into a back room and returned with an application and said, “Good luck.”
I filled it out quickly, adding the phone number at Todd's apartment, and handed it to the guy.
“Is the manager here?” I enquired.
“Nah. She's off today...Left me here with the kitchen crew and that god-damn creepy singing mouse. You know he's a rat, right? Everyone calls him a mouse, but he's a fucking rat! Look at his tail!”
“You hate this place that much?” I asked.
“It's a job. If you're hired you'll get to suffer along with me.”
I thanked the miserable soul, and ran back out to Todd's car.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The day came when it was time for The Cure concert. Things seemed to be a bit brighter that day; Jarrod's chicken pox had begun to clear, but he was still suffering with the ear infection and some cold sores, but he seemed calmer that day. Todd told me we'd head out towards Dallas Arena around 3pm, and walk around down town until the concert was about to start. I put on my brown Doc Martens, a pair of jeans, and my favourite Cure t-shirt from the “Wish” album. We ate lunch before we left, watched a little TV, and headed out.
There had been some sort of Grand Prix racing event on in the days before the concert, and the down town area still had guard rails up on the sides of the streets. Todd wanted to buy a bottle of liquor before the concert started and I said, “No, you can't listen to a live freaking Cure concert whilst inebriated...This is the experience of a life time!”
We reached Reunion Arena and there were crowds of people waiting around, mostly dressed in goth or dark clothes, in the hot August heat. The Cure were never a 'goth' band to me. Sure, they had the image – Robert Smith practically created the look himself – but their music was much more than dark and moody lyrics. They could carry any sound, any genre, and still make it uniquely “The Cure.” Yes, their “Disintegration” album was a masterpiece, but so were albums like, “Head on the Door” “Kiss me Kiss me Kiss me” “Wish” and “Faith.” I was sure that if I asked half of the people there if they knew their albums, they'd say they only knew “Disintegration” or maybe “Wish.”
We entered the Arena and found our seats. Todd had recently bought a cellphone and called Ramie to let her know we were there. I looked at the stage – it was minimal, with a large white screen behind the drum kit, lights, and what looked to be a fog machine. In the center of the arena was a roped off section with a huge mixing board with monitors. I watched as several guys tweaked switches, knobs and other gadgets, and I knew this was the secret to The Cure's amazing sound, so I watched with great attention and took mental notes.
Then, the house lights went down and a repeating set of guitar notes began to chime – the opening notes to the song, “Want.” Robert Smith, guitar in hand, walked to the microphone as the white section behind him came to life. Was he really wearing a Dallas Stars hockey jersey? I had goose bumps! Soon, the drummer climbed behind the kit, and then the keyboard player appeared with my favorite bass guitarist, Simon Gallup! The song built, and when Robert Smith began to sing, the crowd went wild!
They worked their way through several songs from “Wild Mood Swings” - my favourite song, “Strange Attraction” being one of their best from that album. They they went into songs from their entire catalog, including a 12 minute version of “A Forest.” They also did a seamless mash up of “Love Cats” and “Why Can't I Be You?” I was disappointed they didn't do one of my favourite songs, “Push,” but I was still slightly euphoric from the whole thing...It was a dream fulfilled and I was forever grateful for the experience.
When we left the arena, I was on a natural high! Todd still wanted to get some liquor so we stopped off at a run down liquor store in down town Dallas. He opened it in the car and passed it off to me. I told him, “I'm good, man. Please don't kill us in a car crash. You should let me drive.”
“Dude, I drove a Humvee through the desert with shells exploding around me, and we were all drunk...I'm still here, man.”
Whatever...If we died, at least I saw The Cure tonight, I thought.
For a few days after the Cure concert I was on a natural high; I'd fulfilled a dream of mine since I first fell in love with the band, and now, I just wanted to get the rest of my life figured out too...I kept asking Todd if anyone from Chuck E. Cheese had called, and he told me he hadn't heard anything yet – I was beginning to feel they'd passed on my application.
Ramie came up with the idea that we should all apply for a Lone Star Card which was Texas' version of food stamps, and because none of us had a job, we should qualify. We all piled into the car and headed down town to the Welfare Office where we took a number and waited to be seen by a State Case Worker. When my number was called I was ushered to a cubicle and sat at a desk with an older black woman behind a computer. She didn't even introduce herself...She just began asking me a barrage of questions.
“Age?” She asked.
“18,” I answered.
“Last completed year of education?”
“Uhh...Eleventh. But I got through half of my-”
“I don't care what you got through half of, I asked what your lastcompletedyear was.”
“Eleventh,” I responded, slightly embarrassed.
“Where at?” She asked.
“Onieda Baptist Institute in Kentucky.”
“Kentucky? How the hell did you get down here, son?”
“I grew up here and wanted to come back home. Ended up homeless. Long story.”
“You do drugs? You some sort of junkie?”
My face grew hot. How was I supposed to answer that? Yes, I did drugs, but I didn't consider myself a junkie.
“No. I don't do drugs,” I said, lying.
“You said you were homeless. What shelter you staying at?”
“I'm staying with some friends right now, but I was at the Arlington Night Shelter.”
“Where you staying at now? What part of Tarrant County?” She asked.
“Fort Worth, off Las Vegas Trail.”
“You been looking for work?”
“Yeah, but no one wants to hire someone with the baggage I have, or a homeless person.”
She asked some other questions and then told me that if I qualified, my Lone Star Card would be in the mail.
I walked out feeling like I'd been in some kind of CIA interrogation! I understood the need to make sure no one was abusing the system, but I also felt uneasy with so many intrusive questions. It was like the State designed the system to be immediately suspicious of anyone's need to be on welfare. I waited on Todd, Ramie, and Charity, until they were finished their respective interviews and afterwards we all went to Jack-in-the-Box for burgers.
September was on the horizon, as well as Rosh Hoshana, which would be slightly early that year; I wanted to attend high holiday services and I also thought that maybe if I ran into my dad at the synagogue, we could talk about things...Maybe have a face to face conversation on what I felt would be neutral ground. I didn't want to just surprise him by turning up to the services, so I thought I could talk to him on the phone and go from there. I called home, but no one answered...I hung up and called my dad's business pager, figuring it would be the quickest way to reach him. Surprisingly, he called me right away at Todd's place.
“Where are you staying?” He asked.
“In Fort Worth, with some friends I made at the shelter.”
“What did you want to talk to me about?”
“I was wondering if you'd talk to me during high holiday services; I just want to talk, dad,” I said.
“I'd prefer to not see you there,” he said.
My heart sank and I fought back tears.
“Dad, I have every right to be there! I'm Jewish too! Even if you won't talk to me, I'm going to attend. I just thought it might be a chance for us to be father and son for a bit.”
“No, you want to use it to manipulate me. I'm not going to allow it.”
“What are you talking about? I just want to attend services.”
“I don't want to see you there.” He said, and hung the phone up.
I was crushed...Again. A mixture of pain and anger swelled to the surface. I felt like such an idiot because all of my attempts to reach out always resulted in my dad pushing me further away. I was like one of those June bug beetles that take off flying, smack into a wall, fall, then try again...Like, if it hit the wall enough times it would make it through – knock the wall over.
Todd had scored some more acid and I picked a day off from watching the kids so that I could kick back, watch some TV, and trip out for a while. I just wanted to forget about everything and veg out. I told Todd and Ramie my plan and they were cool with it, so when that day came I put the hit on my tongue and waited for it to take effect. I remember sitting on the couch watching TV that evening, when Charity said she wanted to go out. She asked Todd to drive her around and Ramie, having her suspicions about Todd and Charity, immediately objected.
“You're not going anywhere, Todd.”
Todd wasn't a guy who liked to be told what he could or couldn't do, and an argument broke out. I sat there, half amused, and thinking Ramie would get her way, but then Charity swung the conversation over to me, saying, “He can watch the kids.”
“What are you talking about? I'm on fucking acid right now! Todd, I told you when I'm high I don not want to watch the kids or do anything else for that matter.”
Everyone began to argue and then Charity and Todd said they were going out, and Ramie was free to go with them. But they were going nonetheless – end of conversation.
“No!” I said.
Charity looked at me and said, “You don't have a choice!” Then she turned to Todd and Ramie and said, “Didn't y'all say that he paid his rent by watching the kids? If he doesn't want to do his job, then kick his ass out.”
“Shut the fuck up,” I said. “You contribute nothing. It's you who should be out on your fat ass.”
Ramie interrupted, and said, “I'm not letting them go out alone...Will you be okay to watch the kids?” She asked me.
I didn't know what to do. I usually handled being on acid fairly well, if it was a small dose. If anything, I'd be a little more goofier than usual, but that was it...I caved in and agreed to do it.
“Yeah, sure. Whatever. I'll be fine. Go.”
Ten minutes after that and they were out the door.
Kyle and Nikki sat on the floor watching TV whilst Jarrod was next to me on the couch. Everything seemed okay until Jarrod suddenly erupted into a fit of crying...I picked him up and tried to calm him down. “What's wrong little buddy?” I said, making faces at him. Anything to get a giggle or laugh. It usually worked, but not this time.
As I tried to calm him down, the acid began to take effect and my emotions were all over the place...I'd be happy, sad, angry – all in waves. I sat back down on the couch and held Jarrod close, trying to calm him down. Kyle began to complain he couldn't hear the TV, so I decided to take Jarrod to the bedroom and see if I could settle him to sleep, but his cries only intensified. I tried everything to soothe him, but it wasn't working and I felt myself becoming more and more agitated.
The emotional roller coaster I was on began throwing up the events of 1995 and 1996, and it was all swirling around in my head. I felt like I was falling off a cliff and into an abyss. Why? How was I in this mess? What did I do that was eversobad to land me right here? Righthere!
I snapped...I remember hitting Jarrod and losing it, and then coming back to my senses when Jarrod went quiet. I drew him close to me and fell into sobs, saying I was sorry, over and over again. Then I laid him down, and he seemed okay. He was breathing and didn't seem badly hurt...I was relieved.
I don't remember anything else about that evening, but the next morning I was in a fog. I vaguely remembered the night before, but when Jarrod was walking around he had a terrible limp. My stomach fell and I felt like I was going to throw up. I went to the bathroom, sat on the toilet, and put my head in my hands. Give it a day, I thought...Maybe he'll be okay. What did I do?
I splashed water on my face and headed back out to the living room. I watched Jarrod closely for the rest of the day, and Ramie made a comment about his limp, but everyone assumed that maybe he'd fallen or something. The next day he wasn't any better, and I told Ramie that Jarrod should go to the hospital. She looked at me oddly, but didn't say anything. “Just take him, please.” I said, again. She told Todd she was going, and Todd left with her.
They'd been gone much longer than I expected, and as evening approached I'd begun to get very anxious. Finally, Ramie called and told me it was bad – the Police had been called, and some detectives were there asking questions.
“We've all seen Charity do questionable shit,” Ramie said.
I was in a panic...
“Yeah,” I said, in cowardice.
Around 8pm Todd and Ramie came back without Jarrod...
“Where's Jarrod?” I asked.
“He's with Child Protective Services,” Ramie said.
Charity was quiet and I thought it odd she wasn't freaking out, but I was also ashamed of myself that I couldn't tell the truth about what had happened...That I couldn't say I was the one responsible.
Shortly after they came back home, some detectives showed up and said they wanted to talk to everyone. They asked me to go out to their car, and I went with them. They assured me I wasn't under arrest, they just wanted to talk to me about Charity. I sat in the back seat, and a lady introduced herself as someone from child Protective Services.
“Tell me about how you've seen Charity with Jarrod.”
I was truthful in everything I told her, but felt like a piece of shit for not saying anything about myself and the night on acid. When she was done, she thanked me and they let me go.
Back in the apartment some detectives asked me if I'd be willing to take a lie detector test and I said, “Sure. Whatever.” I knew I'd never pass it, and I wonder if this wasn't my subconscious way of saying I did it without actually saying the words...I don't know. I was told they'd let me know when they wanted me to take the test, and they'd come and pick me up when it was time. Then they all left and Ramie told Charity she had to leave, and Todd said he'd drive her back to the shelter.
A couple of days passed before the detectives came and picked me up for the polygraph; in the time I'd been waiting for it happen, I received the news that my Lone Star Card application had been denied. I was told they had checked with the Arlington Night Shelter who informed them that I had been hired by a photography company, and whoever they spoke to at the Shelter said they had a letter to that effect...That was the letter I wrote in my friend, Mindi's, name. Everything seemed to be catching up to me.
When the time came for the polygraph, a female detective came and picked me up. I told Todd I'd call when I was finished, and he said he'd come and get me. We drove down town to a small office where another person reviewed the statement I made with the CPS worker.
“Is this the truth?” He asked.
“Yeah,” I said, and they ushered me into a room where I was hooked up to a machine by a weird tube that wrapped around my chest, a cuff that resembled those used as part of a blood pressure monitor, and some metal electrodes that clamped to several of my fingers.
I was asked questions based on the statement I had given, and things seemed to be okay...The polygraph seemed to be moving at a normal pace. But when I was asked if I had hurt Jarrod, and answered, “No,” it went haywire, and the examiner zeroed in on it before asking some much harsher questions...Then he stopped the machine and looked me in the eyes, “Tell me the fucking truth.”
I broke down crying...I told him about that night, how I was on acid and snapped. I told him that as an abused child myself, I had sworn I would never hurt a child, and I couldn't believe I had. I was disgusted with myself.
He unhooked me and told me to go out into the office area where a series of waist high cubicles were, walking out with me, and telling several detectives I wanted to confess. I remember being ushered into a tiny cubicle and told to sit on a stool. Soon, it was crowded with several detectives and a woman at a computer. We went through everything that happened, and then a copy of my statement was printed. Through tears, I half ass read it and signed it.
“Don't worry,” one woman said. “These things happen, and you'll probably get probation. You're remorseful, and that's what matters.”
I called Todd and asked him to pick me up.
When he showed up he asked how it went and I didn't say anything. He drove to a bar and asked if I wanted a drink. “Nah. I'll pass.”
On the way home I wondered what would happen to me, and I decided to call my dad. He answered, and I said, “I'm probably going to jail.”
“I hit a kid.”
I left it at that. He told me he and mom wouldn't help me out, and I said I didn't call for help, and that I just wanted to let him know in case I disappeared. I don't remember much of the conversation after that...
It's strange how after such a horrible incident, people can return to normal life as if nothing happened. I hadn't forgotten – nor would I ever forget – but after a couple of days had passed, whether through fear or anxiety, I had managed to convince myself that maybe it hadn't been that bad and they were going to let me make it and carry on with my life.
It was early on September 5th, 1996 – just 8 days away from my 19th birthday, when I woke up to the sound of Ramie making breakfast. Todd was out, but she said when he returned he was going to take us to a plasma center so we could make a donation. Ramie asked if she could have my cheque to help pay some bills and I said, “Sure. No problem.” I helped her clean up, and around 11am she said she was going to take a nap. She asked if I'd wake her up around noon, and just after she went to lay down, I got a call from the manager at Chuck E. Cheese telling me I got the job...
I sat on the couch and watched TV, feeling weird about everything, when there was a knock at the door. I got up, and looked out the peep hole to see a guy in plain clothes and wearing a badge on his belt. He didn't have a gun that I could see.
I opened the door and said, “How can I help you?”
“You Randy?” He said.
“Yes, sir.” I replied.
“The woman who typed your confession made a few mistakes and I need to take you down town and have you sign off on some corrections, if you don't mind. Don't worry – you're not under arrest.”
“May I grab some shoes?” I asked.
I went into the living room and couldn't find my Doc Martens, so slid on a pair of sandals and came back to where he was. He asked me if I had any drugs or weapons on me and asked if it was okay to give me a pat down.
“Sure,” I said.
I stood still as he felt my pockets, waist band, and pants legs.
“You're cool. Let's go.”
I went to sit in the back seat of his car but he said, “Come on and sit in the front with me. It's okay.”
I felt relaxed and I thought that somehow things would be okay. He kept reassuring me that I'd probably just get probation.
“I've seen these things a hundred times. You're so young...You feel bad. You'll be okay.”
We pulled into the same office building where I made my statement, and entered. Inside were some detectives who took my confession and a woman said, “Hey...we had some things messed up on your statement. If you don't mind, give it a pass over and initial the paragraphs we corrected.”
Trusting them, I began to initial the paragraphs they had 'corrected'. They asked me to sign it again and when I finished I heard someone say, “Did he sign it?”
“Yep.” Another detective said.
I watched as someone handed the woman a piece of paper and said, “Halprin? You're under arrest for injury to a child. You do have the right to remain silent...”
My body went cold and I felt like I was standing in a tunnel. I felt as if my soul was leaving my body and I was watching the next events unfold – handcuffs being put on me, ushering me into an unmarked Police car, and then taken to Tarrant County Jail – all from above my body.
We pulled into the Tarrant County Jail and I was taken into booking. I remember being placed inside a crowded holding tank full of other law breakers, and I remained there for the next 24 hours until I was processed.
I was taken to a tank where I'd be housed, and would remain until late spring the following year, when I received my sentence. But until then I tried to make the best of it. The jail offered a GED course and I decided to take it and the test, gaining high scores. I also tried to call my parents continually, until they'd accept the call. Finally, the day after Thanksgiving, my dad accepted the call...
“I'm only accepting this call to tell you we've disowned you. We abhor what you did and you have ruined this family's name.”
“I don't care. You're dead to us. Never call us again. Never write to us again. We'll allow you to write Wesley because he is your blood brother, but this family is finished with you.”
“Will you please let me say goodbye to Jimmy and Kevin?” I fought through tears.
“No. You don't exist to them.”
He hung up the phone and I went back to my cell and cried. Didn't they see I was remorseful? For everything! From the day I left home in 1995, to stealing from them, for the screw ups in Kentucky, for being homeless...For being an impulsive idiot? I wanted them to know that hurting Jarrod was something I would regret for the rest of my life! I was ashamed and disgusted with myself, and still had trouble understanding what had happened. How I lost control and hurt someone! I hated myself...I sometimes still hate myself.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The court appointed attorney I had was one of those slimy bastards you see on TV. He told me he could get me a probation, but without my parents' help, little would happen. When I reviewed the second statement, and realised that serious changes had been made to what I'd originally said – two of them being any reference to drug use, and embellishing in other areas – and pointed them out to him, he said, “Look, you gave two statements, and tried to blame someone else in the first one. You hurt that kid, right?”
“I dropped my head, “Yes...” I said.
“No one's going to believe you...You're fucked. The best I can do is try to minimise the damage. Now, we can go to trial – I love trials – but you run the risk of a life sentence. Let me see what kind of time I can get you.”
A few more months passed and in early spring I was pulled out for an attorney visit. I picked up the phone and my lawyer said, “They want to give you 50 years.”
“What?” I said in disbelief. “What happened to everyone saying I could get probation?”
“That's off the table. Let me go back to the prosecutor and see if I can't get it down some. It'd really help if your parents were involved, but without them, my hands are tied.”
I left the visit feeling frightened at what might be on the horizon.
In May I was pulled out for a court hearing. I talked to my attorney and he said, “30 years...That's the best I can do. I recommend you take it because if this goes to trial, you're never getting out of prison. Ever.”
I didn't know what to do. A part of me wanted to fight, but a bigger part of me was tired...Exhausted to the point of just not caring what happened to me anymore. If this is what I deserved, so be it. I gave up...Life was not a game I was meant to win. I told him I'd sign whatever I needed to sign. He disappeared and came back with some paperwork which I signed, and shortly after a judge sentenced me to 30 years in prison.
Over the years I've had many people tell me it was too much time, and that I should've gotten probation, or a shorter sentence...I don't know. I felt hopeless and helpless, and it led to even worse choices and mistakes later in life. It took a long, long time for me to grow up and start to believe in myself again, and it's taking much longer to forgive myself.
When I was in my teens, one of my favourite movies was “Falling Down” starring Michael Douglas. Over the years, I've thought about that movie a lot...How what seemed to be a perfect life could be turned upside down by a few bad decisions or mistakes, but in the end, all he wanted to do was get back home to his daughter. To get back home where he felt safe. The final scene of the movie comes with Douglas' character surrounded by the FBI and the Police, on a pier...They shout orders for him to surrender, to put his hands in the air. But he reaches into his pocket and pulls something out, and his life ends in a barrage of bullets hitting his body from everywhere! The camera closes in on what's in his hand, and it's a small toy that he was bringing home for his daughter...I will never forget that movie.
ALL I ever wanted to do was get back home...
(by Mary Oliver)
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.
“Man, there's snow everywhere!” I said to my dad as we drove from the Lexington airport.
“Get used to it. This is your home away from home now.”
Dad told me we'd stop over in London, Kentucky, for the day, and we'd be staying at a small motel before driving to Oneida on Sunday – the day before Martin Luther King Day.
“It's going to be weird going to school on a holiday.” I said.
“You'll be fine. See if there's an oldies station out here, on the radio.”
I scanned the radio in our rental car and in my opinion there was nothing worth listening to, so we drove in relative silence until we reached the outskirts of London.
“Dad, can I ask you a question?”
“Are you and mom going to miss me?”
“Of course we are. Why would you ask a stupid question like that? Believe it or not, this is breaking my heart – your mother's too. We both love you and just want you to succeed in life. If this is what it takes, we think it's worth it. Just make us proud.”
“I will. You'll see.”
London was out in the middle of nowhere. I was used to the city – malls, shopping centers, and movie theaters. It didn't look like there was anything at all to do in London, and I felt like I'd stepped into a scene from “It's a Wonderful Life.” Even Bedford Falls had more things to do than this place!
We pulled into the parking lot of an old motel; my dad swing his door open and warned me of the ice on the pavement. I grabbed my bag and stepped out of the car, and dad checked us in before we went to our room.
That evening we were both feeling restless and my dad asked me to look in the phone book to see if there was movie theater nearby or something for us to do. I scanned the inch thin phone book for a cinema, and the only thing I could find was a place called, “Bob's Movie Shack.”
“I don't know if this is a rental place or a theater. You want me to call and find out?”
He told me to go for it, so I picked up the phone and dialled the number...A heavy accented woman said, “Bob's Movie Shack. What can we for you'uns?”
“Do you show movies?” I asked.
“We do. We's got one screen...movie in the day, movie at night.”
One screen? What kid of backwoods place is this? I was used to a 10 screen theater!
“What movie are you showing?”
“Peter Pen's Hook. It'd be at 7.30pm. Gots pop corns and a pop that come with ticket,” the woman said. Was she speaking a foreign language? What the hell was pop corns and pop? What was mom and dad getting me into?
I laughed. “Dad, they've got Spielberg's 'Hook' – didn't we see that almost a year ago?”
“There's nothing else to do, let's go watch it again.”
We headed back out to the car and it didn't take long to find the theatre. It was next to a very small shopping center that had a Wal-Mart, a SUBWAY sandwich shop, and an electronics store, and the theater was literally a shack! In the parking lot, several cars and pick-up trucks were driving around in circles. There were groups of teenagers, some drinking beer, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was a total culture shock.
We went inside to watch the movie, and all eyes were on us. The town people definitely knew we weren't from around these parts and I said a silent prayer in the hope that Oneida wasn't the same way...I wasn't sure how I'd be able to handle being so far removed from modern civilisation.
After the movie we went to the shopping center and ate at SUBWAY before settling down for the night. The next morning we woke up to see everything was covered in snow from a fresh fall during the night. My dad wanted to explore London a little before we drove to my new school – he'd heard of an old frontier stone mill and wanted to check it out, so he located it on a tourist map and off we went.
When we found the stone mill I could see it was buried in some woods. We parked, stepped out of the car, and I could hear the sound of a fresh stream in the distance. My dad located a historical marker covered in snow and ice, and after brushing the snow off as best he could, he pulled out his camera and told me to stand next to it. Then we headed into the wood area and approached the mill.
It amazed me how something that had been built to last hundreds of years, looked like it was built only yesterday! I loved seeing stuff like this and exploring it with my dad. We took pictures of each other standing next to it, and the stream, and as I walked towards the bank my dad shouted, “Don't fall in!” I was prone to being a klutz and I didn't want to put another incident on my klutz resume, so I stopped, looked at the water, and turned round to walk back towards my dad.
“Ready to go?” He asked.
“Yeah. Let's get on with it.”
We walked back to where our car was parked, and got inside to thaw out and warm up before getting back out on the road. We drove through another small town named Manchester, and then into Onieda. I started scanning the dial for something I could listen to whilst at school, and there was a local top 40 station that was playing Right Said Fred's song, 'I'm too sexy' so I left the dial right there.
We drove around a road on the outskirts of the school campus and noticed a small gas station. My dad pulled in, pulled out his wallet, and told me to run in and buy us a bottle of juice. I grabbed the money, went in and picked out two apple juices and paid for them. When I came back out and handed the juice to my dad, he said, “Remember when I'd take you to get juice after piano lessons?”
“I used to love that, dad. It was a tradition!” I said.
“L'Chaim,” dad said.
“L'Chaim,” I replied, as we clinked our bottles together.
We sat there in silence for a few minutes, and then he started the car back up and drove onto the campus.
We parked the car in front of a large chapel building, and dad shut the engine off. We had an orientation to attend and then a meeting with someone from the school. We learned about the school's history and walked around the campus with a few other new students and their families, then went inside for a meeting with one of the faculty, Mr Bud Underwood. He and my dad made small talk, and Mr Underwood answered some questions – in particular, that the school would be sensitive to the fact I was Jewish.
Afterwards, my dad said he was hungry and Mr Underwood suggested we hit the cafeteria before they took all the food away. We went in and picked out some food for our trays, and sat at a table.
“This place doesn't seem so bad, does it?” My dad asked.
“Nah. I'm actually kind of excited about it.” I said.
When we finished we dropped our trays off to a couple of girls washing dishes, and went outside into the cold night air, our breaths illuminated by the street lamps above us. Dad put his hands on my shoulders, looked at me for a second, then pulled me in for an embrace. I wrapped my arms around him and we hugged for a few seconds. I pulled away and he said, “Make up those grades and we'll see about getting you back home. It's not going to be the same without you around the house.”
“Give my brothers a big hug for me. I already miss them, dad.” I said, choking back tears.
“You'll see them in a couple of months. Get at it. Make us proud.”
I looked at the middle school dorm – my new home – and began to walk towards it, then took off running.
“Watch out, there's ice on those steps! Don't fall!” Dad yelled.
“I won't! I promise!”
They say there are two sides to every story, but sometimes people only ever get to hear one of those sides. I've spent the past 23 years of my life having little control over the narrative that is my life. It's been misinterpreted and re-imagined, and in some circumstances, flat out made up by people I have had so much love and respect for in my youth. This was my chance to set the record straight.
I've been working on this Memoir in one form or another for the last 16 years. My dearly departed friend, David, suggested I write about my life as a way of discovering new things about myself and as a form of therapy. It's had so many starts and stops, and been written in many different styles – from a sci-fi time travel story, to me sitting down with an imaginary therapist, and even in journal form! I never thought I'd settle on a way to tell my story until David's voice came from beyond somewhere, breaking through the fog of time, and telling me, “Just write your story.”
So that's what I did...
In a lot of ways it's a story about my father and I, and our relationship, but I want to be clear here – I never had any intention of setting out to 'bash' my parents. I hold no animosity towards them, and the love I've had for them since my very first day of adoption and jumping into my father's big arms, burns as strongly now as it did when I was 5½ years old. Every day I pray for a reconciliation, for forgiveness for my mistakes, and for the terrible choices I made. In turn, I forgive them and others. I know that in their hearts they felt they were doing what was 'right' in order to protect both themselves and my younger brothers.
My story is not about blame shifting either – I take full responsibility for my mistakes and actions, and I ask for forgiveness from friends, family, and the people I have hurt either emotionally or physically. I carry that weight and guilt with me every single day.
Memory can sometimes be fickle, and I obviously cannot remember every single conversation I had with people during 1995 and 1996. So, where I've been uncertain, I've tried to keep the essence of that person's personality intact through their dialogue. Other memories I have reconstructed through various articles written about me, or through court records and psychiatric reports and interviews. But mostly, these memories burn just as strongly in my mind as they did during those years.
Please note that 'Mr' and 'Dr' Underwood are the same person; Mr Underwood received his doctorate in the summer of 1995 and became 'Dr Underwood', hence the change in title. I have also referred to Dr Underwood's son as 'Mr Harold', and this was to distinguish the two members of the same family.
I have also changed names to protect the identity and dignity of some individuals.
Over the years I've been incredibly fortunate and blessed for the love and support I've received. Sometimes I feel like I'm unworthy of the support, but I'm extremely grateful.
This Memoir could never have been completed without the following people! If I've left anyone out, please know I appreciate you all the same.
To my dearly beloved and departed friend, David, if there's a place beyond this life, I hope you're still able to have your three favourite food groups: pizza, popcorn, and Pepsi! I love you, man, and I'm so grateful to have had your mentorship, your guidance, and your love.
Susan, you are what a mother should be...I'm so glad David introduced us so many years ago, and your support has meant the world to me.
Catherine, I don't think I would've ever finished this book had it not been for your gentle push, your guidance, your awesome editing job, and for your friendship and love. We make a pretty awesome team, don't we?
Laura, life has kind of gotten in the way, but you'll always be my little sis.
Mr and Mrs S, Mindi, and Mrs U...You have all supported me and been by my side since I was 5½ years old. You've never given up on me, and that means more than you could ever know.
To Irving, Blaine, Clinton, Big Will, Felix, Sabrina, Alessia and Arturo, Rabbi Gordon, Coralie, Dr. Josef, Irwin, Sylvia, and the countless others who have come and gone over the years – thank you!
To my OBI friends, and my family...I've never forgotten you all. I had some bad times at the school, but the happier memories far outweigh the bad, and will stay with me forever.
Finally, to my three little brothers: my biggest regret in life is leaving home in May 1995...I really thought I'd make it back home again, and if I'd have known I'd be forever separated from you, I'd never have left. I have loved you all since the very first day, and I always will.
Randy E Halprin
Tolly Ho: My number 1 hangout where I'd meet up with Bill, Danielle, and Kristy.
Inside Tolly Ho: Good times and bad...
Hope Center, Lexington: Where I stayed when I was homeless in 1996.