Strength: Debut Albums and Johnny
They are taking the casket away to the burial site. It is made of dark maple wood with an arrangement of white roses on top. The preacher says an only family can come. So the son stands up and follows the casket to the burial site. He is wearing a gray shirt with a black coat and black pants. He doesn’t seem to be shaken up about the funeral. He is quiet and stays to himself. Once they reach the burial site he stands next to the casket as they begin to lower it. He just stares and begins to think about the memory that caused this. Johnny was sitting at the kitchen table watching his mother Anita, cleaning the dishes.
She was wearing her tired blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up, beat-up denim, and her hair in a low pony-tail. Anita’s favorite thing was to do the dishes. She always sang to herself while her blue eyes traveled out the window through the woods. She would think things about leaving and starting over. She never wanted Johnny to see herself that way but he did. He saw her sadness. Many times she would stare at the little Eiffel Tower statue that was on the window sill or look at her and her husband, Jack’s, wedding photo above the fireplace. The pictured showed a much younger, and happier Anita. The house was quiet.
And Johnny liked moments like these. Moments that showed how cozy and peaceful their 700 square foot home could be instead of the tumble-down house it really was. It had a kitchen/den, two bedrooms, and a bath. Their family spent most of the time in the kitchen. It was painted a pale yellow, had a wooden table with three chairs and had a window over the sink. It connected to a hallway connected to the two rooms. All the rooms were small but the size didn’t really bother him, it was the only place he had known for his ten years. The house was light green with white shutters on the outside.
The paint had faded so much that the home almost blended into the woods. Johnny didn’t have many neighbors but he had an imagination that was as vibrant and wild as the Salmon River a few miles away. He would sneak there sometimes when his mother would be sleeping and his father was at work. One day as the sun was rising over the river he began a story of a boy traveling through the woods and ending up in a faraway land. It was a much peaceful, newer, land than the one he knew. He became friends with them and they allowed him to go back and bring one person back to live with them. He brought his mother.
Anita finished the dishes and turned around to look at Johnny. “Alright young man, it’s time for bed. Your father will be home soon. ” “Could you read me a story before bed? ” “Sweetie, your father is almost home and you need to be in bed. ” “Mama, please? ” said Johnny. She looked at him; his big blue eyes, half-covered by his unkempt hair, always won. They were her weakness. He was such a kind boy whose eyes always saw good, no matter the evil in front of him. “Okay,” she said, “but it’s going to be a short one. ” She told him a story of a blue-eyed, brown-haired boy who travels to a distant land to save a girl who is in trouble.
In the story, the boy had to learn that bravery isn’t just about doing what is right but also being able to sacrifice your feelings to do the right thing. As she neared the end of the story she heard her husband’s truck pull up. She hurriedly got to her feet and looked out the window. Her heart started to beat faster and there was a little bit of perspiration right above her brow. Johnny sat up and peered over her shoulder. They both looked and saw him and his gun fall out of their blue Ford F-150. Her husband picked up his gun and staggered towards the house. Anita turned around and tucked Johnny in.
As she pulled away Johnny grabbed her hand, and in a very small but strong voice, Johnny said, “Mama… one day I’ll save you. I promise. ” Anita stared. The car door slamming knocked Anita out of her trance. She walked out of Johnny’s room, wiped the few tears that had gathered at the corners of her eyes, and shut the door behind her. As Anita walked into the kitchen so did her husband Jack. He was a tall man who looked much older than he was. His skin was leathery and the tips of his hair were gray. His blue eyes which, used to hold so much promise, were now red with black sags under them. He and Anita meet in high school.
They were in the same math class. Anita was failing math and Jack decided to help her with her studies. The friendship blossomed into a beautiful relationship. One time, when they were together, Jack gave Anita an Eiffel Tower statue and promised her that when he became a famous engineer he would take her there. This never happened though. Their junior year she got pregnant. They both dropped out to support their son. Jack was a loving man but as his dream got farther, the liquor bottle got closer. It became a continuous problem. Anita could count on one hand how many times she saw Jack without a whiskey bottle, in the past six months.
The alcohol changed him, like many men, into a monster. “What’s wrong with you? ” Jack asked while he threw his gun on the counter by the hallway and kicked off his old black boots. “Nothing, been cleaning all day. I’m a little tired I guess. How was work? ” “Well, let’s see, I worked an eleven hour day, at a job that I hate, with a boss who doesn’t respect me, and I come home to a family that doesn’t appreciate me. It’s just another day. ” “Oh now, come on, you know that Johnny and I love-” “Love me? ” Jack interrupted. “Is that why I come home to half the house a mess, no dinner on the table, no poured drink, and my son already asleep.
It’s starting to get real old Anita. I’m not up for all these games, never have been. ” ”I’m not playing games with you, Jack. I have worked all day too and I take care of our son. God, I don’t understand why you get so paranoid. ” “Don’t call me paranoid! Anita, you don’t know when to shut the fuck up, do you? I am not paranoid you-” “You accuse me of everything! ” Anita interrupted, “Last night we argued about how you think I am turning Johnny against you and how you think I am making money. I think we know where the money is going. ” Anita watched as Jack opened up the brown cupboard door, took out the whiskey, and poured himself a glass.
There was no expression on Anita’s’ face but her heart was pounding. Jack stopped in mid-swing and stared at her. “What the fuck is this? ” “Here you go again Jack accusing me. ” Anita tried very hard to put on an easy face but the rage in Jack’s eyes seemed to be building with every second. His hand on the bottle became a vice. “What did I tell you about touching my whiskey? ” “I didn’t touch your damn whiskey. ” “You think because I’m drunk that I don’t taste the difference? You’ve done this before, Anita. ” “Again with the para-“ “Stop calling me paranoid! ” Jack roared.
All the blood in his entire body seemed to be on his face. The buttons on his blue and gray plaid shirt almost popped from his chest being out too far. He shut his eyes and took a breath. “Didn’t I tell you what was going to happen if you watered down any of my drinks again? ” Jack said with an almost eerie calmness. Anita saw the familiar look in his eyes. Her body reacted in a way a deer’s’ does when they know what’s coming for them: heart racing, fixed stare, muscles tense. She took a deep breath and tried to relax. “Jack, sweetie, I didn’t touch your whiskey. I promise you. ” “You think I’m dumb, don’t you?
Ya know I try and be sweet and understanding, but you keep lying to me. Why do you do that? You know I can’t stand it when you do that. You say that you love me, and when you love someone you aren’t supposed to lie to them. You love me, don’t you? ” “Of course sweetie I love you. You mean the world to me. I don’t know-” “See, here you go again with those lies. It makes me angry. And what am I supposed to do? Just let you continue telling lies? We are raising a son together, and I don’t want Johnny to learn that habit. ” The eerie calmness was still there, and Jack barely spoke above a whisper. He began streaming his fingers through her hair.
He looked down at his bottle, and as his face rose again to meet hers it changed. He became a monster. “I told you I don’t like my whiskey being watered down. Is it that difficult to do as I say? ” Jack’s voice became louder and stronger. He grabbed Anita’s hair with his fists and shoved her head onto the table. The skin around her scalp was stretching from the force of the grip. Her arms were against the edge of the table trying to push herself up, but he was too strong. Tightening his grip, he bent down to have his face beside hers. “You have to learn. You fucking bitch, you have to learn. ” “Jack please, I didn’t do it. You’re hurting me, sweetie, stop. ” As she spoke, the force of Jack’s hand against her face became stronger towards the wooden table. Her heart was pounding and she was looking for any possible way to protect herself. Tears started rolling down her face. She didn’t know what to do. She knew he wasn’t going to believe her and he was so much stronger than her. She finally said the only thing she felt could stop it, “I’m sorry. ” He eased up on his force but still kept a grip on her hair. “What did you say? ” “I’m sorry. It’s just, just your drinking changes you. And I like the old Jack. Honey, I’m sorry. Please let me go. Anita’s voice was that of an innocent child. Her eyes locked on his. “Now, now doesn’t that feel better? ” Jack said as he straightened his back and looked down at her. “Doesn’t it feel good, to tell the truth, and admit your problems? See, I am helping. But honey that doesn’t change the fact of what you did. You’ve done it before, and it’s becoming a habit. ” At that moment his full force returned. He lifted her head and slammed it into the table. Anita wailed in pain. Above her temple, she started bleeding. He pulled her off the table and started dragging her across the white laminate floor with her hair.
As he dragged her to the hallway entrance, towards the bedroom, he looked up for the first time and let go of his wife’s hair. She turned around and slowly stood up. They saw Johnny standing in the hallway. Johnny’s eyes were red with dried tears on his checks. He stood as if he were seven feet tall with all the confidence in the world, and just stared at his father. Anita looked at his sweet eyes, that for the first time realized there was no good to be seen in his father. Jack wasn’t looking at Johnny’s eyes like his wife was, he was looking at the pistol Johnny was holding up with both his hands.
Johnny witnessed everything like he always had. When he heard his mother screams he got out of bed and walked towards the kitchen. He saw blood running down his mother’s face and couldn’t control the anger that was rising in him. As his father slammed his mother’s head into the wooden table, a second time, he grabbed the gun that was on the counter. Holding the cold unfamiliar metal in his hands, he stood tall and pointed it at his father. “Sweetheart,” his mother said, “everything is going to be okay. Alright? Come here, let me hold you. ” Johnny didn’t say a word but kept starring at his father. “Son give the gun to me. ” I gave mama a promise. ” Johnny spoke with no hesitation. “Sweetie, it’s okay to break promises. This isn’t your battle to fight. This isn’t a story. Honey just look at me. ” Anita was scared of her son’s life. Neither she nor her husband had taught him to shoot a gun. She was afraid he would end up hurting himself. Johnny turned his head to look at his mother. He saw that the blood on her face was curving around the fake smile she was trying to make. As he looked down to see some of her hair on the floor, his father took the opportunity and lunged for Johnny. His grip wasn’t as tight anymore and he felt the gun falling out of his hands.
His father picked him up and threw him against the wall. Jack started yelling and slapped Johnny across the face. Johnny began to cry. Anita felt the breaking point. Hearing her son cry was the key to unveiling her eyes. She knew, the only reason she stayed alive, was to protect Johnny. Her heart began to race. All the lost opportunities of running away led to this moment. Her blood started pumping faster. She would be damned if she let this happen to her son. She picked up the gun and thought back to the moment her daddy taught her to shoot. “Jack put him down. ” He didn’t turn around or even acknowledge her. “Jack! Jack turned around and dropped his son. “Anita, baby what are you-“ Anita shot a bullet to the left of him. “Johnny come here. ” Johnny got up from the floor and stood behind his mother. He had one hand around her leg and used the other to wipe tears from his eyes. “Sweetie, go outside. Mama will be there soon. ” Johnny walked out of the kitchen door and sat by the truck. “I’m done with this Jack. I am his mother, I have to protect him. ” Her grip became tighter. “What are you going to do? You have no job, no education. You need me. ” Jack tried to seem calm but the fear in his eyes gave him away. “I don’t need you.
I will find my own way. ” Anita raised the gun and pointed it straight at his head. “I hope your son can live with the fact that his mother is a coward and a murderer. When the kids ridicule him I hope you think of me. ” Bam She did it. She put a bullet through his head and finally shut the bastard up. He laid there with a pool of blood flowing out of his head. Blood was everywhere. It was splattered all over the walls and cabinets. Her hearing slowly came back to her in a wave. She finally lowered her gun and just starred. Part of her couldn’t believe what she had done. And she wondered if she was strong enough to handle it.
She remembered Johnny sitting outside. She tossed her thoughts aside and walked to the bathroom. She looked in the mirror. Her shirt was ripped, she had patches of hair missing, and her face was covered in blood. She cleaned herself up and walked out to Johnny. Johnny ran into his mother’s arms. “Mama I’m sorry. “Honey, you look at me. Don’t cry anymore. You did nothing wrong. Okay? We are going to call the police and you will tell them the absolute truth. Baby everything will be fine. ” “Okay mama, ill be strong for you. ” Why could you never let those words go? Johnny thought to himself. I hope your son can live with the fact that his mother is a coward and a murderer. ” I know you loved me and you did what you had to do. You protected me. How could that man still have control over you after all this time? I tried to be strong and hide my tears for you but you kept sinking further away. Maybe you knew that you wouldn’t be able to handle it but you did it anyway? Like what you taught me in those stories when I was young: bravery isn’t just about doing what is right but also being able to sacrifice your feelings to do the right thing. Johnny lowered his head and, for the first time in eight years, cried.