A System of Abuse
I knew I was fucked when the water line reached the lower lip of the toilet rim. Frantically, I searched the usual spot for the plunger (either to the right or left behind the toilet).
“It was here! It was here! I saw it when I came in! It’s always here!”
Two double-checks on either side and a glance at the water level; halfway up the rim and still gurgling up.
‘Should I call Ava? No, he’s pissed off today.'
I threw open the bathroom closet door in a last-ditch effort.
‘PLEASE, GOD, LET IT BE HERE.’
My heart sank and dissolved in the fear bubbling in my stomach when I opened the door to reveal nothing but a few dirty towels, a stack of toilet paper, and my sister’s curling iron. A hard swallow, clenched jaw, and grim acceptance of my situation saw me out of the bathroom door. Blood oozed into my mouth from my braces pressing against the chronic cuts on the inside of my left cheek. Still, the toilet rumbled, and the first rivulets of amber water were gliding down the outside of that porcelain seat as I stepped out.
This over-flowing toilet was a constant issue in my house growing up; it was a large point of contention between my parents and myself. While I, admittedly, did sometimes use an excessive amount of toilet paper, more often than not the toilet would simply malfunction. Usually, there was a yellow-handled plunger next to it, but I was not so fortunate on this Wednesday evening.
I called from the top of the stairs, leaning over the balcony to project my quivering voice. He didn’t hear me over the sounds of “Sharknado 2,” one instalment of a six-movie long series. Yes, “Sharknado” exists. Yes, it has five sequels.
His tone implied ‘leave me alone.’ He had had a long day. “Sharknado” sounds kept whirling their way up the stairs.
“WHERE IS THE PLUNGER? THE TOILET IS OVERFLOWING.”
“JASON. IT IS UPSTAIRS IN THE BATHROOM.”
His tone shifted from the previous ‘leave me alone’ to the more-frequently used ‘end of discussion.’ It was his warning voice. He didn’t want to hear any more from me. He didn’t want to be bothered. He wanted to keep shovelling cheese-dip covered pretzels down his gullet while he slapped his knees and shook his belly with roaring laughter to this movie.
Summoning the courage to disrupt his sugary, subdued, and sedentary state required a deep breath.
“DAD! THE PLUNGER ISN’T HERE AND THE TOILET IS OVERFLOWING. PLEASE LOOK IN THE OTHER BATHROOM!”
“GOD FUUUCKING DAMMIT JASON!”
My younger sister popped her head out of her bedroom door as his voice boomed up the staircase. Her face was terror; she wasn’t as accustomed to this as I was (he did try his best to manage his anger when she was around).
“Don’t worry, go back in your room. Go. The toilet is just clogged. Go.”
I whispered quickly. She obeyed my hushed commands and I turned to see my father’s hulking frame at the bottom of the stairs, heaving with anger and holding the plunger. Only upon seeing him did my brain start to go through the checklist of commonly used curses and slurs.
“Son of a bitch” (the most common and offensive to me. That’s his wife!), “Worthless retard,” “Trash,” “My dumbest son,” “Angsty, teenage faggot,” “Kike” (again, offensive because it would apply to him as well!), “Liar” (I found this humorous, considering the plunger was indeed downstairs).
This language was commonplace in my household growing up, and I had become somewhat desensitized to this routine of aggression. Often, I was even able to incorporate a small amount of humour into the anxiety these situations gave me. I distinctly remember suppressing a whimsical smile at some of his more ridiculous insults.
This situation, unfortunately, quickly devolved into something that held no comical merit. Upon reaching the top of the stairs, he grabbed the collar of my shirt and suddenly my feet were off the ground.
He was angry, but it had been worse before. I had some room to minimize damages.
“I took a piss, and flushed the toilet, and it overflowed, and I looked for the plunger but couldn’t find it, so I called for you,” I spat out.
He shoved me into the hallway wall, and I felt my elbow make hard contact with the drywall. As he pushed past me, I turned to evaluate the dent in the wall.
‘It’s visible, but not as bad as the one he made last week moving furniture. And no fist. So far so good.’
“GET IN HERE YOU FUCKING LIAR!”
Knowing obedience was the swiftest route to end the wrath, I scurried back into that horrible white room. Immediately, I understood my ‘lie.’ The liquid that lined the floor and creeped into my socks was a light yellow—in line with the bodily function I reported to my raging father. What was currently flooding from the toilet, however, was a thick, brownish-green, sulphurous slime. It had reached about halfway across the floor of the bathroom, and my poor father was standing, barefoot, in the middle of it.
“WHAT THE HELL DID YOU PUT IN HERE!?”
Like a kicked dog, I grabbed the towels from the closet but said nothing. No matter what, I was guilty. I ‘lied,’ and he was standing in the proof.
“LOOK ME IN THE EYE WHEN I TALK TO YOU!”
He commanded while jabbing the browned plunger into my chest. I tried to contain my embarrassment as a brown streak sailed down my white shirt and caught in my waistline.
That sentence is what scared me though. That sentence was reserved for special situations. That sentence really meant ‘look me in the eye when I hit you.’
And hit me he did. A standard right-handed open palm to my left cheek brought fresh blood into my mouth and a reflexive eye-watering. He returned to plunging, now more vigorously than before.
‘Punishment fits the crime. But two times in one day? These cuts won’t ever heal at this…'
My painful reverie was cut short by a strange sucking sound coming from across the room. The plunger was lodged deep within that brown soup, my father had splatter stains up his legs and the whole bathroom floor was slimy and full of sludge. Despite his efforts, the suction from the drain kept the plunger stuck beneath the surface.
I watched with trepidation as he propped a leg against the wall, gripped the handle with both hands and pulled against the suction. The first pull, nothing but that powerful suction. The second, nothing. The third, more of the same. The fourth, a rush of curses, preceded by pulsatile pauses. The fifth, the toilet gasped for a moment longer. He paused only long enough for him to wipe the sweat from his brow. The sixth, the plunger popped free, along with an eruption of fresh bile that painted my father from the nipples down. The toilet--now with clean pipes--began its flushing sequence.
A heavy pressure on my chest put me on the floor.
“Get out of here before I kill you.”
Throughout my years of abuse, there was never an attempt—neither physical nor verbal—on my life. On this night, however, there was something in his tone that indicated this was anything but an idle threat.
Fear makes you fast; really fast. I found myself locked in my room, sitting on the floor of the closet, reading (but not processing) passages of the Bible in the light reaching through the slats in the sliding door, repeating the word ‘please’ as fast as possible in my mind. All of this before the final whoosh that indicated the end of the flush.
I don’t know how long I sat there praying. It felt like hours. It felt like seconds. I estimate it was the time it took my father to clean the bathroom.
“JASON. OPEN THE DOOR.”
‘Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please.’
A loud bang and the sound of the door shuttering in its hinges opened a new rift deep in my gut. Out of it poured a numbing terror.
“OPEN THE GODDAMN DOOR!”
I was holding my breath.
The sound of wood splitting made me bring that Holy Book close and I closed my eyes hard.
I woke up in sticky, shit-stained clothes. I’ve smelled more pleasant port-a-potties. The light in my room was still on. The Bible was still open in my lap. My 6:00 am alarm was buzzing. I stripped out of my soiled clothes, hit snooze, grabbed my shower towel, and crept out of my room. The bathroom was spotless. There was no indication at all of yesterday’s drama. I took a very long, cold shower.
Only after getting out did I look at my cell phone. One message from my mom read:
“Hi sweetie. I heard your father yelled at you (our code for a fit of violence), and I can’t say I blame him this time around. I looked at your gradebook online. Why do you have three 0/5 assignments in your English class? What have you been doing? You’re sitting at a 91% in that class Jason; that’s a really borderline grade. Do we need to have another discussion about work ethics?”
I turned it off and left it on my bed before walking to school.
It was the best day I had had in a long time. For twenty-four hours, two words consumed my thoughts.