By Matt Gordon
My sweet-faced son is a stone-cold killer. He’s cute now, but we’ll see how he looks at fifty in a straight-jacket and a Hannibal Lecter mask.
Lately he has taken to biting his brother. He’ll sidle up sweetly and then attempt a Bram Stoker chomp. The screams ensue, and he smiles wide-eyed with a look that says, “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”
My wife is certain of his psychopathy. I’m still testing her theory. The other day I examined this by fake-crying after Joey had done something nasty, an act of blatant disobedience or triple-homicide or some such thing. I whimpered and he looked up at me cooly, grinned, and said, “No!” before turning back to his play. My other son ran from the adjacent room, “Dada! What’s wrong!?” He clambered up and began kissing my face. I expected his brother to flip us both the bird.
Yesterday, my wife and I watched the boys play in their sand box. After telling the Joey-Monster not to dump sand out of the box, he locked eyes with us and dumped sand out of the box, over and over and over again. We yell, we threaten, we try all measure of physical and psychological torment, and he just looks on, smiles, and dumps all the sand he can in whatever wound he’s recently opened. There is no punishing lunacy.
I’ve tried heart-to-hearts. The last time I was giving him one about loving him and him being a good boy and making good choices, he ripped an audacious fart, smirked, and said, “Jo-Jo toot!” Yes, indeed.
I put him in his room the other day and closed the door—“Inmate 24601, welcome to solitary.” The door clicked, and then silence followed. Minutes marched past: “Do you hear the people sing, singing a song of angry kid?” I waited far longer than I was comfortable, worried about my fragile son and what psychological effects this isolation could have on him. Finally, I opened the door. He sneered, “No!” and closed it. I cracked it so he had an escape, but he didn’t need it. After a few minutes, I see the light from the room go out. He is in the dark and quite content, alone with his madness.
Responsibly and tenderly, I’ve tried some physical repercussions for his most blatant misdeeds. A calm explanation and a measured swat to his diapered backside. He laughs. Maniacally. It is like if the Chuckie doll had a drawstring, each swat a new pull.
The other day the house was quiet and I finally said what we always have come to say in such pregnant moments, “Where’s Joey?”
His big brother and I go off searching, worried that he might have taken a hostage by now. What we found was him in the pantry, standing on a makeshift stool, pillaging for disallowed snacks. He grinned, chip bits spilling from his tiny toothy mouth, thrilled at breaking bad. Getting caught was a great reward; he probably doesn’t even like chips. I wonder if Jack the Ripper and his dad ever had a similar moment in his upbringing?
Our neighbor left town for a few days and asked us to collect their newspapers for them. In a fit of maternal naiveté, my wife, bless her, entrusted MJ and Joey to accomplish this simple task together. In their youthful innocence, it would be a great quest, a massive endeavor: the adventure of holding hands and crossing the road, collecting the prized treasure, and then the venture home . . . all without an adult. It would be tender and sweet, so my wife took out her phone and decided to capture love on camera. Maybe it would be a missive to a broken world about working together? About holding hands and going forward? About brotherhood and unity? Instead it was this:
What you see there at the end is Joey using his brother’s weight against him, climbing atop his mortal enemy, and attempting to remove his brother’s heart with his bloodthirsty fangs. Fortunately the Tuesday Tribune served as an effective shield—for once the news was good.
They marched home to separate corners—one boy beaten and the other waiting for the next chance to dole out a beating.
“These are the good times,” people who haven’t lived these times in a long, long time keep reminding us. And they are probably right. Even if each day feels like its own form of unique punishment, we take a page out of Joey’s book (and likely his mouth), and we sneer at the world, at adversity, at anyone telling us what we can and can’t be. No, we press on across whatever road lies before us, hand-in-hand, taking on life, one bite at a time.