Disclaimer: Not mine. Thank you to the directors/actors/writers for letting me borrow their toys.
1. The Shame
Miami: The 1970s
He is just a kid. His hands are small and brown and always dirty. They are weak.
He is weak.
He is nothing.
He is lying on the floor in the kitchen and his face is still vibrating from the force of his father's backhand on it and in a minute the pain will come rushing through. But for now there is only the floor and the shame.
He turns his eyes down, looking at the dark shadow of his head against the pale, cracking linoleum. It is early; the sun is peering through the windows like it can't wait to run tell everyone what it has seen. He can hear a couple kids laughing up the street and dogs barking and the neighbor's car turning over.
His mom and Nate are at the dentist. She fought with Dad about money again because there wasn't enough again and the dentist didn't want to charge any more to their account. That's why he was in a bad mood. There was always a why behind his fists.
He wants to curl up tighter because his face really hurts now. His eye is throbbing like someone jabbed a pencil in it and it will be black by tomorrow.
But there's shame in the hurt, in the feeling of pain and its inherent weakness. There's shame in fear, too, and in his flickering belief that if he could be- just be something, someone else, maybe then...
Anger is a safe emotion, and so is pride. So is hate.
He stands up, locking the knees that are like knots of wood on his stick legs. He presses his hand to his face for a minute, thinking, "Son of a bitch," one of his father's expressions. Then he walks to the cabinet, reaches up and grabs a bag of cereal. He is eating a bowl of it, leaning against the counter with his feet crossed.
He doesn't realize how insolent this must have seemed; when the thought occurs to him years later, he hopes it drove the old man crazy. Michael always remembers the look, the first look, in his eyes. Shock and anger. There he is, unbroken. Eight years old, eating cereal with bruises coming up on his face.
But then the second look comes. The smugness of power and the driving fuel of hate and resentment behind it. You are nothing.
"You never know when to quit, do you?"
He does not respond. He looks into his bowl like the soggy chocolate-covered flakes and tinted-brown milk will defend him.
"Did you ask me if you could have any breakfast? Huh?"
"No, sir." Sullen.
"Put it down." He shakes his head, seeming so disgusted it makes Michael's stomach twist like he's going to vomit. "You useless little shit," he sighs. The unspoken words: What punishment is this to put up with you, boy?
And then he is a giant advancing toward him, slowly. His father is tall. Even when Michael left home he hadn't caught up. His approach feels like the clouds closing in, erasing all the sun and the blue from the sky.
Michael raises the spoon to his mouth. He takes a bite.
His father's eyes flash and narrow and he knocks the bowl out of his hands. They grapple for a moment, sweatily, Michael trying to smack his father's hands away. Maybe it was only a few seconds, but for him it felt like half an hour. And then the huge hands close over the sleeves of his t-shirt and his father shakes.
Snap! Snap! His head jerking back and forth.
When he raises his hand, his fist this time, Michael feels the shame pour through him, and he has no defense against this either, and he wants to cry, he is so young, but he does not even close his eyes.