I hated Dominick DePaulo. I don’t use that term lightly or often, if ever. When I heard Dom had been found dead, wrapped in a tarp and stuffed in an old refrigerator, I felt relief. A crushing weight that I had carried for decades sloughed off me, like sodden sleet from a rooftop. I realize the cruelty of such a statement but that is how I felt. Exactly. I understood why someone would beat Dom to death with a fairway wood. I had fantasized about it a million times.
We met when we were twelve, Dom and I. He was the kind of kid that would drift from neighborhood to neighborhood, terrorizing anyone too timid to defend themselves. A marauder. Deft. Cruel. I was no stranger to cruelty for sport but Dom was no typical oppressor, his skills became as notorious as water boarding, and I wager, much more destructive. I have no idea what kind of home he came from nor have I tried to find out since. I have no desire to find empathy for him. He didn’t deserve any of my kindness. I doubt any witness has forgotten his crimes against humanity. His malice, in no small part, shaped who I was, who I remain.
I suspect I’m not the only one.
Wally and I rarely ventured beyond the six-block radius of our neighborhood. He hated change of any kind. Occasionally I could coerce him out of his comfort zone with the promise of Swedish fish or catching salamanders. Salamanders were not my idea of fun but it was my only way to escape the boredom of the neighborhood, with company.
I had finally talked Wally into venturing behind the office park where woods waited to be explored. It took months of begging and shaming to convince him. The woods had a reputation for hosting high school parties and harboring melon heads, a breed of freaks discharged from a local, long debunked, psychiatric hospital that may or may not have existed. The potential of melon heads was enough to incite a full-blown anxiety attack but I assured Wally that melon heads only came out at night, although I didn’t know that to be true.
My heart pounded with excitement as we rode our bikes down the path into the woods that first day. I could smell the must of rotting leaves and stagnant water. Trails marbled the terrain. I was temporarily carefree, an unusual place for me to be. The other shoe loomed. We stumbled upon him quite by accident. I knew in an instant he would prove formidable, even for me. I had learned to spot cruelty in people at a young age. Self-preservation, I venture.
“Who the fuck are you?”
Wally and I stopped in our tracks.
“Wally Janesky. We have gym together.”
“Wally? What kind of homo name is that?”
“Well, it’s my grandfather’s…” Wally trailed off.
“Your grandfather must be a homo.”
“I don’t think so. I mean, he’s been married to my grandmother for a really long...”
“Shut up, asshole. I could give two shits about your family tree. I’m sure you come from a long line of fags.”
“Who the fuck are you?” I chimed in or at least it sounded like me.
I could hear all of the air leave Wally’s body as his jaw hit the ground. Dom looked at me as if he hadn’t even noticed me until I spoke.
“Huh? Who do we have here? Did you just run, I mean, waddle, away from the circus?”
Fat jokes. Why didn’t that surprise me? I could tell Dom was stupid, but mean, ultimately a deadly combination, one that might force a person into a vacant refrigerator. Just saying.
“I’m getting called a freak by one of the lollipop kids? I’m not taking any shit from a fucking midget. Sorry, “little person”.”
I watched all of the blood drain from Dom’s face.
Dom was short, really short, teetering on yellow brick road short. It didn’t feel like breaking news to me but apparently no one had yet to mention it to him. I must admit to having a knack for fishing out one’s Achilles’ heel with relative ease. I have the nuns to thank for that.
“I didn’t know that Sasquatch’s could talk?”
Wally decided to speak up in my defense.
“I think you might be confused. Sasquatch are very hairy and tall. Erin is way to short, I mean, not as short as you, but too small for a Sasquatch. Even a baby one, I think.”
“Shut up, you fucking retard.”
As abusive as his parents were, and as awful as we all were to each other, Wally never seemed to acclimate to the dysfunction he endured. He was genuinely surprised when someone was mean to him. I never understood it. I planned on it. Even still, I hated to see him hurt. He had enough of that at home and didn’t need more shit from some little woodland troll with self-esteem issues.
“Look Dom, or whatever your name is, we’re just going to go. You can crawl back under your rock. You little putz.”
Wally and I mounted our bikes and rode away. Dom yelled after us.
“I’m not done with you and your pig girlfriend, Waldo.”
“Great. And he forgot my name.” Wally whispered to me as we rode off.
“That’s your takeaway, Wall? Wow.”
We warned the rest of the boys the second we returned from our unfortunate encounter.
“Erin pissed off Dominick DePaulo and now he is going to come looking for us!”
“I pissed him off? He was pissed when we got there! He called you a fag and a retard!”
Wally nodded. No need to deny the truth so close to our joint pending death.
“But you did call him a midget.”
The rest of the boys gasped in horror. They all began to mutter in a panic.
“Oh, my, God! You called him a midget? What is wrong with you? He’s going to kill us!” Sal shrieked.
“You don’t care because you are in catholic school. Public school is a zoo. We will be publically humiliated!” Peanut agreed.
The rest of them sat there like death row inmates, awaiting their collective fate.
“Don’t be such pussies,” my textbook response, regardless the conundrum.
“Great. Now we’re being called pussies by a girl.”
I knew it was only a matter of time before we came across Dom again. Wally had been staying off his radar at school and had his mother write a note saying he had ringworm so he couldn’t play gym for the rest of the semester. Two weeks had passed and we all started to feel a false sense of security. We went about our usual business of bike rides, relentless torturing of each other, cigarettes and minor pyromania. Then, when we least expected it, they came; breaking the horizon, steam still rising from the newly paved hill, like hell itself was coming. It resembled a scene from an old western where the cowboys appear out of nowhere and overrun the poor, unsuspecting Indians. I was no unsuspecting Indian. Being an Indian will cure you of that.
Wally spotted them first. A dread came over him in an instant.
“What are they doing here? How did they find us?”
“Because we live two blocks away, Wall. Don’t freak out.”
“Don’t freak out? How can you say that? He’s going to make me eat dog shit! I know it! He made Bruce Warner eat dog shit and told him if he threw up he’d kick his ass and that is exactly what happened. Bruce ate it and puked and Dom and his friends beat Bruce up so bad he peed his pants! I know he is going to do the same thing to me! I know it!” Wally was in a complete panic, as Dom and his two sidekick flunkies, dropped their bikes.
“No he’s not. I promise.”
“You can’t promise things like that!”
“Sure I can. Do I need to get you a paper bag to breathe into? Relax. This is our park.”
Dom walked right up to Wally. I almost burst out laughing from anxiety. An inappropriate tick I still battle.
“Look who it is, fellas! Two ton Tilly and her fag boyfriend, Waldo.”
“Uh, Wally and she’s not my girlfriend.”
“Why are you a faggot Wally? I think you are a fag.”
Dom pushed Wally.
“You said this wasn’t going to happen,” Wally pleaded to me.
Suddenly he was not so embarrassed being my friend.
“You can’t push him.”
“Really? What are you going to do? Sit on me?”
I’d like to say that his banter improved with age but he never progressed beyond that of an insecure, mean, cold, twelve year old.
“You can’t just show up here with your retard sidekicks and think you can push us around. We won’t stand for it.”
“Stand for it!” Dom cackled. He hated me for reasons I had yet to recognize but I knew why I hated him. He was a nun. Malicious, emotionally stunted, despicable.
“You can stand for it, sit for it, roll for it! I could care less what you think you fat, disgusting pig.”
I could hear the catch in Wally’s breath. He was hurt for me.
“Listen, I know you feel bad because you are a dwarf or a midget or whatever the politically correct term for mini-freak is and just because Pritzy Cook said you need a string to find your sad little pinky dick doesn’t mean you can take it out on us. See a doctor. Find a midget girlfriend. Whatever. Just fuck off.”
All eyes were fixed on Dom. He was apoplectic with anger. I could tell he wanted to cry with frustration. He got on his bike. His moron minions followed.
He yelled, “I’ll be back, you fucking pig. You’ll be sorry!”
I already was but I had found his truest source of humiliation- a teeny, tiny penis. Karma at its finest.
“How do you know Pritzy Cook?” Wally asked.
“I don’t. I just hear you idiots talk about how hot she is.”
“Well, how did you know she saw Dom’s penis?”
“ I don’t!”
“I should have let him make you eat dog shit.”
Dom would be back. I knew this was only the beginning. Dom was to be my life-long enemy, my antagonist, the at-home version, until the fairway wood.