The winter of 1981 brought with it that magical combination of heavy snowfalls and the freedom of play that comes with being six years old. I loved everything about winter. I loved the smell of my father lighting the fireplace. I loved the way my mother would sing about shiny kettles and toasty woolen mittens. That was the year my mother and I made my first snowman.
I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom, playing with my Lego Alpha-1 rocket base while my father and grandmother were screaming below. It was a tumultuous time for my family. We were still working our way through a major transition. Shortly after the screaming had stopped my grandmother appeared in my room.
“You’re so good Christopher! So quiet I forget you’re here. I have something for you.” My grandmother was constantly giving me things, mostly small trinkets that I was only marginally interested in. She had a habit of going to tag sales and buying whatever she could, just to give it all away. I had already been given dozens of Smurf figures, broken Star Wars toys and McDonald’s happy meal prizes. She had furnished most of our floor of the house with her finds, and this was not always to my mother’s liking. My mother occasionally complained about having to raise me in a second-hand wicker crib that my Grandmother had bought for me. But I loved these unpredictable gifts.
On this day, however, the gift was not some piece of flea market bric-a-brac. She gave me a pipe.
“This was your grandfather’s pipe.” I looked at it in awe, proud to have it. I had never gotten to meet my paternal grandfather who had died before I was born, but I had been raised on tales of his heroism in World War II and his unyielding moral conviction. I was a little confused, however, wondering if this meant I was supposed to start smoking.
“You can use it for your Snowman,” she said gesturing as one putting a pipe in their mouth.
“Oh yeah!” I leaped up as fast as I could and stumbled through the arduous process of putting on my snow pants, boots, jacket, and mittens. I ran down the front steps and around the side of the house to where we had built the snowman, eager to give him the finishing touch.
But it was not to be. The coal-buttoned torso still stood, his twig arms were still spread wide, but his head was gone. The snow had been sprayed with a red liquid clearly meant to simulate blood, but it looked more like a giant snow cone.
I dropped the pipe. My fists balled. Tears filled my eyes as I recalled the joy of making the snowman with my mother just hours earlier. The world turned into a dark place. I saw an image of my father standing outside our car in the rain, his eyes covered by the brim of his Jets hat.
I ran out of the yard and around the corner towards the throng of neighborhood kids involved in a spirited snowball fight. A few lobbed snowballs at me but I ignored these as I ran towards Charlie full speed, my hands pushing against his bright blue jacket. But to a six-year-old, the might of a ten-year-old is an unassailable fortress, so down I went into the snow. All of his friends were laughing as I rose on all fours and charged again, driving my head into the front of his pants. Down he went with a whimper, my mittens flailing against him. But before I could land a satisfying strike upon him, his friends grabbed the belt around my snow pants and pulled me off him. They swung me around and tossed me into a snowdrift. I rose to face them, half-frozen spittle trailing from my nostril, only to get a face-full of high-velocity snow. It didn’t stop me, I charged again in a blind rage.
This time when I landed face-first in the slush, they proceeded to push handfuls of snow down the back of my snow pants and jacket. They were laughing hysterically as I shrieked.
I could feel my anger waning and the tears of humiliation beginning to form. But then a sound cut through the din.
“Stop it!” a new voice silenced them. The snow assault ceased and I looked up. Charlie looked past me, cold rage on his face. I turned around to see what could have caused such a reaction.
There, framed by the snowed-in cars, taller than any present stood Anthony. He was wearing my father’s camouflaged hunting jacket and filthy sneakers. His hands were bare, and his Afro rose from his head like a crown. A new order was at hand. Charlie, so long the king of this block, was about to be challenged in a way he had never been before.
The seeds of this revolution had begun a few months prior. The first sign of the disturbance was a tenfold increase in the amount of fighting between my parents. It wasn’t like the normal arguing that had always filled our house, but louder with more piercing cries. Curses were uttered, and not by my father. Tears flowed. Objects were thrown. And the words, “Get Out!” prevailed. And then my father was gone.
For two days Charlie and I asked my mother where he went and when he was coming back. But she would tell us nothing, saying only, “Don’t worry, you will see him again.” But she seemed to be saying this mostly to Charlie for some reason. I didn’t believe her. For the entire time, he was gone I was he wasn’t coming back. But he did.
He summoned us from bed late on a Sunday night. “Christopher! Charlie! Get down here!” We went downstairs to find my mother standing beside him with her arms crossed. Sitting on the couch was an African-American boy, a little older than Charlie, who gave us a tiny wave. I searched his impassive face, curiously trying to understand the mixture of ethnic features that presented themselves.
“Boys, this is Anthony. He is your brother. He is going to live with us now.”
And with those three sentences, my world had changed forever in a hundred unforeseen ways. The lily-white neighborhood, church, and pre-school had done nothing to prepare me for the invisible forces that would now be set against us. But even if I understood all the complications, I wouldn’t have cared. I didn’t matter how jealous Charlie was or that my mother was brooding and resentful. I had a new big brother, and that was awesome!
To my delight, Anthony was everything I could have hoped for. His door was always open to me. He eagerly joined me in whatever I was playing. He could draw. He could imitate Yoda’s voice with uncanny accuracy. He always had a joke on his lips, and he seemed to have a perpetual smile that could not be shaken by the coldest of our neighbor’s stares. He was filled with tales of faraway and exotic places like, “Georgia” and “Mississippi.”
Anthony was like a messenger from the distant gods, remaking my world. What had once been a solitary place was filled with light, laughter, and brotherly affection. I was grateful for every moment of it, and never more than when he had stepped into my battle on that snowy day.
“We don’t have snowball fights where I come from,” Anthony said in his slight southern drawl as his bare hands deflected the worst of the barrage from his face. “We do however have WWF wrestling.”
I watched in awe as the battle royal unfolded around me. They could have put all the snow in the world down my pants and I would have accepted it gladly just to watch him body slam Charlie’s fat friends one after the other into the snowdrifts. He took them down with clotheslines and leg sweeps. But Charlie looked murderous as he surveyed his friends being cast away like so many extras in a kung-fu movie.
“Fight me!” Charlie screamed, raising his fists. Everyone looked on.
“I didn’t bring my boxing gloves, little brother.” Anthony raised his open hands.
“Kick the shit out of that…”
That’s when one of Charlie’s cretinous friends uttered the word in trying to egg Charlie on. Until then, it was only something my uncles would say when Reggie Jackson would come to bat. I had never heard it said about a person who was standing right in front of me. I felt a sickness in the pit of my stomach.
The anger smoldered in Charlie’s eyes as he struggled with the mental calculations that were called for.
Anthony was fast. But he was not fast enough. Before he could intervene, Charlie had already pounded his friend to the ground.
The three of us sat on the couch, sulky and damp. There was a line of parents outside our door coming to protest the minor bruises, torn jackets and bloodied noses their children sustained while playing with the Salvatore boys. My mother absorbed the brunt of it, apologizing and promising appropriate punishments, but my father sent her inside and then sent them all packing. I didn’t yet know it, but complaining to my father that his sons had fought was like a gazelle telling a lion his cubs were too fierce.
When he came back inside he stared at each of us in turn, saying nothing.
“Are we punished?” Charlie asked impatiently.
“Get dressed. We’re going out for pizza.”
“Out for pizza?” Charlie asked expecting this to be some kind of trap.
“That’s right. It’s your reward.”
“Reward? For what?” we all asked simultaneously.
“For sticking up for each other. You are brothers. You stick together. Remember that.”
[Thanks for reading! If you are interested, there are lots more stories, but that is all that I am planning to put on the website. If you would like to be a test reader I would love to share more with you and get your feedback. Please fill out the “Contact Me” form so I can get in touch with you. Also you can check out a preview of my newer Christopher Salvatore Tale, The Netcromancer here.]