When I turned twelve, Grandpa sat me down to tell me the facts of life.
“You’re fat,” he said, spittle flying from his mouth. “And you’re ugly. You’re impossible to love. Your best bet is to get murdered soon, because you can’t get into Heaven if you take your own life.”
There was a quiet wisdom behind his words, the kind that you don’t find in books or movies or on TV or in newspapers or on the inside of your cat that you vivisected in your backyard because Grandpa told you he’d do it himself if you didn’t.
“I’m cold, Grandpa” I said, “The gravel hurts. Can we go inside?” Grandpa only laughed and pushed my head harder against the driveway.
“Gravel is good for you,” he yelled. “It’s nature’s salt. I put gravel in my food. I’ve been putting gravel in your food for weeks.” It was true. At first I had tried to pick out it, but every day each meal was more gravel and less food. That morning he served me a bowl of gravel with a corn flake on top. I ate the corn flake slowly, to savor it.
“Did you know I was in Korea?” asked Grandpa. He took his knee off of my back and sat down next to me Indian style. “The things I saw. The things I did. They would make your head spin.”
“Grandpa, why did you make me kill Boots?” Grandpa had stuffed my cat full of gravel and sown him back up and nailed him over my bed. He had said it was “a warning.”
Grandpa took the knife out of his boot and started stropping it on a strip of leather. After a long minute, he looked at me and shook his head. “That’s life, kid.”
I didn’t like those summers living with Grandpa, but it was better than the rest of the year, when Grandpa made me live outside.