The Life and Times of a Total Loser (Part One)

So as it stands, I have warrants in three states, roughly $5,000 in legal fines over my head with more on the way, my private debts are almost triple my legal ones, I might be going to jail for up to a year this tuesday, and if I don’t almost definitely am this friday. I was declared delinquent by the state of Maryland at the age of 14, I dropped out at 16, and have spent the last 12 years since causing havoc all up and down the east coast. I’ve spent half my adult life on probation, including multiple stints in multiple county jails and have done just about any drug you could think of. I should probably slow down a bit though. 

Hi, I’m Dave, and as you can probably tell, I’m a total loser.

I’m gonna start this off by letting you know that if it weren’t for the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, I wouldn’t be here typing this right now; No, I’m not in recovery… My parents met on a cold winter evening in early 1986 in the rooms of AA somewhere outside Washington D.C. After some romancing mixed with some wining and dining minus the wine, they held a pants off dance off and 9 months later in a capital area hospital in early 1987 I was born. 

My mom is short italian woman, about 5'5. Back then she had very long flowing hair and a healthy build. Looking at old photos of her, she was actually quite universally beautiful; You know like in a “baby or a puppy or a kitten posing in front of some flowers or something” sorta way… Easy on the eyes. 

She was a stay at home mom and she was really good at it. She had a very traditional upbringing and her own mother was a home-ec teacher. She knew how to sew, cook, clean, and everything like 1950’s american dream mom, even if she admittedly avoided doing that stuff as much as possible. She really is the sweetest lady on earth, but she messed up in college, falling into the partying lifestyle over going to class and eventually dropping out. She was only a few months sober when she met my father when at age 26.

My father was a car salesman who dropped out of college after breaking his back and neck all in one down playing football after getting caught between 2 defensive linesman. He was an offensive linesman, which is how he ended up that position, and as you can probably gather from that he was a mountain of a man at 6'3 300 lbs. He was actually quite the all-star with an easy ticket to the NFL before he got injured from what he used to tell me. I know he had a lot of high school trophies that said offensive player of the year for the D.C. metro area but I don’t know what his college performance was like or whether or not he actually saw any game time. I do know he had some trouble with the law involving a few ounces of marijuana and a sizeable amount of barbiturates which forced him to go to a smaller school instead of his dream school, the University of Maryland. He was 32 and about five years sober when he met my mom

My extremely early memories really all feel happy I suppose. Me playing with my mom, dad and brothers, I used to be the best of all of us at nintendo, Learning to ride a bike. You know… Childhood stuff. Looking back now, things weren’t as pleasant as they felt. My parents argued a lot. I remember vividly seeing my dad throw a paper plate of pees, mac n’ cheese, and some sort of like mashed potatoes or applesauce from one side of our house to the other and it literally stuck to the wall. There’s fragments of things like my dad chasing my mom around with a bat. Lots of yelling matches. More like a yelling massacres carried out nightly by papadukes.

Our house was a small town home with a very open floor plan. There weren’t any full walls except for around the kitchen and bathroom. The other 2 rooms and hallway were divided up buy waist high rails. It was all very plain… White with brown trim and popcorn ceilings. There was a short 2-steps down into the living room that made it so the rail there was chest high instead, and a sliding glass door in the back. Upstairs was 2 identical bedrooms which belonged to me and my older brother, a master bedroom the size of both put together, and a bathroom in between the three of them.

I’m assuming the furniture was all hand-me down going off the shape a lot of it was in but I can’t say for sure. We did have a very nice grand piano my mom inherited which looked out of place next to our beat up brown and yellow couch and love seat. The family room, which was smallest of the downstairs room, rested in between the middle of everything at the top of the “living room 2-step” I told you about earlier, and was basically just an 8x8 square with no furniture and waist high railings where my parents kept their old records and other odds and ends along with the kid’s toys. The kitchen was somewhat cramped; In addition to our fridge, dish washer, stove, and microwave it also held our washer and dryer. The washer and dryer were one of those vertical stack combos and the dryer would make the whole house sing with a strangely hypnotic rhythym whenever my mom did laundry. We had a table tucked in there as well but to get to one side of it required sucking in my stomach and squeezing, even when I was a young child.

I lived, like I said earlier, in a town home complex. My court consisted of 3 big cul-de-sacs each with their own little grassy hill in the middle and each with about 4 to 6 rows of townhouses, with each row containing 7 houses each (My house was house number 7 on our row and it was the end, thats how I’ll always remember the exact number) Now when I was extremely young, when my parents first bought our house, our neighborhood was actually fairly nice for our “income bracket” from what my parents tell me. I distinctly remember water gun fights with neighborhood kids, having bike races around the hill in front of my house, and climbing trees. You know… Little boy stuff.

One night in the fall of 91, when I was 4 ½ years old, my parents woke me and my older brother in the middle of the night. “You’re going to Aunt Liz’s… the baby is on the way” my dad whispered as he threw my jacket on and carried me to the car. That’s right… I’m trying to tell you that in addition to Dominic I had a twist ending surprise younger brother this whole time. His name is Patrick and he’s a pretty cool guy ,though for a long time he was the third party in a non-stop 3 way war; The wildcard that upset the balance of power and always decided who the winner would be if you would.

Going into kindergarten I was an average sized italian kid, brown hair brown eyes with a bowl cut, hand-me down clothes and very a happy-go lucky attitude. I was a bit clueless as all kids are and walked around with my head in the clouds. My family used to make fun of how much I would go on and on about my various daydreams by saying I had diarrhea of the mouth, and I remember one time I went to school with my shorts on backwards all day long completely oblivious to the fact that there was such a thing as backwards for clothes. 

I liked to play video games and walked around with my head in the clouds. My thoughts were mostly focused on Mario, the Ninja turtles, and basically just doing whatever it is kids do. My mom had actually home schooled me a bit using hooked on phonics and hooked on math before my younger brother was born, and despite all the jokes people make about the commercials from the 90’s, it gave me quite the leg up. From the very start my teachers could tell I was just a step ahead of all the other kids in my class for every lesson. My only downfalls were that my handwriting was absolutely awful and I absolutely never did homework. In my head homework was for kids that didn’t understand it during class, and I understood it during class so I get to go play.

There was a family a few doors down from us that consisted of two girls who were me and my older brother’s ages, their mom, and their father. The girls would end up being my best friends through most of my childhood, and my mom and her friend from down the street were rarely separate. Our families used to take vacations together to a lake house in Virginia that belonged to the girl’s grandmother. We’d go for a week at a time and swim in the lake, go to a nearby amusement, and do your standard white people vacation stuff. 

Sometimes I go back and watch old home movies from back then and I can’t believe how happy everyone was. If it weren’t for those tapes I almost wouldn’t remember that there was a happy time at the beginning of it all. What I didn’t realize as a kid was that the property value of my neighborhood was slowly declining, and it was becoming section 8 housing.

Other families in the neighborhood were much less friendly and lets say law abiding. Two guys in particular, one a white guy 6 years my elder named Chad and the other a black dude 3 years younger than him named Stephen, ended up taking the role of antagonists and token bullies for this portion of my life. 

Once when I was about 6, Chad rode up to us on a bike and talked us into buying a crossbow from him for 5 dollars. We obviously had no clue what it was and thought it was just a cool toy so we grabbed the allowance we had saved up and bought it. Thankfully he didn’t sell us any bolts or we could have seriously accidentally injured ourselves. Our parents took it from us immediately after we showed it to them, they gave it to our uncle, and he brought it to the police. Eventually, Chad somehow found out that the crossbow he sold us wound up in a police barracks, and that spelled doom for me and my brother.Now one thing most kids understand instinctively is that there’s a hierarchy to the playground. The older kids were the ones in charge, period. 

That’s important to understand, because Chad had a pretty sizeable clique and since he was the oldest of that crowd, he gladly took his spot on the top of that totem pole and used that position to make sure me and my older brother stayed buried firmly deep in the mud at the bottom of it. We ran home half the time, the other half we used a different bus stop so Chad and Co. couldn’t find us. I had to be ready to make a bee line for my house at any minute when playing outside, and a lot of neighborhood kids distanced themselves so they wouldn’t get dragged into it with me. In addition to Chad’s personal vendetta with us my older brother was a chubby kid. I had gigantic Steve Urkel glasses, and both of us wore beat up hand-me downs. All of these things compounded into the perfect storm of bullying that made my life into a nonstop game of smear the queer, and I had the ball glued to my hands. 

Chad’s buddy Stephen wasn’t much better… He was abnormally tall even as a kid and uniquely long neck that earned him the nickname “Neck”. Ya i know, we weren’t very creative with one. One time his younger brother stole my favorite transformers action figure I had gotten for christmas and smashed it so to get revenge I stole his basketball and popped it. When Neck confronted me about it I told him to tell his brother to stay away from my shit and I wouldn’t need to do this

“Ya but thats my basketball not my brothers”“Well then you tell your brother not to fuck with other peoples stuff this wouldn’t happen”“Yo you better watch what you say white boy”

Before that last statement had even finished rolling off his tongue I threw the knife I used to pop the basketball at him then tried throwing a punch. Big mistake. He grabbed my wrist with both hands and swung me around in a circle before launching me shoulder first into a curb. Intense agony shot through my body. It felt like someone did the hot knife challenge to my collar bone. I got up and ran immediately, screaming at the top of my lungs. That was the first time I actually fought someone other than my brothers. It was also the first time I’d ever broken a bone. My collarbone still sits a little crooked because I didn’t have it set in time, another recurring theme in my life. 

Mom and Dad did the best they could with what they had, but we weren’t the most affluent family you’re ever gonna hear of. All the money my dad made was tied up in the mortgage and it really wasn’t much to begin with. He was working a commission based job in the middle of the first Bush era recession and eventually he got laid off. He went to an intensive technical school and got a certification in computer networking, but that turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. While he was in school, he lived off unemployment and money was tight, and once he finished he worked long hours and was rarely around. The times he was around there was a lot of arguing and the likes. My mom spent a lot of nights sleeping on the couch and the fights became more and more frequent as time went on. 

When I was about 6 my grandfather on my father’s side died, and my dad became very depressed.This was the beginning of the final chapter in my parents marriage. On our way to the wake, my dad was heartbroken and that sadness found its way to the surface in the form of pure rage. He began screaming at my mom over the smallest things and before long demanded to be let out of the car so he could just walk the rest of the way. The rest of the family arrived to the wake ahead of him and I can only assume it was super awkward for my mom considering it was his family she was explaining this argument to. When my dad came in he was back to being perfectly serene to the point that if he had shown up with the rest of the family you wouldn’t have even known there was an argument. He quietly apologized to my mom, greeted everyone in the family and that was that… back to normal like nothing ever happened

That anecdote makes a good microcosm for the next year or so The fighting became more frequent and more unpredictable as my dad’s mood worsened. He would have an outburst, my mom would go over to Tina’s or my dad would hop in the car and drive somewhere, then when they saw each other later that day my dad would apologize and be extra placating until bedtime. That sort of poor anger management behavior carried on to me and my brothers and we were swinging fists at each other and kids in the neighborhood on almost a daily basis. Looking at other families now I can see how this is all pretty dysfunctional behavior, but to me, back then, everything seemed like it was perfect. 

That illusion was pretty abruptly shattered when I was about 7 years old. One day after school, my dad came in my room where the tv and nintendo were and sat down on the bed next to me and my older brother. With the most forlorn look I’ve ever seen in my life and speaking in the somber tone of a preacher at a funeral he said, "Boys can you pause for a second I need to tell you something". I could tell he had been crying, which was something I didn’t know daddies did. I thought mommies cried when they were sad and daddies yelled and that’s just how it was. Today was different though; Today daddies cried. He explained to us that he was leaving because mommy didn’t want him there anymore, so we asked him when he would be home. Thats when he painfully choked out the best explanation for a divorce he could muster at the time. 

The next year and really the next 21 years are a stream of pure, absolute,uninterrupted chaos. Mommies cry when they’re sad and daddies yell remember? Well we stayed with mommy who was doing a lot of crying, and the scarce times we did see my dad you could tell he was very "daddy sad". 

Remember, both my parents were recovering alcoholics. Now neither of them relapsed during this time, but anyone in the program can tell you the drink is only half the problem. My dad had extreme anger issues. My mom wasn’t qualified to work more than minimum wage. Dad would hold out on paying child support out of spite and my mom barely had the money to keep food in the fridge, much less fight a court battle over child support. The situation was not ideal

At one point, my older brother was starting to fall behind in school, so my mother took him to an after-school tutoring center called Sylvan. One day when we were going to pick up my brother, my mom said “Your daddy is going to be here but don’t get in the car with him okay?”

“How do you know daddy is going to be here?!?!? I wanna see daddy!!!”“I just know… But you can’t go say hi to him you have to stay with me.”

Of course, when we we pulled up my dad was waiting just like my mom said he would be and he called me over to the car. Overjoyed to see my dad, I totally forgot my moms warning and hopped in the car with him. My mom went inside to sign my brother out and I sat with him. He didn’t say much as he circled the car around the parking lot, finally parking it across the lot as far from the tutoring center as he could, so I asked him what he was doing:
“Waiting for your mom to come back out”“Why are you parking so far then stupid….?”

Before he could answer though, I found out first hand. As my mom walked across the parking lot with my older brother, he gunned the engine. I watched in frenzied disbelief as the car accelerated towards my mother, who was frozen in terror in the middle of parking lot. She put herself in front of my older brother and held her arm in front of her face like it would somehow stop the metal colossus barreling towards her. I cried and pleaded with my father, screaming at the top of my lungs but certain it wasn’t working. At the last minute I heard tires screeching and the car came to a stop with a violent jerk that almost put my face into the dashboard, dad told me to get out, and then drove away. This would be a recurring theme in my life for the foreseeable future. 

The moment that truly shattered the protective layer of bliss my childhood came shrink-wrapped in happened in January of 96’. I remember because a massive nor'easter had shut down the beltway area and I didn’t have school for almost a week. Towards the beginning of my surprise snow vacation, I asked my mom if I could spend my day off at daddy’s house. My dad had moved in with my grandma about 20 minutes away, and since they were still early on in the seperation my parents were playing fairly fast and loose with visitation. She said yes, on one condition: “You can’t tell your daddy about mommy’s new friend, Joe, okay?”

It was a good day from what I remember. My dad was happy to see us… As bad as this story might make him sound he really did love me and my brothers more than life itself. It was my first blizzard and I had never seen so much snow in my life. We played outside building snow forts and drank hot chocolate. I was stunned because we a had enough snow for me to make a full sized snow fort I could actually climb inside if I used the snow banks left by plows as a starting point. As we were leaving my dad took an unusually friendly tone, “So what’s your mom been up to lately?”

Had I fully understood the amount of raw emotion involved in love, or known the fact that mommy’s new friend Joe also happened to be daddy’s best friend, I might have remembered what my mom told me earlier. "She goes to AA meetings with her new friend Joe… They like to have sleepovers!“ I said…
He kept the same deceptively friendly tone as he asked what Joe looked like, and I cheerily described a medium sized man in his mid 40’s with greying combed back hair, a salt and pepper beard, and glasses. 

Obviously, my dad knew who Joe was but nothing in his body language told me he was upset at the time. He was perfectly calm as my mom came picked us up and loaded us into the car. He told her we were on our best behavior and we had a great time. After my mom finished buckling in Patrick, as she was getting into the driver side door, my dad said in an almost comic book supervillain~ish way,“Tell Joe I said ‘Hi”“.

I remember mom driving home in an absolute panic. I had accidentally pushed the button on an ICBM and the missile defense system was down. As soon as we got there, she hurried me and my brothers upstairs while simultaneously trying to explain to Joe what was happening. I remember she kept telling him my dad would be there any second, and I kept running from my room begging to see my dad which only served to rile up her already flustered state. 

She finally got me to stay in the room, and it wasn’t a second too soon. I heard what sounded like a bull charging our front door door three or four times and then the sharp *CRACK* of splintering wood like a tree finally breaking under hurricane force winds. That was followed by a lot of crashing coming from downstairs. Occasionally you could hear screams from my mom begging my dad to stop or a grunting noise as my dad threw a punch. The whole thing lasted somewhere between 30 seconds and eternity; It felt like the latter. Eventually I heard everything move outside and get silent so I slowly crept downstairs. 

My mom was in the kitchen dialing 911; I don’t even think she noticed as I walked past her and went outside to see if my dad was around. I didn’t see pops and I couldn’t see his car anywhere. What I saw was a man curled in a ball on the ground motionless, half his body in the snow the other half face down on the freshly shoveled sidewalk with a pool of blood quickly growing from his forehead. 
I saw a side of my father that day that I’ve seen only one time since… A murderous rage so intense I didn’t know it could exist in the hearts of any person. The ambulances arrived and took Joe away. He ended up needing staples to close the head wound left when my dad used his face for a touchdown celebration. That night my mom told us to pack our bags because we were leaving in the morning.

"Where are we going?”
“Into hiding.”
“Hiding from what?”
“Your dad.”

*This was written in 2015. Many of the legal troubles are gone now. I've worked hard to improve my life.*

I’m what happens when you live by the motto ‘Live Fast, Die Young’ then you fuck up and survive
— A Total Loser
Dave Barletta1 Comment