Things are pretty bad when you'd rather be at school. Tom and I didn't go back to the diner. We stayed off the streets and went back to school. Not to learn, of course, but for safety. After the drunk, older kids didn't scare me, and I proved it. Tom tried to fit in, tried to make things work. But after being gone so long, after having a gun pointed at us, there was no fitting in. I tried to stay invisible, but some people just won't leave well enough alone.
They tried insults, but I ignored them. They tried pushing me, but I kept my feet. Then they started swinging and I swung back hard. I made them bleed. It was four on one, so you could say I lost. But the worst I had were a few bruises that no one could see. They had broken noses, black eyes and funny walks. We all got it from the principal. I got it from my dad. I hurt for weeks afterward, but I learned to live with it. Like daddy said, it builds character. After that, the only one that hit me was at home.
Dad had gotten worse. He thought he had no purpose, that the Corps had given him a life, that working in some dirty factory just made him another meaningless face in the crowd. He was wrong. He had always been that. Nothing special about another broke dad that drinks too much and hits the closest thing smaller than him. Even being a Marine wasn't enough to make him important. But without a uniform and people saluting him, he began to realize what he was, so he became more like that. He couldn't handle the reality that a bottle and a moustachioued man ten years younger than him could push him around. So he became more of what he didn't want to be.
I stayed out on the street, trying to skip dinner just to be away from him. I would rather have faced drunks and crooks than him. I loved mom, but if she didn't have the guts to leave him, what good was she? Tom came around a lot. I didn't know what his parents were like or if he had brothers and sisters. He didn't talk about them and I didn't ask. We had no family but each other. Neither of us said. I don't think either of us really thought it. It just was. Dying makes one the person they always should have been. You're my brother, Tom.