Up until turning five years old, I lived in New Jersey with my birth mother, Diana Briner, who died in January of 1965. I was never able to find out of what. I don't have any specific memory of her, or of where we lived. My adoptive parents discovered little when they researched it. As I grew up, I lost interest in ever finding out if my birth mother was Jewish, or who my father was, or even if my mother died suicidally of a drug overdose. I still don't much care all these years later. Many experts say that our fate is decided by our heritage, that it's all genes and spleens. This story is a complete refutation of that.
For the next three years after her death, I moved from the institution at St. Croix, where I could see the Empire State Building from my bedroom, to Gudgeon Place just off Tonelle. It was a grungy house with cockroaches and fleas. At the ripe old age of eight, I landed in the juvenile court system, when - for the third time - I'd been picked up on the streets for truancy. I'd been shoplifting or panhandling each of those times.
I recall little of how I got from one place to another, or how I learned so much so quickly about the streets. But I think most of it was due to the influence of a rough street-wise eleven-year-old, Lloyd Mills, who at the time was my only companion. I became the youngest of the residents at 55 Carling Street, Juvenile Group Facility, Essex County, a halfway home near Lincroft administered under the authority of the State of New Jersey.
I had met Lloyd at Gudgeon Place, but I recognized soon after I'd arrived at Carling Street that I needed his protection to cope with the twelve and thirteen-year-old bullies, and I gave him my full allegiance. Perhaps because I was so tall, no adult actually believed that I was only eight years old.
Lloyd used to come into my room at about one o'clock in the morning after the guards had gone to watch television, and sleep with me. Sometimes he cuddled against me, sometimes he would want more. He would stay four or so hours. He carried a switchblade which he boasted he had much practice with, and the other boys feared him, as did I. He kept them away from me and made sure my holiday packages from the state weren't stolen. I remember that I thought our relationship was a tradeoff on the level of life and death, an instinct to survive. I don't recall ever being affectionate to him in a way that would be called love. I recollect the feeling of boredom with the mechanics of it. I sometimes would fall asleep, and he'd get angry. However bad it was, it could never compete with the utter fear I felt of being all alone in the world at eight-years-old. It was the loneliness I recollect most vividly, and it didn't go away until I met Una and the Tappet family.
I think I cried quite often, but even in this period before the Tappets, I recall just selected events. For instance, I remember one day I found an irresistible kitten that had obviously gone unfed for some time, and against the rules I smuggled it into the home. I begged Lloyd to steal food from the kitchen to feed it, which he did - and even better, he went to a grocery store and stole real cat food for it. After Lloyd would leave in the middle of the night, Snowball slept with me. It tickled my feet in the morning to wake me up. It was a white fluffy ball of fur, but had some black spots around the ears. I remember how small it was, and how it needed my protection to survive. I was saving my money to get it to a vet to have it checked out. I loved that kitten and I cried inconsolably when it was run over by a car on Carling Street - even in the face of all the goading I received from the older boys, even Lloyd teased me about it. After all, for toughened boys, the only good cat is a dead cat.
I mention about my relationship with Lloyd so that what happened between me and my stepsister can be understood more clearly. I had experienced more about this sort of thing before I reached nine years old than most teenagers ever do. My behavior toward Sally was due in part to my amplified sexuality, matched evenly by the naivety of my new family. Parents adopting young boys living in orphanages or public institutions don't realize that they are sexually active at nine, eight, and even seven years old.