Yesterday is Dead: Life and Men and Death and Love (Chapter One)

Billy Manes is Editor-in-Chief of Watermark Publishing Group . Follow our weekly excerpts of a draft of his autobiography, Yesterday is Dead: Life and Men and Death and Love. 

We originally wrote about Billy Manes here.

Photo by Mariana Mora

Chapter One: Where to Start

Blip, blop, bloop went the carnage down a Tampa Bay, Florida, sidewalk sometime in the late seventies. It was a pixilated symphony of gore, a hint of suburban, childish impressionism not meant for the ages, but only for its moment. It would have been hilarious to watch from outside of my eye sockets, but as I rushed home all of 200 yards, it was the throbbing, martyred end of Christ himself. I had crucified myself on a skateboard. There was a trail of blood.

The story goes something like this, if memory serves correct (it usually doesn’t): I was inept at balancing my giant head on a four-wheeled red piece of plastic afforded me at some birthday or Christmas afterthought. I couldn’t stand up. But it was also, in typical lonesome kid fashion, a means of getting away. From this distance, some 40 years later, it would have looked ridiculous to see a toeheaded child riding down a sidewalk on a skateboard, on his chest, arms akimbo like wings on a Cessna. But at an age free of judgment – or at least hearing judgment – it made perfect sense to fly on the ground, regardless of the altitudinous implications of obvious failure. I was merely having fun, flying away from a small hell, aiming toward, I don’t know, the next suburban intersection.

But then someone screamed at me from behind. A big “Billy, get back here!” of sorts was issued, and, without a moment to consider how far I might fall from my grounded wings, I looked down and back, somehow managing to capture my lower lip in the front left wheel of the vehicle to which I ascribed my momentary futile escape. Yes, I did run over my lip with a skateboard. Yes, these things really do happen.

It wasn’t the happiest of childhoods, but nor was it the most dreadful, I’ve come to learn. In most flashes of memory, it holds up like a yellowed flashbulb portrait of the Kodachrome variety, hair pushed to the side (as you did) and teeth duly exposed in smile formation. There are sonic splotches of memory that sounded like violence through wood-paneled walls – divorce was the decorative backsplash of the 1970s, after all; everyone just needed one. Mom and Dad fought quite a bit in my early years, leaving my older brother and sister with the brunt of the actual damage and me with a constant and jarring sense of confused noise distortion that had no outlet or verbiage.

“I hate mommy, I hate daddy,” was something I would say as I literally rocked myself to sleep; like, rocked my whole body as if I were in a rocker still. But then there was the, “I hope I die before mommy and daddy” prayer that I said over my evening piss. It’s all very confusing in retrospect. I get along fine with them both now, and, minus a couple of boyfriends of mine that have passed, I have been equally successful in the mortality game thusfar. Bless.

There were further cracks in the pavement though, and as pavement cracks do, they split deeper and wider as the formative years made their attempt at pulling everything together. The long and winding divorce only made them worse, as my mother and my two siblings carried me along like a sad sack to 11 Florida cities in my first 11 years of life. At this point, I’ll go ahead and throw out the words “sexual abuse,” “molestation,” and “abject fear to even appear awake, much less be alive,” but, out of kindness to those fences that have been mended, I’ll try to stay as obtuse as possible on those matters. I mean, we all got fucked in our childhoods, right? It’s how we grew up to be so strong. Take it like a man, Billy. You know, from a man.

It really happened. For 10 years.

The thing about childhood sexual abuse that nobody seems to want to talk about is how, as a child, you don’t necessarily feel like you’re being abused. Yes, that is your face crying pressed over by a pillow, that is your ass bleeding, but in some ways – maybe it’s social norms, televised moving pictures of Angie Dickinson, George C. Scott’s sad role as the dad to a tramp in Hardcore airing regularly on HBO, too much spare time, bad acting – you start asking for it, and when it’s not there, you wonder what you did wrong. Why is there not a hard cock pushing me down into the depths while “I Want Your Sex” is playing? The victims, we know them so well.

But I was no saint, either, no arms-too-thin angel with a pink basket of good intentions. By the age of eight I had patented my own brand of mischief, Florida style. I would steal cash from my mother’s purse (she worked several jobs, mind, so I was indeed an asshole) to play video games at the roller rink or buy bags of Big League Chew bubble gum just to cram in my mouth so everyone thought I was cool. At one point, my mother broke down on me, and given that she must have been all of 35 years old, I can’t blame her for doing so. A minister was called in to discuss my sticky fingers and dirty mind – I had already stolen the Bo Derek Playboy magazines and some cigarettes from my mom’s boyfriend’s stash, because I was so masculine – and it was all very frightening, indeed. I totally changed then.

Except, in the long term, I did not. Going to church three times a week to both escape a hellish home life and to assuage my growing guilt was a combination that would later lead to going to bars to make my career flourish by ignoring my career. I used to be good at math, but by the time I hit my mid-teens, I was living a totally a dysfunctional, illogical new math. I “lost my virginity” to a program director from a Miami radio station in his car outside of a broken down Boca Raton mall, all in the name of getting some Duran Duran promotional items (he turned out to be a pedophile, which I might have known had I utilized any logic when calling him every night to request late-era Duran Duran singles and he flirted with me on air). He spat me out when he got what he wanted, saying I was “too sour.” I had my first anxiety attack, there, at 16, in a parking lot, with my dick out. Big Thing, indeed.

Two extreme poles don’t equal an equator, it turns out. But they can make for a great ride. Blip, blop, bloop.

It wasn’t a great ride, to be honest. There are things I have previously said that I would never talk about, never share, never air, but in the interest of honesty and acknowledging that this type of abuse is something from which you never really recover – yes, you move on, and as everyone involved would say (and has said), that’s exactly how this spackle works – it’s worth noting the psychosis that goes along with being an androgynous sex toy for somebody you trust by blood is akin to riding a razorblade down into a pool of perpetual uncertainty. It’s a blackout pool.

In the peak of the abuse, I would skip school or play sick, in order to make the trysts possible. I can remember the first time it happened. I remember the smells, the odor of two bodies “humping together.” And then, in puberty, when it became something far more damaging, not knowing what to do or who to turn to. Spiraling notions of self-worth battled with piousness and the honor roll, all the shaking fingers of parents who didn’t know what to do. There were holes punched into drywall, parties with friends and porn and laughing and (oddly) flirting, terrifying visions of a sexuality that perhaps a 10-year-old wasn’t prepared for. Sure, I was fey, and biologically, I was gay. Matchstick crosses on walls, stared at from the corners of eyes not wanting to realize how fucked they really were, things I don’t really want to remember but can never forget, these are the beginnings of ends. And this is only the beginning.