Monday, November 3, 2014

Can't Stop Thinking Big: CriMemoir - Trey R. Barker

Spent some time lately with the good crew at Down & Out Books - a St. Louis visits with Rob Brunet and Sandi Loper (whom it was great to catch up with again at N@B at Nightbird Books in Fayetteville, Arkansas) and then over the weekend caught up with Keith Gilman and Eric Campbell. (Not to mention they just published The Genuine Imitation Plastic Kidnapping by N@B alum Les Edgerton.) Sandi and Eric keep dropping the name Trey R. Barker on me, so I reached out to the man and hit him up for a guest piece. Immediately he shot me a half dozen ideas for the CriMemoir series. He selected one to write about and damned if it ain't a corker. I'm sure you'll want to check up on Trey after reading it, and you can do so right here, but first...

Can’t Stop Thinking Big by Trey R. Barker


It was tall – at least relative to that moment – and it looked impossibly heavy.

“…what are you doing?”

The place was, I thought at the time, a motel. There was an open reception area with a wraparound desk, dingy walls, and dirty light, all surrounded by rooms that emptied into the reception area. I know now it was a lawyer’s office. In fact, the cops called him Lawyer Jones with both a good bit of west Texas racism and dismissiveness; after all, he obviously wasn’t important enough for the cops to learn his real name.

He was the attorney for a man named James Oliver Green.

“…no.  Can we just go?”

James Oliver Green was, on that warm evening in the middle of May, 1976, employed at Global Wholesale Pottery. He was a warehouse grunt who spent his days cleaning the warehouse, unpacking pottery, making deliveries. I’d been at the warehouse that day because Mom was the bookkeeper and often brought me along. I dug the place which meant there were no babysitting charges for any day I hung out at the warehouse.

For reasons lost to the vagaries of memory, James gave me a ride home that day. Maybe Mom was working late, or I was anxious to get home, or I was being a pain in the ass. Regardless, James and I were in a car together when we first saw her walking along the railroad tracks.

“…no, I don’t want to….”

She was beautiful…at least to this young boy’s eyes. Dark hair, dark eyes. Jeans tight around curvy hips, breasts shyly asking for notice. She seemed much older than me and had an air of sophistication. I assumed she was a world traveler who had been everywhere and seen everything. I was smitten, as much as a 9-year old boy can be, and when James stopped and asked if she needed a ride, when she said yes, when she came to our car, I couldn’t breathe as I happily gave up my shotgun seat and climbed in the back.

“…damnit, stop.   Just let me go, okay?”

I’d never heard a voice sound like that and even now I remember the splash of fear that landed hard in my gut, which now suddenly hurt, and spread in angry concentric rings throughout my body. My head pounded, my breath came fast and hard. My skin was alive with heat, my head with panic.

What the fuck was I supposed to do? Standing in that room, where James had dropped me while he and the woman – the girl – went elsewhere, with that bed and television on a rickety TV cart, the sunlight cantering sideways through what I remember as tattered curtains and spilling weakly on the floor like an old man spilling tired seed, what in the holy hell was I supposed to do?

“…stop it, goddamnit.  Let go of me, asshole.”


James didn’t answer me.

What I didn’t know in that moment, but at the same time absolutely knew in that moment, was that he was trying to rape her. He was trying to get into this girl and it scared me as completely and thoroughly as any moment in my life up until the night in 2014 when I faced a drunk, angry cop larger and by far stronger than me who told me, in a stone dead affect, that he could get my gun and put bullets in my head before I blinked.


I was utterly helpless. Defenseless and helpless. To the point that I wanted to cry because there was simply nothing else I could do.

That was when I saw it.

It was tall, at least relative to a 9-year old. It was heavy when I tried to pick it up. A pitted and rusty double barrel, two triggers, the wooden stock old and stained. But for all that, it was something that was going to help, this thing I’d never even held, much less fired. It was going to make me less defenseless.  If I could lift it….  If I could fire it….  If it was even loaded and I didn’t manage to kill myself first.

But James took the choice out of my hands.

For whatever reason, he stopped. God knows why, but he listened to her pleading and begging.  Somewhere down the road, he gave her a few dollars, let her out, and took me home.

I told no one until the two detectives, one of them the father of a school chum, came to see me at school a few days later. Then I lied. Then I told them everything.

But regardless of the words that spilled outta my mouth, I still felt defenseless.


When I was growing up, Mom’s boyfriend was a cop. A hulking mountain of a man, both scary and comforting.  He was there for huge swaths of my childhood. When I ran away, he was there. When I began to notice girls in a more serious way than the 9-year old boy had, he was there.

And when I heard Mom getting beaten up, he was there.

It was all familiar: the taste of fear in the back of my throat, the burning heat on my skin, the ache in my guts, the hyper awareness that I could do absolutely nothing for her.

The man was huge.  He was drunk.  He was violent.

That entire night, with two exceptions, are gone from my memory. The first is that I remember Mom calling someone, a lady I believe, and saying, “He’s already beat me up twice.”

The second exception is the heater. We had a wall unit that stuck out about six inches from the wall. It was dark gray and old and directly across a very narrow hallway from the bathroom. The next day, when the violence was over and he was sleeping it off, I stared at that huge dent in the panel. That was where Mom’s shoulder had gone.

As with James and his attempting to rape what turned out to be a 15-year old girl, I was defenseless.
But also humiliated because I couldn’t even find the balls to call out to Mom, to at least try to put the brakes on the violence.

I laid there in bed, listening to her crying, listening to him bitch about whatever had crawled beneath his angry skin, and couldn’t do anything.  I’m sure I cried, though I don’t remember it.  I’m sure I cussed him, though I don’t remember that, either.

But I know I questioned all of it. Why had she let this happen? Why couldn’t she do anything to stop it?  Why had he chosen her to do this to? Why was someone this monstrous even in our lives?

What the fuck did I know? I was a scared kid hearing his mommy get hurt. I had no idea about the dynamics of relationships. I had no idea about the dynamics of violence or his cowardice. I had no idea that later in that relationship, Mom would toe right up to him and dare him to hit her again. I had no idea that the violence and drinking was a symptom of something else.

And if I had known? Fuck it. I wouldn’t have given a shit. I wasn’t interested in interpersonal relationship dynamics. I wanted to stop her hurt. In that moment, she was as defenseless as me and I wanted to stop the hurt.

But more to the point…I wanted to hurt him back.


Later, I don’t know when exactly, she wasn’t defenseless.

Later, she was the defender.

I don’t know the woman’s name. I don’t know how Mom knew her. All I knew for sure was that one Sunday morning, a lady was at our house. She was crying. She was hurt. She’d been beaten.

She was where my mother had been.

But Mom was not.

Mom was in the living room, almost daring her asswipe of a husband to come in, toeing up to him as she had her boyfriend.

Mom was also carrying a steak knife.

I got up and went to her side, finding just enough balls.  I saw the knife and said, “That won’t do anything.”

She looked at me, her eyes full of determination rather than anger, though I suspect she was quite angry, and said, “Sure as hell will if I stick it in his gut.”

I’ll remember that as long as I live.

What I understood at that moment was that the defenseless are not always defenseless.  Sometimes, the defenseless are just as capable of defending themselves as are the biggest and meanest amongst us.

Both of those things, the defenseless and the momentarily defenseless, have worked their way through my life and literature in surprising ways.  I discovered, when I became a deputy sheriff late in life, that part of what drove me was to protect the defenseless, however that might be defined: the young, the elderly, those who suffered mental disorders, those who fought emotional disorders, the politically disconnected, the socially disaffected.

In law enforcement, that usually means someone is getting over on someone else, either by force or force of will. Be it battery or fraud, it leaves victims in its wake, as angry and humiliated as it did the kid version of me.

In my writing, this drive comes through a fractal lens and ends up in all kinds of places to one degree or another. It’s most obvious in my short story Accomplice, originally published in Blue Murder and later in my collection Remembrance and Regrets.

In that story, a defenseless child saves his own life by killing the one person who had, repeatedly, gotten over on him; who had used him as a tool for her own ends. The story was as simple and complicated as that. At the end, I dedicated the story to ‘Batman,’ aka Andrew Vachss. A dear friend of mine, writer Ed Bryant, had once wondered to me if Vachss ever thought of himself as Batman, a superhero for children. Everything of Vachss, his law practice that represents exclusively children, his writing, his speeches and presentations, his very essence, has gone into protecting children and I am, and always will be, in awe of what he’s done.

To ‘Batman,’ because sometimes the children are their own best protectors.

In Hostage, a brand new short novel, I allow the grown up child to protect herself from her own past.  In doing so, she gets over on the man against whom she felt defenseless…and as an added, nasty bonus, takes along two other children the same man has molested, and allows them to get over on him, too.

What I’m doing, I think, is rewriting how it worked out with James and Mom. Maybe trying to create better endings to those incidents so that I don’t feel humiliated or defenseless or that something bigger is running me down. And just maybe I’m trying to emulate my mother on the day of the knife. There’s a great line in a recent Rush song, “In a world where I feel so small, I can’t stop thinking big.” In the song, thinking big is about a boy’s dreams of the outside world. In my fiction, it’s about dreaming that you are bigger than whoever is hurting you.

Yeah, all that sounds pompous as hell, but I do realize I can only change my tiny part of the world, both in reality and in fiction. That’s good enough.  If I can change that tiny part, then I can slip outta my mortal coil, in another twenty or thirty years, and be perfectly happy.

Well, mostly perfectly happy because, after all…this is me we’re talking about and have I ever been perfectly happy?

Hah! Hell, no.

Trey R. Barker's newest novel, Slow Bleed, has just been published by Five Star and begins the journey of Jace Salome, a female deputy at the beginning of her career. Barker is also the author of 2,000 Miles To Open Road, Exit Blood, Remembrance and Regrets, The Cancer Chronicles, as well as hundreds of short stories and thousands of non-fiction pieces. The third book in his Barefield series, Death Is Not Forever, will be published this winter. He is a deputy sheriff in Illinois and a member of the Illinois Attorney General's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, as well as a Special Deputy U.S. Marshal assigned to the Quad Cities Cyber Crimes Federal Working Group.

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