Exactly The Wrong Stuff, Entirely

"Vandenberg Airforce Base ain’t no place to raise yer kids up."

Still, without dedicating one's self to self-denial at a level so extreme as to be Gandhian in its scope and resolve -- there is nothing much to do except make the best of one’s natural drives, even in the relatively inhospitable conditions of a de facto prison for airforce brats.

To be fair, Vandenberg's youth educational and recreational programs, in the best traditions of military indoctrination and extreme institutionalization, were approximately good at providing for some basic needs and education of said brats. Lenore even had a few fond memories of her early childhood, although not because of her little friends on the air base, or because she proudly idolized her pilot father.

Her father actually wasn’t a pilot. He was a skinny-necked, greasy-nailed maintenance schlep in the motor pool. But the usual alcohol-fueled gray lies that those near the bottom of the military food chain have employed on local girls during furloughs, probably since before Hittite armies overran Assyria, had persuaded Lenore’s none-too-bright mother to repeat a seemingly innocuous mistake she had made before, on countless previous weekend 'dates' with other ‘pilots’.

Except this time, the condom broke.

What with with her staunch Southern Baptist upbringing, it had only taken a couple of weeks' worth of wretched morning sickness before Lenore’s grandmother had finally clued in, and shrilly extracted a confession from her teenaged daughter. It had taken another couple of weeks of threats to the base padre, involving laying in wait with subpoenas, firearms, and darkly unspecified hints of worse yet, before a quietly undignified civil ceremony had been arranged.

The blissful newlyweds had settled into a modest new multifamily domicile among the married-with-children quarters. For his part, Lenore’s dad was glad to escape barracks life, even if the linoleum on the floors was the same putrid color. He'd been the constant brunt of cruel slurs to do with having been born and raised far back along a narrow, dead end dirt track winding up into the hills behind Beersheba Springs, in Grundy County, Tennessee.

"You and Uncle Dave like hunting that burnt meat togetha, doncha boy?" his tormenters had always sneered, when he would inevitably hit the sawdust on the barroom floor again, after yet another rigged bourbon-guzzling contest. "When you gonna learn, boy?" they would intone with imagined, phoney hillbilly twangs, while he would heave corn whiskey, supper and bile onto the dusty asphalt of the off-base bar's ample parking lot. Yet again. What was it about California, where even being a bully seemed to carry so much... blonde surfer savoir faire?

If he was lucky, the flyboys might only snicker together and deride him with unimaginative, heavily recycled insults about hillbillies, then unzip their flies and piss on him.

If he wasn’t lucky -- 'unlucky' usually meant he'd spouted an even more ill-informed string of blatant untruths than usual on a particular night -- it might come to having an opened bottle of Jack shoved between his teeth. When this happened, the bottle's burbling contents would slowly chug down and choke him, while he would struggle vainly not to swallow any more liquor. And the downward flow of sour mash would mix with whatever, even sourer, digestive lava was erupting back up his tortured esophogus, squirting past the plug of the bottleneck toward the searing caldera between his bulging cheeks.

If he did manage to battle pathetically up off the hostile blacktop, it might only be to receive another pearl necklace and a shit-kicking. Although he was willing to impersonate one to get laid, he had no love whatsoever for real pilots. They were assholes.

In fact, Lenore's dad had never in his life hunted people of colour back in Tennessee or anywhere else, and as he so aptly reminded those listening when he told the story, he "Don' got a uncle named Dave, neither." Neither of his parents were racists -- his mom zealously wouldn't let it in the house -- but they were both heavy boozers who supplemented their meager income with bootlegging, so their son naturally got started early, swiping the odd bottle of liquor to share with his friends once the old folks were good and pickled.

After the initial shock of the shotgun nuptials had worn off, he'd got comfortable. And got down to an even more serious drinking program at home than he'd ever pursued on one day passes. He'd started training at endless poker weekends with four or five other losers who routinely suffered similar indignities at the hands of the base's hotshot pilots.

Eventually he'd descended to drinking homemade 'shine for breakfast. And wreaking a passive-aggressive revenge on Lenore’s mother. His abuses developed into the sort that, although common as toejam in America, are seldom spoken of on either side of the belt buckle. They became almost-daily, unimaginative, ugly, set-your-watch-by-them episodes. The base's military code of silence was far more effective at covering them than were the married quarters' inadequate shared walls.

But it wasn’t being struck with a practiced backhand or the shouting that Lenore thought were the worst. It wasn't even the drunken visits her dad's friends sometimes made to her mom's bedroom, down the hall from hers, at the bitter ends of all those long loutish nights, nor the futile protests, the stifled sobs, the sound of an open palm smacking bare flesh. It was the suspense of not knowing exactly when the next series of blows might fall.

The threat always hung in the worn apartment. Even as a three-year-old, Lenore felt that it was an immutable part of her world, as much as were the sounds of the thousand crickets drumming in the clinging heat back of the apartment after sundown every summer night, or the way the bare light bulb swayed on the twisted pair of cotton wrapped wires from which it hung in the porch, casting fast-moving ghostly chimarae across walls and the edges of her vision.

Lenore had the instinctually-enhanced emotional radar of a child for whom hyper-awareness was basic to survival. She couldn't fail to notice that the looming cloud of threat always felt way heavier, darker and closer, when daddy brought his friends round after work for a few drinks.