Excerpt from Unchained: How a Small Chunk of Kindness Changed my Life Forever

…because momma didn’t raise me right. I know that, now, but only after years of therapy: Physical and mental. It takes a lot of work to disentangle one’s self from such an inauspicious beginning. For that, though, I really do have to—again—thank my brother Lawrence for sticking with me. There were many nights when I felt like giving up and Mr and Mrs Cohen, my new parents, would remind me that I was their son now, that they had chosen me, and there was nothing in life that couldn’t be settled with a little hard work and a whole lot of pizza. (And did we ever eat our fair share of pepperoni!)

The love of the Cohen family brought me through the darkest times. Really, all of my extended family: The Walshes, Wangs, Steinbrenners. (I even love the Perkinses, some of the time.) Interesting thing, this, experiencing love after so many years of what I now understand to be abuse and manipulation, fear and control.

I think, at its core, this is what drove me to pursue my doctorate, to commit my working life—and, I must say, a large amount of my personal life—to providing therapy to those who have had rough starts in life. It is so very precarious, the path we start upon, so very meaningful and fragile. I still wake some nights in a cold sweat, certain that I am shackled, convinced I’m in the cold-wet darkness of a prison, not the periwinkle walls of my warm, safe room.

Momma still haunts me, even now.

How is it possible that someone my size could be intimidated by anyone, much less an old woman a third my size, hobbled by years of nicotine and bad choices? But it is not the full grown horse that can be tethered, it is the foal yet inside him that stopped trying to break away years ago.

Jake and Francis still write to me. I understand that it is from a place of desperation. That they have no other means; that manipulation is not something they are even aware of, so familiar has it become to them. They say that it is to make amends—that I am their only living relative, their brother—but that’s not it at all. They have seen my interviews, read my books, and they want my money to find its way into their accounts so they can buy opera CDs and cigarettes and Chocolate Eruption ice cream in the prison commissary.

I can’t do it.

I have forgiven them—they had the same mother (none of us had the same father)—but I can’t take that additional step, not yet. My own healing has not reached that level of maturity; the pain is still too real.

Besides, lest we forget, they tried to kill my friends!

Alas, it is at this point I must again apologize for jumping around so much. I did warn you in the first chapter that, while my fictional work is taught and well-edited, my faculties in writing memoir would be nothing of the sort. (I find those to be the best, most rewarding kind though, don’t you? Honest, unfiltered. Truthful.)

That said, going back to some amount of chronological narrative seems appropriate at this point. So, let me take you to when I first met Lawrence.

I knew something was happening upstairs. Momma and the boys had returned a few minutes before the commotion—The loud ‘bang’ I found out later was a gun shot. (How I wish I’d been free of my chains, how I may have prevented the death of that FBI agent.)

There was quiet again, before I became aware of a presence in the room with me. The TV was on, I think it was a parade, but I heard something else, something behind me. Little did I know at the time that this chance encounter would change my life forever; that it would lead to adventure, to rehabilitation, and eventually to my life turning around to such a degree that not only was I conferred multiple advanced degrees, both earned and honorary, but—much more importantly—a wife and children of my own; a new family!

There is no way for me to adequately express how such a simple gesture, a small moment of kindness, could alter my seemingly unalterable life-path.

That’s when my adopted brother Lawrence—Chunk, as we affectionally called him then—shared a candy bar with me.

A Baby Ruth…

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