In the July/August 2019 issue of Boca magazine, we interviewed skateboarding prodigy turned addict, Brandon Novak. We were given permission to share an excerpt from his book, “Dreamseller,” written with Joe Frantz.
“As I walk the six blocks to Mom’s house, my pace quickens, faster and faster. Her house is now in sight. I see her car and I know she’s there. Excitement shoots through me. I am trembling, as I can almost feel the sweet heroin surging through my veins.
Then I see it. I stop dead in my tracks, as my hope of obtaining ten dollars vanishes. The front door of Mom’s house opens, revealing my half brother David, a thirty-two-year-old lawyer who works for the State. He is the proverbial “brain” of our family. Behind Daid follows our older sister Lisa, who, at a young age, voluntarily assumed many of ht parenting responsibilities necessary to raise me while Mom worked her way through medical school in order to provide a better life for us. With my sister are her children, my seven-year-old niece Cindy and eight-year-old nephew Nicholas. Cute little kids, innocent, not yet aware of the world’s evil. The last to exit the house is my mom. In raising us, she had done her best, especially under the circumstances of being separated from our father.
As they father in front of the house, I hide behind a tree, struck with jealous, envy, and remorse as I watch them standing in a circle of laughter and joy.
I grit my teeth at a memory of my childhood, when I was seven and won my first skateboard sponsorship. I remember the pride I felt in watching my mother cry with joy, and in the celebration that followed, when brother, sister, and mother surprised me with a cake on which was written in icing, CONGRATULATIONS, BRANDON! and a little skateboard, sculpted in pieces of chocolate candy . . . .
Hidden behind the tree, I ask myself if I am willing to suffer the humiliation and looks of disgust from my family. I contemplate turning back, but my subservience to Heroin makes my decision to proceed, slowly and cautiously, reciting the lies that I will use to deceive those I love most.
Read all of “Dreamseller,” available for purchase on Amazon.
David notices my approach and calls out, “Hey! Brandon!” At first, happiness is his instinctive response, but in recognizing the familiar signs of my condition, he then recollects the emotional pain I have caused him and my family: deceit, lies, and betrayal. At once, bitterness washes the pleasantness from his face.
Lisa takes notice of me hides her pain for the sake of her children, and calls out, “Hey, Brandon!” I give her my biggest smile possible and rush to her in hopes that I might win sympathy from my brother and, ultimately, the money from my mother.
Lisa embraces me, and her nose reacts, wrinkling her face with disgust as she inhales my terrible stench. Breaking the hug from Lisa, from the corner of my eye I glance sideways to see if Lisa’s kindness is evoking any positive sentiments from David. One look tells me it is not.
As I close in on my mother, I notice a sad disappointment in her eyes, which she quickly hides in order to make this occasion the least painful possible.
My mother asks, “So, Brandon, what are you doing here?”
I reply, “Oh, I had off work today so I figured I’d stop by to say hi.” Lies: I haven’t worked in years, unless you can refer to hustling for Dope as “work,” and I certainly did not come here to say hi.
Mom hugs and kisses me, tolerating my stink because, although I am a junkie, the fact remains I am her son.
Mom says, “We’re going to look at your sister’s new house; do you want to come?”
In my head I cry, “No! I just want to get my dope money and get the fuck out of here!” I do not want to spoil this day for my family, to force them to look at me or smell my putrid stink. But as sick as it sounds, enduring this discomfort is preferable to walking downtown, stealing, and risking arrest, so, I go against all better judgement and answer, “Lisa, that’s awesome; you got a new house? I’d love to see it.
My brother glares at me as if to silently screams, Get the ruck away from us! but he keeps his composure for the sake of my mother and because, ultimately, he does love me.
I turn to my niece and nephew. “Cindy! Nicholas! Come here, let me look at you!” I give them kisses on the head, telling them, “Mommy has been telling me how good you two are!”
A vivid memory fogs my perception as I recall that not so long ago these beautiful children once came with Lisa to visit me in a rehab center.
“What is this place? Why are you here?” they had asked.
I remember how naturally my answer, a lie, was issued forth. “This is where I work.”
We load into my brother’s van. I want to take a seat in the back, to spare them from my stench, but Mom insists I sit up front with David. He clearly does not want this, and I do not want it, but we do it anyway.
I know that before long, Mom will begin to carry on a casual conversation, a social skill I haven’t practiced in years. At this point the only thing I am used to conversing about is where good Dope can be found and what makes of undercover cars the police drive. My mind races as if I had just snorted half a gram of coke, as the barrage of questions, and the subsequent lies, ensue.
MOM: So where are you living?
ME: Well I’m living in Fell’s Point; I have an apartment with a friend. It’s pretty small but it’s OK.
MOM: Oh, that’s nice. And where are you working?
ME: I’m bartending part-time at a couple places, filling in different shifts.Soon one of the places will hire me full-time, once someone quits . . .
MOM: Well that’s good . . .
Before the next question is asked, my brother, who has the opposite personality of my mother interrupts. “So, Brandon, where did you sleep last night?”
A setup. This is a question that, if answered truthfully, will confirm that I have lied, and if answered untruthfully, will be met with a challenge. Whichever answer I give will be the wrong one I answer anyway. “At a friend’s house.”
Here we go. “That’s a fucking lie!” He points out the window, at a park bench. “You look like you slept on that bench last night! And you smell like a goddamn bum!” Correct on all three counts.
My mother screams, “David, don’t!”
His voice raises a decibel. “Mom, stop protecting him! Let’s get real! He smells like a fucking bum from the streets! If we have to spend the day with him, we’re going to have to stop at a hotel or somewhere to get him a shower! This is disgusting!”
My sister remains silent. My mother pleads. “Please, David, stop it!”
David insists. “I will not stop it! Enough is enough! I want him out of this van!”
“Fine!” I snap back. “You want me gone? No problem! You’ll never see me again! I guarantee you that!” The van is traveling ten miles per hour as I fling open the door, stumble and fall on the asphalt, scramble to my feet, and run away in tears and disgrace.
Behind me I hear the sound of grinding gears as the vehicle is thrown into reverse before it comes to a full halt. David, now driving backward, is beside me, pleading, as his anger for my addiction now overcome by his love. “Wait! Brandon, wait!”
“Fuck you!” the only response I could muster.
“Brandon! Look, I’m sorry! Get back in the van! Please?”
For a moment I consider this, only for the purposes of pitting my family’s affections against their judgement in order to procure the money for my fix, but what little pride I have will not allow me to do so.
As they drive away, I turn and examine this mess I’ve caused. My mother is apologizing for my brother. My sister is crying, hiding her face in her hands. And a heartbreaking vision engraves itself into my memory: my little niece and nephew, turned around in their seats like puppy dogs, with tears running down their faces, waving good-bye. And somehow, through their sobs, I could hear one of them call out, “Grandmom, please, just give him the money . . .”
Hearing this, I realize I have not even asked my mother for the money yet, and I arrive at a conclusion horrible to consider: that in my niece’s and nephew’s limited experiences on this earth, although they could not yet comprehend my addiction, their knowledge of what follows, my visits includes an inevitable consequence: I ask my mother for money.
As I walk toward the city in search of the Heroin money, I consider the lesson that had been inflicted on my niece and nephew: In trust, they will find lies. In relationships, they will experience manipulation. In love, they will encounter pain. And this is what they would forever remember that I, their mother’s half brother, Uncle Brandon, had taught them about life.”