The year that I turned eight years old – the same year that my mother left, that same year my father’s second biography received unfavorable criticism in the New York Times Book Review (“Stratton's latest excursion into the minds of Russia's greatest novelists reads much like the countries current economic climate: dismal, bleak, and saturated in vodka," they said), resulting in the loss of his job as the writer in residence at Columbia University, leading to our having to relocate to Aurora, Illinois (which, more than likely, coincided with my mother’s decision to leave, her being so embarrassed of having to move out of the city she could no longer stand the sight of my father), that year, that same year – was the year my father started doing what I hadn't known was possible. Drink more. And, not to be wrapped in melodrama, but it was also the same year he started to beat me. Trashed, he would stumble through the house slurring my name until he found me and, when successful, ask me problematic questions about the origins of Russian literature. At eight years old, of course, I never knew the answers, and so he would pummel me.
Once, after a particular beating had landed me in the hospital (Poor kid's so clumsy he fell down the stairs, he told the nurses, true only to the extent that he had pushed me), on the drive home, as an act of unspeakable kindness, my father asked if there was something he could do to make amends.
“I want a pet dog,” I said, and my father said nothing, only nodded.
That night he got drunk again, but, instead of hitting me, he went into the yard with a shovel and a bucket. He came stumbling in some forty minutes later, dropped the bucket onto the floor of my bedroom and said, “Here. Your pet.” I peered inside and saw, not staring, because it had no eyes, but tilting its head up at me, a small, gray mole.
“Thanks, dad,” I said, not wanting to be slapped, or kicked, or punched. “What should we name it?”
“His name is Dostoevsky,” he said. “And he’s blind, just like justice. He’s going to teach you about the futility of utilitarianism.” And with that, he hobbled drunkenly back into the hall. I looked back down into the bucket and stared at my new friend, who was wiggling his nose at me. I leaned in close to it and whispered: “It’s a good thing that you’re blind, Dostoevsky, because things have gotten kind of bad around here since mom left.”