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Sunday, September 12, 2010

GetToKnowThe Book: Have You Seen Her? by Chicki Brown


For the life of me, I can’t figure out Taylor Villanova, the bouncer at Frenzy, the nightclub where I recently started working. When I first met him, he came across as a monosyllabic “muscle head.” You know, the kind that never cracks a book unless it’s the latest issue of Muscle and Fitness.

Actually, I was a little afraid of him at first. The man is twice my size, a six foot two, two-hundred-twenty-five-pound tower of sculpted muscle. A study in contrasts, he is so physically beautiful he could be a runway model or movie star yet he resents his extraordinary good looks.

Taylor makes his living using his brawn, but he works a part-time job that displays a sensitive, artistic side I never imagined. He has no problem with using his fists on rowdy, disruptive club patrons but is repulsed by violence against women.

Just the other day I found out that he’s taken it upon himself to look after his widowed mother.

Everything I originally thought about him was dead wrong. He’s the most fascinating man I’ve ever met.


Her thoughts seemed to drift away for a moment. The distant look in her eyes had a sobering effect on him. He broke in on her mental digression. “There’s a reason why I don’t drink.” Her gaze settled on his face. “My father was a drunk. When he got wasted, he beat my mother. I can’t count how many times I had to jump between them to keep him from hurting her.”

Her lips parted in shock, she sat up straight but didn’t speak.

“I started lifting weights in high school. All I wanted was get bigger and stronger than him so I could protect her. It kind of became an obsession. He was a big guy, but he wasn’t strong. That bastard never lifted anything heavier than a bottle of Chivas Regal.” He stopped and drew a long breath. “I rushed her to the emergency room more times than I care to remember. Seeing you with those bruises brought it all back. My mother wasn’t as strong as you are. She never got the courage to leave him. The sick part is I think she still loves him even now. I don’t do alcohol because of him. I know from experience what it can do to people -- to families. Plus, I don’t know if alcoholism is in my genes.”

Dani took the salad bowl he slid across the table towards her. “Did they get divorced?”

“No. He died.”

Her gaze dropped to her plate. “Oh. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I hated him. He got killed in a car accident. DWI - exactly what he deserved.”

The coldness in Taylor’s voice sent a shudder through her body.

“I remember the night like it happened yesterday. The doorbell rang at four o’clock in the morning. It was the cops. They’d come to tell my mother he’d lost control of his car on the AC Expressway coming back from a playing a gig in Neptune. It went over the guardrail and into the Intracoastal Waterway. His blood alcohol level was one point four. He was too drunk to unfasten his seatbelt and drowned inside the car.”

“Oh, God. That’s horrible,” Dani said in a whisper.

“I still don’t understand how or why my mother grieved for him. He’d put her through so much pain during their marriage. I admire you, because as small and fragile as you appear to be, you found the courage to choose to live rather than spend the rest of your life being the object of a sick man’s rage.” He took a deep breath then exhaled. “There are other similarities between my father and me. He was a musician. In fact, he started teaching me the piano when I was about four. Over the years, he played keyboard with different bands. He met my mother playing at a club up in Newark and claimed he fell in love with her that night. They got married in two months and I was born nine months later. He traveled all the time,” Taylor remembered looking off into the distance. “Every time he’d come home, he’d be loaded down with gifts for us like it was Christmas. He bought gifts because he felt guilty about being away all the time.”

Dani didn’t know what to think of his sudden talkative disposition. She took in his every word as he revealed his painful past.

“His homecomings were like little celebrations. I remember listening to him and my mother in the bedroom when they thought we were asleep. I didn’t understand at first because I was little, but somehow I knew it was a good thing. They made love like he’d been away for years then the next morning they’d be all hugged up on each other.” The memory brought a wry smile to his face.

“But by the time I got into middle school he’d started buying liquor from the corner store. The longer he stayed on the road, the worse it got. By the time I was in high school, he’d become a world-class lush. Out of nowhere he started getting violent.”

“Did he hurt you or your brother and sister?”

“Tony never went after us kids. He didn’t hesitate to knock us out of the way though. Their fights were either about his drinking or money. He acted like he forgot she had three mouths to feed and clothe and bills to pay.

He hesitated and spoke haltingly. “The first time he hit me I was fifteen. They were fighting, and I tried to get him off of her. That was all it took to make me know he’d never to do it to me again. The next morning I signed up at the Y, started lifting and learning how to box. I know it probably sounds bad, but I couldn’t wait until the day when I knew I could beat his ass.”

“Did you?”

“I broke his jaw the first time I hit him.” His face remained expressionless, yet she heard a disturbing pride in his voice.

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