The time two grown men pulled me like a wishbone

Douglas Wayne Ricketts
4 min readSep 17, 2023

It was the mid 70s when I was first introduced to real physical pain. I’d led a mostly harm-free existence up until that point but one day at the age of seven or eight my grandfather decided (I hope inadvertently) to change that.

I was at a family gathering at one of my aunt’s houses in Alaska’s Kenai peninsula. It was a fairly large home that had been built by her husband, a successful contractor. My mother, another one of my aunts, an uncle, my younger sister, and maternal grandparents were all there. I was a shy thin kid at that age and preferred to spend most of my time reading comic books or watching TV.

“Jim, grab his arms,” I heard my grandfather say to my uncle as I was trying to watch my favorite game show, “Family Feud.”

Next thing I knew, I was being hoisted by my arms and legs by two grown men I hardly knew. “NO!” I cried out.

Grandpa said, “PULL!”

They both pulled at the same time as if I was a Stretch Armstrong action figure. My grandfather was definitely tugging and I felt pain I’d never felt before in both legs at the hips. My uncle may have just been holding instead of pulling or he may have pulled on instinct at the command bellowed by my obese percocet-addicted grandfather, but whatever the case I felt incredible tension on my arms & shoulders as I tried to wriggle out of the situation.

Kids under ten in the 70s really shouldn’t know the word percocet. I did.

When they were done assaulting me I lay on the floor for what felt like an hour but was probably a few seconds. I quickly left the room and retreated to one of the home’s bedrooms, angry and in pain in ways I’d never experienced.

Shorly thereafter the aunt whose home it was came in to see if I was okay. I was a precocious kid but still shy so I said as little as possible. I don’t recall saying how much I hurt but I do remember saying I didn’t understand why they wanted to hurt me.

“Aw, they were just playing!”

I said nothing in response. I pouted, or hid depending on your point of view, in the bedroom until both men had either left or kept their distance from that point on. It’s a blur as a I write this. Granted, I wasn’t even ten yet. The fact that we humans have any memories of anything that happens before that age astounds me.

An aside, I have a long memory for very specific incidents such as this. For example, recall being plucked from a cold lake on a dock by my father, a giant orange life-preserver on either sides of my face. Years later I asked my mother about that memory and she said I would have been close to the age of twenty months and that she was a few feet behind him at the same dock, afraid of the water because she never hadn’t learned to swim at that point and was pregnant with my sister.

But back to the story at hand… I did learn something that day. I learned that family cannot be trusted to have your best interests at heart.

I never got to confront my grandfather about this. We had a tempestuous relationship as I got older and I essentially cut ties with him around the age of fourteen. When I saw him at family gatherings from time to time the conversations were always very brief and when he passed away less than a decade later I felt absolutely no sense of loss. He was a drug-addled overweight bigot with sexist tendencies who clearly favored my sister over me in ways I still suspect were more sordid than I’d truly like to know.

My uncle is still around. I have attempted to ask him why he helped my grandfather hurt an innocent boy but haven’t done so in a clear and direct manner. But I am also older and don’t necessarily need the answer because I suspect the excuse is that he was also hurt by the same man previously (I know my grandfather used to like to terrify him when he was a child, one aunt loved to tell the story of the time he stuck a walkie-talkie under the boy’s pillow and screamed bloody murder at him one night as the lad was trying to go to sleep) and didn’t know how to process what was happening or register at the time what was misguided damage.

One thing he’s never done is express any kind of remorse for harming me. I also have never asked him to do so.

I am fifty-five at the time this is being written. I still experience pain in my arms and legs for no apparent reason. I cannot directly attribute it to any damage which may have been incurred by the incident of familial torture but it’s hard not to think about that moment every time the pain is centered around the same areas described above.

Don’t hurt kids. Even if you’re “playing.” It sticks with them for life.

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Douglas Wayne Ricketts

I do things! Sometimes music or comedy is involved. Your mileage may vary.