“Then how come Spider-Man has a black suit, but he’s also got a red and blue one? There’s gotta’ be two different guys. Why would he have two suits? That’s stupid.”

One of my cousins, Jimmy, posed this question to me as my other two cousins, Eddie and Chris, flanked him on either side. They all looked irritated.

I was only seven years old at the time and was visiting my cousin’s house with my mother. My cousins lived in a rural town here in Maine called Dixfield – on a farm with no running water. Every morning, we had to fetch cold water from the creek in plastic buckets and haul them back to the house before we fed the animals. My mother had left me there after I’d fallen asleep on their couch. She wanted a vacation away from us kids, so often she would deposit us in different locations against our will. I’d brought with me my only real possessions – a tote bag filled to bursting with comic books. Amazing Spider-Man, Woody Woodpecker, Teen Titans, Casper the Friendly Ghost. We were currently arguing over one of the issues of Web of Spider-Man.

“No,” I said, my head shaking. “He DOES have two suits. The red one is his regular one, but the black one gives him extra powers.”

“Extra powers?” Eddie asked, leaning in to look at a page in the comic I opened up to. “What extra powers?”

“Well,” I said, flipping to different pages in different comics to show them. “See here? He’s stronger than normal. And the suit is ALIVE and it makes him do stuff when he’s sleeping.”

“Bullshit,” Jimmy said. “There’s two different Spider-Mans. Not just one.”

“Nuh-uh,” I said, showing them more examples. “See? That’s him with the black suit and the mask is off. It’s Peter Parker!”

Coming to a head with the argument, I realized later that I should probably have just left well enough alone. But I was passionate about my comic books and about Spider-Man especially. He’d been my favorite hero for as long as I could remember. With each example I gave to back up my statement that Spider-Man did, indeed, have two costumes – the more frustrated the oldest, Jimmy, got…to the point where his brow was furrowed and his cheeks flushed.

“Listen, faggot,” my cousin said, leaning in close. “I don’t care what you think you know. You’re wrong.” He didn’t really know what the word “faggot” meant at that age, and neither did I. But we’d both heard older people call each other that before. I knew it wasn’t a good thing, that’s for sure.

He punched at my head, but I moved to the side and his closed fist banged my left ear, causing it to throb and burn.

“OW!” I screamed. “What the heck!” My pulse was pounding.

Jimmy snatched the handle of my tote bag, the one containing the only real treasured items I personally owned. When I moved to grab the tote from him, Chris shoved me and Eddie stood there with a giddy look on his face, laughing. Meanwhile, Jimmy began to take comics out of my bag and hold them up for me to see, one by one.

“Gimme back my comics!” I yelled.

In response, Jimmy took out one of my issues of Amazing Spider-Man and began to tear out the pages. He laughed while he did so, my own face contorted in anger and pain. I was small, much smaller than him. I’d always been a skinny kid.

In a fury, watching the pages drift to the floor, tears in my eyes – I shoved Chris out of the way. He was caught off guard and stumbled and fell to the floor, tripping over my leg. Chris was about the same size as me, maybe smaller. He tried to latch onto my side, to prevent me from attacking his older brother, who now had his back to me and was ripping up a Tom and Jerry comic. I pushed Chris off with more ease and grabbed Jimmy by the shoulder. He shrugged me off and tore at the books with a renewed fervor, smirking over his shoulder at me.

At this point, Jimmy kicked back with his leg into my groin. A burning ache rushed up through my balls and into my stomach, causing me to double over, the wind knocked out of me. I dropped, looking at ripped pages of art from the comic books on the bare wooden floorboards. Then, as Chris kicked me, I felt weight on my back. Eddie – and he had a hard plastic baby bottle in his hand. He began whacking me in the back of the head and the side of the face with it. I screamed, shrugging Eddie off my back and somehow grabbing the bottle from him. I smacked first Chris in the face and arms and legs with it, causing him to cry out and back up. Then, as Eddie lurched forward to grab it back from me, I got him in the face with it. He started crying, and I felt a sick sense of satisfaction. I wanted to keep hitting him and then move onto Jimmy.

That’s when a larger hand smacked me in the back of the head. As I cringed in surprise and pain, the bottle was yanked out of my hand. It was Debbie, my aunt.

“You don’t touch my fuckin’ kids,” she yelled at me, finger in my face. “Don’t you EVER lay a finger on them.”

I was crying at that point. Eddie, seeing he was in no more danger, ran up and punched me in the stomach. Chris pulled my hair. Jimmy, growing bored, ruffled through the last of my comics and took some for himself, before dropping the tote and the rest of the ripped up comic books on the floor, and going upstairs to his room.

“I HATE IT HERE!” I screamed.

Debbie, a wicked smile on her face, brought herself down to my level. Eddie was now banging the back of my head with the bottle, laughing.

“Yeah? Well, you better fuckin’ get used to it. Because I have you for another week and a half.

My stomach dropped out of me at that point. Two weeks. I would never survive. I would, but I didn’t realize how much worse it was going to get for me there in Dixfield.