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Not long after, Gale married an older man named Willy Fields, who moved her and the kids to St. Paul. But things only got worse as Gale started an affair with a jealous and abusive man named Otis. One time, while the family were driving around in Willy's van, they crossed paths with Otis, who proceeded to punch Willy. "I was six years old and watching my stepdad get his ass beat by my mom's boyfriend," Carnage remembers, shaking his head. "And then my mom jumped out of the car — and she defended Otis! Like, on Willy's back being like, 'Stop it!'" He swings his arms back and forth, his hands in fists, in imitation of his mother. "Like, what the fuck's happening here?"
But Gale wasn't the only one being abused. Before the family left Chicago, Carnage was molested by one of his uncles. "If I remember correctly, there was no penetration. It was just like, 'Come and sit on Uncle Bobby's lap,' and he's rubbing you and kissing you and stuff," he says. The sexual abuse didn't end there, though. His step-sister, who often babysat the kids, began to coerce Carnage into performing sexual acts, including oral sex, when he was as young as seven years old.
"The way it was kind of disguised was we were playing house," he says. "And when you play house, I'm the daddy and you're the mama, and this is what Daddy and Mama do." His voice is flat, very matter-of-fact. "So we had toy babies and shit and we were like, 'All right, it's time.'"
Those experiences had a profound effect on Carnage, who was too young to understand how inappropriate they were, but old enough to be scarred by them. It wasn't until he was an adult that he told anyone else what had happened, much less started to process it all. "When you're 18 and girls you're messing with are like, 'Oh my god, I've never met anybody who does what you do. How did you learn that?' You're like, 'Yeah, I know a couple of things,'" he says. "Later on, you don't want to tell anybody you learned that shit when you were seven."
After a few years, Willy drifted back out of the picture, and it was around that time that Gale turned to alcohol. Before long, it was crack cocaine. As she sank into her addictions, her already-short temper became even more irritable, her ability to provide for her children virtually non-existent. The family was so poor that they all slept in the same bed — usually just a mattress without even a box spring. "She never had a job, never had a driver's license, never owned anything. And [with] people having to call the police because someone is getting thrown through the walls and shit, your apartment isn't going to last long."
As a result, Carnage began finding ways to provide for himself, scrounging up jobs raking leaves and shoveling sidewalks. And while he did also steal (he insists that it was usually only things he needed, like food), there was something — an internal mechanism, perhaps — that kept him from going too far down that path. "I think it was just part of my personality," he speculates. He pauses to think, once again at a loss to explain things fully. "All I know is I had it — and I'm glad I did, because there were a lot of people I knew who didn't have it."
When Carnage was about 12 years old, he and his sisters were taken from their mother and placed at St. Joseph's Home for Children, a shelter tucked away on a shady hillside near Lake Nokomis. "I remember when they first brought me here, I thought it looked like an institution," he recalls. "You're thinking, 'Do they think I'm crazy? Man, I don't want to get put in a straightjacket and shit.' But then you get inside and you realize, it ain't that bad."
It took three years before he found a foster family that stuck, a couple in Bloomington who basically raised him. On his 16th birthday, Carnage told them he considered them his real parents, and his foster mother started crying. "It was like, 'Why the fuck am I holding on to this dream of having my mom come back to me for?'" he asks. "Your parents don't have to be the people who gave birth to you."
When he was living at St. Joe's, Carnage had a small tape player. It was little more than a lone speaker with an AM/FM radio and a tape deck, but every Saturday afternoon, he would tune the radio to KMOJ and listen to Travitron's Hip Hop Shop. If he was lucky, and he could afford it, he would spend his money on cassette tapes — and sometimes, if he couldn't, he would just steal them. Regardless of what exactly he had at his disposal, Carnage would listen to the tape player for hours on end, absorbing the music of his favorite rappers — guys like Chuck D, Rakim, and KRS-One.