Pub. Date:
Devil's Paintbrush: One's Past Doesn't Predetermine One's Future

Devil's Paintbrush: One's Past Doesn't Predetermine One's Future

by K. L. Arthur


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Tuesday, September 28


This is an epic fiction drenched in reality. Devil’s Paintbrush tells the life story a young boy who grows up in a violent and abusive home within the Projects of Brooklyn, Baltimore during the 1960s. Then, as a young man, he once again finds himself thrust in another hostile environment – South Vietnam. Somehow he survives both worlds.

Decades after receiving “The Bronze Star” in combat, Ken Callahan’s long suppressed memories and fractured emotions compel him to enter yet another threatening battlefield and engage a very different enemy – a foe deadlier than any Viet Cong or bird-eating tarantula he ever confronted as a younger man.

This new battlefield is the private office of the Veteran Administration’s top PTSD clinician. His new enemy is … himself.

Within the relative safety of this clinician’s office, Ken is reluctantly dragged-back in time to unearth decades of buried memories of war. That’s when the PTSD professional community becomes stunned as they discover Ken’s combat experience was not as lethal as the domestic violence and sexual abuse he endured at the hands of a disturbed older brother and sinfully wicked mother long before he even went to war.

In short, Ken Callahan’s PTSD was deeply entrenched well before he stepped foot on the battlefields of South Vietnam.

“Discovering” the truth about his own past proves to be challenging enough, but in order to “accept” such truth, Ken must cross a line from which there is no return. The man who ultimately emerges is not the same “Bronze Star” recipient who reluctantly enters PTSD treatment; nor are the people he touches along the way. Only the qualities of a Devil’s Paintbrush can provide the caliber of personal resilience needed throughout every step of Ken Callahan’s life-long journey.

Readers of this story will be either shocked and disgusted or enlightened and educated. There is no safe place between these two extremes.

This book earned positive reviews.

1. "... a heartbreaking tale lightened by hard-won redemption." - BlueInk Review

2. "While not the easiest read because of the harrowing emotional and physical abuse described, The Devil's Paintbrush can offer guidance for survivors of child abuse and suffers of PTSD." - Clarion Review

3. "... the graphic, sometimes nightmarish scenes can be deeply unsettling, and the descriptions of Ken's therapy and dealings with the Veterans Administration help shine a light on the depressingly common struggles faced by veterans today. An inspiring if not terribly exciting tale of falling down but always getting back up." - Kirkus Indie Review

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466977679
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Publication date: 06/10/2013
Pages: 498
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Devil's Paintbrush

One's Past Doesn't Predetermine One's Future

By K. L. Arthur, Dianna Susan Byrd

Trafford Publishing

Copyright © 2013 K. L. Arthur
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4669-7767-9


Routines (Brooklyn, Maryland, 1961)

The three o'clock school bell screamed off the wall freeing the students of PS 239. Kids scampered onto yellow school buses that would soon take them to the safety and comfort of their loving homes scattered throughout Brooklyn, Maryland—one of Baltimore's southern communities. Eager mothers would be impatiently waiting to welcome their kids back to the warmth of their home on this bitter cold, overcast afternoon in February 1961. Hugs, hot cocoa, and endless questions about their school day would undoubtedly be unleashed from very caring mothers as they wait for their fathers to arrive home around 5:30 p.m. Traditional Leave It to Beaver dinners would then be politely shared among all 4.5 members of the average suburban, nuclear family—consisting of one working father, one stay-at-home mom, and 2.5 children (one boy, one girl, and a half of one or the other). Very appropriate conversations about school, family, and neighborhood events would then be discussed at dinner as they continued bathing in each other's love and security.

Later on, their black and white TV set would be watched by the entire family. The kids would then set off to complete homework, enjoy a late snack of milk and cookies, and brush their teeth before heading off to bed. Peaceful sleep would come quickly after being gently tucked in bed by both parents. A series of soft kisses to foreheads along with the standard "Sweet dreams ... I love you" would accompany each tuck.

Such "routines" provided ample nurturance and stability for the kids to meet the demands of the next day's adventure growing up in South Baltimore. This caliber of interpersonal routines was repeated like clockwork every day for the majority of students attending PS 239—Ben Franklin Middle School. Healthy, normal children sprouted from the safety of these well-kept homes, and more importantly, personal values were subtly embedded into the self-identity of these trusting children. Entire generations of mature and caring adults would naturally evolve as a result of these routines yielding future senators, teachers and parents of America. They, in turn, would do the same with their own children.

After all, this was America in 1961—at least that was Little Ken Callahan's view of the world around him. Of course, he was dreaming and wishing. So, when the three o'clock school bell screamed for him, he did not scramble aboard a yellow school bus nor was he safely hustled home by any other means. Instead, his personal journey was on foot through the back alleys of Brooklyn. His destination was the Projects—his home, his neighborhood, his world, and his only reality.

Little Ken was about twelve years old.

The Projects

This community was a complex of government-built, one and two-story row houses constructed for the GIs returning from World War II. It was a low-cost thank-you given by a grateful nation to the men who bravely defended their country on the battlefields of Europe, North Africa, and the Pacific; a well-deserved reward for those who gave so much, for so many, for so long.

This highly segregated (100 percent white) community consisted of approximately sixty separate buildings spread across a square mile in one of Baltimore's most southern neighborhoods. Tenth Street ran through its center neatly dividing it into perfect halves. A management office, maintenance department, and recreation center were located in the heart of this social microcosm and served the needs of approximately four hundred low-income families. Each building consisted of eight side-by-side units, one family per unit. This meant eight families shared a single, flat-roofed redbrick building. Each unit had one rectangular window in the front and back on each floor, and identical white cement porches marked their front entrances in an attempt to replicate the look of Baltimore's more affluent, historic neighborhoods. It was a noble, but futile attempt.

The rear side of each unit consisted of a small clump of grass with a single narrow asphalt path leading to its back door. Running parallel to the buildings were winding strips of asphalt called alleyways. Columns of sagging clotheslines also spaghettied their way along these backyards and alleyways and were accented by an endless array of dented garbage cans and random chain-linked fences (some erect, others not so erect). And countless telephone poles and power lines were defying the law of physics by magically leaning in different angles, every which way except straight up. This unique combination of neighborhood characteristics brought a bizarre yet artistic quality to the Projects. Any well-educated person driving through this neighborhood after taking a wrong turn off Patapsco Avenue could easily conclude they were entering a surreal painting by Salvador Dali. Others could easily pinch themselves into believing one of Picasso's postimpressionist designs was coming to life before their eyes. Of course, the residents of the Projects were just too close, too intimately involved, to truly appreciate the richness of their own backyard in such ways.

Because of astonishingly similar designs, the only way anyone could distinguish one building from another was by living there. To help locate people, the name of each building was solidly drilled on the front corner of the first and last units. Street numbers were never used to identify individual family residences; rather, one's official mailing address assumed the name of their building (not their street). Buildings sharing a similar proximity were grouped together into collectives called courts. And because it would have been politically incorrect, even in 1961, to name such a special community—the Government Projects, the city of Baltimore instead gave it a special name—Brooklyn Homes. This identity just felt more humane to city officials.

Little Ken lived at 4139 Martin Court, Brooklyn Homes, Baltimore, Maryland. Zone Improvement Plan (ZIP) 21225. Nevertheless, everyone in Baltimore still referred to this unique neighborhood as the Projects of Brooklyn. While not much could be done to humanize the design of the Projects, two positive things could be said about them. They were well constructed and very well insulated. Most important to Little Ken on this cold afternoon in 1961, his unit was also extremely warm. The Callahans living room at 4139 Martin Court was sparsely furnished with one long sofa stretching across the entire right wall; it was the only place to sit in the living room. There were no hanging pictures on any walls, actually there were no pictures anywhere in the house except a very special portrait hanging upstairs in the bedroom of Little Ken's mother. A fourteen-inch Sylvania television sat on a small folding table two feet in front of the sofa, and a huge rectangular section of linoleum covered nearly two-thirds of the living room's cement floor. A two-foot high, S-shaped ashtray stand towered in front of the sofa next to the TV, and a single shadeless bulb hung from the center of the ceiling throwing a bright, harsh light down upon everything in its view. The kitchen, even smaller than the living room, was as sparsely furnished. There was a card table in the center of the kitchen that served as a kitchen table. It had four folding chairs—two were opened next to the table and the others were folded and leaning against the wall. There was also a General Electric stove and a Schilling refrigerator in the kitchen. Several cabinets hung over the kitchen sink, and a small cupboard was adjacent to a fully exposed floor-to-ceiling furnace, where Little Ken usually applied his most important personal routine of the day after returning from school—getting warm fast. That is, whenever he was allowed back in his house.

Kenneth Callahan—Youngest Son

He was about five or six years old when his family moved into the Projects of Brooklyn, and he would live around there with his mother, two older brothers, and younger sister for about twelve years—1955-1965. On this specific overcast afternoon, Little Ken tried to run all the way home from PS 239; it was just too bitterly cold to walk. But the folded cardboard serving as the sole of his left shoe had prematurely worn through earlier that day, making his trip home even more difficult. Usually a single piece of cardboard lasted several days before it had to be replaced, but not this time; and he knew the longer it took for him to get home, the longer it would take to reduce the swelling and numbness in his left foot. Actually, Little Ken didn't mind the touch of his sockless flesh hitting the frozen ground on every down step; he could handle that. What really got to him though, more than anything else, was how winter's stabbing air seemed to always find a way underneath his open sole and consistently dart between his partially exposed toes during the up steps. That's what he dreaded the most—the up steps, not the down steps.

The gray sky was beginning to darken as winter's evening quickly approached. Little Ken nearly made it running all the way home, but his lungs gave out at the outskirts of the Projects. He decided to walk the remaining distance. Little Ken was the nickname the kids in the neighbor had given him. He had two older brothers, Butch and Walter; both were much bigger and taller than he; so the kids called him Little Ken. However, some adults around the Projects called him Little Ken too but for very different reasons.

He possessed his mother's British, northern-Euro complexion—light blonde hair, blue eyes, and strong cheekbones. Little Ken also had a blush of freckles running from cheek to cheek giving him that eternal youthful look even on this cold winter's day.

Both of his older brothers were just the opposite—taking after their respective fathers. They both had much darker features and were much bigger in size and weight.

Little Ken was a good-looking kid who, more than anything, wanted to fit in with his schoolmates and neighbors, but instead, he always ended up keeping them at a distance somehow. To teachers and even his own mother, he appeared to have an eternal look of sadness on his face despite his natural good looks. To his classmates, he just seemed more serious about his schoolwork than they were. He was a quiet, easy to get along with kid, who never caused trouble and never drew undue attention to himself. Even though Little Ken was always present in class (seldom missing a whole day of school), the other kids and teachers had to look hard to find him. He was an inconspicuous young boy.

It really wasn't sadness that made him appear so forlorn; rather, Little Ken had just become unsure and suspicious of most people already in his short life. This concerned attitude seemed to etch an ever-present look of worry into his cute, boyish face. His mother, Hilda Callahan, always described him to her new boyfriends, strangers, and neighbors in the following way. "Yeah, he's a good-lookin' kid alright, takes after his mother ... dat's for sure ... but he always looks like he's carryin' the weight of the world on his shoulders ... like he's got somethin' on his mind ... always worryin' ... I don't know, never figured it out 'bout him. He's a gud' kid, my quiet one ... don't give me much trouble ... not much."

Even though she'd always described him in such a way, Hilda knew the exact "weight" Little Ken was actually carrying on his shoulders (as she put it), but she could never openly share that with anyone. Even though his classmates liked him, they still made fun of him because of his serious nature. The older kids liked him too, but for different reasons. Little Ken made a great punching bag and a fine target for perfecting their gang maneuvers. At first, he disliked being a "target," but he gradually became used to it, even started enjoying the attention it brought. He was seldom invited to join pick-up teams in sports except for an occasional football scrimmage and only then just to provide some blocking for a smaller, speedier quarterback. Little Ken was never allowed the privilege of carrying the football. The routines associated with being a target came to suit him over time and even helped prepare him for many combative situations he was destined to face throughout the remainder of his life in the Projects, along the streets of South Baltimore, and later in Vietnam. And the kind of attention he got from his mother made him a target of a different kind—a very special target that June Cleaver certainly would never approve.

On this extremely cold afternoon, Little Ken finally arrived home from school. It was about 3:25 p.m. He tried opening the front door of 4139 Martin Court, but it was locked. He was just hoping for an unlocked door this time due to the extreme cold and because his exposed left foot already had numbed. So he backed off the front steps and looked up at the second-story window. His mother's bedroom light was on, which meant she was home; it also meant she had company. After several minutes of continual knocking, which also achieved routine status in his mind, the upstairs window flew open. His mother then yelled down at him. "Jesus Christ ... cut da' shit, will ya'? What da' hell ya' want, anyway?" Her tone was demeaning and uncaring.

Hilda Callahan's light brown hair was being held up on one side of her head by several bobby pins. A cigarette was dangling from her mouth as she yelled down to her son, who now was turning a deeper shade of blue. The cutting edge of the northeast wind was whipping through the Projects faster than a speeding train down a mountainside. It was relentlessly punishing Little Ken's exposed left foot, gloveless hands, and hatless head. So he started another well-practiced routine—pleading. Little Ken knew he would get only one shot at convincing his mother to open the door, so he was direct. "Mom, please ... it's real cold today. Let me come in, OK? I won't bother you guys, I promise. I promise," he said, looking up from the sidewalk as his hands, arms, and legs continued moving in vain to keep his blood circulating. But the window closed as fast as it opened. She gave no reply. A half hour later, the front door finally opened. Little Ken's mother was wearing a thick red robe with a long flamingo design running from top to bottom on the right side. It was loosely tied around her waist, and one of her breast was nearly fully exposed.

This was not a new sight to him.

Hilda Callahan—Mother

Hilda Callahan was a tall, lean, muscular woman. In some circles, this thirty-eight year old mother of five would be considered quite attractive. However, in other circles, she would be viewed as cheap, a onetime fling, unworthy of even a second glance. Hilda also had a very hardened look about her. She was tough to catch, tougher to hold, and even tougher to escape especially if someone crossed her. People didn't mess with Hilda Callahan. She had "mileage."

Little Ken loved his mother very much; he feared her even more. When the front door finally opened wide enough, Little Ken tried to swiftly race by her to the warmth of the kitchen, but his stiffness slowed him down just long enough for her fist to land squarely on the back of his head. He was momentarily stunned but recovered quickly. Little Ken had this specific routine down pat too. He then made a beeline directly to the kitchen and began virtually hugging the steel furnace without really touching it. It was located in the far corner of the kitchen next to the back door. In a loving response, the furnace returned his embrace by starting to spread its magical warmth throughout his entire body. He dropped to the floor and ripped off his shoes. He then placed the bottoms of both feet less than an inch from the front of the blazing hot furnace. Simultaneously, he placed the palms of both hands as close to the furnace as possible without burning himself. This was always an awkward and "vulnerable" position for him—it was as if his feet and hands were seized by four huge furnace magnets holding him motionless in mid-air. The only part of his body actually touching anything was his butt on the floor. He usually stayed in this magnet position as long as it took to get warm, that is, as long as she would allow. He was just wishing his mother would give him a little extra thaw time on this especially cold afternoon.

His wish did not come true.

She entered the kitchen after a minute or two and walked directly toward him. Still magnetically connected in his mind to his loving furnace, he felt totally defenseless as she approached. Hilda Callahan knew it too. So Little Ken braced himself for the next inevitable blow; he was just too good of a "target" right now for her to willingly pass up such an opportunity. But to his surprised (and delight) a blow did not come this time. Instead, her words, not fists, landed hard. Towering high above her magnet boy, she said, "What da' hell ya' doin' home so early, anyway? I told ya' d'er wasn't gonna' be nutten' here ta' eat today. Why didn't ya' just head over to the Jacksons or Johnsons or Baumanns ... bet d'ey feed ya' 'somethin.'"

Excerpted from Devil's Paintbrush by K. L. Arthur, Dianna Susan Byrd. Copyright © 2013 K. L. Arthur. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Routines (Brooklyn, Maryland, 1961)....................     1     

Chapter 2: High School and Army Induction (1965-1967)....................     45     

Chapter 3: Phu Loi, Vietnam (1968)....................     83     

Chapter 4: Lai Khe, Vietnam (1968-1969)....................     128     

Chapter 5: "All in the Family" (1980-2010)....................     226     

Chapter 6: PTSD—"Reluctant Husband, Reluctant Soldier" (Massachusetts,
2009)....................     299     

Chapter 7: PTSD—"But, I'm Normal, Right?" (Massachusetts, 2009)............     327     

Chapter 8: PTSD—"The Deep Dive" (Massachusetts, 2011)....................     367     

Chapter 9: PTSD—Order out of Disorder (Massachusetts, 2012)................     413     

Epilogue: (Massachusetts, late in 2012)....................     457     

Index....................     473     

Customer Reviews