Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Memoir in Progress #2

There were so many worlds then, so many faces hovered in the child's field of view and yet he did not know what they represented then, for he was only consumed with his wooden blocks the toy train and the moon that rose over the hills above the Radiation Laboratory, it's lights on all night up on the hill where they were inventing bombs. His mother had him sing 'I see the moon and the moon sees me, the moon sees the one I long to see...' and say his prayers 'Our father who art in heaven', but the only father that mattered to him was the one that sat him on his lap and let him watch while he drew pictures in a book of blank pages.

Sometimes while alone the boy would explore the neighborhood and play in the creek that ran out of the hills and down under some of the streets before disappearing into a concrete tunnel beneath an apartment building. As he did at other times in the park and with friends he would make little dams and route the water into pools of his creation. The summer he was four (or was it five?) he ventured into the tunnel alone to see where it would lead. There seemed to be sufficient light as periodically he would pass by the bottom of a grating covered drain from a street corner which gave enough illumination for him to see by. The tunnel ran on and on gently downhill and presently he realized he was beneath a manhole cover in the middle of an intersection with many cars passing over head. He climbed up the ladder to see what he could and peeking through the ventilation holes in the metal plate could see that he was in fact in the middle of the down town business district. He found it thrilling to have discovered this space entirely on his own and he kept the secret as his own. Quickly he returned to the place he had entered and resumed playing on the lawn in front of the apartment building.

When still in diapers but standing he’d hummed the melodies of composers the parents played on large black disks on a phonograph and they praised him. Later when they were alone the mother would curse him for not being the one he was supposed to be, and swear that she was glad she had banished that man forever and bolts of hatred lightening came from her eyes and shot him through the heart and he did not know why.

In those years he and the sister were close as small children in stressful circumstance might be and they had games together and sang together and he looked up to her adoringly, being the younger sibling who wanted only to please.

He did not know that it was not safe there, that with the mother’s charms and ways, the sister and her cold eyes behind glasses who barely tolerated his inquisitive longing to belong, to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was loved. And in his naïveté and ignorance he happily played whatever game she suggested and they made little bowls of plasticine clay and put dabs of the ground green salad the mother made and placed them on the window sill for the fairies. In time the boy would come to understand that he had to protect his own world from assault and ridicule but it would be a long and emotionally expensive education.

He played with another little boy and they were barely three feet tall and wanted to play on the lawn across the busy street. No one was watching and they ran across and played on the velvety grass in front of the house where the boisterous college boys sang and shouted and parked their loud cars. Those older boys were scary and noisy at times but part of the fabric of this college town world, as much as milk men and their trucks and the ice man that came every other day to deliver blocks of ice and give a lonely child a piece as big as a cake to suck on when the weather was hot.

When he was alone and listening to music the spirits would descend into his soul without bidding and he found himself with trusted friends.

There were bells that chimed the hour and bells in the morning and evening that sounded glorious music that could be heard across the hills and through the trees when the air was still. He heard those bells deep inside long after, when he was most troubled or lost and the fox was unable to reach him, the bells would sound lullaby for him and he would thank the gods he’d been born to hear them ring. In later years he would run into a girl he knew slightly who was musical and she would invite him to come up in the tower with her while she played the carillon, pumping with wooden levers attached to cables that moved the bells and the clanging of the massive bronze bells striking each note, that could sometimes be heard for miles across the hills shrouded with trees and fog. It was so extraordinary, hearing a piece of Bach, a Christmas carol in December, a song popular long ago and much more that he could not put it into so many words the sense of enchantment that he felt.

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