Saturday, November 7, 2009

When he was little and loving the dad and his studio so much the father would make them whimsical things from scraps of wood or leather he found in boxes at the dump and make funny belts with a wooden peg for a buckle or a sling like David used to kill Goliath. He made the boy a magical sword with cufflinks cleverly mounted in the handle like jewels and he painted fanciful lunch boxes for his children that were wholly unlike any other children's and he loved him all the more.

After his father was gone one day he was angry for something seemingly unrelated and he stomped his lunch box flat and threw it away, angry and hysterical and never really understanding why until a later time and then he cried a lot more at what was lost.

There were moments of pleasure though, the occasional child that hit it off with him who’d come over to play after school and the folk dance programs the school staged every spring where they had to learn various square dances and reels. That was closer to his idea of fun.

They played in the hay loft of the barn that was used only for storing hay, making tunnels amongst the bales. They wandered along the distant fences and inspected the spring house, Pat showed him how to shoot bottles in the little garbage dump with his rifle and they blew up stumps with dynamite and chopped wood that Isabel paid them generously for.

One afternoon while they were splitting wood Mel came out with a cocktail in one hand and a screw driver in the other to tinker with the hinge of the screen door and the boy asked him innocently if that was all he did around there, just drink and screw and Mel spat out his drink he laughed so hard he cried and went in to tell his wife, who also laughed, but the boy still didn't know what it was he had said.

Returning home to the school and class mates, once familiar and now though appearing the same, somehow changed and more distant, he didn’t know what he’d lost yet. The father’s absence was acute but never spoken of and so therefore not of significant relevance to those around him, and the feeling of loss and loneliness that hovered palpably yet invisible, just beneath the surface and unbeknownst to him sought out a companion partner in which to share this new understanding of being an outsider in a world that tolerated little outside the rigid confines of the conformity imposed with cold and brutal indifference from anyone invested in power and control.

Standing in line in the hallway one afternoon the boy behind him asked, “So what do you think huh? They gonna gas Chesman tomorrow or not?” He turned in curiosity and asked what he meant. The boy knew all about the impending execution, to take place just across the bay, a man to be led into a small room and tied to a chair while they filled the room with cyanide fumes until he stopped convulsing, writhing, vomiting or what ever came with the territory. The boy thought a minute. “What for? Just because he did something bad…that doesn’t make killing him OK, I mean…” He trailed off and never forgot the conversation, the first ever for him on whether or not it was OK to kill for peace.

The delightful flower he found growing in the cracks of this arid and dismal time was a girl who had appeared since he’d gone away and was only learning English as they became friends. Ingri came from Norway and her father was a visiting professor. They lived not far up the hill. Ingri had no preconceptions about who he was or why he was and they were friends and that was all that mattered.

This was the friendship that transcended all pretence, assumption or bias. She was real, unfettered by the rules and rigid notions that controlled the boys world. At Halloween she dressed as a gypsy and her mother gave her an orange peel to hold in her mouth in front of her teeth so when she opened her lips it was yellowed and discolored. She was European with a small e and did not care about the ossifying culture that was now centering and focusing on cultivated the new consumers, the young and the children who would beg for breakfast cereal and television shows. They got along really well.

He missed his childhood friend at home. He was replaced by another now a few doors away who was different but he didn't know why until decades later and his mother handed him the obituary and then it was all soberly clear.

At home Chris was kind and at school loud and boorish, mocking him in front of his peers. But then at home left to amuse themselves as sometimes adolescent boys may do the curiosity game turned into sex and things got scary. The boy wanted so much to kiss a girl but knew nothing of how to act and so being still a little green didn't act at all, but Chris was less concerned than he and the sex play got serious and one day his mother came in a little soon.

He saw him only twice much later when they had small children of their own, but Chris wouldn’t make eye contact or talk to him. He wondered why until a few years later the mother hands him an obituary and says “Didn’t you know this boy?” This was the tragedy of the closet that when he came out his family abandoned him, he got AIDS and died. The boy felt such grief, he wanted to tell Chris that it was OK and he had no hard feelings, he wanted to say, hey, we were just kids, really it’s OK. But he was dead.

There was the boy with whom he played happily only to have the mother later ask if the friend was Jewish and upon receipt of the naive reply proclaimed him to have “the map of Israel on his face” much to the child’s confusion at why it mattered at all.

He did not know how to protect himself and knew little of boundaries or appropriate fear, he knew only how much he longed for his dad and how to keep secrets because that was the only place for privacy in his hallway world without doors or walls and he did not know how to say no to the man who picked him up hitch hiking when he was just sixteen and trying to get home from babysitting. He offered him a ride to the bus station and would it be OK if he stopped for just a moment since he lived nearby to pick up something he forgot? Would he like to come inside and would he like a cigarette and would he like a Scotch? He felt so very grown up until his pants came off and his penis was in the man’s mouth and his world lurched and his stomach dropped into a pit of shame and he didn't know why and explained to himself that what he wanted was just to kiss a girl, that this was but a way station until the real thing came along.

And so he made it OK in his mind-that man with his cigarettes and alcohol. He put it in a box on a high shelf out of sight and there for decades it gathered dust, toxic dust.

There were tears of rage on the playground from bullies and tears of joy and grief when he got to see the dad after two years when he came to see the sister graduate. Tears when the cat died and tears of disappointment a thousand times he suppressed, later tears of frustration at failing once again to keep a girlfriend, private tears at bad grades he didn't know how to improve. There were tears of anguish when he was told he could not come home from a school that was so strange the mother didn't believe him when he told her the truth, that it was, cult like strange and so obscure no one heard of it again, but she didn’t believe him then.

The mother's special friend did spiritual paintings and gave special readings to lonely wealthy women who longed to know more than could rationally be known, and what does it really mean to know something? She stayed at lovely homes in exclusive neighborhoods, for it was she that had acquired the governors introduction when they’d gone abroad and one night even invited the mother to spend a night in the governor’s mansion as his wife needed to know something the governor couldn't talk about. She had been an opera singer; she was from Minnesota and lived among the Mormons in southern Utah but spent a great deal of time with friends and clients in California. The mother said she was clairvoyant and would tell her the secrets of the astral plane. She said she was her fairy god mother and confidant and though a pleasant woman he really never knew why. He thought she liked the mother’s interest in reincarnation somehow though in those days his real world and the mothers flowed seamlessly together for the boy.

The magazine full of pictures that he liked had articles and images about events not reported in a newspaper. This time was in the dark hell of loneliness and he needed a road map to the future as he was lost and adrift even though his home was superficially comfortable. He needed to know who to become so as to dress his growing self hood with a cloak of identity distinct from what he was being pruned and espaliered into by this mother who was so hard to love.

There was a story about beatniks that gave him ideas that connected to the now far off father that would make sense for how he wanted to change who he was becoming by design and by default, by indifference and by the undertow of the very times in which he lived. There were pictures of a man and a woman posing in an apartment and he could see was different from what he saw around him then. They wore black clothing and the man wore a beret. There was some plant they used for smoking. It seemed so different from the staid world he was forced to encounter. It was attractive and he made a connection to the father and what his heart had lost. Like any child trying to individualize he emulated what he saw that resonated in his heart.