The October People. Chapter 33: The Boy in the Box.
So many changes.
I never listen to the ‘news’ anymore. Mel used to refer to me as a “News Junkie”. I would scour the internet, foreign newspapers, the “Wall Street Journal”, both AM and FM dials, and Short Wave; and kept reams of detailed notes on significa.
All that preoccupation with what passed for ‘news’ from the self-serving P.R. and propaganda machines, all that backing up of my contentions with ‘proof’… and I never affected a damn thing. I never made a dent in anyone’s opinion on anything.
And all the while I was blind to what was in front of me.
This process is a double-edged sword. On the one hand I am regaining my past, I’m beginning to learn to see relationships clearer, and I’m expunging unwarranted guilt and undeserved curses. On the other hand; I’ve had to admit to myself that I’m not a ‘White Knight’ or a ‘Philosopher King’. At bottom I’m an uneducated street kid, with a late overlay of a smattering of self-education.
An Unguided Missile. Or a “Self-Sown Seed” as the Chinese say.
Why has all the sh*t hit the fan at once?
The truck keeps dying every single time I go job-hunting. It stalls out at every intersection. I’ve pushed that goddamn vehicle more than I’ve driven it. Then the side mirror falls off and breaks. Then it fails inspection because the rear shackle mounts have rotted off. I find a possible welder for it and now I can’t get it started at all. So now I can’t look for work. Putting your resume out on-line is a joke. The economy’s crashing, more and more people are losing their jobs while I’m looking for one, and our money is almost gone. All my hopes and plans have once more turned to SH*T!
OH, THANK YOU VERY F*CKING MUCH! WHOEVER’S RUNNING THIS; THANK YOU SO VERY F*CKING MUCH! F*CK YOU, YOU BASTARD! GO AHEAD, DESTROY ME! JUST GIVE ME ONE CRACK AT YOU, YOU MOTHERF*CKER!!
This has driven everything else out of my head. Nothing else matters now but getting that truck to pass inspection and running decently.
Without it we’re jobless.
Without a job we’ll be money-less.
Without money we’ll soon be homeless, and the f*cking Witch’s curse will have come true.
DREAM JOURNAL March 9, 2008
I was searching for something. I didn’t know what, and there was a call to attend to other things, but I was compelled to search. I had to. I searched through a pile of bed-clothes and sleep-things.
Some words were somehow attached, or associated with this search, one was maybe a name. But how or why they were, and what they were, I don’t know. The best I can do remembering the name was something like ‘Boo-Hoo Sluv Martinoo’ and the word was something like ‘Whose-le’.
“He knew he had to search to find It.” a voice had begun to narrate.
“He didn’t search carefully, in a logical manner. He searched like an old fisherman fishes; intuitively.”
I watched a pair of hands find and lift up a large crystal-glass bowl. It had a big piece missing from one side. Sadly, I thought that even if the missing piece could be found, it too could be in pieces. And I was certain that some of those missing pieces would never be found, so that beautiful bowl could never be used.
“He knew if he could find it, he would be healed.” the voice continued.
I saw hands lift up the missing piece and slip it into place on the bowl. There weren’t any missing pieces and the glass seemed to meld together; to heal and become whole.
The hands extended the healed bowl to another set of hands.
I had a brother who was estranged from me. When he saw the crystal bowl he was in awe. His hands reached out and clasped the bowl and his brother’s hands. They were healed and reconciled.
I can’t believe it! Just when I think I’ve gone as far as I can, that I’ll never fill in anymore gaps, something subliminal and ephemeral is sensed that leads to another breakthrough!
In the midst of all this stress, I’ve finally remembered The Violin! The one thing the Witch had no cover story for, just denied was real for fifty years! I never knew whose it was. I had remembered that the woman who showed it to me was Loony Lily, but whose violin was it? I have it now, I have it!
It was mine!
I got that violin from Babi and Dede as a Christmas gift when I was 4 and a half!
Incredible! On a hunch, I looked up the word I heard in that dream in a Czech dictionary. The Czech word for violin is ‘Housle’, pronounced just like I heard it!
(The 'name', if that was what it was, in that dream still puzzles me though.)
A sea change was beginning within me at that age of four and a half.
As my hero Popeye put it; I had all that I could stand, and I couldn’t stand any more.
Maybe it was television that helped start it. Now that we had one, I saw idealized families there with patient, wise, loving, parents. I learned what made a hero a hero, and a villain a villain.
Maybe it was also watching Jakey be treated so differently than me. For whatever reasons, I began to understand I was not being treated fairly.
Without something to compare against, it’s not possible to judge. You can’t understand that you’ve been in darkness until you experience light. With no older siblings, no friends, and only rarely seen cousins, I had had nothing to compare against.
Now I did. Feelings of resentment, resistance, and defiance rose up out of frustration. A concept of ‘Justice’ had emerged, and I began to assert it. I began to blurt out: “That’s not fair!” and began to refuse, to balk, and to argue. I now actively tried to get away from the clutching hands.
I felt not only fear of Al now but also contempt. I felt superior to him whenever I saw him stumble, knock things over or slur drunkenly. He seemed like a mindless, drooling Ogre. If only I was bigger and stronger, like Superman or Sampson, then I could fight him.
He was drunk a lot, especially on weekends. That’s when I was in the most danger because my new resistance gave him another justification for beating me up: Punishment richly deserved for ‘disobedience’, for thinking I was better than he was. He could finally feel self-righteous for what he did.
And if I didn’t give him an excuse right away, he taught me to by goading, goading, goading me until I couldn’t stand the pain or terror and would begin to strike out to get away from him. That was what he was working toward; his justification for beating me with his fists, throwing me into walls, and kicking me until he was satiated and out of breath.
He showed his ‘gang’ his new toy once I developed a consistently angry response to his ‘teasing’. It was a great source of amusement for these ‘men’ to encircle me and tease me into that tearful, frustrated anger.
To me they were huge monstrosities with evilly glinting narrowed eyes and mean smiles as they hemmed me in with those bodies that had no more give to a 4-year old’s efforts than would a mountain range.
They kept it up until I began to fight back, blindly kicking and flailing out at them through my tears. With the tears began the taunts of “Sissy Mary!”
All through those months my anger was building. There became less and less tears, and the fighting back began earlier and earlier.
They began to call me instead: “Ferdinand the Bull”.
By that Christmas I was worn down to a frazzled, brittle edge. Instead of gaining weight, I was losing it.
One day I was sitting alone on the couch as near to the Christmas tree as I could get. They were gone. They had left me behind again. I picked a single needle off the tree, crushing it between my fingertips, and breathed in the sweet, spicy aroma. I felt very much alone; but I preferred it. I was safe when I was alone, and felt at peace only then. I was now possessed of the same core sense of self then that I have today.
On that Christmas morning Al captured on a home movie the tormenting of a small child.
It’s ironic that this film clip is the only home movie of a Christmas in that apartment. I had gotten a “Rin Tin Tin Fort Apache” set. The T.V. show was very popular then and this toy was based on it.
I kept trying to put the fort together and stand it up but little Jakey kept crawling over the top of it all and smashing it down with swipes of his chubby arm. I was in fits of frustrated anger. Al and Lily mocked my tears, laughing at my frustration, and encouraged Jakey on to further havoc. If I even looked like I was going to make a move to stop him, the laughter was cut off instantly.
“Leave him alone!...Gawon, Jakey, gawon!”
I couldn’t stop him.
All the while Al was sing-songing “Sissy Mary! Sissy Mary! Sissy Mary!” as he filmed my tears and Jakey’s invulnerability.
I had no pajamas; under my robe I only wore underwear. In my distress the robe fell open. My thighs were nothing but bones, making my knees look like softballs on the ends of a pair of sticks. Melissa was horrified, disbelieving, when she first saw that clip. She would tell me that I was emaciated as an Auschwitz survivor.
The “Fort Apache” set was taken away from me because Jakey wanted it and he was “too little” for it.
The fact that it was mine not his, did not enter into it; what was mine was his. What was his was not mine. I was allowed only one toy at a time. Usually, after I had played with them once or twice they disappeared. They might show up eventually in that box of toys under the bed in Grandma’s house, or re-appear years later on Long Island for Jacob or George to play with, or they might just never be seen again.
When Jacob was a little older, I began to protest, to ask why my toys disappeared. I was told the apartment was too small for a lot of toys, and as there was no room for both Jakey’s toys and mine; mine had to go. My questioning was portrayed to me as another example of my being a selfish, spoiled brat that would rather see a baby’s toys taken away than his.
Later that day we went up to Saratoga for dinner and to exchange gifts. There was a beautiful, lush, Christmas tree in the corner of the living room near the window with gold and white lights and sparkling silver garlands. Dede sat closest to the tree and handed out the presents. From Rosa and Ralph, I got a toy “Coca-Cola” soda fountain that dispensed real Coca-Cola into miniature “Coke” glasses.
Then Dede picked up a box and had it passed to me.
In it was a violin: A real violin.
Everything stopped inside me. I never saw anything so beautiful in my life, and it was given to me. The amber wood glowed with a soft luster. I took the rosin from the box and held it up to my nose, breathing in deeply. Mysteriously, it and the tree shared the same fragrance.
With a wide grin, Dede encouraged me to try it.
I tucked it under my chin, feeling the wood instantly grow warm to me.
When I drew the bow gently across the strings, it began to skitter and a sound like a screeching cat emanated from it. The room erupted into groans and laughter, except for Lily and Al, who remained frozen. I didn’t care about anything; I had my own violin.
I was begged laughingly by Dede to spare everyone and not bow it anymore right now. He told me I’d learn to play it; he and Babi were paying for lessons for me. He’d already talked with my parents, and it was okay.
I shot a surreptitious glance at them. That did not sound right. All I saw in their faces was a dead unreadability.
I turned my attention back to the instrument of my salvation.
I held it on my lap, turning it over and over reverently. The sound of conversation blurred and dimmed until I wasn’t aware of it at all. I cautiously felt the pegs and traced the carved scroll with a finger.
I ran my fingers down the taut strings, and then plucked one gently. Then another. They made a pure, sweet sound that lingered hauntingly in the air. I followed each note with my ear until it faded away somewhere. Nothing existed for me but that violin. With every sense I possessed I made every detail a part of me. I didn’t even notice that the others had gone back into the dining room for coffee and cakes.
I heard my name called, startling me, and only then realized I was alone in the room.
Nothing was said on the ride home about lessons. As I was afraid, the violin and the Coke machine were “put away” immediately upon our return to the apartment. I was coldly informed that the violin was not a toy and it was too noisy to be used in the apartment.
Lily was loudly annoyed at “some people” who were so inconsiderate as to give musical instruments that were noisy to children.
I have no idea how Dede arranged to be able to bring me to a concert, but there I was, seated on Babi’s lap. I had a clear view of the rows of men in black suits and ties, sitting in chairs and moving rhythmically together.
Smetana’s “Vltava” flowed over me in a river of sound, flooding my soul with its beauty and power; even though it conjured visceral memories of rising and falling on the Atlantic’s broad waves.
I was spellbound. Somehow people were making this happen, making something happen that put me out on the ocean again, but safely now. It was the most magical thing I’d ever experienced. I had no idea people could do that; people made that music. And now I wanted to do that in an aching, desperate way. Dede watched me closely, smiling.
As profoundly as the music affected me, there was something else also that did. Those people I saw around me were worlds apart from my parents; they seemed like another, better, nobler species.
And I wanted that too. I wanted to be a part of that, to live in the midst of that.
“There’s something you have to do.”
Those words, or ones to that effect, have always caused an instant stomach-clenching whenever I hear them, or even think about them. It’s always followed instantly in my head by the thought “What? What am I supposed to do?” Somehow, it’s connected to what Dede told me, but someone wouldn’t tell me what it was that I was supposed to do, and I didn’t have a clue. Then or now.
According to the time-line I’ve filled out; that circus that I remember Loony Lily taking me from must have been in the spring of 1957.
Still no word from Erica. I’ve been puzzling over what word to use to describe my relationship with her.
I don’t have one with Jackson anymore. In a way, I appreciated his expressing his dis-interest in me. At least I know where I stand.
With her, it’s more uncertain. It’s certainly not a father/daughter relationship, or even a friend/friend one.
So what is it? Maybe it’s a ‘bothersome-acquaintance-that I-occasionally-have–to–talk-to’ one.
I don’t know.
Between the ‘Bellevue treatment’ and ‘180 degrees Liliy’, I didn’t know what end was up.
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair”.
Up is down, and down is up.
Bad is good and good is bad.
That never happened; this happened.
That’s not what you feel; this is what you feel.
No doubts or arguing was allowed.
No wonder I couldn’t trust my own perceptions and feelings about things. I was told over and over they were wrong, and they didn’t fit what I was told reality was.
When I first started this process, doubts were constant. Over time, as more memories and evidences emerged, a sense of surety gradually developed, that held down the doubts about anything; except for one thing: ‘The Golden Pig’. Nothing has happened. I’ve said this was really a prediction as well as a memory. If the prediction fails; so does the ‘memory’.
And if there never was anything, and that memory was not a real one, it throws all my other memories into serious question. I will have played the fool, and fallen into the center of a malevolent universe’s web, where there is no help.
But it’s also possible there was something out there but it’s gone now. Maybe that’s what Loony Lily was hinting at. Maybe she did have to tell me by a certain time; by the ‘Year of the Golden Pig’, like Melissa has been maintaining. And if she didn’t, and that window of opportunity passed; it was gone forever. Doesn’t really sound likely though.
All I know is; I got to get a job. NOW.
It’s as bad as I had hoped it would never get. The truck ate up $800 for a fuel pump and I can’t find anyone willing to weld the frame, so it’s now illegal to drive because it failed inspection. And still not a whiff of a job offer. Melissa has lost all faith and feels utterly desolate. I fully understand and sympathize.
There is no justice. Funny; I know that good people and children suffer terrible injustices all over the world daily and from time immemorial. But it only really hits home when you feel you’ve been denied justice. And why? I’m no more deserving than all those nameless, forgotten children who died at their parents’ hands. At least I survived. So many others didn’t.
When it involves you though, you feel there should be justice.
Absorb the blows and keep on going.
I feel so bad for her.
Erica called tonight about 8:30 p.m. I told her she should have waited one more day, it would have been her birthday and I would have called her as always. She said she probably wouldn’t be home.
At first, she just chatted about her trip to Arizona, what airline she took and what a drag her boyfriend was to travel with. When she finally got back to work, her desk was piled high with work. She had finally gotten caught up; that was why it took her so long to get back to me.
Along with the photos of me as a kid I had also sent her another pile of photos of her and Jackson, a lock of her baby hair and her original birth certificate.
“…and now I know what time I was born. You know, I thought my hair was darker than that when I was a baby. And thanks for those pictures of you. I realized I have no pictures of you from when you were small.”
“That’s because there aren’t many.”
“You know what?! That photo of you on the stairs freaked me out! It freaked me out! You know, I have to confess, when you first told me about, you know, what you told me, you know, about a ‘Boy in the Box’, you know, about the violin, I thought you had somehow confused in your memory that story with yourself, you know…”
“What story? Erica, what are you talking about? What ‘Boy’? A violin? Did I ever tell you about my seeing a violin?”
“I thought you did. Didn’t you?”
“No. But I’ll tell you now. All my life I’ve had a memory of seeing a violin in a box held by some woman. A couple of days ago I finally remembered: It was Lily, and that was my violin.’
“Yeah, see? That’s why I thought of the ‘Boy in the Box’…”
“Erica, what is this? What are you talking about? What boy in what box?”
“It’s this really famous unsolved murder. This little boy was found dead in this box. They figure he was 5 or 6. He was naked, starved, and really battered. The police couldn’t identify him, so they had an artist’s reconstruction of what he may have looked like put in all the papers asking for help in identifying him.
That’s why I freaked out so bad when I saw that picture of you, you know, because you looked just like him! You looked like the ‘Boy in the Box’! He had a scar under his chin too, and I thought of the violin. They thought maybe he had played the violin, because in the old days people got cut under their chin from their violins because they had no chin-rest. You should ‘google’ it.”
“I’ve got a scar under my chin, but it’s not from a violin.” I answered, confused by what she was so rapidly blurting out. Where had she heard all this?
“Did you have an older brother?”
“Because that ‘Boy in the Box’ sure looks like you.”
“No, though Lily sure did look pregnant in her wedding picture.”
“You should check it out. “Google’ it, you should ‘google’ it.”
“Did you see the scars in the pictures that I wrote about?”
“Oh yeah. I saw all the ones you were talking about; under the hair on your forehead…”
“And the ones on my cheek?”
“Yeah, but not the one on your throat. I couldn’t find that. Oh, and yeah, serial killers do hide just like that, by seeming perfectly normal and harmless.”
“I don’t think Al is a serial killer, though at first I was concerned he might be. I only brought that up as an analogy.”
“I understand. The ‘Boy in the Box’…”
“Erica, c’mon. What is this? Can’t you tell me anymore about this kid? Why do you keep bringing it back up?”
“’Google’ it. You can ‘google’ it. But I’m warning you, it’s a really horrible site. When I first saw it, it gave me nightmares for weeks.”
“This ‘Boy in the Box’…When did it happen?”
“1956 or ‘57”
“Queens or Long Island.”
My hair damn near stood on end. “What was this?” That almost unhinged me, and it did unhinge my jaw. I began to talk; I quickly sketched out some of what I remembered happening to me.
I told her when I was little, I was often left alone, tied off by my ankle to the radiator or locked in the bathroom for so long that I had to drink from the toilet. I took a deep breath and told her I was raped by Al in the bathroom when I was 4 and about the broken bones and teeth. I told her that though I didn’t feel comfortable about going into any details, there had been sexual abuse beyond the rape.
“I knew there was going to be sex abuse in here somewhere!” she crowed.
“What do you mean?” I asked suspiciously.
“I mean, it figures. With everything else they’d done, I figured there had to be sex abuse too.”
Feeling a little leery now, I continued on and told her of the fight that October evening and that I had stabbed Al, and his explanation for the scar.
“Like he’s the type to have a birthmark removed!” she scoffed. “Did you write any of this down?”
“All of it. I was also…”
“Can you make me copies? I’d love to read it.”
I told her I’d been given Electro Shock Treatment, and that I thought it had been at Bellevue.
“Were you able to trace any records?”
“No. There are no records older than 2000 anymore.”
“You know, when I fought Al, I won something that night, but they stole it from me…”
“But you did win, Dad! You remembered, even with all the electroshocks, you remembered! You did win!”
“Thanks, Erica.” I murmured gratefully, even though at the same time my mind was racing, pointing things out. “How did she know there was a lot of shocks, not just one or two? How did she know it was supposed to destroy my memory?”
“Send me copies of all this, okay? I’d love to read it.”
“I’m not sure why all those attempted murders on me by them, but it might be because Al doesn’t think I’m his. And I got a feeling that he and Loony Lily were in trouble because I told the cops it was them, but she came up with a story that made it look like someone else did it, not them.”
“You’re going to send me copies of all this, right?”
“Erica, there’s too much stuff, and a lot of it is scrawling, notes on backs of scraps of paper…”
“I don’t care. I’d just love to read it.”
“Well…What are you looking for? I’ve got piles…’
“Anything. As much as you want.”
“I’ll put together some of the more readable stuff to give you an idea of how I worked this. You know, the reason I’m being so persistent about this is because of Justice, and because parents affect children, who become parents and then affect their own children. This chain has to be broken….And I’m concerned that my childhood may have affected the way I raised you two…”
“You were a wonderful Dad! And the way you always used to tell me to ‘Be strong, Hon’, really helped me in some difficult times. God, my happiest memories were out there with you and Melissa!”
“Thanks, I tried…Tell me: Did your mother and I ever leave you two alone overnight with Al and Lily?”
“No, I don’t think so. Why?”
“The reason I ask is that I think at least Kathy may have been a victim of Al’s nighttime visits too, and I wondered if…”
“I don’t remember anything....So you’re going to send me that stuff?”
I assured her again I would. Then when I told her of his reaction to Rosa’s telling me that “Dede was right all along” and how I found her statement puzzling, she broke in.
“Well, of course he would have known! Of course, he would have believed you!”
“What?” “Why’d she say something like that?”
“Have you been talking with any of the ‘family’?”
“No….The only ones I talk with are Jackson and Mom… Jackson talks with them occasionally, but I think he’s just being polite.”
“So, you haven’t been in contact with any of them?”
“No…Except for Dede, about a year after me and Sarah came over that night around Halloween. Sorry about that, by the way. I told him I’d felt used and didn’t want to get involved, and that was the end of that….Oh, yeah: I did get voice mail from Uncle George twice, but it was late, around 1:00 am his time and he sounded really drunk, so I didn’t answer. Are you still talking with any of them?”
“No. I tried to talk with George, but he wouldn’t listen. None of them has ever asked me even once what it is I’m saying, not once…”
“I think he’s creepy.”
“He made a bad enemy out of me with that call he made when Lily died.”
“Right after she died he called and left a message blaming Mel for everything. Every other word was an expletive, but for once he sounded sober. So, he can’t blame that one on the booze. There’s an account to be settled one day.”
“How about Aunt Kathy?”
“No. All I ever heard from any of them was ‘Call Mommy’. And they’ve blamed Melissa for ‘brainwashing’ me.”
“What do you mean; why? Because she’s an easy target, right? The ‘Evil Stepmother’? The ‘Second Wife’?”
“Why do you think Aunt Kathy blames Melissa? What makes you say that?”
“Because on one of her messages, she said: ‘I don’t know who’s going to erase this’”.
“Tell Melissa I love her. Call me anytime you want to talk about this. I mean it.”
“Thanks. I’ll tell her.”
“Call me anytime about this, I mean it. I love you, and…I love Melissa…I love hearing from you guys….And don’t forget to send me all that stuff, alright?”
“Okay, Dad, I have to go. I’ve got to get to my softball game and my phone’s battery is almost dead, but I love you, and I hope you send me that stuff. Tell Melissa I love her, and call me anytime about this; three heads are better than two on something like this. I mean it.”
“Okay, Hon, I’ll let you go. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’ve restored my faith in humanity. I love you.”
“I love you too. Okay, bye.”
Another Rubicon crossed. I mailed out a packet of my ‘memory work’ to Erica.
Because I had a sense that she was lying and has indeed been in contact with the ‘family’, Melissa thought it important that she know about the two episodes of nighttime prowlers here, because there may be a danger to her. She wrote Erica a letter explaining what happened. I included a note to confirm Melissa’s account and warning, adding my weight to it.
I confess I have no idea why she was so insistent on getting this material. Is she really interested? Was she just trying to get off the phone? Did she want to show them around? Did someone else put her up to it? Whatever her reasons; she’s the first and only ‘family’ member who’s asked to read what I’ve remembered.
I’ve had enough of being silent.
It’s been a while now since I mailed that package off to Erica. Unless the Postal Service is remarkably inept, she should have gotten it by now. I consider it a good test to ask myself what I would do in her place: Upon receiving that packet, I would have called immediately. It’s just common courtesy.
So; why the delay? Why the silence?
My remembering being given that violin has been slowly re-awakening other memories and feelings. That which I didn’t dare hope for actually happened.
One afternoon, Dede and I sat in a row of wooden folding chairs and watched a string quartet practice. He smoked his cigar while we waited.
After the musicians had finished and were standing among the music stands in their shirtsleeves, he took me by the hand and brought me to meet a smiling, slim young man with almost auburn hair who turned to greet us. He was talking to a tall, balding man with a long face,
who I later learned, rented an apartment in the building Dede owned.
In awe, I was very quiet but took in everything. I was very excited to learn the young man was going to teach me here every Saturday afternoon.
He wouldn’t go to the apartment.
The first day of my lessons, I waited expectantly in the apartment building’s vestibule near the brass mailboxes with my violin. As soon as I saw Dede show up, I was out the door.
As he drove, we chatted and I watched the compass on the dashboard spin crazily whenever the car made a turn. The Saint Christopher medal, the rosary beads hanging off the rearview mirror and the little luminescent plastic Virgin Mary on the dash were Babi’s talismans for safe travel.
The lesson was held right where I saw the 4 musicians practicing. I faced Dede, who sat at ease in a sports jacket on one of the folding chairs, his right arm across the back of the adjacent chair, his legs crossed. A slender man’s hand came from behind me on the right and guided my hand in pulling the bow across the strings. He talked quietly to me.
I learned that the pressure on the strings is what controlled the sound. He showed me that I could make sharp, quick sounds by touching the string quickly with the bow, long, smooth sounds by steady pressure as I pulled, or skittery ones by letting the roughness of the bow catch on the string by light touch.
People went back and forth past us. Many were in black vests and bowties, jackets over their arms. There were women in long satin dresses; deep, rich red and black ones.
I was conscious of being noticed and I felt exquisitely happy, and at home at last. I was going to be one of them; I was going to learn to be like them. I was going to learn. It made me feel intent and serious.
From time to time people would stop briefly, watch quietly for a while with a smile, then murmur to Dede. Behind his calm facade, I knew he was as proud as a peacock of me, which made me proud too.
All of this only made going back home all the more desolating.
As soon as I walked through the door after a lesson, it felt like the sun had set and the temperature had dropped. Cold faces turned toward me, then away. Any happiness still clinging to me had to be hid. The sense of separateness and resentment pulsing my way was palpable. The lessons had only intensified them.
It was my happiness they found intolerable. They knew and I knew they knew, that I wanted to get away from them and they were going to prevent that. Not out of possessiveness; but sheer vindictiveness and because it inferred there was something inferior about them.
Desperately I tried to keep my feet on the path offered to me. Desperately I tried to get that violin to practice with daily. I pleaded, begged and argued. The more I pushed, the more obstinate Lily became.
Al was almost never there except in the evenings. He made his views on the subject clear though: Violins were for “Sissies”. He didn’t want to see it or hear it. He didn’t want me taking any lessons either, but he just didn’t dare tell his father that.
She was more devious and vehement. She couched her objections in terms of ‘ethics’ and she had an end in mind I didn’t foresee.
“Whodja tink you are!? Ya one of us! Not dem! I ain’t havin my family broken up by you putting on airs! It ain’t right fa ya ta be getting special treatment! We don’t do dat kinda stuff, stuff like dat! Nobody in da family does! Ya think ya better’n us!? EH!?”
Critical mass was reached on a grey, rainy April afternoon.
I had been denied the violin consistently enough for both the teacher and Dede to become concerned. But on that day, she went into the closet and took the box with the violin down from the top shelf where she kept it out of my reach and asked me if I wanted it.
She opened the box up in front of me. I stared at my violin, not daring to make a wrong move that would make it disappear again.
“Ya want dis? Gaw head. Take it.”
I picked it up gingerly, pulling it to me.
Then she said something that made me start in disbelief.
“Ya kin play wit it fa awhile. Till ya fatha comes home.”
She left the room, pulling the door closed behind her.
I was cautious. I kept it low, gently bowing up and down the bridged strings. I expected an explosion any minute. But nothing happened. Nobody stopped me.
Gradually I grew more confident and devoted all my attention to the violin. I found that wonderful feeling again of losing myself in making sound and stayed in it for what seemed an eternity.
It wasn’t an eternity. It was just long enough for her to be sure I was immersed in it. The blast of air from the door bursting open made me jump in surprise.
“Dat’s it! Gimme dat! I can’t stand dat racket!”
“No! You said I could till…”
“I said: Gimme dat!”
“No!” I held on for dear life, clamping my chin down hard on the violin to hold it and pulling away.
“Yooouuu! I said: GIMME DAT!!”
She yanked it out of my grasp and the carved braided edging ripped the underside of my chin. She held her prize aloft out of my reach. I jumped up and down, trying to get my hands on it, begging and pleading.
“Stop it!” she demanded.
I could see behind her angry expression that she was pleased at her results. This was a game to her. It made me even more desperate and determined to get it back. She slapped at me with her free hand and pushed me off, holding the violin up high like a trophy.
“Awwright! Dat’s it! Stop it, I said! Ya too little! Stop it I said! I told him ya was too little! But nobody lissens ta me! Ya don’t know when ta stop, do ya?! Ya don’t wanna lissen no more?!” she pronounced with vindictive satisfaction.
“Nobody wants ta lissen ta me, eh?! I’ll fix dat!”
She strode into the kitchen, still fending me off. She threw open the silverware drawer and snatched up a knife. Before my horrified eyes she slit those 4 strings. They popped and curled wildly for a second and then died. My heart did too.
In an inarticulate rage, I screamed and flailed at her. In tears, I kept on her heels when she put the dead violin back up in the closet and slammed the door on it. Then she turned on me with both hands. But she lacked the energy to pulp me like Al and slapping hurt her hands. She slammed the bedroom door on me, telling me I was going to get it when he got home.
I have no idea what if anything was told to Dede or the violin teacher to explain why I was not continuing my lessons. This I do know: There were no more lessons. There was no more music.
And until Easter, there was no more Babi and Dede again. Something else happened: Hate.
Despite my fear of them, hate was born for both the Witch and the Al-osaurus: No longer just fear and contempt; but hate. No matter how much I was slapped around, I would not let go of that hate. I never said another word to them unless compelled to.
One evening I was sitting close to the television, trying to lose myself in it and to shut out Lily and Al in the kitchen nearby.
In a low insistent drone, she was working at him. He kept drinking. It had to do with me. She never glanced at me, but his bleary eyes were often looking at me over the can as he drank. Suddenly he lurched to his feet.
Instantly I tensed, atingle.
He tried to lock his eyes on me as he came around the table, leaning heavily on it for support.
“Whattya lookin at!?...Huh!?” he drawled out pugnaciously.
“Ya think ya betterin us?!”
I jumped to my feet and backed away from him till I hit a wall.
His red face drew close, his angry, unfocused eyes sought mine. I dropped my face so as not to see him. He laid a heavy hand on my shoulder, reeking beery breath and tried to say something. I looked up and was repelled by how he slurred his tongue around. I knew what was coming and tried to pull away. He shoved me back against the wall. I pushed back and struck at his arm. That was when he lost it and the flurry of punches, curses and kicks began.
“Whattya gonna do when he’s olda, an ya can’t do dat no more!? Ehhh?!” her voice cut through the air, low, but sharp as a knife.
“Whattya thinks gonna happen when he gets bigga, huh?!”
I watched them from the floor in the corner of the room. For now, it was over and the hate was coming back.
He was apparently comprehending what she was getting at. He must have suddenly seen a glimpse of the future, when the little kid that he beat up had grown up, because he suddenly went pale.
Her inferred message was clear:
Kill them when they’re small.