The October People. Chapter 35: Hell Harrowed
June 1, 2008
It’s time I start seriously considering how to write this story down: Just in case. There’s no use telling it to those most involved.
But like the ‘Ancient Mariner’ I feel compelled to tell it. No one knows how long they’ve got. I’m going to tell this story, and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability as if it is my last act on earth.
I remembered now why that photo of me, Al, and Jake on Easter Sunday in 1957 stirred things in me. I always felt something when I looked at it, but wouldn’t let it out.
It got out today.
Lily had roughly woke me.
I was hurting with a headache and an overall squirmy discomfort because my insides felt too big and hot. My first cranky impression was of those two snapping like dogs at each other again. Then I remembered I had gotten beaten and they had been arguing the night before; it was just continuing. They were in a rush, I suppose they overslept.
It was only when I saw the 2 identical Easter baskets on top of the television that I realized with delight that it was Easter. Last year that meant candy, eggs and presents from Dede and Babi. I went over to stare at them.
After a moment of looking and thinking, I turned my head toward her.
“Dere’s no toys.”
“Ya don’t get toys on Easta!” she spat out.
“We did before.”
“No ya didn’t.”
It was an order to shut up.
“Yes we did.”
“No ya didn’t!”
“Yes we did. I rememba.”
First smack of the day; a crisp, stinging one to the cheek.
I didn’t enjoy my 2 eggs this year, just sort of choked them down. On her orders I got up from the table to go get dressed. Al sat there in his pajamas and robe morosely smoking.
I started toward the bedroom, unhappy at having to leave some of my glass of milk. I only got milk when I had cereal; I never got a glass of it like this. Impulsively, I turned and headed back to the table to gulp it down.
As soon as I got within reach, Al lunged out at me.
Second whack of the day; a nice sucker punch.
Thus, it was impressed on me that they were in a hurry. As soon as I pulled on the clothes that were laid out, she called me into the bathroom to get my hair combed.
I hated this. She grabbed my face with one hand to hold me still, squeezing my sore cheeks together so hard I thought her pointed nails would meet in the middle of my mouth. Tears sprang up in my eyes, but I didn’t move. She combed my hair, pulling that comb down on my head like she intended to rip my scalp off.
We went over to the Alter’s first. We only stopped off there for a minute; they didn’t celebrate Easter.
Before we left there, Lily posed us outside their house for a snapshot. Al held Jakey, and I stood in front of them. She walked backwards holding the box camera at waist height until she could see all of us in the viewfinder. She wasn’t satisfied with something. She told me to move in more and to stand still.
I didn’t obey correctly or quickly enough. She instantly flared up.
At her bark, he reached down and seized me by the back of the neck and shook me like a terrier shaking a rat.
“Knock it off!”
And so, a truly awful looking photo was taken that Holy Easter morn.
This was the one she chose to stand in for the missing 5th birthday photo of me in the ‘Baby Book’. Real ‘lovely’ little family shot. But it did accurately catch how miserable everyone was. Al looked surly, Jakey was terrified, and I was tense and upset with clenched fists.
You can easily discern the swelling on my cheek from Al’s Easter greeting and my swollen upper lip from the night before.
We went up to Saratoga for Easter dinner next. I wonder if the invitation was not at the suggestion of Dede. They hadn’t seen me for a while, not since the lessons ended.
Al and Lily must not have known they were going to be there because when we arrived and saw their car in the driveway both of them stiffened and there was a muffled curse from Al. Too late now. As we went in, I was hid from view behind the coats and bodies of Al and Lily.
Suddenly they moved aside and I was face to face with Babi.
“Jesus and Mary!” she groaned in horror looking down at me.
Dede stepped forward and looked into my eyes searchingly. Then his gaze dropped to my mouth. My upper lip was swollen into a beak and there was a half-dollar sized swelling on my cheek. My lips were split with both new and older slits.
Blue flame flared in those eyes and his jaw clamped tight with an audible click. He whipped around to face his son, who was frozen to his spot like a bug on a pin.
To my astonishment, he lunged for him, smacking his face back and forth with an open hand, roaring in Czech at him, beside himself in rage. Driven backwards, Al cowered, trying to cover his face from the blows with an upraised arm.
“Cut it out, Pop! Cut it out!” he begged from behind his arm, frightened and embarrassed. “Cut it out! I didn’t DO it!”
At the sight of him cowering before Dede’s onslaught I burst into delighted laughter, unaware of what I was doing. All that pent-up sense of injustice was finally being avenged.
Rosa in her frilled white apron, wooden spoon in hand, stood stock-still, wide-eyed and speechless. Ralph didn’t know what to do, so he acted as if nothing were happening and walked into the dining room.
Drawn by the commotion Agnes came partway down the stairs, peering through the railing. Rosa turned and ordered her back upstairs, raising the spoon threateningly.
Dede stopped pummeling Al, his chest heaving. The Witch thought it safe now to speak up.
“He didn’t do nuthin!” she brassily interjected.
“Ten what happened to him?!” Dede demanded, snapping his head toward her, his eyes still throwing fire. “Ten who did it?! You?!”
“No!” She fell back a step, hoisting Jakey a little higher on her hip as if to remind him she was holding a child.
“Who did it?!”
“He did it ta hisself!”
“He did tat to himself?!”
“He did!” she insisted, desperately aggressive as she backed away from him towards the door. “It was dat damn violin!”
She shot me a murderous look that jolted me.
I hadn’t realized I’d been grinning from ear to ear. Watching him back her up had been almost as thrilling as seeing him smack Al around. At her look though, that grin vanished and fear clutched me. I had made a big mistake. My eyes darted to Al. He glared at me homicidally from under the brows of his lowered head. “Oh no. He saw me laugh at him. Oh no.”
“He woulden stop! All he did was play it! He even cut his chin from playin so much! He woulden stop! I had ta cut da strings!”
“You cut te strings?!”
“I had ta! He woulden lissen! Den he went crazy! He was throwin hisself all ova da place an bangin his face on na floor!”
“Liar! Frankie told us you would not let him practice! We could tell he wasn’t!”
“He’s a liar! Who ya gonna believe? A kid!? He’s lyin!”
“Frankie does not lie!”
“Yes he does! He’s lyin!”
He ignored her now. Slowly, menacingly, he turned back towards his son, who backed up before him, fearful.
“If…you…touch…him …again…” he left the tense sentence unfinished; the meaning clear, but unspoken.
“Al!...AL!!” She commanded, tightening her grip on Jakey and moving toward the door. “C’mon! Let’s go! C’mon!” Without looking at anyone, he obeyed.
Suddenly, unbelievably, there I was in a quiet house; with no Al or Lily. I couldn’t believe it: They had left without me. I was deliriously relieved.
There was an unspoken desire for everything to return to normalcy as quickly as possible. Rosa and Babi went back to the kitchen. Ralph picked up the papers and began to read. When Agnes felt it was safe, she cautiously descended the stairs. She began to snoop around, being studiously casual, for clues as to what had just happened. Rosa curtly warned her against pursuing that line of inquiry.
Babi brought Dede some ice in a clean dishcloth. He gently held the bundle against the swellings on my face. In a conversational tone, he asked me what had happened. I thought he was just talking about this morning. I was aware that though the others did not seem to be listening, they were.
“Daddy hit me.”
“Cuz I didn’t get dressed.”
He gently lifted my face upwards and peered under my chin. “Uh huh. And what is tis under here?”
“She took it away.”
“Took what away?”
“And why did she do that?”
“Dunno….It was too noisy.” I said sulkily. Feeling suddenly defensive, I looked up at him in appeal. “But she promised!”
I could sense there was something in the air, something unfinished that the others were holding back. Agnes stared at my mouth in morbid fascination. The talking began, cautiously, shifting back and forth from English to Czech. Rosa asked Dede quietly what was going to happen now.
Rosa and Ralph wanted not to believe; they were trying to find extenuating reasons to explain away what was happening to me.
Ralph advanced my version of how I got the scar under my chin as a confirmation of what Lily had said. Dede retorted shortly that she said I got it from playing it too much, not from her taking it from me.
There was a much stronger case for condemning my having laughed at my parents. It was The Law: Children are never to laugh at their parents. It was disrespectful. With a pang, I saw that even Dede remained silent. The most surreal logic was being ratified. They were not condemned for what they did to me over and over; but I was condemned for not showing them respect.
The sudden, jarring ringing of the phone silenced the room. Rosa went to answer it and was back momentarily, announcing that they were coming to pick me up. My stomach sank, and I looked beseechingly at Babi and Dede. I saw him tighten, but he said nothing. Rosa went for my coat.
It wasn’t long before the sound of a car cut through the heavy silence. That familiar, terrible cold filled me again. I kissed my grandparents, who told me everything was going to be alright, and Rosa led me to the back door where Al was waiting outside.
She passed him my hand and quickly tried to tell him that I hadn’t meant it, that kids just don’t understand. He didn’t look at either of us, just turned and pulled me along toward the brooding car.
“Al.” Her voice stopped him, and he turned his head. She blushed, looking flustered. “Al…Don’t.” she managed to get out. “He’s just a kid…Don’t.”
He got in and slammed the door. In the space of one afternoon I had gone from witnessing the exhilarating spectacle of Justice finally being served to the desolation of being delivered back into their hands and condemned for what I’d done.
A righteous, furious, Loony Lily delivered a blistering lecture about what sort of children laugh at their parents and what they could expect as a result of what they’d done.
I had the chilling sense of hearing a death sentence passed on me.
It occurred to me while watching Melissa working in her flower gardens that she gardens primarily for the sake of beauty. I farm and garden only to eat.
Of course, I do derive aesthetic enjoyment from certain moments: Like watching a galaxy of fireflies glittering over a field of ripening golden-green wheat on a warm June night. Or seeing rows of beautifully colored heads of lettuce glowing with numinosity in the gloaming; or a bed of frost-encrusted flowering dill silhouetted, the mist rising from them like smoke, against an autumn dawn’s fiery sky.
But ultimately, I cultivate the soil from a sense of insecurity.
It has been my way of taking away from anyone else the ability to deprive me of food anymore. On top of that Urgrund I’ve layered ecological reasons, socio-political reasons, and now monetary ones too; it’s how we’d been supporting ourselves financially. And all of those beliefs and reasons are real, not feigned; but the underlying motive, the strongest motive, all along has been to secure my food supply.
Now ironically, having seen through myself, as it were, and understood the underlying reason for my behavior to be this irrational artifact of my childhood experiences, has made it hard to continue working so hard at it.
It has now been over a month since I talked with Erica. She assured me then that she wasn’t just “blowing me off” and that she’d call when she read what I sent. She is obviously not going to call. It’s time. I can’t pretend to myself any longer.
Frank: “Erica. Within a few days you should receive the last of the photos of you and Jackson. I’m calling so you do not misconstrue why I am sending them: It is most assuredly not to induce you to call. Of course, you were “blowing me off”, as you put it. I understand that perfectly well. Over a year ago, Jackson made his point abundantly clear. Actually, you both made your choices years ago. I just didn’t want to acknowledge it. I chose to ignore all the unspoken messages. My mistake. Nor do I take offense. It is everyone’s right to associate with whom they choose. By the same standard, you will understand that I’m not going to continue in the same role any longer. I can’t, and still be honest. Too much has changed and life is too short. Take care of each other.”
Erica: “Hi, Dad, this is Eerrrricaaa. I just got your voice mail. I just want to say, I’m definitely not trying to blow you off, in any way. I am…I am…I actually am working on responding to all your stuff that I read…in a letter…and it’s…taking me a long time Um…But I’m not, trying to blow you off. And I hope you’ll still call me, and when I call you’ll answer, and we’ll be able to talk. Um, cause I do love you, you’re my Dad, and…I love you, and I hope you don’t think I’m trying to blow you off. Alright, I love you, bye.”
Yesterday was punishing. I didn’t expect that leaving that message would result in such an emotional maelstrom for me. It took all day to regain the upper hand and try to enunciate clearly what was going on inside of me.
What I experienced yesterday was the result of the admission of the death of a precious illusion, the painful dissolution of a hope. I loved my little girl. But it was a daughter that existed only in my mind, in my wishes. I was grieving for the death of an image I had projected onto the real-life woman.
She was the last bogus ‘family’ relationship that I had left. And I find now I’m doing the same thing that I went through with my son, my nieces and nephews, even Al.
“Wait till I tell Erica about this, she’d really like this.” I keep catching myself saying to myself. Now of course, as with the others, I have to admit it was what I wish were true, not what was true. So it goes.
I’m sure there jas got to be a reason why she and Jackson feel the way they do toward me, and sooner or later I’ll figure it out. But regardless of why, the fact remains that this is no relationship.
Christ, this ‘seeing relationships clearly’ has caused me a hell of a lot of pain. Yet there was no way to avoid that pain and turmoil and still gain the truth. I’m clearing the decks all at once, so I’m getting all the pain at once.
You’d think I could have spread it out a little bit.
My God…More? Now?
The last few days I’ve become aware that ‘something’ is moving up out of my depths. As it feels like it’s getting closer, I find myself becoming terrified.
It seems I hadn’t opened the door to Hell yet. And now I think it’s opening by itself. I’m having terrible nightmares of torture and childhood terror. I’ve become aware of fleetingly glimpsed scenes and conversations in that strange state of neither sleep nor wakefulness. By now, they’re familiar auguries of ‘something’ coming.
Okay…How do I handle this?
For about a week or so now, I’ve been trying to excavate my memories around what I’ve dubbed “Rin Tin Tin / Circus”.
There’s a part of me that really doesn’t like this; I can feel ‘it’ pulling back away from it, hard. Yesterday though I think I had a breakthrough. I distinctly remembered that it was a “Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus”. I even remembered seeing the over-size souvenir color program.
I thought maybe the circus used the popular T.V. show, “Rin Tin Tin” as a theme that year. Via the Internet, I found the phone number of the “Circus Historical Society”. The curmudgeon there told me they definitely did not have an appearance, ever, by “Rin Tin Tin”: They never did that sort of thing, nor did they ever do a “Wild West” theme.
That threw much into question and confusion. Was I wrong?
Then it occurred to me: Or was that not “Rin Tin Tin” and an actor I saw? Could it have been a police dog and a cop?
From what I remembered of the circus, there was nothing remotely ‘western’ about it. I had just assumed the 2nd half of the show was going to be the “Wild West” part, and that was the part I never got to see because we left early.
That’s when it flashed: I recognize now where I am in this. The recurrent images, smells, and sounds: Green tiles, tiled shower-room, echoes, water dripping; smell of low tide, sounds of a car going over a bridge, mounds of dirt with broken glass in a vacant lot.
I pulled back more memories yesterday of what happened after leaving the circus.
To get at these memories I had to be very quiet, with no distractions. They are there; like a faint radio station just barely audible among the louder signals, or like a distant, faint voice overwhelmed by the babble of loud, insistent voices in the foreground.
By silencing as much as possible those distracting foreground voices, the faint ones become increasingly louder. Capturing them on paper fleshes them out, brings more up.
It’s astounding to think that these memories have been there all these years, unnoticed because of the riot of other ‘noises’.
On a warm, sunny spring afternoon not long before my 5th birthday, my cousins and me were seated around Grandma Alter’s dining room table. The little room was packed and noisy. We had had a sandwich dinner and now Grandma brought out a special treat; “Animal Crackers”.
What prompted that was tonight Grandma and my aunts were taking us all to a circus. And not just any circus, but the Greatest Show on Earth: “Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus”. My cousins were all thrilled and expectant but as usual I felt two steps behind.
“What was a circus? What did you do there?” I wondered.
The girls were very excited as they scampered out the door and down the stoop. I liked watching them. I was drawn to girls from the beginning. I liked their smell. As we walked to the subway, I watched them chatter and skip in their clean little dresses in and out of the shade from the young leaves on the trees in front of the apartment buildings.
Joey and I walked with big cousin Ben, trying to walk like him.
It must have been Madison Square Garden. To my eyes the place was incredibly huge. There was an endless barrier of shiny turnstiles like fat propellers which a flowing herd of people seeped through, their tickets torn inexplicably in half.
Everyone didn’t seem concerned about how to get where they were going. They seemed to follow invisible markers. Aunt Nan led the way as we worked our way down to our seats. I followed the others, completely overwhelmed by the size and strangeness of it all. The air grew cooler. My cousins kept up a non-stop chatter as we went down the bleacher stairs and took seats to the left, second row up from ringside.
The light dimmed to a shadowy darkness. Then, with a deafening uproar, it began. I was stunned by the inundation of the sights, sounds, and smells that assaulted me. I couldn’t focus on any one thing because there was so much going on everywhere now. It was a cacophonous, deliberate pandemonium: a sensory overload. Images overlaid each other, crowding upon my senses, saturating them, each demanding equal attention.
Elephants in richly colorful clothes, padding with impossibly noiseless footsteps counter-clockwise around the ring, nose to tail. Close to us, so close to us. Huge, impassive animals. Resigned eyes set deep in circular wreathes of wrinkles. Big animal smell; straw-like and warm…Tigers; vibrantly colored, perched on high stools in an arc, looking like they’re ready to jump. Much too close. Big Cat reek. Roars that didn’t sound like living things could make them. Pacing, white-shirted man; black pants, tall, shiny black boots. Long whip that moved like a snake and cracked like a pistol….Hawkers coarsely, loudly, working the crowd…Souvenirs everywhere; sparkler guns with a whirling, shining disc on top; violet colored little lights with a pullchain; big, colorful souvenir programs. Grandma and the others all bought one. Not Loony Lily, and she got mad at me when I asked for a souvenir light like the others got.
“Stop it!” she yelled over the din. “No! Ya think I’m made a money!? I brought ya here, didn’t I?! Dat’s ya present! Ya wanna go home?! Keep it up! Ya ask one more time for anything, an we’re leavin!”
I kept my mouth shut. I knew better than to ask for food.
But, oh, those food smells: Tall boxes of fragrant Popcorn like mounds of snow, hot peanuts in shells, Hot Dogs with mustard and sauerkraut, small, wet bottles of cold soda that fizzed when the cap was popped before they were passed out. Grandma glared at Lily because I was the only one who got nothing.
Clowns; three or four of them, silent, with strangely painted faces. Sad looking, but they didn’t really act sad, going up to the crowds at ringside, clowning with them, hugging some, drawing near us. The laughter grew louder as they came closer.
“What did they want? Why didn’t they speak?” I didn’t trust them and drew back away from them on the wooden bench seat. They didn’t smell right; a sharp smell like paint, like they’re not real.
….Jugglers; red shirts, black vests and pants, silver clubs flashing back and forth through the air…Constant background roar that ebbed and surged…All my cousins are on the edge of the bench seat, eyes lit up, excitedly pointing and clapping.
At the peak of the excitement, when all eyes were focused on the show, the Witch stood up, pulling me to my feet. Grandma frowned.
“I’m takin him ta da baatroom now …before all da crowds get dere at intermission.” I heard Lily tell her through the tremendous din of the crowd.
I hadn’t asked to go to the bathroom. I didn’t have to go. I didn’t understand why we had to leave now, no one else was.
“Git up!” she told me again.
She led me up the bleacher stairs. I kept looking back over my shoulder at all the color and noise as long as I could. Sporadically my aunts and cousins glanced back at me as I receded, puzzled by my departure. Grandma stared after us, her face expressionless, but her eyes were alert, wondering.
Lily and I walked down a long, wide corridor between the bleacher walls. We passed a small crowd of people clustered near a closed door on our left that was cordoned off with thick velvet ropes draped from brass posts. She ignored them and we continued down the smooth concrete hall.
I heard a commotion and looked back. There was a man in a blue uniform straining to hold back a German Shepard on a short leash. The dog was ferociously barking at the people.
“Rin Tin Tin’s here!” I pulled back on her grip, digging in. “Can we go see him? Can we? Please?”
She glanced back and turned quickly away.
“No. C’mon. Dere’s too many people…C’mon I said!”
She strode away even faster. I still hung back, looking over my shoulder. The sounds of the circus faded as we passed the deserted turnstiles and went through a large bank of revolving doors.
“Where are we going?”
“Home. It’s late.”
We came to a wide, long balcony with so many escalators cascading down off it, my impression was of a huge waterfall. A wide set of real stairs went down through the middle of them. It was deserted.
Through more revolving doors at the bottom, then out onto the street. Stuffy air redolent of diesel fumes instantly struck my face. We went right, up the street to a subway entrance. Some gates at the station were locked for the night. We went through the scarred turnstile and out onto the platform.
While we waited, I looked longingly at the vending machine offerings: “Chicklets”, “Chuckles” and Pistachio nuts in red shells.
A visceral rumble built, coming up through the soles of my feet; a train was coming. The few scattered people there reacted to the sound by moving toward the rails. I stepped forward too, awaiting its appearance from its burrow.
Like an approaching storm, it crackled the air and laid a pressure on your ears and chest, raising the tension. It roared into sight like a monster from its cavern, then obediently stopped and waited as patiently as a beast of burden as we entered through the beckoning doors.
No conversation from the stony-faced Lily on the train, just an occasional curt command. I switched from sitting on the stiff seats to standing, holding onto the thick chrome pole and swaying to the unrythmic rocking. The lights flickered on and off irregularly. Stations blurred past. The air stank of exhaust and old grime. Before the train stops, she stands up and holds onto the overhead strap near the doors.
They open, and I see an unfamiliar station. The first note of alarm goes off in me.
Before stepping out I look around through the doors cautiously. No one else got off at this dirty, run-down looking station. It smelled of neglect and poverty. We go through a battered, revolving metal cage that served as a door and then left, up the stairs to the street.
The walls on my right are plastered with overlapping layers of old posters; decomposing, flaking off. Advertising for long-gone circuses, musicals and plays; all faded, cheap, and tawdry looking.
I don’t like this. I don’t like the feel of this at all. There is a threat here. I can feel it. I can sense it. Something’s not right. She is silent, not looking at me. Can’t do anything about it, I’m being pulled along. I feel cold and tight inside. Voice in me screaming now: GET OUT OF HERE GET OUT OF HERE.
I only got in my memory to the point where I realized I was in bad trouble and fear seized me.
Re-living that onset of fear made me freeze up. At the same time the voice of the censor rang out:” NO!” That was enough to break my concentration and make me lose the trail.
I’ve finally arrived at the edge of the hole that leads to the one place I do not want to go.
But I vowed I’d follow this to the end; and I will.
I have to go through it all again.
For the first time in her life, Erica left a message for Fathers’ Day yesterday. That was no surprise; I expected she’d do that just to show me I was wrong. It had an eerie echo of other calls from the ‘family’ in the past; no mention of my contentions, no mention of having read what I sent her, pretending nothing happened.
It was bizarre, all the more so because when she called, I was on the doorstep of the memory of a horror.
Oh shit… Here I go… I think I’ve gotten in.
It’s bad. Whether this is all, or only a part, I can’t tell yet.
But I’m in.
I had lain down to take a nap after lunch. I just wanted to sleep; no more thinking. Unbidden, I suddenly remembered a movie that Erica was watching once in a motel when she was on the road with us. It was a disquieting one for me, about some man that was fascinated with serial killers. He had an audio tape from one of these murderers of a woman being tortured; begging and sobbing. My mind flashed to the memory of another film that had the sounds of a woman being tortured. Both of them had disturbed me greatly and I couldn’t bring myself to watch either of them for long.
All of a sudden, out of nowhere, I heard myself as a child; I heard my own voice, pleading in terror and pain. I had to clench my throat to keep from throwing up on the pillow.
I know now how to find and re-live those last missing pieces. It’s waiting for me.
I think I’m ready.
Ah, damn it…This is Hell. I’ll put down words as best I can use them to convey a sense of what happened. But I can only give a rough sense of it. These memories are different. I hate to go in here. The pain and the emotions are so intense that I can only concentrate long enough to describe pieces of it.
I can’t stay too long in there or I’ll vomit.
We turn right on a dark, unlit corner, walk about half a block, then cross the street between parked cars. Her head never stops looking around now. We go down an alley, and then turn left and begin climbing dark, wood-framed stairs on the outside of a white-washed building.
As we climb, I can see behind this building a big empty parking lot with light posts and two low, long, dome roofed buildings with an arched sign of letters above them.
When she pulls open a large side door, the penetrating odor of chlorine pours out. There’s the smell of wood that’s often wet and of tiles fighting mildew. Whatever this place is, it’s not open now. It’s dark except for a few weak yellow lights in frosted glass at intervals on the walls. A maze of identically green-tiled walls and floors. No doors, just turns in a labyrinth. Dark, frosted glass windows high on the walls. No sound except the echoes of dripping water somewhere and our footsteps.
I’m terrified, disoriented by my tension and the confusing, strange surroundings and the Witch’s coldness. And all the while the water drips.
“Dat’s da baatroom. Gawon in.”
“No. It’s dark. I don’t wanna. You come wit me.”
“No. Dat’s da Mens’ Room. ..Dere’s a light on da wall in nere. Gawon. Hurry up.”
Absolute terror: I was tied naked to a wood-slatted, white poolside lounge chair. My arms and torso were wound with clothesline, lashing me to the back of the chair. My legs were tied; spread wide open, at the knees and ankles to the armrests.
There was a hot, very bright light in my eyes blinding me. Turning my head away from the painful light, I could see mint green tiles everywhere and silver showerheads studding the walls.
I heard them before I saw them. How many there were, I don’t know. I only saw two, but I heard and sensed that others were there, hidden behind the light.
A pink-naked figure with an erection capered into view like a demented Bacchante. He wore a rubber mask like a Greek tragedy face that was drooping as if melting. A wreath of cheap plastic yellow flowers crowned his head.
Then the light was blocked by a woman in what looked like a robe and hood. She kept her face hidden from the light. I recognized them both even before they spoke. And with gut-emptying horror I knew what was coming.
There was no escape and that was the real, desolating, shrieking terror; that I knew I couldn’t get away or stop them. The knowledge that they wanted to do something unimaginable to me, that they were going to take pleasure in doing it and watching it, drove me past the point of madness.
I fought against the cords with a desperate, blind franticness, shrilly screaming. Al grabbed my face with one hand, squeezing in my cheeks as hard as he could.
“Don’t botha callin fa help.” he hissed mockingly from the mask into my face. “No one can hear ya. No one’s gonna come. No one’s eva gonna come…Too late!”
I could almost see behind the mask the thick lips pulled back into that hideous grimace as he took a step back for his wind up. He smashed me across the forehead with a stick.
“Ya not laughin now! How come? Whattsa matta? Ain’t funny anymore, huh?!”
“Not yet.” Lily stopped him. “I want him ta see what I’m gonna do to him.”
She moved out into the light. Through the glare I saw she was in a white satin wedding dress and veil. She moved slowly toward me. I fought harder, and through my screams I heard them say I was going
“...to die now…slowly....horribly…No more mistakes…Had enough of me…Big mouth…They had Jakey now…”
She drew closer, silent now, her eyes coldly lit up. She held up a single-edge razor blade before my eyes. I strained backwards away from her, frenzied in my nightmarish immobility. She’s watching my eyes with a little smile.
“NO! NO! NO! PLEEEAAASSSE! I’LL BE GOOD! I PROOOMMMISE! NO! PLEASE! HELP! HELP ME!”
I can’t stop her, I can’t stop her. She’s coming and I can’t stop her. She’s bending toward my groin. Everything shrinks desperately inwards and away. High-pitched scream with the slow, shallow, hot slice of the razor. Hot, hot pain. Pleading.
Eyes. Eyes: She watches my eyes as I scream and beg. My eyes in horror follow hers down to the next tiny slice, and the next, and the next. She’s slow; heightening the pain and terror, watching and smiling. She’s fastidious, taking great care not to get blood on the gown.
Al prances around us excitedly, mocking, watching and doing bizarre things to himself. He stops and looks past the lights, and seems alert or worried for a moment. Then he resumes his maniacal antics.
“No!! PUULLEEEAAASSSE!! IT HURTS!! IT HURTS!!-Screaming-PUULLLEEEAAASSSE MOMMMMMY!! MOMMMMY!! IT HURTS!! NOOOO!!”
Screams that rip my throat as she bites down on me. She gets up, daintily wiping her mouth and moves with the razor toward my face. I’m trying to pull away, crying, pleading, begging, screaming, trying to twist my face away. Al grabs my ears and hair from behind, pulling me tight against the back of the chair. She puts her hand across my forehead, steadying it for her artistic flourishes.
PUUULLLEEEAAASSSE!! PUULLLEEAAASSSE!! HELLLP!! HEELLLPPP!! NOOOO!! IT HURTS!! I’LL BE GOOD!!-Screaming-IT HURTS!! I”LL BE GOOD!! I”LL BE GOOD!! NOOO!! STOP!! STOOOPPP!!! IT HURTS!! DON”T!!-Screaming-OOWWWWWW!!!IT HURTS!! STOOPPP!!-Screaming-NO MORE!! PUULLLEEEAAASSSE!! NO MORE!! HELLLLLP MEEEE!! HELLPP!! HEELLPP!!-Screaming…”
F*ck it. It’s useless to try and write it down like this.
How do you convey something like this? I don’t know how long it lasted. She flayed me alive. After some point there were no more words or thoughts, just mindless hysterical crying and shrill screams with each new slice or carving, then whimpering and sobbing until the next one. ‘I’ wasn’t anymore. There was just a small animal in terrible, terrible pain and terror. They stripped me of all humanness and dignity.
People are not supposed to know this. They’re not supposed to experience this. They’re not supposed to be at the mercy of such an Evil as this. It can’t be re-told. It’s impossible.
“Kill him.” The Witch told the Al-osaurus.
There wasn’t much left to kill. He went at the beating in a frenzy of pent-up hate. All I registered was a tattoo of thuds. The stick he was beating me with was rammed up my rectum and savagely jerked back and forth; making my carcass rock violently, then he jammed it down my throat. My head was jerked back by the hair... the grainy feeling of being cut slowly, repeatedly; something being carved into my forehead...A knee on the back of the neck, my face on the floor…The same grainy cutting, carving, diagonally across my back…No pain though, no pain.
You can look completely dead you know, yet be alive to some degree. Impressions register through the senses imperfectly. Though your eyes may be as blue-glazed as a dead animal’s and don’t move at all; you still do see. But those unblinking eyes only see in reds and yellows. You can still hear; but you hear hollowly, as though buried in a tomb. Voices come to you as if from far away, from up on the surface of the earth somewhere.
“Ya did it, Al.” Loony Lily’s red and yellow face turns and smiles at someone.
They hung me over a drain in the shower room until my bowels and bladder emptied, mixing with my blood dripping to the floor. They were making certain that I was dead before they dumped me.
The venue of torture and murder was very well chosen: It was lonely, deserted, and after they were done, they only needed to run the showers for a few minutes and all the evidence was down the drain.
Except for the little body of course.
I regained consciousness briefly twice afterwards that I can remember. The first time it was stifling and pitch-black. There was the sound and vibration of a car’s engine and those of passing vehicles. I felt it go over a bump, tossing me slightly. Then there was a rhythmic growling, like traveling over grating for a few seconds. Then another bump, and then smooth roadway again. All the while there was a strong, rotten-egg smell of low tide on a seaside creek.
The second time seems more like a dream: Only the sense of a sudden rush of fresher, cool air; then being flopped on the ground, and rolled and pushed down into something cool and damp, then something heavy on top of me.
Noise…A buzzing…High-Pitched…Whining… Dog’s whine. Scratching sounds. Feel old, thick, heavy. Legs are caught, wrapped in something. I’m in something, or under something; something’s on top of me. Can’t see anything. Takes all I have to decide to move at all. Hurts to move my head toward the sound, and it scrapes against whatever’s on top of me.
Now there’s a slit of light in the darkness, getting bigger, then shadows of rapid movement in the sliver of light; the dog digging, making the hole larger.
I can smell the earth now, and something musty. I manage to squeeze over onto my left side. I get on to my belly and push, to wedge myself as close as I can to the small opening where the light is. I get my hands up under my shoulders and begin to shove against whatever’s above me. It’s heavy, but it moves. I can get on my hands and knees now; push again. It moves more, and easier. Once more, and my head and shoulders are free.
Barking. Dog, big dog, barking, excited, tail wagging mile a minute.
Voice. A man’s voice, calling.
My back is scraped heavily by the thing above me as I crawl out from under it. It falls across my calves. Then I’m free of it. I pull my hips up into the air and straighten up.
I only saw him for a second. He was stout and wore a tan uniform, like a janitor’s; his black, brilliantined hair was combed straight back. He didn’t know I was there until I stood up, and then I scared him badly. He took a couple of stumbling steps backward, flailing his arms to keep his feet, a leash in one hand.
It went black from the edges of my sight into the middle and I thought I was going to be sick. Instead I fell down, causing terrible, shooting pains throughout my pelvic region.
Can’t see, I can’t see. Someone’s yelling something, but I can’t understand what he’s saying because of the roaring in my ears. Manage to get to my feet again. Dizzy, so dizzy. Hold onto the dog’s neck. Rin Tin Tin? He stays there, letting me lean on him, holding me up, wagging his tail, whining and sniffing me.
“Kid! Are you alright?! What happened?!”
He keeps asking me things quickly, not coming too close. I don’t bother trying to answer; I’m too tired, too nauseous, too dizzy. I sit back down again, hard, which again sends terrible shooting pains up through me.
“Stay, King! You stay! Watch him!”
The dog sits down next to me.
“I’ll be right back kid! Don’t worry! I’ll be back! Jesus Christ!”
He turns and runs off, lumbering and awkward.
The dog is warm; his fur feels good against my skin. That makes me realize something, but my thinking is slow and ponderous and it takes a little while to tell it to myself: I have no clothes on, and I’m black. My skin is all black blotches with red edges and veining.
I can’t keep my head from lolling, it feels huge. I can only see through a grating of thickly clotted lashes and I can’t open them any wider. My tongue is hot and thick, filling my mouth. Sharp, sharp pains from my groin and anus. Everything else is a collection of dull aches, every movement cracks open a cut stingingly and then a dark red stains the black more; but I was alive.
I began to dully take in my surroundings. I was in the shade of some buildings, it was daylight. I became aware of and irritated by the buzzing, bright green flies that settled on me when I didn’t move. Stiffly, I looked behind me to see what I had come out of.
Near the back of 2 brick buildings, a shallow hole dug out in the dirt was just visible underneath an old, heavy door and a moldy looking ‘oriental’ rug. That was what had been on top of me. I looked blankly into the darkness. It had been tight in there, in my grave.
Directly behind it, hard up against one of the buildings, was a large, rusty, green-painted, rectangular metal container.
The ground around me was sandy dirt, strewn with broken glass, old bottlecaps, and weeds that grew in short tufts. I was sitting in a vacant corner lot dotted with waist-high piles of fill. They were the reason why the man didn’t see me until I suddenly stood up. The buildings around me were all four or five stories tall.
Across the lot to my left, a street was visible between the mounds. It was lined with more of these factory or warehouse types of buildings; but there were no cars anywhere. In front of me the lot was bathed in sunlight, and extended out to another street. The other side of it was empty of buildings; just a wide, vacant area. In the distance were powerlines, and further still a skyline of buildings low on the horizon.
Other than the irritation at the buzzing flies, the only emotion I felt was a heavy sense of relief, like the shuddering sagging of earth settling. No thinking, just an absence of fear; because it was daylight and they were gone. I did not attempt to think about how I got to this place. I was just relieved to be alone.
The dog started to bark, rousing me with a painful start. I must have passed out or fallen asleep. He was standing over me and his belly jumped with each loud bark.
I heard sirens, cars, slamming doors, and then voices. Two men’s faces appeared, floating high above me. They loomed larger as they bent down towards me.
The man with the dog was back. He had him on a leash now, and was telling him what a good dog he was. The dog didn’t want to leave me.
Quickly, but carefully, I was lifted onto a stretcher, and covered up. I felt like I was floating. On the way to the ambulance we passed by a policeman, hands on hips, looking down at me with a grim expression. On the sidewalk the man with the dog was now talking to another officer. He was very excitedly telling what had happened.
I only have two memories of the earliest part of my recovery in the hospital. I remember my abdomen hurting incredibly, my stomach hard and swollen. It made me writhe in my hospital gown, twisting my legs around each other.
And I recall lying motionless on a metal table while people all around me in masks and gowns picked lightly at me with tweezers, and tapped them on the edge of metal pans in front of them, creating a steady sound like metallic rain drops. What looked like scattered grains of tiny rice lay in the trays, but it seemed like they moved.
I’m still here. Don’t know if I achieved catharsis or not yesterday. Afterwards I was oddly numb. Still am. It strangely parallels how I felt after I had pulled myself out of my grave.
It seems my dreams were accurate. They had labeled Loony Lily as the Worst of the Worst, the Malignant Spider in the center of it all; the Witch Mother. And until now that always puzzled me, because the worst of the attacks I remembered were from Al.
But this…this…She was not human.
Now I know where all that talk about ‘cutting’ came from in those messages at the end: “The Death by a 1000 Cuts.” No human could have done what she did to her own 5-year-old child. It’s going to take a long time to comprehend fully what sort of creatures they were, and are. At that time; tied up, naked, helpless, terrified to the point of insanity, it was not only the pain and fear. I saw something. I can’t find the right words for it yet.
It’s like something that had masqueraded as human had removed its mask.
Christ. I had seen that vacant lot so clearly, I could draw it for over a year now. And somehow I had known I was buried there: “where all bad children go.”
It was a police dog….I wonder if it was the old Sunnyside YMCA that she led me to…Green-tiled walls and floors; just like in that dream. How did they pull this off? She must have made up some story about me being abducted out of the bathroom at the circus.
They must have had…Wait a minute…”The Boy in the Box”. He was found dead on February 25, 1957, less than three months before I figure I too was dumped for dead.
Erica was probably repeating something they all had all been told about me. George said people don’t “remember right who did it to them”. Loony Lily said there were “bad characters in the area.”
Did she decide to do a copy-cat crime that could be blamed on a ‘serial child-killer’?
Or was it something more than that? Right from my first recollections of this, I had the distinct impression there was a script, or plan, they were following as to what was done to me, and…Sh*t. It wasn’t just a ‘copycat crime’.
In my memory there has always been a blinding light on; a blinding light in my eyes. I could only see by looking away from it. What the hell is this? It was being filmed?
Was this a ‘Snuff Film’?
The train of memories picks up again when a heavyset nurse with short hair comes into the room. It was morning and I felt chilly. There was one other bed in the white room. I didn’t feel good at all, and there was that sickly-sweet hospital smell in my nostrils again.
“Time for your blood test.” she jovially announced after she put something down on the counter by the sink.
She held a stylet of white metal, maybe four inches long, with a channel down the middle holding a hollow glass pipette, sharp at the end, like a very short needle. Holding it like a pencil, she took my hand, aimed at a fingertip and with a quick peck stuck it in. Then she took the captured drop of blood over to the counter and put it on a piece of thick white paper.
My fingertips were already sore as hell from all the jabs. I think it had to do with checking the iron in my blood.
That same nurse later gave me an enema and then slid a bedpan under me as I lay in the bed.
“Come on now…Let it go. You know, the doctor’s not going to let you go home until he’s satisfied you are having normal, regular bowel movements again.”
I was not interested in going ‘home’. I wouldn’t even think the word. I just wanted to be left alone.
My penis was completely bandaged in a tube-like white cylinder and catheterized. I think it was a glass catheter, because I was cautioned against doing anything to break it. I enjoyed it the night a young blonde nurse re-catheterized me; a precocious erotic combination of her gentle hands and the discomfort.
Loony Lily stopped in one day for a visit as I lay in the bed by the window. The big nurse was fussing with the boy in the other bed, not paying any attention to us. Lily didn’t greet me or ask how I was doing, just sat down in the chair between the bed and the window. Too casually, she took in everything, her eyes darting around.
“Tawk wit anyone?” she asked quietly.
I shook my head. She was my enemy, though I didn’t try to think of why.
“Nobody come ta tawk witchu? Huh? Anyone come ta see ya?”
“Time to take some blood.” the nurse cheerily announced. “Excuse me, please.”
Lily got up and stepped back towards the wall to allow the bulky woman to get to my left hand. She held up my blue hand and jabbed me again, as she had done so many other times.
“Hmmph.” she pronounced through her nose in good-natured mild disappointment.
“Let’s try that again.” She reached for my hand. Another jab to a different sore finger.
“Hmmph. Well…Looks like you have no blood! Anybody else would be bleeding all over! Well, let’s just try it again, shall we?”
She reached for my hand again, but I whipped it out of her reach and thrust it under the sheet.
“Oh, I know it hurts, but we need to…”
I began to fuss. Lily’s hand shot down like a snake, seizing my wrist and pulling my hand out and up for the nurse. I began to cry.
“Stop it! Behave yourself!” Lily scolded harshly. “Don’t be such a baby!”
“Oh, noooo…Don’t. He must be so sore by now. These must really hurt him. Come on, now. Let’s try the other hand, okay?”
Lily obliged the nurse by snatching up my other hand for her. Another quick flick of the needle.
“Alright. We got a little bit that time. That’ll do for today.”
She walked away to compare the blood smear with a color chart.
The Witch sat back down and began staring out the window. Every few seconds she’d glance over at the nurse’s back and then resume staring out the window. After the nurse left, she scanned the room again; this time more slowly and methodically. She got up to leave.
“You don’t tawk ta nobody…dat ya don’t know. Anybody comes an wants ta tawk ta ya, ya tell em ta tawk ta me. Understand?”
What I understood was that I did not have to fear her or Al when others were present, but I had to be silent. When they were gone, I could tell the truth; if I dared.
Grandma sat silently with me quite a bit, almost as if she were guarding me. Or was she there to guard against my talking? I remember Grandpa there once, growling in his anger.
One afternoon, Loony Lily joined Grandma at my bedside. She made some distracted small talk with her, looking around the room. I was the only one in there now; the other boy had been discharged.
Suddenly, she stood up.
“It’s hot in here. Ain’t cha hot? I’ll open na winda a little.”
She unlatched it and pushed it up a couple of inches. A cool breeze blew in on us. I shivered and pulled the sheet up.
“Dere. Ain’t dat betta?”
“Lily! He’s cold! Shut da winda!”
She turned around and pushed the window down carefully. They talked over me as if I weren’t there for a few minutes. Lily was urging her mother to leave with her, which she did.
That night I woke up instantly out of a sound sleep into a state of frozen terror, all my senses straining. I saw the shadow of a head and shoulders growing, looming, moving across the juncture of the wall and ceiling. Like a small animal that has suddenly become aware of the presence of a predator immediately nearby searching for it, I didn’t breathe or move a muscle.
A face below a thick mop of hair came into view in the window at the head of the bed by my left shoulder. It turned, searching the room. In that shadowy face, the whites of the eyes gleamed all the way around.
Our eyes locked, and I knew: He found me! I let out a scream and scrambled to get out of that bed, over those damn rails.
The door was always left partially open at night, and a nurse came to see what was the matter. Almost hysterical, I tried to tell her what I’d seen and that he was going to kill me. She told me it was just another one of my nightmares; there was no one really there. I insisted this was real.
Maybe it was just to placate me, to show me it was nothing, but she went to the window and peered out. Almost instantly she stiffened and straightened up, putting her hand upon the window. Startled, she looked down at the latch and quickly fastened it.
What if anything she saw she didn’t say, but she stopped trying to tell me it was all a dream. The rest of the night a nurse stayed in the room with me…with the lights on. I was moved to another room the very next morning.
That was the room where the man with the red, hard face, tight collar and tie asked me questions. He unbuttoned his tan jacket as he sat down in a chair near my bed and pulled out a pad and a pencil.
Another, smaller man sat near the foot of the bed. He held up towards me a microphone about the size of a cigarette pack. A little behind him was a small wheeled table carrying a cubical, brownish-grey, reel-to-reel tape recorder; the reels lazily circled horizontally when he turned it on. He was the one who took my picture with a flash camera before they left.
The red-faced man asked me what I could remember about what happened to me. I couldn’t find the words or the memories to tell him much; I had not tried to remember since it happened, and in truth I really couldn’t remember exactly what happened; it was all too scattered and terrifying.
I insisted though that it was my mother and father that did it; that it was them. His face remained hard and impassive. I didn’t think he believed me and I began to think I made a mistake in trusting him with the truth.
I stopped talking… I didn’t tell the Witch about it either.
I have an insistent, visceral, highly emotional memory sometime later of ‘cracking in two’ upon understanding I was going to have to go back and live with them again.
I had thought I was finally safe.
Part of me ‘split off’ and was buried.
If I am typical, the process of memory repression in traumatic cases begins immediately, and rapidly becomes complete. Particularly if the child must remain with those who abused him or her.
My next clear memory is of the day I started Kindergarten.
The stillness and nausea that I’ve been experiencing since the 17th is easing a little. But I’m still being haunted by visions of dead children in my dreams again. God in heaven, please let me have been their only victim.
"A sadder and wiser man
He rose the morrow morn."
Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Samuel Taylor Coleridge