The October People, Chapter Eight: The Clamor of the Boetians
Clytemnestra: “A mother has her curse, child….Are you not afraid?”
Otrestes: “No. You bore me and threw me away, to a hard life.”
“The Libation Bearers”
The Clamor of the Boetians
The next day I called them to see if they wanted to accept my offer to take them out to dinner to continue our ‘discussion’. My father said she didn’t want to talk with me. He obviously didn’t either. He told me my mother said to put whatever I wanted to say in writing. Then he just hung up.
“In writing? What the Hell...”
My brothers had arrived by then to join their parents for the week. Strangely enough, considering the rather tempestuous afternoon the parents and I had the day before, they made no attempt to contact me. Not a peep to either blast or question me.
A few days later I got a call from my father.
“Ya Mutha wants ta know why ya won’t tawk ta her. She hasn’t eaten in 3 days, ya know.”
“Why I won’t talk to her?” I asked, letting the incredulity have free rein. “When I offered to talk a few days ago, it was you who said she didn’t want to talk. Now you want to? Great. I’ll be glad to talk…”
“No. Put it in writing.” he interrupted, then hung up.
For the rest of August I heard no more from them. However, a week or so after they were due to have returned to the Island I got a call from Kathy.
“This,” I thought, “is going to be interesting”.
Never in my life had I gotten a call from her to just say ‘hi’. The one time she did call me and began to chat, it was when she hit my number on her speed-dial instead of George’s. That was the day before I went down for Rosa’s funeral. She thought I was George and started to chatter away merrily. I stopped her and tried to tell her it was me, not him. At first she didn’t believe me. When she finally understood what she’d done, she laughed lightly and got off the phone...fast.
What was disconcerting was how her voice changed when she finally realized it really was me, not George. It was like a chill fell. She still sounded friendly, but a veil had been drawn; it was a put-on friendliness, a mask.
“How are you doing?” I asked.
“Oh, you know, some days are betta den ottas.” she replied dramatically, implying she possessed a chipper strength in the face of trials.
“So…What’s up? Why the call?” No sense in letting games get rolling. Might as well get right into it.
“Oh, nuttin. Jest called ta say ‘Hi’.” she chirped.
“You just called to say ‘Hi’…You haven’t been by any chance just talking with your mother?”
“Well…Actually, I was.” she adjusted quickly, speaking lightly. “An Mommy asked me ta call my brotha an tell him dat I love em. I said: ‘No problem!’”
“And you haven’t discussed what happened at the campground with her?”
“A bit…Why? What happened?”
I couldn’t help noticing that despite her efforts to remain the eternal teenage-coquette, her voice had coarsened too much. I started to tell her what had happened at the campsite. When I told her I’d called her mother “the consummate game player”, she broke in.
“You called her dat!?” she squealed. “I’ll bet dat really pissed her off!’ she laughed in conspiratorial glee.
I ignored that and went on to repeat to her what I’d told them about the family’s treatment of Melissa and me.
“Its cause dey don’t know ya!” she broke in, overly hastily.
“No. Like I told all the others: Kids react either with curiosity toward people they don’t know, or they ignore them; not with hostility. This was taught to them.”
“Didja actually hear anything said at da wake?
“Yeah, but don’t bother asking. I’ve seen how that game is played, and I ain’t interested in playing no more. I’ve been told I’m blunt and frank in my dealings with people. That’s a trait I’ve never shown the ‘family’. It’s about time I did.
If I’m treated with respect, I’m the best friend anyone could ask for. But...if you diss me…I don’t know you.”
“Have I ‘diss-ed’ ya?”
“I can’t rememba…I’ll haveta replay dose tapes of da wake in my head…”
“Take ya time. Have a nice life.”
I hung up, picked up the .30-.30, and went out to stand watch for the deer that were pillaging our fall salad crops. When I came back in a few hours later there were two messages on the machine; both from Kathy. The first was brief.
“I don’t know what happened, we musta bin cut off. Here’s my cell numba: 631-904-2198. Call me back.”
The second one was a prize. A shrill vituperative bitch began spitting into the phone.
“Dis is ya Sista, or whateva I am! Ya upset two 78 year olds! Mommy ain’t eaten in 3 days! I hope ya happy!...I don’t do letters! Ya wanna ‘bond’, bond at Christmas! Not at a wake!...A 47 year old woman jest died fa Chrissake!...WE HAD BABIES TA TAKE CARE OF!!...We didn’t give you or ya WWIIIFFFFE any SSSSHHITT about only stayin one day! We all know ya WWIIIFFFE don’t do people!!...Ya betta f*ckin call me back!”
The decision to leave her to her own fate was easy after that one.
That second call must have come right after a quick check with her mother because she now used the same odd line: “We had Babies to take care of.” Here too, there were no ‘Babies’ to take care of. She had also trotted out the same hackneyed excuse for their kid’s behavior.
For them all to use the same exact wording meant it was the result of consultation among them all. Which means they were working together. And against whom? Me.
She must have reported back that I didn’t respond, because suddenly the parents began to call again. After about a half-dozen of these calls a pattern became evident. Each was placed by my father, and began the same way:
“We don’t unnerstan what’s wrong. If we don’t tawk, how we gonna fix dis?”
As soon as it was evident that I had not changed what I was saying, suddenly no one wanted to talk anymore. “Put it in writing!” I’d be told abruptly, then he’d hang-up. A few days later; and another call exactly the same. A few days later; another one Again, and again, and again; over and over. It was like being stuck in a mindless loop of déjà vu.
“Why were they behaving so insanely about this? It’s obvious they really don’t want to ‘fix’ this, and no one could be so stupid as to not understand what I so plainly told them. So why are they doing this?”
My mother was driving this, of that I was sure. He might be the one placing the call, but she was right there; ordering, directing, coaching and prodding him. After thinking about it, it seemed to me that what was happening was that she found herself in an uncomfortable situation because I was for once not backing down, not trying to be the ‘good’ son, not trying to preserve the ‘peace’. She had no intention of addressing my concerns; never did. For her the critical issue was my refusing to climb down. But why?
Each of these calls was merely an unspoken message of an opportunity for me: “Drop it. We’re giving you an opening to back down. Everyone will pretend you never said a word. You just have to put everything back the way it was, and nobody will say a word. Just get back in your place.”
As soon as it was clear that I was not going to recant, the purpose of the call was over and they’d hang up on me. As soon as I grasped that, that was the end of ‘talking’ as far as I was concerned. I did something without precedent in the ‘family’: I did not answer nor return calls from my parents. If they wanted it in writing, well, maybe that wasn’t a bad idea; I’d put it in writing. But first I’d have to get it perfectly clear in my own mind what I was doing and why.
Just because I wasn’t answering their calls didn’t mean the calls ceased: Oh no. They picked up, they became daily. But now they could only leave messages, which for the first week or so were precisely the same as the calls had been. Lacking success with that formula, she began having him try different tacks.
“We don’t unnnerstan…If ya won’t not tawk ta us, how we gonna fix dis?...We love ya both. Okay. Bye-bye”
“Ya Mutha really would like ta tawk witcha…Ya always were her favorite…We love ya both. Okay. Bye-bye.”
“I miss-spoke yestaday…Ya Mutha loved cha all equally. I wouldn’t wantcha ta think I’m a hippo-crit…We love ya both. Okay. Bye-bye.”
“Ya mutha’s had a bad cough fa 3 weeks now…We love ya both. Okay. Bye-bye.”
“Dis is ya fatha! Pick up da phone!...We love ya both. Okay. Bye-bye.”
“Maybe we can all go out ta dinna an tawk about dis…We love ya both. Okay. Bye-bye.”
“Jest wanted ta tell ya dat Baby’s dead. We know how fond ya were of her…We love ya both. Okay. Bye-bye.”
The news about Baby almost did it; I almost picked up. But any grief at her death was overbalanced by the strangest sense that they killed that dog to get me to come to the phone. It wouldn’t be unprecedented. My father had already kicked one of their dogs to death in the past. After a day or so though, I began to think I was getting a little carried away. But then I got a letter from Jacob that once again aroused my suspicions.
Dear Frank and Melissa,
I hope this letter finds you both well. It is also my earnest hope that an early reconciliation can occur between all our families. Things are O.K. down here. Yesterday wasn’t so good though. I had to help Dad dig a grave for Baby. It was sad…”
“It stinks. The whole damn thing stinks.”
Jacob never did grunt work. George was the one always used for that. Maybe he was not supposed to see the body, so Jake was brought in. No mention of how she died. Last I heard she was as healthy as a horse.
I was beginning to regret ever having said a damn thing. It was about this time that Melissa warned me that if I continued to refuse to answer the phone my parents were likely to try and enlist the help of my children. I scoffed at that. I told her that my kids wouldn’t take calls from them for years, why would they suddenly now allow themselves to be used?
The calls continued.
“Hope all’s well witchu both. Everyone asks about cha…We love ya both . Okay. Bye-bye.”
“We’re not getting any younga, ya know!...We love ya both. Okay. Bye-bye.”
“How we gonna get connected again if won’t not tawk wit us?...We love ya both. Okay. Bye-bye.”
“If ya won’t answer da phone, how we gonna know if ya alive or dead!!? We don’t know if ya dead or alive!! Ya could be DEAD!! If ya don’t pick up da phone, or call us by Sataday, we’re gonna figga ya DEAD, an we’re gonna send da COPS ova dere!!”
Beginning with that last bizarre message on October 19th, for the next 2 days they called every hour. For Melissa, while the constant barrage of messages was irritating, they were so insane as to be hilarious. Never in her life had she heard anybody act out like this. It was like getting calls direct from the asylum.
“Were they actually threatening people they thought were dead?” she wondered bemusedly.
The frequency and the intensity of those same messages were now having a far different, and unexpected, effect on me: I was being shredded alive, torn apart. I couldn’t get hold of myself; I couldn’t think. The phone constantly rang, constantly left messages, making it impossible to concentrate.
Something was terribly, terribly wrong inside me. Something was trying to take over. Voices bellowed in my ear, overwhelming me: “You’re wrong! You’re wrong! You’re wrong! What are you doing!!? You’re wrong! You’re crazy! What are you doing!!? You’re wrong!” they roared and shrieked.
My abdomen was an oaken barrel crammed with frenzied rats trying to claw and chew their way out; my ears roared, my temples pounded.
And I instinctively knew I could make this ungodly pain cease instantly. All I had to do was call or pick up the phone and pretend that none of this happened, that I never said a word. They wanted me back in line, back in my place…or else.
It was all I could do to hold on, to not surrender. Did I really think it would be that easy? Like Oedipus defeating the Sphinx, thinking he’d won, only to enter Thebes where the real show began. Did I really think she would react sanely and rationally, that she’d fight fair? The campground was just the first skirmish.
I held onto one thought: I was not going back to being blind and stupid. I was being destroyed, taken apart by an enemy I couldn’t see or understand. But I could not, I would not, go back.
In desperation, I shut off the answering machine. That didn’t work. The phone just rang continuously. By Friday I couldn’t take it anymore. I told Melissa I was unplugging the phones. Silence, like a healing blanket, spread over the house.
That move forced my mother to adopt a new tactic. As their threat to call the police was insufficient to raise the presumed dead, she decided to engage my children in the hunt. From what Jackson told me later, she had no luck with him, as he had the good sense to continue not answering their calls. But they did leave him a message expressing their concern that “…we tink he’s wiggin out up dere...”
Erica did talk with them. They apparently told her we might be, or were, dead. Why we might be dead, or why they were leaving ultimatum’s for dead people was apparently left unexplained. But Halloween was drawing nigh. What better time to investigate a possible murder? She enlisted the help of her friend Sarah, and they drove through the night to recover our corpses.
During that long drive caution must have begun to assert itself. If there really was a double murder, perhaps barging in on the scene in the middle of the night might not be …prudent. Maybe the killers were still there; maybe it was some sort of satanic sacrifice. What to do?
But it was just too hard to give up the goose-bumps thrill of visiting a newly haunted house at night. So they stopped off at a State Police Substation, and procured the escort of two nice, young, male Troopers.
So it was, that after a long, wearying day’s work, Melissa and I were awakened at 3 a.m. by someone rapping on our front door. Coyotes filled the black night with their unholy chorus somewhere nearby.
“Who is it?” I bellowed out the upstairs bedroom window.
At the sound of my voice, the officer turned and looked questioningly at Erica. She had led them to believe I was old and may have died of old age or something geriatric.
“He’s really quite young…” she told him.
“It’s the police, sir! Are you alright!?”
“It’s me, Dad!”
I slept nude, so I had to fumble around for some clothes, pulling them on as I came down. When I threw open the door they all took one long step back. I’m sure I made quite the sight. I filled the doorway, my long hair looked like it was 3 a.m., and the clothes I had grabbed were my mangy work clothes: Not a pretty picture.
After the police were reassured, thanked, and had left, we invited the 2 somewhat discomfited young women in for coffee, breakfast…and an explanation. They kept their conversation light and perky, as if they’d just dropped in for an afternoon tea.
I couldn’t believe Erica actually thought we were dead. She adroitly avoided giving any details, or even much of the substance, of her conversation with her grandparents. She did say that after she talked with them she had tried to call me, but there was no answer. That gave her enough of a rationale.
For my part, I gave her an unrequested explanation of what had been transpiring between me and the Long Islanders since Ann’s funeral. I told her something of the pain I was experiencing as a result of my mother’s attempts to manipulate me into calling them. I apologized to my obviously uncomfortable daughter for using guilt as a means to get her to communicate with me in the past. She said that it didn’t work on her anyway.
“Anyway, I’m sorry you got drawn into ‘The October People’s’ foolishness.” I told her.
“ ‘The October People’. That’s what I started calling them, because they’re so weird about their visits each October.”
“Do you know what ‘October People’ means?”
“What do you mean; ‘means’?”
“It’s sort of ‘slang’ I guess, for the nuts that show up on full moons or during October, because of the temperature changes. Something about it makes them Loony. They’re called ‘Octards’ too.”
Melissa broke out into a delighted laugh. “Perfect!” she exclaimed. “It’s more appropriate than we thought!”
After they finished their coffee and not wanting to stay for breakfast, saying they had chips in the car, they left at dawn for the long ride back; reassured, if not pleased, that we were both alive, if not well.
When I called her the next day, she told me she had already reported back to her grandparents on the result of her mission. She told them that I was not going to talk to them, but that I would write a letter. She said she also told them she felt like she’d been used, and wanted to be left out of all this from now on.
Now that I had plugged the phone and answering machine back in, a message was quickly left, and it was my mother this time.
“We didn’t tell her ta do dat!! She did dat on her own! It was a dangerous thing she did!! But she was brave and wanted ta do it! So she did it! We didn’t make her!! She did it!”
This was getting out of hand. I should have known it would. I had to find a way to stop this insanity, and stop it cold.
“‘The October People’, huh? They wanted it in writing, did they? Well, actually, writing is the perfect vehicle for my purposes, not theirs. Letters do not get drawn into arguments or led off-course”.
This was going to have to be narrowly targeted and terse. To re-say all I had at the campground would be futile.
Every morning as I watched the sun come up, I nursed my coffee and thought about how and what to write. I resolved to strip all anger out of whatever I was going to say and get right to the root of the matter…and sever it.
The struggle to condensely express myself helped me see this ‘root’ more clearly: It was indeed my mother. She was the main block to any real dialog and the driving force behind it all. There was no use trying to go around her to reach her husband either, he was nothing but a puppet of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. No; she was the key.
And she was not going to change. Her behavior was deeply rooted, intrinsic. She was blindly obstinate, she would never give up. She would use any occasion, any contact, any pretext, any means, to achieve her ends. She could not be trusted; ever. She would never back off. There was no hope, no chance, of improvement.
Therefore; the only strategy that would lead to her complete restraint was to not open the door, not even a crack, not one word in reply…ever.
She had to be cut off cold, and told she was cut off. The ban on visits was not enough, this had to be total. I understood what I had to do. I began again to frame a letter. I wrote and rewrote it, simplifying it more and more until finally, in early November I was satisfied:
You’ve worked yourselves into a frenzy as usual. You were not patient in waiting for this letter that you requested, I suggest you be patient in reading it.
I have no intention of repeating everything I’ve already said. You understand and remember it quite well. You choose not to accept it, that’s all.
I am not doing this to cause upset, but rather to acknowledge reality, and to live honestly in accord with it.
None of you has, or would choose to have, some one like me, with my personality, tastes, opinions, and lifestyle, as a friend. The same is true of me concerning you. The only reason we have had anything to do with each other at all, is the abstract concept of ‘family’, as we were taught to obey it.
I harbor no ill-wishes toward any of you. I am not looking for revenge, apologies, reconciliation, or ‘bonding’.
I am withdrawing from the family. Neither illness, deathwatch, nor death will induce me to return.
I have never asked you for anything, I owe you nothing, and I expect nothing from you, except to be left in peace.”
“It’s good.” Melissa told me after I had read it to her. “But do you really think you need to put in that bit about illnesses and dying?”
“Yes. I do. You don’t know her like I do. She won’t back off. She’s going to keep escalating this and keep ratcheting up the pressure to get me to do what she wants. Guilt is her only weapon now. She will take this to the death.”
“Oh, c’mon! Stop! I think you’re getting carried away now.”
“No, no, I’m not. It will come to that, and I’ve got to be prepared for it. Want me to tell you how this will all play out?”
“Sure. Go ahead.”
“I won’t back down, so eventually she’ll say she’s sick, then she’ll be ‘fading’, then ‘dying’. And it will come to her dying. And I’ll be blamed for killing her. She’ll say the only thing she wanted was to hear my voice. That will be the poison she drops in the well if she can’t win.”
“I guess you know her better than I do, so you’re probably right. But I wouldn’t have thought anybody would behave like that. That’s crazy.”
I addressed the envelope and walked it out to the mailbox. I took a long, thoughtful look around me. It was a crisp, clear, late autumn dawn. I gazed down at the envelope in my hand, fully aware of how irrevocable this was; put it in the mailbox and flipped up the flag.
A response was not long in coming.
“Dis is ya Mutha! Ya wrong, an ya know ya wrong!!...None of my kids has eva done anything wrong! YOUR’E WRONG!! …I’m shocked dat you would say dis!..An I’m shocked, shocked, dat you, Melissa, would go along wit sumthin like this!!...”
“Ooooo, that was a good one!” Melissa observed appreciatively. “Did she just say you’re not one of her ‘kids’?”
“Sure sounded like it. She must have been really torqued to get on the phone again herself instead of having Hubbie do it.”
That little diatribe by my mother was the only anomaly. All the other ‘deposits’ on the machine from then on were left by my father and all reverted back to professing amnesia and non-understanding, expressed in his banal, whining voice.
It was as if I had never sent that letter of resignation. The war of attrition had re-commenced and as Christmas approached the frequency of the now unchanging, monotonous messages neither waxed nor waned.
As I slowly got a grip on myself again, I pondered what appeared to be her senseless, no; insane, behavior. Why the persistent unwillingness to not leave me in peace? The ‘siblings’ had no problem leaving me be; I hadn’t heard ‘boo’ from them since they got the letter. Why not their mother? Why was it so critical to her that I remain attached to the ‘family’I had never belonged to? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just let me go my own way? Then they could invent whatever story they liked to explain my ‘miscreant’ behavior. Why was she insisting that I accept and believe in a delusion no one else does?
They kept saying over and over that they didn’t understand: That was impossible. At the campground they clearly did understand. So why would they keep saying they didn’t?
Were they really saying that they thought that the reasons I gave for cutting them off were not the real reason? Did they think something else, something I wasn’t saying, lay behind my decision to leave the ‘family’? Did they know of another reason why I would? If they did, they were being extremely careful not to say it before I did.
One thing was sure; they weren’t harrying me out of love. They couldn’t even bring themselves now to make an appeal to ‘love’. Oh, he ended each message with the same flat “We love ya both. Okay. Bye-bye.”, but it was as devoid of affection as those cold cheeks I always had to kiss.
All my life I had seen hate and been told it was love. Words said they loved: Eyes said they hated. Actions said they hated. And I had to admit to myself that in truth, I had no love for them either. I had honored them as my parents, I told myself I loved them; but I didn’t really. So why had those messages torn me up so bad?
It was hard for me to think about how I felt, but it seemed to be a fear that I might be wrong. Or was it fear that I might be insane? It couldn’t be fear of them.
Christmas this year was delightful; just the two of us enjoying the quiet holiday cheer of good food, good drink and good company.
One night in late January, Melissa asked me what I remembered about my childhood. That always made me uncomfortable. I didn’t like talking or thinking about it. And I had been raised to believe that it was self-centered and wrong to do. But she kept gently urging me to, saying she’d often wondered why I hadn’t spoken of it.
So I tried to think about what I hadn’t in years.
“Let’s see…” I sighed. “Well, the kids I grew up with were rough, coarse. We played hard and at full speed. Everybody always had scabby elbows and knees, and one or more fingernails or toenails in the process of growing back in…I didn’t enjoy ‘growing up.’”
“Well, I guess one reason was you always had to be on your guard. Fights were everywhere, every day, ‘Wherever two or more are gathered’, as they say. On the way to and from the Bus Stops, at the Bus Stops, at recess, after school, in parking lots, on streets, behind stores, at ball fields; everywhere.
The worst, most intolerable, thing you could be called was “Chicken” or “Yellow”. That was an insult that could not remain unchallenged.
Each block had its own loose ‘gangs’. Usually there was one at each end of the block, and often another one in the middle. Whenever you left your own territory, you were in some other ‘gang’s’ and fair game. I was a loner and a wanderer, which meant I ran into a lot of trouble.”
I told her it was taken for a fact of life that the older and bigger preyed on the younger and smaller. When you walked down the street and a bigger kid or kids came toward you, you got on the other side of the street , kept your mouth shut and your body on ‘High-Alert’ till they were past. Unless you wanted to get beat up and have your face rubbed into dog shit. Might made right; period.
If you carried a wallet you kept it in a front pants pocket, where it was harder to pickpocket. If you had lunch money; you kept it in your sock for when the hoods, we didn’t call them ‘greasers’ then, shook you down.
And never, ever, use the school bathrooms if you could avoid it. There were no doors on the stalls and there are fewer positions more vulnerable than sitting on the toilet with your pants at your ankles. The hoods gathered in there to smoke and you could get beat up, have your head flushed in the toilet, or just get humiliated.
Outside of school was where the gangs of hoods were at their worst, but only when they were in numbers. Their methods of starting something were crude but effective. The whole idea being to put you in a position where you either had to fight heavy odds or cringe. Just a push, a shove, or calling you out was enough.
The girls that hung with those gangs were no prizes either. They loved to see humiliation. They’d single out a shy, scrawny kid and pretend to come on to him, which would turn him cherry-red in embarrassment. Then one of the pompadoured hoods in his motorcycle jacket would step up, start shoving the kid around, demanding to know who the f*ck he was, messing around with his girl.
“Down there you had no choice: You had to fight. But don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to give the impression that I was a peerless fighter; I wasn’t. Though by my late teens I was pretty damn good. I’d say that out of all the fight situations I was in, 50% of them could be honorably avoided by seeing it coming and not exposing myself to the trap. Another 30% remained stand-offs without a thrown punch because I faced down the opponent. 10% more were a draw by mutual consent after a brief flurry or scuffle, allowing each of us to claim victory and salvage our pride. Out of those last, serious, 10% of situations; for every fight I won, I probably lost one. What I am proud of however is that I never ran, and I never lost a fight that I fought to help someone else in trouble.
It was only after I left the Island and heard others talking about their own childhoods and how they viewed us Long Islanders that I began to realize that most people didn’t think the way we grew up down there was normal. Matter of fact, most thought we were criminal, pugnacious and psychotic.
Looking back, there was an awful lot of kids from school and in the neighborhood lost to stabbings, shootings, suicides, electrocutions, stompings, car accidents, drownings, getting set on fire, and disappearances. And then there was the toll Vietnam, prisons, Mental Institutions, and AIDS took. Over the years I’ve come to hate going back there and learning what happened to more of the kids I grew up with.
Long Island by the 60’s was already pretty densely populated out almost as far as Smithtown: That’s a lot of neighborhoods. Not all were like my lower-working-class one.
There were extremely affluent ones, ones that made my jaw drop when I first saw them in my teens. I didn’t know people could live like that, with built-in pools off their own bedrooms, their own color TVs, their own cars, parents who bought them things, and food everywhere.
And then there were other neighborhoods so bad that they made mine look like a Petting Zoo.”
“Sounds ‘lovely’. You weren’t born on Long Island though, were you?”
“No. I was born in the City. We moved out to the Island when I was in 1st Grade.”
“You never told me about living there. How come you never mentioned that? I’ll bet that must have been interesting. Where’d you live?”
“Woodside. In Queens. I never mentioned it because I don’t remember anything about it.”
“Wait a minute…What do you mean? You remember nothing?”
“Nope. The earliest thing I remember is walking through the front door of our ‘new house’ on the Island at sundown. Early November, November first actually, 1958. I was almost 7.”
“I don’t believe this. You really remember nothing at all from before you were almost seven years old? And yet you remember the day you moved there so clearly? How come you never told me this?”
“I don’t know. What was I going to tell you? I don’t remember anything… except for a few fragments that I don’t know when they happened, or where I was…”
“Oh, I probably told you…or maybe you heard them from my mother. You know; the broken collarbone, the hemorrhage, the broken noses…Stuff like that.”
“I remember. She never once told any cute or tender stories about you: only injuries. ‘Accident-Prone’, weren’t you? Isn’t there anything else you can remember?”
“No.” I shook my head confidently but sadly, and then stopped abruptly.
“Except I do remember sitting under tall weeds in a vacant lot. I don’t know when that was. I think it was across the street from the apartment building. It was beautiful….And a Violin. A woman, I think…I don’t know who, showed me a Violin in a box. I don’t know where or when. But that Violin is crystal clear. I think it’s a memory, but I don’t know. And I’ve had it for as long as I can remember… when I do remember it. Every time I asked about it, my mother told me there was no Violin ever; no one had one anywhere at anytime. Remember? You heard her once.”
“I remember. She really snapped at you when you persisted in saying you did see one somewhere.”
“It’s one of the most intense ‘memories’ I have…I can see it now. But I’m told it’s not a memory; that it never happened. But I know I saw it…I just can’t remember anything else around it. I can’t even remember what I was thinking or feeling. That scene of seeing the Violin is like an island in an empty sea.”
“That’s very strange.”
“I do remember something else…” I said very slowly, frowning with the effort to hold onto what had just flit across my mind. Something from what seemed like another life, from before time began for me.
“I…remember hearing my parents…both of them…telling me: ‘Don’t bother calling for help. It’s never going to come.’”.
I had started out steadily, but by the time I finished I was shaking uncontrollably, so violently it knocked the ash off the cigarette dangling forgotten in my fingers.
I looked up at her.
“What kind of thing is that to tell a little kid!?” I blurted out, trying to hold back wracking sobs.
I was deeply ashamed. I’d never done anything like that before. I don’t do that. I inhaled the cigarette deeply, my hand trembling.
We were both quiet for a few moments.
The woodstove crackled softly.
“Did you ever consider the possibility that you may have been abused?” she asked me quietly. “Putting together all you’ve told me, and the stories your mother told about all those injuries, I’m beginning to think you may have been.”
No one had ever asked me anything remotely like that. I wasn’t sure what to say. I didn’t remember anything. I didn’t remember anything at all. I wasn’t even sure what ‘abused’ meant.
“I suppose it’s possible.” I answered mechanically.
That was the evening of January 30th
That night I dreamt.