That Time

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I used to think there was a great work inside of me and that I will never be fulfilled unless it was realized. I had to write a book. Write a one-man play. Create an epic work of art. Be recognized for my greatness. It has been my burden. I have tried and failed so many times. But I finally get it. The form doesn’t matter. The work is nothing more than sharing my story. My greatness is my continuing survival. And so I begin…

That Time (01)

(Some names in this story have been changed, some have not.)

I was taking a break in a writing class when I decided to google my childhood rapists. I was 60 years old and it had never occurred to me to do that before. I found Frances’ obituary. Technically, it was his older brother who raped me but Francis held my face against the dirt with his boot. The obituary was about Frances but it mentioned Carl as surviving his brother. Who said irony is dead?

I’ve been trying to write this story for years and this is not what I usually start with. I didn’t know I was raped for most of my life. I lived in fear of a big, bad, dark secret that I never could get close to without feeling like it would kill me. I mean that literally. Every time I approached the memory I thought I had to die if I dared to remember it. I thought someone had to kill me. With a knife. I also very much wanted to remember.

This is all I knew: abandoned chicken coop; running; shouting; trying to get away; not being able to; a flash of white underpants; jack knife; black. This makes it sound obvious but it was always vague and blurred. In soft focus. I couldn’t really see any of it. I just had a sense. These weren’t memories. They were impressions received while in a fugue state. Look away.

The first nightmare was about dinosaurs. I wake up in my upstairs bedroom to see an ape man sitting in the tree outside my window, looking at me. I run downstairs, through the kitchen, then down more stairs to the basement. One of those dinosaurs with the long neck was down there. I run outside and the the front yard opens up and more dinosaurs come out from the ground. I had that dream a bunch of times. It was always exactly the same and I never remembered the ending. It was terrifying.

Every other time I tried writing about this I started by keeping you in the dark. I figured since I had to live with the mystery of what happened to me, you should, too. I started with the biggest clue, my brother’s suicide, and then slowly fed you more clues in preparation for a big reveal at the end. Because that’s how it went for me. My life was one long literary technique. Well, here we are: I Just gave away the ending.

Or did I?

The other nightmares, and there have been a lot of them, were also recurring but less exactly so. The gist was the same. A dark figure appears. Has a knife. Is going to kill me. I run away. I wake up, sometimes with a scream. He appeared so frequently I gave him a name: The Prince of Darkness. I wrote about him so often I dubbed him, “The P of D.”

I met him in real life a few times but I always managed to get away. I usually had to humiliate myself by running away in front of everybody but a boy’s gotta do what a boy’s gotta do. To stay alive.

Wondering about that suicide? It was the cataclysmic event that put me on the path to finally remembering everything. His name was Frankie. He was older by a couple years and we were best friends for a few years as kids. Some of my best memories were of me and him on various adventures. Riding bikes. Fishing. Skinny dipping. Stealing shit. Firecrackers. Exploring the burnt down drug store. Digging up bones in that crypt we found in the middle of the woods.

Hey, remember that time we rode our bikes 20 miles from Franklin to Sherborn? We were gonna spend the night at Nana’s house but as we finally turned onto her street I got this funny feeling and I slowed down and let you get ahead of me. Your turned into her driveway and I started pumping the pedals hard past the driveway. I just took off and never looked back. I never understood how or why but you didn’t come after me and I got lost. I spent hours riding who knows where but I miraculously ended up home again by nightfall. Everybody was worried, then relieved, but also amazed that I managed to get home. Ever since I have always trusted my innate sense of direction.

That story was always going to be one of the clues but the truth is I never solved it. Why was I so afraid that I chose to get lost instead of spend the night there at her house? What was I really running away from? I still don’t know.

I found out much later that she had sexually abused my father when he was little. I certainly couldn’t have known about that then. Could I?

Frankie and I eventually grew apart. By the time we were teenagers we avoided each other as much as possible. He seemed to think I was trying to follow in his footsteps and it was as if resented me for it. First, he went to the alternative high school program, Omnibus. Then, as soon as he graduated, I did too. Then, when he was living in that half-way house I lost my virginity to his girlfriend, Sheryl. After that, while he was hitch-hiking out west I had sex with his next girlfriend, Julie. Yeah, he resented me.

I’m going to make a big leap here to his suicide while we were in our forties. I came home one day to a message on the answering machine. “Hello Eric, this is your brother Tom. Call me as soon as you get this. And you better be sitting down.”

In all my other attempts to tell this story, that’s where I start. With Tom’s not subtle message. It seemed weird that he would say, “it’s your brother Tom” instead of just “it’s Tom” but that’s just Tom. And at the time we probably hadn’t spoken in a couple years so maybe he thought I’d forgotten about him? Nah. That’s just Tom. So was, “and you better be sitting down.” Tom doesn’t prevaricate. I knew immediately that someone (in the family) was dead. But who?

There were eight of us. Two parents, six kids. Now there were seven. None of us were close. Tom and I have had periods of being close, and since this call we’ve become closer. But he gave me nothing to indicate who had died.

I knew it was Frankie.

A few years prior I was in therapy. Well, actually, I had been in therapy for most of my life, but a few years prior I was specifically examining my relationship with my parents and I had decided that I wanted a break in contact with them. I wrote both of them (they were divorced) a brief note saying so. I put it in the simple context of “I’m going through a difficult time, emotionally.”

My father responded with a postcard (he always wrote postcards, never letters) saying, “I got your note. Ha, ha.” My mother responded with a letter of apology for my shitty childhood. I had gotten a lot of those so I “filed it” with the rest. I was expecting those responses. I wasn’t expecting the letter from Frankie, with whom I hadn’t communicated in a very long time.

He knew about my request because he lived with our mother. He was 44 at the time. I think he only lived apart from her for about 10 years of his life. That’s not a relationship I care to contemplate. But she showed him my note. Or told him what it said.

So, Frankie wrote me a letter. It was handwritten, five pages, both sides, in tiny cursive. In short, it was long. I almost didn’t read it out of spite. I couldn’t fathom why he would do such a thing after I specifically said I didn’t want to be contacted.

It began, “I hate myself so much and everyone else would hate me, too, if they knew who I really am.” Just like that, as if I would know what he meant. We hadn’t spoken in years and I rarely thought of him. He had become a stranger to me. The entire letter just kept saying the same thing over and over in different ways.

He was a wretch. He hated himself. He was a fake and a phony. Pretending to be like everyone else. His life was a lie. He thought about killing himself all the time. He was such a horrible human he probably should kill himself. Five fucking pages without any context or background. A hate letter to himself. Addressed to me.

I was stunned. I was pissed. I was mystified. Not just with the content but with the timing. He didn’t write me a letter. He wrote me a confession. It was almost as if he was apologizing. Was he unburdening himself of something? Was I expected to respond? My anger grew.

I tore up the letter, threw it away, and didn’t think about it again.

Until a few years later. Until the phone call. From my brother Tom. It was Frankie. Frankie had killed himself.

That Time (02) Playing With Fire

stories about our childhood
known to be true
even if we don’t believe
memory is ours
or not
the way memory works

killing black
snakes from a boat
in the pond behind
art’s corner store
yellow green
dill pickles
crisp tart and perfect
thirty three cent smokes
mars bar under our belt
he caught us the first time
wouldn’t be the last

tell the stories
couldn’t be true
couldn’t not be

anything that could burn
went into the bag
cigarettes cigars matches
pipe tobacco
(for our pipes)
highway flares in our pants
pouring lighter fluid
on the chair in the woods
sitting it out
lighting our arms on fire
the smell of burnt hair
and grass
from that time
we blackened
the baseball field
ran barry’s tighty whiteys
up the flagpole

caught at
the five and dime
by the two-way mirror
the smug old bastard
waiting for our parents
who fucking cares
we’ll jump the train

heads rolled
one from a rolling car
the other on the railroad
who fucking cares
not our head
not that time

the older kid with tin foil
wrapped around his head
we didn’t know about
alien lizards
but they are perfect
we woulda
made them up if not

is it a coincidence
that our childhood
was full of tropes
moments of apocryphy

true crime stories
sheriff killed someone
with a shotgun
then himself
deputy caught fucking
in the back seat
fucking fourteen!

which came first
the chicken
or the coop?

tell the stories
not that one
not yet

that time our best friend
got the best of us in a fight
pinned us down
“if you don’t get off
we’ll kill you”
it worked
we beat his ass because
it was expected it was
our turn
felt bad about it
later in the penny candy store
across the street from the movie
theatre where we watched
to sir with the mark of the devil
said we was sorry but
the hurt in his eye
said more

stolen candles from the altar
we couldn’t find the wine
why should we tell the priest our sins
ok we lied so fucking what
old bastard
shit on the pew

code word: pencils
”let’s go buy us some pencils”
two quarters was all it took
for a pack of pencils
but why not take four
they stack so neatly
easily lifted
from her purse

parents don’t know anything
can’t see anything
can’t be found
parents are strangers
we were forced to abide
worse than that

that time we burned
down the barn
don’t worry the horses
weren’t in it
but if you put a fireplace in
a tack room under
a loft full of hay
someone has to light a fire
before the end of the act

our first paper tits
were behind that barn

we smoked it all
laced with dirt
palm leaves on easter sunday
banana skins any other saturday
seven kinds of liquor
in a peanut butter jar

sugar in the gas tank
run like hell

we put that firecracker
in the frogs mouth
cut the snakes head
off with a folding knife
we all had one
we were boy scouts
(torture camp)

frog egg fights
good old fashioned
fun with flaming plastic
cars speeding
down the driveway

crypt in the woods
or was it a tomb
door cracked open
easy to pry
in the dirt
easy to dig
moist dirt
dried wood
whoa check it out
jaw bone with teeth
gold fuck yeah
take it home
made to put it back but
we didn’t

meet Frances
hiya kid hand out
for a shake
feeling cool until
down on the snow bank
boot against our head
please to meet ya
ha ha have some
it burns so good
it helps to
ease the pain

the first time
talking to fred flintstone
from a nickel bag laced
with ashes
then it was all smiley button
and steak knife
by the pool

(we ended up finding
the cat’s body
in the storage room
under a pile of

smoke bombs down the aisle
here kid wanna drag
ducks ass for you
plastic baggie of
various pills
various shapes
various purposes
various sizes
various colors
oops busted again
so fucking what
what does that do?

we didn’t flinch
when the Mr. Asshole punched
the locker right
next to our head
he got a pair of frog eyes
in a candy wrapper
for that one

another use for pencils
broken in half
at the right angle
scratched her name into our arm
bloody “linda”
we made out but
got in trouble
for not doing more
than that

running across the gym floor
legs moving in time
to the rhythm of the band
against our will
the first time we
realized the body
doesn’t always cooperate
whose body is it?
we did not want that to happen
the body does what
the body is made
to do

smoke bombs were
store bought
but the cannons and the
stink bombs were
home made
bunch of match heads
bobby pin rubber band
pen cap and copper tube
scientifically assembled

in the abandoned chicken
coop, where…

our other brother
heard we could get high
if we lick the skin of a toad
let’s find us some toad

we were all
American boys

That Time (03) The Wheels of the Bus Go Round and Round

I was raped. I think. No, not raped. Sexually abused. No, not that. Well, yes, that, but that was at home and more subtle than the incident that I’m talking about now. That was subtle abuse. There’s nothing subtle about it. And we are surrounded by it. My early years at home included violence, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and worst of all, neglect. All of that is part or this story. But the centerpiece of this story is a sexual assault that occurred outside of the home.

Was I raped? It depends on how you define that word. When applied to men it evokes a specific kind of rape: prison rape. Prison rape is a boogey man, a joke, a warning. If you are not enough of a man, this might happen to you. My favorite trope is this: if you rape a child, you deserve to be raped in prison. Don’t pick up the soap, mate. Har har.

Everyone agrees, including the worst gangsters and homicidal maniacs among us, raping children is bad. That’s not true. What we agree on is that anally raping a child with a penis or other object deserves to be punished, if caught. That kind of rape is rape, especially if there is bleeding. The many other ways of violating children are brushed aside, hidden, ignored, denied, and otherwise enabled and perpetuated. How can it be stopped? Unfortunately, a large part of that burden rests on the shoulders of those of us who survived. This is one of my efforts in that regard.

Was I raped? It depends on who you ask.

Mind: “I can’t remember. I can’t be sure. Was it a dream? What’s the difference between memory and a nightmare? Something happened. I blacked out. No, absolutely not. It can’t be true. That would not have been possible. I couldn’t have kept something like that a secret. I must be making it up. I want it to be true so people will feel sorry for me. But if it isn’t true then why should they be sorry for me? It’s gone forever so stop trying to figure it out. It doesn’t matter. Why am I stuck in the past? Why can’t I just let it go, “move on.” That’s not something anyone would forget. I’m definitely making it up. I’m exaggerating. It wasn’t that big of a deal. It wasn’t as bad as I think. It probably didn’t happen. Just stop fucking thinking about it. It can’t be true if I don’t remember it. If my mind shut down, if I blacked out, was unconscious, then it couldn’t be traumatic because I didn’t experience it. I will never know. I have to know. Let it go. I can’t let it go.”

Body: “Something happened to me. I am not in control of my body. I am not in my body. I feel dizzy. I feel nauseous. I’m shaking. I am afraid. I am afraid all the time. I am going to die. I am going to be killed. I am not safe. Please don’t touch me. Don’t hug me. I can’t sleep. I can’t stay awake. Please love me. Please touch me. Please fill this hole inside of me. Don’t look at me. I am not my body. I hate my body. This is not my body! I can’t look at myself. I can’t look at my penis. I do not have genitals. I am dirty. I need take a shower. I need to clean myself. I do not have an anus. It doesn’t exist. Don’t ever let them see you naked. Sex is not safe. I need sex. I should not have sex. I I should not masturbate. I need to masturbate. Should I cut it off?. I’m exhausted all the time. I just want to sleep. I just want to die. Please don’t love me, I’m not deserving of it. Please don’t touch me. Don’t fucking hug me! Where am I?”

Thích Nhất Hạnh wants me to know my mind and my body are one. That may have been true at one time. Was I pure when born? Was I a baby Buddha? If so, what happened? Did I fall from grace? Was the severing gradual and natural? Could it have resulted from mere neglect? Or was it brutal and violent? Was it a kind of death? Was it an initiation? What even was “it”?

I know this to be true: I am still me but I was never me. I remember me but how could I have been me before I ever had memories?

This is also true: I am defined by what was done to me. I will always be defined by what was done to me. I could not be me, otherwise. I will never not be someone who was raped as a child. Even if I don’t even know if I was raped. (I was.) (It depends.)

If I go a long time without crying my body will find a way. Yogis promote slow breathing based on a belief that we have a finite amount of breaths available to us. By slowing them down we can extend our lives. I have a certain amount of tears that must be shed before I die. If I don’t shed them, I will never be free. I spent most of my life holding them back. Ashamed of them. So my body finds ways. I cry at the strangest things. I cry when the hero rescues the victim. I cry when I see children holding hands. I cry the most and the deepest, when I see a parent loving their child.

Trigger Warning: A trigger is a part of a gun. Triggers exist to fire the gun. Triggers wouldn’t exist without guns. Knives don’t have triggers but they can kill you just the same. Trigger warning? I don’t need no stinking trigger warning. I have a constitutional right to my Triggers. Don’t Trigger on me.

There has never been a time in my life when I did not consider suicide. I still do. Why do we place an ethical heirarchy on death and why do we put suicide at the bottom? Death of old age is acceptable, excusable, even appreciated. Death while sleeping is ideal. Sudden death better than slow death. Unless too young for it. Death by cancer? Tragic and noble. Death by accident? Injustice. Death by murder? Someone must pay for it. Replace the value. Death is rarely deserving. Unless you deserved it.

The best death? It comes late in life, with enough of a warning that we can prepare for it. So that we can say good bye. Not so long coming that we suffer. Peaceful death. This kind of death is revered. It’s a sweet release.

What is contemplation of suicide if not preparing for the inevitable? What if suicide, and by extension, death, is the most important thing that we can contemplate?

For years, the ringtone on my phone was the song, “Institutionalized,” by the band Suicidal Tendences. It’s an anthem about a young man struggling with mental illness. I didn’t put much thought into choosing it. I had seen them perform it in the 80’s, it’s a great song. The singer is yelling at everyone to just fucking leave him alone in the midst of his mental turmoil and that’s basically how I feel every time my phone rings. The song ends with his parents institutionalizing him for “his own safety.” Same reason I checked myself in a few years ago. Irony is one of my drugs of choice.

We don’t like to talk about these things. Much of what I’m saying is making some of you uncomfortable. Worried about me. Does he really still think about suicide? After all the healing work he’s done? In spite of the wonderful life and family he finally has? He seems so grounded. So… together. Yes, I am and yes, I do. Doesn’t everybody? Don’t you?

A psychic once told me that I was a kamikaze pilot in my previous life. She also said this one, my current life, is my 74th, and that it might be my last. That I was close to completing my work. I knew she was a quack, a grifter, a manipulator, but she had me bawling. Grieving for the sacrifice I had made. Greiving my own death. It wasn’t for the kamikaze pilot.

I did not believe in reincarnation. I do not. Not in the sense of ego identity, anyway. I know we’re made of energy and that energy, like matter, can’t be destroyed. I also know that Eric Benvenue-Jennings has never existed before now and never will again. I don’t know how to reconcile these beliefs with what I am about to tell you.

I was with a girlfriend on a beach on Cape Cod. Long before I met the psychic. I was young. It was a gorgeous cool night with clear skies and multitudes of stars brighter than seemed possible. It had been a romantic evening with some kissing but mostly just being together. I wasn’t in love but I was in peace. At peace. We had settled into a dreamy state of no more talking, just being. As I contemplated the milky way I was suddenly overcome by a feeling. A flash of insight. A memory. I wanted to commit suicide. No, that wasn’t it. It was something else. I had already committed suicide. Many, many times. This was my legacy. My past, my destiny, my future. Forever. Because the simple act of being born is suicide. I realized I was in a cycle. On a wheel. And that the only way off is through. The only way to be free is to live.

Want to know what really happened in that abandoned chicken coop? I died. I wasn’t raped, I was murdered. I have been dead all this time but I forgot. I am The Walking Dead. The Wicker Man. The Sixth Sense. I am Jacob’s Ladder. The Nightmare on Partridge Street.

You don’t understand paranoia if you think it means, “someone is out to get me.” You don’t understand paranoia if you think it means, “they’re all out to get me.” They? Them? They’re puppets. They probably don’t even know that they’re in on it. They aren’t out to get you. They’re just playing a role. They’re just fabric. Pull their thread and they disappear. But wait, what’s that? The thread is still in my hand when they’re gone. Oh, look, there’s another piece of fabric on this thread. Pull it away and there’s always more.

This is paranoia: the entire universe is an illusion. With a purpose. The purpose is you. The purpose is that you must die. Ritualistically, with a knife. You will be sacrificed. There’s no way out. You can run away. You can wake up screaming. You can curl up on the floor in the back of a  Volkswagon Beetle muttering to yourself over and over, “there’s no place like home.” But this? All of it? It’s just for you. Let me see your neck.

I’m good, though. I’m ok with it. I don’t take it personally. It just comes with the territory. With being the center of the universe. Because I’m still here. I escaped the knife. No matter how many times The Prince of Darkness comes for me, I always escape. I wake up. Still alive. Once I had that realization, things got better.

The last time I met the P of D I surrendered. I let him put his knife right through me. I woke up smiling. I can do this. I can ride this out. I’m aiming for an ideal death, but I’ll be ok with the bus, if it comes. Because that little kid that died in the chicken coop? He’s back. Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah.

That Time (4) Running Into Myself

I attended an online writing class this morning (Thanks Roz) and one of the prompts resulted in this short episode. It surprised me how easily this came because I’ve never written about this memory before. I’m including it here because it feels like a good summary of what I’m attempting to do with these stories.

“Wow! This place is huge! This is gonna be great.”

He’s in a onesie. It covers his feet with soft fabric. His excitement propels him. He runs into the house, down the hall, into the kitchen. He makes a sliding stop, changes directions, runs back and to the left, into the den. Slides again. Stairs! Tries running up but it’s too steep, his feet too slippery. Almost falls on his ass, laughing. Grabs the hand rail, steps up quickly but in control. As soon as he steps onto the landing he takes off again. Into and out of the four rooms. Four bedrooms! This is amazing!

Go ahead. Run. Enjoy this. You will always treasure this moment. The feeling of wonder. At the space. The expanse. The new polished floor. The lack of furniture, of anything. The number of rooms. The freedom. The escape. It won’t last, of course, but for a few brief moments, you come out of your shell. You allow yourself to expand into the space of this new, gigantic house. You’ll remember this feeling forever. I do.

From this moment, you will always love moving. Leaving a place. Letting go. The excitement of discovery, of potential. Leaving the past behind and entering a world of possibility. Of hope. However short-lived.

“You make it sound like it’s not real. Like I’m running away. But I’m not. I know exactly what’s going on here. I’m remembering that I’m still a child. I’m allowing myself to be a child. I’m allowing myself to feel safe. My hope isn’t about the future. I don’t care what comes next. I’m not running away. I’m running into myself.”

That Time (5) Instant Trauma is Gonna Get You

Ethel. Born Ethel Marie Jennings in 1933. Sometime in the 70’s she began using the name Marie. She claimed Marie as part of her healing journey. Ethel was the little girl who was sexually abused by three older brothers. Ethel was the meek, timid, and abused wife of a raging husband. Marie was the adult who had finally grown up and become independent. Ethel began therapy and Marie graduated from it. Marie divorced the angry husband, dyed her hair, got a job, went out dancing.

I respected her preference while she was alive but now that she’s gone she’s Ethel again. I don’t use her birth name out of spite or anger. I use it because it reminds me how the time and culture we grow up in stays with us, in some respects, always. I use it because it was Ethel who neglected and abused me. It is Ethel I remember spanking me with a hair brush. It was Ethel who locked me out of the house and let me bang on the door sobbing and shrieking to be let back in for hours at a time. It was Ethel who administered enemas as punishment— wait, that’s not right. That was Verna. Ethel told me it was Verna, my grandmother, who did that to my father when he was a boy. It was so long ago and I spent so many years burying the memories that I still get confused.

I never knew Ethel as a mother. That’s probably because she didn’t view me as her son. Not when I was born. I was the fourth boy in a five or six year span. By the time I was born she was done being a mother. She just couldn’t do it. How could anybody in her shoes? She was a stay at home housewife with multiple kids and an abusive husband. Did I mention her childhood?

Her brothers were considerably older than her and they were, shall we say, large personalities. Stereotypical drunken Irish men who hung out all night at bars, singing Irish songs with the boys, who came home drunk and took turns with their precious little sister.

Her father died when she was very young so he doesn’t come into the story. Her mother exists only in one memory that is a combined version of hers and mine. She’s ancient, decrepit, sitting in a wheel chair. Her skeletal, wrinkled, ashen hands were distorted by severe arthritis into comical evil godmother hands curling in on themselves. She is saying, “This is god’s punishment for my sins. This is what happens to sinners. Don’t sin!”

In spite of her background Ethel, and then Marie, stayed close to her brothers, and a sister. There were many family gatherings with all of them together, drinking and singing. Not Marie, though. She didn’t drink nor sing. She would have loved to sing but she didn’t dare draw that kind of attention to herself. Uncle Dick, Uncle Eddie, Uncle Bob, and Aunt Rita. I was terrified of them all. Fortunately, there were always enough kids around that I could keep a healthy distance. In my memories they aren’t people. They’re scary fairy tale relatives.

Of all the abuses I have kept secret the most invisible to myself was the neglect. I only really know about it on a conscious level because she told me. Obsessively. She couldn’t stop apologizing it for until the day her mind shut down with dementia. There was a period of time in the 70’s and 80’s where we talked about these things. Some of what I’m relaying above is only available to me through her.

Falmouth in the 70’s had a “drop-in center” for youth and wayward adults called Hotline. They had a 24 hour crisis intervention phone line and a living room type space that anyone could just come hang out in any time for any reason. They offered counseling services and training sessions for the volunteers who handled the calls. I’m fuzzy about the details but around the time of her divorce my mother was spending time there, at first as a client, and then, oddly, she became the Director of the program. I have no idea what her qualifications were, if any.

On the other hand, they let me, a pimple-ridden, angsty, 16 year old in constant search of new ways to get high, attend the training and answer calls for a few hours a week. Qualifications maybe weren’t given enough serious consideration.

Hotline was her and Frankie’s domain before I started dropping in, which is not something I ever gave much through to before now. My older brother and mother were living intertwined lives that don’t make sense to me. But I don’t remember questioning it at the time, however incongruous it was for our family.

I wasn’t dropping in to be with them. I started showing up because they had a resource that was valuable to me and my peers. The PDR. Physician’s Desk Reference. The Prescription Bible. 70’s remember? My friends and I were doing a lot of drugs and we were indiscriminate. Falmouth was a hub of illegal drug trafficking so there was no shortage of those, mainly weed, acid, and thc (pcp). But since we were kids there were always dry spells when our mothers purses were too poor to pilfer from. When we were without a budget our medicine cabinets became our dealer surrogates. The PDR became our tour guide.

When stealing from within our homes we could look up the pilfered drugs by name to find out what they were for and what side effects we could hope to experience. But we weren’t alone in the practice and we sometimes, through trade, found ourselves in possession of mystery pills. The beauty of the PDR was that it categorized drugs by form, color, shape, and markings allowing us to identify almost anything that we came across. I digress. I came for the PDR but I learned a lot from the adults there, from my training, and from my time on the phones.

This was also when I first noticed Frankie’s feelings towards me had changed from disaffection to subtle hostility. I obviously knew we weren’t close any more but I just assumed it was because our interests and social circles had changed as we grew older. The more time I spent at Hotline, the more he stepped away until eventually he stopped coming at all. It was just me and Marie. Which is how we started talking.

Marie was having a second adolescence. She was socializing with the other Hotline adults, most of whom were twenty years younger and kind of hippie. She started smoking pot, staying out late, coming home with her clothes inside out. It was weird but for the first time in our lives it made her feel accessible to me. I could finally relate to her. Because I was having my first adolescence and doing many of the same things.

So we talked about my childhood. How sorry she was. How she wished it had been different. She told me of her past, not to use it as an excuse but to explain. I heard her. She told me what she knew of my father’s past. How he, too, had been sexually victimized as a child. She told me how afraid of Verna she had always been. How twisted and cruel she was, not only to my father but to his sister, who died long ago (under mysterious circumstances if I recall right), and to his father, my Grampy, who I always liked.

Here’s another memory of mine that isn’t true. Actually, it’s true but it’s not mine. I think I appropriated it from Tom. Grampy was the only relative of my parents that I felt comfortable around. He was very old and incapable of conversation with me but I remember him as gentle and kind. I see him in his wheelchair with a knitted blanket over his legs. I remember his big, wide smile and his soft eyes. These are true, not appropriated. The memory I think I stole from Tom is this: Grampy didn’t die of old age. He was humiliated to death by Verna.

“I had to change Thomas’ diaper yesterday. like a little baby.”

I used to tell that as if I heard it myself but I’m pretty sure Tom said it. Memory, at least for me, is often like that. I don’t always know what’s a memory, what’s an imagined story, what’s a dream, or even what’s a desire. If a memory that I revisit over and over isn’t exactly true, if it has changed shape over the years and with each telling, how can it hold so much power over me? So much sway?

My healing has required me to go back. To revisit. To recall. My memory is at once my burden and my path to recovery. The memories that I’m sharing with you here are the ones that haunt me, the ones that have never left me, the ones that I only recently discovered.

I think what I’m doing with this telling is that I’m exposing these things in order to be free of them. To finally be able to let them go. To draw a line in the sands of my body and mind between what came before and what comes next. I want you to know me then, so that you can know me now. So that I can know me now.

All my life I have felt driven. Passionate. Excited. Inspired. And for all that time I have been afraid to go there. I was in a production of Godspell in my early twenties. If you haven’t seen it, it’s an ensemble musical with two main characters, Jesus and Judas, and a chorus of unnamed supporting characters. As a piece of theatre it transcends religion and the songs are brilliant. During one of the songs, Light of the World, each ensemble character has one moment when a spot light shines on them and they sing their one individual line of the song. This was mine:

“But if your light is under a bushel, you’ve lost something kind of crucial.”

As I write this, forty years later, I am weeping with gratitude that I am finally coming out from under my bushel.

That Time (6) Opening

The only artifact I have from my childhood is a deck of Tarot cards I acquired when I was 14. I didn’t share my interest in Tarot with anybody back then. It was just something I explored by myself whenever I had a chance to be alone. It was a traditional Waite-Ryder-Smith deck and the only guide I had was the small paper one included with the deck. My interest waned quickly but I kept the deck.

Throughout the ensuing years I have occasionally picked it up and done a spread but it has mostly laid dormant. I have no idea how I managed to hold onto the deck because I used to have a compulsive habit to purge myself of all material possessions every couple of years. Yet here it is, like a lifelong faithful companion.

I’ve been using it again recently, having had my interest rekindled by a visit with an artist friend, Kim, who collects Tarot decks. We spent a weekend with her a few months ago and she inspired a creative wave in me, centered around the Tarot and art, that I’m still surfing.

Pam and I recently discovered a new esoteric practices store in our extended neighborhood. It’s a practitioner’s resource with shelves of herbs, crystals, trinkets, baubles, candles, incense, and, best of all, books.

I’ve been trying not to buy books lately because I’ve got so many that I haven’t started yet. But I can’t help myself. Sometimes I see a book and I can’t resist. As happened on this occasion. The book is, “The Way of Tarot,” by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Marianne Costa.

Jodorowsky is a prolific poet, essayist, artist, screenwriter, actor, film producer, director, composer, musician, comics writer… the list is seemingly endless. I know him primarily as a film director of the cult movies, El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre, but I have also read his book, “Psychomagic.”

“The Way of Tarot,” is a gorgeous book to behold. Everything about it is stunning, the cover design, the type, the paper, the illustrations, even the heft and weight. I’ve been using it for a few weeks as a Tarot reference but this morning I decided to read it as it was meant to be read, from front to back in sequence. It’s so much more than a typical Tarot reference. It’s a master class in Tarot.

Yesterday I bought another book on impulse (see what I mean?), “Initiation, The Living Reality of an Archetype,” which is a collection of essays by Jungian analysts and scholars. The book builds on the work of Joe Henderson who, in 1967, published the seminal work on initiation as archetype, “Thresholds of Initiation.” Henderson was co-founder of the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco.

I have come to see the key traumatic incidents of my childhood as ersatz initiations. I first stumbled on this idea while doing research for an invocation on the theme of “trial by fire.”  In many of my poems I touch on this theme. I have always felt that the dominant culture of the US is bankrupt and devoid of any of the coherent mythological frameworks that most indigenous and enduring cultural groups use to help navigate the world of being human in the realm of a mysterious and seemingly unknowable universe.

One of the most amazing things we humans can do is to transform ourselves as we mature and grow. This is ability is especially astounding in the aftermath of tragedy. If my abuse was an initiation, it was still grotesque and deplorable. Not to mention, inefficient. A conscious initiation ritual would include guidance and safe return. Wisdom to help the initiate re-integrate and make sense of their trial. To provide meaning and bonding within a community of fellow initiates. In my case, and for so many others, the initiation was a crushing and debilitating experience. It vaulted me into a lifetime of dysfunction and hardship. But it also has provided the opportunity for transformation, however difficult and delayed.

These have been only a few of the results for me: depression, anxiety, paranoia, social awkwardness, agitation, failure to thrive, fear and loathing of my body and my memories. No so curiously, these are all symptoms not only CPTSD but also of non-attachment disorder. It’s a wonder that I survived. Not all Children of the Secret do.

Yesterday afternoon, my new book on initiation arrived. With this morning’s coffee I began reading the first chapter of, “The Way of Tarot,” entitled, “Opening.” Jodorowsky starts by explaining that the Tarot can’t be considered as a collection of individual cards, each with their own meaning. A true study of the tarot must consider the entire deck as a whole. Every detail of every card is linked to ever other card. The 78 cards make up a temple, a mandala. I’ll close with the passage that inspired this episode,

“The initiatory work consists of gathering together the fragments until the original unit has been restored. You start with a pack of cards, you mix up the Arcana and display them flat, which is to say you cut God up into pieces. You interpret them and put them back together in sentences. In a sacred quest the initiate reader (Isis, the soul) puts the pieces back together. The God is resuscitated not in an immaterial dimension but in the material world.”

That Time (8) Hypnosis Meet HypnaGogy

I’m thinking of a song. You know this song. Everyone does. Some of you already think you know the song I’m thinking of. This is because most memories are recalled by association. The third sentence of this paragraph has an implied meaning: that the song is universally known and recognized. Right away, your brain starts rifling through its memory banks making a list of songs that “everyone knows.” Some of you may have correctly identified the song I have in mind. Most of you have not.

The song is not, “Imagine.” Now your brain has more information with which to update the list of potential songs. If “Imagine” was on your list it can now be forgotten, maybe to be replaced by “Happy Birthday.” (Also not it.)

Suppose none of you have guessed the song I have in mind? I am certain you know the song. I am certain the song is stored in your brain both, as a standalone memory, and as an associative hashtag linked to other memories. If I’m right that you haven’t guessed the song then it is not in your conscious mind. You are not, in this moment, aware of the song, or any of its associated memories. Without more clues, you can’t even know that this song (memory) exists anywhere in your brain. Is it lost? Hidden? Forgotten? Dormant?

If I give you more information, then through association, you will eventually recall the song.

Have you ever thought of a melody, maybe even caught yourself humming it, or just hearing it in your head, but not recognizing it? It just feels vaguely familiar. What is that phenomenon? Is it a memory? A partial memory? A characteristic or trait of a memory? You may or may not be interested in identifying the melody. If not, then you may soon enough be done with it and move on to other thoughts and memories, not needing to identify it or give it any credence. Or you might be curious. What is that melody?

Not being a scientist, I don’t have the language to describe how all this works. But we all know how to do it. To follow our memories and see where they lead us. To recall other associated memories, impressions, or fragments. This process is innate. Let’s call it normal, even.

We all have thousands of memories, maybe millions or billions. We can’t possibly be conscious of all of them at any one time. It’s reasonable to assume that some of the memories that were stored in our brains at the time of experience may never be recalled again. We usually call these memories “forgotten.” But what does that mean? Are they gone or hidden? Replaced or erased?

How many times have you had a new memory? Meaning an old memory, something from long ago, that just appeared in your mind for the first time? Whoa, I just remembered… I had forgotten about… I hadn’t ever remembered… Was it out of the blue or triggered by something?

Everything I’m describing is universal. This is the nature of memory. With all this in mind, the idea of “recovered” memories shouldn’t be controversial or hard to understand. In my case, I had to recover two specific memories, in order to finally heal from my childhood trauma.

As I was approaching my forties, Pam and I entered into couples therapy. It was a great experience that helped us establish some fundamental ways of existing in, and furthering, a healthy relationship. We also established that I had some personal work to do. I have a history of mood swings, depression, anxiety, and occasional paranoia. I continued seeing our therapist, Henry, by myself and we soon determined that my childhood was worth exploring in a way I had never done before.

I grew up believing that my childhood was typical. Because it was. For that time and place. My relationship to my parents was reflected back to me in all of my friends’ families. The parents were always angry and fighting with each other and sometimes with us. They were emotionally unavailable and often physically absent. Neglect was rampant. A certain amount of corporal punishment was considered normal (nothing too extreme!). There was fighting among siblings. Most of us were in constant trouble at school. Some of us, especially the older kids, had frequent encounters with police and store security guards.

We began smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, sneaking pills from our parents’ medicine cabinets, all around the age of 9 or 10 years old. There was a tremendous amount of acting up on the school buses, at school, after school. During my 7th grade, we had organized fights in a clearing in the woods after school let out. At one of these, I was goaded into a fistfight with one of my best friends simply because all of us were expected to fight. We beat the crap out of each other only to end up crossing paths at the penny candy store a couple of hours later, bloodied and covered with dirt. We acted as if nothing had happened. This was just childhood.

Franklin was a weird mix of country life — the local industry was dairy farming — and suburban gothic horror. One day I would ride my bike with Frankie to a local fishing hole for a quick dip and to bring home some sunfish to scale, clean, and cook. The next day we’d head off to the Fernandez grocery store and walk out with a shopping bag full of stolen matches, lighters, lighter fluid, cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, snuff, basically anything associated with fire. I once walked out of Bradlees with a package of highways flairs tucked into the waistband of my pants.

This was all very interesting to talk about with Henry, so thought I. Henry, though, kept asking about in-home experiences. What about my relationship with my parents? My siblings? To which I would usually say something like, “I don’t remember much about that.”

Sure, I could come up with some stuff. Karl banging my head against a wall. Ethel locking me out of the house. My father locking us in the basement with a pot of pea soup because we didn’t want to eat it. “You can’t come out until you’ve eaten the whole pot.” His expletive-ridden rages while throwing and breaking things. That time when Karl and I were fighting over who got to play with the wooden slat from the broken chair so he decided to beat us both with it. Ethel just generally screaming and crying hysterically.

Talking about these things with Henry, although they required prompting, wasn’t difficult. I just took it for granted that that was what childhood looked like. These memories have never been difficult to access or ponder. I just never wanted to go there. They weren’t emotionally loaded. It felt more like, yeah, been there, done that, what else can we talk about? Should we talk about the animal torture that my friend Mark used to like to tell me about?

Henry wanted to use hypnosis so I agreed. Our first session went like this: I’m laying on his couch with my eyes closed. Henry, in a soft voice, gently guides me into a state of deep relaxation. I go there. I’m feeling dreamy but aware of where I am and what we’re doing. I begin to have a memory. It’s blurry at first, I’m not sure where I am or what’s happening. I’m laying down, not on the couch with Henry but in a bed. I am very young but I have no concept of my exact age. A dark figure approaches the bed. I can’t make out who it is. They’re blurry but they keep getting closer. Suddenly, the figure is leaning over me and I can see him! It’s my father and he’s carrying a knife. He’s coming to kill me! I sit up and say to Henry, “I don’t think this is working.”

I wasn’t remembering, not really. I wasn’t under hypnosis, not really. I was so relaxed I fell into the hypnagogic state— the transitional period between being awake and falling asleep. During this state, the mind fluctuates between imagination, hallucination, and dreaming. The image of my father looming over me in bed, brandishing a knife, was a combination of my imagination, a memory of being afraid of my father, and a partial memory of what happened to me in the chicken coop. I did not know that third part at the time. I was only able to figure that out later.

Abandoned chicken coop; running; shouting; trying to get away; not being able to; a flash of white underpants; jackknife; black. This is a key memory. It is not complete. I didn’t remember it all at once.

Memory: abandoned chicken coop. Think about something else.

Memory: a flash of white. Think about something else.

Memory: abandoned chicken coop, I’m afraid, running. Think about something else.

Memory: it’s dark, I’m shouting, running, trapped. Think about something else.

Memory: Frances and Carl. Think about something else.

Memory: jackknife, a flash of white. Think about something else.

These memories have always been with me, usually as disparate, isolated memories, but sometimes two or three of them were strung together. They were infrequent but familiar. I just never chose to look at them. They weren’t lost. They were denied. They were displaced. They were hiding in plain sight.

It took several years of therapy before they came all at once:

Memory: Abandoned chicken coop; running; shouting; trying to get away; not being able to; a flash of white underpants; jackknife; black.

Remembering them that time, in that grouping, was different. That time there was an emotional response, a panic, an existential threat. Think about something else or you will die! Will die! Will die! Will die! Complete with racing heart, adrenaline surge, sweating all over, desperation, urge to flee. No! I cannot do this. I cannot go there. I am not ready.

I stood before that threshold for a long time.

Dream: I’m in a wooden barn-like building. I’m on a balcony in a dark room. Below I see four hallways converging on the space below me. There is a dark figure standing there, looking up at me. I am not afraid. I am curious. He looks familiar. I know him. We stand there for a minute, just looking. I hear faint voices. A lot of people speaking at once but distant. The sound is growing louder as if the people speaking are coming closer. There is light streaming from the four hallways towards the figure below. Shadows appear. The voices are growing louder still they aren’t talking, they are shouting. They are angry. Hordes of them coming through each of the hallways. They are all carrying things. Farm tools, hoes, rakes, shovels, pitchforks. Oh, fuck! They’re coming for me! This is all for me! The dark figure holds an arm out towards me. Oh shit! He’s holding a knife! It’s for me! I know what’s happening. It hits me all at once. I’m supposed to kill myself. The crowd of people, who are now visible, surrounding the figure, are here for me. If I don’t kill myself, they will. The fear hits hard. I feel it in my body, the panic. My imminent death. It feels like I’ve jumped off the Empire State building and I’m about to hit the ground. I wake up screaming.

I cannot tell you how many variations of this dream I have woken from in a panic. I haven’t written most of them down and I have dozens of variations in my journals.

Many of my therapy sessions ended the same way. I’d be talking, remembering, connecting dots, beginning to see and feel things long pushed aside. Feeling like I’m making progress, I’m remembering more, I’m getting closer to something important. To some missing information. A missing key that will explain these dreams. That will explain my paranoid episodes. So many times, I was so close. And then nothing.

Unlike in my dreams, when I got to that panic in my therapy sessions, my brain would just shut down. Like an off switch. I was there and then I wasn’t. I was here and then I wasn’t. Where am I? What were we talking about? Oh, right. I was on the threshold of… something important.

Oh, look at that. It’s 10 minutes before the hour. Our time is up. Well. That was interesting. I guess that was enough for today. I’ll see you next week.

That Time (9) There’s No Nice Way to Tell This

The way Frankie killed himself was cruel. The act itself is inherently cruel to loved ones but he did something that was diabolically clever.

For most of his 41 years, Frankie lived with Ethel. I find that incomprehensible. He was the first of us to leave home, having moved into a halfway house while in high school. He married young (I think they were married) and lived with his wife for 1-2 years. After divorce, he joined the Navy and lived on base for 2-3 years. Before he finished his service he wanted out but they wouldn’t let him so he went AWOL and moved back to the family home in Falmouth with Ethel (and maybe Gregg and Anne). A year or two later he turned himself in to the Navy and spent a few months in the brig. After that, he and Ethel lived together until his suicide.

There was a disconnect between the Frankie I thought I knew and the Frankie who chose such a dramatic exit. Frankie was… nice. I mean, like the epitome of nice. He was kind and he was gentle. He was thoughtful and considerate. He gave of himself to many people. He could be intensely shy but he also had the drive to be social. He did volunteer work. He worked for a while at a home for people with intellectual disabilities. He was active in the Unitarian Church. He was interesting, smart, and helpful whenever the opportunity arose.

He and Ethel were close friends. When I invited him to join me on a vacation one time he came and brought her with him. I never got it. I still don’t. In a family of such ruin, where most of us didn’t stay in each other’s lives, where some of us don’t speak to each other, where none of us were close to our parents as children, how did this exception manifest?

Was it pathological? Was it regressive on his part? Was he incapable of being independent?

After his death, I discovered something I think they had in common. Her diagnosis came late in life but Ethel lived with OCD. Her symptoms were mild for most of her adult years and didn’t create any serious difficulties that I am aware of. But after Frankie’s suicide, her symptoms accelerated and she became more obviously symptomatic.

While I’m on the subject I’m gonna drop a minor bomb. I believe that everyone in my family lives with some degree of autism and OCD. This, of course, includes my parents. I’m not going to explain any further because it’s not relevant outside of the context here, which is that Frankie and Ethel were more alike than I knew.

So, how did he do it? I know you’re wondering what made Frankie’s suicide diabolically clever so I will tell you. He did it in a way that brought us in the room with him and made us witnesses to his drunken, stumbling departure from this world.

Frankie had a heart condition, one that required medication.

Neither Frankie nor Ethel were heavy drinkers but they had a nightly habit of drinking one small gin and tonic together while playing cards.

One night, there was no gin. They talked about ending the ritual and giving up the gin.

The next day, Ethel came home with a bottle of gin. The ritual resumed.

Frankie had not been taking his heart medication for several weeks. He had been saving them. On this night, after Ethel went to bed, Frankie retired to his room with the newly bought bottle of gin, the one that they had decided to forgo, the one that she decided to bring home anyway, his stash of pills, some 5×7 notecards, and a pen. He proceeded to wash down the pills, a few at a time, with the gin. As he did so, he took notes.

The first card was written in his normal handwriting and it looked like any other note might have looked on any other day. But on each subsequent card, his handwriting and coherence were deteriorating.  There were 9 or 10 cards in total and reading them in sequence made what he was experiencing visceral. It brought us into the room with him, helplessly watching him succumb.

(What follows is a brief and paraphrased version of what I can remember.)

10:45 pm

I am sorry, Mom and Dad. I am not doing this to

hurt you. I am not angry. I am of sound mind.

I want to do this.

10:55 pm

I’m not afraid. I’m calm, almost happy.

I have been waiting so long.

11: 05  p

I’m sorry for the pain this is causing. It’s not about you.

I can’t do it anymore. I’ve been planning this for a long time.

Ineed to do it.

11 : 2 0

I, am ligtheaded, fuzzy. Not drunk

still good. still wanting to

11:3A few more pills. Some gin

                   left. It ‘ s ok

11%p —  euphoric.

  I t hink it’s wo rking but I gonna

       drink one more glass

s not  drunk.  just  good.

15&%Im feelig foggy – dizzy

           its getting stronger.

finished the gin. too late to stop but i

                                                        dont want to


             please donbe sad   fo

      I h ve wanted iy    notangry  just

nothing you di            mum


1111            sory    I









That Time (10) There’s a Crack Where the Light Gets In

My paranoia began when I started taking LSD at the age of fifteen. Does that seem young?

I knew a family in Franklin, the Osbournes. Mary Osbourne was given a dose of acid on her 10th birth by her older siblings. Her little brother Jeffery, aged five, could roll a joint. Teddy Osbourne and I, at age twelve, used to hyperventilate for fun. Do you know how that works? I would stand with feet wide, legs slightly bent, leaning forward with my hands on my knees. I would deep breathe, inhaling and exhaling vigorously with Teddy standing behind me. When I started to feel dizzy, I would exhale completely, and before I could inhale, Teddy would wrap his arms around my chest and squeeze me in a bear hug until I passed out and fell on the ground.

I’ll never forget my first blast of whiskey a year or so earlier. It was offered to me by Frances and this is how it happened: It was winter. Frankie and I were heading to the abandoned chicken coop, the first one, the smaller one, the safer one, the one on Partridge St. It was like a clubhouse. The other one only exists in my nightmares. No, that’s not true. It was real. This isn’t about that time.

Frances appeared. I did not know him. We were standing on the side of the road after a big snowstorm. Snowplows had created large snowbanks at the side of the road. Frankie and Frances greeted each other. Frankie introduced us. Frances held his hand. I thought that was so cool. It may have been the first time anyone offered to shake my hand. The gesture made me feel special. I took his hand. He clamped down hard, twisted his wrist, knocked me off balance, and threw me into the snowbank.

I lay there for a second, stunned. I had no idea what happened. I could feel the cold of the snow against my face. I remember feeling disoriented, dazed. Then came the second shock. His boot against my ear pressing my face down hard into the snow. The pressure was intense as he held me there like that. “Hi Eric, It’s nice to meet ya.”

I looked at Frankie. He looked as shocked as I was but he didn’t say or do anything. Frances took his boot off me and we went inside the coop to smoke. Frances pulled a bottle of whiskey from his jacket, took a swig, and offered it to me. I took it without hesitation and swallowed some. I’ll never forget the sensation. It was sharp and a little sweet in my mouth but burned like hell in my throat. I loved it.

After the boot, the whiskey felt not like an apology but an acknowledgment. Of what, I wasn’t sure. But I felt like I had passed a test.

From then on Frankie and I would steal liquor from our parents. In order not to get caught we would take just a small amount from each bottle in the cabinet, pouring them all into an empty peanut butter jar. We called it Jungle Juice. It didn’t taste good like the whiskey but the burn was what I was after. I don’t remember wanting to be drunk. I just wanted that burn.

Around the same time, I had a small posse of friends from school that I would hang out with. Rick, Kevin, Barry, Teddy, and Bob Crosby. Bob was the only one who had a last name, apparently. Most of the time we did normal kid stuff. Rick and Kevin were athletic so we played basketball and hockey. Rode bikes. Huffed turpentine and model airplane glue. The glue was called “Dope.” Not a nickname. That’s what it’s called. Look it up.

We also stole pills from our parents’ medicine cabinets. We were adventurous, brave, and stupid. We had no idea what the pills would do. We just knew that we weren’t supposed to touch them so they must have been good. I got caught at school once with a plastic baggie full of pills of varying shapes, sizes, and colors.

It was Teddy’s older brother Fred who turned us on to weed. He sold us our first nickel bag.

Things mellowed out, drug-wise, after my family moved from Franklin to Falmouth, on Cape Cod. I entered 8th grade without any friends and didn’t resume smoking pot until high school. In my freshman year, I made a new friend named Rick. We would buy an ounce of weed on Monday for twenty bucks, roll it into forty joints, sell twenty for next week’s bag, and have twenty joints to smoke for the week. We stayed high at school all week and spent most afternoons sleeping it off at home.

We smoked in the school, by the way. In the cafeteria. How did we get away with it? Unless you were there this is going to be hard to believe. Smoking cigarettes was allowed in school. I kid you not. My first two years of high school were unusual. No time to get into it here.

TLDR; Experimental, permissive, lots of free time, little to no discipline or punishment. I passed English having only attended a few classes during the entire school year. In shop class, my project was taking wooden door stops from the hallways and shaping them on a lathe into pot pipes. Drug dealers would park their van in the parking lot behind the school and dozens of kids would line up, single file as if they were buying from an ice cream truck.

LSD at 15yo doesn’t seem so surprising, after all. I took it the first time with as much forethought I did that first blast of whiskey. Someone put a tab in my hand and I ate it. I had no idea what I was in for. I had no idea that there was a significant difference between it and everything else I had been mindlessly scarfing.

All kids experiment with ways of altering their consciousness. There’s a natural curiosity about our bodies and minds and, more specifically, the relationship between the two. Look at spinning for one obvious example. But my drug use grew into something more than curiosity. I was numbing myself. I was trying to hide from myself. I was denying something crucial. I was covering up my childhood trauma in the most effective way. I was recreating the effects of trauma on my brain. The feeling of losing control over my my self, over my body, wasn’t just comfortably familiar. I was also recreating the feeling of relief after the attack.

Does that seem implausible? Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on if you’re me or not. Me? I’m pretty sure that was part of it.

The more plausible explanation, the one you won’t question, is that I was crying out for help. I was, indirectly and unconsciously, trying to show the world my pain.

Does that seem like a contradiction? Was I hiding from my pain or showing it off? I had no idea at the time. I was just a junkie always on the prowl for my next fix. And yes, I did make my way to snorting meth, freebasing cocaine and, eventually smoking heroin (freebasing was much worse).

I digress. LSD is the drug of the hour. My first trip wasn’t too bad. There was some fun, some weirdness, some fun weirdness, and then it ended with a petrified me at home in bed staring at the ceiling, believing that the sounds I was hearing were someone trying to enter the house and kill me. I snuck out, went to a friend’s house, woke them up, and had them talk me down. No real harm done.

I might not have done it again except for two things. The first was that the fun was *really* fun. Mind-blowing fun. I remember the delight in seeing trails as I waved my arms and from the lights of passing cars. I remember petting a dachshund whose tight fur-covered skin was so smooth and pliable that my fingers sunk deep into its body. My friend Keith turned into Popeye, not a flesh and blood version but the cartoon figure himself animated in 2-D. On our walk home the canopy of trees over the street waved and swayed over us in a glorious genuflection.

The other thing was that I was not making wise choices for myself at that time.

While interviewing for group therapy in Atlanta I talked about my paranoid experiences that were precipitated by LSD. There were two therapists, a man and a woman. How many times did you take LSD? I’m not sure, maybe a dozen. How many of them were bad trips? All of them. Long pause. Will you ever take it again? Longer pause. Christ, I hope not.

(They accepted me into the group and I did not.)

LSD is a drug that enhances sensation and expands consciousness. Hallucinations come from within. From the mind. It does exactly the opposite of what I was trying to achieve through my drug use. It cracked something open that I wasn’t prepared to see. Wasn’t equipped to see.

On a subsequent trip, I hallucinated a murder in the next room. I was in a public building. I saw him walk in. He asked where his girlfriend was. Someone told him she was in the next room. He went in there. I heard them arguing. I heard a gunshot. He came back into our room, looked at us in silence, then left the building, turning right.

Without saying a word to the people I was with I stood and walked out the same door, turning left. I was terrified. I didn’t know where I was going but I kept walking. This was on Main Street and there were a lot of cars passing by. In all of them, the people inside were staring at me in anger, shaking their fists at me, their faces contorted in rage. I was not safe.

I thought of my friend Randy who lived nearby. I went to his apartment. I entered without knocking. I said hello and a voice said, “I’m in here.” It was Randy’s girlfriend Laurie, in the bathroom, in the tub,covered with bubbles. I walked in. This was in the 70’s so the lack of formalities wasn’t remarkable. I looked at Laurie and words came out of me, “Is it safe?” Just like that. I stood there for a minute while she assessed the situation. Then she said, “Yes, it’s safe.”

I went and sat on the couch to wait for Randy to come home or for Laurie to finish her bath. I looked at the wall next to me. It was panels with fake wood grain. As I studied the grain the lines began to whirl and slither. I welcomed the hallucination with some relief. This is the fun stuff. I relaxed and let myself become absorbed in the moving whorls. The lines were morphing into shapes. Amoeba shapes. Slithering brown worms. Whoa, they were becoming three-dimensional, extruding into the room towards me. Wait, what? What are these shapes? They look familiar. Oh shit! They’re penises forming and growing towards me. They’re getting bigger! They’re turning into erections! I’m being attacked by dozens of giant erections!

It’s OK to laugh. I can, now. It’s like something out of a trippy comic book, isn’t it? But I wasn’t laughing then. I was triggered. The feeling that overcame me was the one from my nightmares. The sudden realization that I am most definitely not safe. The Prince of Darkness has emerged from the shadows and is here for me. Again. It’s time to die.

In a panic, I stood and quickly left. All I remember after that is that I somehow managed to hold my shit together long enough to get home, hide in bed, and let the acid wear off.

I didn’t realize until many years later that this was my first big clue. The acid had cracked open something that I had buried deep in the shadows of my brain.

That Time (11) We Aren’t Even at Weird Yet

Frankie’s death, in 1999, was the last occasion for my family to gather. I’ll never forget standing in the living room at Ethel’s (and Frankie’s) house after the memorial. I looked at the seven of us and thought, “Frankie was the first of us to die. I wonder who’ll be last.”

I just learned that Frankie and Woodcock were close for a few years before Frankie killed himself. Isn’t is odd that the son who was closest to his parents is the one that killed himself? Maybe not. Maybe that was the point? We can never know.

It was after his memorial service that I realized Frankie had, like Ethel, been living with OCD. I felt compelled to visit the scene of the crime so I stepped into his bedroom. Two walls were completely lined with bookshelves. On one of them was a complete set of every National Geographic Magazine published up to then. The other was filled with small glass jars containing mostly spiders, along with a few other kinds of insects. Also a shoe box containing every ticket stub from every movie he had ever seen.

Maybe that’s not full-blown OCD. Ethel’s symptoms at that time were also questionable. Maybe I was reading too much into the refrigerator full of cartons of soy milk, dozens of them, and little else. Maybe her constant repetition of stories and jokes was simply forgetfulness. Maybe both of their seeming inabilities to embrace any kind of change was just Yankee stubbornness.

Nah. In her declining years, I had her evaluated and the diagnosis was confirmed. Curiously, the condition enabled her to live on her own much longer than she might have otherwise. Her routines were so rigidly embedded that she was able to function despite losing her mind to dementia. When she finally moved into a nursing home, I cleared out her apartment.

She spent most of her waking hours in a single chair in her living room. In front of the chair was a coffee table. Across the room was a small TV on a stand. There was one floor lamp to the left of her chair. Several plastic boxes in a corner that were filled with every piece of mail she had received in the last several years.

On the coffee table were a pen and some stacks of Post-it note paper. The rest of the table was covered in handwritten notes. Things she wanted to remember. Things she wanted to ask about.

When we were still talking by phone, which wasn’t often, she would always repeat the same jokes and ask the same questions. I humored her for a while because, you know, dementia. But, as I eventually figured out, that wasn’t it. Yes, she had dementia and it was getting worse. But more than that, she had a ritualistic need to say these things. Over and over. Repeatedly. Non-stop. Again and again. She had a ritualistic need to repeat these things. Over and over. Redundantly. Non-stop. Again and again.

Back to her apartment. There were hundreds of notes. So many that they were dozens of notes deep. The TV was also covered with notes, not the screen but the rest of it. There were notes on the plastic boxes. Notes in the kitchen. On the refrigerator. Covering the countertops. All doors. In the bathroom, on the medicine cabinet. There were notes on the walls. We aren’t even at weird yet.

Weird was that the notes were illegible scribbles. I couldn’t read any of them. I doubt she could either. She once told me that she had to give up reading because it was making her eyes go bad and she didn’t want to have to wear glasses.

I never visited her in the nursing home but I was the primary contact for them so I got sporadic updates on her life. She liked being there and was well liked by her fellow inmates and the guards.

Woodock died within a few weeks of moving into such a place. His lawyer told us that was common. I expected that for Ethel but she lasted years.

I was the primary contact and I would get occasional phone updates. They always began like this,

“Hello, Eric? This is Nancy from The Home…”

Could this be it? The call I’ve been waiting for?

Your mother is fine. We just wanted to let you know that blah blah blah.”

Is it horrible that I wanted her to die? It is not. What I haven’t told you is that she got cancer of the face then had surgery for it that left her disfigured and in pain. After a second tumor appeared on the other half of her face, I decided not to subject her to another surgery and she eventually died.

I didn’t cry when the call finally came, nor when I threw her ashes into the ocean. I didn’t cry when my father died. Before any that I didn’t cry when Frankie died. Not initially.

I hadn’t known that Frankie had taken up pottery. In their cellar was another set of Frankie’s shelving, this time filled with hundreds of little ceramic pots. They weren’t identical but they were all a similar shape and size. They weren’t especially well crafted. They were just pots. I took one.

I wrapped it thoroughly with padding and carefully placed it in my carry-on bag, near the top, so that it wouldn’t break on the flight home. Then I forgot about it. You know what happened next.

It’d been more than a week since he died and I hadn’t shed a tear. But when I opened my backpack and discovered the little pot had shattered into dust, I just started bawling. I was overcome with grief. It didn’t make sense. I hadn’t felt sad at the memorial nor at his house afterwards. I wasn’t numb. I barely knew him anymore. We hadn’t spoken in a few years. We had almost no contact except for that letter he wrote. That stupid fucking letter…

That stupid fucking letter that read like an apology, almost like a confession. What the fuck was that about anyway?

And now we’re back at the beginning. The beginning of this story. The beginning of my recovery. His suicide was the first clue. His letter was the second, even though it came a few years earlier.

I cried so hard and so long that I crawled into bed exhausted. I was spent. I was also confused. Memories flooded back into my consciousness.: abandoned chicken coop; running; shouting; trying to get away; not being able to; a flash of white underpants; jack-knife; black; Frankie’s letter. This was the moment that all those disparate memories came together for the first time.

Something bad happened in that chicken coop. Something bad happened to me. Something I had been hiding. Something I had been hiding from. I was trapped. I was attacked. I was… sexually violated. And he was there.

Frankie was there. When it happened. When that happened. To me. His little brother. My big brother was there. My big brother brought me there. To that place. To that time.
No, he did not do it. I mean, yes, he brought me there but no, he did not attack me. He wasn’t part of it. It was the Williams brothers who did it. It was Carl who put the knife to my throat.

After the broken pot triggered this new memory, they still stopped there. At the knife. I didn’t recall what happened next for a few more years. But this time I remembered that Frankie was there. He probably didn’t know what was going to happen. But they were his friends and he introduced me to them. He brought me to ‘hang out’ with them that day.

I don’t remember where he was or what he was doing during the attack on me. I don’t know if he was or wasn’t also trapped. Attacked. But he was there. My big brother brought me to that dark place. My big brother, knowingly or not, delivered me to an act that would forever change me. That would change both of us. That would reverberate for decades and result in a life of pain for both and end in tragedy for one.

Today, I know that it wasn’t his fault. I know he wouldn’t have been capable of hurting me in that way. I know he must have been tricked, overpowered. Today, I know these things. Today I wonder if he, too, was sexually victimized. But back then, all I knew was that he was my big brother and he didn’t protect me.

I can’t know why Frankie killed himself. I can’t say it had anything to do with me, with what happened to me, with what may have happened to him, or anything else. He took those answers with him. What I do know, is that his suicide was the catalyst that allowed me to remember. Whatever his intention, whatever pain he may have caused others to go through, his death is what put me on the path to healing and liberation.

My tears and grief on that day were for me. For little Eric. My tears now, as I write this, are for Frankie. We will never know his pain.

I’m not done with this story. There is more. I did finally remember what happened after the knife. I will tell you about that. Not because you necessarily want to know. Not because I need you to know. I’m going to tell you because my story cannot be complete until I do. I’m going to tell you because the story of that time has been burning inside me since it happened. I’m going to tell you now because little Eric wasn’t able to tell anyone then. I’m doing this for him.