Category: Family

“13”: A Transient Alter’s Birth, Death, and Power


It’s taken some 47 years, and an apparent fugue state lasting 10 weeks to realize that these “old” alters, some leftovers from childhood, still can have an enormous impact on my, or ‘our’ lives, costing friends, money, and trust of family.

But “I” – or rather a number of my own “selves”, figured out something about “our” system of alters, and alter ‘creation’ – that this always shifting system can literally drive us mad, depending on outside forces and internal ethics and drives, some of which are incompatible, others that make no sense, not in this world, or times.  (For example: at the end of this fugue state we found ourselves in a state run mental institution where, true to form, ALL rights and privileges as a human being are denied, including safety of self, and harm from other residents.)

It’s taken a lot of time to figure out WHY some alters have no names.  Instead we’ve always regarded them as ‘numbers’ which can roughly be translated as those alter’s “birth dates”.  They were never given a name because they were to be “transient alters”, or selves to ‘help’ us all over, or through, or under, a rough patch in our lives. Some still exist in a very “alive” and aware state; “Mikie” (an alter which “shields” the young real child) is one of them; so are “13” and “21” (who we suspect later ‘died’ at “24” and then another was ‘born’, but we’re not certain, and it’s getting ahead of my selves.)

“13” had a purpose, but never a name. Neither does 21. Each was created around “that age” to deal with the issues of the time, most notably loneliness, depression, dejection, a sense of being ‘lost’; massive amounts of depressions surrounding problems we were unable to dissolve (caste into forgetfulness) or resolve (figure a ‘nice’ of human way out of things).

Even as a small child ‘I’ was left to our own to deal with my own problems.  That was the BoyInLightform and nature of our house. Difficult emotions were not to be expressed, not even to family.  If you had a problem, YOU had to deal with it, mouth shut, eyes dry and chin up. Even facial expressions had to be controlled.  After all, a hard mouth or frown was considered rebellion, anger allowed, but controlled, and sadness?  Never.  Everything counted, and expressions and body language counted as much as words, if not more.

But I digress. The physical conditioning my parents and Army environment put me through, as well as the “good ol’ boy politics” and shut-mouth clan style abuse went hand in hand with me.  There was a good reason I told my father to stop hugging me when I was 8, though it had nothing to do with my father.  (My mother never hugged, nor ever embraced her own children.)  I was getting them from someone else, not in the nicest of environments, and not in the ways I wanted.  For me sex became an expression of “I love you / I want you as a friend”.  It was always about them, it seems, (a child’s voice/mind echoes in my head, remembering for me) with me doing the performing and them getting the pleasure.

But then again, this has nothing, and yet everything to do with “Thirteen”.

The Story of Thirteen.

By the time ‘I’ was 13 years old we’d come back from overseas, I’d lost all of my best friends, including one whom I’d treasured deeply, and for whom I’d literally would’ve done anything.  We arrived “back home, Stateside”AmericaTown to the same old redneck neighborhood deep in the boondocks where I’d spent my young years between 5 and 10 (with a year off to North Carolina) living in my abuser’s house (they were gone) right next to our old ex-home.  I hated living there.

Arriving late in the fall I was put in a school I hated, for it’s civilian and racist disorder was neither military nor disciplined.  They’d put me in totally the wrong classes – advanced trigonometry for a student who was failing basic math due to all those moves we made, and bookstackremedial reading despite me having tested and proven to have a Junior college reading comprehension and vocabulary level . . . totally twisted ‘me’, the junior rising student, around . . .

I’d read “Run, Jane, run. Watch Spot chase the ball,” in one class while being tortured in band class (I played the sousaphone/tuba; had for a number of years in a concert band over in Germany) . . . the “weird” kid, the one who didn’t know anybody, while being totally lost in math class as well as many others (the students were too disruptive to learn much in any case), only to go home to a gutted neighborhood which possessed only long ago nightmares, and some which had come true . . .


For despite my coming home to my old neighborhood, all my nightmares about had come true.  Nothing was the same.  The sandy country lane was street paved, all good friends gone, remaining friends turned into strangers, or in their own cliche’s & cache’s of good friends running wild while we, the relatively ‘new’ old neighbors, were now considered new in town and having “weird” attitudes and stories these country hicks could not beleive.

To make matters worse, early spring my parents informed me we were moving again, for the umpteenth time in just a handful of years – about 17 in 4, I think it was, and while we staying there waiting for the house to close, it was time to say goodbye again to all our new-old and somewhat rejecting good friends, or at least the few that remained.  But they’d changed so much (or none at all, in some ways) while I’d gone through some experiences “they” (all the other kids in the neighborhood) could not even begin to understand.  SkierFrom skiing in the Alps to roaming through ancient and oft times forbidden Roman ruins; touring Europe, spending time learning war crafts and training with G.I.’s out in the field, sometimes for months at a time (but only during the day, and sometimes at night); seeing my first Blackhawk fly around (upside down, too – how useless that seemed) – learning to sit in the co-pilot seat of a Cobra helicopter and shoot and target the mini-gun . . . war, war, Huey Cobra Front and more war; the East German Wall, Berlin, shot up cars, tank battles, G.I.’s smoking & joking in the field while we made friends and spied on them; the heavy smell of O.D. green canvas giving off that unique Army scent that still says “You’re home . . . sorta.”

Missing that, having no friends, we were were transferred to a new school, and “graduated” to a “real house” – high class compared to the redneck lifestyle, living in a moderated and maintained middle class suburban neighborhood.

My parents had finally caught up with the Jones’s, and we were on our way ‘somewhere’, I reckon, but I was left guessing “what was the plan?” with no knowledge nor plan for the future . . .


Future.  If there was one, I didn’t know anything about it.  Things remained the same mysteries.  Six weeks of in-room restriction for every school infraction in school, including any “D’s” I had earned (no help on the homework, either, and tutoring was out of the question since I’d have to make my way home on my own) – the beatings continued, but were somewhat abated in length and frequency (probably due to the fear the neighbors would hear my brother whining and howling.  I, on the other hand, was a stupidly stubborn and stoic child who would refuse to scream . . . until my father had beat some out of me.)

I installed a wind-chime “alarm” 4 inches inside my bedroom door after being infrequently awakened “alarm style” for failing to get up in a proper manner, trusting in its gentle ring to wake me into rising before someone could grab me and beat the snot out of my sleeping ass . . . (pardon any cussing; 13 is quite a sassy child, in his own strong minded way, which is, I think, part of ‘our’ problem).

It only grew worse from there.


How my heart felt at about that time.


I knew the moment I walked into the kitchen; I’d suspected something “other than normal” was up smelling the bacon and watching my mom work her way around the kitchen island, complete with counters above and below, forming a rectangular opening through which she’d sometimes throw crockery, dishes, and plates at us.  (We were always left to clean up her mess after a period of long expert ducking and weaving thrown and ofttimes hard objects at us, including some knives some of the times.)

“I’m going to need you boys to give me some more help around here,” she announced, setting a few slices of bacon on her plate.  Disappointment set in as I realized there was none for me and/or my brother, who was being his typically late own self at getting there.  She looked up at me, a fat and chubby kid wearing glasses and teenage zits.

“Your father isn’t going to be telling you what to do anymore,” she said, sitting.  And I knew, RIGHT THEN.

A divorce was coming.

I could smell it as clear as the bacon and my stomach grumbled.  I went around the counter and got my cereal bowl.

“He’s going to try to get you boys on HIS side,” she ‘gently’ explained in her matter-of-fact hard ass way.  “He doesn’t want you to get upset about anything he’s doing . . .”

“Okay mom,” I said, sitting down.  I really didn’t care any more at this point.  The rest would just be a matter of how things went down – form and function.  I knew nothing but this: a divorce was in the offing (though I had no reason to suspect one) and it would be long and ugly and useless.  For, looking up at her surreptitiously, and knowing my own dad too well for his own good as well as mine, (and I don’t mean in any sort of sexual way) – I knew:

This “divorce” would not, could not last.

After all – she was helpless without him, and he was just sort of a son-of-a-bitch and a closet sadist when he wasn’t ignoring us all to the best of his means, which usually meant “studying” – reading those long college books which he was busily marking up with things for me to read and study on my own.  (Psychology mostly, with a good bit on abnormal psych, hypnosis techniques and its limitations thereof, plus a good hit on the sociology side, which I was pretty familiar with by this time, courtesy of my traveling and training all the time.)

She shut up and I ate and went on my own way.   Because if I knew anything about my two torturing parents – one loved to torture the other, or us it seemed(s), all the time – I could sense the co-dependency of their abuse and abusive relationship they were in; their complete dependency on one another to keep feeding them (and taking some) that pain that only decades ago I realized made them (and still does make them) feel somewhat alive . . .

And I KNEW:  It wouldn’t last.  They couldn’t be happy without making each other miserable.  No one in their rational or right mind would put up with it, nor how they ignored, then crippled, their own children in SO many ways, and not only physical.

And so it would be.  About a year to the day after that costly breakfast their divorce was finalize, and on the day after that they were married again.  It was a JP wedding, and I wished for rocks to throw.  I still wish I’d had some.

Enough on that.  Needless to say it took a year, cost the family a lot of money – when the subject of “where do you kids want to go? Live with your father, or at the family home with your mom?” I simply told them: “Whoever my brother goes with? I’m going with the other.”  Because I knew how this would all break down, and I wanted to be a pain in BOTH their asses . . . but my father wouldn’t accept me (he had his own girlfriend and their, now about a year later, problems to deal with) – into his own apartment, and my brother, despite being older, but having such a juvenile mind, chose, as he’d been told to do, his own mother to live with . . .

Harlows Monkeys

Harlow’s Monkeys

So I was doomed to live with my mom while going to this new school I had to contend with – now on the furthest side of town (thank you to ‘busing’ us students all around); plus a whole lot of grief on that end where there were no new-old friends to encounter, and everything (civilian at least) seemed a bit strange, off, and out of kilter a bit.

I had often found my peers childish, and had no interest in their games, sexual or otherwise.  I still liked having fun, but spit balls and meaningless pranks or innuendos were just so much juvenile bullshit to me.

I’d already learned, or knew, more about sex than any of them, or as best I could learn – and I knew a LOT, having read non-fiction books on the subject by endless book – not just ‘sexual’ but about sex, while a younger child overseas, plus having experienced a lot of the stuff even earlier, and during my tour . . .

There was no way I was going to go through those childhood games again, knowing you only get hurt, that everyone leaves in a little while, and most of all they’re gonna betray you.  Everyone always goes, and they always do.  No phone calls, no feelings, and that was not just home – that was anywhere in my life any more . . .

The Machine Is Born

ThinkerI remember the day clearer than most, for it was “when I was born”, or rather gave birth to a new something.  For “I”, 13, or Thirteen, had decided after a long year of deciding that we’d had enough of loneliness and isolation and a life without any friends.  It had taken a whole year of thinking about it to arrive at a solution to our decision, but “I”<13> had finally come to one.

We’d been conversing with another student through “table top” graffiti; that is, communicating through the thick layers of other students’ writings on the ancient desks us students sat at.  Ancient things, relics of a long lost era, bolted to the floor with their ink wells showing through.  Each sat independent of each other.  There were no moving around, for your seat belonged to the student who sat behind you.

Thus is was on this wonderful spring day morning while “I” contemplated all our own life had yielded, and what it had led to.

Love, that was the problem I at once decided, looking around at Mister B’s classroom.  It was the science lab and my first home room class, and I looked forward to seeing Mr. B.  He was after all a first rate science teacher, or he should have.  But instead over the months at this new school – no friends, none at home to speak of either.  I’d been ‘hiding’ out in my room reading, mostly, and mostly despite my own parents objections, due to their own behavior.  They were about in the 5th month of their divorce game by now, and I’d had my share of 6 week restrictions due to my failing grades in pre-algebra from day one now.

But I’d had it by now. Kinda. Sorta.  I was still hanging onto this one last hope – that perhaps a rational man, one who had to have been kind hearted, seeing as he was a preacher and all . . . never mind that he was black, that made no difference in my mind at all.  (Due to that military influence, no doubt.)  Just his position in that school – 7th grade science teacher, and a wonderful (at least to me and my mind at the young age) science lab . . .

I was looking forward to talking to him, too.

But first I wanted to make up my mind about a serious issue which had been plaguing me ever since “we’d” all got home.

What to do with myself and the way I was feeling.

And, I decided, the very best thing was . . .

That’s when the teacher walked in.  I approached him later, but it was too late, and all too disappointingly familiar. Rather than deal with my problems (and a white boy no less, I only realized much later into my teens) he referred me and “my” problem (I told him about my parent’s getting divorced and pretended some confusion as to which way I should go: to live with my father, or mom).

Instead he sent me to a gay ass councelor who couldn’t keep his ass from swinging through the corridors all the way down to his office in the hall, which he kept dimly lit and smelling of suggestion.

That “I” and me and mine did not appreciate at all, and then we ALL knew how the solution went.

If one doesn’t feel anything, then there is no problem.  Go all intellect, and no emotion at all.

In short, become not like a machine, but BE a machine: cold in heart, intellect, and keeping all the “spirits” down.  Allow nothing out by allowing nothing in, nor inwards.

And so, sitting there in Mister B’s class on that wonderful spring morning, devoid, friendless, staring down at the blank words, I thought the thought and “killed” us all.

And damned if I didn’t do it again a time or two, even though 21 (through 24) fought us off. It works sometimes, dredging that old Machine and armor up, putting it ‘on’, drenching ourselves in cold feelings, and shoving all our love, hurts, hates, and emotions aside.

However, as 21-through-24 is bound & apt to tell us: it’s no solution at all, and one that’s gotten a good bit less viable as we’ve gotten older and aquired a family.

As “13” I still feel . . . left behind, unloved, unused, and yet I’m certain I am a ‘part’ of a strong family; however, there’s still “bits” of me (littler ones) left somewhat further behind, and those pains still have some healing – if they ever can be healed of their pain – before we can move on with this.




Adult alter here: It looks like we’re making some progress; some of those alters we “feel” are left trapped in Germany, and around the world.  People and parts of people – children, horribly disappointed, abused, forced to do things they don’t want, living in an insecure world which they’ve been told – no, they KNOW! – can be blown up in a nuclear explosion at any time, or else the East Germans might come over in their tanks & jets blowing everything up . . . being on the constant aware, prepared, and yet exploring a new country, sometimes several of them in a day, always changing, drifting like a leaf, but I found one, one friend whom I could stand beside (I was about 12 around then) – and then I lost him through no fault of mine, but rather the military and my dad . . .

It just gets more painful from then, and for that we can go to the top of this story.

But I think perhaps you, the reader, can get a feel for how a child can be broken down many a time and made not just into “something else” (for the Army to use if nothing else) but many something else’s, through a groundless friction, keeping them on the move all the time, denying them friends, making them self-sufficient, but aware enough to develop a sense of teamwork – to LEAD a team if it came down to it, killing Russians or whatever it took for them to survive, make it to the coast perhaps, perhaps coming home to America, knowing it would be a ruined land by that time . . .

How do you prepare a child for that kind of outcome while being kind to them all the time?  Most of the G.I.’s and soldiers were – very kind and generous to a fault. But we took advantage to them, and of them, as we were taught, and misdirected their leaders into making mistakes – as we were taught again, sometimes sowing confusion into the ranks . . . all the while playing the deceptive enemy, the children of fellow soldiers sometimes . . . while daring our lives at night on a sentry’s bullet not taking our heads off for stealing ammunition from the ammo dump . . . learning how the CIA reads maps, matching photo ones to topo arrangements . . . how to sow division and chaos amongst enemies and people in general, sabotage, and more . . .

No use; all that education ‘wasted’ and a civilian life?

It just seemed impossible; I had no friends, nor after the Machine wanted more.  I was done with them, everything.  If it was human I condamned it, shutting it aside, and condemning my own feelings until, within a day or so, we had it down.

The Machine had sprung to life.

It would remain, and all of us ‘trapped’ somewhat in it (while still experiencing all the normal feelings a childhood teen might have) until we reached 21 or so.


And that was the Birth, Death, and Life of “13” who still lives quite heartily within us at all times.  He is not in the Machine, but apparently not quite happy “here” with the life we lead, which is why, I and my more adult alters think he and 21 “ganged up” on all of us and shut the system down – so they could have a “party” with the body and mind – one which cost me, and us, a lot of thngs.

But I can feel it: they simply, and somewhat selfishly, do not care.


Return To The Hood

GermanflagIt was a wet, rainy afternoon at the Frankfort International  Airport. I stood in front of the big wide windows looking at the big jets on the tarmac.  I had lost the required thirty-five pounds (in three months, no less) to get my dog shipped home with me; there was a piece of carry-on luggage, and my family behind me . . .

I was ready to go. I had lost my best friend ever, and was aware that I was going into a great unknown. Sure, my parents had told me we were ‘going home’ – but I just knew everything had changed. It had to . . .

After all, I had changed.  I was heavier – fatter – and I wore glasses now.  I had learned a little something of the world.  I had taken up smoking – a heavier smoker, now, though a pack would still last me a week or two or three . . .

and I’d heard (and met) my old compatriot from the U.S. Army back home – a kid up the street who’s family was Army as well.  They’d come over when we were two years into our tour, and weren’t going to be back home until much later . . .

and things had been in such an uproar when we’d left The Hood before . . . with the death of my best friend (and lover) and his abuser’s (and mine – sexually, that is) dad . . . their family breaking up, poor as dirt mice . . . all that was gone; had to be different, much different . . . but how?

I stared out at a jet, wondering if it was hijacked.  It had been sitting there a long time.  A lot of hijackings were happening about then (it was November, 1973, I am sure of it).  Wondering what lay ahead . . .

I can barely remember my family getting on.  But it was a Lufthansa jet.  Wonderful airline.  I can remember the dinner – filet mignon, chunked roast potatoes, some kind of cheese, and a nice fresh salad – and I gotta beer.  My parents allowed me – almost as a celebration of what we were leaving: Germany, going home, going to the Promised Land where we had been once before, a place where you could drink water out of faucets and there weren’t men peeing publicly (and sometimes the women as well) . . .

I didn’t think about it – and I guess I didn’t know . . . but what lay before me was a tremendous change:


Going from military schools to civilian ones,
Getting away from the military bases, PX’s, cafeterias, AFEES & more . . .
No more sitting with the G.I.’s outside marching, or singing, while dinner went on . .
No more post theater, library system, reasonable source of transportation, or the rules and regulations that went along with living on a military base overseas during the Cold War – and a military base that dealt in secrets, and secret technology as well . .

Instead I would be arriving in a rural environment, just a few miles from Tobacco Road (of novelist & Southern fame – or infamy).  It was a poor area, poorer than most – even poorer than that of the Tobacco Road crowd – and far from everything – a dirt road last I met it, with a scattering of Craftsman style slab houses (plus a few old farmhouses, mostly falling down) – around it . . .

A place of dirt and poor, ignorance and poorly read, with nary a library – not even a store


and all my old friends? None of them left?

How was I to know?

I don’t know.

So I ate my meal, my bag stored overhead – and enjoyed it.  It was quite good, and Lufthansa seemed to put on a special flight just for me – until the kid behind me threw up in his seat . . .

and so I had to ride with the smell of vomit in my nose, a decent steak setting in my abdomen, and the silver clouds drifting by below as the moonlight – the moon was riding full and bright – with the occasional dark glimpse of the ocean . . .

and we arrived.

I couldn’t tell you much about that – the brief kiss (custom) – when getting off the gangplank – where you get down on your knees and with much gratitude and love kiss the ground you are thankfully! – finally! – soundly!  on . . . then marching over to Customs to make your “I don’t declare anything” declarations, the open bags; the searching & rifling through, the hand passing you on . . .

gathering your things . . . into the airport, a new beginning, a rental car . . .

and we are going home.

In twenty-four hours my life had changed from what I’d known . . . into something new. Something alien and different again, only in a big way.

And I’d be living here for a very long time . . .

I sighed, shouldering my suitcase across my back, and heading for the taxi cab . . . hoping this ride would be fun . . . and filled with dread . . .

For we were going back to my old neighborhood . . . and would not be living in our old house.

Instead we were renting the house next door.

The house my abuser had lived in.  My friend, my lover and betrayer, and the one who had hurt me so much in the end . . .


It was freezing night, a silver sliver of a moon showing through scattered rents in the racing clouds.  Streetlights threw yellow rays across slushy streets, and stark trees threw spidery silhouettes across the road.  We were walking the deserted streets from dependent’s housing section to the base’s amenities area, my family and I, surrounded by the impersonal military buildings, each with an identifying number, and some by symbols on the signs they wore.  We were on our way to see a movie.

What movie, I can’t recall.  It was on Fleigerhorst, a small military base.  It had it’s own little PX, an old theater, and a cafeteria for enlisted soldiers and people like me: dependents, brought with their father as part of his own army while he served the one we all worked for – in one way or another.  All part of earning a paycheck and doing duty to God, Country, and more . . . a tradition we’d been steeped in since I’d been born.

There wasn’t much to do – no internet, no TV, and only one radio station – but we still found things to do.  I ‘played’ with the G.I.’s, was in Scouts; we met in bunkers, and school dragged on, albeit on a different base.  I commuted on one of those old green shuttle buses, slugging through the crunch snow in the morning, coming back in slush in the afternoon . . . and god forbid you were too late for the last bus. It was a long walk from one base to another, though they had plenty of biking paths.

I had already gotten into trouble once about the theater by going to see “The Yellow Submarine”.  My parents had forbidden it.  They hated the  Beetles, didn’t like rock and roll, and were very conservative.  The only music they listened to was “Mystic Moods” (easy listening) and Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass Band.  I had gotten beaten for going to the movie but I didn’t care.  I’d been beaten so much it didn’t matter.  I was tough, used to them.  It was just another in a long string of ‘spankings’ – all my life.  It seemed normal.  I was used to having my ass pounded.  The trick was hiding it all.  My sense of self. The things I’d done – and was still doing.  And the crimes I’d committed, whatever they were (or were perceived to be) at the time.

But it didn’t matter.  During the “Yellow Submarine” the theater had caught fire.  It was a matinee so the G.I’s weren’t there – they were at work, which is how I managed to get there without my father knowing.  Us kids were sitting there in the semi-darkness when smoke began to billowing out from the bottom corner of the screen, and there were low red flickers behind it.  Us kids shifted restlessly; we were waiting for the movie.  Then a voice came on the PA saying “Stay in your seats! There is no cause for alarm.  The theater is on fire and we have it under control.”

I wasn’t dumb.  I sat there thinking this is a classic nightmare (I’d read enough books to know) – where the theater actually was on fire! – and here all us kids were just calmly sitting eating our popcorn and watching the smoke pour around the screen while the red glow grew brighter.  No panic, no popcorn throwing – just rows of quiet kids watching the scene.  Only in the Army would you see that.  In the civilian world there’d been a riot, people trampling each other as they raced to the doors . . .

But not us.  We were Army kids. We wanted our seventy-five cents worth.  We wouldn’t run until we saw the flames were higher than us.  But . . . true to their word they got the fire put out, we watched the Beetle movie, smelling acrid smoke.  I was happy, but puzzled.  I could not figure out why this movie was forbidden.  It didn’t make sense – the ban, not the cartoon, though the cartoon made little sense either.  However, I came home smelling of smoke and talking about the fire. Bad news: my parents knew what was showing, so I got my beaten and restricted again.  Another few days in my room. (sighing)

But this time it was an ‘approved’ movie.  The whole family was going.

We trudged through the snow and slush to the theater . . . saw some movie . . . and then when we came out I rushed over to the cafeteria and spent some of my own hard earned money for an ice cream.  Walking out to the sidewalk in front of the cafeteria I encountered my dad.  He stood there staring at me.  Then he walked up and with a scornful look snatched the cone from me and dashed it into the trash.

“If you can’t buy enough for everyone you can’t have one,” he said as I looked with horror at the pristine, brand new ice cream planted upside down in the garbage.

And I broke down and cried.

Because here’s the thing:

I had been taught and trained – it had been enforced and beaten into me over and over again: you don’t waste food. Not ever! – not a single crumb.  It’s an issue still for me, big time.  I have a hard time controlling myself when someone wastes food.  Why?

Well, when dad went to Vietnam, or overseas, or TDY, we’d go from thick to thin in a hurry.  Food was . . . hard to come by.  Hunger was an issue.  Money was thin.  I had to work for every dime I had, hauling trash and such.  Why?  Because he would give all his money away! – to missionaries to look good, and whores when he thought they weren’t looking.  With the former he was trying to feed his ego; with the second his selfish self wants – while we went without and he knew it.  Lord knows my mom knew how to complain (and we got the brunt of it, him not being there).  We were not with him.  We were a thousand miles, if not half a world away and more.

Why should he care? Except in a most superficial, distant way . . . the way he often cared for us when he was home – or not ‘disciplining’ us according to his needs . . .

As a result my mom always – always – fought to make ends meat, and barely succeeded. He would fight about her getting more education, fought about it when she had a job.  He wasted money at every turn of a dime.  It go so bad when he was away that sometimes our neighbors would come just to make sure we had food.

Meanwhile dad ate steaks – sometimes in front of us – and ate good.  He never knew a day of hunger and he kept his sweet tooth fed.  Sometimes he would eat steak while the rest of us had plain boiled hotdogs. No buns. Boiled in thin tomato soup, served up on noodles.

And that night that was cold as a freezing moon I ‘felt’ something ‘in me’ change . . . harden a little bit more.

The Dick Knot

“It’s a dick knot,” the boy was explaining to me, swinging it in loose circles between his fingers.  Then he threw out a challenge.  “Nobody has been able to untie it.  If you can – ,” his eyes rolled towards the gray fall sky, “you’d be the very first one to do it.”

I examined the thing.  I had come across it while wandering the playground – a small one on a small base we were on.  This was the last base we would be on; after this we would be going back overseas.  Stateside. We were far from being “short” (that is with only a short time to go) but we could sense a change over the far horizon.  Only about a year left to go . . .

I sighed, taking the knot.  It was huge, the size of a soccer ball, tied in a rope which hung from a massive tree on the playground’s edge .  Facing us was a row of identical apartment buildings, each five stories tall, with identical windows, balconies, and curtains.  The upper floors were more desired, but no one wanted the top one.  That was for “transients” – people who were either coming or going – and consisted of a long hallway the two stairwells, with eighteen identical rooms with 18 identically slanted roofs.  They each had dormer windows.  There’d be a room with a stove and a W.C., but there was no way of locking the doors at the end of the hallway.  As a result kids would occasionally run through, playing chase or escaping foes while a family was cooking dinner or going about their business up there.

Around me stood the playground – one slide, two teeter-tooters, and not much else.  There was, however, the eternal jungle-gym which haunted every playground – a huge cube constructed of pipe iron, set into smaller cubes.  The ends were joined with plain crosses and fittings, and if you fell through – woe to the child who did! – you would crash through all that iron, maybe breaking a bone or your head.

There was another playground once, on another base.  The way the military constructed their toys back then – this time one took off a girl’s fingers – almost took her entire hand – chewing it up in the center pivot of a merry-go-’round they had made out of old sheet iron, a post and some fittings.

But this dick knot – I studied the knot, then looked up.  The rope was tied high on a distant branch.  Looking down, I picking at the knot.

I was about twelve and we’d already been “here” (overseas in Cold War Germany) for two years.  I was tired of moving, the constant changing of schools and ‘friends’.  I appreciated this move – we were on an air corps base now, where my dad belonged and worked.  I had just arrived this afternoon, and dark came early in late autumn.  The rope was easily an inch plus some in diameter, stiff and strong.  I fought the tag end, finding where it looped under a tight coil, and began unraveling.  It was harder than it looked.  The kid who had been encouraging me suddenly turned wandered off . . .

I stood toiling.  Below my feet was sand.   I had become used to kids wandering off – disappearing in and out of my life until it was just a blur in my head.  Not knowing, I was depressed.  I felt it, but didn’t know the word for the situation I was in.  After all, life seems ‘normal’ while you’re living it.  It isn’t until you get to the end that people tell you it wasn’t so . . .

We were on the ‘outskirts’ of the main military bases around Hanau, a region in Germany.  Isolated from the other ones by about five miles through ‘Krautland‘.  There was a shuttle bus that ran from one base to another – old civilian Bluebirds converted to military use, and our school buses in the winter.  Now I was five miles from school, and I’d have to get up even earlier to get on, whereas before I’d lived right across from the school on Old Argonner.

I looked around.  There was no one in sight.  I felt lonely, tired, and bored.  It was best to stay out of the apartment while my mom got things settled, and she’d shooed me outside, telling me “go out, explore!”.  I was beginning to make progress . . .

There was no one around me when I had begun, but after awhile a few kids came up.

“What have you done?!” one of them exclaimed, almost in horror, as the last few kinks in the knot fell away.  “You unraveled the dick knot!”  He came up and grabbed the rope from my hand, glancing between it, me and his companions.  He looked frustrated, looking up at the tree.  “Now we can’t swing on it!”

I felt confused.

“What?” I asked.

“Dumbass,” the kid said, thrusting the rope back at me.  The other two kids (there were three of them) glowered at me expressively.  “Tie it back.  TIE IT BACK!”

Somewhat alarmed, I began redoing the knot again while looking him.

“I thought – someone told me – that this knot needed undone – ,” I feebly protested.  It was going to take a little while – the knot had been huge.

“No it didn’t.  It’s for riding this thing.”  And with that he shook the rope, making my task a little bit harder.

After I’d gotten done, then he showed me how – and why it was called a “dick knot”.

“You ride it like this,” he said, grabbing the rope and jumping up, putting the large knot behind his butt.  The rope disappeared between his legs in the front.  Then he bounced against the tree – feet first – told us to stand back, and took off.

Shoving himself hard with his feet, he spun around in circles while going around the tree.  “Thunk!” – his feet came down on the trunk just as the rope got too short to support another go-around.  Then he took off again, only this time in the other direction.  Shooting past his original starting point, the rope coiling around the tree – his spinning on that knot – then his boots came down on the trunk again; the rope was all wound up, ready to go again, and he did.

“The trick is!,” he yelled as he spun around, “to come down with your feet!”  And with that he smacked his shoulder in the tree as he attempted to turn around.  He winced, fell, and stood rubbing his shoulder.  As I watched another kid got on.

“The trick is: who can get the most go-arounds while you’re going around the tree,” he said, pointing at the kid who had replaced him.  “One-two-three-four – ,” the kid smashed, back first, into the tree’s rough bark, and he groaned, falling to the ground.

“Ouch,” he said, standing up and rubbing his back.

I stood and watched for awhile.

Then after awhile, they left.

Then I tried it on my own.

It grew to be one of my most favorite things – spinning and twirling around that trunk.  I’d go for hours and hours.  I got good at it after getting busted up a few times – sometimes good! – and I’d taken my share of scrapes, bumps, and bruises – but I loved it!  The sensation of flying through the air at speed, the world whirling and spinning around you – the perfect (and careful) timing that was required.  I got to where I would win those ‘contests’ – where you had to get off if you messed up on the landing – going around and around until my audience would get tired.  I kept testing my limits – how wide I could take off, how many rolls I could complete before having to come in for a landing – until the other kids learned it was useless in challenging me.  And I’d be far off in my head – thinking about back home, thinking about the woods; the ‘games’ we played ‘playing’ war – our fears and desires and the great unknown, back home, waiting over that far horizon.

You’re in the Army Now

You’re in the Army Now

One of the things you’ve got to understand is that for military families, the military is GOD. The Commanders and Officers will tell you that: you obey military commands first, then you can consider what God wants later. And of the two, you’d better put the military first. God comes second. You come a distant third, and if you are a military dependent, perhaps fourth or fifth.

In some ways this story is a precursor for understanding the second “set” of stories; stories about our lives on the military bases overseas. My life can be defined as a series of sharply defined periods, separated by sharply delineated lines. There was the period “before” the hood, from age one through five. There was the period “in” the hood, from five to eleven. Then there is the period “after the hood”, from age eleven to fourteen. There are other sharply defined periods as well, but they are for later stories. In this “series” of stories, we are entering the third period: the time when I went to Germany. Whereas before we had almost always lived in the “civilian” world – in civilian neighborhoods surrounded by civilian friends – a new factor was to enter our lives: the all-powerful hand of military command, military protocol, and military rules. No longer did our parents come first, though they would relay our new god’s commands; our parents came second. We could see that in our parent’s behaviors – the meek subservience of my mother to this “greater god” (her, who had never bowed to anyone); my father’s sternness about us “behaving in a proper military manner”, and obeying every military command, and our own helplessness regarding our fates, our lives. We were in the Army now, and there was no escaping it.


When you live on a military base, no matter who or what you are, you are expected to follow military protocol. There are announcements (both formal and informal) which may take place at school (if you go to a military ran school, such as we did overseas) – or by your father, or your mother (having been told what to say by the father, who in turn is told what to say by his commanding officer, “the CO”) – or simply posted on one of the innumerable bulletin boards. They may range from mild reminders (“Residents will their lawns manicured and litter free”) to more serious issues (“Children will NOT throw rocks at aircraft”) to ones that leave you scratching your head in bemused befuddlement (“Residents may hang pictures without attachment.”) Regardless of the regulation, you obey.

Obedience comes in many forms, whether it be standing up in the theater and putting your hand over your heart at the beginning of the movie, when they would play the national anthem, to pulling over your car (or bike) and getting out, stand at attention facing the base’s major flagpole and standing at attention when taps are played (promptly at five o’clock). Failure to do so can result in more than disapproval by your fellow slaves; it can result in demotion (if you are military personnel) or persecution of the person responsible for your care (and thus your behavior). I have been with civilians on an Army base when taps are played – they are amazed: everyone stops what they are doing, and everyone faces a central point – even if you can’t see it from where you are standing – and stands at attention. The Mecca of their attention, that single flagpole set somewhere – is rendered proper respect while the flag goes down.

Obedience comes in several other ways, some almost too subtle to be seen, the unwritten rules governing everyone’s behavior. No one cuts in line – unless it is the officer’s wife, and then only in an emergency. (They are given priority, anyway.) In some of the military branches (eg. The Marine Corps), the enlisted (lower ranks) eat first; the upper ranks come last (part of “looking after your men”.) The MP’s (military police) are the arm of god; they are given obedience at the least, respect if you are wise. They are the ones who can “take you in” – and pity the military dependent who gets taken in. While they will be treated with respect, their “sponsor” will bear the full brunt of their punishment – and it is not uncommon for that “sponsor” (the military member) to take home that punishment and deal it out among the offending dependents thrice-fold. Thus if you are a military dependent who is intent on breaking the rules, it behooves you to take the utmost care. Some behaviors can get you “ejected” from the base – or if overseas, from the country you are in. Not that the country cares; they won’t even know (the military keeps it’s embarrassment and secrets to itself). But you will, for if your sponsor is ejected with you, you can count yourself fortunate. It is not uncommon for the dependents to be ejected, finding them homeless and without care here in the United States while their military member continues to serve their tour of duty elsewhere. It’s can be hard life, and the military used to be harsh that way. I do not know if such practices still exist today.

“Rank has it’s privileges” goes the old saying, and as a dependent, you find that you, too are ranked according to your “sponsor’s” rank. Officers and enlisted do not mix. High ranking enlisted may mix with lower ranking enlisted, but only to a limited degree. The Commanding Officer doesn’t mix at all. As an enlisted man’s dependent’s we found ourselves giving preference to the dependent’s of officers. The officers had separate housing on the military bases – real houses instead of the apartments us “lower class” or lower ranking dependents had. In Germany the officers inhabited the houses of their former enemies; us dependent’s lived in our former enemies enlisted housing. It was almost as if there was an invisible line drawn across the base: they had “theirs” and we had “ours”. Theirs was almost invariably better – to be envied by us enlisted brats. And the separation showed everywhere – from school, where officer’s kids were isolated, almost shunned by us “enlisted brats” – to the commissary, where the enlisted mens’ wives would silently steer their buggies in wide circles around the higher ranking officer’s wives. It showed in the clubs and recreation areas: you had the stiffly opulent “Officers Club” – and the more relaxed atmosphere of the “E-club”. In the Youth Activities center the officers’ kids were often at one end – and us “enlisted” kids at the other. As a result most kids kept the identities of their father’s rank secret. But for the Commanding Officer’s kids: there was no way for them to hide their identity. Because a word from them to their father could result in further investigation, no matter what the crime or slight, real or imagined – they were shunned. We rarely mixed with the officers’ kids, if only for that reason. Anything we did or said could impact our father’s career – and thus it was better to err on the side of safety, and just stay away from them.

This is not to say the military is unfair. The military seemed extraordinarily fair. As far as I could tell throughout my entire twenty-four years of military association (twenty-eight, if you count my contract experience) – they didn’t care what color you were, what religion you practiced, or what your rank or status was – as long as you obeyed the rules. Break the rules and you would be punished. It was that simple. Obey the rules and you would be rewarded through advancement (and thereby pay and privilege). And the same went for dependents. Obey the rules and your sponsor would be rewarded. Disobey the rules – and the sins of the dependents would fall upon the sponsor’s head. Thus the inversion of the old saw: the sins of the father will be laid upon their children – for in the military that saying was reversed. The sins of the children would fall upon their father’s head. And woe to the child who did that.

For that was one thing odd and strange. On a military base it didn’t matter if you were three or thirteen, two or twenty: you were expected to obey the rules. The Army seemed blind to age and children. They seemed blind to a lot of things, such as expecting that six year old or eight year old – or fifteen year old – to obey with the same blind obedience that they expected everyone to obey with. The thing is: kids will be kids. They will get into things – and sometimes things they aren’t supposed to get into. Kids are enormously inquisitive; if there is a hole, they will crawl into it; a fence, and they will scale it. And we were a lot like that, getting into things and places we never should of belonged, and doing things that quite frankly should of gotten someone killed.

Another thing about being a dependent – and it’s something you’ve got to realize right away. You are a second class citizen. The soldiers come first, you come second (or third or fourth or wherever the military decides you belong). It is evident in military care: in the hospitals there were signs stating that dependents would be treated ONLY after all the G.I.’s had received their care. It is evident in their rules: the rules go to the G.I.’s – and then the G.I.’s are expected to make sure their dependents follow them. If there is a convoy – you give way. If there are soldiers marching – you step aside. And if there is an alert – the military rounds up the troops, and the dependents are expected to make their own way to safety, minus the comfort and protection of the one who is supposed to be comforting and protecting them. It is evident in everything the military does: the soldiers always come first, the dependents come second. And before you go condemning the military for that, think hard and fast – for who has the military hired? You, the dependent? Or the military person who has accompanied you? And if the enemy is invading, which is more important: that soldier separating himself (or herself) from her duty to aid his or her family – or standing and fighting while the dependents get away? There is a weird and bizarre logic behind the military’s doings – and while I sometimes saw some sad results of that logic, rarely could I argue with the military’s mind. Not that it would of mattered: the military is like a machine, governed by procedure and regulation – and nothing short of God moving heaven and earth can change it.

It was into such a world that my brother, thirteen, and I, eleven, suddenly found ourselves in. Gone were the carefree days of doing as we wished outside: now we had a invisible head watching us, a stern and unyielding hand to guide us. No longer could we be friends with anyone we liked, nor could we speak bad of anyone who disliked us – and whose fathers exceeded ours in rank. Never before had our father’s rank in the military mattered to us, nor our own behavior in terms of how it might affect him. Neither had our father ever had to consider how we might impact his career. But now – thrown together on military bases overseas – it all seemed to matter – from how we held ourselves in the theater, to whom we greeted on the street or in the PX – and how we greeted them. Unconscious actions could have extreme consequences – a perceived slight could echo up the food chain – and then back down again, ultimately falling on your own head. It was strange, and yet oddly predictable – just as the military is. You always knew where you stood in station, life, and priorities (which for us enlisted dependents was pretty low) – and slowly it would dawn on you.

Piece and parcel, body and soul: You were in the Army now.

Krautland: 1969


When living in Germany on an Army base in 1969 there was a very strong sense of “us” and “them”. Notice I didn’t say “us versus them”, though only thirty years earlier their grandfathers had been sorely intent on killing our grandfathers and vis versa. And we lived on “their” former military bases, occupying our former enemies’ houses, and using their facilities. We depended upon “them”, and perhaps they depended upon us – or at least they liked our American money.

This was a time when a dollar bought you four German marks, and a mark bought about a quarter’s worth of goods (unlike today, where a dollar buys you about fifty cents worth of goods – if you’re lucky!). The Germans would send a “roach coach” around every day where you could buy candy (and where I first saw Gummi bears) – and there were the various sundry other services the Germans provided. And the Germans even had a place of their own on the base, the German “canteen” – a bit of their “country” within our “country”, which lay within their “country”. Americans were forbidden from entering the German canteen, though there were a few times we did. If this seems somewhat strange, then you can imagine what it was like living in it. Strange, sometimes stranger, and sometimes just downright bizarre, leaving you to feel like you were tottering on the edge of the twilight zone. Throw in the sudden appearance and disappearance of individuals – Army families in transit, friends come and gone – the combination of seemingly randomness coupled with the perfectly predictable world of the military – well, to us kids it made that “Twilight Zone” feeling even stronger. And then sometimes it got really weird – especially when we’d venture off base, out of our “own little world” – and into the world of the Germans.

“Krautland”. That’s what us kids called everything beyond the fence, just as a prisoner might refer to everything beyond the walls as “The World”. There was “the base” – and “Krautland”. Home was overseas – “Stateside”, and we lived in quarters. Over time “Stateside” became more distant in our memories, like a treasured dream fondly remembered. The reality of our situation was in the “now” – and that “now” was life on a military base overseas – a literal island of Americanism in a foreign land.

There was only one official way off the bases: through the gates. But unofficially it was different, and us kids were always keeping a sharp eye out for a means through the fence – whether it be a hole through or under. One of the first things we’d do upon arriving at a base was to make friends with other kids and we’d gather in clandestine meetings, staring at Krautland through the fence and finding out where the chinks in the American armor were. And invariably they were there. And we weren’t the only ones who used them.

I remember on one base us kids had discovered a hole in the fence – a tear near a locked gate that no one seemed to use. Beyond lay a farmer’s field, dressed in green, and a jagermeister’s hut (a hunter’s hut high on poles) – set in the middle of the field. There was an unusual “hill” next to the fence – not far, just a few hundred yards – with a twisted old tree growing next to it. We weren’t brave enough to widely explore the field and woods that lay beyond – we knew we did not belong there, we belonged on “our” side of the fence, and not “theirs”. The only sanctioned way off base was through the gate – but being kids, that did not stop us.

That hill – it was one of many such strange places we found in our explorations – turned out to be an old German WWII bunker. A metal hatch on top opened to reveal a ladder down the wall, and stinking of piss and ankle deep it water, it didn’t hold our interest for long. But there were other bunkers . . .

One gray, overcast day we were sitting like vultures in that tree – a group of about six of us. We’d crawled through the hole, mounted the bunker – given it our now disinterested and precursory inspection – and then climbing the tree, just sat in it. (Entertainment being what it was – rare – this was about as exciting as it often got on base.) As we are sitting there we spy a couple of G.I.’s worming their way through the hole.

Hunkering down, we watched them, gathering our coats around us. It was unusual for G.I.’s to do this – they could get into serious trouble for leaving the base in an ‘unofficial’ way – and we knew something was up. It was late fall or early spring – no snow, I remember that. And these two G.I.’s, not noticing their audience perched in the tree, began to do something that . . . well, we were caught between emotions. You could say they freaked us out, scared us, and made us laugh all at the same time – but being the careful vultures we were, we remained quiet – for a time.

These guys pull out a sheet, then undressing, go chasing each other for a short way across the field, naked as jay-birds. We are already in shock, looking at each other and suppressing our giggles. Then the two G.I.’s wrap themselves up in the sheet and begin rolling around on the ground. That was when we realized what was going on. These two guys were gay.

I don’t know what set it off – whether someone laughed a bit too loud, or made a comment, but suddenly the G.I.’s become aware of our presence in the tree. Leaping up, they begin running towards us.

Well, that was all it took for us vultures to decide to fly. Realizing we’d been caught in an act of voyeurism, we scrambled down from that tree – falling over one another and jumping from low limbs – with cries of “Book! (which meant run like mad in our lingo) Book! Run!”. And we scattered, all with the same intention: don’t get caught and head for the hole.

I think as I (one of the last) hurried through that hole in the fence I heard on of the G.I.’s laughing.

It was strange.

Germany itself was a strange and wonderful place. I loved “going to town”. Walking out the front gate you could often catch a German bus, and from there go anywhere you pleased. Figuring out the German bus schedules and signs, however, was quite a different thing. Whenever I traveled I felt half-lost – probably the same sensation you might get in a strange city – with one difference. You can’t read anything. Everything is a half-guess, an exercise in scratching your head – reading the few words you can understand – and wondering about the rest. You hoped you were picking the right bus; you hoped that it would drop you off at the right destination, and you prayed that you could find it when you got back. But the German towns, like their public transportation systems, were wonderful.

I remember one store we used to visit – sometimes I would go it alone, a boy of twelve or thirteen in a foreign city. It was called “the HoffKoff” – literally translated as “the Head House”. It was a huge department store full of the neatest goods – little washers and dryers for the German apartments, odd kitchen appliances unlike anything I’d ever seen before – all in bright, primary colors – and food. Food was a wonderful thing in Germany – so many new things to try, and a lot of times you didn’t know what you were getting into.

Food. The markets. The open air markets in the city squares on Saturday. Those were my heaven. There was nothing like going to the market early in the morning. The vendors would set up their wares – rabbit carcasses strung up in one stall, layers upon layers of colorful vegetables in another. But my favorite thing of all were the small carts which sold “bratwurst mit brochen”.

There are many types of bratwurst – one for almost every district in Germany. In northern Germany they sell “weissewurst” – white, fatty sausages which to my American palate were totally disgusting. But in the south they sell meaty red bratwurst with crisp skins that burst with juices when you bite into them – and serve it on freshly baked rolls with a hard, yet almost flaky crust. I’ve yet to find anything comparable to it over here in the United States – and served fresh with German mustard . . . eating in an open air market while admiring the beautiful splays of flowers in one vendor’s table – or eyeballing the mysterious corpses hanging under another vendor’s tent – was a sensation not to be denied. I could not visit a market without getting my favorite – bratwurst mit brochen, and a squirt of mustard on the side.

And the towns themselves – every town had at least one bakery, maybe two, sometimes more. And the delicacies they baked! Cakes and cakes galore – there is nothing quite like true Bavarian chocolate cake, loaded with cherries and creme fillings – and scones and tarts, pies – more cakes – German bear claws, candies . . . the list goes on and on, and I added many of them to my favorite lists of things. But I learned a hard lesson in one bakery. . . .

Going in I spied what seemed the most beautiful cake of all. Richly textured, kind of red, kind of brown, with sort of blue-black speckles in the batter, it called my name. Begging my parents, who had come there for . . . what? Something, no doubt – I bought a slice.

I don’t know what that cake was made of – but it was one of the more disgusting tastes I’ve ever had in my mouth – and I have eaten a lot of things. (Snake? Lizard anyone? How about ancient C-rations which are three times your age? Been there, done that.) But . . . my parents had a rule. You order it: you eat it. So I ate it – choking down every beautiful bite.

Germany is an old country. A lot of Americans are awed when they run across a building built in the 17 or 1800’s – but that’s nothing! In Germany there are structures that go back eight hundred, a thousand years, making our American landscape look positively juvenile. The massive cathedrals, cobblestone streets, and roads so narrow that only two horses can pass – the castles with their massive fortifications, breweries that go back to before America was founded. And we traveled – a lot. I was constantly amazed and awed by the architecture – sweeping buttresses inside of churches so large it seemed you could fit a football field in them – ornately decorated, with every surfaced carved and painted. And castles – their diminutive doorways because people were so much smaller then – literally of a smaller stature, so that even as a young teenager I sometimes found myself ducking through the entrances. And every village seemed to have some statuary, a center plaza, and an ornate fountain. Some were positively grotesque – I remember one which was fascinating, featuring gaunt emaciated people, all nude, dying from the Black Death – the bubonic plague. One was a withered woman, her breasts sunken dugs dangling down her chest, her mouth gaping to the sky; underneath her a plump child writhing in pain. Death was no stranger to our ancestors, and was frequently referenced in their ancient art and sculpture. From what I saw, apparently it wasn’t uncommon for our ancient ancestors to come across human skeletons from time to time – and they simply accepted it as a matter of course.

I remember one town we lived near. There was a church near the market square where we often walked. It was one of those hundreds of year old churches, and the Germans decided to do some work on it. Pulling up the floor stones paving the center aisle, they found . . . hundreds of skeletons, all thrown down into a large pit-like room. They apparently were monks or religious acolytes, and instead of burying them, the church clergy would just toss the bodies beneath the floor. We had visited this church before, and it was bizarre knowing that for so long people had been walking and worshiping over this cache’ of skeletons. Of course the Germans being the orderly people they are, and on intimate (if somewhat ashamed) terms with their histories, they promptly threw a ribbon barricade around the pit and opened it up to visitors. The last I saw it was still there: a big circle in the middle of the church, in which there was an immense pile of bones.

There were a lot of other things about Germany which to an eleven, twelve, and thirteen year old boy raised in the humid South were strange, weird, wonderful, and interesting. Coming from a dirt poor rural neighborhood, raised in the sand hills among the scrub pines – I found myself suddenly surrounded by a world rich in art, museums, and items of interest. The German people were wonderful as well – courteous, though strict in their own ways; being helpful when they could, and laughing good naturedly at all of our mutual embarrassment when they couldn’t. The world outside our world – the world beyond the fences – Krautland – was an experience which opened my eyes and made me realize: there was a world beyond the world I’d known, the one back in “Stateside” – a place of different values and culture; beauty and wonder – a strange and fascinating place.

Swimming Lessons 2
(Or Why You Don’t Piss Off An Old Wet Hen)

I had my first real “pool” epiphany about two or three months after I’d begun to learn to swim, courtesy of the old Sargent at the military indoor swimming pool. It was a hot Georgia summer – and trust me, summer in Georgia can get really HOT. It’s not like that nice dry heat they have out west; here it’s more of a steam bath, a sauna – a “just pop me in the pot and boil me ’till I’m done” type of heat. Maybe it’s the pines, or all the lush vegetation – you can literally see the humidity in the air come June, and it lingers like a fog until September or so. Cut it with a knife? Heck, you can eat it with a spoon.

Back in the “old days” – or at least the days of the ‘hood, when we were poor – air-conditioning was a thing of dreams. WE had one – at my mid-western mom’s insistence – which put us about a half-leg up the other envied folks in the neighborhood – the people with the brick sided house. But of course it was one of those huge old monster window units – a really big boxy thing that intruded its noisy nose into our kitchen, breathing out cool wafts of air. It made so much noise that dinner conversations were more of a shouting match than a conversation – but we didn’t mind. At least it kept the kitchen and dining area cool.

But this is about the pool. No, not that one – the indoor one, where we learned to swim. It was about another one – one that was famous for over sixty miles around – because it was huge, outdoors, and spring fed with a sandy bottom.

No, it wasn’t a lake. It was a place called “Misty Waters” – because the water had a sort of whitish look from all the sand upwelling from the springs – and it had concrete block sides, and seemed to go on forever. There were deep ends, shallow ends, it wandered around for what seemed well over an acre – and because this was “in the day”, in the Deep South, blacks were not allowed in. Not that I cared; I would boycott such a pool now, or scurry around the side and help whoever wanted to get in over the fence and wall – but back then segregation was “normal”, and I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Doesn’t really even matter considering where this story is headed. The time? About 1968 or 1969 or so – yeah, deep into the civil rights movement, but this is Georgia we’re talking about – a state that, while ‘comfortable’ with working alongside blacks, couldn’t accept blacks into its recreational facilities.  Come to think about it – I can’t remember any black kids in school, either, though I’m sure they were there. They were probably segregated among the classes, since law wouldn’t allow them to segregate the school.  Oddly enough to us kids the color of your skin didn’t matter – it was how you played that counted.  How smiling and friendly you are.

Anyway, this place, this “Misty Waters” – it was the place to go during the summer, not that we went there very often. After all, it cost money to get in – and when you have a fist full of kids and not many dollars – money becomes an issue real quick.

We’d pack up – us and the family across the street – their mother and three boys, plus MY mom and us two boys – and head out to this huge ‘swimming’ pool. I remember they had a TRIPLE high dive, a couple ‘regular’ dives – and that endless sandy bottom. And the water! So cool – almost cold after driving through the summer heat, all us kids suffering like dogs in the back of the old car – panting and complaining (and occasionally getting a few licks from the eternal wooden spoon my momma carried like an accessory – like a part of her arm). It seemed we had to drive forever to get there, though in retrospect I know now it was only about twenty or so miles over country roads – and when we’d get there! Us kids couldn’t wait to get through the line, get in that pool – and escape our mothers.

Like I said, I only remember going there maybe two or three times (times were hard for us back then – in more ways than one – and even harder for my brother and I, seeing we were stuck at home with our mother – our slightly insane mother who had a penchant for violence and terror when the doors were closed). But this one time really sticks out in my mind. It was when I learned that you don’t piss mom off, not in a pool. And you definitely don’t interrupt her when she is in the middle of a conversation with her friend.

This particular day – sunny, hot, white puffed clouds drifting in the sky like malformed marshmallows – I’d been swimming around for a while. I can remember how good it felt – that cool, cool water, the sand shifting beneath my feet – taking a few daring leaps off the high dive (which was always crowded with kids and redneck athletes out to impress ‘their women’). But I’d gotten bored, and had lost track of my friends in the rambling pool – it wasn’t square, but instead was built like a confused set of building blocks, rectangles and squares all interconnected – and it was huge. Finally I spot my mom in the shallow end talking to her friend, the woman across the street.

I push my way through the water – so clear and blue, and yet with that slightly whitish tint from the fine particles of sand – until I come up behind her. She’s busy talking; the waters right up to the top of her butt – she’s not a tall woman – and right about collarbone level to me.

“Mom! Play with me!” I say.

Wave of the hand behind the butt, she indicated I should go away.

“Please, mom! Come play with me!”

The hand waves more insistently; she continues talking. I get up closer to her. She’s got on one of those one-piece bathing suits, that much I remember. The woman she is talking to – my ‘second mom’ is laughing, talking back.

“MOM! Come on! Play!” Okay, now I’m being a little bit more stupid, a bit more daring, and a lot more dumb. I should’ve known better than to mess with this woman – my mom – especially here, while she is having such a good time – and leaving us kids alone – and there IS a huge pool to swim in – why am I doing this? I don’t know, I’m just bored. And like I said: being stupid. REAL stupid.

No more hand waving. Mom spins in the water, her face going in a flash from laughing and talking to pure rage.

Play with you? PLAY with you? Okay. I’ll play with you!”

Before I can back away – and trust me, knowing that look I’m trying to back away! – she snatches me up. Faster than you can say “fish” she’s got me by the ankles, and I hear – sort of through the water as she lifts me up – “play!”

And she starts spinning me around – around and around in the water – holding me by my ankles. And it’s NO fun at ALL, not this type of playing! Like I said: the water was hip deep on her; holding me by the ankles, I’m in from stomach to the top of my head – and she’s swirling me through the water like a turd in the toilet – and I can’t get any air! I’m twisting, turning – trying my darnedest to snatch a breath – trying to scream for her to stop, she’s drowning me – can’t see anything but blue water and flashes of sky – and around and around we go.

I’d just started to really begin drowning – choking in big lung fulls of mixed water and foam – trying to kick myself free from those nails driving into my ankles – it’s no use, she’s got a good hold on me – and I can hear the occasional “play!” – when her friend reaches forward and stops her.

Good thing she did, or else I think I wouldn’t be here right now, and my momma’d be in jail for murder.

When she let me go – I back off, crying and choking and sputtering – going from “lets play” to “run away!” in an instant – terrified, out of breath, and staring at my mom as I keep backpedaling away, not stopping for anything – not the other kids in the pool, not even to finish catching my breath. I know she scared me BAD that time – not as bad as in the story “Kissing the Thin Man” – but bad enough. I’ve learned my lesson – swimming lesson number two.

Don’t interrupt momma while she’s talking. And don’t EVER get near her in a pool.

Oddly enough, though – I was never afraid of the water – only afraid of her – and I never lost my love for swimming – though I think I did lose some of my love for her.  I know I learned another level of terror that day . . . one involved with drowning . . .

It wasn’t the first time she’d scared me like that, and it wouldn’t be the last, but it was the last time I ever bothered her while we were in the pool.

No More Hugs

No More Hugs

Harlow's Monkeys

When I was seven years old I did something for reasons I can only guess at, and about which I harbor certain regrets – but in some ways don’t regret at all. It is hard to explain.

I remember the day, the time, this scattering of moments with crystal clear clarity. I can clearly see the bedroom, lit by the overhead light; I can feel myself in the bed, the covers pulled halfway to my chest; see their rumpled billows embracing me. I can even orientate myself; my head is to the north, my feet toward the south; the doorway is to my left and down, and the hall light is on. It is bedtime.

My dad comes in. Despite his cruel ways, his hidden sadism, he is smiling, almost laughing as he bee-bops through the doorway and across the linoleum tile floor. He was always fond and affectionate when it came time to put us to bed – though he has a rude way of awakening us – coming in in the morning, jumping on the bed and roughly tickling us, and sometimes even worse – grabbing us by one heel and snatching us up and dangling us upside down. That’s the way he used to beat us sometimes – holding us up with one hand by one foot, and lashing as hard as he could with a thick leather belt with the other. I don’t remember those times real well, but my brother recently told me, triggering flickers of memory and pain; of squirming like a tortured frog within his grasp. I guess I am fortunate I cannot remember those times as well as my brother, for my brother has told me he could hear me scream and scream and scream. To me they are just blackness; a time buried and lost in my memory, or within the memory of my inner child.

He comes to my bed; places a knee on the bed. I feel uneasy, uncomfortable. I don’t know why – just a general uneasiness. He bends over, scooping my thin shoulders – broad for a child, but thin as a kid – in his arms. The warmth of his closeness, the feel of his closeness, his bristled chin scraping my face. He hugs me tightly, goes to kiss me – a parent’s kiss, nothing more. And when he releases me I tell him.

“Dad? I don’t want you to hug me anymore.” I feel odd telling him him this, but my uneasiness is forcing me. I don’t know why I am uneasy; just that it’s there, the feeling of some undefinable something wrong.

“What?” he asks kindly, his face a few inches from mine.

“I don’t want you to hug me anymore,” I say – a bit more forcefully, a bit more sure. “I’m a big boy. I don’t want hugs.”

He leans back and looks at me, confusion clear upon his face.

“Why – okay,” he says, taking his knee from the bed and rising. His face is clouded, then clears. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” I say. My uneasiness is leaving, and yet I am troubled – there is a deep churning I cannot describe, even now. A dark thing within me. A bothersome feeling I cannot pin down.

“Well. Okay.” His face is now unreadable, a slate hiding his emotions. He goes to the door, pauses with his hand on the light switch.

“Good night,” he says, flicking off the switch. The room plunges into darkness. I can see him, a dark featureless shadow framed in the doorway, silhouetted by the hall light.

“Good night, dad,” I say, turning over as is my wont, towards the crevice between the bed and the wall. That’s how I often slept – my nose stuck in that crevice, breathing in the cool air from beneath the bed.

Over the years I have replayed that scene in my mind, wondering. My mom was devoid of physical affection – I don’t remember her ever hugging us. During my childhood and teenage years, I don’t remember them ever saying they loved us, except as a tool, such as “We are doing this (a punishment) because we love you.” That was the only time love was ever mentioned – as a reason for a punishment. Why would I suddenly decide to put an end to the only source of parental affection available to me? Why did I do that – and yet seek an even more intimate form of affection from my peers and the teenager next door?

I suspect I know why. I guess I write this as a warning something to look for in your child, though I cannot be sure this was the reason, nor do I wish to raise undue suspicions. But I think – and this is just a thought – that my uneasiness arose from what was happening between the teenager and I. That I was afraid my dad would go further, as the teenager did. That that kiss would turn into something else; something more adult and demanding. The press of his body against mine – I guess it subconsciously reminded me of something, what was happening to me two or three times a week during the summer; a little less during the school year.

My brother and I both discussed this in a sidelong sort of fashion. We never admit the sexual abuse that happened. But we both agree: dad never touched us “like that”. He never did anything sexual to or towards us. He never (to the best of our faulty recollections) – touched us inappropriately. There was only one time he ‘touched’ me in a way that was bad, but that was for a medical procedure, and if it hadn’t been for the sexual abuse by the teenager, it wouldn’t still stick out in my mind. I’ll write about that sometime later.

The majority of my ‘selves’ regret that day, my decision – but the little child inside still doesn’t. I don’t know why. To this day I can feel his firm resolution on the issue. (In my mind I can see him shaking his head “no”, still stubbornly refusing to change his mind.) Strange. This is one of the problems with my kind of madness. Having these ‘beings’ within you, some fighting other parts of your mind.

But I think – and this is the warning, the admonition – that when a small child suddenly, out of the blue, refuses or no longer wants a parent’s affection – when it suddenly becomes uncomfortable to the child, makes them uneasy – it may indicate . . . something.

Just a thought. Perhaps a warning,. I don’t know. Like I said: I’m still not sure why I felt so uneasy about my dad hugging me anymore – but I have my suspicions.

And sometimes suspicions are grounded in fact.

(Just for something different . . . random memories from before “The Hood”, and one my wife liked because of the  frost thing.  I put it in here as part of an honest listing of the tales from my childhood, because not all memories are bad . . . just sorta sad sometimes.  Like anybody’s childhood.  And this was about as close as we ever came to living near extended family – usually they were over 1,500 miles away, sometimes more.  And it’s another example of how we were constantly moving – at least once per year.  Time? About 1962 or ’63 I suppose.  Place?  Perhaps near Fort Hood in Texas . . . I dunno . . .  That’s one of the things about being a military child – you never know where you were at . . . and sometimes ‘home’ isn’t a home at all . . . it’s just a cruel rumor you’ve heard about; dreamed of . . . something the kids around you who seem so much happier have, but you don’t.  You are always moving on . . . leaving your life behind like pieces of your mind; family, and friends, too.)

Texas: Bits & Pieces

I guess I was three when our family moved to Texas, and four when we left, so I’m a bit surprised that I remember as many things as I do. My mom tells me a few little things – like, for example, that the house we were in was small and roach infested. I don’t remember any roaches at all, and to ‘me’, that child’s perspective the house (from what I can remember of it) was huge and cavernous, and the backyard stretched to the limits of my horizon. Beyond lay ‘forbidden land’ – places I could not go. The backyard was fenced in; the front was not. That I remember quite well.

There was a sidewalk in front – a real one, and a concrete one, along with a paved drive which led up to a garage – which again seems large (though not overly so) in my memory. However, when I asked, my mom said with scornful distaste, “Yeah, there was a little shack next to it, nearly falling down.” (Albeit there again, she looked somewhat surprised that I remember this thing.)

There’s an interesting story (to me, anyway) regarding that shack. My dad used to keep his car parked in there – and I my tricycle (it was red and I loved going ’round on that thing, pedaling like mad). One morning I walked out with him – he was on his way to work I reckon, all bundled up in a dark trench coat There again – I am having to rely on my “child’s” perception of these things, so I may be wrong – he could have been wearing a military issue overcoat, or his old wool one – or none at all. But I don’t remember noticing his sateen Army greens, and he had his gloves on (black, and ribbed on the back with raised stitching), and I know it was winter because of the following question I asked.

Our breath was puffing in the air like steam as we walked to the building he kept his car in. It’s sunny outside, but it’s cool and shady in the shed; it’s a bright white morning sun, and the sky is clear and blue. I had parked my tricycle on the left side towards the wide opening. (I think there was a door; it was just leaning off to the right hand side like a picketed drunk). I think there might have been two drives, or the else driveway forked , but I can’t be sure. I know the part up next to the house seemed pretty open and wide. Anyway – I go to get on my tricycle and there’s something on it.

It’s white and furry and gleaming like sand or paint or some kind of coating, and it’s on the seat and handlebars. I’ve never seen such a thing; it’s dulled the color from a bright red to a cherry pink. I look up at my dad; I’m nervous about this thing. Uncertain; torn between wanting to get on my tricycle – and wondering what the stuff was: is it going to hurt me?

“What’s that?” I say nervously, pointing. I want to get my tricycle out and ride – but I can’t. I haven’t a clue what this stuff is.

He laughs; tousles my hair with his gloves.

“It’s frost!”, he chuckles, bending over. He grabs the seat and starts swiping at it with one hand, which is why I remember his hands – those gloves – so well. I’m intently watching in absorbed fascination. To my amazement the stuff comes off under his brisk quick rubbing. “It won’t hurt you!”

“Thanks, dad!” I say, getting on and rolling it out backward. It was fun. I had learned something – and by now I’m watching him start the car; the clouds of fog rolling around out from behind – and I’m rolling over to the house where I used to ride a lot of times – up and down that drive.

My mom has a story to tell about that tricycle as well – about how they’d have to watch me sometimes.

One day (she says) they were sitting they noticed a spiral of smoke rising up beyond the privacy fence that screened off the front yard (it was on the same side of the house as the driveway I reckon). Going out, they found me riding around in circles, smoking a cigar – puffing and pedaling, proud as could be. It appears we had a friend who used to come over, and sometimes he would discard his cigar before coming in – and this time I had found it and decided to take myself a ride . . .

I also remember the TV in that ‘great room’ (great only in that it seemed really big). Facing the TV the kitchen was off over to the left of me. Watching that thing on Saturday mornings was always a treat that we enjoyed, and I’m pretty sure it was on this TV that I saw Orson Well’s “Time Machine” (the 1960’s version) – which gave rise to that ‘scene’ of a hairy man-monster getting his head smashed against a cave wall, and all the blood (dark and black in my mind – after all, it was on black and white TV!) – leaking out of his head and mouth . . .

That ‘hallway’ (actually it was just a door cut between the two rooms) was also the scene of one of the last ‘fits’ (temper tantrums) that I can remember throwing – and it must have been the temper tantrum of all time! (Laughing to myself; I can still ‘see’ this from a child’s perspective, looking up from the floor and feeling that rage . . . and then beginning to sense the ridiculousness and futility of the thing.)

I remember my mom standing there – at first just hands on her hips explaining things, then looking at me for a moment – then walking away while I continued throwing my fit – kicking my legs and screaming; thumping my head on the floor.

It was all about Billy going to school – and me having to stay home. I wanted to go to school so bad – but just because he was going. Like any little brother (and I was only a year and a quarter younger) – I felt I should be allowed to go and do anything he did. So when I found out he was going to preschool – I wanted in. Only I was too young.

So I threw myself down and had a good fit. Pounding my fists and my head – and my mom just coolly explaining that I was not old enough and could not go – and that was the end of it. Walking off like that was the best thing she could do. Because in the end I had a headache and sore fists and heels – I think I walked with a limp and that headache for the rest of the day – and felt kind of stupid about the thing. Not for the reasons listed (that I was too young) – but because I knew I should not question my fate about such things. Just learn to accept them . . . without getting mad. Or at least without getting hurt.

It’s a problem I’m still working on, and will for the rest of my life.

I remember another thing from there (quite a few, as a matter of fact) . . .

I remember the kid who lived across the street from the front yard. (An alley ran down the back.) He would stand there on the sidewalk and throw stones at me. Neither he nor I were allowed out of our respective front yards, so we would stand there on the sidewalk and throw stones at each other. Fortunately (or unfortunately – it depends on how you want to take it) – he could throw harder than me. I learned from my mom later on that he was about five years old. And I don’t know why – I automatically hated him, and he seemed to hate me. After all, he was the one who started the stone throwing ‘contest’.

And I was the lucky one there because my arm was not strong (I was just about three and a half, maybe?). He could pitch rocks over at me – and they would reach the sidewalk. I, on the other hand, couldn’t pitch them near as hard. As a consequence he would find himself running out of rocks – and then he’d either have to venture out into the street to get the ones where they had fallen short of my goal (his head) – or go back in his yard to find some more. And the strange thing was: I don’t remember actually being interesting in chucking those rocks at all (“he started it!”) – I was just returning what I had been giving.

The very first dog I remember ever having to deal with on a day-to-day basis was my mother’s dog. It was a small one; a half-breed of coyote and something else. However, it was the coyote nature that ruled the most, and it was the most vicious dog to anybody – except my mom.

It would howl at the moon while neighbors threw tin cans at it, and it loved my mom. It would chase us kids – there’s a photo of it. I would love to get a copy because it’s a perfect description of this dog.

In this photo my brother and I are painted up as Indians with Indian head dresses on. We’re lined up in a row, sitting on the lawn: me, my brother, and my mother holding the dog.

And in this picture – it’s frozen like a time frame – this dog is a lunging white blur in my mother’s arms, leaping towards us boys, its mouth open in an eternal snarl – . . . and us boys are just staring straight ahead . . .

It’s the best picture of that dog – and us boys! Meaning our relationship with it, and it with us – that I have in my mind.

(The fun part about writing this is that I remembered how we’d get all dressed up with that greasy War paint and go out and play – putting our “Indian clothes” on – and I think we had those cheap kid’s toys – the bow and arrow-with-suction-cup type of thing.)

This was also one of the few places we lived where there was extended family nearby – my Uncle Don, his mom (my grandmother), Kay and a few others. Uncle Don must have lived fairly close, because I remember he came over one day – walking up the dusty back alley beyond the fence. He would jump the fence to get in.

This particular day that I remember – it must have been a midsummer’s afternoon, for it was hot as all blazes; the ground was dusty and dry, and I can remember the horizons ‘over there’ – they were far and wide. Anyway, it was time for him to go (I think) – and I’m not sure what led to this ‘scene’ in my head:

It’s hot and dry and he’s going across the back yard – only it’s not at a trot, it’s a dead run – flat out getting it, dust kicking up at his heels – and there’s this barking white blur behind him. He hits the fence as fast as he can – scaling it just as the dog catches up to him. Getting over he rips his pants and arm – I can see that wide butt-rip even now – and takes off, hightailing it towards the alley and on out of sight.

I reckon that dog felt rather proud.

I in particular remember one evening – I don’t know if we had gone somewhere (perhaps Uncle Don’s and Grandma’s?) – but all the family was around. There was a fair crowd in someone’s backyard, and it was in Texas – I can still see that far horizon. And the moon is rising – huge, orange and full . . .

Us kids – there was a playground there; a little one – a backyard thing with swings, a slide – and best yet, one of those pump-pedal merry-go-rounds that four (or two) kids can get on – and pumping back and forth with your arms and legs, get that thing going! We used to love that thing – pumping and laughing and spinning – but it was a rare treat I think; not something we often got to do (which means the playground was not ours).

But that night – the adults were gathered up against the house, lounging in lawn chairs, drinking their drinks and talking and laughing as us kids did our thing. And that night the moon came up – and it was beautiful-beautiful in my young mind because I had never seen it looming so orange and large – and us kids squealing like banshee’s as that merry-go-round went around . . .

It was one of the ‘greatest fun’ and ‘most beautiful fun times’ I ever had (though a certain New Jersey sunset comes to mind!).

That Ol’ Time Religion

“When we get home from church, I want you boys to practice on your voodoo dolls,” I remember my mom saying as she turned in the front seat of the car towards me and my older brother. We inwardly groaned, or at least I did. The voodoo doll I had to play with was a cloth effigy of some Navajo Indian, crafted as a child’s play toy, but used to illustrate technique. Sticking pins in it while wishing it was someone else – and since I had no one I really wanted to hurt – was just a boring chore. Listening to how it should be made using the prospective victim’s hair or fingernails was just as boring: arcane knowledge for which I could see no real use.

I was baptized according to the rites and ritual of the Episcopalian tradition with all it’s elaborate trappings as a young infant. Both my parents went to church on a regular basis, especially when my father was there. I recall as a young preschooler standing before the leading members of the choir of the Episcopalian church we attended, singing like a cheerful songbird, and them judging my voice to be pure and sweet enough to join them in the choir – a position I envied, since it allowed me to stare down from the high set balcony in the back, watching the congregation. I learned the Apostles’ Creed – a long and arduous task for a child of five, but I loved the careful intonations, and the meaning and sound of the words. Before we left that church I wanted to be like HIM – the tall, thin, black frocked priest who commanded so much respect with his soft words and firm handshakes, even bending over to formally shake the hands of small children like me with a smile and a pat on the head.

When my father came back from Thailand after he arrived on our shores and in our house a “born again Christian”. That didn’t really make much difference to us kids, but it changed the dynamics of our relationship forever, and the relationship between my mother and my father suffered a lot. We had been going to church fairly regularly; now it became the weekly event religious ordinance commanded it should be. On the other hand, my mom, a free spirit who believes in certain aspects of witchcraft, and is a spiritualist who also incidentally believes in the philosophy of Christ, found herself relegated to a second hand position, told to quit her job, and stay at home like proper religious wives should be. And naturally my dad not only frowned on her Wicca-like leanings and spiritualistic attitudes, but went so far as to condemn them. The neighborhood kids held her in awe.  One kid even swore he turned her into a frog, but he got better.  (That’s an obscure reference to a Monty Python movie by the way – wry grin.)

courtesy Oxford University Press Books Collection (War, History, Religion)

My dad filled our house with religious books and texts from all the religions – copies of the Torah, Islamic teachings, Tao, Buddism, Hinduism, Voodooism, and others. Being an avid reader, I ended up reading through quite a few of them, skimming the pages and getting the gist of each religion. And of course I was forced to study the Bible in-depth. Just to deepen the depth of my knowledge (but not out of any desire or wanting to, I read the Dead Sea Scrolls – something I again re-read just a few months ago, along with their interpretations. Like most religious texts, you can read them many ways – it all depends on the answers you are looking for. I studied ancient religions and the new ones (and many Christians might be surprised to learn theirs is one of the newest on the block. “Mu” came long before, preceding even Baal and El, other gods of the past. And I never have liked Moloch, a sick fictional deity much too fond of children.) But no – I’m no follower of multiple gods; I believe in only One.

My mom, to her credit, was never one to back down from her beliefs, no matter who came to challenge them. She countered my father’s religious fervor with teachings of her own; hence the practice sessions with the voodoo dolls after church, or the signs you use when “casting a hex” (something which I actually found humorously useful sometime later – fodder for another story I’ll be posting). We learned to read palms (long life line . . . oops, too many crossings – you’ll be leading a troubled life, with several major illnesses later on!). Arcane knowledge always presented with a tad of humor, lest we take these teachings too seriously. As she pointed out, it’s not the things you DO that matters so much as your victim’s willingness to believe it, taking points of coincidence and claiming them to be your own. And it worked; she had some of the people convinced of her ‘powers’, the children of the ‘hood especially. And my dad declared her a demon.

I was confirmed at Salzburg, under the eye of the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s old hideout, by a Bishop, after spending a week in training in a drafty old castle, learning with a bunch of other kids my age. Quite an honor, I suppose – the ritual and rite was impressive, the old bishop had me kiss his ring. I remember the training acutely: how to hold the chalice, distribute the ‘flesh of our Lord’, the care that must be taken with each item. How sacred the sacrament is, and how the priest must eat any left-overs, for the consecrated sacrament is not for the trash. To rotate the cup with each person, so that no one drinks after another, wiping the golden rim carefully with the special cloth provided. I also remember another boy and I, sitting in the bowls of the castle, digging our nails into the back of each other’s hands in a bloody test of endurance born of extreme boredom – I bore those crescent shaped scars for many years – perhaps a bizarre recreation of Christ’s own scars for the knowledge I was trained to possess.

I also remember being beaten with every step as we walked to church on a military post overseas one day, my hand in my dad’s and his belt on my butt and legs for being reluctant – and the song they were singing as we walked into the church yard. I was in tears and pain – the walk was well over a mile and I got beaten every step of the way – and as we approached the white steepled building I could hear them singing “Jesus Loves You” – a song which for that reason still gives me the cold shivers. He kept me outside until I quit crying while I listened to them sing what once had been a beautiful song, beating me until I finally hushed up – and squeezing back silent tears of pain I walked inside and we sat in the back where I could hide my pain – him angry, me confused, for if Jesus loved me, why did he demand my father beat me all the way to church? It was a painful demand — that’s all I could understand, and if that was Jesus’s love, I didn’t want anything to do with it anymore.

As time went by I entered the church’s service in my early teens, becoming an acolyte, learning more about the rites and rituals. But that all fell apart when my mom and dad began their divorce, and my mom discovered that the priest was counseling not only her and my dad, but the ‘other woman’ as well. Viewing this as an ultimate betrayal, church going came to an abrupt halt, as did my ‘career’ in serving it. I didn’t understand why we quit going; that would be later on – all I knew was one Sunday we went – and then never again. Just like that; the end of a ‘career’.

My mom and dad ended up getting remarried – exactly one day after their divorce was finalized, spending my brother’s and my college money in their legal bickerings. And yes, it was a dirty, nasty divorce, but I was nearing my mid-teens and I didn’t care. Yes, they tried to use us as tools against each other, but it didn’t work with me. When my dad announced they were getting divorced, I laughed, knowing how this ridiculous farce was going to play out, and I was right. My brother fell for it one-hundred percent, and leaped on me and began beating me as I laughed at their folly — and his for not seeing the inevitable conclusion. I had seen it coming long before they did, and predicted that very end to the end: that they would remarry, making each other miserable for the rest of their lives, and influencing ours as well. They didn’t believe it at the time: after all, who is going to believe a fourteen year old kid? – and my dad passed it off as a refusal to accept the fact – but actually I was laughing because it was he and she who could not see what was so bloody obvious to me. Chalk that one up to my father’s training; he had unintentionally given me to tools to understand them better than they understood themselves, but that’s for a different story than this one.

My dad continued his religious haranguing, becoming ever worse with each passing year, while my mom drifted further and further from the Christian church. Now she is a Christian Scientist, though she doesn’t quite follow all the precepts of their religion anymore than she followed her previous one. When I was sixteen my father and I got into one final argument, finally, disgusted with him, I gave him the one argument that he could not disprove: I told him I was God and defied him to prove me wrong. He couldn’t. Just goes to show what too much religious training can teach you – all the arguments and counter-arguments, how to twist the words to say what you want them to say. I kept coming up with a ‘logical’ or ‘right’ answer to each objection he tried to throw my way. The truth is: it can’t be proved. Nor could I prove you aren’t a god. Or a frog. Or anything else. (Not that I told him that.) Ever since he hasn’t argued religion with me; perhaps I argued too well. he loves their rules for women, relegating them to subservience.

If you haven’t gathered this by now: I’ve been steeped deep in a variety of religions. I don’t talk religion with most folks – I don’t because I don’t want to shake them, nor do I need the support of their belief to maintain my faith in mine. I shook a few deeply devout religious persons in their faith a few times, and the last major time was a Pentecostal priest – using the same book he was using to try to convince me to convince him otherwise. So many religious folks don’t read their religious tracts, or if they do, they tend to interpret things to suit themselves or their compatriots, or the society they were raised in — but that’s okay. As long as they are happy with their beliefs, I am happy to leave them alone, and as long as they don’t attempt to convert me, I don’t attempt to ‘convert’ them. After all, happiness and helping others is what it’s all about (in part) according to my own brand of religion, which encompasses a bit of all religions – and none of them. And after seeing what I did to that priest; how unhappy it made him for a long time afterwards, I decided it was better NOT to muck with people’s beliefs, not with what makes them happy. So I keep my mouth shut on a lot of things, especially when the Jehovah’s witnesses come by. (I used to try to convert them, but after shaking a few of them, I quit – unless they get too persistent. And they don’t come by much anymore now, anyway.)

I know there are going to be a few of you who may be tempted to ‘convert’ me to one thing or another. All I can say is: Don’t. I belong to the my own church – membership, one, and my church is everywhere I go, though I am comfortable in any religious establishment, from a synagogue to a Baptist revival; a Wicca gathering to a Catholic conference. My belief incorporates the beliefs of many systems, having distilled what I see as the truth in all. Most has been discarded. I won’t go into the reasons why: I don’t want to affect your religion, not at all. If you want to get some idea of what I believe, just pour ALL the world’s religions, both ancient and new, into a big old blender, mix it well, and see what floats to the top. After all, as you can see – that’s what was done to me – and I’m happy with my own ‘way’ – as I am hoping you are with yours.

(and a ‘post-note’ added here – from 2012. “This” was written back somewhere in June, 2009, if not a little bit earlier.

I found my “own” religion – putting it all together during my trip last year. It’s a different religion than ‘this one’ or ‘that’ – kind of a combination of everything; it harmoniously agrees with all that’s been said while admitting most of the religions are ‘wrong’.  After all, while perhaps “dictated by God” they were written by man, one of the most fallible of beings.  But there is truth in there.  You just have to know how to look.  But . . . after walking for three days, my feet glued to my shoes with blood; after apparently being given some drug without knowing it (this was while in Puerto Rico) – while held captive and losing 35 pounds . . . well, it all makes sense to me: all the science I’ve learned, coupled with the physics; the evidence and the knowledge we can’t see over 90% of what’s “out there” helps . . . it all made sense. To the nth degree.  And it still does when I look down into the heart of it . . . remember what I’ve ‘seen’ . . .

To me, anyway.

And if you were to ask me what my religion is I’d have to say either “all” or “none”.  I don’t push anything.  I don’t push it because it really doesn’t matter what you believe.  But if you want to be happier, I would say: believe in something, my friend.)

(A piece of artwork we did in the past, symbolizing our love for others in our open hand – symbolizing freedom of choice, and never the need to forgive.  And yes – those sharp spikes can cause some pain . . .)