Thursday, June 2, 2011
Friday, January 14, 2011
So this too was on my mind, this puzzle about my anger that I seemed on the brink of resolving, on my mind as I entered places of the past in 1986 out to get the goods on the family malefactors – with more questions arising at each stage of the hunt.
And I thought of that very recent breakup with Jacqueline when while she was on the phone to me, while she was saying it was over, my white hot anger returned, and click click click, I was shouting angrily back thorough the years at Mary in my recent marriage, at Sheila, whom I had told I would return to Singapore to fetch, at Sunisar in her gold lame gown in Bangkok, and at Bonnie for whom I had left Sunisar, and moving on back through hyper sensual Kentucky Janet to Helga from Zurich, my long time lovely painter girlfriend Valerie, and back into hopeful adolescence with Sandie and especially Ellyse. And to places from which I had been, in the language of those times, eighty-sixed – a bathhouse in Peitou, Bradley’s in New York, a gentile hotel lounge in Nassau, a bar in Hong Kong where when you sat down with a girl they brought you a roll of toilet paper. And then, picking up again, going click, click click all the way back past Ellyse, all the way back to, of all people, my mother.
These plans, anyway, were circulating. The one that seemed close to a paying off, the light personal experience book, Twins in the American Century, this funny situation of my twin an I traveling the world but always on opposite sides, the people he was connecting with wanting, and sometimes trying with success, to kill the people I was connecting with, and vice versa – it seemed funny when I talked it, but not when I tried to do the sample chapter. But anyway the worst of the plans, the travel series on the West Indies and the dull Bahamas, was ready to go and an offer seemed on the way and Amy was coming from Rome to join me in this first leg – something like the way I thought life should be. It should be like Amy looked.
My cousin Elizabeth, who until this year I rarely saw but with whom I had had a black sheep’s bond, died just before our departure date. It had seemed like the bone marrow transplant was a success and then she had fallen apart, wound up on a respirator not in the city but in Westchester near her tight family’s little Scarsdale world. Died on a respirator after saying she would not be well for she wanted to die, because of the things they had done to her.
I went to Scarsdale for the funeral, where not long ago I had gone for my uncle’s funeral, a big stone Episcopal church that actually had a British Union Jack flag draped off to the side of a tidy stone alter, and where they read from the Book of Common Prayer, which we knew was so British, and it reminder me of childhood in the New Hampshire summers, this church where my brother and I took up the collection and where they would actually sing God Save the King. These people.
It also reminded me of life outside the family. Once Nana has told me that Aunt Marjorie had had a bad experience for there was a problem in her church. At a Scarsdale country club a boy one of the girls had invited to a dance was asked to leave when it was discovered he was Jewish. Later I heard the story from his perspective, for I later discovered it had been my old friend, the brilliant Walter Karp. The problem for Aunt Marjorie was that her Episcopal minister had criticized the country club, and so the parishioners has had him removed.
After the church service everyone went first to Elizabeth’s mother’s house for drinks and hors d'oeuvres. Aunt Marjorie pointed out that this had nothing to in common with the wakes that other sorts of people, like Irish and Italians, staged. My wife was there. She had appeared at the church. We had been Elizabeth’s friends. This was first time I had seen Mary since that violent night in Chelsea. But she decided not to go along in a limousine caravan to a sprawling Brooklyn cemetery where, it was constantly pointed out, prominent people were buried, and where Elizabeth’s three little children looked like children who had been left by the side of road.
I hardly paid attention to these children, however, as if they had nothing to do with me.
I had gone 36 hours without sleep by then for I wanted to get the island plan right, more for possible publication than for this immediate sojourn, before we left. I went back to Chelsea to sleep to a few hours, and then met Amy at the airport.
Cousin Elizabeth dead. The others still alive, except for Cousin Paul who had been killed a few years back, The others still alive but, I thought, but in precarious lives. Cousin
Richard back drugged our and sexed and back from California to spend the rest of his life with his mother. Lawrence, whose theatrical ventures were getting more and more precious, Jonathan always on the verge of being caught out , because of his kleptomania, even though he had a PhD now and had once been an Eagle Scout.
I knew without knowing exactly how I knew, that Elizabeth’s death was only one of many death’s looming. And I kept thinking, even as circumstances seemed so different, of death in the air. My twin brother had sent me a letter suggesting I give up everything and find a dull job because I should remember that we had nearly 30 years left to live. Peter always had it figured out. Fifty years when we were 21. Then for a time 40 years, and now 30 years, and the time shrinking fast.
Was that what I had to fight? That in the family I came from, as made clear in the present by Peter, death had always near.
And I did not feel depressed. No clear path ahead, nothing like what I would have predicted, but nonetheless alive and invigorated, as in a dash to outrace death.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
And now it was November and I was back in the north country again, for the fourth time in a year, this place I usually had though I thought I did not need to see again, back this time on a rescue mission, which almost ended before it started when I got caught in a full whiteout, snow that suddenly began while I was driving through Franconia Notch, one of those storms that in family lore could come up any time and kill you, like projected attacks by Mama bears, or rusty nails that could give you blood poisoning, or an out of nowhere lightening bolt – back here in Sugar Hill where all the summer people had lightening rods on their houses. Staying now with my old friend Mickie in a White Wings where I had spent the first three summers of my life before being moved to White Pines.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
There was always a change at Tampa or Miami to a shaky little propeller plane, always a captain who looked about 18, and often I’d be tossed around for the there is always foul weather there or looming in this so-called sunshine state. And then I had survived another trip on one of these little unregulated commuter airlines. I was in Naples. It would be too cold to swim, despite Florida claims, and anyway you could rarely swim on the west coast because of something called the red tide that left great welts on Your skin. This place where my father had come to die his horrible death, and where my mother had to be waiting for hers, though she still got around. When the dial phone rang in her condo it could be the policed badgering old people for money. The condo was not on the gulf, for her eyes could not stand the glare from the water , but on a bay where sometimes alligators were killed right in front of her place. She no longer played golf, though she still had clubs in the trunk of the little Plymouth she hardly ever used. They had just built a new golf course and new country club building in the rich part of Naples. The developers had sold big houses, McMansions, on the basis that the country club was being built, sold the houses before letting it be known that the country club would not accept Jews. Naples, the nice people’s place. Mother found this of interest, and did not seem to take sides. Some days there were noxious swamp gases from the Everglades in the Naples air.
I had not seen my mother since I had gotten into the significant changes in all the old stories. And I had not seen her since receiving that postcard she sent when her cruise ship docked at the port of Manila, a city where I had recently been under death threat for my activities with the opposition, including the New People’s Army, to the Reagan’s dictator friends, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. On the card she said that my twin brother Peter, the good twin, the CIA twin, had been there to meet the cruise ship. What a surprise, she said. And Peter had added a line in the margin of the card making light of “people power,” which was the not very accurate name for what had just overthrown the Marcoses. Peter had sworn to me he never had anything to do with the Philippines.
I mentioned this now and my mother asked me what I was talking about. I must be mistaken. I must have made it up about Peter being there and writing on the post card. She could assure me it had never happened.
I did tell her I had been in the While Mountains. I said I had seen Mrs. Milner. She said Mrs. Miner had left the family because Aunt Alice was having an affair with her son, which was not even close to what Mrs. Miner had told me, for Mrs. Miner said she left because life at White Pines was cold and mean. Mother said she had been getting calls from Aunt Alice who said I had written her saying I did not want to see her when she came to new York for the winter because of how she treated Deirdre. Aunt Alice had told Mother that my refusal to see her was the worst thing that had ever happened to her. Mother reported this with no sign of any emotion about any of it.
I asked if she had old photographs, something I had not bothered with before. She did, she said, in a storage space below the bookcase. Actually Peter and his wife had gone through them, but there was still many they had not taken. I found somed I had never seen of mother holding her two little babies, or rather holding Peter in a safe grip and hardly bothering with me. That was when we were about a year old, and the same thing again in a photo a few years later. And there was a picture of me with old two stuffed animals, one of which I recognized as my old favorite – a pale yellow dog made of leather and fake fur that I had named Barksy.
I told her I had been looking into old places up in the mountains. I did not tell her why. I did not tell her about my need to get the story right, to find out why so many of the people from those perfect summers, including all my cousins were coming to such bad ends. Deirdre’s battering the least of it for unlike some of them she was alive and her brain was not damaged. I did not tell her what I had suspected had happened to me.
At one point Mother made a statement about the family. She said, “What separates us is that we have…” and here she paused, “We have good genes.”
That first evening she got a phone call from Aunt Peggy, my late father’s sister-in-law, one of the relatives who stayed away from his death bed scene. The news was that the wife of Peggy’s pampered older son Jonathan – who was named after a purported naval hero in her line of descent – had just killed herself. Hung herself in Rochester, where Fitz was a new assistant professor of anthropology.
I was thinking of this late the next morning, still in bed in the guest room, which had recently been my father’s room. I was thinking about Fitz’s wife Elkaa, who had written to me in Southeast Asia me before she got married saying she had heard a lot about me and was happy there was someone in the family who was not a standard issue Poole. And we hit off when I was back in the country and finally met her – a vibrant , good looking young woman with an ironic but kindly smile. And I knew she disturbed her in-laws. What made Aunt Peggy particular furious was that when Elka came to spend a night in Scarsdale she brought with her a much loved black cat. This was as serious as that Elka was Jewish. I wondered what would become of her cat.
Mother knocked on the bedroom door. She said she had good news. She said she had just been on the phone with Peggy, and Peggy had just been talking with Elka’s mother, and the two mothers had agreed that it was all for the good that Elka was dead now. She had always been such a problem to her family in Long Island. And now Fitz would be able to lead the life he was meant for. My mother presented this as good news.
One photo that hit me hard was of Mother’s father, Grandfather Taylor. I remembered him as a jolly man, even when he was wasted away with cancer. But in this photo he looked like an Irish barroom fighter. He also looked a lot like Pat Buchanan, the Nixon aid turned opinionated journalist who was running for president on a basically anti-Semitic platform. And I thought of how on his infrequent visits he called my mother Dolly, and how he would find a bar wherever he was. I was once asked to fetch him form a bar in Westport where he was regaling everyone with baseball talk and joking stories. As different as it was possible to be from a person in my father’s family.
And then one of those memories that stayed somewhere in conciousness but had seemed meaningless. Once when Grandfather Taylor visited us in Connecticut, which was while his ex-wife, Grandmother Taylor, was away, Peter and I were going through his things and we found a pouch filled with pencils that had our names printed on them, such as ones had had made to give us for Christmas but here were clearly for himself. This discovery set us of crying and shouting, scared and furious.
At one point I asked Mother to tell me something about her childhood. She said she remembered nothing until she was in boarding school except for a picture in her mind of a servant looking down at her when she was in a baby carriage. She loved her boarding school, she said. I remembered that, though she handily ever sang, she had sung to us her old school song – “Arden my garden, my school amongst that pines…”
Sunday, December 19, 2010
A week after getting back to Chelsea from this perhaps final trip ever to the White Mountains it was time for my annual trip to awful Florida. Dull, pretentious bigoted Naples on the genteel people’s usually placid west coast – Naples where three years ago my father had died in great pain, his chest an open red and yellow cancer wound, the death bed scene taking place in a third rate hospital that they all thought was fine but thought turn away Mexican citrus grove workers who came with knife fight wounds. This death scene. My then wife and I would spell each other, though our marriage was entering death too. In turn we would nap beside him on a raised bed that had been placed next to the death bed. At the foot the death bed sat a sad eyed and laconic young private nurse who said she was from a river town in Kentucky. The only sound the forced uneven breathing of my father.
A death bed scene to which no one came, except at the end my almost ex wife taking turns with me there. The others from this family I was now getting the goods on had deserted him. I knew enough already although this was three years before my intense investigations began. I did not just suddenly decide I was not a part of this sometimes intriguing and but also bigoted and deathly world I was born into. The death bed scene to which they did not show up. My mother, his wife, drinking at their condo, where she had already removed his hospital bed and Hoyer Lift and turned his bedroom into a guest room, and my brother the twin, and his British wife, and my father’s last living sibling my Aunt Alice, and his still living sister in law Aunt Peggy – none of them would come to the death. Sometimes the excuse was that Dad was surely in such a coma he would not know, but my wife and I knew he knew a lot, knew he asked for his wife, but none of them would believe us.
My routine now was to go to Florida at Thanksgiving so as to avoid Florida at Christmas. Back in the city I was back with all these new people I had been with all year, people willing to go back into the past so as to be alive in the present, and I was back to drawing cityscapes, water towers and boxy buildings and cars that looked liked cartoon characters, and hanging traffic lights.
Everyone in ACOA knew about my visual adventures, just as they knew about dark things I knew or suspected about the places I came from. At this very time I was back for maybe the last time from the mountains, and about to be in Florida for a cold version of a cliché family holiday visit, a new book by Alice Miller came out and they gave it to me in ACOA. Alice Miller who she did more than anyone else to help get at family horrors and break free of family horrors, her own and those of her readers. Her new book was called Pictures of a Childhood. It contained reproductions of her free form paintings, the paintings by which she got at what had happened.
This tough Switzerland-based analyst who up till then had been an honored orthodox Freudian, holding on to all that Freud had used, including the child sex drive theory, to keep himself from the harshest parts of real stories, those of his patients and probably also his own. She wrote in an introduction of how when she started painting, which she had given up so long ago she had forgotten she ever painted. It was at a time in mid-life that she felt her life at a dead end, then something crucial happened. In the mysterious sphere of art a little girl took her by the hand and led her back into that past she had tried to make better and tried to deny. Back to a time when she was painting, which in the past had been a secret thing between her and the forms and the colors. And then she had stopped altogether so that the narcissists who were her parents couldn’t get to it and kill it. And now this little girl took her back into herself.
I carried Pictures of a Childhood on the plane to Florida. And I drew on the plane. Across the aisle a fit middle aged man was reading a best seller by a basketball coach.
What I was drawing on the plane to Florida were, first, full page cartoon-like faces so distorted they were surprisingly horrible. They appeared almost all by themselves on my drawing pad. They seemed to be faces I knew. And then while on the plane I became focused on what I had suspected all year and really known since that moment last month on the phone when my Aunt Alice was telling me that her daughter was in a battered women’s shelter and that she really sympathized with the batterer because her daughter, my favorite cousin Lauryn, was just too young looking and appealing for her own good. Had it always been this way – these things happening and there being a connection between them. Paul’s death. Elizabeth’s. Malcolm’s druggy incapacitation. Paul’s serial sexual assaults on Deirdre. Deirdre’s battering. I remembered now that in the sports bar Deirdre was also telling me that her mother had gone through the same sorts of things – which I thought I would have known if I had done any reading between the lines.
But that moment on the phone with Aunt Alice. That moment I had had a quite clear idea of why long before I was grown even to the point of looking for prostitutes much less getting involved with girls who seemed to love me, back even when I was so young I had only the vaguest and totally incorrect ideas about the mechanics of sex, not even that sex has anything to do with babies growing in female stomachs, even back then I knew, without knowing I knew, the feel of a bare rounded breast, of bare soft smooth skin, of the special skin on a woman’s inner thigh.
This is on my mind on the plane to awful Florida where I go for Thanksgiving as a way out of going for Christmas with my mother. I have with me Alice Miller’s Pictures of a Childhood and I have the drawing pad I had just taken with me on that last trip to the White Mountains to rescue Deirdre who was back there again just out of a battered women’s shelter in the Midwest. My favorite cousin.
Ever since that phone call I have had I this picture of myself at the end of the upstairs hall at White Pines, the end that used t be blocked off as servant’s quarters but by the time I came along servants wanted to live in their own homes in the village, So these bedroom at the end of the hall were available for overflow family people, as in when they realized how freighted my brother and I were by real and imagined sounds in the night when we spent the nights in the distant Boys Wing and so moved us to these servant bedrooms at the far end of the upstairs of the house. From outside my room here there was a very steep staircase that led right into one of the pantries of the huge kitchen, where I seemed to spent a lot of my time. Down at the foot of the stairs was a box on the wall on which numbers would fall down corresponding to the room of whoever had pressed a buzzer button meaning service to that person’s room upstairs was desired.
I drew the box and the numbers. I also drew a collapsible woods slat gate that was sometimes pulled across the top of the narrow stairs so that we children when alone there would not tumble down. Sometimes I would be visited by someone who came directly up those steep stairs, like the day my Aunt Alice, a proven war widow, told me she had it on good authority that the Japanese pulled their prisoners' tongues out – or when in a still earlier summer Aunt Alice and also a free-flowing California blonde cousin by marriage, came up at twilight time to tuck me in, kiss me good light. They were dressed in flowing silky things that showed their arms and backs and their breasts almost to the nipples. They were on their way to a formal dance, a Red Cross fund raiser, at the Playhouse. During the day I had been up there at the Playhouse with our nurse watching a man hang Japanese lanterns in rows for people pass between as they came in to the dance. These women in my room now, dressed for the dance, they smelled sweet, like my mother’s cologne but more so. And they seemed pampered like kids, their smooth skin powdered like their pretty faces.
On the way to the playhouse, where in my own time we danced in nearly pitch dark not to an orchestra but to LPs, locked together so that, though actual sex seemed out of reach, it felt wildly close.
After I drew the box a few times. I drew the gate. Right here in this anonymous airplane I could smell those women. But my drawing was not accomplished art work. Maybe after I started at Parsons…. As it was, in the three months of my trying to draw I had done the buildings and water towers and hanging traffic lights and waiting cars parked around where I lived. Inanimate things that felt animate. And I had done one of little girls at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden sitting Indian fashion in a semi-circle around a friendly looking fat tree and a friendly woman. I had also been trying to sketch people in the subways, usually adults and children leaning on each other.
In the plane now I can feel myself a small child wrapped in a smooth woman. When I am not trying to draw I am looking at the Alice Miller dream paintings, and reading about how what happened was that finally a little girl came out of the past and took her by the hand. I exactly didn’t see a little boy taking me back, but I was remembering things I had forgotten that had to do with putting lines and colors on paper. I remembered drawing World Wry II planes, like everyone was doing, but mine were flying between and around the planets.
I had not seen anything like it until a couple of weeks ago there was a post suicide show at the School for Visual Art of works by this artist, younger brother of my childhood friend, who had planned to drive up to Vermont with me at the start of the summer but had killed himself insteaed. In the show were paintings of little people pedaling fiercely on unicycles as they dropped through space.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
There were defections. I knew there would be but it still was startling, like a lover moving on, and you had hoped and known she would, but when she does it is like it comes out of the ether.
An early defector was a chubby young girl who seemed violently unhappy, but kept saying everything was fine, a girl whose face was twisted in a grimace often and whose overweight body sometimes seemed nubile but sometimes it was like the sagging body of someone old and defeated. And when she talked, and she talked at length, it was always about how pretty she was, though her moments of seeming pretty were fleeting. She was a friend of the very alive and actually pretty young girl who was back in Lenox, Mass. I ran into the chubby girl one day on the subway. She said she was finished with ACOA, all these people who had nothing do to but complain. She was moving on as, she implied, she always knew she would. Goodbye you little people who can’t get your lives together.
Over on the East Side there was a sweating man in twisted middle age who said people should realize he was really with the CIA, and was gearing up to go on one last mission. And he said not to feel insulted if he did not recognize any of us for he had something in his brain that made it impossible to identify faces.
An older girl or woman who could really let go in meetings disappeared too. She had not claimed to be pretty. She had often spoken of being passionate about sexual attraction to and from women, and she would say that what made her really angry was that the men wanted to keep all the women to themselves. She was the one who when the Reaganites bombed unprotected people in Libya, and Reagan’s Defense Secretary was leaping up and down on television in apparent sexual arousal, came to a meeting angry at the French for, she said, we must all think the worst thing was that the French would not let our bombers fly over their country. And now I ran into her in the subway too. She said I may have noticed that she had not been around. She had had enough, she said, echoing an AA thing about “getting off the pity pot.’”
And there was a well-groomed, soft-spoken, clean-cut man who had been coming for years but now sent a letter around to everyone in Manhattan ACOA whose addresses he could find telling them he had moved on to another stage, and now would go only to a meeting in Brooklyn Heights where people held in their anger. A nice people’s meeting.
And some who stayed were defecting in other ways. A taut woman, who looked like someone who would carry a clipboard, announced what she called the good news that ACOA was getting a national organization, to be based in California. Worse than a defection, this could mean the end to the sorts of tough life-giving things that were happening with people in non-scripted, non-pious Manhattan ACOA. I had seen the vague California version on my last trip out there, the self flagellators, the pious followers of pious versions the 12 steps that we mostly ignored in Manhattan – the Californians’ penchant for cutting off what I thought of as healthy anger, to closing everything down in the name of harmony, whereas in Manhattan there were no rules, no hierarchy. In Manhattan, anything was allowed short of racial bigotry or necrophilia.
And something else was changing too. The really smart people, including the sympathetic therapist who had finally turned her attention to herself and her history, and also my frightening stalker Abigail, had gravitated to each other. We really smart people. And now there was a new intellectual named Harry who had just appeared and it seemed he was “one of us,” the therapist told me happily, “one of us” meaning, to her, that he was a solid atheist who would work to keep any soft and silly AA piety, or any other sort of piety, out of ACOA. She almost forgave him for showing up quite drunk at a couple of our meetings that had expanded to get the goods on all abusers but were originally formed to get the goods on abusing boozers. I certainly was not religious. An author’s directory had me as correctly atheist/agnostic. But this year would not have been this year if I had not become open to alternative versions of reality. I thought of those churches in Vermont. And now for the first time I could see that between my new allies and me there could be a chasm as great as the divide between me and the Poole dynasty of the White Mountains.
And I was finding that I was spending as much time in the museums as in ACOA meetings. I talked with Julia, a tall sweet, sometimes tortured girl in ACOA whose parents had been Cuban before they became American State Department people. She was an artist and understood what I as doing. And she was enrolled at Parsons.
I thought of an open and delicately sculptured girl named Trish, who was more vulnerable than I had realized and whom I had been with a number of times when I was with other girls too way back in the late fifties. She gave me a book of love poetry. It felt wonderful. I could not find her again three years later in a time of darkness after foreign adventures. Had she changed her name?
Trish had been studying fashion design at Parsons. Two parts of my inner and outer worlds coming together, my attraction to appealing visual art and my attraction of appealing women. Visual art, not writing. I had taken Trish on an expense account for something silly to Chicago for a weekend when I was 25. I knew Chicago from when I was 21 and was having what now seemed like serial epiphanies in the Art Institute. Something else in the past to consider in this year 1986 in which so much was coming to me visually, not verbally.