Thursday, June 17, 2010

#116 – TERROR

While I was growing up and when real life seemed to be unfolding, I would not admit to myself that I knew that in some unspoken, unexposed place, that the White Mountains was not any ultimate place of safety for me. Once when I was in the worst time at boarding school, the time when the used to beat me, it seemed like going from being dumb to being the brightest in the class was not enough to change my fate. That having an actual girlfriend to neck with when we very occasionally got together for some dance or glee club concert with our sister school, that even these things were as not enough.

For there was something hard and impossible about the world, something that seemed tied to childhood dreams when I would see red snow come down and realize that it was deadly poison that was falling, or current dreams in which I was paralyzed and about to be stabbed to death by some looming figure, who might be my twin brother, and no comfort when it seemed that the dream was at an end, for at that point I was lying here on my dormitory bed paralyzed, the torturer coming at me. It was not the dream that was so bad but the apparent awake and paralyzed time afterwards – maybe another dream, maybe not.

I thought it had to do with torture in school, such as someone as unpopular as I was at the start would suffer in an old line place like this. In the school library I read a piece in the Reader’s Digest, between an article that seemed to me to be written in baby talk that was warning America about the evils of socialism and a series of too-cute pieces about happy people being amusing while wearing military uniforms. But the piece between these was deadly seriously. It was bout a special school somewhere in the country for boys who did not fit in. And I had this fantasy of myself making speech at a banquet celebrating this special school, thanking them for giving me what seemed like a new life. I wondered that the fantasy did not take me to the perfect world of the family places and to boys and girls who since early childhood had been friends of the sort I tdhought for a time now I might never have again. But I could not talk myself into believing that what I had via family was enough for a fantasy version of a happy ending.

I thought to this now, heading on the old family road to Terri’s place which had been my place in infancy, and where I had hung out when terry was into puberty and smooth and tanned and seductive, actually breasts that she wore in halters, unlike anyone else in that town, and what I though of as a loveable puppy dog face, though very aware that no puppy dog gave my hard-ons.

Through the years this place to which I was headed not had always been close to consciousness. At one point when I was verging middle age and see ed down on my luck I took a job as editor of locally produced English-language magazine called Chinese Foodworld, published in Hong Kong where I was living then in the early stages of a marriage in trouble. The magazine, like so much in the hands of Westerners in Asia in those days, when nothing ever seemed to be what it appeared to be, was some kind of financially tricky operation. I had to keep the job though, life felt that tenuous just then – though I had another dubious source of income writing pieces praising the Shahanshah (not mere Shah) and his wife Diba the Shabanu and his twin sister Princess Ashraf in a newsletter put out by National Iranian Radio and TV, for whom I also traveled and hired camera crews to do documentary films, something else for which I had no credentials. A strange nether life I was leading in a city that by now I did not care about. But what really puzzled me was what I put into my bio sketch in the first and only issue of Chinese Foodworld. It was that I was the son of a publisher and the grandson of a writer who won the first Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I looked at what I had written about myself and I was puzzled and astounded, and depression swept over me.

Just five years before this Vermont summer my wife’s 12-year-old son came to live with us from the Philippines. I wanted – how ridiculous it seemed now! – to make sure he got a really good start in his new life in America. I was broke again, but I called up someone I knew at a slick but very routine magazine called Travel & Leisure, and I sold them on a piece about the White Mountains, which I argued was this amazing scenic area that was not so well known as it should be. I drove up alone at first on a scouting trip, having picked up a quarter bag of pot on the corner of Amsterdam and 81st as a present for my old friend the summer girl Terri. She had not quite made the move all the way back to White Wings. She was still in a marriage, but she was going to live for a time now not with her husband in Bedford but up in the mountains, where she had just ranted a place for the winter for herself and about a dozen rescued dogs.

While on that scouting trip I went to a guy who handled publicity for tourism in the White Mountains, and got a pass that would get me and my wife and her son in free to all White Mountains attractions – caves and cable cars and such – something I had, not for the for the first time, sworn never to do again, this corrupt practice of taking free things with the promise of favorable mention. It was a complex few days, for we were staying with my Aunt Betsy, whose inedible food was snuck into outside garbage pails, and meanwhile half dozen people who had been kids when I was a kid up here were all assembled, mostly by coincidence right at that time. Separately they made me feel awful by telling me how wonderful my life was, as they saw by my having appeared not with some graying matron but with this lovely young looking Chinese looking girl I had married. One of the attractions our free pass covered was the car road, not to be confused with the old steam train that went to the rocky summit of Mount Washington. This long curving road had no guard rails. And as we drove one of those sudden off season winter storms came up, those storms I that I was warned in childhood could kill you.

This place that somewhere in my mind, and maybe somewhere in my nightmares too, seemed to me should be the place above all places I knew in the world where I could find safety and comfort.

Travel & Leisure liked what I wrote but an earnest editor said there was one gap. The piece really needed a paragraph or two evoking the beauty of the place I was writing about.

The beauty of the place. I was picturing myself at three years old, not in New Hampshire but with many of the same people, especially my twin, in New Rochelle, where my balls were swelled big and with a blue color from some painful blow. And another memory from that time: a doctor covering my head wound with some of clear substance that hardened like glass.

But I still wished that my evidence could be more than circumstantial.

I thought of a night in an old pension in Alexandria where lights from outside came through the big open window all night, while I was in a bed with mosquito netting. I came here on the recommendation of the man who stamped my passport and was ready to be on guard for some scam. A woman at the pension said they had to take my passport to be stamped by the police and that for this there would be a small stamp fee, which I angrily refused to pay. I was as angry as my father would have been. And then I found the room so comfortable, the gig soft bed almost womb like their beneath the mosquito netting. But I woke up in the middle of the night in terror. There was a man standing with folded arms right by the window, a man wearing a turban. And as I looked at him in the shadows I saw that under this Egyptian garb it was my brother. Again a dream that seemed to be outside dreaming.

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