Tuesday, April 12, 2011
A possible genesis: from the murky vault of my memory I can produce an incident that could expose all my subsequent ills to the light of day, give them a pattern, a delicate explanatory weave we can lightly trace with the tip of the index finger like a finely wrought spider’s web.
What a fraud the world is! Can the etiology of my ills really be reduced to the following banal story of childhood? A cliche schoolyard tale that once revealed, is torn apart like a holiday turkey ceaselessly, monotonously, picked from the bone, in an annual orgy. Would it, could it be that simple? It all began with a gross overstatement, an amplification of a promise to promote security and confidence and trust, that backfired, producing the opposite character traits… that ended in…
Mother again. Sweet, beautiful, ruinous Mother. She is wearing a cotton summer dress with a floral pink pattern. As I walked beside her, her peppermint fragrance was my protective cloud. Her slim wrists and tiny hands were holding my miniature six year old hand. When I leaned far enough to the right, I could brush against her thigh, my hand could dangle against her firm calf. But she would constantly hoist me upright, lever my arm to get me to stand up straight and continue the march toward the nursery school.
The nursery school was a spatiophobic’s daymare. Everyday it swarmed with different mealy-mouthed children. There was no opportunity to develop respectable, repeatable patterns and rhythms. Everyday I was expected to change with the prevailing conditions. Even at so tender and unformed an age, the open-endedness of the nursery resounded hollow and dull in my cavernous head. Moving from table to table, activity to activity, each motion drenched with meaning and choice, made young Langley Vandemark freeze with decision dread.
My mother was sure to give me, everyday without fail, a wad of handkerchiefs for my perpetually runny noise. I packed the handkerchiefs in a tight bundle and bunched it in my pocket and pretended it was a turtle. It was my turtle, hidden away, given to me by my dear, sweet, trustful mother; a turtle, a creature that carries its simple home on its back was the fitting metaphor for my Vandemark microcosm.
I’m fussing. Mother tugged at me gently.
“Now Langley, you’re not to fuss.”
“But I don’t want to leave you Momma. I want to marry you. Are you really gonna wait outside for me?”
“Yes, Langley, I never go home. I always wait outside for you. And you can’t marry me I’m married already.”
I was in the big room, sitting at a table cutting large hearts from red construction paper. It was Valentine’s Day. It was for Mother. But the day outside was unseasonably warm. A bright sun, perfectly illuminating the world so that every absence could be noted (the perfect sun to illuminate a primal loss), blared down like house lights in a theatre.
We children were marshaled out into the cobbled schoolyard. The school yard was a featureless escarpment with unimpeded, views of the surrounding neighborhood for fantastic mile after fantastic mile. Young Langley squinted into that awful white illumination. Fearful Langley surveyed the scene as tears rolled down his puffy cheeks. She was not there. She was not by the lamppost. She was not standing on the trolley platform. She was not in the tobacco shop where she supposedly bought me chocolates. She was nowhere to be found. The street was empty.
Like all scenes of primal loss this moment was not without its mythological import. A creepy, uneven shadow crept across the uptown city-scape. What exactly was happening here? A presence seemed to leave the world, a presence largely benign. What replaced it was a shadow entity. An idea that perhaps there was more to my narrative self than I am revealing; a shadow entity lurking in the crevices, stoking me to the gills with pathologies that are not my birthright. A parallel track that is strangely akin to mine yet wholly divorced and alien. It crawls along at the margins and demands a portion of a patrimony that belongs to him and to him alone, the nasty fraud!
Eventually, Young Langley, reduced to near hysterics, is segregated from the other children. He was kept aside and monitored, with the hopes that he will calm down.
Eventually he did, of course, but a slight flutter was introduced into an otherwise simple system of checks and balances. Mother was no longer a unitary creature of unalloyed love and worthiness. From this conclusion a simple analogy was constructed: if mother is flickering and unstable then the world cannot exist on a solid foundation. If the world does not exist on a solid foundation then the world may not exist or may exist in several senses. The flickering life began.
“I was out buying you chocolates, Langley, that’s why I wasn’t there.”
Ah, yes, and it was true. Chocolates always awaited me when beautiful Mother, her pale blue eyes glistening with love and tender recognition as she picked me out of the crowd of pre-schoolers for the leisurely walk to the brownstone.
And then, once home, the handkerchief turtle became yet another square of white cloth again, and the world became a uniform, wonderfully bland globe of undifferentiated love, acceptance and deception. But the crack was there: focus in on young six year old Langley and you could see the fine fissure running from the small of his back up and around his waist until it halts somewhere near his sternum, that inadequate plate of bone that is supposed to protect the heart, which is erroneously described as the seat of emotions.