I know this is not what she set out to teach me, but I am grateful for the lesson about life, even if it cost my mother her own.
Tag Archives: survival.
Some people believe in a soul. Some do not. We, here in the West, seem to take the concept as a given, but it is far from it. Even those who do not believe in the full concept of the soul are forced to use the term as the best we have available in English.
For those who conceive of a center of being and call it a soul, it is often depicted as an immutable core, unchanging and unchangeable. It is the self, and it stays the self whether its bearer sees one lifetime or many, depending on the philosophy.
Others similarly think of the soul as the center of being, but do not see it as immutable. Quite the opposite, in fact: for them it is something dynamic, fluid, with edges uncertain, spreading, mixing. We are substance dropped into a pool and cupped back up again, with most of our soul back in the cup, but some of it still in the pond, mixing, and with some of the pond retrieved in the cup. Well. Pond. Ocean, Sea—all waters. All souls.
And, it is thought, by those who know the soul as changeable and inconstant, that the soul can diminish. A trauma may cause parts to flee to a place where shards dwell, where they forget whence or to whom they belonged. A fright may cause bits of soul to depart, hiding from fear and danger. A constant threat can cause the soul to shrink, and a suffering can cast a shadow on the soul that shrouds it all its days and nights until the last light departs the eyes. And perhaps even after that.
My own soul is not smooth. Its boundaries are piked, jagged. There are parts missing from its surface, leaving gaps, divisions, sulci. There are pieces missing within. And how did they leave? They flew as darts, as butterflies. Blazed off as sparks and fell as flowers. Left curled, like small children covering themselves for shame and protection as they fled.
And there is the shadow, large and deep, the companion of my soul. Behind, over, ever-present. My soul is slippery, transient, and I have a feeling it is within and sometimes without and, when without, larger than the body, not solid but substantial. And behind it still, the shadow, covering my soul, covering me.
* * * * * * * *
“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.” That is old. It goes back to 1930. Both the ego, in the person of Lamont Cranston, and the Shadow, the alter ego, were from Boston. He was from Boston as well. The Shadow could turn invisible, and I swear to this day, he did as well. Somehow he snuck up on me; I can honestly find no other explanation.
I wish the Shadow could have been there with him, to see what evil lurked there while it was only an idea, before it became manifest in action. Now the shadow of that act is everywhere around and even within me. I know this because now I can see the evil in the hearts of men. Even when there is none to see.
* * * * * * * *
I am fifteen years old. My parents have been in Amway for a while now. A year, perhaps. Maybe slightly longer. Amway has quickly become a constancy of meetings, rallies, product pick-ups, and tape deliveries. Our small home in North Miami is busy with the comings and goings of turning Plan A into Plan B with a seemingly ceaseless flow of people. Almost every day I come home to find people I have never met before. Most of them are in and out and never seen again, replaced by a new face the next afternoon. Others become fixtures. Leo Little, Maureen, and her husband, Pablo—“downline”—are so often present they might as well live with us.
Some of the “upline”—people to whom my parents are the downline—become fixtures as well. The downline mostly go to the upline, but in some cases the upline people came our home. One upliner in particular is seen more often at our home. And then more and more. He seems nearly ubiquitous. In retrospect, perhaps I should have seen that as a problem but, then, he was simply a friend of my parents. Dan Jacobson.
His last name might be spelled with an “e” instead of an “o.” Honestly, I don’t care. What I care about is he seemed to shadow my parents. There appeared to be no time he was not there. In the end he was practically sewn to them.
I do not blame my parents for working so hard at Amway. They wanted better, wanted out of the day-to-day and paycheck slavery. But I can only imagine what they might have accomplished if they had spent as much energy in other endeavors. My mother would not return to college for a degree. Too much time, she would tell me. Again and again I would ask her, “How much time will pass if you don’t?” She spent nearly two decades working Amway. I am not sure what she got of it.
I know what I got of it. Shadows.
* * * * * * * *
I am fifteen years old. I am in my family room. My parents are not here. Dan is, though. He has sat next to me on the couch and I think nothing of this. He has often been here, arriving before my parents. He is intelligent, and we talk from time to time as I rarely talk with those my own age.
I am being asked about school. I am being asked about one subject, then another, then still another. Somehow, the conversation leaves topics of the mundane and turns obliquely toward matters personal, but I am not opposed to having someone to talk with.
But as I speak—I seem to remember my voice getting soft, becoming somewhat sad—his hand moves to my shoulder. It is a comfort and an indication of understanding among those who know and trust each other. I am to trust this man, or so I would believe by how often my parents have him over, how continually he is in my home. All signs I should trust him. What it was, however, was distracting, as his other hand moved to my fly, began to fumble, to reach for the zipper, and I am confused, unsure what is happening, cannot believe the reality of what is occurring. It cannot actually be, and in moments, as the zipper begins to lower while he kneads through the dungarees, I come to the realization that he really is doing what I think he’s doing and I move back and away with a sharp, sudden start and he looks at me in disbelief and. . . . All else is shadow until the night.
* * * * * * * *
What happened next I cannot say. I remember nothing of the remainder of the day. Was it morning? Afternoon? None of this do I recall. Perhaps it made an impression upon on me insufficient to have warranted recall, or perhaps I have buried the memory and, then, not wanting to know that I have been party to my own duplicity, have repressed the memory of the suppression. Whatever the explanation, the rest of the day following the encounter is blank. Time seems not to exist until the evening, when I found my mother. I do not know if I told her after much thought, or thought not about it at all and informed her with an air of of-course-I-would-say-something. I do not remember if I told her easily, or with trepidation. But I remember the conversation, though my recollection is devoid of emotion: I remember it as though transcribed and given to actors who have been given the direction, “Dry, dry, dry. These words mean nothing. Say them. Just say them.”
In the kitchen, that afternoon or evening I tell my mother. I stand next to the open accordion door that separates the entrance of the kitchen at a right angle with the front door from view. It is messy, as usual. I relay the story. Is she upset? I cannot recall. What her emotions were I cannot recall. I can only remember her telling me that we must not tell my father. He might do something rash. He might do something to him, might hurt him. We would not tell my father to protect my father. She will talk to Dan. She will tell him what needs to be told. Nothing else was said, and my memory ends here.
Does he still show up at the house? I must imagine he does. After that, time passes. I am sixteen, meet my future wife. I am eighteen and leave home, go to college, move in with Lee, work at overcoming shame and hatred of my body. I am twenty and get married, become a father.
I hear stories. More people molested. He is divorced by his wife for cheating, and it matters not a bit if it has been with women, men, minors. I could not be the only victim; though he was unsuccessful with me, surely others were not, are not able to stop him, choose not to fight, not stave off. Surely some give in. What is the chance I would be the only one? But still, no one said anything. I did what I, at fifteen, was supposed to do: told. I gave the adults the chance, was asked to say nothing. I trusted them, and more people were hurt.
Some years pass. I am in the car with my father in Ft. Lauderdale. How many years later? Ten? Has a decade passed? I don’t know, but I have decided this day I will tell him. Time has come and gone and he will know now.
It is difficult but I blurt it out. He looks placid. Tells me he knew. Didn’t you do anything? No. What was there to do? He was a business associate. Why cause trouble? Why say anything else?
I don’t. I am silent. I am silent for a long time.
Home, I tell Lee. She can believe it barely as much as I. It is a long time before I speak with my father again. His presence has the substance of shadow.
* * * * * * * *
Gainesville. Some years later. My home near the university. My father calls and we speak. All of a sudden, he says, “Oh, and Dan says to say Hi. He’s in Boston.”
For a moment, I cannot speak.
I think. Slowly the answer seeps from my mouth. It has been years and years and now this breach. I cannot imagine I have just heard what I heard, cannot imagine it was said. Said by my father. I hear the answer as I slowly, quietly, say it.
“Tell Dan to take a gun, walk to the center of Boston Commons, put it in his mouth, and pull the trigger.” And immediately, loudly, away from the mouthpiece, “Lee, it’s for you,” and put down the phone, immediately exiting the house. I walk.
Before widespread cellphones, which I might not have taken with me regardless, I had no way of telling Lee why I walked out. No physical way. No emotional way. I could not make my mouth speak. A way for her to reach me would have been no use. I could not have spoken. I don’t think I could have been held, stopped, slowed. I walked for two hours. Where, I don’t fully remember. The neighborhood, the woods, University Avenue, 34th Street.
Upon arriving home my wife looks at me. She had a short conversation with my father and tells me he had no understanding of what he did, what he said. She says some unkind words about him, then some even less kind. Then, she just looks at me and asks if I’m OK. I am not. I have come home only because I didn’t want to further worry her, as she is my light while the outside world was reducing to shades of gray and the inner world to shadow.
* * * * * * * *
I have been asked to go on a trip. To make the trip affordable, I’ll have to share a room with a fellow. No. I’d rather not. Deep, deep inside, I do not trust this man I have not met.
I have few male friends. This is not a surprise to me. I wish I did, could, but I cannot bring myself to trust them.
While I have managed to forgive much which I have gone through—most of what people might have done to me, in error, on purpose—I cannot seem to, have not been able to, forgive this one man and, perhaps, my father as well, for having allowed this person to, what? Live? Exist? No, that isn’t it. I have not forgiven him for giving what appears to me a nod to the action, for not telling me it was wrong, for acting like nothing happened.
Something did happen. In my mind, it happens again and when it does, my soul shrinks, shards fall, parts of living soul die, fly, shrivel. The lights dim and I am again covered by shadow. It is shadow all the time.