Speaking of good writing, I found the following essay on an old floppy disk, and I thought it was worth sharing. The author, an ex of mine, died in 1995. So I guess you could call this a guest post from the long dead.
It’s Chapter II from an autobiographical essay called “California.”
While I ought to let Mark speak for himself, this has a distinctly haunted feel to it, although my objectivity is open to question, as I found this disk where it had been gathering dust for a decade. I hope he doesn’t mind, and I really don’t see why he would. I honestly think Mark’s thoughts are culturally of enough interest to merit some immortal flavoring, and I see no rule against copying and pasting them into my blog.
I hope readers will appreciate what follows.
– Eric
CALIFORNIA, Chapter II
To no one’s surprise, my arrival at my parent’s household was duly recorded on many rolls of instamatic film. Whenever I visit my father in San Diego, I try to at least glimpse at the standard-issue drugstore photo album, swollen with the family archives. The pictures my parents took of each other before they adopted children, during the first ten years of their marriage, seem somehow incomplete, critical elements missing from their composition. My parents themselves seem perfectly alien, incomprehensible. The pictures reveal the careful frugality of my parents’ lives; each photo solemnly records occasion and setting, self-consciously acknowledging its specific niche in their history together. Here is the efficiency apartment they lived in on Grape Street; here is the new car, Christmas, the trip to Catalina. Then, a series with my shirtless father, smiling as he builds a house with his own hands. When at last my sister was adopted, all photographic restraint was abandoned, and it is at this precise station of our family album that something vital comes alive, transforming these strangers into my parents.
The impact is remarkable, as the forcible entry of bunnies and high chairs, playpens and bassinets, intrudes upon the bachelor austerity of their Danish teak; then the sudden herd of relatives, beaming in now perpetual attendance; above all, the inexplicable mystery of my parents turned suddenly recognizable, smiling wide against the reveille of shutters and flashbulbs.
The casual viewer of my first photographs might well conclude I was Christ himself reborn, so evident and touching was my parents’ joy, having bargained for me and won. It was not an easy adoption; my mother was 50 years old at the time of my birth, an unusually advanced age for a parent of either sex to adopt an infant. I was four days old. The pictures show her cradling me in her arms, her striking face glowing with love and fierce pride. Here, she is so undeniably beautiful, but I know this was the last time in her life she would enjoy her beauty or womanhood, and these pictures are painful beyond description. She would undergo radical surgery in my 18th month, removing two-thirds of her stomach in an effort to isolate and subdue a massively perforated ulcer. I never knew the still-young woman who triumphantly holds me up for the camera and all the world to see, her eyes flashing, glittering, alive. She left in her place a dying old woman, crazed by fear and pain, ravaged by drugs, annihilated by medicine. This is the last time we shall have together. For now, not so much as a whisper of doubt. For now, my father, greatest of shadows, loves me still. There is nothing yet for him to fear. I am still a miracle. Here is a picture of my father, holding me as if I were made of glass; he wears an expression of quiet wonder on his face; he does not seem to be aware of the camera’s gaze. The visual perspective of the photograph suggests that the photographer took quiet aim from a doorway or hall, keeping secretive distance from the subjects, who held each other tightly, undisturbed.
Today I bear upon my cheek a tiny scar, reminder of my reluctant passage from a now-forgotten womb into the bright steel jaws of a doctor’s impatient forceps, implacably drawing me forth into the alien landscape as remorselessly as one might extract a tooth. Only the scar remains as proof of my birth.
There was never a birth, there was only a child. We were the family who married each other.
My life as an infant was one of purest bliss, spent contentedly in loving arms, pressed against these dim warm shapes, meadow-sweet and soft as old flannel. It was here that first I must have dreamed of all I had forgotten, in the ancient laps of grandparents, the proud arms of aunts and uncles, in the tenderly bemused arms of young cousins and friends. It was here that first I felt my flesh touch yours, or his, or anyone’s, and somehow, I can almost remember knowing something … big. Then nothing, nothing at all. Only flesh, singing lullabies and riddles in the language of hands. At the conjunction of flesh and sleep, the lessons of hunger are taught. Such is the function of memory.
Not awake, I pressed even closer in response, snuggling deeper in sleepy reply. Tender and blind, in my father’s strong arms I first learned of hunger. In his arms, and in my dreams, I still could fly like a dagger of light, a naked wicked beauty, not quite human, not yet mortal.
I remember only darkness, darkness and flesh.
I awoke to find myself a toddler, as if hurled, full-grown and squealing, into delighted consciousness, where I landed dazed but unharmed. I proceeded to amaze the world by reading aloud before the age of three, a skill I had not been taught. I only remember knowing how. With similar aplomb, I mounted the Wurlitzer chord organ, filling the air with song. I was alarmingly bright, very pretty indeed, a precious golden child. I went to Sunday School, drew pictures, read books, and watched TV with native excellence. I was yet a gift from God.
A splendid child. No wonder they came to me in dreams, those mysterious, handsome young men who loved me ferociously and pressed me against their hairy naked chests. Why should they not make love to me? As I was regularly assured, I was truly the best little boy in the whole wide world, and everybody Loved Me, Loved Me, Loved me.
In sleep I was delighted heir to a kingdom of delicious secret wickedness, a toddler’s empire of license and permission. In sleep, sorcery was as common as flight. In sleep, anything is possible. Cartoon characters, man and beast alike, were my regular visitors. I was especially fond of Johnny Quest; I recently watched several old episodes after some twenty-odd years had elapsed.
I noted with great amusement the powerful homoerotic elements at work. Nowhere is a female to be found, save the occasional maharini or scientist’s daughter rescued by the determinedly squeamish Johnny, who knew only too well how her gratitude included the obligatory embarrassment of kisses, which he seemed to resent rather fiercely. The eternally invincible Johnny and his retinue of beloved male comrades won my lonesome heart. Even the dog was a fag.
How I longed to conquer Namor the Submariner, arrogant and bitter Atlantean who cannot love or trust a human; I dreamed of the day when I, too, would become the beloved ward of a handsome, eccentric millionaire, who would give to me strange powers and a new name; he would lead me to his underground cavern, where together we would celebrate our secrets. Once I dreamed I lay in a storybook barn’s tiny hayloft, next to Major West of Lost in Space, who fondled me affectionately and submitted as eagerly to my own caress. Incidentally, a neighborhood acquaintance kept the Monkees tucked naked inside her radio, who waited only to be brought out to dance under flashlight and blankets, performing hilarious obscenities for a carefully selected audience. At last, I found myself afloat, high above an enchanted Disneyland glittering magically beneath my feet. I landed on tiptoe, greeted by a host of Disney characters. From the highest turret of Sleeping Beauty’s castle, we waved to the enormous crowd celebrating below, returning their wild cheers as thousands of multi-colored balloons were released, filling the sky. We had triumphed at last. A handsome youth with shaggy brown hair, naked beneath his ridiculously bulky dog costume, had taken the mask off his beautiful face, and motioned to me. He led me away from the castle balustrade, to the cool gray shadows beneath a plaster arch. We embraced. My child’s hand slipped knowingly under the heavy plush of his costume, deliberately caressing the smooth warm skin of his naked buttocks. As he held me in his strong arms, murmuring and drawing me closer, I awoke, rolling frantically upon my belly, squirming circles into the mattress, my body grinding with unbelievable pleasure. After the eruption ceased, I lay quite still, awestruck and quite naturally incredulous upon experiencing my first orgasm at the approximate age of four years.
I knew myself to be royalty, a miraculous child of heavenly brilliance, more angel than human. I felt as if I were an enchanted princess, spellbound with sleep, awaiting the embrace of a handsome prince. Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella had their obvious and devastating effects. To a startled world, I announced my desire to become a girl. These demands were first ignored, but as I became embarrassingly vocal in my insistence, I was first mocked, then punished, at last imprisoned in the horrid shackles of tiny cowboy outfits, complete with gunbelt and badge, forcibly inflicted upon me in their grim determination to rid me of my passion. Yes, there are pictures of this spectacle as well, and I am pleased to recall the expression of absolute loathing I wore whenever photographed in such hideous attire. I only wanted to be as beautiful as I knew girls alone could be. I recall another dream from this period in my childhood, in which I have been miraculously transformed into a dazzling fairy princess, resplendent in a silvery gown, my hateful crewcut now an elaborate blonde bouffant, billowing skywards and crowned with a diamond tiara, my face as eerily perfect as a porcelain doll’s, with hugely exaggerated eyes and a perfect rosebud mouth, set in a delicate heart-shaped face. So great was my joy upon discovering myself thusly transformed that I began to urinate, awash in an ocean of contented warmth. I awoke not to the embrace of a handsome prince, but to a cold and soggy mattress and an unsympathetic world.
As becomes a princess, I was a difficult child, forever at odds with the vulgar prison of my earthly station, thwarted at every attempt to realize my true destiny. I came to find my parents’ plodding embrace of middle-class values to be shabby and crude, not to mention incomprehensible in a world which serves vintage champagnes and stylish canap?s to its preferred guests.
I once lovingly prepared a set of recipe cards for my mother’s benefit, inventing elaborate and costly hors d’oeuvres calling for liberal portions of caviar. Perplexed and exasperated, she tried to explain that “we were not that kind of people.” Bruised yet again by the infernal pea beneath my many mattresses, I haughtily informed her that it was she who was “not that kind of people,” not I, earning for myself an invigorating gargle with Ivory liquid, preferred by my mother for such tasks, its ease of application further improved by the disappearance of tiny toothmarks from our bars of soap.
They tried to bring me back to earth, too late, too late. Chores were assigned, then enforced. I resisted bitterly, weeping with shame: Sleeping Beauty never collected dog shit with a garden spade from her back yard.
They would have their victory. They would speak to me of death.
They explained to me that my grandmother had died, and that we would go and see her before she was buried. We drove to a small mortuary a few blocks away from the convalescent hospital she had ended her life in. She lay in state, the coffin open, seemingly asleep. My mother whispered to me, “Touch her.” I did. She was cold as ice.
It was too quiet. “Can I go outside?” I asked. I was allowed to exit, and I climbed into the front seat of the station wagon, taking advantage of their absence by helping myself to several candy bars I found in the glove compartment. Driving home, I asked if I, too, would die. They said yes, but I refused to believe them. The confirmation of my eventual death had a familiar hollow ring, like other pronouncements they regularly made, supposedly designed with my best interests in mind. I was immortal. I would live forever. I would never die.
Now comes memory with lessons of fear.
I had strayed too far out. I had gone too far. The night held monsters, hungry and unspeakable.
One night I found the world turned cold, its face against me, love turned to hate as it so often does. I said the first of many prayers. Ghosts howled in the distance, zombies marched closer in militant formation, searching everywhere; they will not rest. The jungle of darkness pressed hard against my window, seeking entry, billowing into sinister shapes looming over my bed, where, trembling beneath the covers, I pray the dark will pass me by, too late, too late. The darkness wants me too. I screw my eyes as tightly shut as possible, for if those yellow orbs should meet my own, it will see my fear, and tear me to pieces. Helpless, I see its hideous gaze, burning through my eyelids as if lasers, and around those demon eyes congeals the darkness into terrifying shape, an idiot Frankenstein’s monster angrily rises far above me in murderous silhouette. I have been found out. He reaches out his arms for me as a calm, inhuman voice explains inside my head that, while sounds alone cannot hurt you, shadows kill, and now the monster strangles the final scream from my little throat, a useless echo in the indifferent night.
I had been rendered mortal, after all. I have been inconsolable ever since.