Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Chapter one - A Beginning

I have no presumption that this is a true story. I have studied far too much psychology to believe that my individual perspective holds the actual truth. So this is just a story.

In the late 1940's in the hills of Pennsylvania my father would hitchhike from Hossburg to Vellsboro to see my mother. During the winter, when it was quite cold, and they returned late, hitching a ride back to Hossburg could be tricky and freezing to death a real possibility. So father would be invited to spend the night. In a separate bedroom of course.

I can't attest to how 'laissez faire' my maternal grandparents were, but they seemed to think this appropriate. My father told me that young love doesn't know how to control itself, and he often snuck into my mother's room. I was conceived and marriage was in order.

However, my father had a problem. He didn't want to let it be known that my mother was pregnant. He simply asked his father if he could get married. The answer was, "No." My father had no other option than to elope. He and my mother made elaborate plans, and left fake documents to steer others off their path.

They left the same day, from different bus stations, and traveled separately to their destination in South Carolina. They did leave notes, but to the effect of implicating other destinations. They got married and I was born.

I was sixteen when I actually counted the months from their wedding anniversary to my birthday. It was only six months. I asked my mother, "Was I was born premature?" and she answered, "No." It then made sense to me why my father, when he was angry, would say, "If it wasn't for you, I never would have married your mother." In kinder moods he would say he married her for her straight teeth. His were crooked.

My parents both found work. They found a church and attended regularly. At some point in their stay, the minister of the church had enough information to find my father's parents. He wrote to my father's dad.

My paternal Grandfather was a minister - a Baptist minister. In fact, since the sixteenth century, the oldest of each generation had been a minister. My grandparents drove down and begged my Mother and Father to return home. They offered for them to live in their house, which would save them rent. My parents returned and lived with them in the same house.

At eleven months I pulled an electric percolator full of boiling coffee off the radiator onto myself. In the small cramped quarters, the radiators were used as shelves. The one in the kitchen had a board on top of it with a nice clean cloth draped over it. I managed to pull the cloth, and the percolator tumbled right on top of me. I turned my head, and the contents spilled onto my neck and shoulder.

I had burns over ninety percent of my body (according to the newspaper article I read years later). When they took off my sweater, most of the skin on my left shoulder came with it. I was taken to the local hospital to spend the next few months there.

I had skin grafts. Skin from my tummy was transferred to my neck and shoulder. For months my hands and arms were taped to my body so I wouldn't scratch the wounds. In essence, the tape and bandages were a sort of straight-jacket. There were also bandages wrapped tight around my neck.

I developed gangrene in my neck. When my grandfather confronted the doctor about my situation, the doctor said, "If the gangrene was in his finger or his leg we would cut it off! But we can't very well cut off his head!" The doctor did a lot of digging and scraping to to cut the gangrene out. Years later, in therapy I would find myself reliving the struggle against the bandages.

My father was offered a scholarship to M.I.T. because his tests from high school showed a considerable ability for math and physics. He did not accept. Late in his life he explained to me his reasoning.

"In high school I read in a textbook that if someone has hallucinations, or sees things that aren't there, they are crazy. I thought that I could look inside myself and see the energy there. It was visual. Due to this, I thought I was crazy, but no one could tell.

I actually thought that if I went to M.I.T. the people there would be so smart, that they would know. So, to stay on the safe side, I didn't accept the scholarship."

Instead, he went to a local teacher's college during the day, and worked nights in a glass-works plant. My father even explained where he believed the "Internal Light" came from.

"When I was young," he said, "I was very sickly. I had Scarlet Fever and pneumonia very bad. I was bedridden for months. In fact, my lungs were so full of fluid, that at one time, the doctors proposed that the only way for me to survive, would be to cut out all my ribs on one side. This would allow my lungs to expand like a balloon, leaving some possibility for air to enter my fluid filled lungs."

My grandfather when told of this procedure, asked, "What would his life be like without ribs on one side?"
The doctor told him that his son would never walk. My Grandfather told the doctor, "That would be no life he would want to live. Do your best, but it would be better for him to die than live like that."

My father was in a wing that housed ill children. Sick as he was, he became aware that whenever a child on the wing died, the lights in the room were turned out. This made such a visual impression on him, that for the rest of his life, turning out the lights meant death. He internalized this, and could see his own internal light. Because of this, he thought he was crazy. At least, if he told others, they would assume so. Only when he was dying did he reveal this secret.

My father always had a large hole in the side of his chest where the tubes were inserted to drain his lung. In the end, a vaccine of sorts was created from the microbes in his chest. He was inoculated with the vaccine, specific to the disease in his chest, and he recovered.

Here you have a father and a son, both severely injured as children, living with repressed pain. You can imagine that the secrets contributed to the pain, and made some truths hard to come by.

My father's secret led him to quietly go to college out of the limelight, out of sight of those who might discover his secret. My father decided to follow in his father's footsteps and become a minister as well. After all, it had been the family tradition since the sixteenth century. With me in tow he proceeded through college and then seminary. I still have memories of sitting on my father's lap in seminary, reading Pinocchio, while he and the others argued theology.

My pain and my Father's pain joined and became one. The pain went a long way back. My father carried a lot of it, and he passed it on to me. I added my own. I can remember my father yelling at me when I was a kid, "If it hadn't been for Jesus you wouldn't have had a father." What did he mean? I had pondered that for years, and my best interpretation is that he meant he would have abandoned me and my Mother, had he not been a Christian.

Years later, in my late twenties, the pain came out.
The first primal I ever had was while lying on the group room floor. It caught me entirely off guard. But there I lay, wailing, "Leave me alone! Leave me alone!" The fundamental psychological pain of my childhood came spilling out. My stomach heaved uncontrollable waves as the pain was felt.

My father's secret had required that we all hold secrets. I was told, directed and cajoled from day one: what to think, what to feel, what to do. Every facet of my life had been controlled, until almost every drop of personal self was squeezed from my mind.

So there I lay, grasped by involuntary wailing, feeling for the first time the deepest pain of my childhood. I had wanted to be left alone. That's all. Just a little freedom to be myself, with my own feelings and thoughts. This thwarted desire was at the core of all my pain. And here it came, in wave after wave. For forty-five minutes, I laid on the floor and let the pain out.

It didn't matter that a half dozen other people sat in the room. In fact, the support of this group is what gave me the strength to let go and feel. I wailed for what I had denied myself. I wailed for what I had wanted to be, naturally, without coercion, without restraint. And now I shared the pain.

Twenty minutes into the primal, the therapist softly said to the group, "This is the kind of pain the human race is afraid to feel." I knew it to be true. Certainly true for me.

The wailing came from my gut, involuntary, and genuine. I felt real for the first time in twenty-seven years.
Suddenly, after forty-five minutes, it stopped, just as quickly as it had started. My eyes were bone dry. The pain, as I experienced it, was beyond tears, more primeval, more profound. I opened my eyes and looked slowly around. People sat silently. No one had left the room. I was surprised. After several minutes I sat up and leaned against the couch. I was in a daze, a foggy stupor. But I felt good.

The therapist asked if I wanted anyone to share with me. I said, "No." What I had experienced was so real to me, that I had no need whatsoever of confirmation or support. I had all I needed at that moment, myself.

My journey of release had begun. I was feeling myself again for the first time in years. Though my inner self was filled with pain, the pain was real, and feeling it was good. I was ready to go home.

Over the next few days I had more primals, and I didn't need the support of the group to get into them. They were spontaneous. When they came, I just took to my bed. I let the pain flow as it willed. In fact, for the first couple of weeks, I screamed so much I lost my voice. Even my therapist said, "You don't need to go at it so hard." But the floodgates had opened, the lid was off, and the pain flowed out naturally to be felt. The release made me feel clear and unconfused for the first time in years. Feeling real was great! What need for security, for safety, had allowed me to repress so much?

I began to ponder my alienation. I realized that it was not mine alone. Pain is a common denominator for all of us. At least I was on my way out. I remembered how, in college, a few years earlier, that missionary children I had grown up with, would travel in groups, visiting other former missionary kids around the country. They couldn't move on. They couldn't relate to anyone who hadn't had the same childhood. They stopped by my apartment, but I wouldn't have anything to do with them. I was disgusted with their plight and mine. I wanted to move on, leave the past behind, not wallow in it. I would not even let them in my door. I sent them on their sad way, hoping they would get better.

           end chapter 1


Maury Lee said...

The author welcomes heart felt critiques. Does this subject hold interest? Is it well written? What would improve the style of writing?

Mary said...

Hi Maury,
What a pleasure to read this story. I was riveted. The subject is very interesting. I like your writing style. I am a big fan of simplicity and directness, and I feel that in your writing.

I am in no position to make any criticisms (probably wouldn't even if I were :-)) I think this writing comes from the heart, and that is the most powerful tool a writer has, in my humble opinion.

With much encouragement and love,


Maury Lee said...

Thanks Mary. I can tell you that the autobiography I wrote was done in a heat of passion, anger, regret, resentment, you name it.

I was so poor that I had to make a desk out of plywood and 2x4's. And wrote on an old manual typewriter.

I just sat on the book because I thought it was too raw. Now that I am older I just want to share, knowing full well that it is JUST a story, and not the truth, but still fun.

If I get some readers, and suggestions on improvements, then I'll continue.

Maury Lee said...

Sheila said, "I read your 'story'! Wow! I can't wait for the next chapter! I Am glad you made your peace with your Father before he died. I work for Hospice and see a lot of 'fear' turn to 'acceptance' after Peace has been made. By the way. I didn't circumcise my sons and they were made fun of for having foreskins! I don't know if I read it wrong but after the line about the Belgian's boiling milk is something missing?"

Thanks for commenting on my story. Yes, making peace with my Father was very important for both of us. Years later, a psychic person I knew had a visit from my father, and was passed information of how much he still loved me. I am SO glad you didn't have your son's circumcised. Most of the world does not do it. I think it's much better to be made fun of because you have all your parts than because you are missing a part. In a world where everyone was missing a left arm, I would rather be teased for having both arms. I did not have my son circumcised, and he and I are both happy with that decision.

What do you think is missing in the line about "boiled milk?" Please suggest what I need to put there. Part of the reason I am putting my autobiography on line is to GET suggestions from readers on what is missing, and what needs improvement. So, please do suggest. You know how when you are too close to something, you miss things.