Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Cacophony--Chapter Three

I really do have some things in mind for some upcoming chapters, so there will be some newer content, which would make things interesting for anyone actually reading this, to have to read things completely out of order. Unfortunately, I haven't yet forced myself to sit and write them. Keep an eye out for a new chapter in which the author reveals that everyone's name is really Dave. In the meantime, one of the older chapters:

Chapter Three

That chapter was a fairly straightforward narrative, no? See, I can do it, and I promise there will be more like that. But I'd also like to point out that while it took one day to write the first chapter, it took three days to write the second chapter. This is why I take on so many oddball routines when writing the story of Christy--in most of my work, the narrator is suspiciously absent, but in writing about Christy, I'm absurdly self-conscious.

I lied about how old I was when my mother was killed, by the way. Well, actually, I didn't. I really was two days old, but I want to use something from a previous draft of the story here, and in that, I stated that I was three years old when she died. So I'm going to use that here, because I have a fairly intense headache, but I need to advance the story. The nun costume isn't working and I'm worried about Charles. So bear with me, if you will. I'll make comments in italics on the following as appropriate. And then I'm going to tack on the next chapter I wrote, too, because it also applies. And at some point, I should probably explain who Grace is. Actually, I'll tell you now. She's my niece. She will make more sense after I've talked a little bit about her mother, my sister. And this section that follows illustrates a little of that relationship. Here we go:

Women disappear. At least that's my experience. All my life, the women around me have vanished, leaving nothing behind but photographs and memories that grow cloudier with each passing day.

It began almost at birth. I was a surprise child, born to parents in their late thirties and early forties well after they'd thought they were done with child-raising. My birth was about six weeks early and I came into the world with a twin sister, double the surprise to which our parents had resigned themselves. I spent my first two months in an incubator. My sister, Leona, spent her first and only month in an incubator. As I gained strength and worked my way into this world, Leona faded and worked her way out of it. One month into my life, a theme had been set. The female that I'd lived with (in exceptionally close quarters) for eight and a half months was gone.

The preceding paragraph is almost entirely a lie. I wasn't born a twin. Sometimes, I like to imagine that I was, though.

At home, I was introduced to my father, a daydreamer who to this day disappears mentally for long stretches at a time, and to my sister, Jeannie, who was already thirteen and beginning the adolescent disconnect. Mom wasn't in great shape after childbirth, but neither Dad nor Jeannie was much help. The first three years of my life passed primarily in the company of my mother, an increasingly weary woman. She loved me as much as her energy would allow, but I was often left to my own devices.

The effects of her death were seen most visibly in my father. Jeannie picked up most of the household chores, but not without resentment, and so my father often faced the day wearing shirts marked by iron burns. Even by three, I'd begun to learn how to fend for myself and so my daily routine did not change all that much. I was capable of pouring myself Cheerios and milk, of dressing myself, of going potty. It wasn't long before I learned to bathe myself, a task that my mother had always undertaken.

This isn't true, either. I've never really been very self-sufficient, as evidenced by my lack of underwear the day the police picked me up.

Her disappearance was sneaky. She'd gone out to pick up groceries one evening and had never returned. Dad only realized that he was hungry and hadn't been fed. Jeannie was at a slumber party. I was on my way to bed. Until the following morning on Jeannie's return, no alarm was sounded. Mom just wasn't around. Toddling around, I was surprised to still be watching television at eleven o'clock, but otherwise it seemed a fairly normal morning. Dad was building something again and Jeannie was out of the house. Nothing unusual.

Jeannie quickly noticed the absence of the wood-paneled station wagon, however. She'd been promised a trip to JC Penney for back-to-school clothes. Where was Mom? When neither of us had the information she needed, she began calling neighbors. None of them were aware of Mom's location. It wasn't until close to twilight that we were greeted at our front door by a state trooper.

Our phone, it seems, had been out of order for the better part of two days. Outgoing calls had been possible, as Jeannie had proven, but in one of his experiments, Dad had somehow disabled the ringer. To this day, I'm not sure of what Dad had been doing, but I think it had something to do with Pavlov's work with dogs and bells. He'd needed a ringer and the phone had provided the necessary parts.

The state trooper held his hat in his hands and asked my father if he could accompany him to the county morgue. Dad, bless his wandering mind, never considered that he might have been on his way to identify his wife's corpse. Jeannie, of course, knew right away. I think at some level I knew, too. In a rare display of protectiveness toward her little brother, she offered to stay at home with me while Dad accompanied the police officer.

The wagon was totaled. Mom was worse. In an odd twist, Dad was able to identify her by an old scar behind her knee, a relic from an incident in which Dad had tried to improve the radiators in our house. Little of the rest of her was identifiable, but Dad immediately recognized the cicatrix, one of the many scarlet letters against his life of daydreams and experiments.

For years, as soon as I was able to understand what had happened, I was furious with Dad for having had her cremated. In retrospect, of course, I realize that parental instincts took over and led him to the conclusion that seeing his wife in this state would do neither of his children any good. At the time, however, I was only aware that the primary influence on my life to that point had, without warning, disappeared.

Actually, I was telling the truth about having been three when Mom died. The two days old thing? That seemed like a more dramatic way to begin a novel.

Jeannie remained the woman of the house for almost a year. Upon her seventeenth birthday, however, she decided that she'd had enough. She loaded up the Volkswagen Bug that had been purchased with money from the station wagon's insurance and took off. I was, at four, the last of our family to see her. Dad was inside, working on an automatic kitty litter box. I was puttering around the driveway on my Big Wheel, watching as she carried box after box to the car.

Once she'd finished loading the car, she wiped her hands against each other before placing them on her hips. She looked once at the car, then at the house, then at me.

"So long, squirt," she said.

"Where you going?" I asked.

"I'm leaving," she replied. I thought about it for a moment, eyebrows furrowed in concentration.


Jeannie considered the question, weighing whether she wanted to get into a long round of four-year-old "whys." She decided against it.

"Tell Dad--" She hesitated.


"Fuck Pavlov." She stared at me hard. "Can you remember that?"

I repeated it carefully. Neither word was familiar. "Fuck Pavlov. Like that?"

"Yeah. Just like that."

"Okay," I said. I repeated it once more to myself to be sure. I then remembered that she was leaving. "Bye," I said.

I couldn't tell if she was laughing or crying. "Bye," she managed to get out before getting into the Bug and driving out of my life.

By the age of four, I was three for three: three women, three disappearances.

But not really.

As a writer, I look back over the preceding exposition and curse some of it. I know that I've told more than I've showed; that I've summarized in scant paragraphs huge events in my life. In spite of that, I ask your indulgence. Truly those events do serve as mere exposition in the story I wish to tell, the story of the woman whose disappearance most changed my life.

Do you sense a trend? Even in this, which was my second attempt at telling the Christy story, I was already apologizing for not doing it justice.

Although Leona, Mom, and Jeannie all made their marks on me, it is Christy who forever altered me, and Christy about whom I have always written. No less than Christy's mother has pointed this out to me.

And Leona never existed.

"Why is everything you write about Christy?" she asked.

"It's not," I said. "I write fiction."

"Ah," she said. She knew better.

It is also Christy whom my father remembers. Although he never met her, he always asks about her when we get together.

"How's Christy?" he might ask.

"Christy who?" I inevitably respond.

"The Christy from college."

"I don't know, Dad. I haven't seen her in years."

"Oh. Too bad. I liked her."

Dad, it should be said again, never met Christy. Over the years, he met other women that I dated. He didn't and doesn't remember any of them.

So. Perhaps I have always written about Christy. Who am I to argue with her mother? Is it time, then, to exorcise her once and for all? Should I now tell the real story in hopes that I'll be able to move on? Irving had his wrestlers and Austria, until he wrote "The World According to Garp." I've had my philosophy majors and ghosts. If Christy's mother is right, it's time to lay them to rest, to move on to my own "Cider House Rules."

Don't you love the presumption here?

So. Christy.


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