Seafood Pasta II

The Collector let me cry for a minute, and then retrieved me and led me by the hand to the sofa.  He left me there and came back with some Valium and a cup of milk.

I drank them down, even though I know I shouldn’t be screwing around with benzos, and then he held me for half an hour until they took effect.

“I took the protein off the fire.  It will not be as good, but it will still be good enough. I’ll boil new pasta so it will be fresh,” he said.

This made me feel guilty, like I ruined dinner, but also oddly grateful.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” I said.

“We can do anything.  Trust me.”

Let me tell you something I know from years in the sex industry and living life in general as a heterosexual female: any guy who tells you to trust him is probably a scammer.

But I got up, slightly drugged and significantly calmer, and returned to the table.

He served me a plate of seafood pasta in scampi sauce, lit the candles, and then had a seat on my right, at the head of the table.

We pretended as if it was ten years ago.  He asked me questions about my thesis and we talked politics, and he told me how wonderful and exciting it was going to be in New York, and how much he loved it there.

I can’t describe what I felt. I was under a mild Valium haze (God, I love that drug.  Anything that shuts down the emotions is right by me. If I could have my emotions removed like an appendix, I’d have that shit taken out surgically tomorrow).  It felt like my brain was being molested.

The food was delicious, but I didn’t have much of an appetite.

Then I started to get into the role, and perked up.

Hope, my friends, is the cruelest and most dangerous emotion.

I started to speak excitedly about my plans, and how this school was giving me a full-ride scholarship, and how confident that made me feel, and how much I wanted to contribute to society.

He reached out and grasped my hand.

“I am proud of you, and I give you my blessing.”

This is the way that it should have been, except that, obviously, it wasn’t.  My own father was too selfish to be happy about my success, minor as it was.  He only wanted to keep me to him in order to exploit me like some natural resource, like oil or coal.

I wonder to myself if he ever loved me, even though it doesn’t matter now.  He didn’t love me as I understand the meaning of the word.  One of the greatest lies in our society is that all parents love their children.  Newsflash: many don’t. However, children have a primordial psychological need to believe their parents love them, and I find it amazing that my devotion to him stood for so many years against all physical evidence that I was a toy, a meal ticket, a means to torture my mother, or an extension of himself.  I mean, what can you say about a sadist who abandoned his first daughter (my sister) in Germany and wouldn’t even cut a check for child support?

You want it to be true, so you make it true.

Now we are at dinner, as it should have been.  It’s a do-over. And I cannot decide whether it nurtured me or re-traumatized me.

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But of all Sadness this was Sad–

But of all sadness this was sad –
A woman’s arms tried to shield
The head of a sleeping man
From the jaws of the final beast.

This is the saddest incident from my childhood.  I will tell you now.
My father, a gambling addict, had lost everything, and been evicted from his last apartment.  He was living in a camper-van, and unemployed, and had been unemployed for several years.  I was 16 years old, working at Long John Silver’s fast-food restaurant, and giving him all of my wages.  I made $5.15 an hour, and I couldn’t work more than 20 hours a week because of child labor laws…but I worked all weekend, every weekend, and I gave him everything.  He wanted me to steal from my job, but I wouldn’t do that.  He wanted me to steal from my mother’s jewelry box, but I wouldn’t do that either.
(as an aside, you don’t know what a huge douche global capitalism is until you’ve worked all day, on your feet, dealing with assholes, and your healthy, fit teenaged body aches at night, for FORTY FUCKING DOLLARS.  Fast food was the hardest job in my life.)
One day he came to me in his camper-van.  He was wearing his best suit, a khaki suit, with a blue-striped tie.  And he said, “I have something to show you.”
He took me by the hand into his camper-van.
There were two suicide notes hanging above the little kitchen unit: one addressed to me, and one addressed to my mother.
And then he showed me how he intended to kill himself: with gas, maybe helium, but I guess it could have been propane, I don’t remember.  He’d rigged a tube up from it, and put it through a heavy-duty plastic bag, and formed a noose around the bag, so that it was like a mask.
(he was, at one point, a respiratory therapist in the ICU ward.  So he knew how these things work)
I felt like I was seeing all of this in slow-motion.  I felt the oddest sensation of horror and numbness.  I felt like I couldn’t feel my face.  I swear to you: it was the most awful moment of my life.  And I’ve had plenty.
Because I LOVED HIM.  I loved him beyond morality.  I don’t love him anymore–now I feel nothing but contempt and disgust, but at the time I LOVED HIM.   And I felt responsible for him and obligated for taking care of him.
Then he left, and I sat there for a few minutes, feeling so weird inside.  I was so scared for him!  I was like, my daddy is GOING TO DIE?
I walked into my mother’s house.  My little brother wasn’t home yet (he was at soccer practice).  I remember that there was a Persian rug in the living room with a circular pattern in the center.
I collapsed in the middle of the rug, and curled up into a ball, and I shriek.
Nothing like that has ever happened in my life.  I cried when the Surgeon damaged me emotionally a few times, and I cried my ass off for a month when the Mathematician betrayed me, but, I am telling you, this was the most gut-wrenching fear/terror/grief of my life.  IT HURT IT HURT SO BADLY.
My mother came into the room and she lifted up my face, and she was FURIOUS, and she looked at my face, and she slapped me upside the head…hard.
“Get yourself together!” she hissed.
(Keep in mind, I was never a little drama queen.  It’s not like I made histrionics on a regular basis.  I was always extremely quiet and calm, even as a baby–both of my parents would tell you that even as a baby, I never cried.)
I shut up immediately, and then I went to go barf in the bathroom, because I could not cope with the anxiety.
Then I gave her my father’s “suicide notes.”  She took them and I have no idea what she did with them.   We never discussed them.  I could not bring myself to read either one.
Now, as an ADULT, this is what I feel: Mom should have been GAME OVER, PSYCHO!  RESTRAINING ORDER!  Any family court judge in the country would have given her (and me) a restraining order.  My father was completely out of control and this was transparently psychologically abusive.
My mother sent me back to him.  Why,  cannot say, except that in some intrinsic way she hates my guts.
A month later, he committed himself to the State Mental Health Hospital.  There was nowhere else for him to go.
And I visited him there.

Killing my Father

You guys, I had something strange as hell happen to me last morning….

I came back from a 3-day tour in San Francisco.  I guess I was under a lot of stress. Mentally, you know.

I awoke at 7 AM and layed there, blinking owlishly at the ceiling.

This feeling came at me.  Out of nowhere.  It was a complete dark horse.

It was homicidal impulse.

I have never. wanted. to kill anyone in my life. I don’t want to kill anyone!  I’m a nice sane polite person! I have “issues,” sure, neurosis, but I’m not VIOLENT.  I’m gentle! I’m kind!  I’m submissive and sweet! I have compassion!

I thought that my father must die.  That it was time for time for him to go.  TIME TO DIE, ASSHOLE!

The world would be a better place.  And this would only be justice.

I mean, what does he contribute…?  Jack shit.  Nothing, to anyone.  He only destroys.

I surpassed him intellectually, professionally, and emotionally, from the time I was…I dunno. 22?  So why was I so afraid of this PATHETIC man all my life?  I am BETTER than you in ever sense of the word, and every man I’ve been in love with, even those sick fucks, would eat you for breakfast.

So I thought to myself: if I was going to kill him, how would I do it…?

I have guns (Biathlon champion here, for real)…but I do not think he is so worthy of quick dispatch.  I’d kill a chuckar, or even a trout, with more respect than I’d kill you.

You get the knife, mein Vater.

Right up the gut.  The intestines and stomach, so that you don’t bleed out too soon.

Suffer for me now. As you taught me to suffer.

Time to die.

About Franz Adler, and What He Required

I have largely avoided writing about my father, Franz Adler, either on this blog or in the writing I keep for myself.  I’ve shared the occasional story about him, and from these even a casual reader can derive an idea of his character and personality.  The stories speak for themselves,but beyond anecdotes I have never tried to address him as a subject in his own right.

I avoid writing about him because contemplation is painful, even at this late date, and because it is a type of pain that feels unwise to share with strangers, but even these reasons are secondary: the real reason I don’t write about him is because I simply don’t know how.  It feels like trying to describe a cataclysmic natural disaster, decades after it happened, to people who were on the other side of the world.  How do you describe the tornado that destroyed your home?  “A big black wind storm blew it down while we cowered in the cellar?”  Even this metaphoric device is poor: he was not an awesome and unprecedented act of the Almighty, but a garden-variety addict and a sociopath, whose modest claim to evil in this life is that he alienated and exploited everyone unfortunate enough to be in his orbit.  Thankfully, he was too dysfunctional and undisciplined to achieve a significant sphere of influence in life, which limited his destructive potential.   The wheels started to come off when he was about the age I am now, and he became increasingly incapable of pursuing average adult life interests (job, family, gratifying hobbies, the basics).  He also seemed to grow increasingly unwilling to make the effort necessary to pass himself off as anything other than what he really is.   If he’d managed to hold his shit together until his middle age, he could have had made another family to terrorize and another job and colleagues to steal from.  Franz Adler only lasted one, maybe one-and-a-half rounds of adulthood before he started to succumb to his genetic destiny.  He started to take the path of least resistance when he was fairly young in his life, mid 30s.  He stopped fighting himself, if, indeed, that is what he’d been doing up until that point, and  had allowed him to achieve his previous successes.

I was about twelve years old when he started to devolve significantly–he was getting worse before that, and making some very reckless decisions with his life, but he still had most of his shit together: job with benefits, academic ambitions, part-time custody of his child (me), Peace Corps and Army buddies, toys that he liked to buy–you know, basic normal adult shit.  He was an addict by then, but he functioned.

Twelve when he “got sick,” as he called it later in life.  There are probably several reasons why Franz Adler decided to drop out of life.  Perhaps I’ll speculate on them in a later post.  But, for whatever reason, he decided that he was not going to do anything that he did not feel like doing.  Ever again.   Pay the IRS?  Register the car?  Resist the urge to torch your neighbor’s car for playing his obnoxious Mexican music too loudly?  Go grocery shopping for the kid?   What?

It took him about four years to lose everything.  Some of that time was actually pretty peaceful for me, because he was off in other parts of the country, bleeding the last of his relatives and family friends dry.  I think he might have also had legal or court problems–it would explain some absences, the very nomadic lifestyle, and the reason why people he’d been close enough to call on for help, or stay in their houses, turned their backs on him utterly and completely.  I think he was stealing or embezzling from them and then running for it.

What did he do with the monies from his 401k, the house, his property, whatever he borrowed or stole?  He gambled it.  It was gone.  He certainly didn’t give it back to any of people he got it from.

By the time I was sixteen, he was almost out of resources, both human and monetary.  He was almost trapped, and he got very, very ugly.   You do not want to see a person like him when he is cornered.  Unfortunately, I had front row tickets, because I was his last and final hostage.

If I had been just a few years younger, I think that I could have escaped some of it, because I would have been too young to be of practical use to him, other than to use me as a bargaining chip to exploit my mother or get some sort of government benefits.  What use is a 10-year-old?  On the other hand, if I was younger, I think that he might have murdered me when he had me in his possession.  I think he would have stabbed me to death or killed me with carbon monoxide while I slept (I think that he almost did that, anyway, actually).  He would have done that to hurt my mother.

But, I was 16.

Old enough to drive.  Old enough to work.

And, incredibly, he still had legal custody of me.

Children are basically little slaves.  They have almost no legal rights.  They are disenfranchised.  They have more rights than animals, but not many.  Most people don’t know this.

What is the use of a slave?  Why did anyone want to have one, in the bad old days of most of human history?

You take away their autonomy, and you steal the value of their labor.

Now ask yourself: if you were in Franz Adler’s situation, what would you do with Margo?

You probably can’t think of anything, because you’re a halfway decent human being with morals.  If you were unemployed, and your life was in a bad spot right now, kinda chaotic, you’d probably leave your teenager with her mother until you got your shit figured out.   Or maybe, since you’re a junkie, you’d ask your teenager for money, or use her to sign up for welfare benefits, or something.   Tell her to steal money out of her Mom’s purse, maybe?  What else is there?

Still can’t think of anything…?

Now imagine that you have no morals and very little fear of consequences.  You are under a  tremendous amount of financial stress, which is as close as you get to experiencing fear.  There are no limitations on your behavior, self-imposed or otherwise.  You just spent four years burning your life down.  You are full of hatred.  You have no house, no job, no relatives to take you in, and no plans for the future.  Shit’s looking pretty fucking bleak.

What you do have is legal custodianship of a 16-year-old girl.  She is terrified of you, and for you, but she is your property and she will do whatever you say in the end.  Her health and well-being play no part in your decision-making process, nor do her personal preferences or opinions.  If anything, your attitude is: she owes you.

She still loves you, so you won’t have to twist her arm too hard.

These are the circumstances of my life at that time.   In many ways it was worse than being held by him when I was a young child.  When I was a child, all he could demand of me were the things that a child has to give: obedience, love, loyalty, admiration, my imagination, fear.

When I was older, he required more from me.

Epitaph for My Father

     The last time I talked to my mother, I asked her, out of the blue, if she had any idea if my father was still alive.

      “He emailed me and said that he was moving back to (his home state).  He asked me if I wanted any of his furniture.” 

       My father is going back to his home state to die.  There is no other explanation.  As shitty as my home town is, nobody in his right mind would leave it to go back to the place my father was born.  I can’t be too specific, but: think of the most backwards, knuckle-dragging state in the Union, that is also naturally ugly to boot. 

       “What did you tell him?”

       “I wrote him back one word: NO.”

       When she said that, I felt a distinct sense of pride.  I have had an eventful life, for good or bad, but liberating myself and my mother from him and his influence is one of my greatest achievements.  He was a strange and talented man, in some respects, and he gave me a high IQ and an appreciation of culture.  Ultimately, however, I can also say this about him: he contributed nothing but terror, misery, and financial distress to anyone who had a personal or even professional relationship with him.  I do not exaggerate. With the exception of the military and Peace Corps, he was fired from every job, abandoned by every friend, and disowned by every family member…including myself, who at one time loved him beyond morality.

      That is my epitaph for my father, Franz Adler. 

      I wonder who he is going to be staying with when he moves back to his home state.  He has to be doing this with help; he can’t afford to relocate on his own.  It has to be a distant relative, although we have almost none here in the US.  That, or a VA hospital. 

       Whoever they are, I would warn them if I could.  They are in for a very ugly surprise.  He can be nice for short periods of time, but he does not need human company, and, in the end, every relationship to him is a matter of exploitation or worse.  I’m sure that by this point he looks like a sad, broken-down old man, but he remains, at heart, a killer. 

       His newest victim(s) will discover this at their own expense. 

The Fourth Owlet

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  I dreamed that I went to visit him in his home in the countryside.  While I was there, he asked me if I would like to see the owls in his barn.  They recently had owlets, and we could get right up close to them because the parents would be out hunting. 

    Naturally I was delighted at the prospect of seeing the owls, so I followed him to the barn.  The barn was identical to the ranchers’ barns found in the rural areas of my homeland: it was very tall, and had a loft space at the top.

     He told me that the owlets were nested there, in the loft space, which was accessible only by ladder.  We had to climb the ladder one at a time.  He went first and waited at the top, stabilizing the ladder with his hands.  I am afraid to climb ladders, but I scaled it.

      The loft was sunny, with a low peaked roof, and it had a little glassless window that looked out onto grassy fields.  The barn looked like it came from my homeland, but the view out the window did not look familiar at all.  It looked like this painting by van Gogh (I always make a point to see this whenever I visit the Met):

      The loft was surprisingly clean and tidy for a barn.  He said that the barn was where he kept his secret things.

      Then I saw the owlets!  There were three of them, hopping around the floor, as bold as you please.  They were so cute!  The owlets were not afraid of him at all.  They ran to him.

      We observed the owls and played with them for a while, and then it was time to go back to the house.  

        He went down the ladder first.  I watched him descend, clutching the ladder in my hands.

        When his shoes reached the floor, he pulled the ladder away and leaned it against the far corner of the barn!  I asked him what he was doing, and he explained, calmly, that it was his intention to keep me in the loft indefinitely.

      Then he walked out.

      I was panicking, but there was nothing I could do.  I could not get down without the ladder. The loft was at least two stories off the floor of the bare floor of the barn.  It was too high to risk a jump.  Like an owlet, I could not fly.

        I began to explore the loft, seeing it with fresh eyes.  It had obviously been prepared in advance.  There was a wrought-iron bedframe bolted to the floor, a mattress, and o-ring anchor points drilled into the beams on the ceiling. 

         There was a picnic basket with food and water.  

         (Eventually, there would be books and writing materials, but I had to earn those.)

           It was just the owlets and me.  In time, I became the fourth owlet.  

        He would come to visit me and fuck me almost every day, which was nice. 

         As he went around town on his business, his friends and neighbors would often ask about how he had passed the time that day.  Smiling, he would tell them that he spent the morning observing his barn owl.

      He smiled because it was a private joke.  Nobody had any idea that his barn owl was actually a girl. 

On Not Being Worldly (and Why It Matters)

Update 3/26/14  7:00 AM:  
     BUMPED this blog post because of the excellent comments thread.  Go read it (grumpyoldswitch’s final postings are in reverse order).  I wish my blog had more than 8 readers.    I invite anyone who has an opinion to weigh in.  You may comment anonymously.

                *                                  *                                * 

 Both of my parents grew up in poverty that would be nearly unimaginable today.  When I hear that the Germans had the best education system in the world at that time, I am a little skeptical, because my grandparents were pretty uneducated, parochial, and suspicious of anything cosmopolitan.  I mean, decades in the US and they wouldn’t try to eat spaghetti or a fucking taco. I am surprised the US let them in.

     My father was sensitive about being a poor boy and tried to become middle class.  For a while, he even succeeded.  He had a lot of native intelligence and graduated college.  After the Army and the Peace Corps, he taught History and German while studying for an advanced degree.  Readers will know that teaching would not be the best fit for Franz Adler’s, uhh, personality.  That didn’t work out very well. Then the wheels started to come off when he was about the age I am now.  He couldn’t hold it together.  He became homeless for a time and was institutionalized.  We were on welfare.  When I was old enough to work, I supported him.

     My mother got a decent job and worked very, very hard.  She now enjoys a modest but comfortable retirement.  She does not discuss her childhood.  There are no pictures of it in the home and I don’t know my grandfather’s name or what he looked like.  I do know that my mother, like her many siblings, was born at home.  

     I’m very well-educated and my parents taught me good manners, so I can pass myself off as being middle-class, but, really, I’m not.

     My Ph.D. program was full of comparatively rich kids and the professors were pretty well-off, too.  My best friend there was a fellow hick from the provinces.  We had many long conversations discussing culture shock.  Then I started working at my secret job and I met the Surgeon, and I started spending a lot of time with rich people.  Rich men, specifically.  

      It was an interesting experience.  Rich people never intimidated me, because I am educated.  But one thing that struck me, over and over again, was just how little I knew about the things that these men took for granted. 

       The Surgeon grew up upper-middle class and he’s an insane social climber.  Now he has millions of dollars.  He was constantly shocked at all the things I didn’t know.  He thought it was funny, but it also concerned him, actually–he was frightened for me at times–and he started going out of his way to teach me things that he thought I needed to know about the world.  

         The first time I got a nice suit, I thought that the pockets were fake.  I was actually complaining about it at school (“$200 for a suit, and it doesn’t have pockets!”) and one of my professors pulled me aside and gently showed me that the pockets were there, they were just sewn shut. 

        The first time I flew on an airplane, I took out my wallet to pay for the meal.  This was when meals were inclusive.  The stewardess looked at me like I was crazy.

       I did not know what a Roth IRA was.  I did not know how the stock market worked.  I did not know how to buy a stock.  I was completely ignorant of all banking terms.  I understood the primary mechanisms of capitalism because I’d read a lot of Karl Marx.  It was all theory.  I had absolutely no practical experience with anything involving money. If you handed me $200,000 in cash and told me that I had to buy a house, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea what to do or where to go.

       One thing that made me angry during the housing crisis was seeing all these rich priviliged blowhards on TV screaming and complaining about all the stupid poor people buying houses they couldn’t afford.  What they don’t understand is that when you’re poor, nobody ever teaches you this stuff.  Fixed or adjusted rate mortgage?  What?  Three-quarters of Americans don’t graduate from college.  We are a nation of innumerates.  Really poor people can’t even read a bus schedule.  How the fuck are they supposed to avoid getting taken advantage of by a credit card company?

       Another thing you have to remember about growing up and living poor is that you are absolutely at the mercy of the institutions that control your life.  Cops tell you what to do, the courts tell you what to do, the welfare office tells you what to do, schools tell you what to do, the banks tell you what to do, the IRS tells you want to do, and, of course, your boss and the church tells you what to do.  You get used to it.  One thing that shocked me–astonished me, really–about observing the behavior of wealthy people, or even middle-class people, was their contempt for authority, and they way that they felt free to do whatever the fuck they wanted.   Cause they do.  They don’t ask for permission to do things a million times a day.  They certainly don’t have to ask their boss at work if they can take a bathroom break.  It’s easy to be powerful in the world if you have that mindset.  The Surgeon was absolutely gobsmacked at the way I would calmly accept it when someone told me “no.”  Can I get a late check-out at the hotel?  No?  Oh, all right then.  I wasn’t used to fighting for things, or getting what I wanted, with the exception of my academic success.  All the cultural factors and institutions in my upbringing socialized me to work hard to earn what I want, and to be obedient, and to respect authority.  When you’re poor and vulnerable, resistance means that you’re out of a job or you’re in jail.  

    (Incidentally, I think one of the reasons rich people hate the IRS and paying taxes so much is that they HATE the idea of an institution forcing them to do something, or having power over them.  They HATE that shit.  That is how used they are to having power in life.  Remember that hilarious scene in The Wolf of Wall Street, when DiCaprio throws the Federal Agents off his yacht and throws lobsters at them?  The Surgeon would definitely throw a lobster.  Definitely. If a Federal Agent knocked on my door, I’d have a heart attack and tell him whatever he wanted.)

Wow, look at all the stuff I can write when I’m not drunk.

Night Intruders

     When I was about six years old, a young woman was murdered in her apartment a few blocks away from my mother’s house. 

      It was not an ordinary murder (if there is such a thing).  It was gruesome.  I can’t give out the details without compromising my privacy, but take my word for it: it was the type of murder a serial killer would commit.  Her body was mutilated. 

     The town freaked out.  Suddenly everyone was checking the locks on their windows and walking their children to the bus stop.  The murder and the hunt for the killer were on the front page of the paper every day.  My mother wouldn’t let me read the stories because of the violence, but I read them at my father’s house.  He never shared the belief that children should be protected from the horrors of this world, and if there was anything he despised in a person more than stupidity or cowardice, it was naivety. 

     The murder scared Mom very badly, and her anxiety intensified when they could not find the killer.  The victim was new in town and the police speculated that perhaps the killer had followed her from wherever she came from.  I don’t think they ever caught the man.

    My mother has always had a profound, even neurotic fear of night stalkers.  Practically ever woman I know is scared of home invasion, but my mother has a particularly bad case.  She was worried sick over this murder.

     Well, my father approached her and said that he knew someone who had a very good guard dog, and they were going on a two-week vacation soon.  They wanted my father to watch their dog for them, but would my mother be interested in keeping the dog instead?  Maybe the dog would help her feel better.

      Mom agreed to take the dog for two weeks.

      I was delighted to hear that we were going to have a dog in the house.  The family Cocker Spaniel had passed away the previous year, and I’d wanted a new dog ever since. 

       This dog was no Spaniel. 

       It was some sort of German Shepard mix–probably GSD and Rottweiler– and it was huge, long-legged and broad-chested.  I know everything looks bigger when you’re a child, but this was a very big dog by any objective standard.  It probably weighed more than my mother.   

       That dog made us nervous the minute it got out of the car.  It didn’t run around to explore, or try to play.  It didn’t bark.  It didn’t shyly approach and try to make an introduction.  It stood there calmly and stared at us, sizing us up.

       Mom put him in the back yard for a few hours to let him acclimate.  Then she went out by herself and hand-fed him some chunks of hot dog in order to make friends with him.  The dog ate the food, but he wasn’t very friendly.  I know GSDs are aloof with humans they don’t know, but there was something weird about this one.

      Mom decided she didn’t want him in he house until he warmed up.  It was early Fall and the weather was warm and dry, and he had access to the garage and a shaded backyard, so I don’t think it was an imposition on him.  Mom would go spend time with him every day, but that dog, I’m telling you, did not give a shit. 

      Sure enough, though, he did start to guard the perimeter.  He’s walk along the fence, nose to the ground, as if doing a survey of the terrain.  He’d jump up on his hind legs and keep through the knotholes in the wooded fence. 

      He was a quiet dog.  

      Well, one day, towards the end of the second week, he jumped the fence.  It was a six-foot fence, but he jumped it.  For the record, it was the first time he did it.  If Mom had known he could have done it, she would have chained him.

      Around 8 or 9 PM–right before my bedtime–I heard something tapping against the sliding glass door of the backyard.  My mother was taking her bath.  My brother was watching TV. 

      I went to the door and parted the hanging blinds.

      The dog was there, as tall as me and staring straight into my eyes.  His face was smeared with blood and he was holding the severed leg of a cow in his mouth, as if it were a great big rawhide doggie bone. 

      The whole leg.  Hoof and all. 

      Tail was waggin’. 

      I screamed.

      My brother ran over and saw, and he started screaming, too.

      My mother came running down the hall.  She was holding a towel over her body.  She’d come so fast that she didn’t bother to wrap it around her, and she was dripping water everyplace.  She slid when she got to the room and almost fell.  

       The dog was still standing at the window, wagging its long bushy tail.  Little pig, little pig, let me in.

      She sent us both to our rooms and called Animal Control, but they were closed for the night.  She was afraid to go out there alone to chain the dog.  She called a few neighbors to tell them what was going on so that they could get their pets indoors and to ask if any of them had a man to borrow to get the thing on a chain or inside the garage–it jumped out once, it could do it again.

       No takers.

       The dog retired to the lawn right underneath my bedroom window and proceeded to devour its prize.  The grating, crunching sound of tooth on bone kept me awake.  I kept picturing the hoof.  I kept thinking that the dog was going to get in through my window. 

      It suddenly occurred to me that my father sent us the dog to murder us all in our sleep.  It made perfect sense. 

      Maybe the dog killed the young woman down the street.  Maybe my father did.  

      I was up for most of the night, listening to the bones crunch. 

     My mother called the owners and they sent someone to pick up the dog early the next morning–it was that or Animal Control, my mother said.  She was furious.  

       She drove to a few nearby cattle ranches and asked if they’d lost any livestock or had a dog attack.  She gave them all her contact information.  She wanted to pay for it.  We never did find out where that cow leg came from.  It was hard to find the owners, because the cattle were on grazing land rather than homesteads. The owners did not live by the animals. 

       I told my father the story of finding the dog outside the door, holding the cow leg as if it was a stick for playing fetch.  

      He thought it was hilarious. 

Please Don’t Tell My Father

     When I was 13 years old, I was arrested for shoplifting.

      I realize this may sound implausible to you, gentle reader, but it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.  

      When I about 11 years old, I was at a local convenience store with my father.  

       Outside, a little kid–a year or two younger than me–tried to run across the street.  No crosswalk, no lamp.  He was jaywalking.  Or jayrunning.  We saw it through the window. 

        The boy was hit by a car.  It only side-swiped him, thank God, but he was knocked spang off his feet and fell to the blacktop as if he’d been hit by a lightening bolt.  

        A few of the adults around me screamed.  Another said, Oh my God. 

         My father ran outside and into the road. Traffic just kept going by.  

      Then he picked the boy up and carried him back inside the store.  He laid him on the floor in front of the cash register, by all the candy and chewing gum.  

       The shop owner was calling an ambulance. 

        The boy was sobbing hysterically.  His arm was fucked up.  There was no blood, but it was bent funny and he couldn’t move it right.  

       The rest of him seemed to be okay, thank God. 

        My father was crouched on the floor next to him, looking into his eyes.  He told the boy that he was going to be all right.  He told the boy to try to stop moving.  He told the boy that an ambulance was coming to help.  He asked the boy for his parents’ phone number. 

        Do you know what the boy said?  The first words out of his mouth, after all the crying and screaming in pain and fear…?

       I’ve never forgotten it.  I was standing right there.  I was so scared that my face was numb.  He was a blond boy in jeans. Skinny.  Hair was wispy and unkept.

       “Please don’t tell my Dad!  Don’t tell my Dad!  He’ll be mad at me!  I don’t want him to hit me!  I’m sorry!  He’s going to be so mad!”

        There you have it.  Little boy gets hit by a car, suffers pain of broken arm, and his first thought is: My father is going to be angry with me.

        I’ve never seen my father cry–I’ve never seen any of the men in my family cry, come to think of it, and my mother only three or four times–but he looked close to tears then.

         He put his hand on the crown of the boy’s head and looked into his eyes and said: “Your father will not be mad at you.  It’s not your fault.”

         “But I broke the ruuuuuuuuules!” cried the boy.  

          I assume he meant the rules for crossing the street, but I have no idea. 

          Two years later, I was arrested for shoplifting.  

          I stole a sandwich, a can of Dr. Pepper, a Snickers candy bar, and a lip gloss (hey, in for a penny, in for a pound).  

          The first words out of my mouth were: “Please don’t tell my father.”

        The cop who detained me looked confused.  She asked me why I stole a sandwich.  A sandwich?

         I thought fast: “My friends dared me to do it.”

         She wrote that down in her report and lectured me to not be a sheep.  The moron. 

         I stole the food because I was staying with my father and he’d forgotten to feed me for a day and a half and I was losing my mind. 

         But when I was caught, all I could think was: Please don’t tell my father.



“He Used to Do That to Me!”

     Like his predecessor, Joseph Stalin, my father had a sense of humor. 

     Several times when I was taking a nap as a child in my father’s house, he would change into all-black clothing and put a ski mask on his head.  

      Then he would get a butcher knife from the kitchen and wake me up by poking me with something.  I’d wake up and and see this strange man standing over me, holding a knife.

      I doubt that I have to describe my reaction…though, after the first few times I came to recognize it as a trick, and so he ceased doing it. 

       I told my mother this story for the first time a few years ago.

       “He used to do that to me!” she said, eyes wide in recognition.  “He did that to me a few times when I was in the shower!  Scared me to death!  It happened to me, too!”

         Well, I told the story to my analyst–my father’s joke and my mother’s reaction. 

        She looked appalled. 

         “Margo, that is not a normal reaction.  Your mother’s reaction was not normal.”

        “What do you mean?  She said that it happened to her, too.”

       “I know, but the reaction shouldn’t be ‘he did it to me!’ but ‘I can’t believe that bastard did that to you! That’s terrible!'”



        I don’t know.  So confused.