“While neurosis rules, all life becomes a symbolic play….The childhood creates a set of characters which become myths.” --Anais Nin
From the still summertime trees came the loud buzzing of a zillion cicadas. I was on the porch, examining myself. I thought my little cock was peculiar. It looked exactly like the fireplug on the illustration on the white paper bag large round loaves of bread came in. I twirled my cock clockwise and—surprise! It got stiff and stood up. And then, when I twirled it counter-clockwise, it went down.
A fascinating phenomenon! I couldn’t figure it out. I knew it was worthy of careful examination, like taking the back off a radio to see what makes it capture voices and music from the atmosphere. I wondered: Did they make fireplugs look like a cock because both can squirt liquid? Probably. There’s a reason for everything, all you have to do is look to find out what it is.
But in addition to the fireplug, there also was an illustration of a little boy. He was grinning as he held a huge round loaf of bread against his chest. In his hand was a long sharp knife, and he was cutting himself a slice. Well, that boy obviously didn’t have a grandmother like mine. Not too long before, I wanted to duplicate the actions of the little boy on the bread bag, so I went to the drawer in the kitchen and took out a knife just like the one in the illustration. My grandmother Josephine, who never missed a thing, spotted me and shouted that I must NEVER go to that drawer and take a sharp knife because I will cut myself and bleed to death.
My playing with my cock made her as angry as my taking the knife out of the drawer, but I knew they were entirely different situations. She was right about one, but wrong about the other. I could see no possibility of harm in twirling my cock. So early on I was presented with clear evidence that these omnipotent adult gods running around angrily barking orders aren’t perfect.
In the face of her anger at my cock twirling I wasn’t embarrassed. I just wondered: Why is she so bent out of shape? The sun was shining. The front porch’s deck was covered by a mat of woven blonde straw, rough but pleasant. I was serene in my playful investigation of strange bodily phenomena. She towered over me, light reflecting off her rimless glasses, shouting. But I did not fear her. Why?
Maybe in breast feeding me before she left, my mother gave me what my psyche needed to enable me to withstand my grandmother’s irrational bullshit. My grandmother Josephine did not succeed in making me ashamed of myself.
At St. Xavier’s Monsignor, with his perverted Augustinian theology, picked up the challenge of instilling shame in me, but he didn’t succeed either, at least not to the extent he confidently expected. It didn’t take me long to discover everything he preached about the vile sin of masturbation was absurd. No, actually horridly immoral. How much anguish did that toxic theological crap cause innocent little boys over the centuries? And who gave these self-proclaimed holy men the right to force this stupidity on people?
Not much about grandmother Josephine’s memory elicits strong emotion in me. She merely was. Among the vivid images I have is her is sitting on the pot, forearms on her bony knees, a folded square of toilet paper in her hands. She’d carefully folded it into a perfect square because she was a neat freak. Everything had to be just so.
Why, you should have seen her when she discovered the white cat had shat behind the piano. Oh, my god, she went totally insane with anger. She grabbed the broom and chased that cat all over the house. It darted here and there, and crouched low to the carpeted floor in terror, until finally she drove it out the front door. That’s how she was.
She saw me looking at her sitting on the pot, and yelled at me to get out. She didn’t want to be looked at. This was private. Little boys not allowed.
I don’t recall a single instance of physical contact with her. She never held me, or kissed me, or I should say I have no memory of it if she did. It just wasn’t like her to show physical affection. She was a tall scarecrow who looked real from a distance, but up close she was just full of straw.
So when she died I felt nothing. You can’t miss something you never had. They put her coffin in the living room, up against the wall beneath a huge framed photograph of a man and woman. They stared out, grim and unsmiling, just like her. At that wake they had all kinds of food and drink laid out on tables both in the house and out in the back yard. Many people crowded into the house, and they smoked and drank and ate and talked.
I remembered at St. Xavier’s, toward the end of mass, the altar boys came with woven straw baskets with long handles and took a collection. Those baskets soon overflowed with dollar bills, like a heap of leaves. Crowds seemed eager to fill baskets with money.
I had an idea. I went to the pantry, and removed the neatly folded napkins from a shallow woven straw tray, and I went through that smoking, drinking and talking crowd and announced I was taking a collection. They smiled, and dropped in bills and coins. It got very heavy by the time my father saw what I was doing. He and his sister, my aunt, were astonished. And embarrassed, too. They didn’t need charity, no sir, and they didn’t want anyone to think they did. So they scurried about, telling everyone to take back what they’d given me.
At this moment, right now, as I’m writing these words in my notebook, I have the weird sensation that I’m back there among those people. Here, in the back yard, under the apple tree, near the rusted steel posts of an old swing, I see them clearly. And my skin crawls when I see my father and aunt’s physical features slowly changing, morphing. Astonished, I recognize who they are starting to resemble, who they are being transformed into. They are becoming Vittoria’s parents, Giovanni and Columba! I look at my hands and they are changing, and I know that I’m being transformed too…into Vittoria. She and I are merging, as my family is merging with hers. Hers are mine, mine are hers. We are one. As we have always been.
Like Vittoria in that little village of Buonopane on Ischia I experience the looks of astonishment on all those adult faces. They say: Incredible! Bizarre! Oh, holy Jesus Christ! Look at what the little kid is doing, have you EVER seen anything like it?
And these people won’t let it go. They seem to become more and more agitated. As if an evil mystical seed is sprouting inside their heads, and growing at an astonishing rate, just filling their heads with a tangled mass of green growth, squeezing their brains and making them crazy.
Little Vittoria gets these looks all the time. She is different from them, all right. And so am I. We always have been, from one lifetime to the next.