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John Palcewski's Journal

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Italia o Morte

I had a successful career as an editor and photojournalist but I could never document the traumas of my childhood. That is, until my father—and all the rest of my tormentors—finally died. I suppose I feared being called a liar. I could see his glare, and hear his words: “You phoney, worthless piece of shit.” I could hear my step brother, his adopted son, saying: “How can you write those fucked up things about about Chester? He’s a kind and loving man, why can’t you see that?”

In those days I couldn’t write any of it as journalism or memoir. I sure as hell couldn’t make it fiction simply because I’ve never had enough imagination. I tried hard, but similes and metaphors eluded me, and everybody knows if a story doesn’t have these clever figures of speech, well, it just can’t be a story. Or so they say.

OK, from the beginning my father’s toxicity was steady and relentless. Like, uh, what you find in a cave. The calcium-carbonate-laden water drips from the ceiling and forms a stalactite. And below, over time, a stalagmite gradually rises up the meet the source of its being. Both are phallic, but one begets the other. Chester was hard, and he made me hard. At least for the first two thirds of my adult life. Which I now profoundly regret.

But I’m not at all like him anymore. Thank God!

He lied repeatedly. About my mother. About who I was. And now that he and the rest of them are dead I may say whatever I please. I might invent stuff and make him look even worse than he was. Which would spin him around a couple of times in his grave. Ha!

But the plain truth will be sufficient. I don’t need to lie.

The delayed news of his death elicits a flood of memories. A series of carefully focused images. Precise, literal, and unforgiving. With lots of highlights, gray tones, and great shadow detail. That, in the darkroom, is what makes a good print.

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I know exactly how you feel, John. I didn't begin to start recovering from my depression until my main abuser was dead and buried. I even had a morbid fascination, sitting at her bedside just after she passed. I took in her hollow cheeks, her waxy complexion, and her slack mouth. Inwardly, I grieved for her but also felt a sense of relief that she was finally gone. No longer did I need to avoid my grandfather because I couldn't stand being around Grama, and no longer did I need to worry about her overbearing, judgemental negative attitude. No one else in the family understood, and my mother and sister in particular wailed at her funeral, obviously trying to dramatize their grief.

Grama was two-faced, with a dark side no one believed was there. Except me, who was often the brunt of her rage. She made me crazy with her brutalization, and when I looked at her dead body lying in the living room where she once beat me with a broom handle til it broke, I finally felt free.

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