John Palcewski (forioscribe) wrote,
John Palcewski

I Used To Be My Father's Son

Yesterday a small cloud moved over the sun and suddenly bright narrow beams shone outward, all around, like the gold sunburst on the monstrance at St. Xavier’s. But this awesome sight did not move me, I simply saw it as natural and commonplace, nothing special.

And now this morning I'm still numb. I have no interest in anything on this computer, or the stupid TV. I don't want to listen to music. Or write, or read. Or go out on another walk. Can't bear to stay in here, either. I'm annoyed by the awful rattle of an Ape on the road, and resent the constant barking of the hysterical, hyperactive dogs in the adjoining vineyard.

When I lie down on the bed, I want to get up and sit in my chair. When I'm in this chair I want to lie down on the bed. I want to crawl out of my skin. I want fly away, to somehow escape this angst. I’m not suicidal, but I wouldn’t mind at all if a lightning bolt suddenly put me out of my fucking misery.

Is there really peace in death? Probably not, considering all the terror that comes from thinking about it.

So why does Maria’s silence bother me so much?

I guess it’s a guy thing. All about power, control. So when sweetpea puts herself out of my reach, I get completely bent out of shape because I can no longer impose my will upon her. But wait a minute. When in hell have I ever made that woman do anything she didn’t want to do? Who controls whom in this ridiculous trans-Atlantic relationship?

Why do I get so crazy when I’m not in control?

Because as a child I was always under the thumb of an abusive tyrant. He made it clear he wished I didn’t exist. In that vulnerable state I worked hard to get whatever power I could. I devised various coping strategies. An early one was putting on a “wounded little boy” act. I knew the sight of me—a skinny little kid in dirty clothes and a mournful expression—melted some people’s hearts. Especially Caroline’s, my kind and sympathetic next-door neighbor.

After puberty I discovered the utility of my masculine energy, my sexual aura. I perfected a cutting, penetrating Byronic stare, which made women dizzy and weak in the knees. That’s how I kept Barbara in line, and of course my victimizing satisfied her own twisted need to be a martyr.

Another effective tactic was my implied threat of physical or emotional violence. I pretended I was struggling to contain enormous anger, to which I was surely entitled, given my rotten childhood. And it looked like I just might snap at any moment. It was just a shameless bluff, an act entirely for effect, but by God I could be truly scary whenever I wanted.

I was my father’s son, all right. I employed nearly every aspect of his nauseating, abusive personality.

And then there was my intelligence, my verbosity, my highly refined skills at slippery rhetoric. A natural born debater, I never lost any argument. I won every time, even when I was dead wrong. This frustrated people, made them deeply resent me.

Maybe all the women in my life had one thing in common: emotional unavailability. Which was precisely my mother’s great shortcoming. And my father’s as well. Over and over again I tried to get from women what my parents refused or were unable to give.

But is that really true? Maybe it’s more accurate to say that in my romantic partners I repeatedly sought out models of my parents so I could neutralize them. No, to change them. Render them incapable of hurting me any more.

To date how many women have I changed or neutralized?


When I was three I sat on the steps behind the railing of the staircase, gripping the narrow white posts like bars of a jail cell, watching a tall thin man in Army khakis pull out a Honolulu grass skirt from his olive green duffel bag. A look of utter disapproval appeared on Grandma’s face when he produced, one after another, three yellow-labeled fifths of Seagram’s 7.

He explained the grass skirt was what the whahines wore when they danced the hula. They did the hula at luaus, where everybody sits on grass mats and eat poi with their fingers. Poi is a white pasty stuff that doesn't taste very good. But boy, do those Hawaiians know how to play a ukelele! Now it's funny about these wahanines in the grass skirts. When you first get to the island they are fat and ugly, you wouldn't touch them with a ten foot pole. You know? But the longer you stay on the island, the better they look. Ha ha ha.

Oh, his dark dancing eyes and his flared nostrils! He was so full of himself. A warrior returning from the great Allied victory over the Nazis and the Japs. Well, OK, as sergeant in charge of the Scholfield Barracks post office he may not have ever seen combat, but he was nevertheless a true American hero! Wasn’t he?

He tells Grandma that as soon as he finishes unpacking, he’s going to celebrate. Yep. He’ll be eagerly greeted at the Polish League of American Veterans. There will be drinks all around. On the house. And there will be wild dancing with willing women. Lots of them.

Grandma tells him: “Chester, say hello to your son.” He turns, looks at me hiding behind the posts of that staircase railing. He says too loudly: “Hey! C’mere!”

I shake my head. No. I don’t want to go to him because he is a stranger, and he is SCARY. My refusal to obey annoys him. He again orders me to come to him, and I again refuse. His eyes flash. His angry gaze penetrates me like a knife. It’s my very first conscious experience of the man.

In my childhood I was drawn to the world of the mind. I believed emotions were useless, dangerous. I wanted to be a scientist who peers through a microscope and learns what things are really made of. Science says that every effect has a cause. If you can learn all the causes, you’ll be able to predict effects rather than being surprised by them.

Surprise for me always meant pain. My father's behavior was erratic, wholly unpredictable. I never knew what would piss him off. At the same time I desperately sought his approval. Affirmation. But he withheld it. His clever game was hinting that he just might love me if only I could guess the secret password.

Come on, Johnny. Guess!


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