welcome to me
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Copyright © 2003 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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volume one: the crib years
We're back in the third floor walk-up on Steamboat Road, in 1951, watching me toddle past with still another phone book to add to my pile beneath the window overlooking Greenwich Harbor. This time, instead of staying here, we're going to float out through the open window. Down below, in the street, a Buick Torpedo and a Mercury station wagon pass by. We rise higher, the blueness and black piers of the Harbor, the town itself, dwindling below, only a few of the shrinking rooftops sporting the twinkle of a TV antenna, rise high enough to discern, at the pale horizon, the world's curvature.
Although Greenwich is only fifty miles from New York City, America's largest metropolis, in this cartoon sky there is only one airplane, a DC-6B, the brand new flagship for American Airlines, slowly, noisily climbing to the clouds on two propellers. There are no satellites, since we're still six years away from the USSR's launch of the first "artificial satellite", Sputnik.
The sky, in fact, except for that buzzing DC-6B, within which the passengers, nearly all male, in the haze of exhaled cigarette smoke, are making drunken sexual innuendoes to the stewardesses, looks the same as it has for millions of years.
We blow back down, onto Greenwich Avenue, the main business district of town (the mile or so of which I must have walked thousands of times over my childhood between my parents' house and my grandparents'), breezing through the brains of the men and women on the sidewalks, most of them now dead, nearly all the men in suits, the ones without at least wearing ties, the women in dresses or skirts, most of both wearing hats.
World War Two ended only six years ago, in 1945, with the surrender of Germany on May 7, and the surrender of Japan on August 14. Japan's surrender was hastened by America's use of the newly-created "Atomic Bomb", a bomb so powerful it was described by survivors as "a second sun in the sky". In Hiroshima, the first bomb, "Little Boy", killed, either immediately or afterwards, as a result of radiation poisoning, two hundred thousand people. Life Magazine showed black and white photographs of free-standing walls in Hiroshima where the shadows of people atomized by the blast were still visible across the bricks. Harry S. Truman is in the White House. Winston Churchill is the Prime Minister in England.
Instead of returning to the third story walk-up, we're going about a mile north, to Lake Avenue, and a little bit further in time, to the early sixties, to the house on Lake Avenue where I spent most of my childhood, two-stories high, large attic above, high-ceilinged cellar below.
The cellar was in fact three cellars. Entrance from the house was through a door in the kitchen, kept closed with a hook and eye lock. You clomped down some wooden stairs, made a turn halfway in your descent on a landing of loose boards, clomped some more, and came out on the stone floor which, because it was stone, in fact the top of a huge boulder, bedrock, is uneven. Looking up, I can see old brown rafters holding the floor above in place. The walls are granite. There's a huge oil-burning furnace in the middle of the cellar, with an immense cylindrical tank lying on its side under one of the small windows (the oil truck fills our storage tank by passing a hose through the window into an uncapped opening atop the tank). A few naked light bulbs hang from the ceiling, the type with pull chains. On rainy days, there are ropes strung across the space, weighed down with wet wash.
To the left, a wooden door leads to a smaller cellar, which runs alongside the main cellar, long and narrow, also granite-walled, with a latched wooden door at its front leading to the driveway. The wall here is so old the concrete used to hold the irregularly-shaped blocks of granite together is crumbling, so that I can dig my small fingers into its graininess, producing a yellow pile of concrete dust on the floor near my sneakers. After years of doing this, there are all sorts of hollows in the wall, in which I've displayed various toys, mostly green plastic soldiers.
Inside the main cellar again, but this time to the right, way up below the floor joists, is what looks like a cave entrance. In order to crawl up into it, I have to climb up on the wobbly table underneath, then scale the upper wall, raw rock on this side. It's not easy to do, and sometimes I slide back a foot. The interior of the cave, once I've pulled myself up into it, elbows and sneakers, is about the size of a car, dirt-walled, too low to stand up in, even for a kid. A filmy, two-paned window at the rear of the cave looks out at our detached, granite garage.
I spent a lot of time in the cellar. Neither my mother nor my father went down there very often, parents preferring to be above-ground, so I could play undisturbed for hours, climbing up into the cavern, digging holes in its earthen walls, dropping rocks and clothespins down into the oil tank, hollowing out more of the concrete between the granite slabs in the narrow side-cellar. It was scary down there, occasionally coming across the slowness of a daddy long legs on the granite wall, not knowing what it was thinking, other than that it was obviously, in its sudden eight-legged pause, aware I was aware of it, in some ways even more scary when I'd hear my parents' feet clump across the floor above. They sounded like giants. I felt near to them, down there, but distant, too.
When I was about twelve, in the early sixties, before the Beatles, I ran away from home. I had been planning it for over a year, and maybe even longer, since time passes differently in childhood. Up in my bedroom, on the second floor, in my bookcase, I had secreted in the leaves of my books one dollar and five dollar bills I had collected from birthdays and lawn-mowings to fund the trip. The books themselves, most of them, I had ordered by mail from Grove Press. My parents, non-readers, would cheerfully pass them over to me once they were delivered, glancing at the titles, The Unexpurgated Writings of the Marquis deSade, The Story of O, proud they had a boy who read so much, without having any idea of the books' contents (years later, when I moved out for good, I left a lot of my books behind. On a visit, having dinner in the small dining room, to which my father had added, against one wall, a built-in bookshelf, I noticed all my old books, deSade and all the other pornography, proudly displayed. It's probably a good thing they never looked inside them, or invited anyone over who read. The only book I ever remember them opening during my childhood was the dictionary, to try to look up words I used. I recall one evening, both my parents holding onto the opened hardcover dictionary, telling me they had tried looking up 'cliché', because I had told them everything they said was a cliché, I say 'try to look up' because they couldn't locate the word, and were now asking me how to spell it).
Once I had enough money, I thought, to leave, I packed a suitcase for myself that evening, hid it under the bed. The next morning, I went downstairs for breakfast, talked for a moment to my dad, he in his blue-gray mailman's uniform, cheerful and ruddy-faced, ready to leave. He banged his back against the screen door in the kitchen. "Okay, see you tonight." (No you won't, I thought). I went back upstairs, got ready for school, ran back down the stairs, opened the front door. "Bye, mom!" "Bye, Bobby!" As always, I shut the front door with firm hand, only this time, I was still inside. I hid in a downstairs closet until my mother went up the stairs, as I knew she would, and snuck out of the closet, walked very quietly to the kitchen, to the cellar door, unhooked the hook from the eye, closed the door behind me, and crept down the wooden stairs. I waited in the shadows of the cellar for a long time, eventually hearing my mother's shoes tapping above me. Would she notice the basement door was unhooked? I heard the back door open, close. Crouching low, looking through one of the filmy cellar windows, I saw her feet stride past towards her car, and felt a terrible pang. That was the last time I would ever see her, I thought, and she didn't even know. I felt near to her, in my observing her leave, but distant, too.
Having the whole house to myself now, I went back up the cellar stairs, opened one of the cabinet doors under the counter in the kitchen, maneuvered a crowbar behind a tall piece of board my father had nailed into a corner of the cabinet, behind which everyone in the family tossed their small change, for vacations, and yanked the board down, silver and copper spilling across the linoleum floor.
While I had been hiding in the cellar, trying to think of different things to occupy my time, and nervously trying to project myself into the near future, all this tense part behind me, living peacefully on my own houseboat moored in New York City Harbor, I remembered the coin cache, and realized there was a lot of money there that would come in handy until I found a job. Last time the family had opened the spare change trove, there was over a hundred dollars inside, a fortune back then, especially to a kid.
I ran upstairs and shook a pillow case off, brought it back down. The coins were still spilled heavily across the floor. No going back now, and maybe that was another reason I had violated the family bank, to make my decision to run away irreversible.
At first I scooped up coins indiscriminately, sliding them noisily into the pillow case, but as that soft case got heavier and heavier, and I realized I'd have to haul it around with me on my adventure, I started picking out the quarters and dimes, leaving the pennies and nickels behind.
I sat at the phone table in the dining room, picked up the receiver, waited for the operator to come on the line, and in a confident voice asked for the Greenwich Taxicab Company.
The cab arrived about fifteen minutes later.
I remember it was a man driving the cab, of course, back then, but I don't remember anything about how he reacted to this kid getting into his cab with a small valise, and a pillow case obviously weighed down with coins. In any event, he took me to the Greenwich Bus Depot. I wonder what I tipped him.
I also don't remember if I intended to catch a bus to New York City, and if I did intend that, what changed my mind. As it was, I bought a ticket to the nearest city, Stamford, which was much larger than Greenwich (though much smaller than New York City). I do remember sitting on the bus as it accelerated and decelerated between stops, looking out the window, feeling lonely, my bag of coins on my lap. I believe a nice, middle-aged lady was seated next to me, smiling at me when I took my seat beside her, but otherwise saying nothing. Once the bus arrived in Stamford, I stepped down onto a busy city sidewalk I had never been on in my life, with no one around who knew me. (When I was smaller, probably only four or five, my parents and I were at the beach one day, probably Todd's Point in Old Greenwich, lying on a blanket, when my father gave me some money to buy a hotdog and soda. I didn't understand why he was handing me the money, since he always paid for everything from his own hand. "You can go by yourself. We'll wait here." I looked at the distant concession stand, all the hundreds of people in between, feeling excited and nervous. I found my way to the stand without a problem, since it was clearly there, and probably had to wait extra long to get my dog, bigger kids cutting in front of me, but the real problem arose when I turned around from the stand, revolving the entire world, hot dog in one hand, soda in the other, and had to walk back to my parents, since I couldn't see them from this distance. I walked back in their general direction, drifting closer and closer to the shoreline, dodging all these people going into and out of the ocean, kids running by, and at some point I wasn't sure if I had walked past them, since our blanket was higher up on the drier sand. As I kept stumbling forward, moving slower now, I whipped my head around, looking for them, starting to panic. Finally, I came to a dead stop. Which is when my father showed up, getting down on his knees, grinning, pointing up the sand at my mother. I actually hadn't been that far away).
Once I got off the bus in Stamford, I started down the sidewalk. The first thing I wanted to do was get a hotel room, preferably one with a TV. Now, decades later, I find it absurd I ever thought I would be able to support myself at the age of twelve, but back then, I was serious. It also astounds me no one stopped this little boy carrying a suitcase in one hand, weighed-down pillow case in the other. But no one did. Fortunately, there was a hotel about a block or so down the street, because my pillowcase was getting heavier and heavier. It was one of those old city hotels that looked like it had been built a half century ago, in other words in the early nineteen-hundreds, grimy stone front, a small brass plaque with the hotel's name bolted into the stone by the entrance (I wish I could remember the name, I almost can, but I can't). I climbed the stone stairs to the lobby, which at this mid-morning hour was nearly deserted, walked across to the front desk.
There was an older man behind the check-in counter, which I remember as being in the center of the lobby, and square-shaped. He asked if he could help me.
"I'd like a room for the night." (I had rehearsed this line many times).
He actually let me pay for the room, which I did with a combination of bills and coins, and sign in, before he asked me why I was getting a room. I hadn't counted on that, but in a burst of inspiration told him my grandfather was sick, and I had to visit. Couldn't I stay at my grandfather's? There are too many people there already, relatives. There aren't any beds. He sighed, handed down to me the key, pointed towards the elevators. "Does the room have a TV?" It didn't, but there was one in the lobby.
A porter took my suitcase. I hung onto my bag of coins. I don't recall if we exchanged any words in the elevator. Upstairs, at the end of a carpeted hall, he put my key in the lock. I went in first, trying to act self-confident, only coming up to the lower buttons of his shirt. I tipped him a quarter.
The room had a bed, no bathroom, a radiator under the one window. (Mentioning the radiator reminds me that a few years later, when I was seventeen, had dropped out of high school after my first day of Senior year, and had gotten a job at Brooks Brothers in New York City, I told my parents I wanted to live on my own, in the city. Although they were both nervous about the idea (only seventeen, New York City), they finally agreed. I rented a hotel room, a tiny one, all I could afford on the sixty-seven dollars a week I earned at Brooks Brothers (I had just gotten a raise), a room filled with a bed and the overpowering heat from the radiator in that room, the bathroom down the hall, but after a couple of nights, and realizing that with the rent I could only afford to eat about once a day, my old room in the family house looked pretty good, so I moved back home. I eventually left home for good when I turned twenty-one).
Back to me at twelve, running away from home. After I put my suitcase and the bag of coins on the bed I went downstairs, bought a copy of the Stamford Advocate, the city's daily newspaper, went back up to my room, sat on the hard bed, and opened the paper to the want ads.
I remember there were a lot of ads for accountants, and the pay was pretty good, but you had to have a degree in accounting to apply. I hadn't yet finished grade school. Discouraged, I went back down to the street, deciding to take a walk to see if I could find a job that way. I remember at the time trying to get my confidence back by telling myself I'd find a movie theater somewhere on this street, lie about how old I was (I was tall for my age), and apply for a job as a movie usher. Most of the people I passed on the busy downtown sidewalk simply ignored me since I was a kid, but a few well-dressed women smiled nicely at me. I began to feel pretty good, looking around at the tall buildings, which I associated with sophistication. Bringing my eyes back down to the street at one point, I noticed up ahead, on the sidewalk, what looked like a small picture. I walked over to it, bent down, picked it up. It was a playing card, the Joker. You could tell it had been stepped on quite a few times. I decided to hang on to it (I still have it, forty years later), as an emblem of my adventure, and at the same time that I decided that, I also decided I didn't want to run away from home after all. I think I walked one additional block, and in one of those coincidences in life, I did finally come across a movie theatre, but by then my mind was made up. I had taken my journey, and knew that this time, at this age, it had to end.
As I went back into the lobby, a woman was talking to the middle-aged man behind the front desk, the one who had checked me in. She had a card in her hand, as it turned out my check-in card, and was asking the man about me. From what she was saying, I could tell it seemed suspicious to her a boy of twelve would check into a hotel on his own.
The man looked up to see who was in the lobby, and said, "Well, there he is now."
I walked over, swallowing. "Good news! It turns out there's room for me to stay at my grandfather's after all, so I won't be needing the room."
They both looked relieved.
I got my stuff from my room, looked around at the walls, even more sure now that this wasn't the way to the future, at least not the future I wanted, and went back downstairs. I called my father from a pay phone in the lobby (I had plenty of change for the toll charge). I don't remember the conversation, but we can safely assume he and my mother were glad to hear from me.
I waited out in front of the hotel. About a half hour later he pulled up in the family car, alone. "So why'd you run away, pal?" (That's what he called me back then, until one time, a year or so later, throwing a tantrum over something I'm sure was unimportant, I told him to never, ever call me pal again, and he never did).
The thing I remember most about this whole incident was when my father and I got back home, my mother standing inside the living room. She had obviously been crying, had stopped, and wasn't sure what she should do. I know she wanted to hug me, but instead she reached out a hand, gingerly touched my arm, as if to make sure I was really back home, and also maybe because she thought I might break if she touched too hard. That evening, they took me out to buy me toys, which really surprised me, but in one of the toy aisles, after we had already selected a few, I told them I really didn't want any, they didn't have to buy me anything. They also engaged me in conversation more for a week or so, as if that had been the problem, not paying more attention to me.
So why did I run away from home? Part of it was the romance of the idea. A year or so earlier I had seen a movie, the name of which I've long forgotten, about a young boy and girl who run away together. They were pre-pubescent, so it wasn't as if they were boyfriend or girlfriend, although the suggestion was that the relationship might, after a few years, develop into that happy state. I remember one scene where they were both working their way, with a suitcase, down the slope of a roof, I think trying to escape from a pursuing adult, and at that point I fell in love with the whole notion of two kids being on their own, surviving together by helping each other, in an adult world.
After that, previous to my own run-away, I'd stand on the sidewalk in front of our house (Lake Avenue was a fairly busy street), especially at dusk, watching the cars drive by, always looking at the rear window to see if there were a girl my own age behind the glass, and if there were, wondering what it would be like, from that quick glimpse, to run away with her.
Part of it too was my wish, even at that young an age, to be out in the world, on my own.
Occasionally, over the years, I encounter the number 133, and it always reminds me of my childhood home, on 133 Lake Avenue, in Greenwich, where my parents were younger than I am now, and there were only two worlds, the one outside the windows, of which I knew almost nothing, and the world of the rooms within, where the three of us, eventually the five of us, lived and fought and made up. Mostly, when I see the number 133, I think of my mother. She had unconditional love for me, and was a help to me throughout her life (she died in 1998, a few days after my forty-eighth birthday). Flipping through the wide black pages of my parents' photo album, I'd notice that in all the black and pearl, white scallop-edged pictures of her as a child, her face would be peeled out, white fluff amid the glossiness. "I didn't like the way I looked," she'd say, although she was a beautiful woman, even given a son's bias.
My earliest memory is chaotic. Hoisted in my father's winter-coated arms, being carried outside from the warmth to the cold, from pleasure to pain, my mother's reddened face floating nearby above a colorful, pale silk scarf, to the station wagon, swinging my head around at the frozen shrubbery outside the screened-in porch we had emerged from, everything swinging around me, still too new and me too young to distinguish shapes and substance from mood and memory, everything swinging around me, swinging, swinging dizzyingly and wonderfully around me.
A year or so later, I'm on my back on the linoleum floor of our kitchen, my mother and father seated on spindly aluminum-legged kitchen chairs, me squealing and laughing on the floor as my camel-colored puppy (his name? Two syllables, but forever on the tip of my tongue) climbs atop me, snuffling and wagging his tail, black paws enjoyably heavy and pointy on my abdomen, sweet-smelling snout riding my shirt up to expose my skinny belly, himself a kid, taking at one point a nip in the excitement of inter-species friendship, me standing up afterwards, innocently showing my parents the small strawberry welt above my belly button, them deciding, despite my alarm at what was happening, despite my crying, my tiny fists hitting them, to take my dog away in the back of their station wagon, where he wagged his tail, if he did at all, for the last time.
For the first few years of my life, until I started school, my world consisted primarily of my parents, and relatives. I was rarely out of sight. I remember being told not to go upstairs on my own, for fear I might fall and break my neck, which left a mystery and excitement to staircases still with me. Adults during visits frequently spelled out words, so I wouldn't hear the forbidden pronunciation of what I'm sure were in fact quite ordinary oaths (I also remember coming across a short word I was unfamiliar with in the Greenwich Times while the family was visiting my mother's parents, my grandfather, after I spelled it out to him, surprisingly demurring to my father, who was brought from the kitchen into the living room, and who told me 'rape' meant something bad). I petitioned my mother to be allowed to run around naked inside the house, I didn't want to wear clothes, this was something I persistently asked for during my early years, for some reason always in winter, my mother telling me it was too cold for me to do so then, but that perhaps in summer I could, I'm sure hoping in summer, with all its distractions, I'd forget that urge, which indeed I always did.
There were strangers on the street, and in stores, but they were phantoms, passing by without contact, while my small hand was held (when I was quite small, only about five or so, my mother and me parking on Greenwich Avenue, getting out of the car in the rain to go to church, I abandoned my mother's umbrella to walk under the umbrella of a startled young woman probably in her twenties who I thought was absolutely beautiful, I think the first time I had that thought about someone, I remember my head "swimming" at her beauty, she and my mother chuckling over my too-obvious admiration as I was brought back under the protective rain rattle of my mother's umbrella.)
The only non-family member I remember from my early youth, under age ten, was the girl next door, Mary Ann Balkite, who would come over into our front yard each evening, where, under the supervision of my mother, she and I would dig holes. We each had a trowel in our right hand, taking turns making our mutual hole deeper and deeper, both of us getting dirtier and dirtier in the process. This was an activity I enjoyed quite a lot, and looked forward to during the day, but it ended badly, Mary Ann and me no longer being allowed to play together, and I do remember that it had to do with something that was done or said during one of our hole-digging sessions, but I don't remember if I was the one who did or said it, or Mary Ann, who was a year or two older than me. I was confused about why I couldn't dig holes with her anymore, and I have a vague sense of guilt about it, so it may very well have been that I said something to her, or did something with my hand while it didn't have a trowel in it, to which her parents objected. Although I once knew the answer to this question, I don't, forty years later, know now, so it will forever remain a mystery. In any event, we were forbidden to see each other again, and the holes I dug afterwards, I dug alone.
(My father and Mr. Balkite never got along. If you went out our back door, off our kitchen, you entered a screened-in porch my dad had built; going out the screen door, you were in what the family referred to as the "little back yard" (if you took the three steps up into a small grass lawn bisected by a concrete sidewalk, and then, at its back, climbed the dozen or so steps, with flanking handrails my grandfather built, you rose up into the "big back yard", where my mother would chase me around with a broom, pretending to be a witch, one of my favorite childhood games.) The little back yard looked over into the Balkite's property. As part of a years-long cold war between the Balkites and my father, my father and his brother Eddie erected an eight foot high wooden privacy fence at the property line, so neither family could see the other. Balkite, for whatever reason, placed tall metal storage cabinets against his side of this Berlin wall. I remember my father calling the police out once to complain that the metal storage cabinets were leaning against his barrier, and therefore weakening it, but the cops concluded that although the tops of the cabinets rested against the wooden wall the bottoms didn't, and therefore there was nothing they could do, which makes no sense whatsoever, but of course we're talking about cops, and childhood.)
During this whole time as a child I gradually became aware of the world. I remember sitting on the floor in the living room at my father's brother's home (my uncle Eddie), watching TV while both families got dinner ready, and for the first time experiencing the sensation of my legs falling asleep, pins and needles. I told my mother about it, alarmed, but she said it was normal. That disappointed me, that our bodies weren't perfect. I remember lying on my back on the grass in our backyard, for hours, watching the white clouds move by in the blue sky, fascinated by their slowness. I'd look at the tree-fringed horizon, sometimes, cheating, to see what cloud forms were going to be next. One day my father sat me on the family sofa in the living room, put a copy of the latest Life Magazine on my lap with its black and white cover, and slowly paged through it with me, to show me how a magazine worked. What I recall most from this lesson was him showing me how an article may sometimes be interrupted by a full-page ad, but that if you turned the page, sure enough, the text continued. My father also told me once that bear meat is stringy, and that tip, for whatever reason, is the one I remember most. In the mornings, after breakfast, I'd get ready for school in the upstairs bathroom (which my father had remodeled by nailing sheets of plywood in front of the large iron pipes that snaked along the walls, painting the plywood sheets, and elbows of pipe that protruded too far into the small room to be contained behind plywood, an unsettling shade of green, just one of a non-stop series of remodelings he did throughout the time I lived there, wallpaper going up, getting peeled down, medicine cabinets hung, taken down, carpet rolling out, getting ripped up). Brushing my teeth, or more likely just staring at my face in the mirror, deciding I needed a nose job, and slivers removed from the backs of my ears to not make them stick out so, I was in the phase where I was dissatisfied with the way I looked, I'd hear the milkman's truck brake to a halt in front of our home, and with thumb and index finger widen the space between two dusty venetian blinds so I could watch him pop out, one story below, in his white uniform and cap, striding briskly across our front lawn, swinging a wire basket filled with jingling glass bottles of cold milk, one or two of which he'd leave beside our back door, picking up all of the empty bottles but one, in the wide neck of which he'd slip a rolled invoice. As a treat, inside each bottle, floated on top of the milk, would be an inch of fresh, thick cream, which my mother would usually let me slurp, the clockwork of these morning visits, and the rolled invoice, my first clue to the commerce of the world.
Throughout my childhood, strange things happened to me which even now, half a century later, I can't make sense of.
I remember mentioning to my mother, when I was very little, probably four or five, as she tucked me into bed, that it was okay for her to leave, I'd just listen to the men and women singing in my pillow until I fell asleep. She inclined her head forward. "What, Bobby?" I assumed everyone heard the singing when they rested their ear against their pillow, getting ready for sleep, so it took a few questions from her before she understood what I was saying. The truth is, when I was small, I used to every night hear men and women singing in my head as I drifted off to sleep. It sounded like a choir, the male and female voices blending into and out of each other. It sounded like angels, very soothing. After they'd finish each song, there'd be a pause, like on a record, but without the static sound of the needle riding, then they'd start their next song. Again, because this was something I had listened to for as long as I could remember, it didn't strike me at all as being odd, and in fact I was puzzled by my mother's concern, at first. After quite a few questions from her, and the look on her face, I realized hearing the men and women singing wasn't normal, at all. She asked me at one point in what language they were singing, and I answered, but now, so many decades later, I can't remember my reply. I assume it was in English, but it might have been Latin. I don't remember, now, if I understood the words. I only know it gave me great peace to hear them. My mother told my father, who came into my bedroom with her, asking me a few gruff questions, as if we were discussing a pain. Eventually, my parents had a man come over to talk to me while I prepared for sleep that night. It wasn't a priest. He wore a suit. A few days later, my mother told me to ignore the voices whenever I heard them. The voices themselves told me I could continue to listen to them if I wanted to, or not, it was my decision, told me so rather gently, but I loved my mother, trusted her, and squeezed my ears shut whenever they'd start up. Eventually, they went away. I've never heard them since. All of this actually happened.
For most of my life I've had a recurring dream in which I'm a child again on the safe sidewalks of Greenwich, going into town under the trees, that part of the walk that isn't too populated, large front lawns and quiet streets, and suddenly, rather than walking, I start to glide forward, as if on a skateboard.
I'm astounded at first at this ability to not have to lift my knees, to just stand while I glide forward, but then I recall I've done this before, and in fact used to always glide over sidewalks, rather than walk. Each time, each dream, I'm certain at first I won't be able to glide this time, I'll have to walk like everyone else, but then I touch something in my mind, and I'm gliding.
This dream is similar to another recurring dream I've had for as long as I can remember, where I'm flying. I don't fly in a prone position, like Superman, belly down, arms out, but rather, always, in a seated position.
The dream usually starts with me in my childhood bedroom, the east window of which overlooked our driveway and granite garage, one story down. Someone is talking to me, reminding me about the times I flew in the air above my family's house.
Eventually, after they talk to me long enough, I remember that what they're saying is true. Sometimes in the dream, I open the east window to my bedroom, and step out onto the air, sitting on it as if it's a beanbag, eventually letting go of the opened window's bottom sill, bobbing slightly on the air, as if on water. Other times, I sneak downstairs, tiptoe past my parents' shut door off the living room, sneak out the screened back door, and, in the dark driveway, sit down on the air, surprised I don't fall backwards onto the gravel.
Either way, the voice coaches me, which usually takes about ten minutes, into getting into the right mind set, after which I start to jerk up into the air, in a barcalounger position.
Once I'm flying around in the air, swirling over the driveway, rising above our house's rooftop, I occasionally dip slightly, as I question my belief that I actually can fly, but I always get my faith back before I hit the driveway, and after a while, I have complete control over the seated flying. My family is sleeping, and here I am outside my bedroom window, flying around, over the tall treetops, over the cars, chasing their yellow headlights on the street below. It's exhilarating. Each time, it astounds me I forgot I had this ability.
When I was around eleven or so, while walking with my friend John along a dirt road in a poor section of town, I had a sense I was being watched, and turned around. Above the road behind me, at tree top level, was a large flying saucer. It was the classic shape, made of very bright metal, looking like aluminum, with portholes. It hovered absolutely motionless in the air, absolutely silent.
I immediately knew I was looking at something extraordinary. I felt no fear, only fascination.
I stared at it a long time, told my friend John to turn around. He wouldn't. I kept insisting he turn around to look at this absolutely incredible sight. I don't believe I told him what it was, a flying saucer, only that he should turn around, but he kept facing forward, refusing.
I know how all of this sounds, and I am well aware nearly everyone reading this will conclude I didn't actually see a flying saucer, I'm either making this up, or misremembering, or that I misperceived something ordinary as being a saucer. But I did in fact see it. It was quite close, and very distinct, like looking at a bus in the sky. I have a very clear memory of it, and in fact remember it more clearly than I remember many other incidents from my childhood.
Of all the memories of my early childhood, one of my fondest, and I think that even at that time I thought it would be an evening I'd remember, concerned something quite ordinary.
I was in our family's "big back yard", by myself. The yard was in fact quite large, and was one of the reasons, my parents said, for their buying this property. Flat lawn, tall hedges all around for privacy. To the left was a door leading into the garage's attic, where my father stored a lot of worthless metal scrap, floorboards unsafe, light shining through the wood in too many places. In front of the door to the garage attic was a vegetable garden we planted each summer, where I received my first scar, which I still have, between my right index and middle finger, in that webby hollow, when a yellow jacket settled there and backed his vibrating stinger into my flesh.
In front of the garden, still on the left, was an old, black-limbed pear tree, whose fruit I sometimes ate, inspecting each intended bite, and across whose upper limbs I built my only tree house, a sad, sorry structure of three flat boards nailed down, no walls or ceiling. I'd sit up in it occasionally, and it did have a thick rope hanging from its platform, both ends unraveled like straw, with knotted intervals in its coarse length for a quick ascent or descent.
The early evening I remember in the big back yard was when I went up there with a toy.
The toy was a small red rocket made of plastic, which you could fit into a blue plastic, hand-held launching pad.
The rocket had a hole in its bottom. You held the rocket upside down, filled it with water from a hose, then slid it upside down onto the launching pad. Once it was wetly secure, you'd use the straight-line pump at the back of the launching pad to pump as much air up into the rocket as possible, increasing the pressure within the rocket until it was ready to burst, pointing it at the sky, and slide back the tab holding the rocket to the pad, so the rocket would shimmy up into the air above the release of pressure.
The rocket itself was a wonderful, plastic ruby color. It was shaped in an art deco style, like something from a futuristic poster from the nineteen-twenties, with, around its bottom, three oversized fins that in the elegant utilitarianism of their lines looked pre-war German.
The key of course was pumping as much air as possible into the upright rocket, to get it to soar as high as possible. I can still recall how I'd clench my teeth, face turned sideways, forearm vibrating, trying to force just one last pump up into the ruby plastic.
All my life I've been fascinated by what we refer to, using that wonderfully scary term, as "outer space". I knew my little rocket could never reach the moon, but I thought I could pump so much air up into it the rocket would trail up into the clouds, which to me, a child, seemed the most romantic notion in the world, that something in my hands could touch, pierce, the late evening drifting clouds.
I never got one up that high. Often that evening, the wet spray of the lifting exhaust, God's spit, down the front of my t-shirt, I'd have to chase the rocket's descent through the hedges of several neighboring back yards, dogs barking in the gloom, back door bulbs creating rooms of yellow light off the porches, illuminating middle-aged men in white undershirts, while I retrieved the strange ruby egg nestled atop their garish green lawns, to try again, pump, pump, pump, the little ruby rocket sperming up, shrinking towards the emerald underbelly of the cloud mass.
Yet another example, of wanting to leave.
The child is father to the man, but at some point, like most fathers, that child dies. I used to be Bobby. Small, confused, fascinated. I was a good kid. I was funny. I was sincere. That child is gone, forever.
We're in the dining room again, me still only half as high as I would grow, being taught by my father how to put on a blazer. I remember both he and my mother telling me, repeatedly, No, don't put your arm in the right sleeve, then throw the rest of the blazer behind your back, trying to catch the soft hole for the left sleeve with your left hand. Instead, hold the blazer behind you, put both right and left hand in the armholes, then shrug the blazer up your arms until it's snug against your shoulders.
I was getting ready for my first day of school.