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Something Happened

Something Happened

Something Happened 33


  I was determined. He stood up, rubbing sand slowly from his palms, and walked off submissively in mute dejection without looking back. He was soon gone from sight behind the heads and torsos of other people jamming the shoreline. The amusement pier looked farther away than ever before, the beach more densely packed. I was afraid he'd get lost. (I was afraid I'd get lost if I had to do what I'd sent him to do.) "Why did you do it?" my wife asked critically, already repenting her own passive cooperation.

  "You wanted me to do it, didn't you?"

  I kept craning my neck to keep slim flashes of him in view for as long as I could and grew worried and sorry also as soon as he was gone.

  "I know," my wife admitted. She nodded absently. "I couldn't stand him hanging around here anymore."

  "Me neither."

  "He's always here. It breaks my heart."

  "Mine too."

  "He always looks so unhappy."

  "That's one of the things I can't stand."

  "Do you think he'll get lost?"

  "He can't get lost. It's that damned play group, damn them. None of this would have happened if they'd kept closer watch of things. I want him to see that he can go from place to place alone without having something terrible happen to him."

  "The beach is so crowded."

  "He won't get lost."

  He got lost.

  (At least we thought he was lost.)

  When twenty-five minutes passed and he did not return, we went surging after him in panic, my wife scurrying along the shore, myself trudging through deeper sand in the middle of the beach in the direction of the amusement pier. (I thought of homosexual perverts or of other kids from the play group spotting him, mocking him, ganging up on him.

  "The sky is falling!" I wanted to shout in horror at groups of adults I hurried past with a thundering heart. "Have you seen a little kid? He's lost. He'll look worried.") We found him standing by himself along the shore about two hundred yards away, floundering in one spot as though lost: he was not certain if he had overshot us already, and he did not know, therefore, in which direction to proceed. His cheeks were white, his eyes were distant, and his jaws were clamped shut. The tendons in his neck were taut, and he had a lump in his throat. The landmarks along the boardwalk--all those familiar signs and structures--meant nothing to him.

  My first impulse was to kill him.

  "Were you lost?" I shouted to him.

  "I don't know." He shrugged.

  I wanted to kill him. I was enraged and disgusted with him for his helplessness and incompetence (standing there like that on the sidewalk in town that day as though all the bones in his ankles were broken. I was ashamed of him and wanted to disown him. I was sorry he was mine), then I wanted to clasp him to me lovingly and protectively and shed tears of misery and deepest compassion over him (because I had wanted to kill him. Imagine having a father that wanted to kill you. That's the part they all leave out of the Oedipus story. Poor Oedipus has been much maligned. He didn't want to kill his father. His father wanted to kill him). I don't know what I felt when I found him standing there like that, immense gratitude that he was unharmed and intense, depressing disappointment over everything else, a terrible rush of ungovernable, dissonant emotions in which landmarks made no sense to me, either. (I don't always know what I feel now.) (I wish I were a chimpanzee.)

  The next day my wife and I had a scathing quarrel in the house over money and sex that had nothing at all to do with him (although he could not know that). We snarled and snapped and sneered at each other like barking jackals. She yelled at me and I yelled back (we called each other bastard and bitch and told each other to go fuck ourselves), and when I stormed away into the kitchen to fling some ice cubes into my glass of whiskey, nearly shattering it in my hand with my violent force. I heard my boy move into the living room timidly and say, softly, to my wife: "Should I go for a walk again? To the amusement pier?"

  I heard myself sigh. I wanted to weep.

  "Is that why Daddy's unhappy?"

  I felt myself feel so utterly awful.

  My wife came into the kitchen quietly.

  "Did you hear him?" she murmured, her anger against me gone. (I said nothing.) "He wants to know if he should go for a walk again. He thinks that's why you're unhappy now."

  "He did not," I denied finally, without spirit.

  "You must have heard him. Go ask him."

  "I don't believe you."

  "You get crazy when you're this way," my wife lamented. "I can't talk to you. None of us can. You won't listen and you won't see. Go ask him. Go see what he looks like if you don't believe me."

  I knew what I would see (and did not want to). I stepped around my wife without looking at her or touching her and walked into the living room. He was standing docile and repentant (as though he were to blame) near the door leading out to the porch, awaiting my directions. His skin was shaded blue. (He would do whatever I asked. He did not want me to be angry or unhappy because of him. His eyes were wide and serious. I have never before or since in all my life felt so totally cruel, so rotten, depraved, and inhuman. He was prepared to yield himself to any sacrifice I requested of him. I did not want him that way.) His look was expectant, grave, and resigned. I did not speak for a second. (I couldn't.) I had a lump in my throat.

  "From now on," I told him gently, "at least until the end of the summer, you won't have to do anything you don't want to do. And you'll be allowed to do everything you do want to do. Will that be okay?" My tone was tender, apologetic.

  His gaze was skeptical. "You mean it?"

  "I promise."

  "I love you, Daddy," he said, and rested his head against my belly to hug me peacefully. "You're the best daddy in the whole world."

  I am the worst daddy in the whole world.

  Yesterday, I helped a blind man across the street and was surprised that I did not feel revolted when I took his arm. (Actually, he took my arm. I started to grip his, but he told me: "No, let me hold on to yours.")

  I think I will do things like that more often (now that I see I can).

  I broke my promise to him many times.

  He continued to love me anyway.

  I identify with him too closely, I think, and remember that once, when he was still an infant in diapers, kicking his legs away as he lay on the Bathinette, rocking it perilously and raising a violent clatter and spray of powder cans and safety pins, my wife yelled to me urgently to come into the room and showed me a fiery red blotch on the side of the head of his penis. (It must have been minuscule, had to be, but appeared a gigantic blister at the time.) And I doubled over with a keen, slicing pain in my own penis the instant I saw the rough (small), flaming-red patch and cupped my hands over all my genitals reflexively to preserve and soothe them. It hurt then. It hurts now when I remember. I don't have to look to make certain nothing's there. Once when I was small I felt a stinging itch at the tip and saw a brown ant come crawling out, but I no longer tell this to anyone because nobody believes me. I guess I really do love this little thing of mine still, although I'm not sure why. Where would I be without it? Neuter. It had led me into strange places. I have led it. Through these thrilled and limp, leaking tissues have come decades of exquisite and often intolerable pleasures and three big, fully formed children who were mammoth in comparison to it, from the day they were born, one of them defective. In a factory he would be a reject. He suffers less than normal. We make up the difference. By and large, I believe I really don't get all that much pleasure out of it anymore, although I think I'd like to hold on to it a little longer, ha, ha. I don't always like putting it in, and I don't like taking it out. I wish there was something more to do with it than there is. Once in my early teens, I paid a younger cousin of mine, a girl, a dime to pull it for me and was terrified afterward that she would tell my mother or my brother or someone in her own family. I wonder if it warped her. It might have helped. She made me happy. For only a dime. I see her still as a dubious little girl, without a gleam of m
ischief or curiosity or sensuality of her own to enrich the experience for her. She was bored, and a little puzzled. I touched her gingerly. I molested a child. I was molested as a child. Everyone is molested. Maybe that's why I worry about my boy so much. I used to worry that way about my daughter. Now she is old enough to molest children on her own. I have paid much more than a dime many times since.

  In my middle years, I have exchanged the position of the fetus for the position of a corpse. When I go to sleep now, it is no longer on my side with my knees tucked up securely against my abdomen, and my thumb near my mouth. I lie on my back with my hands clasped across my chest decorously like a cadaver and my face pointed straight up toward the ceiling. I hear and feel myself start to snore, on nights when I am lucky; a loose, membranous thing vibrates tantalizingly in back of my throat with a deep, delicious, tickling sensation, and I am assuaged also by the satisfying possibility that my snoring will annoy my wife and interfere with her sleep. I can't stand it when I am unable to sleep and my wife does; I sometimes want to begin beating her with the side of my fists. I like it when I am able to sleep and she can't. When I awake, though, it is usually on my side, and one of my hands is still always between my thighs, near my genitals. I guess I do want to hold on to them all for as long as I can. I knew I was getting old when I started to have dreams about peeing. I awake with a full bladder and the momentary, shame-filled horror that I have already wet the bed. And that everyone will soon find out.

  I know at last what I want to be when I grow up.

  When I grow up I want to be a little boy.

  I'd like another chance. And then another. (And after that a couple of more. There were so many girls I could have laid when I was young and didn't because I didn't know I had the knack and could. I didn't know how easy it was. It never occurred to me then that they wanted to do it too. I didn't even have the urge. I fell in love instead. I'd like another crack. Ha, ha. I think I'd get the urge. When I grow up, I want to be someone dignified, tasteful, and important who does the things he does because he truly wants to and enjoys his work. I'd like to be William Shakespeare.) Maybe that's why I worry so much about my little boy (I identify with him too closely), why I grow somewhat frantic and exasperated whenever I see him bogged down, whenever I see him fail at something or even refuse to try. (Am I disappointed in him?) My daughter insists we are disappointed in her. I know I looked for something much different for all of us. I never became what I wanted to be, even though I got all the things I ever wanted, including two cars and two color TV sets. We are a two-car family in a Class A suburb in Connecticut. Advertising people and the U.S. Census Bureau prepare statistics that include us in categories of human beings enjoying the richest life. I wanted him carefree and confident, swashbuckling, able, successful, and dependent, so maybe I am disappointed in him, in everything but that last. Maybe that's why he's scared I want to take him someplace strange and dangerous and leave him there. Maybe I do. I have that same fear of something like that happening to him; I see him lost somewhere; and there is no hope he will ever be found. I know I fear for his safety more than I fear for my own, and this surprises me.

  When he's scared, I'm scared, even though I'm not scared of what he's scared of. (I get rattled when things don't go right for him. I wish I could be guaranteed now that he will never do anything more to upset me. I can't hit back.) When he quivers, I quake. My nose runs when he's got a cold; I sneeze too and my throat turns sore. When he has fever, my temples burn and throb and my joints and muscles turn stiff and sore. (I am all heart, ain't I?) My boy is pretty much this same way. He identifies with other people in trouble too closely also. That's the reason he gives cookies and pennies away, I think, to people he feels want them--he knows what it is to long. (He longs along with them.) I remember the way he used to gape in disbelieving terror at deformed and mutilated people, at humpbacks, dwarfs, and people with missing or malformed arms or legs. I could read his mind: he did not know what had happened to them that could not happen to him, and it was not always easy to explain. (I could not assure him categorically that he would never be in a serious accident or fall fatally ill.) I note the way he avoids looking at them directly now. (He averts his eyes with a ripple of anger the way I avert mine. You are not supposed to look at them, you are not supposed to look away from them.) It used to be that his own arm or leg would lock momentarily in an unnatural position or knot up.

  ("Look!"

  He would show me the rigid cramp of muscle or the fluttering spasms of fingers or feet, marveling at this telepathic phenomenon with as much curiosity as discomfort whenever he saw a cripple with arm or leg deformities and ask me why that happened.

  "Mine does too.")

  "I can tell you something else that's funny," he revealed to me recently. "Whenever I tickle somebody, I laugh."

  "How come?" I exclaim. This strikes me funny an instant later and I begin to laugh.

  "I don't know," he squeals in reply, laughing also. "Why are you laughing?"

  "Because I think it's funny! Why are you laughing?"

  "Because you're laughing!" he cries gleefully, and laughs even louder, bubbling all about with delight and folding his arms around his sides as though his ecstasy is too much for his ribs and spirit to contain.

  My boy likes to laugh and would be laughing and kidding jauntily all the time if there were not so many of us in the atmosphere surrounding him to inhibit and subjugate him. I have this constant fear something is going to happen to him. (He's the kid who gets stabbed to death in the park or falls victim to Hodgkin's disease or blastoma of the eyeballs. Every time I know he's gone swimming. Every time he's away from the house. Every time I know my daughter is driving in a car with older kids I expect to be told by telephone or policeman of the terrible automobile accident in which she has just been killed. There are times I wish they would both hurry up and get it over with already so I could relax and stop brooding about it in such recurring suspense. There are times I wish everyone I know would die and release me from these tender tensions I experience in my generous solicitude for them. I don't suffer these same acute anxieties about my wife, even though I know she drives about a great deal during the day after drinking. I hardly ever think about her death. Just about divorce. I don't like cars. Or swimming pools or the ocean.) I think about death.

  I think about it all the time. I dwell on it. I dread it. I don't really like it. Death runs in my family, it seems. People die from it, and I dream about death and weave ornate fantasies about death endlessly and ironically. (And I find--God help me--that I still do want to make that three-minute speech. I really do yearn to be promoted to Kagle's job. Last night in bed, I stopped dwelling on death for a while and began formulating plans for either of the two speeches I might be asked to make. I might be asked to make none, I found good phrases for both.) Last night in bed after fashioning my good phrases--or was it early this morning while journeying back uncrippled again from sleep?--I dreamed that our maid called me at the office while my wife was out drinking somewhere (or screwing somewhere, I have dreams about that too lately every once in a while and I don't like them at all) and told me, in her slurred southern accent, with her voice as deep as a colored man's: "Mr. _____, your boy is lying on the floor of the living room and hasn't breathed for fifteen seconds."

  That was precisely the way the words were floated to me in my dream or beclouded waking moments: "Mr. _____, your boy is lying on the floor of the living room and hasn't breathed for fifteen seconds."

  (No name. A gap, a portentous omission, an empty underlining--I don't know how.)

  "What?" I gasped, turning freezing cold with prickling skin. (I was numb and powerless in the presence of that approaching tragedy that was at last about to occur.) "Mr. _____, your boy is lying on the floor of the living room and hasn't breathed for fifteen seconds."

  I had no name but knew who I was.

  I could hear her clearly on the phone but had trouble understanding and believing her--I could see
her woman's face; it was dark and full and impassive and I kept making her repeat what she was saying by asking "What?"--I could not think what else to do except stall desperately for time by hollering "What?"--and making her repeat her message--and the message from the maid was always the same: "Mr. _____, your boy is lying on the floor of the living room and hasn't breathed for fifteen seconds."

  (Time was rushing by, and it was still fifteen seconds.)

  "Mr. _____, your boy is lying on the floor of the living room and hasn't breathed for fifteen seconds."

  (I'm sure I dreamed it.) What would I do if something like that did happen, if I were sitting in my office in the city one uneventful day, like today, a day no different from any of the rest, and received a telephone message from my home that my boy had collapsed on the floor of the living room and seemed to be dying. I know just what I would do. I would telephone the police in Connecticut and let them handle it.

  ("My boy is lying on the floor of my living room and hasn't breathed for fifteen seconds," I might have to tell them, and it would be just like my dream.) Then I would sigh ponderously and feel very sorry for myself. I would have to cancel appointments, change plans, and make my way home in a hurry by very slow train. A taxicab all the way would be fastest, but I probably would not think of that until I was already in the railroad terminal waiting for the train to budge out. I would be nervous, frantic. But I would also know that I was not really in that much of a hurry anymore but merely pretending, that it was already over, that I would prefer to arrive after the emergency had been handled by other people and the outcome already determined, one way or the other, since it would be too late for me to be of use anyway. I would not want to tell any of my colleagues and employees in the office why I was leaving early that day because I would not want to subject myself to their looks and exclamations of sympathy and impassioned concern. I would not want to answer their questions when I saw them again. More than anything, I think I would feel inconvenienced. (I always feel inconvenienced when plans are changed.) I was inconvenienced yesterday when a man my age was killed in a subway station nearby and caused a traffic jam that made me late for a cocktail party with salesmen at which I was expected to be early; his arm caught in the closing doors as he tried to push his way on, but the train started anyway while he was still outside, said the newspapers today, even though it was not supposed to, and dragged him along the station platform until he smashed against pillars and the stone and metal walls of the tunnel into which the subway train roared. His wife was already inside the car and watched the whole thing helplessly (I'll bet she even clutched his hand and held on, stupidly, in a vain and senseless effort to save him. It was like a dream, I bet. I'll bet she's even saying that right now: "It was like a dream.")