I have recently been examining some of the bits and bobs that make up my past. Some are quite old–worn gears that skip teeth, and clank around rustily bent. If I listen too close, I can hear them late at night. They can keep me awake. Most of the time I pay them little heed, but they are still there. Here are a couple…
In 1975 my father began his first teaching position as Writer-in-Residence at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. A year later he convinced my mother to move with me to be with him for a year. We packed up the family car and moved from the idyllic, bucolic, verdant village of Ancramdale, NY to the suburbs of Des Moines. There were few trees then, many plastic houses, minuscule back yards. I was 11 years old. I was pulled from the familiar and dumped into what I felt was a terrifying experience. I was very unhappy. my very cool bicycle was stolen from school and the school did nothing to help even thought they knew who had stolen it. I was beaten up outside my homeroom and the teachers did nothing then as well. I acted out in all the ways that children do when they have been traumatised–I lied, stole, lied some more, failed at school, snuck around at night dressed in black. But being the 1970s, I fell through the cracks. Our shitty suburban rental seethed with anger, fighting and disappointed expectations. My parents were in the painful middle stages of a separation that 9 years later ended in divorce. I became a latchkey kid. I learned to be a ghost and disappeared into the background. We left Iowa in the spring of 1977 and moved back home. Thank God.
That summer my parents sent me to summer camp. They needed some time alone, I think. For me it was more terror, yet I was resigned to my fate. Camp Berkshire was a horror. The counselor who oversaw our little cabin was a drunk and when I alerted the head counselor that this guy had been drinking a lot while driving us all around, he was fired. One night I was shaken awake by this guy. He smelled of booze. He whispered that he knew it was me that had snitched. He held a knife to my throat and told me that if I ever did that again he would kill me. So I kept my trap shut. A few weeks later my parents came to visit me. My father took this picture. I have only recently seen this photograph. It says a lot, I think. Even back then I was white-knuckling it.