At times I feel like I invented them, along with the rest of my childhood. Which, in a sense, I suppose I have. They are who they are they are, regardless of my perceptions and analysis, yet I have, at least partly created who they are in relation to me.
There are times when I’ve done everything in my power to erase them as a reality, to distort, deform, and reconfigure them (according to my standards of fiction). If you were to ask me to use one adjective to describe my childhood, my family, I’d say: loud.
I remember living through a loud and noisy childhood.
It was the noise of violence, of fighting, arguments, doors slamming, objects thrown; the noise of threats and accusations. Peace, in my house, was a brief tense respite between battles.
My family was not my family. They were a fiction I had stumbled onto, an invention I couldn’t control. I preferred fictions and inventions that I could control, order, and arrange. My family was fiction-as-reality, and it was a reality predicated on chaos, turmoil and unpredictability. Or rather, predictable unpredictability, the kind you could set your watch to.
I had my room in which to hide and take refuge. I had my books and comic books and action figures and video games, my customary escape outlets.
I built different worlds that were my worlds, not the world into which I had been thrust, the world in which I felt trapped, the world in which I was small and powerless.
If you were to ask me what I most remember about my childhood, how I’d describe it, that would be a term I would use: small and powerless.
In my house, in my family-reality, I felt small and powerless, in the worlds I created I felt powerful and important. Has not writing been that for me? A secret world, among language and symbols and images, among the flotsam and jetsam of memory and imagination, in which I felt not only important but more profoundly myself. Writing is the place where I go to meet me. Or the many variations thereof.
In my unreal family my unreal father would sometimes disappear for a couple of days or more, when he was in the throes of a drug-and-booze binge. In the early going I used to pray—please please please God, don’t let him be dead, let him be alive—it was a plea soul-felt and emotionally charged. As time went on my prayers became less emotional and more pragmatically selfish—please please please God, don’t let him be dead, if he’s dead who will drive me to my Little League games, who will take me to Great Adventure? Eventually I stopped praying altogether as I felt nothing at all, just numbness. Even if it wasn’t true on the deepest level I stopped caring whether he was alive or dead, I was tired of the emotional swings, I wanted off the see-saw. Also, if my father was dead, then he, as a ghost could be resurrected through my fiction, and I could feel more for him than I had felt in real life, I would have access to emotions otherwise blocked. The whole thing was an existential mess.
I have always felt that the only way to reach my father, and myself, was to travel an indirect, and oblique route; I had to “live it slant.” Intimacy, for me, or rather a feel or sense of intimacy, required distance. There had to be a sufficient measure of distance, a space in which the intimacy could grow. I’ve always thought of it as “breathing room.” The distance between reality and imagination allotted the breathing room in which fiction could arise and flourish, in which it could become something real.
Being separated from my family, in the physical, geographical sense, allows me a different perspective on them, on myself, on what is between us (and what is not between us).
I have found much that is alive in ghosts; I have found much love, or if not love then a special breed of warm intimacy, in absence.