On the carpet
I grew up on the living room carpet, whatever cheap gray or brown weave the apartment complex had installed in the 3-bed/1.5 bath five of us would occupy in the western, southern or eastern part of this country, depending on the year. Anyways, I was often on the carpet at the foot of the center of the living room: the television set with its accompanying VCR for our modest collection or video store rentals. The weave of the carpet would imprint itself into the skin of my elbows and arms, with the kernels of popcorn or shells of sunflower seeds or whatever else detritus sticking to me falling away when I got up after hours of the tube. When we spent time together as a family, it was either in one of three places – at Sunday service, our dining room table, or in front of the television. I wonder if everyone else in the family would agree, if Bob has written about this later in his memoir, but to my memory, gazing up at the images of the TV set together were some of the most peaceful and civil moments we shared as a family…
Anyhow, Tertius here reporting that I’ve finished transcribing the preface – at least that’s what I take it to be. My father (I’ll use this term when writing about the voice in the text – I’ll use Bob when reflecting on him as a writer of the text) explicitly states in the opening paragraphs of his memoir that the main “takeaways” he’d like a reader to receive at the end of his story are the following, and I quote:
- There were certain skills lacking in this boy’s upbringing
- His social environment would not only cause him to insulate from others while trying to reach out in normal and age-appropriate ways, and
- Part of his normal response to his environment, given his lacking set of skills, would be to do things to make him think more highly of himself
If you re-read these takeaways, as I keep doing so, you’ll begin to get a preliminary sense of the intentions behind writing this memoir – not to leave the story of a man, but of a boy; not an opening out, but an insulation; not what was gained in life, but what was lacking. Lastly, what Bob even writes on the same page (still in the third-person), is that it’s about things he has done to “think more highly of himself.” He admits it is the consensus of psych professionals that these tendencies are “borderline narcissistic” – the ego’s defensive result of “the amount of people who kept trying to destroy me.” For the record, Bob does have three mental diagnoses, but to those who know the whole story (the psych professionals do not) are paraphrased as saying “It’s a pure miracle that you’re still alive!” and on later pages of the preface, gives the explanation that “I had to lie to myself to maintain enough psychological subtlety to not kill myself at an early age.”
Spurs dug into me when I first read the sentence which begins “In the words of the few people who know my whole story…” I frantically searched my mind but found I have no idea who these people are. I thought maybe that I was one of those people, but as I continue to transcribe, I am beginning to have my doubts. Perhaps my sister, who is eager to read this work and could clarify what is cloudy. Growing up with Bob was complicated because so many of the stories he told he told so often, often enough that you began to believe that they really happened. When I was a teenager he admitted that many of the stories he told didn’t happen to him, that they had “sounded better told in the first person.” A shock, but not a surprising one. Don’t we all fashion ourselves and embellish with vanity and pride the aura which we project socially? Except, this was a family member, the man whose name I bore, but one who became more of a stranger.
Even before this revelation, which at the time made me angry and confused, there was a shroud over his past. We learned the essential things early on from our mother and grandparents: he had been married before, he was adopted, he was a convert, and he was disowned because of his conversion to become a Saint. There was a kind of admiration in this which needed to be paid to him, that he felt needed to be paid to him, a respect which my brother and I were hard pressed to show. Later we learned from him that he had lived through several kinds of abuse, grave misunderstandings, subtle coercion or trickery, a kind of spiritual injustice, the sins of the father, etc. – in short, he had suffered. These were harder to show respect to because it involved too much pity and sorrow. Even with these new facts it was difficult to know the truth about Bob. I’m not sure I’ll even get the truth about him from this memoir.
The preface tracks his life from birth, adoption, early years in Victoria, to the end of his time at the elementary school he attended at Trinity Episcopal, ending at fifth grade. According to the U.S. Census from 1960, Victoria had a population of 33,047 people and was considered an urban place. His family attended, or were affiliated with, Northside Baptist, and this difference in religion taught at school v. religion taught at home is sharply contrasted – indeed, my father converted two more times in his life, baptized again into a non-denominational church, then confirmed a Catholic (He now attends another non-denominational church in Portland). It’s curious that he doesn’t mention his father’s occupation, owner/operator of the now defunct Red Bird Hot Shot Service, an out-of-normal delivery hours trucking company. He doesn’t mention his brother’s name, which is understandable considering the abuse he endured from that also adopted son. But he also leaves out mentioning one of his sisters entirely, and doesn’t say anything about both of them being intellectually disabled, the blood progeny of his parents – the very reason why they adopted him and his brother.
What isn’t there, what is lacking – perhaps this is what makes a person who they are. Conditions are key factors: the woman’s health who birthed you, the family you grow up in, the community you are a part of; the losses however, leave places that need filling. My father appeals to God, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to “open my memory to completeness” and that by the time he is finished with this project he will “either be a pastor and trying to fulfill my life’s calling or dead.”
The last pages will be mailed to me soon, and we are still talking over the phone.