Traumatic experiences are always present-tense to us. I am writing my earliest childhood memories as they happened to me 60 years ago:
He lumbers up the stairs and smacks the door. “Are you home?” he roars. Mom sign-languages me not to make a peep. She pretends that she wants him to go away. Through the door, he hears her snicker and tries to force his way in, bawling his protests of being kept out.
I’m only three, but I help my mother hold the door closed, terrified. She pretends she wants to keep him out, but her smile is a fishy giveaway. She slurs her words and smells like what she’s drinking. The loud man comes in after banging and cursing. He smells just like her, a combination of cigarettes and drinks.
The man likes big-time wrestling and sits staring at a black-and-white TV in the smoke-hazy room. On it, big fat bodies are slapping each other. Brown bottles with cigarette butts litter the dingy room. In a stairwell with itching eyes, a 3-year-old boy watches.
Later, alone in my crib, I wait for someone to act like my mother. I wallow in a day-old mess, soaked and cold. A coke bottle with a rubber nipple stuck on it next to me.
Next scene, mom with thick reddish hair sits across a glossy table with her face in her hands, sobbing and repeating, “I don’t want to give you up.” She turns to me and begs, “Please always take care of your little brother.” I hear her but forbid her words. My mind argues, “You can’t do this. You are not leaving. I don’t accept this. This can’t stand.”
Next, my brother and I are in a vast open dormitory-style room lined with cribs. I mark the one that’s my brother’s and watch it like a security guard. I am protective since our mother hasn’t returned yet. Likewise, I fear they may try and take away my brother too.
Above my bed, a square hatch is on the ceiling. It looks like a little door above my head. The other kids tell me that the boogeyman lives up there and will come down to eat me when I sleep. I am not planning to sleep ever again anyway.
All night, I tried my hardest to always watch my brother’s crib and the little door above. But waking in the morning only to discover my brother is gone. Enduring incredible frustration and fear, I am panicking.
Not only that, but I run around in circles asking everyone if they know where my little brother is. I am taken to a fat man behind a desk who tries to cool me down. He offers me candy and toys if I only stop my fussing. He says I don’t have a brother anymore, and I have to get used to the idea. I become louder and more tearful, shouting, “NO, no, no!” Toys and candy are nothing to me. I WANT MY BROTHER NOW!
Forlorn and miserable, I’m led back to the playroom. A boy named Jimmy tinkles on a metal firetruck while I watch. He says my little brother won’t ever be coming back. He continues, “Once they take them, they never come back.” I cannot accept this. Overwhelmed with grief, I blackout. I was told later that I was taken to the emergency room.
To my relief, my brother returns. I had crashed so entirely that they feared for my life. There were no two ways about it. My brother and I would stay together.
Next scene, our adoption agent, Mrs. Robinson, tells me that some friendly people want to be our new parents. I’m still convinced my real mother is going to pick us up. Furthermore, my mind tells me that I shouldn’t be in this situation. I already have a mom.
The day comes, Mrs. Robinson takes me to the bathroom and dunks my head in a sink full of hot water. She’s anything but gentle. I fight her off. Business-like, she teaches that I must make an excellent impression on our possible new parents. She rubs my ears red, noting how filthy I am. My brother isn’t with us because only I can talk articulately. I also can understand him, but no one else can. Mrs. Robinson drives me to a big red house with a lake. She tells me to go up to the giant front door and knock. I’m scared, but follow orders.
A beautiful blond-haired lady with a warm smile greets me, inviting me in. We sit at a wooden table in a dim room. She uses several telephone books to get my face higher than the table. She is pleasant and expresses surprise at how well we can talk together. I am her “little gentleman caller.”
I don’t remember what we discussed, but I sure liked talking to her. She asked if I wanted some coffee. Then she asked if I knew what coffee was. “Yes.” I fibbed. I did not want to miss out on whatever she was offering. She put warm milk with lots of sugar in a cup with a dribble of coffee. The problem is, I am lactose intolerant.
In a very few minutes, my eyes open wide with that urge. I shout, “I have to shit!” Shocked, she thought it hilarious. She asks, “What did you say?” I repeat myself. I warn her that if you don’t get me to a toilet right away, I will shit myself. She leads me to the bathroom. She asks me how I learned the word shit.
Her question puzzles me. She tells me that the word shit is a bad word. I misunderstand because, to me, a bad word means the wrong meaning. I argue, “shit is the word and I have to shit now.” She explains that “unintelligent people” use that word. If I want to be polite and intelligent, I say, “BM.” I insist that the word shit is the correct word.
She replies patiently, “It’s okay. I thought you were an intelligent and polite boy. But I could be mistaken.” So, to impress her, I repeat, “BM, BM, BM, I have to go BM.” In this way, I experienced my first lesson from my beautiful mother-to-be.