I began writing this memoir after the dream. Once again a small child, I was climbing a tall tree. My intention was to reach the top, but the entire bark was coated with sap. Feeling frustrated, I would wipe the sap on my pants, or on nearby leaves. It didn’t matter. I always ended up with a little more on my hands because I had to grip the trunk of the tree to make my way upward.
Later, I realized that this was a metaphor for my life, and on more than a single level.
Why was I there? I was fearfully trying to escape something, hoping not to be discovered. The farther up I scaled, the less likely I was to be seen. The higher I reached, the safer I felt. I tried to be as quiet as I could, level by level, branch by branch. But always more sap and always another height to conquer.
My eyes opened with the morning light. And then I began to remember. The anger came from somewhere, though I may have been angry mostly at myself. A quiet child who had never been violent before began to lash out. My father knew only to treat this new behavior with frequent whippings. I was in third grade and acting out in class for the first time. At the same time, I carried on a lengthy feud with another boy at the lunch table. Both of these were completely out of character. My one and only visit to the principal’s office was for putting tacks in the chairs of other students during art class. This lasted for less than a year, but long enough. The direct results receded, but the lasting impact persisted.
When adults make requests, children follow. I’m not sure how I ended up in that room. On my knees. In my mind’s eye it is always dark, sinister, and quiet. I do know that I followed instructions. Open. Open. It was almost like going to the dentist, listening to the hygienist, bracing for the tactile sensations that are rarely pleasurable. The other boy had eyes like a doe. I don’t remember everything. I’m glad I don’t remember everything. I wish I remembered more.
For years afterwards, while walking by myself around the neighborhood, I would believe that I was being pursued. I ran to another location. I hid and waited. After I time, I emerged, satisfied that whomever had been after me had been unable to find me. I was safe now. It was like a game, except that I was always compelled to follow. I played along for years, well into my teens.
The other boy called me down from the tree in the front yard. His purpose was to rile me up, to get me emotionally engaged. We ended up fighting or wrestling on the ground. All part of the greater plan. I followed behind him once more on the way to that dingy green house. Inside, it smelled like unwashed feet and dog hair. And again I entered that room. Here my memories fracture like broken film in a projector. One still image here and there is all I recall.
When I remembered it for the first time, I felt like I was going to vomit. The sensation of nausea arrived with a physical pressure in the back of my throat, a heaviness. It was the physical memory, even if other aspects were not as evident. Even today, when I think about it, sometimes that heaviness returns.