By Kathy Fish
It begins like this: The baby is red and wrinkled and squalling or bleating like a lamb. The baby has lots of hair or none at all. It has the face of a bulldog. Or Winston Churchill. The baby looks wise beyond his years. The baby’s fists are clenched, his toes, splayed. He’s terrified and vulnerable and angry.
The baby is weighed, his dimensions and poundage announced as if he were a prize bass. He is wrapped and held and cried over.
The baby grows. The baby gets fat. When the world pushes, the baby starts to push back. He smiles. He gurgles. He grabs hold of hair and glasses and noses and boobs. He is the center of the everything. He is at once all-powerful and powerless.
Divergences occur: He is advanced or he struggles or he does everything on schedule. He is the most beautiful human in any room he inhabits. He is his own person. He goes to school and makes friends. Or he makes enemies. He has happy days and sad days. Today he feels teased and injured and lonely. Another day he wins a prize.
He talks nonstop or he prefers to stay quiet. Maybe he writes or maybe he listens to music or he plays soccer or he reads books and loses himself in them for hours. Maybe he’s hyper. Or lazy. He feels comfortable in his skin or he feels miserable in it.
And then and then and then…
It is a priest or a camp counselor or a piano teacher or a scout leader. It is a step-father or an uncle. It’s what happens in the dark or behind closed doors or in a locker room. Maybe it feels good and he is ashamed. Or it hurts and he is both ashamed and afraid. He tells no one. It happens and it keeps happening and he doesn’t know what to do.
The best parts of him begin to come loose and fly away. This is what happens when the earth spins too fast. Eventually even the core disintegrates.
Until something else takes its place. A new sort of aggressiveness his parents applaud.
He grows up to be an Achiever and a Narcissist. This looks like Leadership to the outside world. This is what it’s like to be a Star, to be admired and sought after. He learns to hurt first before getting hurt and this drives all of his future relationships. He is both charming and callous, wholly focused on himself and in this way he manages to forget. He rapes the girl in college who thought they were in love. He leaves behind a string of confused, broken-hearted women. He only wants the ones who don’t want him and finally obtains such a woman and marries her.
He manages to recreate himself in the form of a son. His son becomes his own fresh start. He worships this son. There is nothing he won’t do for him. One day, for his son, he promises to stop drinking. But meetings and therapy are for pussies. He will do it on his own.
His wife, who came to love him, learns what it means to live with a dry drunk.
Again and again and again…
After the divorce, something inside him comes unhinged. He swaddles himself in layers of clothes, paces the house until he can no longer stay awake. In his dreams, he is pursued and preyed upon. He feels large hands on his body. He feels what is shoved into his mouth. He is so very small, again.
One night he finds himself huddled and wide-eyed in the garden shed with a pistol in his hand. He has barricaded himself with the lawnmower, the weed-whacker, and a wheelbarrow. He is a gaping wound. He is what he was at the moment of his birth: Terrified and vulnerable and angry.
The metal door is pulled open and he thinks that’s his own tall self standing there with the moon on his shoulders, his own eyes looking back at him. He thinks maybe he has already pulled the trigger. But no. The hands, the face, the way he ducks his head, the same, small voice, a child, a boy, an almost man. Dad, he says. Dad. And Dad, again.