When I hear those words echo from outside myself, I get angry, too.
I don’t know where the anger comes from – the fury. I just know that it comes. And it becomes. On grey Winter days it may come at any time. In the bursts of springtime blossoms it may fester and go rancid for a chance to spill its seed into the life of another unwitting victim. Beginning anew, a little less angry with each successive generation, it comes forth with the promise of something different, something interesting, something beyond what has ever come before. But then it just dies in fits of forgetful regret for not having lived out its promise, for never having broken through its own shell to reach out to the Light. The Light that’s never really there when we need it, anyway.
Such is the fate of stardust and the powder-filled wings of angels.
If there’s anything good to come from the outright theft and betrayal of the sexual identities of fourteen young women, it is the minor wizardry of these words spilling forth in a waterfall of grief, regret, despair, disappointment and utter betrayal. I cannot believe we gave so much of ourselves, promised to so many for so very little.
I used to blame my father’s Catholicism for the fact that I could never seem to accept the timid, tentative outstretched hand of a woman looking for connection, for shared joy, for relief from the bitter dregs of adolescent angst. I could never smash the faces of my enemies nor vanquish my guilt over my reticence. It was because of that old mossy, rusty cross and those eyes cast down upon the world in a familiar fact-filled glance of grief, regret, despair, disappointment and utter betrayal. I could not bring myself to strike at the face of my own despair and fear; I could never accept the hand of promise stretched out to me from what seemed like miles away because I never felt entitled to the release, the resolution or the reconciliation. I never felt entitled because…Jesus. I never felt good enough because He was hung there like carrion for a murder of crows. Every bloody nose I willed to be theirs, every smashed face that wasn’t mine, every orgasm lost in grievous sin into tawdry linens I sacrificed by being nailed to a cross of my own construction and design because “They” told me to do it when I couldn’t cross myself correctly, serve mass piously, take my torments with humility or confess my sins honestly. The same sins it has taken most of my life to even recognize much less comprehend in origin. “How convenient,” I thought, “that they have numbered all my bones and laid the wages of all sin at my feet, in my tawdry linens, in all my unreconciled torments and dreams of vengeance – no matter how long delayed!” Of course it was the rancid, ancient beliefs of little men in fancy clothing and funny hats sent from a righteous heaven to defile the dreams of resolution and absolution begged for from a laiety so masochistic, so anachronistic that only a fool would pass on the chance to milk so sacred a cow. Let the carnival barking begin! Crash my dreams of a normal, healthy existence into the side of bitter mountaintop, never to be seen, nor heard from, again!
My mother’s bloodied face in 1966 and her long-defiled, swollen abdomen in 1936 had more to do with my tormented-shut libido and my interpersonal cowardice than any religious liturgy oozing out of ancient Rome. The sadism was handed down from years of masochism gone unrequited, from beatings so severe and senseless that the beguiled prayed to be set free even onto a snow-filled prairie to take their chances with wild buffalo; buffalo soon to be stacked high near the dead natives left without food to fight the chill of Winter. No, the Catholics gave these brutal people safe passage into purgatory years after condemning them to the hottest Hell for refusing to eat fish on Fridays, refusing to restrain their coital urges for a public sanctioning of wedlock, for missing a week of mass or a Holy Day. Or for loving an improper stranger.
The sins of 120 million dead brothers and sisters, of at least as many tears, bore witness then to a brutal savagery yet to come. A web of interdependent shame so hideous as to make the true character of a people facile in the face of sacrificing any hero or shrew, for they would always be one in the same here. To Europe and to ancient Rome, the impudent Americans would always be a laughing stock of hollow native outcasts, of fools and of dregs. We would always care little for ourselves because, for centuries, we would be forsaken by the Crown of Britain for intransigence and singled out for disrespect. Nevermind that the freedom we sought was only a modicum of what might be deserved for the children of any lesser god. This callous disregard of our dignity was passed down to all others too taken by our silly clothes and poor agrarian skills to yield to the iron fist our naiveté concealed.
But proof is thus concealed in pudding and murmurs in the mud.
Of one thing my age has granted me some certainty: no deity or reified human being hangs from a tree after being beaten to a point where human death becomes a distant, fond wish and but gives a damn who eats what, who goes where nor who fucks whom. The look of grief and utter, dismal betrayal in those bloodied, half-shuttered eyes cast down from that effigy beneath which I prayed longingly had nothing to do with anything but the behavior of those who birthed me here and on whose knees my tutelage received. Beyond that I cannot speak intelligibly, for that is a matter of personal faith which, on a good day, my heart lightens and my smiles abound; on a bad day (or thirty minutes later), well, I wish for you nothing but the cynical fury of a life spent searching for what cannot be found: American dignity.
Fourteen women lost their will to live lives as human beings open to the advances of honest, trustworthy men because a cynical fury, known only to adults, cast onto a child a seething despair so rancid, so irreconcilably lost in the devotion, love and innocence of children, that that child had nowhere left to put their love, had no place to share a joy twisted by fury into sickness and death. That child turned adult would have you thank them for not murdering these women, but for leaving them broken and not whole inside, that we might reconcile and untwist his sickness into love. Thank you, Bill. Now go back to the now snow-starved prairie bereft of the buffalo and their brothers, back to the land from which you were fortunate enough to have survived and tell us more tales of laughter and exuberance, if you dare. Of the wisdom or compassion of a man who hollows out the heart of a woman, eating it but once yet shitting it out sideways into a bag for the rest of his pathetic life, I know precious little but an agonizing despair so deep it cannot be reached.
That was my mother you raped, that was my sister you violated, that was my daughter you betrayed and that was my sex life you utterly destroyed in multiple thoughtless acts of muted revenge for sins beyond any adult ability to reason or scope, let alone a child. A flaccid awesome lie paints the pants of the American landscape, and we blame you for a child’s disability to communicate a need for reason and for help.
It was not the Catholics after all. Nor the Crown. We are where we are because we deserve it. All power and privilege decreed it so centuries ago. For that revelation I thank you, Bill Cosby.
No clap of thunder or any tornado-swept hole in Hell matches the jolt of a mind split apart with wattage, laid waste to by countless drugs having side-effects too hideously tormenting to recount, only to be discounted by a community caught in disbelief over its own hypocrisy and loss of moral compass. It was left to the judgment of a Judge that all power of judgment be taken from a nine year old girl so her goat-copulating father, who freely chose to leave his loose change and burning cigarettes on her nightstand, might continue to work in the community and sustain a family that was rejecting him outright. The year was 1936 and from 1932 my mother endured the heaving advances, the pathetic breath, the jaundiced eyes and the enormous penis of an entity ten times her weight and orders of magnitude her size. He was a brutal, drunken heap of human flesh thrown completely clear of a Hell made hot, barren and unwelcoming by his utter presence. There is a reason the State of Oklahoma continues to quake in ignorant fear of supernatural evil: Jack Shelby lived there once. He brewed ‘shine fit for Pretty Boy Floyd, lying his way through solid stone, melting handcuffs of righteous lawmen and leaving machine-gun toting criminals in awe of the power of his thunderous, cloven-hooved gait over wooden floors worn down soft by the shuffling feet of the despairing. He would leave the Dustbowl of Oklahoma just ahead of fate because of the Great Depression, the same Great Depression the people of Texas continue to believe never happened. They may be right; it may just have been the crater this sucking chest wound of moral ambivalence left in the dirt of Oklahoma when Satan, Himself, threw this Irish asshole to Earth from the hellfire of the Sun. Steinbeck recounted symptoms for posterity, receiving a Nobel Prize; my mother absorbed a full-frontal moral shock for an entire world terrified by an evil so brutal it defied her ability to remain a whole human being. For that service she received the scorn of her community, the misunderstanding of her children, and a life that continues to haunt my credulity and stain my credibility with good men who have never had to bear witness to such an empty vastness – to the sheer cold depth – of a moral black hole from which no hope of any light could ever escape.
That is why you have never heard of Jack Shelby, for as soon as he appeared in your life, your mind demanded you forget him; the sheer gravity of his darkness exceeded human comprehension. What I realize today is that it was his presence in my mother’s life that sealed her fate long before I was even born. It was never my grandmother’s fault; it wasn’t even the Catholic Churches’ fault; though responsibility, when it hits the fan, is never evenly nor fairly distributed. This was all Jack Shelby, my grandfather, an evil-dead non-person who raped my mother from the time she was five until she was nine, defiling the countryside from Oklahoma to California in one, long forgettable visitation to our planet.
The first time they strapped my mother down, shoved rubber into her terrified, confused mouth and scrambled her brain with electricity was when she was 19 years old and had had two children by a man from the House of Canterbury. He left soon after her stay in the sanitarium never to be seen, nor heard from, again. Decades later, when his children were fully adults and merely curious, they located Jonathan and attempted contact with him. He refused the connection. He insisted they were mistakes and that they never contact him again. They dutifully complied, a burden lifted from one child and left to rest on the shoulders of another. That child died drinking a gallon of cheap wine every night just to maintain himself from shaking due to withdrawals, aged 64 years. The official cause of death wasn’t cirrhosis or poisoning, but cancer. A mere brush with a black hole sends grown men a full country’s width away from their own children and another man into a bottle never to surface again. Mental illness caused a terrible fright in the 1940’s, even some 4 decades after a firm commitment from the country to build sanitariums to house the mentally ill, the alcoholic and the terminally misunderstood received cheers for President Teddy the Bullmoose. If we could not repair broken lives, we could at least hide them, and our shame, from public view. It was the least we could do since, prior to that time, it was the SPCA – the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – who were the only human beings willing to risk contact with society’s untouchables. Sydney Cameron, a psychiatrist and admirer of the strides the Nazis had made experimenting on the Jews and others in their “work camps,” not one to miss out on an opportunity, used these sanitariums to find research subjects for his experiments involving the erasure and reconstitution of the human personality. To relieve suffering, of course. Dr. Cameron never quite perfected the “reconstitution” aspect of his experiments with “psychic driving” before he was forced underground and his experimentations along with him, but that wasn’t for lack of available test subjects. There will always be plenty of shame to drive some of us completely mad and in search of some sort of erasure. I do not know if my mother was ever a formal test subject in the early days of the “Monarch” program – a place where the cleansed records of Nazi doctors found a home and adequate funding for further research – but I do know she was given numerous “shock treatments” on multiple occasions in her many three-month, “convalescent stays,” behind the walls of Santa Clara’s now defunct, “Agnews State Hospital.” I may never know the actual extent of the procedures my mother endured because the State of California “mishandled” all of the patient records from those days, selling the property to Sun Microsystems in 1997. But at least I know that of the many “sterilization” operations that were performed on mentally ill women without their consent or awareness, my mother was probably not among them. That could be considered a stroke of luck since, of the fifty states in these United States, California sterilized the mentally ill far more often than any other State. Texas, where I now live, the least often.
We have always placed great pride in our mental illness in Texas, as it turns out, burying a wealth of “crazy uncles” and “addled aunts” in trailers and trailerparks spread out across the vast, expansive countryside, as if they were our secret treasure waiting to be mined. We’ve even sent a couple of our most grievously afflicted to serve as Presidents of these United States. One from each political party has been sent, so far, just to prove that we are nonpartisan and fair in our admiration and respect.
Both men were, history has shown, equally and predictably destructive.
“If nominated I would not run, if elected, I would not serve,” should have been LBJ’s motto before he ascended to the Presidency on the odd coincidence that his predecessor had fallen victim to an assassin’s bullet, not unlike at least one or two other of Johnson’s political opponents. The Johnson Family might like to parade their favored son’s “Great Society” programs for all to see, but had he not guided and passed that legislation through Congress during his first and only term as President, Bobby Kennedy, the fallen President’s brother, close confidante and a sworn enemy of LBJ and his friend J. Edgar Hoover, would have certainly taken the Presidency and proceeded to right the grievous wrong that had been not just to his family, but to the entire country as a result of his brother’s untimely demise. As it turned out, the evil that had been done to the United States and to my family up to that point, had taken up deep roots here in the American South, as multiple homicides just happened to take place against every major political opponent who dared to take exception to this country’s economic alliance with Nazi Germany back in 1932. That would be about the same time Jack Shelby started making his drunken, twisted advances at my mother when she was barely able to walk and not yet able to run.
As for Texas’ other contribution to “whirled peas,” the wound is still quite fresh and infected to the bone as only the bite from the fetid mouth of a Komodo Dragon can be. I think George W. Bushes’ dubious flight and appearance aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003 to announce, “Mission Accomplished,” says everything about the purpose and plan the Bush Family had in mind for the United States beginning around 1932 when the President’s grandfather, Prescott, began funneling money and weapons to Nazi Germany and its new Chancellor, “Adolf Hitler.” The “mission accomplished” banner had precious little to do with “combat operations in Iraq” being complete, because that proved to be complete nonsense. The mission, from World War I to the present day, has been to bring about a New World Order; the same “novus ordo seclorum” Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler tried to ooze all over the world during World War II. That mission, to the chagrin of all those brave soldiers and civilians who died during World War II, and their families, has been accomplished. The dark crown of fascism has been restored on the head where it properly belonged. God saved the Queen.
The only time I ever saw Jack Shelby, the person, was when he was dying on his bed in a convalescent hospital in Merced, California. My grandmother couldn’t see fit to keep something like the death of a parent from my mother and, true to form, she gave him more comfort than I was able to comprehend at the age of 12. True to the nature of these events, I do not recall his face. I do, however, recall the old man not two beds away pathetically masturbating as my cousins Deborah and Cheryl sat vigil with my mother and grandmother as they said their final “goodbyes” to a hollowed-out shell of a human being. By this time the evil had left behind little more than an effigy of the man who terrified and terrorized the women in his life four and five decades before. By that time only Bobby, Jimmy and my mother were left, and they would pass in that order, all from cancer as the official cause. As I sat there in that room soaked with the smell of Betadine and urine, wondering what I was even doing there, I began to feel the emptiness creeping over me like a hole in my chest that the wind would not leave alone. Neither Bobby, nor Jimmy, bothered to see their father off with a final fair-the-well. Over the decades they had seen many men off to Hell in multiple wars as they served in the Navy; the death of their father would be just another hollowed-out shell tossed overboard, the engines of progress full steam ahead. They had said all they were ever going to say to the man who had terrorized them and raped their sisters.
There was nothing funny or sad about any experience that included Jack Shelby or his clan; these were spiritual trials to be endured, replete with panic attacks, anxiety and terror that seemed to know no bottom. The terror that I grew up and through, damaging and traumatizing though it was, was nothing in comparison to the fate these poor souls had consigned themselves to. Enough of my soul and heart was left to allow me to walk through the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous at the age of 30, thinking and believing I had been cheated of another 10 good years of drinking and taking drugs, “for fun.” In those ten years, had I survived them, the disease would have convinced me that life was not about joy but was a trial to be endured. Only the meanest, coldest and nastiest men lived long or prospered in this hellhole that the likes of JP Morgan, Henry Ford, JD Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie left in their wake. These four horsemen created a country that will be known not so much for its natural beauty or its kind people but for its unrelenting cruelty against its own and others. We have been uncompromising in that regard, the scope and depths of our genocidal history so hideously sublime that no history book dare print a word nor utter a sound lest the hounds of hell be unleashed against them and their families. Such was the case with the Kennedys, such will be the case with any organized resistance against the evil that grows wild here and in places where the Sun never shines.
Just the other day I was reading a recounting of the history of German Uboats of World War II and the various artifacts found in that most impressive submarine fleet of the day. Among the contents? Several ticket stubs to movie theaters along the Texas coast.
The point of my story lost in a fog of shame and guilt will be over what shame and guilt I have failed to surface and resolve here. My responsibility thus adjudicated, I shall suffer that the Queen and Rome might continue their masquerade as unwilling witness to the original sin the publishers of fiction and contradiction thus contrived.