Tag Archives: memoirs

Spencer’s Story: Volume 3

“What are you doing?” Mr. Grum commanded.

Groggy, Spencer took a moment to answer, to get his bearings. “I was just resting. Just resting.”

“Well get up. Now. We have company.”

A tall man in a v-neck sweater of green stood behind his father, smiling, waiting for Spencer to react.

“Spencer, this is Mr. Blankenship. He’s with the church.”

“Nice to meet you,” Spencer said.

“Very nice to meet you, Spencer.”

Spencer smiled, looking Mr. Blankenship in the eyes. This was how it went with company. Smile politely, make eye contact, don’t step out of line. That line had been drawn in impenetrable stone for as long as Spencer could remember. As much as he tried to forget, his evolutionary mechanism aptly reminded him of its presence in times like these.

“We’re going to be using the dining room. I don’t want any interruptions. You got that?”

“Yes, sir.”

With the church, Spencer mused. It’s always with the church. He had wondered why the church took precedence over family. Why the way the family dressed for church worship services was important enough to scream about, fight over. Why Spencer and his brothers had to be so gosh darn quiet in their company. It was as though, as Spencer had thought before, their Christian development wasn’t matured, or brainwashed enough to fit in.

Frankly, he was sick of it. And he went to bed that evening with a sour taste in his mouth.

The next morning, Spencer woke before the sun came to visit. This was par for the course in the Grum household. Early to rise for chores of cleaning and dusting and organizing. While his brothers still had it in them to whine about it, Spencer had grown to realize that it was how it went. And it wasn’t so bad, he had thought. It usually gave him more time during the day to play outdoors: his most favorite place on the planet.

Later that day, after he had finished his chores, Spencer was given permission to invite his friend Garrett over. And that day, Spencer found adventure in a place hadn’t ever before.

*    *    *    *

Beyond the hill behind the Grum house, horses ran, unsaddled and free. Or at least that’s what Spencer liked to think. He didn’t know much about horses–other than what he gleaned from episodes of Have Gun Will Travel–but he did like to lean up against the fence and watch them as they galloped to and fro chasing jackrabbits and chomped on wild lemon grass in between yearnings to scratch their backs with the crust of the earth.

This one time, however, when he was eight, Spencer and his friend Garrett did just a bit more than simply watch the horses.

It was another one of those sunny weekend days in Southern California: perfect for romping around the neighborhood, exploring new trees to build forts upon, finding new ways to lend credence to the title of hooligan or scoundrel or whippersnapper, terms he heard regularly delivered by Mrs. Walden (for skateboarding “too fast” down the hill near their houses, or throwing water balloons at passing bicyclists).

“Let’s go watch the horses,” Garret said. Garrett lived in a stucco box of an apartment next to other stucco boxes, and didn’t often have the chance to be around animals. Small pets weren’t allowed in his apartment complex. Not even miniature horses.

Spencer wanted to get out of the house anyhow. Miah and Marcus were fighting over the integrity of one another’s building block castle: Miah’s being replete with moat, and imaginary crocodiles for the strict purpose of chomping on intruders, or Marcus’ wandering fingers; Marcus’ castle being the one with the highest towers, or the “better angle to shoot things in the face.” The parents were, as was the routine for Sundays, arguing over bills in their bedroom. They jabbed at each other in exasperated exclamations.

“Okay,” Spencer replied. “Let’s go.”

When they both reached the fence at the top of the hill, they leaned against it and looked out upon the roaming beasts.

“Who’s are they?” Garret asked.

“I don’t know. They’re just here.”

“But who owns them?”

“I don’t know. Maybe no one does. I think they’re just wild.”

A few moments pass before the two exchange grins. The grins, translated, amounted to: They’re wild. We’re wild. Let’s be wild together.

That, at the least, was their collective vision. However naive, it was still theirs. No rules. No parents. No brothers or sisters. Only them, and the wild beasts of the field beyond the Grum house.

Stepping through the barbed wire fence, Garrett looks up, noticing one of the horses trot towards them, only twenty paces off or so. “They’re not going to eat us, are they?”

“Um, no. No, they’re herbivores…I think.”

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Spencer’s Story: Volume 2

When his parents were gone on those church trips, the boys were usually left in the capable hands of any one of the four teenage girls that lived in the neighborhood. But to be capable in his parents’ eyes is to keep Spencer and his two brothers from bleeding from their eyeballs or some such injury that would land them in the hospital. To be capable in Spencer’s eyes was different, though. It was everything.

It meant he didn’t have to scrub the toilet. It meant he didn’t have to find clever ways to avoid his father. It meant he didn’t have to do as Jesus would do. Wine from stone aside, it just wasn’t that appealing.

Miah and Marcus reacted as most kids would. They went crazy. And as long as the messes were cleaned up before the parents’ arrival, and they kept it within the confines of their bedroom, they were free to do what they wanted.

But, one Saturday evening in August of ’92, things turned out differently.

“Alright kids. I need to make a phone call. Keep it down,” Tiffany, the first-year college student from three houses over, said to Spencer, Miah and Marcus shortly after the Grum parents pulled out of the driveway.

“Who are you calling?” Marcus asked.

“Yah, who ya call…”

“Guys, stop it,” Spencer interrupted. “Lets go to the bedroom.”

“But I want to know who she’s calling.” Miah responded.

“It’s none of your business. Let’s go. Who wants to play Monopoly?” Spencer said.

“I do!” Miah exclaimed.

“I get to be the boot!” Marcus replied.

“I’m the race car!” Miah said.

“I’ll be the thimble, okay? Let’s go.”

Monopoly always seemed to work. It was the one board game they owned that still had enough pieces to make it playable. They had a checkers set that was once used as ammunition for the boys’ grossly inaccurate, and mildly racist reenactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The checker pieces that found their way up to the roof never were retrieved.

For the next two hours, the Grum boys sat cross-legged on the floor in their bedroom and played Monopoly. The structure of which typically went something like this:

  1. Game opens with delight, fervor
  2. 30 minutes pass without much change
  3. Miah expresses desire to make his one procured property a “super duper,” that has the power to burn its unwanted occupants with molten lava
  4. Marcus and Spencer roll their eyes and deny the request
  5. Another 30 minutes pass by with a handful of houses purchased, mostly by Marcus and Spencer
  6. Marcus is distracted by Miah’s constant fidgeting and promptly–and throughout the remainder of game–complains
  7. Miah expresses delight at having once again annoyed his older brother. He does so by making “neener neener” faces
  8. Spencer waits patiently
  9. Spencer places mansion on Boardwalk
  10. Miah and Marcus charge Spencer with cheating
  11. Spencer laughs at his brothers’ inability to handle time consumption
  12. Miah calls Marcus and Spencer a “poop eater” and quits
  13. 10 minutes later, Marcus quits for lack of money
  14. Spencer puts the game back in its box, happy to have distracted his brothers for the two hours

For Spencer, the time spent post-Monopoly matches was undoubtedly the best. His brothers, annoyed and pouting, kept mostly to themselves. The babysitter found solace in her phone calls. And he was met with a calming respite from the pressure.

Mostly, he didn’t have to keep up appearances. He wasn’t his father’s little soldier.

He was himself. His own self.

His own self.

His own self.

These are the words that played again and again as he fell to sleep on the floor in the dining room that evening in August of ’92.

When he woke hours later, with a hand around his ankle, the words seemed so far away, so distant and foreign and never to be reached again.

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Alasdair’s First Taste: An Excerpt

My first demon I found the first time I heard about my father’s adultery. And then, even though, at the time, I wasn’t entirely aware of it, at the bottom of a bottle of warm chardonnay. Thirteen at the time, a journey commenced into after school binges, slurping tepid reds and whites atop our roof, and in the woods behind our house; dabbling in the gateway which- as they, the government and all the other collective thinking types, say- led me to branch out into those smelly mushrooms and, on a few occasions, tripping the light fantastic with Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Those latter activities were more or less short-lived dead ends. Alcohol was my drug of choice.

And choose it I did. Without a care in the world, and I thought of my father with another woman. I take gulps of Stoli and try to blank it out, an eraser to some crinkled notepad scribbled in permanent ink. But I cannot. It will always be. I thought it then, and I think it now- this demon will either bring me to the door that leads to another path- a path detached, untainted, anew- or it will destroy me.

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Preparing for Inter-Galactic Battle; or The Banalities of GI

I wish I could say that I wasn’t preparing my body for a couple of gastrointestinal procedures this afternoon, but that I was doing something far less mundane, something perhaps akin to preparing myself for intergalactic flight, or acclimatizing my body for a one-on-one battle with a creature that feeds off of the fecal matter resting, floating, swishing and swaying through my bowels.

But that’s just crazy.

I am going in for a couple of banal gastrointestinal procedures. I did put nothing in my system all of yesterday but allowable liquids and laxatives to make my innards nice and clean and shiny and pink. I did sit on the pot all of last night, every 30 minutes or so, the result of which a reverberation of liquid striking liquid, and the putrid, lingering aroma of a bowel, cleaned.

And I am very much aware that I am glamorizing, perhaps even romanticizing, the time leading up to what will undoubtedly be a routine endoscopy and colonoscopy; the prospect of which is less than pleasant.

Can you blame me? I mean, did I not say that I am going to the poop doctor?

So I sit, growling tummy and mind in a loopy, fervent stupor, and I wait for the intergalactic battle to come.

It’s going to be out of this world.

You're Going Down, Fecal Monster

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The Day I Stopped Eating – Volume Four

It isn’t sufficient to say that my parent’s marriage, the lack thereof, had been the reason I had stopped eating. Nor is it entirely accurate. The impetus may have been the dichotomy between the two of them, but I was the one managing and propelling and exacerbating my own mental deficiencies.

Surely I couldn’t have contributed anything of considerable weight or importance. Surely this was the delusion that I convinced myself of.

The marriage, the deterioration of, was running on its own steam. It’s only in retrospect (in fact, and quite frankly, all of this is in retrospect; could you see me trying to save it with the sound rationale to no better? I think not) I realize this. Which is to say, the success and the failure of their bond was wholly within their power, within their choosing.

No amount of worry, or desperation, or hand holding, or screaming, or crying was going to change its direction. No amount of heartache, or withering, or destitution was going to help.

I had to realize this. But I couldn’t. The desire to throw myself into the fire was immeasurably powerful. I had to do it, or so I thought.

And I think back on this; I think back to the comforting, warming, health instilling fat that abandoned my frame with such expediency, the result of which dressed me in aching joints and bones, wherein the ligaments of my knees slipped from side to side, like a rubber band rolling back and forth against a smooth river stone.

My knees seemed to ache at a constant, as though the bones were grinding themselves into the pumice stone that was my kneecap. My heart wasn’t any better off, it seemed. I remember, quite distinctly, something my mother had said. In regards to the healthy layer of fat I had lost, “it went to protect your heart.”

I also remember thinking what that would look like. If, for instance, Warriors of Fat, those little opaque blobs of goo, swung their tiny little misshapen bodies around in defense of the last vestige, the vital organ of a dying boy. In this make-believe world of mine, the Warriors of Fat fought bravely against the Stress Monsters, those harbingers of death, and acquaintances of such wicked beings as the Doomsayers of Depression-dom and the Assholes of Atrophy.

In the end, as I realize today, the effort was perhaps mildly courageous, but ultimately flawed, childish, irresponsible. And there really isn’t much sense in wondering about the what ifs. The end result, that of divorce, would have been the same regardless of my tampering.

But I would be remiss if I did not put aside my cynicism, and say that I am better for having experienced it.

After all, experience, if used aptly, can lead to gained perspective, insight into oneself, knowledge and wisdom.

See earlier entries in the series (Volume One, Two and Three)

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The Day I Stopped Eating – Volume Three

The cheating, if you want to call it that (frankly, I don’t; let’s call it abuse; let’s call it hate), was such a foreign concept then.

I had seen it in movies once or twice. The story in which the person cheats, but the counterpart eventually forgives them for whatever reason. They could have been “under the influence,” made a lapse in judgment, lost their mind, succumbed to the wickedness of Lucifer himself.

But, to put it colloquially, this ain’t the movies. And while my mother certainly did forgive him, and invite him back, it wasn’t anywhere near redemptive. Redemption is for the movies. For literature. For those in want of redemption.

He didn’t want it. Not truly, anyhow. He claimed to want it. He professed his pain, his anguish, his sorrow for being such a let-down, a fallen sinner, “only human,” and all of that nonsense.

Hell, he claimed such things, to want forgiveness, to be redeemed.

He wept to be seen. Tears for the outsiders. Forgiveness from the guilty altruists, the pseudo-martyrs.

Meanwhile, he sneered inside.

After all, he’s only human. They’re supposed to sin. Be forgiven.

Not anymore, I say. Take your tramps, your convenient faith, your illegitimacy.

I am done with you.

More to come your way in Volume Four (if you haven’t read the first two: here’s one and two)

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The House Beneath the Earth

The familiar sharp tap between my eyes causes me to pause, propels me back to a place removed from this fairytale. And before I can block it out, the memories come flooding back.

Head over the sink. Bottle of antihistamines beside the faucet. Their pink oblong bodies. They never could quite dry me out. Render me groggy, surely. But remove the pain, remove the deep, internal itch, not a chance.

For years I battled the itch. The allergens that invaded my nasal cavities, my pores and eye ducts- so invariably persistent and cognizant of my discomfort. Even though I spent countless hours in the doctor’s office, blood spots on my arms from when they injected the serum that supposed to render me immune; even after all of that, it was a fight I couldn’t win. They said the injections would make me immune. But after three years, twice a week with the cat and dog and tree and plant and mold and dust in my arms, without any noticeable improvement, I gave it up.

I blame it on the house; the house with the second floor underground, and the walls that stank of mold, and the wood wrought with dew, and the blankets that never could quite bother themselves to stay dry. The house with the upstairs on the first floor, the main entry on the top, our bedrooms, our VHS player, our play area on bottom, under the earth.

The house was one of those pre-modern homes without any of the chemicals, or fancy materials that make building today so goddamn easy. No, it was a house of wood. And mold. Wood and mold. Surely it couldn’t exist without timely comments regarding its odor and the way said odor lingered long enough to taint the clothes of its inhabitants. With all of the time we spent down there, sleeping in our bunk beds, playing tripper ghost near the mini-auditorium fireplace, sitting in the dark to gain night vision, it’s no wonder I’m in this place, alongside the faucet and my pink, oblong comrades.

But the house beneath the earth lives. It lives on in my memory.

Well, It Wasn't Quite This Far Beneath the Earth

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