Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Wild Becomes Us," Chapter Two

By Clai E. Lasher-Sommers

A. "Soul Dancing"

I rise up and I jump
dance, no shoes on my feet,
music rolls down the mountains.

I know this.

I know the sound, old men
singing blue grass. A husky
soprano woman follows their lead.

The music of this mountain
will soon be lost.
I sing alive memories.

I do not walk up the steep
dirt road,
to hear them.

I would miss these sounds.

This time would be gone.
listen closely.
Old voices and old stories.
One harmony slides between middle
high lead, and low undertones.

This is an epigraph to my joy:

It is just like god to let me sit on this land,
in this chair, in this valley,
with birds singing
no one home, just me.

There are children and adults within this story although sometimes it is difficult to know which is which. There is an intertwining of body and voices. There will be no tricksters or shape-shifters. Clai and Gordon have things to say about a time and place in their lives. Each person was disrupted by violence and by silence. One has found a voice again. The voice is the narrator’s and she hopes to transcend language. It is going to take all her courage to transcend language to bring you the reader forward and back into the wildness of place.

A Beginning, setting the scene:

The house set back from the lake road only by twenty feet. Our landlord inhabited the front part of the house. He was a single older man who would enter our part of the house at will. I always wondered if my mother slept with him, and that is why he put up with us. When I think back to some of the things that happened in that house, I can’t believe that he did not hear things that would be cause for some kind of alarm.

Scar One:

The bottom of our glass door was broken and in splinters. My mother broke it and waited too long to get it fixed. One Sunday morning, while she read the paper on the chaise lawn chair, I fell going into the house. I tripped on the first concrete step. Putting my hand up to hold myself, my hand just hit jagged glass. A very jagged edge sliced my third finger wide open. The scar is still on my hand, irregular and still visible, and still it is a numb area of skin.

I do have some happy memories of living there. It was a beginning. It was summer, and perhaps it was 1965. I must have been eight years old. I was in charge of watching my brother Gordon for some of that summer. He was nearly seven. We lived across the street from a golf course, although when I look at it now I can barely believe people play golf on it. There was a small inn at the top of the golf course where people vacationed. I remember swimming every day and being badly sunburned day after day. Next to our house and kitty corner from the edge of our grassy lot was the best place to hang out, eat French fries, and drink soda. It was a summer restaurant named Bud and Dolly’s. The restaurant sat on the water, with boats in the back tied up to a dock. The small dirt road next to the restaurant would take you to the beach.

Gordon and I spent day after day in that place. Dolly laughed a lot, had blond curled hair, and always wore some kind of 1950s-style apron. Bud cooked the food. He was a bit overweight and slapped a white cooking towel over his right shoulder all the time. His front apron was always greasy and he wore pants that had tiny black and white checks and sturdy shoes. He was as much fun as Dolly – swatting his hand towel at us and making us laugh. There was always music blaring from a stand-up jukebox and smoke from cigarettes rising up from ashtrays. People talked and there might have been beer for the adults. I only remember sitting there watching Bud and Dolly and eating a hamburg, having a coke, and then trudging down to the lake. The lake was shallow for a long way out and you could play as well as swim. Bud and Dolly’s opening each year signaled that summer had officially began.

Scar Two:

Leaving Bud and Dolly’s, Gordon and I walk to the water. The day is hot, and I have my every summer sunburn. I dive into the water and float on my back. I look for Gordon and he is skipping stones, and building a damn in the sand. Soon I notice there are lots of boys gathered a little further out. I hear an insult, and my memory sees my brother getting picked on and me getting out of the water. I stand tall, angry and yelling. A rock hits the right side of my forehead and blood spurts out of my face and begins dripping. On the right hand side of my forehead I have a scar from one of the boys throwing a rock at me. There is still a bump there. Isn’t that weird after 45 years?

Scar Three:

I wonder what was going on with my mother. I guess she felt as terrified as I did on some level. She had to leave us sometimes with no sitter. Sometimes we would go to work with her, and then I guess sometimes we couldn’t.

I am barely eight years old and my brother Gordon is six. One day I am in our house and I hear my brother crying and screaming. I run out the side door and into the road. Blood is gushing down his leg and he is holding his fishing pole and box and limping, going slowly, shuffling his feet trying to get home. I take Gordon immediately to the next-door neighbor, who is a large woman. She answers her door as I scream for help. She is visibly upset. She takes us into the bathroom and washes Gordon’s knee and legs and puts bandages on him. She calls my mother who is at work. I remember talking to my mother on the phone, but I cannot remember if she came home.

Before she sent us out back into the world, the neighbor gave us each a sandwich. The tears stopped for a while as I took Gordon home to sit on the couch.

Gordon started to heal, but his leg got very infected and he developed boils. We had to go to the doctor; twice his leg was infected. The office was across from the park in Brattleboro. The floors were hard and stark, and the doctor wore a white coat. The nurse put Gordon on the table, and my mother kept sniffling. Gordon is being held down and a doctor is now leaning against the table with a little knife. The infected boil on the inside of his knee is being lanced. I run to him, he is so little and crying, the lancing stopped and the doctor bandaged him and we were on our way home.

Scar Four:

Some Friday nights my mother would take Gordon and me to the Howard Johnson’s at the round about circle in Brattleboro, Vermont. My brother always sat there, his little body in a chair, his legs dangling, moving up and down. I think he always got a hot dog and French fries, and I cannot remember eating. Sitting in my chair I was small, and yet I was the protector; I watched over things carefully. Grownups were drinking heavily, my mother was still in her work clothes, dress, stockings, and shoes, her camel hair coat on her chair. Gordon and I at some point fell asleep. Late into the night, we are taken outside in the cold air, placed into the car. My mother drove a Chevy corvair.

The next thing I remember, lights are flashing; blood is on the camel hair coat my mother wears, and police cars are all around us. Standing there next to my brother and me are a woman and a man – complete strangers -- who are taking us to to their home. Tension keeps rising, as these people want Gordon and I to leave the scene. My mother is sitting on the ground, with her legs stretched out and blood on her face and she is saying, holding on to my hand, “you are my children, remember you are my children?”

I am detached from her; I am terrified. Gordon has his hand in mine and we are being led away. Perhaps the couple were people my mother knew from work. I do not know. I do not remember their faces except for this details. A small round face for the woman and her husband in a suit. They took us to their home and Gordon and I drank hot chocolate and we were put to bed. Gordon’s eyes would search out mine and I would search out his, and we would hold hands. We wanted to stay in the comfort of this house but we were ushered out the next day and returned to my mother.

Each time we went to Howard Johnson’s I would dread it. After a long time, we leave the restaurant and direct ourselves toward my back. We would find the car, and I would open the back door and help Gordon into the back seat. I would sit in the front scared witless, as I knew something bad would happen. I would have to stay completely alert. There was a different routine since the accident. My mother would drive us across the bridge into New Hampshire, up route 9, and unto the lake road.

Scar Five:

MEMORY: I am yelling: "Straight, straight, you are going into the ditch, mom, mom get out of the ditch."

Our lives were in some balancing act.

I remember driving at different times. I reach far back and see myself driving for a short stretch of road, unsure how I reached the pedals. She would mumble, I would follow some sort of directions about maneuvering the car. How does a little girl in second grade drive a Chevy Corvair one mile? I had to protect Gordon. I could barely see over the steering wheel but it was always so late and no one was not the road but us. I would get us home, get Gordon up if he was asleep, and get him into bed.

Scar Six:

This memory is clear; the why of what happened is not clear. My bedroom was to the right of the stairway. I am in my bed, and it is daytime. My mother has tied my hands to the bottom of the bedposts and my legs to the edges of the bed.
I had an antique rope bed. It had been my grandmother’s and I cherished it. It held me in my sleep.

Surreal: I remember laying there on the bed, my mother drunk beside it. I am tied up and her hands were on my body, and she was attacking my body with her teeth. I remember she was saying things in between biting me. I remember this: I was not all the way there in body and spirit. It is just like I was watching a movie. My mother started at my arms and bit me all the way down the arms with hard bite. Then she started on my legs.

I cringe even now, it hurt so much. She sank her teeth into my skinny legs. She hit the tops of my lower legs. Her teeth met my bone.

Someone must have heard me. I do not remember who it was. Small man, round face, dark eyes. He got my mother away from me and untied me. My legs hurt. A woman as small as he was appeared next to the man. My legs hurt. A woman appeared next to the man. Next memory: I am in my kitchen while the man looked around and saw a bottle of sherry. The man asked me if that is what she had been drinking, and I nodded yes.

I am not going to tell the story slant. There is internal scarring and it is time for a controlled burn.

"Breaking Language"

We need a controlled burn here.
Clear out the valley.
Clear out the underbrush.
Invasive virus.

This is no fairy tale,
I lay out the memory
In an earlier time,

With a nightingale
And a soft wind.

The smoke curls into Spring,
And now we may cry.

The controlled burn has taken
Baby wood ducks and hidden them,
Tree frogs and concealed them.

Given refuge
To are honest memories.

It is all hybrid, in an out, here and there,
And brings the burn
To smoking ashes.

Writer Clai E. Lasher-Sommers, a native of New Hampshire, is writing a memoir about growing up. At age eleven, her father shot her in the back, and she spent a year at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, recovering from her wounds. "Wild Like Us" is a multi-genre piece taken from her memoir.


glk said...

Wonderful work, Clai. The photos you've included with your stories add to their power. I enjoyed reading what you gave our group last summer in this new format. Thanks for sharing it.


Donna Kerbel said...

Clai your story is heart wrenching. You write exquisitely and the child in you certainly needs a big hug. You are to know that you have been heard and now that your story of those dark days, is in the sunshine of today, and hopefully you can begin to heal. I hope you know how beautifully you write.