Tuesday, November 13, 2007

WRITTEN WORD 22 - Other People

There were plenty of things not to speak about much less write about in the quite rich Connecticut suburb where I lived as a child in fall, winter and spring with my parents and twin brother and Southern grandmother. Things I never considered writing though I sometimes dreamt of being a writer like my honored grandfather up in the White Mountains. I was slow in school and always getting into trouble – hooky and larceny, peeking Tom ventures with other bad kids, explorations of forbidden cliffs and rivers and reservoirs, plus secret trips to city places. And I felt I would never break out of this place I was in, this person I was who was seen as too dumb and bad.

The adults seemed to think they themselves were all right. My father commuted into the city each day. By now city commuters owned the majority of the houses. People around me rarely talked about anything seriously wrong out here in what we called the country. There was only one house where, neighbors said, the wife and children were battered.

The father in that house was an unshaven handyman who rarely worked. Alcohol caused him to slur his ungrammatical words. Paint was peeling and boards were buckled on the house's outside walls. None of us ever saw the inside. The front porch was nearly rotted away. The yard was filled with discarded tin cans and old beer and whisky bottles.

The oldest of five children in that house was a slow-moving, sullen though really pretty 13-year-old girl with bad teeth. She of course never wore the tennis whites or the Bermuda shorts other girls in the town wore in summer. For reasons no one knew, she was not in school. We boys went out of our way to pass her dilapidated house, hoping to get glimpses of her in the shorts she did wear, shorts that had been made by cutting the legs off old work pants. She wore them high from the thigh. She was always alone, always sullen and silent. She was never seen without a hunting knife in a belt sheath. Neighbors were not very surprised when this bad girl got pregnant, but they were shocked when the state police came to arrest her battering father for being the one who had impregnated her.

When this was talked about it was always added that nowhere in the town except in that dingy, run-down house could any such thing have happened. We kids tended to go along with this version of events even though we knew more. We knew how much drinking went on in this suburb, and we knew about marriages breaking up, and the boys told each other stories about parents doing the sorts of things outside their marriages that we all wanted to do when we became old enough. Some kids would occasionally show up in school with black and blue marks they may have gotten at home. But even those of us who secretly felt sympathy for the sullen girl in cut-off shorts still tended to go along with the grown-ups' story that this one poor house was the only place in the town where really bad things could take place.

This was at mid-century, when certain things were almost never talked about openly in American towns such as ours. It was as if then there were no battered women in America. There certainly were no battered women's shelters. And you hardly ever heard anyone speak about abused children.

There were no therapists serving as counselors in our schools. One boy, who sometimes acted angry when there was no apparent cause for anger, went for weekly sessions with a psychiatrist, but when he talked about the experience it seemed the point of his therapy was to get him to adjust to what his parents wanted, which was to become a son who would not be out of place in Hotchkiss or Yale.

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