As I write I think I have to keep underscoring the dramatic things – Deidre repeatedly fucked and beaten by her brother, Elka and Fitz John and perhaps also Paul killing themselves, and other the horrible endings, drugged out and/or choosing to die, to so many still young lives. And there must be ties to what must have been going on when they were really young, decades go, in a perfect seeming summer place surrounded by familiar parents and uncles and aunts and grandparents and great uncles and great aunts and all those sometimes accomplished cousins – the rotating people of my blood who filled the dinner table slots at White Pines, all of whom knew what to do with finger bowls.
This sort of gothic novel version that was emerging from the perfect summer place version of childhood summers in the rarefied White Mountains. This being the proof I needed not so much to convince myself that there had been something wrong but to be able to convince anyone else. These dark memories that were there all along, joined by even darker ones that came into focus only as I wrote.
These dark Gothic things were needed. For the small things, that I knew without any further probing, might not be enough. Small things such as those that had caused the supposed lesser brother in the movie, to lose his voice when he needed it – these small things, being the non-favored brother, being detested by caregivers who adored the favored brother – being alone in a place with many cold people – these small things, these were the things that made it impossible for the guy in the movie to speak – or so the brilliant clinical speech expert in the movie discovered. Things that a Bertie never would have talked about until, at the end, unable to speak without a painful stutter, he had to speak and found he could never speak clearly unless he brought these things into the light. My brother ridiculed me, just like Bettie’s brother made cruel fun of him. And in the way the world was seen through my brother, my laugh was merely a nervous attempt at laughing, and the mistakes I made, always telling myself it was for the last time, would forever be repeated.
There were relatives including a grandmother who like people in Bertie’s childhood, adored my brother and mad it clear they did not like me. And this negative version of me was even worse outside the family – where I could not pass a course – so embarrassing to the favored brother to whom academic honors came – me, so slow, and unable to speak at crucial moments, as in meeting almost anyone,. When I could not speak, not even stuttering speech. And it seemed to me later I would never have spoken if I had not been spotted outside the family, if I had not, aware that outsiders would not always see me the way the family did, have gone from silence to a regional debating championship when I was 15, less than year after I was the dumbest kid in the school, just over a year since I had started spending most of my time, not in the family but in boarding school.
These small things. The family slights. It went on well past childhood. It was fixed in place in childhood and never stopped. My brother the chosen one, no matter where I stood in the outside world. These small things. Not incest and molestation and suicide. Just small gestures of cruelty – a cruel nickname, Speedy, relayed to the world by my brother, small slights, such as the time my father went to see an old friend who was dying and took along for company my brother, but pointedly not me.
I see myself in Connecticut. I am in my room, beside a wardrobe decorated by a folk artist the family had hired when they moved into this rather ramshackle old dormer farmhouse and former boarding house and removed the front porch and changed the focus from the road to the back yard. I am in my room, which has a shaky outside staircase left over from boarding house days that do not seem to link in anyway to the house in its current commuter town incarnation.
My mother is telling me sternly that I should have pride in myself, and I don’t believe anything she says. She knows how I am taunted at schools, and probably by the bother too, and she feels the need, apparently, to put something in place. Whatever they say about you in school, she says, you must realize that you are as good as any of them. I cannot believe she believes something so clearly not true.
Years later when I was finally putting the past together in other ways I told her during a visit to Florida that I went through childhood and into adolescence thinking myself so unaccomplished, and despite having many interests, such as learning cartooning and fishing and sleight of hand magic, I went through al those years berating myself for being so stupid. One detail I did not tell her it that for a long time I would under my breath imitate Mortimer Snerd, a comically stupid ventriloquist’s dummy in the popular Sunday night Edgar Bergin radio show in which he was the number two dummy, t he number one being the very sharp and witty Charlie McCarthy. Like Mortimer Snerd I would repeat over and over, but always directed at myself, the words, the sounds , deer dah duh. Dee dah duh, Speedy. In Florida I told my mother for the first time how until I had been away at boarding school for a time and was getting some recognition I had considered myself –in fact and in any person’s possible perception – to be mentally defective.
She drew back and adopted a haughty tone that I remembered from that long ago time when she told me I was as good as anyone else in a way that did not convince me. This time there was touch of anger behind her words. “I don’t know how you could have had such an idea as that, she said. “It certainly did not come from us.”