Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Memories and spring

I had intended to write of spring, rites of spring, crocus of spring springing up, spring blossoms slowly budding on denuded branches.

I had intended to write of my walk with Ellie yesterday evening. Of fresh breezes and blue skies deepening into dusk. Of rustling prairie grasses and a river serpenting through the valley bottom.

I had intended to write of promises and possibilities. Of potential sparkling in the prism of sunlight fracturing off a piece of glass.

That was my intent. And then I read Maureen's poem, Consequence, over at Writing Without Paper and followed up that provocative and delicious read with a visit to Ruth at Synch-ro-ni-zing and all thoughts of writing of spring vanished in a memory bed of my father and the harsh discipline he sometimes wielded with the 'whack' of his belt.

My father was not a violent man. Angry. Yes. But not violent. He had a poet's heart. Saw beauty in every facet of the world. Determined. Strong-willed, some would say stubborn, he wrote poetry to my mother and long letters to we children once we had moved from home. He liked to give advice, and then caution his words with his insistence we needed to do what we felt best.

I always feared that what I felt best would displease him. And thus, learned to submerge 'my will' to fit his.

My father ruled with a strong hand and a stronger will. And when we could not, would not bend to his will, he used the might of his belt to impress upon us the need to conform, to fall in line, to bend.

I was thirteen the last time I remember my father using his belt. The issue between us was a boy. I don't remember the boy's given name, only the nomenclature we used because of his bright red hair. Bozo.

He was older than me by three whole years. A lifetime of experience according to my father.

I had no right to be with him. Especially alone.

The day in question Bozo and I had gone for a walk. We'd sat on a grassy knoll and while I don't remember what we talked about, I do remember the feel of being 'seen', of being visible to this much 'older' man.

He wanted to hold my hand as we walked to the woods across the street and up the hill and beyond the curve in the road that lead away from the apartment complex where we lived in Metz, France. He wanted to hold my hand through the woods, through the ruins of the Roman aqueducts that lay in stony silence in the woods along the path that lead to the knoll where we sat and talked and talked for hours, long past the hour for dinner when I was to have been home.

I knew I was late but I wanted to keep talking. And talking.

And then the hour caught up to me and I stood up and insisted I must get home. Must get back for fear my father would be angry.

The boy stood with me. Started to walk with me. And I insisted he shouldn't. Couldn't. But he insisted he must. He wanted to hold my hand through the woods, down the hill, around the curve that lead back towards home.

I made him stop at the corner, before the apartment block came in view. I made him drop my hand and stay there so that I could make the final approach alone. And as I ran, breathless, late for dinner, I dreamt of stories I could tell to explain my tardiness.

None of them included a boy.

It didn't matter.

My father knew. He always knew.

And he was disappointed. Angry.

And I was defiant. Stubborn. Rebellious.

And as his temper rose, my stubbornness entrenched itself in stony silence held up before me like a shield protecting me from my father's voice angrily insisting I 'listen to him'.

I didn't want to listen to his yelling. I wanted to listen to the boy telling me all the wonderful things he saw in me. I wanted to replay our conversation, word by delicious word. Thought by provocative thought. Feeling by tender feeling.

And my father's anger was making it impossible for me to hear the conversation in my head.

Finally, I bit back. Disrespectful. Irreverent. Rude. And the belt appeared and I glared in rebellious retort and took my punishment without a cry.

I always did that.

Did not cry. No matter how much it hurt. Years of being called a cry baby. Of being told to stop crying had beat my tears into submission.

I would not cry. I would not let them see me hurt.

And the belt whacked and I remained silent and my father cried out for me to apologize. And I wouldn't. I couldn't. Let him win.

Go to your room and think about what you've done wrong, he yelled.

And I did. Go to my room. But I didn't think about what I had done wrong. There were too many illicit and enticing thoughts of a boy crowding my mind to think about wrong-doing and obeying the rules.

And so, in the quiet of my room I curled up on my bed and wrapped myself up in thoughts of a boy who thought I was beautiful. Alone in my room, I immersed myself in memory and dreams of handsome princes riding in on white charges to whisk me away from the everyday world that had me trapped in believing I could never be free to do it my way without a boy to rescue me.

It was the last time my father used his belt on me, but it would be many years before I broke free of believing I did not have the power to create the life of my dreams, without a boy to make it all come true.


Maureen said...

Your story tells so fully and powerfully the meaning of "consequence". And of a choice your father made.


nance marie said...

ah yes, the days of belts, switches and paddles. i remember those.

belts, switches, and hands at home.
and paddles were used in the schools.

S. Etole said...

oh, my ...

Claudia said...

i second what maureen says and i'm glad you found your way to do it..

Fiona said...

Your honesty and disclosure often takes my breath away.

You have the ability to do what every writer aspires to do and that's to put your reader right in the midst of your story and enable them to feel what you felt


Ruth said...

What I love about your story is how your power came into force, even though your father tried to overpower you. Also, your dreams of a boy and his love for you counterbalanced the fear of an angry father. I hope the memories Maureen's lovely poem and my post evoked weren't too painful.

trisha said...

who needs anyone else 24x7 to be happy?

very beautiful post louise, there is so much to learn in it.