Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Answer to Dweezila, 3

I had a set of little blue plastic soldiers, half an inch high. They were supposed to be Foreign Legionairies. Why they were blue, I have no idea. At the time I had not the slightest idea of what the Foreign Legion was, so I saw no reason they shouldn't wear blue clothes, carry blue rifles, and have blue hands and faces.

I had them at the dinner table, that first night in our new house with my new stepfather. I marched them in a circuit around my plate. Set them up in strategic positions on my napkin and silverware. Eventually they spilled onto the plate itself, taking up positions behind green beans, standing sentry over the meatloaf barracks, cautiously climbing the dinner-roll to survey the terrain. I was dimly aware of disappointing the people around me. But I always disappointed the people around me. What was wanted was a good-natured, cheerful, outgoing, mischievous boy. Something in the Tom Sawyer line. A boy with enthusiasm, a boy who made friends, a boy who scorned girls. What was wanted was someone to fill the role of Beaver at the "Leave it to Beaver" dinner table -- brash, impetuous, full of impish ideas; no harm in him.

I was reserved, sullen, and pessimistic. I had no friends. I liked girls. I had no ideas that had to do with actually doing or making anything. My ideas were about how to communicate with alien species. What the consequences of the population explosion would be. Whether infinity admitted of degree. That sort of thing. And there was harm in me. Oh yes, Precious. There was harm in me.

I was intensely visual. As a particularly enterprising legionary scaled my milk glass, and perched uncertainly on the rim, I became enamored of the blue and white. I loved then, as I love still, the intersection of planes and three-dimensional objects. The Legionary slipped and fell into the glass. He floated there, half-submerged, the lines of intersection with the surface making fascinating curves of blue against white. Soon his comrades, a whole lemming Foreign Legion, were dropping into the milk.

"That's it," rumbled my stepfather. I looked up in some surprise. He was standing up. My mother was making half-hearted protests. What was going on?

"He's just trying to see how much he can get away with," said my stepfather, almost kindly. He wasn't especially angry; it was just clear to him that it was time to exert some authority. It took me a few moments to understand what he meant, and when I did I flushed with rage. By that time he had hold of me -- he was a big and very strong man -- and he marched me into my new room, bent me over his knee, and spanked me, hard.

I had been struck exactly once by an adult, before this. One short sharp richly deserved swat. Never this kind of ritual humiliation, deliberate and extended.

When he finally allowed me to stand up, dry-eyed, speechless, and trembling with fury, I said not a word. From that moment till I left his house, I hated him, coldly, implacably, and absolutely. Oh yes. There was harm in me.

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