I was a really cute kid…a beautiful child actually. When people who have only known me as an adult see my pictures they are always surprised to see how thick, shiny and almost silver my hair was. High cheekbones and big eyes with unnaturally long lashes, I looked like a Precious Moment without the pastels. Little Lord Fauntleroy was a term I heard far too much as a child. Funny thing is, she said it so much, I thought it was a good thing, until one day she informed me (I was six) that it was not and had been meant as a warning. I understood immediately. I wasn’t much of a boy is what she had been saying all along. Nice.
She said I was a happy child and as I was the first grandchild, there is all manner of proof to bear that out. Home movies, scrapbooks, photo albums...all dedicated to the joyful occurrence that is the first. I'm almost always smiling, laughing, moving. Oh alright, if I don't write this there will be hell to pay from my friends: I held court from the moment I figured out there was a court to be held. The trouble is, looking back, I'm not sure if that was who I was or who I evolved into to survive. She said, "I don't remember you ever crying." But I do. I do remember.
When I was four she met a man who would become her second husband, my father being that mere stepping stone I mentioned earlier. He was self-made, self-taught, self-centered, self-aggrandizing…I can’t think of any more but you get the picture. He had reason to be pleased with himself. He had come from nothing and was a millionaire many times over, and I learned a thing or two from him, but more than anything else I remember about him, it was his scent, I guess to a child it was more like a stench, that is the most vivid. He drank gin martinis and I can’t remember a time he didn’t smell like one. He would say goodnight to me, holding me by the shoulders a little too close, and there it was, that gin-soaked blast directly into my wincing face.
“I love you right. You know that right?” he would say. And I would nod and hope the lecture would be short. I remember squirming, which was unusual for me, not being a particularly restless child in the physical sense. Anything to get away from him, and then the guilt because I believed, even then, that I was responsible for everyone else’s feelings.
I can sum up our time together as follows:
They drank…a lot.
They fought…a lot.
And I was alone…a lot. At least it seemed that way.
I think it is important to pause here for a vocabulary lesson. Arguing and fighting are two distinct activities. One is probably acceptable behavior for married people, though not preferred I grant you. Fighting, on the other hand, is a sport and the way they did it never disappointed. She was almost superhuman when she was fighting and he...well, he had more money than God and no conscience so what or who dared stand in his way? She lifted chairs to throw at him and he broke down doors she had locked herself behind…and I sat shaking on the stairwell, or screamed at them, or ran to the neighbor's. I would stay next door for an hour or so until a dark silence fell, and then I would sneak back in and up the stairs to my bedroom.
They never knew I was gone.