I have a cluster of memories that are all connected to a chance meeting with a young man in the pine trees between 14 Village Drive and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and Elementary School. The Elementary School expansion had just been finished and I can still remember the smell of paint when I snuck into the new building, to poke around the summer before it opened. “I was just buying a coke” from the only pop machine in Mount Carmel (in a school) was the answer I had prepared, more like Jack Dalton than McIver, on the chance that I ran into someone while I was “lost”. I was into every room and closet of that entire facility. Never got caught.
There was however, nothing to say the day I was caught dropping out of the hayloft of Two Gaits Barn, so I just ran like hell. Chased by a mad-eyed red-haired young man with bad teeth who ran after me like a demon and as far as he could before running out of air.
Thank god everyone smoked in those days, it gave a guy a chance to get away.
But not from the nuns, with the Sisters of Saint Joseph, it was random acts of violence from overweight women bound into tight black stretch materials and habits hiding everything but their faces in sweltering 100-degree heat and humidity which was an average temperature of a summer day in Indiana. The wind must flow right through the same materials in the winter. Catholics! Cigarette butts in the barbecue outside the convent. Sister Philip, trying to teach me to spell in a dark room of the convent. She was the youngest Nun I had ever seen. A music teacher literally hitting my hands with a steel rod, just like in the movies. I think that I may have confused the nuns, maybe it wasn’t all random.
Every Saturday, Grandma Ruth and MaryJo would come over for dinner. MaryJo would bath all the kids for Sunday Mass. Around the age of nine, I began to feel uncomfortable with this ritual and during my weekly enema told her that I didn't want her sticking things up my ass any more, at which point she accidently squirted soap into my eyes. That hurt, but that was the end of that ritual. I often wondered if I was the only one. I don't think that MaryJo actually thought about what she was doing. I think she was sleep walking.
Not everyone smokes, but that doesn't mean that anyone gets away . Jean and MaryJo were both abused by their father. Jean became an alcoholic. The first time I got drunk was when Jean took me on a trip and passed out in the hotel room leaving the bottle. I threw up all over the carpet. I may have been 9.
Ruth was a chain smoker who held her cigarette up to keep the ash from falling to the floor. Soaking wet, she may have weighed 90 pounds. When I went to Brebeuf, dad would drop me off in the morning and I would often lay over at their apartment, waiting for Charlie to pick me up after school. Other days, I would have to hitch hike 20 miles, walking the last two to home from the highway. Ruth would always make me something to eat. I think that I may have eaten Maryjo's dinner on more than one occasion. A few years later Ruth was bed ridden due to osteoporosis, in continuous pain and convinced that she was going to go to hell.
Eventually I decided that in large families the eldest is like the bow of a ship. If there's any shit in the water, that's where it's going to hit first.
Father McDonald had a dachshund. Every Sunday I would listen to sermons about money and sin from a huge pock-faced, cigar smoking Irish priest. Weekday mornings, I would serve 6 am mass responding in rote Latin while Jean played the organ at the back of the church and 'sang out the mass'. One summer day I was tasked with answering the phone at the rectory while Father McDonald ran errands. Before he left however, he interrogated me in his study while smoking a cigar. I woke up in the rectory kitchen, lying in a pool of my own drool on the kitchen table. At first I thought that I had fallen asleep at the table while waiting for Father McDonalds return but then I saw his car backing out of the garage as he left for the day and realized that something was wrong. It was not the first time I had fallen asleep around this guy. Later the kids at school, caught me rubbing my ass. Brutal. I thought that I had worms or something.
Learning that the Catholic Church had a habit of exporting pedophiles to remote locations, cleared up a lot of confusion. The Village of Mount Carmel was about as far from Ireland as you can get. Learning about Bill Crosby, cleared up a lot more. All this took a long time. Years.
Susanne was that tomgirl from the movies, with the sun glistening in her hair and deeply tanned skin.
She was a year older, I followed her around like a puppy. I was besotted, with no idea as to what that meant. She lived at the end of the road; where Charlie disturbed a bee nest resulting in multiple stings (for me). Charlie had a angel, that kept him from personal harm, with absolutely no benefit to those around him.
I remember crossing the Narrows Gate Bridge in heavy traffic. He was driving with his knees reading from some New Yorker article, looking intently into my eyes and waving his finger to emphases some obscure technical moral point! I grew up this way, decades before earbuds so it's possible some of it sunk in.
Susanne's dad, a chemist, built a baby cradle for one of my siblings. Her mother, prematurely gray, was, weirdly, attractive to me as a boy. So it was like being fired on Friday with no warning when one day Jean told me that I wasn’t allowed to play with Susanne anymore. She wouldn’t tell me why. Susanne was the (?) of my life, so I did something unheard of in the 1950s! I demanded to know WHY? I broke a chair, Jean chased me through the house with a piece of that chair in her hand and she cornered me, in the large bedroom.
Note: This was not just any chair. With a university degree, Jean probably had 6 or 7 kids by then, living out her religious beliefs, had taken up antiquing as an escape from talking to children all day. The chair was a child's rocking chair, painted black with gold trim features. There wasn't anything left, but the piece in her hand.
I stood up to her and told her if she came any closer, I would take away the stick hit her with it. She shook her head as we both came to our senses but in anger said the weirdest thing that I can ever remember hearing as an insult: Jean told me that my IQ was only 145 and that my brother was smarter than I was.
Why, with my intelligence and $2, I can get a coffee at Timmies.
I stopped going to church by dressing up for mass and then hiding in the bushes until people started leaving the church. I was hiding out one Sunday when I was “caught” by a young man. At first, I thought I was busted, then I realized that he was just hiding out, smoking a cigarette in the bushes.
Everyone smoked in those days, it gave a guy a chance to run away.
Then I recognized who he was: he was the older brother of one of my classmates. His younger brother had not started school until late in the Spring, and when he did, he arrived with a lunchbox, literally packed, a small treasure chest of fruits, vegetables, and deserts. Hot soups and spoons. I had never seen anything like it before. My classmate had juvenile diabetes and he did not survive until the next school year.
I remembered his older brother from the funeral because I had passed out while standing in the smoke of my censer, on an August afternoon while serving the Mass. Some men carried me outside and laid me in the grass. Somehow, I “got it”, I understood why being outside when he should have been in the church was OK; that it was OK not to want to go into the church anymore. GOD SUCKED~!
These experiences are life sentences without possibility of parole: shadow work looks at the prison bars.
I have a persistent cluster of memories that are tied to this chance meeting, including out-of-body flights over the local fields and open gates where an open gate meant there wasn’t a bull in the field. An open gate meant there were not hogs in the bush, an open gate was an open invitation to go right in and take a look, and that’s how I found Fergies Pond. I followed a creek because of an open gate.
As the crow flies, Fergies Pond was about one mile from 14 Village Drive, as the creek flows for a young boy, the trip never really ends; but this creek comes to an abrupt change as it passed under the rise of a railbed. Here the creek runs through that railbed in a culvert that demanded a small river. An undercut had been dug on the downstream side of the culvert to ensure that debris would not clog the end of the pipe. That was Fergies Pond, just big enough to float in and pretend. You can find the old railbed on google as a trail.
The last days of my innocence were spent at Fergies Pond after being separated from my best childhood friend by her mother for reasons that I did not understand. In a kinder more human time and place, a few years later we would have been natural first lovers, but that never happened. One of those sad regrets made more potent because in her 20’s, Susanne died after having an illegal abortion. We were, after all living in Indiana, in a affluent Catholic enclave, where every Sunday Father McDonald preached a sermon demanding no birth control, separating children by gender and 10% of your income.
After finishing with the Sisters, I was promoted to the dumb class at the all-male Brebeuf College Preparatory School where Jesuits fine-tuned my appreciation of the absurd. You can take the child out of the atrocity, but you can't take the atrocity out of the child. Growing up is something we must do.
I'll tell you one thing, Sexual Repression Leads to Many Problems.
What is the matter with all these people?
-Icarus Flyby outside Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church
Spirit can find any of us any time she wants.