Sunday, June 19, 2011
Memory, That Blurry Lens
Memory is the unreliable narrator, a fiction sleuthing for the truth. So much so that many vivid scenes from my past may have happened to me or my brother or not-at-all except in my fecund imagination. I have visited them so often I can’t tell the difference or where the facts, by extension, become fantasy. What purpose is served in the retelling if they aren’t actual? Because the fabrications have grown into my mythos, my reality, my truth.
Therefore before I leave my visitation to that distant period I need to confess my life as a near-felon. Let me set the crime scene.
I have spoken about the candy store we called Pops. The owner was an old man (to my eyes) with a graying mustache, probably in his early 50s. My friends and I collected bottles from here and there and brought them to him for deposit, two cents for soda, three cents for milk bottles. This was big money for us. Eleven cents got us into the movies. Otherwise we’d have to risk sneaking in from the side alley.
The backs of Pops candy store and my apartment building faced each other. Our rear yard looked out onto his storage area. Pop kept the empties there in a shed. The rickety structure looked like somebody put it together on their lunch hour. The walls and roof were mostly chicken wire. You might say I cased the joint. An apple tree in the grassed area of our apartment house looped over those gleaming empties which looked to me like Fort Knox.
Was it I or my brother or neither of us who climbed that tree with an eye on a section of loose wire large enough for a hand to slip through to the mine of gold bullion? Maybe it was biblical, being an apple tree, that providence intervened and I/he fell to the ground with a broken ankle. Huck Finn would have succeeded, I’m sure. Maybe we just weren’t cut out for malicious mischief. And if we’d swiped a few bottles and walked them back in the front door, Pop would probably have spotted them anyway. He could look at a bottle and know if it was his or the A&P’s.
Innocence isn’t lost so much as misplaced. It kept coming and going those pre-pubescent years. The front of my apartment building on Forest Lane faced a private school. It was for rich kids from the real Forest Hills with its restrictive covenants, not for pretenders like me. But it had this grassed area so green and so vacant, ringed by a fifteen-foot chain link fence. Such a playing field should not, by any law of justice, stay un-trodden. We would scale that fence regularly and were regularly shooed off by a custodian or the school principal who passed us walking down the hill for his morning paper. One or twice he called the police.
One day my friend, Johnny Kassabian, and I went over that fence. He slipped coming down and a knife he was carrying went into his arm. Why the knife? Certainly not as a weapon. His purpose had something to do with a project for the Boy Scouts but whatever we were up to escapes me with the emergency of stopping the blood and getting out of there for treatment. It turned out to be a lesson in tying a tourniquet and a large dose of remorse for trespassing.
The knife severed a nerve in his upper arm and Johnny lost use of two fingers. I remember looking up his condition in an anatomy book at the time. It had a name which I’ve never forgotten, Palmar fascia aponeurotic expansion of the palmaris brevis. This string of glossolalia had a ring to it. He managed, somehow, to compensate for his loss and was a fine draftsman and engineer.
I had four close male friends during those years from age ten to twenty. One is still close, one died early and the other two have long since disappeared from my life. I can still hear their voices, except for one. If you’re out there Johnny Kassabian, please contact me. Did I lead you into temptation going over the walls of Eden? Say I wasn’t so.