This week's Guest Voice marks the return of Harvey Monder, who resides in the American state of New
York, with a touching story about a sensitive eight-year-old boy trying to make his way at a time when his family were preoccupied with other things. It brings to mind Henry Roth's Call it Sleep, published in 1934.
"Go wash your hands,” mommy says to me, “Your father will be home soon.” I run into the bathroom and wash my hands. Mommy is putting plates on the table. My brother is at school. He's in college. He's a lot older than me. My sister will be home soon. She's also a lot older than me. She must be out with one of her boyfriends.
I want to play some more but it's getting dark outside.
It is almost supper time and daddy will be home from work soon. I didn't do anything wrong but I know that he will lock me in the cellar. I'm only eight years old and it is dark and scary down there. I can't reach the light. I am afraid of the bugs and spiders and centipedes and noises. I am afraid that a spider will bite me and there are all those spider webs. I cry and bang on the door, but no one comes to get me out. Mommy was standing there, but she didn't stop him. She never does this to me, so I must have done something that she didn't like too. But I don't know what.
It is supper time and daddy doesn't like the way I am eating. He yells at me and I start to cry. He grabs me and locks me in the cellar. I am frightened and crying. I have that empty feeling and my chest hurts. My throat hurts from yelling and gasping between sobs. My hands hurt from banging on the door and I am afraid that I will fall down the steps. That happened to me once and I had a really banged-up thumb for a long time.
Mommy finally lets me out. After I eat I sit in the kitchen and play at the kitchen table. I can't hide in my room. All the rooms are lined up so that you can walk from the kitchen at the back of the house to mommy and daddy's room at the front. The living room is next to the kitchen, then there is my room, which I share with my sister, then my parents' room.
My brother's bedroom is the only room you don't have to walk through. My brother is ten years older than me. He spends all his time studying or playing his violin or is away from home. My sister is eight years older than me. She thinks I am just a pest. She doesn't even talk to me. I made up my own world in my head. At least there, no one can scare me.
Last night I heard daddy and my sister yelling at each other. I hid in my brother's room. I don't know what they were fighting about, but my sister ran out of the house.
Sometimes I run away. Around the corner from us are these big apartment buildings. I can hide in the alleyways between the building and in the basements of the buildings. They are not like my house. They are still scary, but have lights so you can see where you are going and can run away from the big roaches and rats that live down there. He hasn't found me yet. I think I am safe here. But I have to go home for supper.
Tomorrow I am going to cross the street. I know I am not supposed to, but I am going to do it anyway. I am going to sneak in to the train and ride it to the library. He won't find me there. But I still have to be home for supper.
Daddy is a butcher but I don't think he likes it. Mommy told me he was supposed to be a furrier but had to stop. Mommy stays home and takes care of me and my cousins. I have fun playing during the day, but on the weekends and in the evening I have to be careful. I try not to be home. I'm really good at riding the subway and I go to the Brooklyn Museum and the Library and the Botanical Gardens. I even ride up to the American Museum of Natural History. I fit under the turnstile and no one ever stops me.
When I get older I learn how to turn the light on in the cellar. I finally go down the steps and find things to do there. It becomes my favorite place in the house. I am now a faster runner than my father and run around the corner and hide in the maze of alleyways and basements. I wait a couple of hours and, when I know he is asleep, I come home.
I guess that fear has its positive side. It made me independent. I learned to be self sufficient. It taught me how to navigate the maze of the city. It also taught me to turn the lights on so that I can see that my fears were groundless.
Time passed, my parents separated, I grew older, married, had children. My father settled, losing his rough edges as life wore him down. He tried to become a father and a grandfather but it was too late. The damage had been done.
It was only until many years later that I finally understood why he was the way he was. The disappointments in his life had caused him to lash out, and his children were the ones who had to bear the brunt of his anger. He had been trained as a furrier and had a stable well-paying job but had developed severe allergies to fur.
Forced to change careers he had decided to find work as a butcher, but didn't really have the training. He always got the most menial jobs and never made much money, no matter how hard he worked. As he was so poorly paid he was forced to live on the charity of his in laws. The house we lived in was owned by my grandfather, and my mother was paid by her sisters to look after their children.
His frustration at the position he was in fueled his anger, alienating his wife and children and contributing to the breakup of his marriage. He passed away in his 70's due to a hospital error after some minor surgery.
Harvey Monder lives in the Hudson Valley in New York State.
He has been writing mostly memoirs for the past many years. He also
writes about people he may or may not have met and who may or may
not exist. He also likes writing about places that he might have
visited. He holds a doctorate in an area unrelated to writing. His
veracity is unquestioned by the gullible and, as a spinner of tales,
has been known to keep an audience awake for minutes. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright ©2011. Harvey Monder. All Rights Reserved.