Original writings by Adrienne Nater

The Somewhat Précis

 

"There on the first pages: telegrams, birth announcements, gift cards, congratulatory

messages, hand dated pictures, mother with baby, grandmother with baby, grandpa with baby, baby on a rug, in the style of the day, to wit nude, baby holding the garden hose sans clothes save a bonnet, daddy in his trunks, lifting weights. No tears here." More pages. "There’s Aunt Jean N., cousin Donnie, that picture, remember,: Boyle Heights, Aunt Jean’s, the dinner table; was I even a year old?

My father’s family, my mother, all at the table, the menorah, the white cloth, plates, food, drinks, I‘m in the highchair. It was noisy, talking, laughter. No one is watching me, listening to my pleadings. I had that feeling, a high pitched ringing in the ears, I was unable to keep my eyes open, something was rising in my throat, burning, I was unable to breath, my little inner voice was saying, ‘don’t let it out, can’t mess up the table, keep your mouth shut, tight, tight: It can’t come out if your mouth is shut." Wrong! Oh, boy did I ever cry, I cried, volumes, out of fear, fear of having done the forbidden. I made the mess. Aunt Jean my savior."

Another page. "South Gate. My picture in a sailor suit…the whistle had been missing from the pocket. I screamed, dry-eyed, the picture could not be taken until I found that whistle. I ran all over the house searching; then I screamed and real tears flowed, the punishment for the first outbursts were painful slaps across my face. I can’t recall how the whistle was found; but in the picture, the whistle is in the pocket; pictures are such curiosity remnants of memory, unlike mirrors that only reflect an image so long as they are looked into."

A few more pages, another picture, the birthday party. It must have been after I lost my Daddy or my Daddy lost me: In Hollywood, Franklin Avenue. I can hear, "Don’t leave the driveway and keep clean." I was bored, lonesome, and searching. Picture this: I see the grass, the trees, the empty open space. I am wearing a beautiful dress with tiny embroidered flowers on the bottom of the hem and at the collar. It is a soft fabric, softly colored, on my feet white ankle socks and new white strap over shoes. My head is covered with long, plump curls of an amazing richness of texture and color, I pushed my tricycle: up the sidewalk to the top of the hill, peddled across the short end of the block, rounded the corner and behold, before me a wondrous hill:

I could coast all the way to the bottom, faster then I could go on my own pedal power. I put my feet on the pedals and pushed. Gravity took over: pedals spun faster and faster, my legs out of control, I don’t know what to do, how to stop. Off of the sidewalk, into the street and "Crash, smash, tumble and roll" body, bike, hurled to the asphalt, new dress, white shoes, tricycle, torn, scuffed, bruised, bent; head bleeding, arms and legs scraped. I was crying. No one was there. "Can’t remember the stumble back, I do remember the screaming when I was seen, ‘I don’t care how you’re hurt, you were ordered to stay in front, to keep clean, you are here to be in this birthday party and you will be in the party. Here’s some ice.’"

The lump was huge, the pain throbbing, humiliation, the anger, the unsympathetic response. The picture: me, scraped arms and legs, torn dress, holding ice on the lump, tears standing out on my cheeks, all in the midst of a birthday celebration."

 

The next few pages flipped by: the ensemble picture of the Tom Thumb Wedding at Los Felis Elementary School. "I am the flower girl. I look miserable. I had cause. I had fallen up the steps to the stage. A mother, not my own, she didn’t come, picked me up, comforted me, stroked my head, held me close, wiped my tears. They were tears of shame more then pain.

And look: the pictures when I got my first two-wheeled bike. Was it a birthday or Christmas? It shows me in front of the house at Myra Street: the photographs faded away, time flashed fast forward: loss of her bicycles; the first, this at fourteen: "we went everywhere together, always as one. I had long conversations with my little maroon bike. We were friends of the best sort. I talked he listened. He could be trusted with secrets. And then my friend was gone. I came home one day; a stranger bike was there.

I must have been nine going on ten. How I did mourn. ‘Daddy, (I had to call my step-father, Daddy) you didn’t even ask me, I don’t want a bigger bike, I want my friend back.’ I was crying tears of anger. He was devastated! I was inconsolable! My God, the tears did overflow. And wasn’t the anguish unfathomable?

How does one explain crying over the loss of a bike? Like crying over split milk, one does. And then, after my affection grew for my second friend, it was stolen from the bike rack at the May Company where my aunt worked: we had had lunch together; it was a special treat." She remembered her Aunt Willa, a kind, calm, loving woman.

"You know Mac, I can remember running back into the store, finding my aunt in the employees’ room and wailing, ‘my bike, it’s gone!’ I was frantic. I had lost another of my only friends in the world. I cried. You have no idea what this loss felt like."

Mac, cocked his head to the side, being a polite listener, he did not interrupt.

But he was thinking, "Of course, I know the feeling of loss, I almost lost you. You wanted one of my littermate sisters, that nasty movie star had picked me for her pup. I was pick-of-the-litter. But you, you ignored me. I had to watch you leave every Saturday; I did everything I could to get your attention, I stood at the side of the pen, I tried to lick your hand, to get you to pick me up. When you took pictures, I crowded into the front; I never took my eyes off of you. I even risked punishment when I chased you into the horse ring. You didn’t want me, you did not want a boy dog. I cried my inner tears every Saturday when you left without me. But, things happened and here I am." He put his paw on her hand as she went on with her reflections.

I don’t remember leaving my family home in South Gate to live in a place on Franklin Street in Hollywood. I have a vivid memory of the day during this time: my father failed to keep his promise to spend the day with me. He left me alone, waiting, in front, on the street corner, he never came; I waited for so long, looking down the street for him, I cried, but I didn’t cry as I returned to face my mother. No album picture of this event well, not in a tangible album, but the one in my head. A vivid recollection, as though I was out of body, looking down at myself. I was startled:

 

I could list the crying times: "I cried when my hair was washed, the soap got in my eyes, cried when mother combed my thick long hair, it pulled, I cried when I was thrown from my pony, Jeanne, I was four, cried when Snowball was run over, I was four, (he was my first dog; followed me home at the end of a rope), cried every time the wicked queen/witch comes on the screen in Snow White 1938, 1939; those were tears of fear. Poor Uncle Barney, he sat with me in the theater lobby every time I ran out, I’d run out, he’d follow; comfort me until the scenes were over. I remember peeking through the lobby curtains, checking to see if she was gone, Hum, interesting, I had to purchase the video film not too long ago so I could see the entire film without the running out. I was sure that Uncle Barney was going to be my New Daddy. Uncle Barney had made this album for me. I cried when the promise of a pony of my own was broken, cried when my tennis shoes were thrown into the Yosemite River by the bullies at Military Camp, 1940, cried when I got a penicillin shot in my tiny arm, I was eleven, cried when my blind canary died, I was thirteen, cried while I read a sad story about a dog, a horse, a deer, cried when I was slapped, but only if it was a surprise attack, cried when I had to wear a badge to school that said, ‘liar’." Solved the problem. I put a sweater on to hide the truth.

I glanced down. He looks up. There’s a knowing silence. Then my voice:

"So Mac, let’s review, I had cried at times from physical pain, loss, fear, disappointment, anger. I could cry, then not, when, what had transpired? Was it one traumatic event or was it a gradual hardening of my persona?" I am convinced that I needed this answered before anything else.

 

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She was feeling a cold, gripping dread envelope her still motionless body as she struggled with the exhumation of her memories, digging deeper: into times, events that were absent from the album: an unwanted, long buried something was nagging at her. She felt: Not the hard ground, the carpet of leaves, the dust, the bugs, not even the warmth of the sun. They meant nothing. Something must mean something. She glanced about searching for a clue. Some voice in her head whispered, "Look to the father." She disregarded the passing thought; she needed to continue with her research.

Even though her eyes were closed, she thought she caught a glint of light or movement. She glanced over her shoulder. The roofline of the old house was all she saw; it was barely visible through the weeds. That old, ugly house, and then the sound of a sharp slap, a wooden screen door slamming shut, and was she hallucinating? Before her eyes, like a mirage, another house emerged, shifting in the light, growing in dimensions, blending boards for bricks, mortar for nails, together now taking its rightful place.

This house! It looks haunted. Yes! It was haunted: Or it was haunting her? Select Academy, her orphan’s home for the two years; maybe this could be her time of lost tears.

She had no problem reconstructing the look of the house; it was there, right in front of her, 6th and St. Andrews, or of remembering that part of her day. It was not raining, in fact the day was warm and sunny, but she was cold, a familiar sense of gloom surrounded her; the air hung heavy with dejection, rejection and silence. The car was at the curb. And it was from the curb she first saw it, from the rolled down car window, a white structure, a high-pitched roof, two stories, a big porch with rounded pillars, a long grey driveway with grass in the center, it must be cement, a broad, sloping green lawn. There was no one to be seen.

She could hear playground sounds, there was no playground that she could see; playgrounds belong to schools not houses. A huge front door of brown polished wood caught her attention. It was inset with colored glass. No glint or glitter reflected from these glass designs, so it must have been late afternoon; the sun was in the west, setting. She stared at the door; it was as though it was only to be seen, not used, no one opened this door.

The car door: flung open, she was ordered out of the car, her hand grabbed, she was led up the side of the house, up the driveway. There was a suitcase between them. She knew better then to hold back, to do so, was to be dragged. Their path was not to the beautiful front door; there was another door, an ugly brown wood screened door, this was the door to which she was marched. She tied to look around: on either side of this off centered entrance are flowers and bushes; she can picture them.

A hand reached out above her head, she flinched and ducked, there was a glint of red nails, the sound of a rap, rap, the door was pulled open, after another determined knock and an unfamiliar voice responding "Enter." She was then thrust into the emptiness of another world, there was the sound of a door slamming behind her and….

The sound of a sharp crack, an explosion resounded in her head. She was jolted back to the present. Her eyes flashed open, the sun blinded her for a moment: The house, the old neighbor’s house, the sound, like that of a whip cracking. A whip! "I had a whip once; brought it home from the circus; Grandma used it, I burned it. And my Uncle Jim used a whip he had been a lion tamer. And Mac, it would be like you having your father at Madison Square Garden Grand National Dog Show."

 

‘Look to the father.’ Ignored. "Uncle Jimmy, What a glorious story he would be, I’ll have to put him down on paper one day." She remembered being so proud to be by his side, her hand in his, or on his shoulders, seven feet high, and happy, so happy with him.

At the circus he was somebody, we were somebody. Having an Uncle who was once a lion tamer, known by everyone at the circus, getting in free, meeting the circus people, more important than a father that made lots of money. "Hi there Jim, who’s that beautiful little girl with you, does she want some cotton candy, lookin’ good there ol’ Jim, have yourself a good ol’ visit with the guys and gals in the tent. Clyde is in his trailer, why doncha go visit him before the lion act?"

Then the run of this happy memory fled from her like a deer fleeing the hunter. "He died suddenly, I was in the tenth grade, I never shed a tear, I tried. I would screw up my face and squeeze, the dam held, built so well it did not leak."

She was trembling with shame. "What was I thinking…where was I? Oh yes, it was about lacrimal emissions." She smiled, ironically, at her self-saving intellectual word selection.

Mac was still there. He looked sad but he was not crying. She stared at him and flashed back to that horrible time when her dog Ginger had been dragged from her arms into the Dog Pound truck.

"Oh damn, I don’t want to pursue that memory, I may cry, I don’t cry! Quit! You must keep your thinking orderly, no melodramatics:" She began: into a tears/cry search, into her books, into her memory of written and unwritten tears: "what about ― animals: animals don’t cry, tears, yes. And don’t tell me that elephants cry, that’s a crock. Crocodile tears, not from crocodiles vs humans: humans have tears do cry.

They are the only creatures that are capable of emotional tears, there must be a connection: primitive Homo Sapiens and modern humans? When did Homo Sapiens begin to use tears as we use then today?

Could have coincided with their use of fire, smoke from the burning of flesh, protection from the fly level of living and dust from running and this commingled with the fear of being devoured by a predator. Irritant tear must have come to be associated with events that became emotional, what about the studies into the composition of tears, their chemical makeup…Ah, ha, Jean Auel in her best-selling novel, The Clan of the Cave Bear subtly separates her main character Ayla, who is Cro-Magnon, from her adopted family, the Neanderthal’s, with her ability to shed psychogenic tears. But, Lear didn’t cry when he lost Cordelia, he howled, and Hamlet, didn’t shed tears when others could, even itinerate actors, Richard in King Henry VI lamented the consequences of his inability to express his strong emotion in tears or words:

I cannot weep; for all my body’s moisture

Scarce serves to quench my furnace-burning heart:

Therefore, not all humans are capable of tears but…but so many characters did weep, Pozzo, in Waiting for Godot, "tears of the world are in constant quality" and Beckett wrote: "My words are my tears." In the Odyssey there is weeping by Telemakhos and Odysseus, tears in the Gospels of Mark, Luke and John, and Dostoyevsky’s, The Brothers Karamazov, the character Alyosha cries bitterly at the loss of Father Zossima. All these references to tears, their abundance, their denial, their recognition of loss, their use to control, their sign of profound humanness; they are so pitiful. Not exactly pitiful but human.

 

Dorothy Parker’s Big Blond and Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince, Gertrude Stein on tears, and Sartre, Alice in Wonderland, floating away in a deluge of her own tears, damn, think about Linda’s last words in Death of A Salesman, "I have no tears Willie" and then she cries, no-tears and tears as a tool of an expression in the deepest ironic loss. Stories made me cry: Beautiful Joe, All Dogs go to Heaven, Black Beauty, The Yearling, Gigi, My Friend Flicka, Heidi, (tears in absolute privacy)

She took a deep breath, turned over on her side facing her audience:

"Mac, I feel as though I am in a battle, what am I so reluctant to expose, what’s hiding, what is buried, that desires…? Geeze, I’m sitting here, in the orchard, on this warm afternoon, sad as shit, talking to a dog and he has no tears. I can’t deny that this is…

My God, of course, denial. If there are no tears, no crying, then it didn’t happen, not in the conscious memory; it would linger in some form that would influence responsive behavior in another form, at another time. The drifting thought whispered, ‘Look to the father’" Ignored. But her construct of resident memory did persist, wouldn’t let her off of the hook, back, back: to that other time, that house, that entry into that house:

She needs to explore the rest of her remembrances. And without further hesitation she begins: "Mac." Her voice is low, her words measured:

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"I stood there in this vast room, the floor was polished wood, there was a piano in one corner, a woman, I can’t visualize her any longer, was sitting in an immense chair. Of course, everything was large to me then. The walls, the furniture, the carpets are impossible for me to describe, they are forgotten or I was too frightened to notice. Most likely late 1920 early 1930 décor. It was, if my math is correct 1938-39. Now the stairs, I do remember the stairs, they are at the back, at the far corner of the room. There is a dinning room with a huge long table and benches, it’s to the left. Then without warning, I saw this huge man; he walked down the stairs and through a door not far from the piano. He has only one arm and a shinny head. I had never seen a person with an arm missing, or a baldhead. A brown-faced lady peered out from the same doorway that the one armed man had entered. She reminded me of a lost friend, Jonny Mae. Strange, I can’t remember her leaving me, you would think that I would, I loved her so, but anyway…

I remember the sound of words going on in the space above my head. I was standing there; they talked as though I was not: I wasn’t listening nor could I have understood. I can construct now what must have been the content of the conversation: cost, payment schedule, duration of stay, clothes needed, health, schooling. No matter the precise words or the order in which they were exchanged, what mattered, I was being told, I heard, "You’re going to live here. Only a few months, you’ll be happy here, take piano lessons, horseback riding lessons you can come to visit me sometime. I’ll bring you your own key to my new apartment." That key, a disastrous mistake, my having their key. Surprise here I am!

Oh, do I remember those words. How my tears flowed, wild, hysterical tears, ‘don’t leave me, I’ll be good, I don’t want to be here, I want to be with you, what about my Daddy?’

Begging, pleading, reaching out, grabbing onto the skirt, careful not to touch the figure. It wrenched itself away. Dissolving into a pool of frantic tears, sitting on the floor, crawling along the floor, hearing the hammering of the withdrawing high heels. All was lost, I was lost. I shouted, "You promise only be a few months?" She yelled back, "Only a month or two, sixty days, that’s all." The door slammed.

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She is not crying as she ran to the car, smoothing down her skirt, get in, slams the door shut. Her best friend, Jean is waiting. She looks into the rear view mirror, gets out her lipstick, her comb, runs her fingers through her hair, looks down, stocking seams were askew, she shakes her head, sighs, reaches down straighten them, takes the offered cigarette, a deep drag. "What other choice? She was hysterical. What have I done?" "You have done what has to be done." Shelley is doing OK; he’ll help." "I told her only a few months, she can’t be around while he is still married. Kids just blurt things out; we have to wait." "She’ll survive. Are you hearing me? Jerry! Listen to me, Shelley’s fine there." "But, I even called her father, he won’t take her, his wife, I am sure. He’s handsome, so weak." "I know the type, no balls. Aren’t you glad that you met Stuart?" "Oh, yes, Herman’s only wanted to save attorney fees, but I ended up keeping the attorney. Get us out of here!" The car started, left the curb, and blended into the traffic.

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"I heard Aunt Jean’s car start, then the fading away of the engine. What did I know of time in day, months, years; I learned that two months is forever. Two months was twenty-four.

I got to know the one armed man, see him carry trays of dishes to the dining room, the dark girl who was always pleased when I gave her my mashed potatoes; I met other abandoned victims of adult conveniences. I don’t remember Shelley. I made one friend, Joyce, she left the home before I did, I met her again at L.A. High Summer School, she forgot about me.

I started piano lessons, went each Saturday to the Buddy Dubrock Stables in Griffith Park, I was introduced to games like "Mother May I," and Statue, and hopscotch, jump the stupid rope, and maypole. They were brainless. I hated them all; I was a game playing failure: I quit trying; I quit playing. I learned that I could withdraw into the world of books; my education disintegrated in a 1-12th grade classroom, I failed to spell "did" in a spelling contest and I learned that gophers do not want to be pets.

I didn’t cry any more. I remained dry eyed, well, except when I got a sty in my eye after reading all night, by flashlight, under my blanket. So, this was quite a lesson I learned in the futility of crying, the release of the tears of betrayal and loss are wasted. It was a lesson in learning how to take control, even in a minute way, of developing behavioral alternatives." I would not allow the abysmal depth of defeat; tears or not I was determined, I will endure.

 

No, these were not the circumstances that ended future crying times. As an adult: She could cry in the darkness of a theater, West Side Story, If These Walls Could Talk, English Patient, Brian’s Story. Certain pieces of music brought minimal tears.

She returned to the now. Something had bit her on the fanny. It was getting warmer and the heat from the later part of the day was penetrating through the trees, warming up the ground beneath the carpet of leaves. The bugs were warming up too, getting hungry. She reached for the itch and scratched. Why did scratching an itch make it feel better? Another great scientific thought; I was good in science. So what…who cared, who asked? I tried to prove that to Mother: Now she shuttered.

She wrapped her arms around her upper body; she began to rock back and forth, side to side. Then she buried her head into the folds of her hooded robe: She was too warm but she did nothing to relieve herself of this discomfort, her body seemed to shrink into the ball of fleece with only tuffs of silver hair protruding at the top.

Her hands reached up to her hair, her fingers combed through the now short curls. She heard the screaming: "You look just like your father, if you don’t like it here go live with your father, send your father a birthday card; you are not going to be irresponsible, like your father. He was born on April 1st, fools day, fool, fool, fool, ha, ha, ha. For every nickel he made he spent a dime, He hasn’t ever bothered to even call you. Never sends his support check." The litany of father comments flooded her mind; they never stopped coming from her mouth not until she was overtaken by natural causes.

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"I saw my father once, at the hospital. Tonsil time. I was four. I cried and cried until he came. I didn’t care that my mother was there, I wanted my daddy, I wouldn’t stop crying until he came. And what did he do? What he could, hold me briefly, kissed me on the cheek, and left. It was another four years of absence, before I saw him again. He picked me up at my step-grandmother’s apartment. He took me to see his new daughter. Beautiful Connie.

She was named Ronnie but changed it. Connie was killed in a tragic private plane crash in 1968, right near the airport where I kept my airplane. We had just found one another; we looked alike, thought alike.

But this Father stopover, it must have been in April of 1940. My mom and Step-dad were on their honeymoon. I don’t remember seeing him again until the early ‘50’s." His new wife Hilda remembered the visit. I apparently told her "I don’t like you; you took my daddy away from me."

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Again, wild, unforeseen, disconnected, crazy thoughts began to thrash about: Fragment of memories flooded in: She pictured herself on a bus, traveling, on her way to Bennington, Vermont far away from parental influences, why Vermont? Don’t know now, later, then the picture of… it was gone.

A picture of herself, looking into a mirror, putting on the white ascot style scarf, she folded it carefully under her chin, placing the diamond stickpin in the center fold, so handsome, "Look at ― the father” the face dissolved. In its place, was the face of a stranger…now, she was…unfocused…a new, old memory: but then…

The specter of a room flashed into her inner sight. She was entering this room. The room was gaudy, ugly: Purple carpeting, gold trim, big flowery designs. "I like white carpeting, clean lines of white, white and muted blends, quiet colors everywhere for everything." She shook her head violently, like a dog shaking off excess water. The ugly room disappeared from her mind’s eye. Then: flash! Another scene could see her self: washing cups, serving coffee, wiping counters, smiling at customers. Every morning it was the same between 5:00 AM and 8:00 before she headed off to her college classes:

This morning: the sound of the door, she looked up, there he was. She was looking into her own face. "Look to the father," whispered … She felt a wave of panic; she heard but refused to listen, delving into another folder in her file for living. She grabbed at the first idea, and went back, back…reaching.