Saturday, July 04, 2009

A monocle

Part of this transition is about eyeglasses. I decided I couldn’t wear them anymore, I wanted contacts but remember what my mother said about vanity? I wasn’t allowed. I would break my glasses on purpose, drop them off escalators; for a while in seventh grade, I would hold them up in front of my eyes to see the bulletin board like a monocle because one of the lenses had fallen out, the teacher said isn’t it more important to see?

I’d always liked teachers, except for the ones who didn’t like me. But sometimes they said the stupidest things. Eventually I got contact lenses, then I lost one but they were expensive and I didn’t want to tell my parents because then we would have to argue more, for maybe a year I closed my right eye a lot.. This is when my parents decided that I needed therapy. I wasn’t telling them anything. Most of my friends were girls. I refused the clothes they picked out for me.

My parents wanted me to see a therapist so then the therapist would tell them what was going on. Since my parents were therapists, I knew this was unethical, but kids aren’t part of ethics unless they do something wrong. I didn’t want to be part of kids.

The first time I tried smoking was in the basement of the building where my psychiatrist had an office, the same building as the pediatrician but you got to go through the front entrance like you were living in an apartment. I liked that part. I also liked the basement -- it was a fallout shelter, which I never really understood. In the case of a nuclear war, could you really go into a random basement with a cigarette machine and a sofa to escape? I decided to try Benson & Hedges Menthol because the package looked the most sophisticated. I put the cigarette in my mouth, it tasted bitter not minty like I’d expected but I lit it anyway and then inhaled through my nose.

Of course I started coughing: if this was smoking, I didn’t want any. I liked going into the laundry room too, just because it was the laundry room in an apartment building. Sometimes I would walk back and forth, but what was I doing in the basement? My psychiatrist had a waiting room, but usually I arrived early and all he had in the waiting room was the New Yorker, which I thought was the most boring magazine ever created, and public radio that mostly just played classical music. At least my father had Time and Newsweek. Maybe that’s also what I didn’t like about the waiting room -- it was kind of like waiting for my father. The therapist even had a beard, do all psychiatrists have beards? And the same furniture in his office -- teak wood, brown hues -- but his mother wasn’t an artist because there must have been something on his walls, but I can’t remember it.

At first I was angry about therapy, another attempt by my parents to control my life so I made up dreams. I talked a lot about the beach and the way the water was always coming over the cliff that I was holding onto. I know I haven’t even told you about the beach yet, but maybe that comes later. These were dreams: maybe I was a lobster, hopefully not the one my parents were going to cook for dinner. This was when we would have battles at the table, I didn’t want dinner.

Maybe I was 13 when I started drinking, Gilbey’s gin from the basement liquor cabinet, it was useful that my parents had so much liquor but they only drank beer. Gin really burned -- everything -- my throat, my stomach, my eyes. But oh that feeling in my head, oh.

I remember I brought that bottle of gin one time with me to Baltimore, after I discovered that Steve and I both liked to drink I mean before that we didn’t have that much to talk about, we were both our father’s sons and that was supposed to be enough. He liked baseball and looking for lizards in the alley and anything relating to science and I didn’t even understand Baltimore, not surrounded by the striving of the international bureaucratic class it felt almost empty. The Daniels parents were both schoolteachers and the kids each had their own room and a sandbox and swingset in the back but they went to public school and each parent drove a beat-up Volkswagen bug that was always breaking down and all their pillows were flat; my father said they were middle class, and we were middle class, so I knew he was lying.


ww said...

Hi Mattilda! Your posts are really sad, and touching, and I wish I could give you a hug, but that would probably be painful, so I am sending and invisible hug and cookies instead! They can be any kind of cookies you like.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

WW, no no hugs aren't painful I love hugs! And I'm so glad you're touched by these posts, I'm really excited about this writing right now...

Love --