Monday, December 3, 2007

Cigarette Torture

[Reminder: Some of my posts, including this one, are memoirs of my abusive childhood. In this post I'm relating events that happened in the spring and early summer of 1956, when I became 7. The links to the right can be used to follow backward through the memoirs, or to restrict viewing to other kinds of posts.]

I only spent a few boring days at Mina's house. Mina lived in a row house in Maryland, near Rock Creek. I was actually glad to see my parents, when they finally came to get me, just to be going some place that had books.

By the time I was back in Fort Devens, there was only a week left of 1st grade. It ended without further incident. I still have my report card. It shows the number of days I was absent each quintile of the school year except the last. For the last quintile that space is left blank. I believe I missed more than a month.

With the end of school I was still recovering from my injuries. The bandages came off my head first. My wrist continued to have to be in a sling for at least two more weeks.

One day, after some sexual abuse by my Mother, Alex told Kona how he could be summoned in an emergency. He said to just think of a certain line from an old Hawaiian song. It was one of the few lines that I could still remember after the surgery. It was a line which loosely translated meant, "please transport me to heaven."

A day or two later, as Kona, I sat down at the coffee table in the Sun Porch with paper and pencils and called Alex and asked him to sing for me, and help me draw. I needed help because he had to enable me to use the left hand. Ordinarily Kona drew with my right and Alex wrote with my left. Basically Kona needed Alex to allow Kona to guide his "writing" of pictures, and wanted Alex to sing along.

It was a meditative session, following the instructions in meditation that I remembered Lani and Lono giving me. I started with a seed drawing of a symbol representing a target state. My target was integration. The seed was two vertical lines joined by three parallel horizontal syzygies. I drew around it while chanting. I knew the chant was all wrong, but I hoped the magic would work anyway.

My Mother crept up on me, catching me in the act of chanting. She screamed at me. "How many times have we had to tell you not to use Hawaiian in the house!"

She demanded to know what I was drawing. I told her they were sleeping mat designs. She said she wasn't going to allow me to waste my life making sleeping mats or basket weaving "like useless ignorant natives." I had to get an education and a career, so she wouldn't have to support me forever.

Then she said, "I know what would put you in your place." She got a large envelope from her bedroom and threatened to show me the contents. She said there was an X-ray in it that would show me why she was so sure I was "on my way to being a basket-weaver." I didn't know what she was talking about at the time. It wasn't until I was almost 35 that I saw the X-ray she referred to. It was an X-ray taken upon my admission to Tripler Medical Center on my first birthday. It showed the extent of the brain damage I suffered that day.

She decided not to show me the X-ray. Instead, she suddenly shifted gears as she noticed that I was holding my pencil in my left hand. She said, "Show me how you've been drawing." When I drew a little with my left, she said, "So! You've switched personalities. Let's see, you used the left hand, that means the artist is in the right side of your head."

So she took me to the Play Deck and banged the right side of my head repeatedly on the brick wall there. The idea was to kill "the artist personality." She tried to do it so as not to leave any marks. After a while, she decided that wouldn't work. "If I don't do it hard enough to leave a mark I won't kill it either." So she brought me back to the Sun Porch and stuck the pencil back in my left hand and told me to draw. As soon as I drew a little she grabbed my left hand and burned the back of it with her cigarette.

When I stopped screaming, she said, "Draw some more." She threatened to beat me if I didn't. When I did, she burn the back of my left hand, being careful to burn it at the exact same place.

After that even threats wouldn't get me to draw for her. So every minute or so she took my hand with the pencil in it and forced it to draw a line, then burned the same spot.

She spent about half an hour at this, using up at least three cigarettes. Finally she said, "Are you going to use your left hand any more?" I told her I wouldn't. She said, "Good, maybe that personality won't get its way anymore."

Two or three months later I came home with a note from my teacher saying my penmanship had become terrible. My Mother said, "Why is your penmanship so bad suddenly? All through first grade you got high marks for penmanship. Your writing was beautiful."

I said, "Don't you remember? You made me stop using my left hand. That was the hand I was using to write with."

"No!" she said, "You were using it to draw with that day! That's what I remember. The artist was using the left hand!"

"I was only using it to draw then because I couldn't use my right hand, remember? It was in a sling."

"So what are you saying, you wrote with your left hand?'

"Sure. You didn't ever notice?"

She hadn't cared enough to notice before. Both my Mother and my Father wrote left-handed. My mother switched hands according to task, just like I did. She wrote with her left, used scissors with her right. But she couldn't be bothered to notice any of that, until she could see in it a justification for torture.

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