Friday, February 22, 2008

Interlude, With Zipper

[Reminder: Some of my posts, including this one, are memoirs of my abusive childhood. In this post I'm relating events that happened in Taiwan when I was 8 and a half. The links to the right can be used to follow backward through the memoirs, or to restrict viewing to other kinds of posts.]

My Father went back to the Mountain in the first or second week of January, 1958. While he was gone my Mother took advantage of connections with other military families and American ex-patriots nearby so we could get around better, and so that I could be gotten out of her hair some of the time.

One of those ex-patriots was an old American man who spoke Chinese. I was turned over to this guy for hours on weekend afternoons. He lived nearby and agreed to meet me at the house and take me on long walks. He wore a threadbare old black suit and a black hat. I'll call him Mr. Dunn, he was thin as a rail. I'd guess he was in his 70s.

Mr. Dunn took me straight into the thick of the poor people's market near our house. He knew what was being sold at each stall and could answer questions about it. But he wouldn't buy anything except occasional fruit. When he did he haggled, and later told me, "If you don't argue the price down they'll just take advantage of you."

He took me further. The walks took us through many parks and a zoo. I think we walked several miles each time. There were street vendors and musicians. There were street magicians. I always dragged my feet as we passed by these, and Mr. Dunn always said, "They're just trying to get our money."

One such encounter made a lasting impression. A street vendor was selling glass prisms. He held one to my eyes so I could see the colors. I wanted one, but Mr. Dunn said no. The price was probably pennies American.

Well, it was his money, but I had to wonder why I was being shown all this if the purpose was just to walk on by.

I fared better at home when my Mother arranged for an older boy to come over to keep me company. He was about 11 years old, so 3 years older and not someone who'd usually want to spend time with me. He was there, if I remember right, because his parents made him come. It was the Christian thing to do. At first he resented it. But he started to enjoy his visits when he found out I liked math. It was something we had in common. He gladly tutored me.

I was supposed to be learning long division in school, but, as often happened, the technique was taught as a mechanical procedure. When I asked my friend to teach me long division, he began the same way. I told him I didn't want to know how to do it, I wanted to know why you did it that way. That led to a wonderful afternoon, in which the two of us worked out the reasons together.

My Father's extended stay at the Mountain was set to end on a Friday in February that happened to be both my Mother's birthday and their 10th anniversary.

As the date approached, my Mother began to lay plans for his return. I was supposed to eat early, before he arrived that afternoon. She was going to set up a romantic candlelight dinner, just for the two of them. She would be wearing her sexiest dress. I would have to greet my Father at the door, and tell him how much I missed him. But then, I was supposed to excuse myself and go to my bedroom and stay there no matter what I heard.

It was clear to me that my Mother was desperate. There was trouble in the marriage. Putting on this special dinner and wearing this dress and keeping me out of the way was going to make everything better.

Dad was supposed to arrive around 6 PM. My Mother worked on the dinner and getting dressed and made up just right the entire afternoon. I helped when I could. I remember standing on a chair to zip her into her man-killer dress. I liked zipping. The zipper is a really cool invention.

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