Sunday, February 3, 2008

Wrong and Right

[Reminder: Some of my posts, including this one, are memoirs of my abusive childhood. In this post I'm relating events that happened in December 1957, when I was 8. The links to the right can be used to follow backward through the memoirs, or to restrict viewing to other kinds of posts.]

The first few weeks in Taipei were hectic and bewildering, and just wrong.

One of the just wrong parts was the lecture my Mother and I got about how we were now targets for kidnap, torture, and ransom. Supposedly the Communist Chinese had spies all over the island and would want to interrogate us for secrets my Father might have let slip out at home. So there wouldn't be any slips, but they might do it anyway, and then try to ransom us. The lecture was basically to tell us to be "careful" and not to expect the ransom to be paid. This was without a doubt one of the most useless lectures I've ever endured. We still had to walk the dog, so we had to be out in the neighborhood. Thanks, Dad.

[Above: Peter Lorre as the generic international kidnapper in The Man Who Knew Too Much might have been preferable to my Mother.]

Hectic and wrong was the homework. It was evil. I could barely carry all the books. There were no overnight lockers at school so all the books had to be hauled back and forth every day.

Also, with this new school I was finally introduced, for the first time, to the "read the chapter and then write essays on the questions numbered such and such at the end" method of quasi-educational torment. Most of these questions were unbelievably non-directive generalities demanding inappropriate specificities, that began with the phrase "compare and contrast", which, if properly answered, could be split into several thousand graduate student topics for people who had a graduate library to do the extra research required, but which an 8-year old with a twenty year-old textbook couldn't begin to answer. "Compare and contrast the social systems of Ancient Babylon and Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs, giving concrete examples to illustrate your points." "Compare and contrast the chief resources and industries of the Southeastern United States and the Midwestern United States. Be specific." We were also required to turn in outlines of each chapter and graded on them. I never figured out what the basis for grading of the outlines was. I probably spent an hour every day just fretting over how much detail to include.

The 6 or 7 hours of homework per day could not be done by me alone. I had to be helped by my Mother (I'm sure the school took this into account in deciding how much homework to assign. They wanted to force parental tutoring.) With her help the homework time was reduced to about 4 hours, but her help also probably was one of several factors that triggered an increase in sexual abuse.

Another was just the fact that I was home so much with her. School let out for me by noon. I was bussed home, I walked the dog a couple of times, and that was my time outside the house. Fear of kidnapping meant I had to spend no more than twenty minutes at a time walking the dog. The theory was they couldn't prevent an abduction but they wanted to know when it happened as soon as possible.

There was a maid around but she stayed out of the way and only worked a couple hours per day.

To top it off, my Father started coming home later and later. I didn't know why at first. All I knew was that it was making my Mother sad and irritable.

So the fondling became more frequent and the frequent baths (because of the soot from the furnace) became frequent occasions for anal rape.

The ongoing rapes aggravated the existing bathroom phobias, making school that much worse.

As I've said the school day for me was a four hour shift. There was no lunch break per se -- you were supposed to get breakfast and lunch at home -- but there was one recess break in the middle of the four hours that allowed everyone to use the bathroom and eat a bagged snack and/or play in the walled playground area if there was still time. For me, in the first month, there was never time. The bathrooms were too crowded and unfamiliar (Chinese-style trench toilets) and I couldn't use them. So focusing in class the last two hours became nearly impossible, and that made trying to make sense of the homework harder, which put me in harms way with my Mother that much more.

Two brighter developments. A routine eye exam at school discovered that I couldn't read the board because I was near-sighted, not because I was illiterate, as the teacher had first assumed. So I got glasses.

My Father also signed me up for the Children's Book of the Month Club, and the first book in the mail was David & the Phoenix. The book came just when I needed it, on the heels of the disappointingly brief affair with Diana. It reinforced her world view beautifully. It was in some ways a 1957 precursor to the Harry Potter novels although much shorter.

In it a boy meets a Phoenix and receives instruction from him on practical matters of life, such as knowing the differences between Gryffins, Gryffons, and Gryffens, or what to do when you encounter a Chimaera. Then they have to fight an evil scientist who is after the one-of-a-kind bird and wants him dead or alive.

It was done in humor but it had a clear message to me. If you reject imagination, you are really rejecting soul and humanity, and ultimately that leads to callousness.

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