In The Dark
My father died when I was four years old because of a mistake his physician had made. My two oldest sisters were teenagers; my sister Rosie was five; my brother Gene was one year old.
My mom asked a priest how she should go about telling her youngest children that their father was dead, or if she should tell us at all. The priest told her that, somehow, we would know; that there’d be no way she could explain it to us, anyway.
I had waking nightmares when I was a kid; full-blown hallucinations. Most often, these involved the woman who lived in the house next door to us. In the hallucinations, her skin was green, but transparent, not unlike the bottles that contained Coca-Cola in those days. She had no internal organs; it would’ve been possible to look right past her in the dark, except for the way the moonlight would catch her grinning, rictus face; her sharp, hooked teeth…
I’d bounce off the furniture in the living room, pointing her out to anyone who could help; my mom sat and prayed for me out loud, saying that she couldn’t see her because she wasn’t there; she’d wait for me to calm down, calm down…
At some point, the hallucinations stopped coming around, replaced by normal, sleeping nightmares that I was being kidnapped by hillbillies. I stayed in bed for those, eyes shut tight. I’d learned about hillbillies from the Clampetts on TV, The Beverly Hillbillies. But ghosts I’d invented for myself, and they were real enough.
Most of the people that I come to love these days, especially artists and writers, have something like this in their past; something incomprehensible, often in their childhood, that they had to come to terms with, ultimately, on their own. Weaving blankets of light in rooms full of darkness is how many of us begin as artists.
Something about having to find the light again, once everything’s turned as dark as it can be, empowers certain people, informs their personalities. You can hear it in their laughter; they laugh harder than other people do. And they mean it, down to their toes, when they say, “I love you.”
You can see it by the light in their eyes.
– Jul 15, 2005