Wednesday, November 25, 2015

7497. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 83)

(pt. 83)
I always figured life to be an equation. I guess
that's what comes from not liking math. In school,
like 7th grade, Mr. Servilla, or something like that
(always sounded like the Latinate root name 'Servile'
to me). He was always teaching, along with others,
that mathematics and algebraic stuff that never made
any sense to me  -  those squibbed problems wherein
factors equal the x and the y and they interact with this
or that to become another factor, and then you were
supposed to get to an end-sum result in a formulaic
form. It all made no sense, or no patience, to me. I
just  wasn't there. Who needed all that abstraction
crap when I could do the same thing everyday and
each moment with words? It was always, to me, like
'why bother?' If you can't just come right out and say
what it is you're actually doing, then it's not worth
much, and certainly not worth the waste of time it
is to do it. I couldn't for the life of me figure it out.
Then  -  thank goodness  -  I went to seminary school
for eighth grade, and they didn't mess with any of
that mathematical stuff. In seventh grade, however,
as much as I struggled, I always got it. I'd find a way
to get the sums needed, and a process to get me there,
except that the explanation and the process I used
were never the assumed-to-be correct ones. That's
what used to drive me so mad. I remember that one
Winter for some reason we went an awful lot to
my Aunt Mary's place in Bayonne. Her husband,
my Uncle Steve, had just recently died, and she was
cooped up, poor, in a small, bungled apartment with
two baby-boy kids, like 4 and 2 or something. We
went there a lot, on week nights, to help her, and
weekends too. All I ever remember is her crying, and
working over the stove. It was pretty sad, and my
mother would help, as she could, and my father too.
He later turned out to be a rather nasty disciplinarian
to those boys too, in place of their missing father. We
often talked about it in later life. In their teens, they'd
be having a riot in their house over something, and  -  as
they put it  -  all their mother had to do was pick up the
phone and call Uncle Andy, (my father) and he'd be over
in 30 minutes for sure, to bat some heads. Turned out they
were shit-scared of him their entire lives. I told them,
'welcome to the real world, boys. Hop aboard!' It
had always been like that for me, a real struggle, Anyway,
that whole seventh grade Winter stretch I well remember
going there and always carted my math or algebra books,
whatever it was, to her kitchen table and enforcing upon
myself the fact that I was going to get this crap done, done
right, in my own way. It always worked, but as I said,
never by correctly prescribed route. I somehow sqeaked
by, not that I much cared, but just to get it done. This was
the same aunt who, upon learning I was entering the
seminary, figured I soon be Pope or something. She
was elated that  -  in the family  -  there'd be someone
with a real pipeline open to God. In  her elation, that
Summer before I left, she did like a million things for me.
She took the crazy list we'd been given, of things and of
stuff we'd need, and she did every one of them, to the hilt,
magnificently, like I was Rockefeller or something. It's
hard now to explain, because it's all so stupid, but she
made napkin holders, really nice cloth napkins for me
(everything had to be name-tagged or otherwise
personalized) for the dining stuff, she name-tagged,
stitched into each collar, a cloth, small, name tag she'd
had made from somewhere  -  into each piece of clothing  -
shirt-collars, pants-waists, socks, jackets, undershirts,
everything. It was bizarre. She just went at it.
It was hard to live that down  -  having certain people, like
that aunt, putting all that goodwill and happiness out for me.
When it was orientation day, sometime in August of that
year, not orientation, just more like 'bring the family and
let them see where you'll be' day, or something, we brought
her along, and her two boys I guess, but I can't recall. It was
about a hundred miles from home  -  straight down the
turnpike, than a turn inland for some miles into the sections
of NJ, until you got to Blackwood. Just a little dip-shit farm
town. This was an old buffalo-farm, believe it or not, and there
were many acres of fields and different kinds of grounds  -
pig-stys way out back, a barn or two, pastures, vegetable fields
and the rest. It was pretty neat, and the buildings we inhabited
were all like old, colonial-style brick things, and one or two
more modern and larger 'school' and business-type buildings.
All different sorts of dormitory sections that the varied class-
years used. No class-year mingled or mixed, all were separate.
Anyway, so we brought her along, and she was in Heaven the
entire time. Meeting all these brothers and padres and priests
and teachers. Got a tour. Heard some talk. Various families had
come, each bringing their own spreads  -  picnic foods, even
barbecue things, some. Everything was held on a side-lawn,
with picnic tables and stuff. Lasted all day, cars parked
haphazardly, wherever, on the grass. Anyway, that got done
and she'd prepared all that clothing stuff I needed. My mother
too, but my aunt really did a catalogue job of it. My father, he
never talked about it much  -  I always felt he was a little peeved
to have a son wanting to be a priest, actually  -  no love, no
lady, no sex, no grandkids. He thought it was all sort of fairy.
He was probably more right than not. But, whatever.
There'a always a turn of the screw waiting to happen. If anyone
had asked me when I was nine or ten if that's what I'd be doing
at age 12, I'd have probably never told them that. It was as much
a surprise to me as anyone. Fact is, I was lost. This was just a
stopgap measure to get me out of the mix, put me away for a
while. I never cared much for any of it  -  as I said  -  it just
gave me space and solitude, away from the crush and all the
maddening noise that had been breaking me down. None of
my Avenel friends caught on or even really knew what I
was doing. I figure, to them, just one day I was gone. Huh?
Where'd he go? Nothing was ever said, and probably just
as well. Even all those cute little neighborhood, and local
school, girls I was always moping over, they were all gone
too, just out of my mind. I'd think about Avenel when I was
there, in Blackwood. I realized it was not much of a place
but yet it meant a lot to me. It had become my Rosetta Stone
-  the key by which I understood and entered into so much
else, so many other things. You know those old Chinese
stories about memory palaces and the means people used
to remember things and places in a particular spot in this 
imagined room-  erecting fantastical mental rooms with 
every object to be remembered? That was a bit how I 
reconstructed my own personal Avenel and brought it 
with me, and within me, to this other place. As if I too
had sort of 'name-tagged' everything ever before of my 
personal life, to always have it with me and at my 
instant command  -   for comfort and for memory. A
lot of the other people there were a lot more monied, and
came from richer families -  we had governor's sons and
other big-deals around, from wealthy communities. By 
contrast the paucity of both my money-account and 
my own upbringing was way-poor by comparison, but
my memory-palace had them all beat, hands-down. It
was mine, in a long and gripping silence. Avenel in
a satchel, I called it.
Maybe I'd gotten hit on the head one too many times,
or maybe just that one weird swipe of the train had been 
enough, but I knew I had never exactly returned to normal.
Like Petey Whitaker, I had been unalterably transformed.
The cruelest sense of it, of course, went his way  -  blind 
and broken. Part of what I was doing too was to atone for
the atrocities of that nature which somehow got foisted onto
people. I always had this stupid zeal to do for others. I still 
have it, and mostly it's just a loser's game. If Pete's break 
was total, I thought, maybe mine could be fixed, atoned 
for, put back together  -  all those broken pieces of some
really asshole squib of a  kid who'd just done it all wrong.
Nothing horrible, no, just the everyday stuff, wrong.
 Misunderstood.  Remember, I started out here saying
Life was an equation  -  what I meant was that, at every 
turn, you go about thinking you knew all the parts and the 
factors of the equation (situation) ahead of you, and you 
go into some sort of 'automatic' mode with only that 
equation in mind. Like when you're driving, smoothly
along, figuring the road ahead of you is cool - no 
obstructions, no traffic, not much going on, and then 
you jump ahead, in your mind, to the next conclusion, 
where you'll be in about half a minute. You're, in the 
meantime, thinking everything is static and your
equation is fixed. You sorts' just back off things, and
go numb. And then - wham, suddenly, somebody pulls 
out 40 feet ahead of you, wrongly, and about to cause
trouble. Your equation has CHANGED! And you weren't
expecting it, nor even thinking it was going to . That's 
how accidents happen. That's how people die. They get
complacent, and dead-in-mind. Thinking things are cool,
and easy. But life's lesson is that the equation is constantly
under alteration, always changing and being changed,
by a million factors. If you're stuck in your stupid, 
structured, formulaic, algebraic, mathematical-fraction
diagrammed equation, thinking it's all cool and all in 
place, and if you think all you have to do is to do it the 
right way,  stay smug about it, by process and by all the
required steps and representations, you're dead meat, man. 
You're fried, and your dumb little ass is cooked. You know
how they say 'most accidents happen within three miles 
of home'? That's why. Because that's where the most 
complacent, the most 'I got this equation down pat' stuff
 goes on. Until, wham! - you never even 
got to see it coming.

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