When you pause and think about it, a story-- any story-- has a prayer at its core. Or maybe a plea. Stories are our emotional spoor as we journey towards-- what? Immortality? Enlightenment? Transcendence? Whatever we may choose to call the quasi-cosmic fluffery we pursue, we need to hear and tell stories to make some semblence of sense out of this hostile clusterfuck we call the universe. A story is an attempt to find a pattern, to draw meaning out of our experiences, to reassure ourselves that our brief existence upon the world is not due to a random and dispassionate roll of nature’s dice. It’s noble and pathetic at the same time.
I know. I’m boring the tapeworms out of your bowels. Hear me out.
A few days ago, I visited my parents in the course of fulfilling some trivial chore or another. Having time to kill, I went up to my old room and rummaged through boxes of dusty files and notebooks. I had pretensions of being a writer since I was very young and would often jot down ideas for stories, particularly pleasing lines that I thought up, insights that seemed of world-shattering importance at the time, bits of Sturm und Drang poetry, and the like. These scraps of miscellaneous ramblings, sophomoric as they are, were all written between 1988 to 2000. In other words, the entirety of my high school and college years, and the span of time before I started writing for little crumbs of moldy bread that television producers like to call money. I would have had more to pore through if my mother hadn’t burned everything I’d written before my high school years.
Oh, yes she did.
I remember that day as clearly as a screaming vagina. Meaning to say, if ever I do see a vagina actually screaming I can pretty much bet both my testicles that I’ll never forget it until the day I die. A sight like that would probably ruin my sexual appetite so thoroughly that the mutilation of my reproductive organs wouldn’t be a big issue anymore. Might as well tear out the horrible little thing and be done with it.
As I was saying: I remember that day clearly. There he is-- little Squid-- coming home from gradeschool one November afternoon in 1987, all snip and snails and puppy dog tails. Little Squid is in the mood for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a treat he plans to devour in his room while he reads Moby Dick. So far, he doesn’t understand half of what he’s already read in that lumbering beast of a novel since he’s only eleven years old, but at that age he already recognizes that what he’s reading is really crazy shit.
Little Squid enters the house humming the theme from the Transformers. He doesn’t see anyone in the house but knows his mother is somewhere around. He goes to the refrigerator for the peanut butter and passes by a window overlooking the backyard. There’s something strange going on there. Little Squid sees his mother crouched on the ground like a heathen idol, burning a pile of oddly familiar scraps of paper. Then little Squid recognizes the green plastic envelope with the He-Man stickers melting atop that pile…
You must understand that our family has never been into any form of art. We’re a clan of farmers, teachers, clerks, engineers, accountants, soldiers, businessmen, and doctors. A wide spectrum of human endeavors, true, but considerably lacking in a department called imagination. I daresay our clan is pretty fuddy-duddy. There were no absinthe-imbibing bohemians in the family tree, no bongo-smiting beatniks, no drug-addled hippies, no firebrand revolutionaries sticking the digitus impudicus up the Man’s hairy asshole. My parents went through the Sixties listening to Nat King Cole instead of the Grateful Dead, ferchrissakes. Hence, you will not be surprised if I say that I was the square peg in that assembly line of round holes.
I’ve since come to understand how my mother justified that horrible act. I was about to take the high school exam and she didn’t want any son of hers to grow up a bohemian. Writing for a living? My, what a horrid notion. Better forget these flights of fancy, little Squid. The world is a thing that can be measured and weighed and quantified. If you want a mystical journey, get on your knees and pray to Jesus. Meanwhile, study your arithmetic.
I can also safely say that I’ve forgiven her. I’m thirty-two years old. Believe me, young Padawan, old wounds won’t bother you as much when you grow up.
And no, man, there’s no scatological punchline to end this story.