It was All-Saints Day, rainy, cold, dark, and Mount Calvary Cemetery appeared disappointingly to the Babe like a vast field of corn stubble with figures moving about here and there like rodents. Close at hand he could make out uninteresting inscriptions on tombstones. The very idea that some stone on a speck of ground here was hallowed to the Lupo's or anybody was a weird bit of foolishness.
How could anyone be found if you didn't know to begin with? asked the Babe, and what if you forgot? You ask the man in charge by the little house over there, the Mom said, taking comfort in the act of instruction.
He felt no sorrow for the dead, but only a concern for the technique of handling them. This story is remembered and, since it seems to make a point, I tell it. Many moments cannot be recalled; many are recallable, but of no apparent importance.
Thus we lumber along our road. I am on the most treacherous and confused of paths, where we endeavor to follow the child's sadness, his expression of emotions, his memory, dreams, obsessions and fantasies. We must continue to watch for his moments of shame and embarrassment, for we appreciate what Jean-Jacques Rousseau discovered two centuries ago, "It is the ridiculous and shameful, not one's criminal actions, that are hardest to confess."
Common in America and well exemplified in the Babe was the anxiety over exposing his own emotions and the full depth of his feelings. Never had he exclaimed, "I love you, Mommy," or "Daddy." The word "love" was taboo to him, although not to his Father or Mother, and he had never heard the words from the lips of Bro Bus or the younger brothers. The more one values a property or quality, the more one will react to any threat to it. The high value the Babe placed on controlling and restraining himself, with never a clear victory, was a measure of the high negative value (and the deep temptations behind it) that he assigned to the loss of control of himself and hence the environment.
This larger complex of behavior and attitude is also common in America, where control is such an individual matter, a struggle to be fought with oneself. The significant expression, "giving oneself away," is an Americanism that expresses the shame and failure of losing control of oneself, such that a person gives vent to his true feelings and emotions.
The Babe could not remember at fifteen what his infancy and early childhood had been like. It was not a matter of giving oneself away, a confession of remembering, but sheer massive amnesia. Even observing his two young brothers could not help him to remember much, nor was he inclined to remember. Not only are the maddening experience and pangs of birth forgotten, but so also everything up to and including the trivia of existence. Neither pains nor pleasures can be recalled. He is not a freak: nearly everyone agrees on their own account that they can claim little or no memory of their early existence. Brain theory is puzzled, because physiologically the brain has been working vigorously to arrive at the many competences of a child of the age of, say, two years.
The childhood memories coming later on are remembered until death with a tenacity and poignancy superior to the memories of mid-life. We observe, too, that psychoanalysis and other techniques can resurrect many early "forgotten" memories; hence we are inclined to believe that repression, rather than physiological erasure, is the principal source of forgetfulness.
Therefore we had better postulate infancy as a period of general psychic misery such that its memories are ordinarily repressed. But then we need to explain why the events of infancy that are apparently happy are not separated from the general unhappiness and recollected.
Your infant memory, the Babe's memory, must develop in the closest association with language and learning. It must begin with what appear to us now as most simple sequences of behavior. But these may be ultra-basic, too. Like the elementary particles of nuclear physics that have turned out to constitute a bewildering complexity within the once basic world of molecules and atoms.
What is the very first sound, the second sound of the infant? "Waah!"? "Bah"? Mainly these? Snuffling, sucking? The "waah" expresses discontent, the "bah" alert contentment.
The infant learns that his spontaneous cry has the effect of a signal. The Babe cried loud and long, we know; he knew because later on he was told so; he didn't recollect crying. It got him a lot of attention; no one was permitted to say, "Oh, let him cry, it won't hurt him." They tried to figure out what was wrong, assuming some unpleasant cause. As the various causes acquired special signals, the general "waah" was less used but he always would remember his crying, generally, not in specific cases.
The "bah" comes much later, the first word, some say. It is a simple sound exchanged endlessly back and forth with a responding attendant, sweetly, possessively, questioningly. This is not meaningless babble. The infant, we would surmise, is learning that "bah" denotes:
1. That he finds the outer world and attentive presence pleasing and pleasant. The approach of love.
2. That a sound, this sound, can have a meaning.
3. That a sound can presage a sensation (rocking, picking up, kissing, handling, food).
4. That this "bah" can attract the outer world, call it to attention.
5. That the sound also means something to himself, that is, it tells him that he is not feeling bad (else it would be "waah;") it is a proof, self-administered confirmation.
6. That "bah" has had past effects that now have become expected effects of the world. Memory and expectation are being learned inextricably with language.
7. That "bah" will convey a limited set of similar experiences to outside beings who are attracted by it, but not the same meaning to all of them.
I am suggesting here that the Babe, even as embryo, neonate, and infant, is put to work erecting the interlocking system of memory, language, and pragmatics or the logic of action. What seems like total amnesia is actually the infrastructure of recollection.
However, he is operating under a repressive force, which -- shall we keep the metaphor? -- piles the debris of construction on the infrastructure and keeps it from becoming apparent for a long time. I speculate endlessly about the reasons for this:
a. Maybe the infant knows that he does not know the world around him and therefore does not remember what he cannot comprehend. There are few categories for the new experiences, so they flow past him and disappear.
b. Maybe he is moving so fast that acting in line with his prior experience is ineffectual (it very quickly loses its efficacy as he changes swiftly from month to month) and therefore forgets it because it is not pragmatically useful. Before many months go by, sucking has lost most of its utility. Focusing our eyes on objects may be highly useful for a feeling of control, but once learned, the difficulty of the learning period is quite "forgotten" and need never be recalled.
c. Perhaps the infant is a natural "futurist" who goes by what he sees his attendants do and not by what he remembers doing. It is more profitable to imitate than to recollect, for a long time, at any rate.
d. Perhaps the infant is doing almost entirely what he could not do before this moment and therefore would not remember what he is doing. If he now can grasp and shake a rattle, he feels no reason to recall when he could not do so. He has not been taught the value of saving memories for withdrawal and reuse.
e. Perhaps recall is a trick that has to be learned by mental training and physical exercise, like other abilities, and only slowly in the course of the first several years does one become aware of and learn to control his mind by the principle that he can know by remembering what he was told, of what he did before, and therefore consciously begin to remember everything. He puts a tag on each new item of experience, like a shopkeeper who is finally tired of losing his goods for not keeping track of them.
We would conjecture that infancy is forgotten quasi-totally because the whole brain is anaesthetized by its earliest agonies, that is, an overall suppression occurs, indifferent to distinctions of pain or pleasure in regard to details. A recovery from this amnesia now begins. We posit the control of memory as a learned reaction formation; the brain teaches itself or is taught to apply ever more specific anesthetics so as to suppress painful recollections and liberate pleasurable ones.
Why should it be so? Because of the need to employ specific experience (in the form of memory recall as opposed to conditioned reflex and instinctual response) in decisions of the moment, a behavior of great pragmatic value. A child can and must subsist on forgotten experiences (suppressed memories), but one will operate better if he can employ experience consciously, not only pleasurable experiences, but painful ones, and the most intelligent and accomplished of persons are those who can most readily delve among painful experiences as a guide to the future.
Yet the pains of childhood are many and real, and one's great fear, general weakness, and lack of control erupt disturbingly over the whole of experience, bringing pain to achieve growth into adulthood as soon as possible; it permits no conceivable escape, except by suicide, which, significantly, a child dreams of and fantasizes in various ways.
Rare is the child who is loath to exchange his state for adulthood. In fleeing he doesn't look back and therefore hastens the loss of memory, because memory traces would otherwise be enlivened by recall, research, remembrances of times past. The flight from memory reinforces the general anaesthesia that was earlier applied.
The older that one becomes, the more nostalgically one reviews childhood; the myth and its exposition become part of the adult world's self-justification. "He was happy but did not know it." How often people speak thus of a certain child or of themselves, making of happiness an objective quality.
The Babe would not speak at fifteen of his happy childhood. He would jest pleasantly and ironically about it when others were engaged in similar recollections, but he did not purposefully remember it himself, and tended compulsively to remember embarrassing episodes. I think that his behavior was ordinary among humans in all times and places, going from early total amnesia to later specific and abundant recollection, so that he could remember much of his fifth year but nothing of his first. As for the elderly, they remember their early life so well because they are closing in upon death; they have nothing to lose by remembering.
Why should he have remembered embarrassment and recollected it from time to time compulsively? Why should he have forgotten, for example, the contents of every one of his school report cards alight with superior grades, and yet recall, compulsively recall with pain, some trivial embarrassment? Was he alone in this or is it universal in children? There seem to have been at least nine types of embarrassment forcing repeated recollections, with an associated feeling of shame.
a. An exposure of private motives.
b. An exposure of his sensitivities.
c. An exposure of his weaknesses.
d. An exposure of his emotions.
e. A failure to his expectations of himself.
f. A failure to perform a duty.
g. His failure to keep a promise.
h. A disarray of his clothing, causing self-exhibition.
i. Suspected self-exposure or failure through some behavior of a parent.
j. The shame of being ashamed of any of the above embarrassments.
However, to cause lasting pain or embarrassment, any of these had to happen with some public knowledge. A real or imagined public had to be involved, even if it were truncated to a single pang that affected him without having to set up the image of anybody.
"They" would have to know that he was really protecting himself and not somebody else, that he didn't like being called a sissy, that he couldn't stand the smell of toilets, that he had lost control of his temper, that he wasn't as good a swimmer as he said he was, that he hadn't taken a bath, that he would not go to Camp as he had let his Scout leaders believe, that he had holes in his socks, that, here notwithstanding "their" knowing, he caught a whiff of garlic on his Father's breath or saw his Mother coming down the hall at school, where "parents don't belong." Yet, in all of these cases, then and afterwards, he was ashamed of his feelings of shame, which intensified the feeling. Thus he was ashamed to think that he might be ashamed for being taken as less than 100% American.
His embarrassment was hard to separate from his shame and his shame from his guilt feelings. There was almost nothing of all this that would cause embarrassment, shame or guilt in the family, and this may not have been so ordinary and may have made him a very lucky boy. The parents did say, "Shame on you," occasionally, but without any noticeable effect. He did not feel shame, or embarrassment, or guilt ever in the family circle. Yet he was not irresponsible, unresponsive, perhaps on the contrary. If so, one would have to say that the family was governed without the strong guilt complex that is generally deemed necessary in America. I cannot otherwise simply believe that he did not perform all of those actions that are usually the triggers for guilt feelings.
He and Bro Bus had little reason to lie, for punishments were not severe, and they were not subject to those injustices and deprivations the reaction to which give occasion to lie. For instance, breaking a bottle was just that, and could only be punishable if the boys had been wrestling over it to be first to pour from it into their own glass, the punition amounting anyhow merely to a slap or scolding intended to bring shame, like "You deserve to be put into Reform School," or "If you could only realize how many poor children have no milk to drink..." If the parents were out of the room at the moment of the incident, there would be little to lie about on their return to the scene of the mishap -- the stakes were not high -- so each did not strive to put the blame on the other and divorce himself entirely from the incident. Both had to clean up the mess, of course.
Even when, on the heels of sexuality, there followed a potential need to lie, for there could be no truth-telling when it came to pornography, masturbation, or sex-play, the issue was suppressed by tacit agreement of the parties; the questions were not asked; any investigations and their findings, if such occurred, were blanketed in secrecy; hence no crisis of lying and punishment. (I am not here raising the issue of the basic morality of society dealing with frankness in sexual matters.) Since they hardly ever stole or were vagrant, these issues were practically moot. And the punishments, I have made clear, were mild: no deprivation of food, no extended isolation, no use of the strap, no physical beating that would leave a mark or a very sore part. If George Washington chopped down his father's favorite cherry tree with his new little ax, as all the children had to read, there must have been something wrong with George. Possibly his father punished him often and hard. If then he confessed to the act when questioned, it could only be because the evidence was damning. Anyhow, if you give a child an ax, give him something to chop with it.
He and Bro Bus certainly dissembled frequently. They hid thoughts and things from each other. They pretended attitudes that they did not possess. The Babe being the younger, had less to lose by frankness, yet he was given to understand that the world of his parents, friends, and all of society (except to a degree certain teachers in their limited spheres) was founded upon secrecy and non- communication.
He knew from somewhere that strangers, the "others" out there, did operate on a system of embarrassment, shame and guilt, for he was unusually sensitive to the demands made upon him by formal groups and some types of less intimate informal groups. This probably came from the Mom, who was often speaking of the "they" by which she meant "if you don't listen to what I say, think of what strangers will say." Furthermore, his books were loaded with stories of shame and guilt and he must have become attuned to others via these.
Childhood begins with a set of behaviors that are disgusting to adults and as soon as possible converted into shameful conduct: selfishness (thinking only of oneself); impracticality (the conviction that wishing is as good as getting something done); time-wasting; pestiferousness (making a nuisance of oneself); making idols of depraved media-figures; dietary excesses and mistakes; inability to learn (stupidity).
A "good" child gets into the mode of controlling these behaviors promptly, while the "bad" child is pressed upon until he must have a low opinion of himself and comes to be full of embarrassment, shame, and guilt, seeking it in himself and prone to look for it and call attention to it in others. As they persist they come to be called infantilism, and as adults possess them and disguise themselves they become the normal behavior of a great many adults.
He couldn't understand why some children wet their pants or their cots. He wasn't unfriendly to them; he knew they had a weakness. One peed in his pants because he was playing at something so interesting that he couldn't pull away before the leaking started. A couple of times he was supposed to piss in a pot or toilet so stinking filthy that he came near to vomiting and then had a hard time holding back until a proper place or toilet was located. He was not to be numbered among those children who use their sphincters consciously and unconsciously against parents who were over-anxious to control them.
He acquired some compulsive behaviors, the repetition of which, even if not evidently connected with anxiety, had some connection therewith: if a fearful thought entered his mind or an embarrassment or a small failure, such as I have mentioned, he would be nagged by the thought and he tried to practice ridding his mind of a compulsive thought but found usually that his powerful will was hardly effectual.
At times he felt that he must step on every crack in the sidewalk as he walked along, at other times that he must not step on cracks. Once in the while he felt that he must make the sign of the cross as he passed a church, as he had seen others do; it felt like a salute, a bowing to an authority, but it was a very weak feeling without the potential to form a habit, much less an obsession. On the whole he was very little affected by compulsions, but somewhat more inclined to harbor and rehearse unrealistic fears.
The lepers crowding around Christ to be cured, in the early movie of "Ben Hur," caused many a scared thought and occasional bad dreams: an "incurable" and "highly contagious" and "disfiguring" disease, he heard. What caused these evil and obsessive thoughts and dreams to diminish after a year or two? Why did not just the opposite happen, that they would grow worse until he could not think of anything but infection, contagion, blindness, criminality, murder, torture, plague, monsters, impotence, crushing, abandonment, falling, nudity, insanity, death, the end of the world? There should be some neat answer to be conveyed from psychiatry and applied to the remission of all these cases.
If I knew of such I would be happy to relate it, but I find none. Is it enough to say, "He grew out of it," or "He came to understand that this was all fiction," or "He built up a wall of defenses against fears"? All are correct, but vague. Probably they were reinforced by or were forms of a larger event that diverted "libido" from these phobias and let them be "forgotten," that is, acceptably dormant and allowing the psyche to move elsewhere; this larger event, for the Babe and just about everyone else not too heavily traumatized by earlier incidents, would have been the hormonal changes of puberty and the associated obsession with sexuality. If it goes farther into a real adolescent love, there then is one obsession overlaying another, and the childhood anxieties are in a behavioral sense erased.
Thereafter, if the sexual and love obsessions weaken, as they normally do, new phobias are picked up: these are none other than social and cultural obsessions and phobias, adult, accepted, complete with proper modes of reference and limits of reaction. An adolescent can acquire a full set of such: diseases such as syphilis, the phobia of which could permit all kinds of prophylactic measures and avoidance (if he had somehow let syphilis instead of leprosy be the subject of a phobia at the age of ten, he would have been considered a queer boy indeed, strangely precocious, but, too, he did not appreciate the sexual attraction that would give rise to and lend revulsive force to the syphilitic nexus).
Insidious ideological positions, as mad as any phobia of childhood, were also acceptable, so that one could carry a fear of communism to practically any lengths, with acceptance and even approval from most people. Labor union leaders, gangsters, scientists, foreign countries, Jews, food processors, new people moving into the neighborhood, men from Mars, and many another category, including simply "They," can supply adult phobias and obsessions, complete with appropriate conduct in response to the anxiety, that together will let a person go through the rest of his life without much ado.
There is a fundamental anxiety with which all humans are born, the fear of not recognizing and controlling oneself, and this more basic anxiety is probably what gave the Babe and everybody else a start on the road to phobias and obsessions. The media and practically everyone else who had a hand in influencing him shaped this rooted anxiety into its many forms.
Later on, the sexual obsession and adult formulations took over to "get rid of" the earlier obsessions, but really they only transferred his interest into new kinds of obsession, sex, yes, music, yes, new realms of learning, yes -- all these being "sublimations" -- and, too, a continuous flight from phobias transliterated into a flight toward an exciting new unknown life to be, toward which the columns of libido were set to march forth from every locale where they had been spending their time pacing back and forth on now irrelevant preoccupations.
The Babe should have been fearless, given that the Dad and Mom and even Bro Bus were as fearless as they came in Chicago of the 1920's. They were seemingly to him in no fear of schools officials, politicians, communists, socialists, anarchists, the Bible, the Church, Jews, ethnics, blacks, muggers, gangsters, homelessness, starvation, sexual relations, public opinion (maybe Katie was), wild animals, of water and drowning (maybe a little bit) or even of growing up or growing old. Rather, with some urging, he came to a fear of vehicle crashes and run-overs, thieves, cheats, "bad company," illness (diphtheria, typhoid fever, pneumonia, diabetes, ptomaine poisoning, tetanus), the death of old loved ones, of getting lost, of being jumped by hostile older boys.
There were fears without culprits: the vertigo of heights; of being alone at night anywhere. In the country, there were spider bites to be feared. Nor could the Dad quite persuade him that eating wild mushrooms was not a form of Russian roulette.
He was afraid of presences in closets, even his own, or under his bed, or in dark corners and basements, and coming at him from the fire escape. The movies specified many fears and made his life miserable sometimes, as after viewing Dracula, Frankenstein, and sundry gorillas in celluloid action. They heightened, if they did not create, his fear of haunted houses, ghosts (though he never admitted a belief in them), bullies and thugs, and some of his other fears named above.
The slow development of documentary films in the arts and sciences and the utter subjection of film-making to greedy true monsters of Hollywood was a tragedy of his generation. Most children, in Middletown as in Chicago, spent much more time at the movies than he did. Still, now I am talking about the full range of films, and there is no use in reciting my earlier remarks on the subject.
His dreams were usually unpleasant, when he could remember them. Rarely did they make him ecstatic, indulged, uplifted, or even materially better off with a toy or game. He could never remember hitting a home run in a dream. He would go to bat and couldn't swing the bat. He felt in a dream that he could run very fast but it turned out that he couldn't succeed in getting anywhere. He could never elude a pursuing monster. He would ready himself for a fight, only to discover that he couldn't swing his fists as he dreamed he could before the dream fight began. In his dreams, he was first confident and then, as it turned out, ineffective.
He dreamed occasionally of girls before puberty, but they were friendly encounters, and he enjoyed no richly sexual dreams even into his sixteenth year. Dreams of his Mother dying occurred and disturbed him; he suppressed in his dreams any death of his Father. He dreamed of himself dying and watched the funeral arrangements; he especially enjoyed the mourning over his own demise. He dreamed of wetting his pants, but never actually did so.
Besides failing what he was good at doing, and besides losing to Death his own self and others whom he loved, he dreamed many times of failing to escape hostile pursuers, of falling off precipitous heights (and somehow surviving or awakening surprised). He dreamed of being pursued by horrible faceless bogeymen, and by gorillas, but not by sea monsters, dogs, or wolves.
He would dream that he possessed a secret but that the secret was discovered by a crowd or someone whose identity was part of the secret. He had hardly any dreams about losing jewels or other valuable property, yet he often dreamed of being unequipped -- of lacking a shoe or shoelace, of being without his gloves, of being naked when the troop was assembling in uniform. He dreamt that he was in strange places and did not want his identity to become known, but people always discovered who he was and recognized him, usually for the worse, or simply just that, without wishing him any other kind of harm or even exhibiting any concern over him.
"Good night, sweet dreams!" she sang out. They echoed it back but to each other said crudely, "Good night; don't let the bedbugs bite!" and chuckled. Dreams bring a changing order. They destroy the continuum of existence as if one were struck by a car, collapsed in a heart attack, saw one's mother killed, was defenestrated. A quantavolution of your existence threatens to happen in your dream. Then you wake up and go on with a uniform existence, less tense now but more excited, less sober perhaps, but less fearful of what the ordinary day may bring, less bored, too, because your limited capacity for excitement has been fully taxed. The ineffectual actions in dreams (like being unable to lift a sword or get a doll's dress on properly) make the little dull actions of waking life more meaningful, strong, and effective. "See how I can wave a large broom? See how I handle a real baby!"
Dreaming must be what the brain does if left to play itself among the undampened chemo-electrical circuitry and the incoming sensory intrusions that have not been disconnected. Like a company of soldiers that has been ordered "At ease, rest!" and whose disassembled but congregated individuals sit staring, converse, snooze, tighten and loosen straps, play cards, massage a sore muscle, and hum a tune. Then it is called to attention, which is the leadership of brain circuitry; a certain circuit is impelled by outside and internal forces to dominate the rest. It is trained to that which we call obsession when we don't like it, or direction when we like what is happening. "Good night, sweet dreams," they all said, but the company of soldiers at rest in his brain numbered grumblers and traitors, who made him feel frustrated, pursued, and frightened.
He did not tell others of his dreams, and was bored to listen to his Mother's dreams. It was all nonsense, he believed, and anyway there was nothing anyone could do about it and he would probably feel embarrassed if it appeared that he was scared and inadequate in his dream-time. He dreamed ever less as he eased out of childhood, or, let us say, he recalled very little of dreams that made him say to himself in the middle of the night: "Now you must remember this, tomorrow morning!"
He often gave himself over to fantasy wherein he might control the revelation of himself, behave without shame, provide only the opposition and problems that he felt himself able to cope with. In this realm, he could also invent and control all sorts of invention, in human relations and in mechanical contrivances.
With every book he read came an occasion for fantasy, like the improvisation of a jazz player. Movies gave less occasion, because
they were more explicit and public. He fantasized while walking, in bed before sleeping and when napping, and while playing alone. He daydreamed of making conquests against great odds, cutting his way through a crowd of hostiles, defeating attacks en masse against his citadel. He found himself fighting successfully against boys and men both known and unknown, and also against movie villains who had been insufficiently punished on the screen. Sometimes he was wounded and persisted despite his handicaps. Overwhelmed by a numberless enemy, his heroism would now and then cost him his life.
He often had occasion to exhibit his prowess before women and girls, known and unknown, and he saved many of them, beautiful and deprived, from harm, whether they were jailed, tied up, kidnapped, secluded in some farmhouse or lost and pursued by hostiles. I think that he sometimes dreamed himself into something like love for a known tyke or a big bad beautiful woman.
He had too much pride and self-esteem to let himself imagine that he was not himself, that is, to turn off his own appearance, mind, beliefs. He did not imagine escaping deliberately from his family, schools, origins, or neighborhood, but felt that he simply had grown out of them into his fantastic world. That is, he did not erase his actual world; he rather surmounted it.
It seems that he did not want to be anything that he was and even more so, that is, not a bright scholar and author, a family man, nor even forever a resident Chicagoan, yet he did not recognize that he might be deserting these identifications for other ones. He would blow Roland's horn, but he would not be a Toscanini. And the new groups that he joined were not permanent solid reference groups, to which he would consign his full loyalties and skills forever.
Only his ideals remained the same, in all settings, whether in the tortuous passages of the Spanish Main or on the Western Front or riding at sunset through the purple sage. He never fantasized that he was weak, masochistic, brutal or savage. He presented his sterling qualities to females and helped them, letting them be grateful and loving, and never abducted, much less, raped them. When it came to cowboys, he especially liked Hopalong Cassidy who limped through several novels and was a decent sort, if formidable at gunplay. He also liked the Virginian who was a cultured and educated intervenor in the West. He understood the Easterners (like Teddy Roosevelt), the Englishmen, and other unusual and constructive types who showed that they could handle themselves better than any of the locals.
Perhaps there was in the variety of and weak intensity of his fantastic identities something of his individualism, which was so common in America: it is an avoidance of heavy identification, of heavy belongingness, even a conscious assumption of aloneness and apartness. One is supposed to join any group of any type anywhere and, joining it, offer to it the cooperation, discipline, responsibility, and leadership that were required.
A great part of his fantasies entered a large vortex within his mind and began to flow backwards, down and out, like a flushing toilet -- never really out, so to speak, but into a trap, in storage, becoming a dark indistinct mass, like the piles of clothes and belongings in the Boys' Room closet, in the darkest corner of the dark room behind their bed and away from the stuff in use, which the Mom rarely went barging into. Or like a larger and larger mulch heap, draining and drying away its girth with time.
The body of fantasy was dying unobserved while the real life went on, future-oriented, parentless one might well believe, unmournful of the refuse, hard and sharp. To be told, "Here, this can of worms was your life, you are half-dead at fourteen," would elicit the expression of blank bewildered amnesia, or fierce denial, or a good-natured jeer. This was not me! Are you referring to my cut-off curls, my discarded short pants? Funny, weren't they? Later on the mess would return in belches from a backed-up toilet.
The moods of the Babe in everyday consciousness were matter-of- fact, sanguine, and often ebullient. His heart would beat excitedly mostly in his fantasies, or at the movies, or in sudden anticipation of a pleasure such as a train ride, or of a heavy encounter like a contest or recitation. The Mom would say that she felt "down in the dumps," but he did not use the expression because he rarely felt that way. His way was disgust and anger or sleepiness.
He was, however, capable of the feeling of existential sadness. In the late afternoon, in the shades of dusk, waiting alone for the folks to come home, he could feel a slow-beating tranquil potential sobbing.
Also when of a quiet Sunday afternoon, following upon the fevered activity of the week and as the Sunday afternoon symphony concert played on the radio, the same feeling would diffuse from somewhere within; his heart was heavier, his expression lost its alertness, he dawdled listlessly.
Every Spring he was saddened by the great love of Spring, its sweetness and warmth, the fast melting snows of the gone year, the full-toned robin, the fresh air stroking his hair and breathing upon his body denuded of its winter underwear and heavy stockings, the thick buds plopping off trees to the ground where they lay entangled, looking and feeling like caterpillars. Too, the autumn sadness, when the wind began to cut and the leaves cried and scattered to the winds and abraded the pavements.
It was easy to excite him to pity and sorrow. He found many objects of pity and sorrow in the films, some in the newspapers, and he could never admire fat Hardy who was always pounding upon poor Laurel, nor appreciated most of the practical jokes that especially in those days and going back far into the low-brow origins and customs of the country, were produced in large numbers for public display. He sensed that the practical joke was closely akin to bullying.
In school the children were given to read that powerful bit of propaganda in the form of a touching story by Alphonse Daudet, The Last French Lesson, concerning the sweet old schoolteacher from a village in Alsace, which had been annexed by Germany after it had defeated France in 1870. He was to be forced out of his position; this, his last morning with the children, he spent expatiating upon the glories of the French language, which their parents had not insisted upon their learning (actually in place of their native German, a fact not said or made known to the Babe), and upon his love for his pupils. They in turn (the story is told by one of them) feel a surge of love for him, of regrets for their mischiefs in times gone by, and a sense that an injustice had been done to all of them by their new rulers. The tale had done its part in the mustering of indignation that was required to send several million young men to their deaths, ruining Europe economically, starving millions of people, ushering in world communism, and centralizing the United States government.
It was too late for the Babe to take up arms after reading it, Alsace had already been returned to France, but tears gathered in his eyes, and he never forgot the story. The teachers liked it despite the Armistice, because it reproached pupils nicely for playing pranks on them and neglecting their lessons. It is also respectable literature, which was in short supply, for reasons that I need not go into here: the censorious, stupid, crooked, provincial, culture-poor, fund- misallocating, bureaucratic interests that played upon the education of the children.
He was moved to tears when he watched the funeral of a neighbor and listened to the band playing "Nearer my God to Thee." He felt sad when the Mom wept, and cried when she cried for having lost or had stolen from her the shopping money of the week. He felt sorry for his flame-haired Boy Scout friend, "Red," when they were romping around the bridal paths off Oak Street Beach and jeered at a large man on a horse, "Get off and give the horse a ride!" to which he exclaimed angrily that he would have their welfare relief cut off, and the boy suddenly became very worried behind his red hair and freckles and when the Babe stopped laughing he could see that the boy was frightened; then he felt pity and was sorry for him, although he still did not believe there was much cause for the boy to worry.
He was probably correct in this instance, yet he had insufficient appreciation of the morbidity, anxiety, insecurity, and illness that surrounded a great many households. He lacked the bitter class envy that makes one peek into the life-styles "below" and "above" to see what one is missing, or luckily has, or might get, meanwhile perceiving all the ways in which others are less or more fortunate than oneself. The Hollywood movies and the books he chose to read proceeded satisfactorily to reduce everyone to an equal social state and then to assure that the hero naturally ends up at the top of the heap.
With plenty of optimism, security, health, activities and success, why should the Babe have ever become introspective? To examine oneself, you must assay your strengths and weaknesses, question your motives, judge your own behavior, and in the end give evidence of this by changing yourself. In this difficult art, a child can hardly win a superior grade. Short of that, the Babe did achieve some excellence. He was continually tallying his strengths and weaknesses; like a company of soldiers in combat, he was repeatedly calling the roll, often desperately. His motives were not of the best; such has been disclosed: did he question them? Yes, but unfortunately on larger matters the answers satisfied him and he did not dedicate himself to the higher goals that were revealed.
Still, did Socrates question warfare? Or his attitudes toward male sex? Or whether his teachings had anything to do with the rascally conduct of former pupils? Perhaps he did ask, for he said that a life gone unexamined was a life not worth living.
What I mean is that if the Best Thinkers were imperfect, the Babe might be inadequate. Otherwise his capacity for self- examination was unusual, originating from several sources, such as various parental expressions: "Look at yourself, you're a mess." "You won't get far acting that way." "No one is going to harm you." "You are imagining things." "It won't hurt you to do that." "They do that just to scare you." Significantly, hardly was he ever asked in scorn, "Who do you think you are?" Granted, he was Something; the question was `what.'
Additionally, accusations that he was pretending, scheming, concealing, caught him up in self-interrogation -- the major credit for this line of interrogation going to Bro Bus with the parents as arbiters. It boosted his insight, also, that he was fairly free from guiltiness: guilt is expected to enhance self-examination, as in the confessional facing up to Hell, but in reality suppresses it and projects it outward onto others and upon the System of society; guilt finds excuses more than it discovers motives. The Babe was more easily made to feel embarrassment that guilt.
Probably, too, his extensive fears and fantasies unconsciously permeated his mind and forced his "healthy" outgoing consciousness back into a considerable introspectiveness. He did not, however, go so far as to plumb the depths of his being, worry over his very existence, worry over putting together pieces of a fragmented personality, or feel sickly unto death.
Reviewing his story, as best we can, we would conclude that the Babe was mad in various infantile and childish ways. Still, he appeared only normal when we would compare him with other children and observe his ready adjustment over the years to the thoroughgoing madness of the adult world.
Childhood is bound to be seen as a period of insanity by adults. What adults refuse to see is that their adulthood is in many regards a disguised infantilism. The crazies judging others crazy. Who is to say who is mad, then, Dear Reader, except thou and me? And, as you are well aware, I am prejudiced in the Babe's cause, so it is obvious that I am disposed to an odd conclusion: childhood is an incurable disease.
Nonetheless, adults treat children on the principle of spontaneous remission, for it is observed that for reasons poorly understood, the child comes to behave like an adult; therefore, thankful for the changes, no further questions are asked.
More properly, reversing the perspective of conventional time, adulthood should be regarded as childhood that is governed by symptom-therapy.