Because Monday is a holiday this week, I’m taking a break from my usual Monday memoir piece. What follows is a kind of Christmas story–except it doesn’t take place at Christmas, or even in winter. I wrote it for school in the fall of 1984 and introduced it to my family at Christmas that year. And because of that, it makes me think of Christmas.
Everyone thought it was hilarious, even those who hadn’t been born yet when it takes place. I didn’t intend it to be funny. I had in mind instead an epiphany, like that which occurs at the end of James Joyce’s short story “Araby”: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.”
Well, that was the idea.
I offer it here exactly as I wrote it 33 years ago. It doesn’t sound like me now. Too many words, too self-conscious, too much qualification. But I’ll revisit it, in time, for the memoir project. Because I do see it, still, as an epiphanal moment, though not quite for the reasons outlined below.
My sister had her first baby when she was seven years old. It was about twelve inches long, weighed approximately two pounds, had skin with the texture of latex, a shock of blond nylon hair, and two red lips, permanently puckered to accept “milk” from a bottle. Her eyes were porcelain blue, adn stared vacantly into space, unless you were to lay her down, at which time they would snap shut. No Cabbage Patch Kid, this doll. This was the real thing. It was a beautiful creature, and my sister loved it. She loved it so much, in fact, that I sometimes suspected that perhaps she paid more attention to it than she did me. And that is why, in the summer of 1968, I decided to throw her baby out of the car window, along with the bottle she used to feed the little thing.
Traditionally, family vacations are never much fun. It is during such excursions that you begin to notice the little quirks and peculiarities of others that just drive you up the wall. For example, it is on family vacations that you finally get sick and tired of your little brother always having his finger up his nose. The situation forces you to choose one of two options: you can fight him, or you can ignore him. Since ignoring someone in the back seat of a station wagon is easier said than done, the first option seems most logical. Unfortunately, fights in cars always lead to something ugly being said or done. After such a fight, there is an eerie silence that hangs in the air. Neither the hum of the air-conditioner nor the drone of the radio can dispel that silence. Something climactic is bound to happen, and something climactic always does.
Situations such as the above have occurred repeatedly on my family’s vacations. the summer of 1968 was no exception. We were headed for Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. My memory of the incident is, to say the least, sketchy. However, I can safely assume that we had been on the road for several hours prior to the incident. The actual details of what raised the pressure in that car to such a climactic point will never be known. All I can remember are various scenes, as if someone had filmed the incident in slow-motion and randomly rearranged the frames. My sister was being more obnoxious than usual, hiding behind her little doll. I was aware, as well as a two-year-old can be aware, that the quickest and most devastating reaction from her could be solicited by threatening the thing closest to her physical being, the doll. She had several dolls, but the one she brought on the trip was her favorite, because it drank from a bottle, and, consequently, wet itself.
My sister was very affectionate toward the doll, and I was jealous of it. So, somewhere in the Badlands of South Dakota, I finally grew tired of being replaced by an artificial human. I was real. I bled when I was cut, I cried when I was sad, I smiled, when I was happy. I, too, could wet myself. I personified reality; it personified fantasy.
Dreamlike memories of the incident haunt me. The window is down. My sister is screaming. My mother is scolding me. My father is not saying a word. Knowing him as I do, I would assume that he is smiling to himself at the absurdity of the situation. I, in the meantime, am crying, as the baby bounces off the pavement, the bottle rolling after it in vain pursuit. . . .
It can be said, I suppose, that my little tale of a childhood incident of long ago pales in the face of what the rest of the world was going through in 1968. However, I believe that the incident, and the guilt that resulted from it, has had some effect on my psyche. Why else would something that happened sixteen years ago still be lodged in my mind? I have not forgotten the incident, my sister has not forgotten the incident, and it goes without saying that her baby has not forgotten the incident. In fact, to this day, when I look at my sister’s old dolls, the eyes no longer stare vacantly into space, but stare at me with a vengeful glare. I will never go back to South Dakota.