Part 4: Past is Prologue- Chapter 1
My daddy was a good man… basically… whom I think was always… paranoid… suspicious… irrationally prone to be believing that he was being conspired or… somehow… plotted against. I remember he was always insanely jealous and suspicious of my mother: at least until the accident... that she was secretly being unfaithful to him- to the point that his jealousy alone, in and of itself, was mental illness. Perhaps it was not always totally unfounded suspiciousness… but that is another story… and may she… as well as he… mercifully… RIP.
The man with the bird head, dressed in a white surgical suit (scrubs they call them) stood over my father.... at least according to my father. It wasn’t a bird head exactly. It was more like the painting of a bird’s head with a beak for devouring human beings or like one of those masks in the Middle Ages with the long hooked proboscis and the goggles and the hat that was worn during the Black Death.
“But how did he know that?”
The same way he understood that the man was a doctor and that he was performing some kind of surgery on his brain.
The top of my father’s skull had been removed or at least part of it.
The bird-man wore really thick gloves, not latex gloves like a surgeon but leather gloves like a welder and held a really long, thin, fork looking tool in each hand and picked at my father’s brain like one would pick at a plate of escargot.
He pressed the sizzling tip of one of his skinny snail forks into an exposed grey squiggle in the cortex region where my father’s short term and long term semantic and episodic memories were being stored. There was a “zzztttt” sound accompanied by what felt like an electrical shock.
My father winced.
“What do you see?” the surgeon said though a small microphone in the mouthpiece just below his large, hooked, birdlike nose.
“What do I see?” my father said. “Nothing.”
The Medieval bird surgeon stabbed my father in the brain again with his snail fork.“Ahhhh!!!!” my father said as an image materialized in his mind somewhere. “Now what do you see?” the Dark Ages doc said.
There was the image of the floor of an oil rig in my father’s mind. It seemed the image was being cast on an outdoor movie screen somewhere through fog in the distance or from the drive-in screens of my father’s youth perhaps. It was the floor of the oil rig where my father was working when he was injured. He was dressed in steeled toed boots and jeans and wore a metal hardhat.
Having burned through many jobs, my father had landed lucrative employment as a roughneck on the oil rig upon which he visualized himself now, standing, only seconds before a twenty foot long plank would fall from the derrick above him and strike him in the head.
“The drilling rig,” He murmured. “Where I work... standing on the rig floor...’
The Medieval Medicine man peering over his beak at my father’s exposed brain, promptly stabbed him in the grey matter with his snail fork again.
“Ahhh!!!!!” my father screamed.
“Now what do you see?” said the doctor from the dark ages. In his dream or memory or whatever it was exactly, mirage of a recollection, my father would say to the doctor wearing the bird mask and standing over him “Nothing... I see nothing.”
It is referred to as Anterograde amnesia- that loss of ability to form memories for a period of time after an accident. Retro...grade amnesia is conversely, the loss of memories formed before a head injury. My father suffered a bit of both, I suppose. He was unable to recall the accident in the oilfield that would alter him mentally for the remainder of his life. He was also unable to remember some of the days prior to the accident and a significant amount of time after.
What my father could recollect apparently, was a sort of surrealistic, cartoonish, reconfiguring of the surgical mise en scene, or was it- mise en abyme - in the emergency operating theater. Perhaps it was an “out of body experience” in which he observed himself from outside himself: it is generally accepted that traumatic brain injuries and near death experiences are both capable of inducing an OBE. Or perhaps he just regained consciousness briefly, even through the anesthesia and drugs and realized that he was experiencing open brain surgery and in the shock of that realization morphed the surgeon into the caricature of a medieval sawbones.
“What in the name of...” the doc from the Dark Ages said.
A section of my father’s brain had begun to expand, sort of like a balloon; one of those skinny balloons that clowns twist and turn and torture into wiener dogs or hats with a horn or penis on the front. It began to bubble and bulge as if something beneath the surface of the grey matter, buried in my father’s brain like the larvae of a bot fly was attempting to force itself out...
“Ahhhhhhh!!!!” the doc screamed as a tiny face appeared, sort of like the face of a fetus at birth only much, much tinier, still covered in the goo and juice from the amniotic sac... only not squeezing itself out of a vagina but out of my father’s brain.
“Oh my fucking...” the doc said as the face pushing its way out of my father’s brain became a tiny head... on a tiny neck... attached to tiny shoulders and then popped full force, like an exploding zit out of the mass of unmyelinated neurons and interneurons and projection neurons in my poppas noggin.
“Somebody grab that thing!” the Medieval medicine man quaked as the teeny dude ran down my old man’s nose and leapt, doing a couple of somersaults before it hit the floor... running. “Get it! Get it!”
Suddenly from out the shadows merged more of the birdish surgeons, a flock of them almost, or a gaggle perhaps... a bevy. They were just nurses or assistant sawbones in attendance but joined in full throated, quacking and clomping around like zombies in wooden clogs to capture the diminutive specimen that had sprung full grown but wee from my daddio’s coconut and was making good effort to flee.
“Don’t let it get away!” the master surgeon ordered as the shrimp sized hombre dashed under the operating table and then broke for the door like Jesse Owens the four time 1936 Olympic gold medalist.
My father could not follow, of course, because he was lying immobilized still on the surgical table and his Atman or astral self or otherness or soul or whatever was tethered to his consciousness and could only make it as far as the door before it snapped back into his body like a paddle-ball at the end of rubber band.
I remember when I saw him after the surgery. His head was swollen to the size of a regulation basketball and yellow like he had jaundice. His eyes were sunken into dark holes in his head and there were needles and tubes in his arms.
He took my hand and said. “He got away son.” He’s out there.”
My grandmother’s couch smelled like ass... hers, I’m afraid.
At one time it had been the center piece of one of those nice, curved, multiple section sofa sets. Fortunately it was rich brown in color and didn’t show stain much. My grandmother would sit around on it, in her floral print granny gown and drink Coors beer out of the can and smoke Marlboro 100s from the gold pack. Every once in a while, she would extract her false teeth and lick the particles of food out, or whatever, that had lodged between those fake choppers and her toothless guns.
She was an olive skinned woman with coarse, dark charcoal hair and claimed to be half Native American Indian. Her daddy, she said, was fifty percent Choctaw and fifty percent Cherokee, which were actually warring tribes. That would’ve caused my father to be one quarter Native American and me one eighth. I would discover much later in life, after having my DNA tested twice, that I had no Native American ancestry, even less than Elizabeth Warren, a liberal senator from Massachusetts whose claims of Native ancestry were debunked after being goaded into taking the tests by Donald Trump... Fauxcahontas, he gleefully labeled her.
From the photos I’ve seen of her, my grandmother was an attractive woman in her youth, most likely of Greek descent, based on what my DNA tests uncovered decades after she’d died. I suspect that her father had either immigrated to the USA illegally or outstayed his visa and was able to effectively pose as Native American... so he did... and inculcated my grandmother with the prevarication fear of being found out and expatriated. She truly believed the family fraud; my Grandma Bug did, as perhaps the Senator from Massachusetts did likewise. And I suppose, if I must give my Bug the benefit of the doubt, I must do so with Elizabeth Warren as well.
There is a word that comes to mind that I investigated recently on the interwebs; simulacrum, which means: an image or representation of someone or something; an unsatisfactory substitute... a Fauxcahontas.
The Italian author, Umberto Eco wrote somewhere in his novel, FOUCAULT’S PENDULUM- I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.
The quote is not that difficult to find online.
The Italian author also wrote: I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.
As for my father, after suffering serious brain damage in the oil filed accident and then spending some time, over a year, as a patient at the Mayo Clinic in Houston, Texas, he would sit around in a cloth covered rocking chair, in the bedroom that my grandmother had added on to her home for us and drank cheap beer and stare at the walls for hours on end.
“Son of a bitch!” he would say. “You’re the dirty bastard who dropped napalm on the Mouseketeers!” I have no idea what that meant.
Occasionally, he would be overcome with the overwhelming urge to play the piano... to thump the ivories as he would say... which was weird... we didn’t have a piano and he had never played. It was sort of like he had developed ‘alien hand’ or- ‘Dr. Strangelove syndrome’- except for the brain... and with someone else’s brain.
“You can’t hide behind the tv...” he said once. “I’ll just turn it on.”
He looked at me once with those big Basset Hound eyes of his and said; “I thought I got him, with the rocker on my rocking chair, the other day but I didn’t. I am pretty sure there are others... like him!”
I had become something of a boozehound myself, by that early chapter in my young life, and a druggie. I was estranged from my mother. She had taken my sister and moved to a small Texas Hamlet a few hundred miles away and entered into a relationship with a man who was more abusive and demeaning to her than my father had ever been... but that is another story and will not be expounded upon here.
My dreams and nightmares had worsened. Perhaps it was the drugs and alcohol that had infested and intensified my night terrors and presented them more graphic. Perhaps it was the other way around: my night terrors aggravated my consumption of drugs and alcohol. I dreamt about people in masks a lot. I think that was probably a result of what my father revealed to me about what he remembered from his open brain surgery: particularly the surgeon in the renaissance bird mask. But there were often dreams with folks wearing regular surgical masks or even scary, monstrous, demonic Halloween masks that they would peel away like layers of skin to reveal other masks even more scary and demonic beneath the first. I jumped out of my bed one night and ripped my Pink Floyd poster off the wall; the one with the eye inside the pyramid inside the circle- with lightning bolts coming out of the eye- and then I ran out of the house in my underwear yelling something about the “Blue Bonnet Plague”.
Oddly enough, I only ran about half a hundred feet before I turned and came back, still in my sleep. I was met at the door by something hellish looking... accursed. I could not tell if it was human or beast or demon. There were patches of flesh missing on its face, with open wounds instead or scabs. I could see bone in places. I think there were worms or maggots and the thing’s eyes bulged and bled at odd angles. I took a swing at it and leapt aside adroitly. I realized then that there was another critter of similar ilk behind the first one.“
Son...” the freakish thing said. “You need to come inside now.”
Apparently I had awakened the Bug and my father. And apparently my grandmother was still spry enough to sidestep a punch... fortunately. And apparently my father was lucid enough when the situation called for it.