By Dolores J. Nurss

Volume III: Responsibility

Chapter 29





Although the scene of a big man braiding a little girl’s hair, out in a cold place with a little snow in the air, came from a much later dream, the scenes of fleeing through a field of deep grass, then a slot canyon, and then over the horrific, haunted bridge belongs to the earliest dream of the Charadoc that I can recall, in third grade.  I can remember sitting in my classroom, oblivious to whatever the teacher, Mrs. Campbell, had to say, still stunned by memories of that nightmare.  No dream has ever been so memorable to me in my life–I know these details by heart.  Oddly, though surrounded mostly by child soldiers, I myself stood at nearly twice their height.  I was seven or eight years old when I dreamed it.

I know that my dream derived the image of the tight space in cracked rock from overhearing my big brother’s boyscout friends talk about a legendary hiking trail, through a slot-canyon, called Fat Man’s Misery.  I don’t know where much of the rest came from, but it was all there in the dream–the children running through grass so high that they appeared to swim through it, the girl wetting herself on my shoulders, the death of one twin and then the other, all of it.

I originally dreamed that Kiril shouted out “Purple Mantles!” not “Soldiers!”  I changed it for plausibility, but that's where I got the name of the Charadocian Gestapo.  And Damien originally said “Three bullets”, not “Five”.  (That makes psychological sense—three people known to Deirdre died.  But there also were the Cumenci children.)  I also added a few other bits of dialogue.  But not much.

(Purple, the color of the elite.  That was the year that they definitively labeled my IQ.  That was the year that everybody started to put conflicting pressures on me, to “rise above” my working-class origins, yet to not get “stuck-up” AKA looking down on my working-class origins.  That was the year that the mantle that others wanted to put on me first began to pursue me.)

And in that dream I first encountered Malcolm—for this was also the year that I began attending speech therapy.  Among the other tests,my counselor kept asking me the meanings of words, and more words, and more, till I got one wrong.  I stuttered out an apology, but the counselor said “Don’t apologize; you got all the way up to college level.”  I still remember how disturbed she looked.  And yet no one in waking life seemed to make the connection that playground bullying over my vocabulary had triggered my stuttering.

In that dream Malcolm both was and was not my grandfather—a manual laborer with a sizeable beer belly, but by no means obese on Malcolm's level–Malcolm grew huger than Buddy had ever been in my life.  Buddy was the only member of the family uncomfortable with words, to such an extent that I suspect some form of dyslexia.  His writing often showed extra lines curving back over what he'd written, as though he'd changed direction unconsciously and had to change it back.  I remember how slowly and carefully he would write, or read aloud.

In this dream he takes the rearguard position as I flee with many child soldiers, through tall grass, then through a zigzagging crack in rock, where Malcolm/Buddy reassures us that nobody can shoot past him, and if they shoot him they'll block their own way.  And then we run out onto the most frightening, rotten suspension bridge imaginable, where again he deliberately takes up the rear so that if the bridge breaks under him we'd still be able to cling to the ropes ahead of him and so escape.  He became for me a heroic fat man, this Malcolm.  Yet when a boy, who had just seen his twin brother shot, falls off the bridge, he forbids us to mourn, saying that the boy didn't want to survive his brother and so brought his death on himself.  I hated him for that, but it made me try all the harder to survive, knowing that he would blame me if I didn't.

Buddy had always been “big on doing what’s right, and never mind what others done to you”, on personal responsibility, bearing as he did some awful scars from child abuse, but refusing to let his wicked “father” shape him into either a victim or a bully.

So in my dream he expands to this huge figure who blocks me from the fears pursuing me.  But he doesn't stop there.  If I choose to give up, he insists that I have no one to blame but myself.  I must take responsibility for overcoming the traumas in my background, even as he did.  I could not let other people’s ridicule cut me off from words, like the silent twins.  I had already let a trauma in infancy trigger a mute phase for three years, before this, but Malcolm-Buddy would not let me go back to that.

Words have always been my calling.  When my mute-phase ended I re-entered the speaking world with conscious wonder of the power of words.  And I had started making up stories in my head even then, telling them to no one, calling them “sads” because they all had tragic endings.  My setbacks acted like pulling back the string of a bow, ultimately hurtling my need to tell stories harder and farther than they would have gone from a normal childhood.  And even in third grade I knew that I had to write every day, in preparation for the writer I would be when I grew up.  I had started practicing for my calling, in fact, in the summer before second grade.  (Except Sundays.  I had to treat this as my life’s work, so the Sunday work-ban applied, no matter how difficult.)  If I gave up, just because my peers didn’t like my vocabulary, I would have surrendered to a sort of accidental suicide, like the bereaved twin.

That dream gave me hard lessons on more levels than one.  At that time I adored my elder brother beyond all reason, thinking of him as father and mother to me after the break-up of my original family, believing his every word as gospel.  I had no idea that someday we would have a horrendous falling-out and that I'd have to live without his approval, indeed endure his contempt.  I had to learn how to survive without him.  I did not know, at that time, that by third grade he had already turned against me, convincing my grandmother that I was born evil—in all sincerity, grieving because he loved me so.  He needed to believe it, to survive some traumas of his own, to make sense of the senseless.  So I had a future ahead where I’d have to live as though I’d lost a twin.  For though he was my elder, he felt that close to me.

Not that easy, living up to Malcom's demand that I survive.  I had already made my first suicide attempt in kindergarten—albeit a rather silly one.  Being an ignorant little fool, when a teacher told me not to chew my pencil because that could give me lead poisoning, I thought that the poison came of the pencil lead itself.  Adults had drilled into us that bad children died by ingesting poison, usually out of curiosity about substances found under sinks and in medicine cabinets.  But when a neighborhood boy got “blood-poisoning”, nobody called him bad—apparently taking in poison through the bloodstream didn’t break the rules.  So, the next time we had colored pencils to play with, I took a bluegreen one (I can remember sitting on the carpet of the kindergarten class doing this, while the other kids colored) and I picked off a scab on my right shin, and rubbed the pencil lead into it real good.  The only effect I ever got from it was a lifelong bluegreen dot of a tattoo.

My mood had not changed much since kindergarten by the time I had this dream–in fact, in third grade, when the bullying escalated, it took a strong turn for the worse.  I needed Malcolm’s tough love.  Much in my life seemed to tell me that I had a duty to die, that every day without suicide was another day of dishonor—but in my dreams he insisted that it went the other way around.

          Like Deirdre, I have never left that bridge.  I will run across it my whole life long, knowing that something haunts it, wanting me to never reach the other side.  I must cross it anyway.  The day that I die a natural death in the waking body will be the day I cross–no shortcuts allowed, no dying before my time.  I must make all effort to keep on going forward, no matter what it takes.

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