Too Much Survival Can Kill You

Around the age of twelve, I wrote what would now be called ‘fan fiction’ based on C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. In my imagination I was living in the world of those books, and I made up a story based on some of the characters. I tore up the paper I had written it on, and spread the pieces over the front lawn. I think I was trying to cast some kind of magic spell.

My mother found the pieces and gathered them up. She telephoned the school.

The teacher called me into an empty classroom. “Your mother called, and she is very upset.” I was completely puzzled. The teacher looked at me sideways. “Are you sure you don’t know what it’s about?” I must have been lying about something.

When I got home, my mother was distraught. What was this story about fairies living on the mountain, and me going to join them? Why would I make up something so insane? Was I going to run away with somebody? What was wrong with my head?

I was frightened. I made up a story about how someone else had written it.

The same teacher read aloud, in front of the whole class, what I thought was a funny story I had written. She said: did you think this was funny? Does anyone else think it is funny? Because it isn’t funny.

Later, I had schizophrenic marks on my report cards—A in English, failing everything else—and another teacher asked if I could write something about why I was such a delinquent.

When two of my poems were published in a national student magazine, my parents asked why I had to write things that nobody understood. This was not going to be good for my future. I should do my homework, and not write other things.

My writing would get me into a lot of trouble. I started to doubt my own gifts, and thought I had to borrow from others. I borrowed parts of a story out of one in my textbooks, and received a high mark for it. My older brother saw it. It was proof that I was a liar and a fraud. He looked for other things I had written, so that he could keep reminding me of my shame.

I would have been about ten years old when he dressed me in my mother’s underwear. I thought it was fun and exciting. He flattered me and gave me attention.

He stroked the inside of my naked thighs. I felt his penis on my thigh. Something spilled on me, or bumped me. I got out of the bed and stood there shivering.

What’s wrong? Don’t you want to play that game? Don’t you want to play that game again? Why don’t you want to play that game? I didn’t want to play that game any more. I looked for places to hide. He would come looking for me.

I had to be near him all the time. When we went on trips, I would be sleeping a few feet away from him. Chewing his nails, grinning, watching for my confusion, while I became more and more self-conscious and withdrawn.

He would stand outside the bathroom door and say: I hope you’re having an exciting time in there. He said it so that I would know he could tell I was masturbating in the bathroom, and that I was dirty and disgusting. He reminded me that my parents knew I was lazy, dirty, bad, and a liar.

I was cooking myself some eggs. He stood there saying: yum, those eggs look tasty. I hope you enjoy those eggs. Why do you think you can cook yourself some eggs when you don’t work like I do? Chewing his nails. Have you been to Manpower yet? Time to get manhandled.

My mother told me he was extremely angry that I had been allowed to go away to university.

Over the years, I would get phone calls. No one would speak on the other end. Even after call display became a feature on my phone, I couldn’t see a number. But I could hear breathing, and sometimes what sounded like a radio, or the noise of an auto body repair shop. I could feel that it was him.

Later, my friend met my older brother for the first time. She said to me: “Talking with him, I was aware of his paranoia, of his pain, and of the fact that he wasn’t listening to a single word I said.”

In one of the emails he sent me: You are the same as when you were 4, when you were 8, and so on. He was the one who had started abusing me back then, but I was the one who was guilty.

I had to forgive him, because he was only four years older than me, and he suffered too.

I was plagued with extreme anxiety. I couldn’t relax. My body separated into parts, and the parts did not communicate with each other. My jaw froze, and my neck was so stiff it hurt to turn my head. I began to have days-long bouts of insomnia, which has dogged me all my life.

Breathing became a problem. I thought if I didn’t have conscious control over every breath, I would forget how to breathe.

I retreated into a fantasy world, one that was far more vivid and satisfying than real life. I spent most of my time there. There I could write, be an artist, a singer, anything. It didn’t matter where my body was. I did not see my surroundings, but only what was in my mind’s eye.

Eyes were dangerous. I had great difficulty with eye contact, and it was almost impossible to look at myself in the mirror. Eyes are the windows to the soul, and my soul was constantly under attack. As an adult, I had to train myself to look at people.

I had no friends at school. There were a few others who treated me kindly, but even the nicest ones either couldn’t or didn’t want to get too close. I looked down at the ground and disappeared into my inner world.

They would shove me, spit at me, stomp on my feet. They invented names for me. Sea-Dog. You stink. Have pity, you’re so ugly it hurts. Go back to Polluto where you came from. Boys with cherubic faces would tell me how I was going to get fucked and killed.

They wondered why I didn’t react, other than to try and shrink myself into as small a mass as possible.

I shut myself inside the toilet in the girl’s changing room, and stayed there for a few moments before enduring the absolute horror of Physical Education. One of my more enthusiastic tormentors stood on a bench and looked over the door of the toilet. After she had done it once and saw me standing there motionless, she did it all the time.

“You never go! I look at you every time, and you never go! You just stand there!”

For “team sports,” two students would be chosen to pick the members of each side. I was left by myself at the end of the picking, because nobody wanted me on their team. They considered it a great injustice when the teacher forced one of the leaders to take me. When “our” team lost, they would cry, yell at me, and hit me: “It’s your fault!

I fell down into the mud before getting on the school bus. A group of them had arranged to stand up and shout a salute with the latest name they had for me: “Hail, Von Roski!” when they noticed I was covered in mud, and the whole bus burst into laughter. The bus driver said, “What is this? Stop it!” They ignored him.

Why didn’t you fight back? Why were you so passive? You must have asked for it. You were the real bully.

I could not avoid bad people. I did not know what to do about them. Plenty of people I came across later in life sensed my confusion and my low self-worth, and used me as target practice for their managerial aspirations or dominance fantasies, or simply as their garbage can.

I had no idea what ‘red flags’ were. I thought if I just ‘worked on myself,’ the real goodness in other people would come out. I confessed my inmost pain and confusion to people who would lick their chops, eat me for lunch, and spit out my bones. The faces and names would change, but it was always the same characters. I didn’t understand how these situations manifested, or how to prevent them from happening again.

I should have been able to use my energy to develop my talents and move forward in my life. Instead I struggled to somehow get through the next week, and the one after that. It seemed like I was always under seige. And in spite of all the counsellors I went to over the the years, I couldn’t ‘get over it.’

We would go on trips to California.

My mother would stay up all night before we went. She prepared a big roast of pork coated in paprika, to put in the trunk of the car and eat with rye bread. She would wash and dry multiple loads of laundry, pack suitcases, stay up all night and become more and more anxious, so that by morning she was beside herself.

She threw the open suitcase down the stairs, scattering its contents, yelling that we should all go and leave her at home. My younger brother stood at the bottom of the stairs. By then he would have been convinced that women were crazy.

My parents argued as my father drove rapidly down the highway. My mother became more and more distraught, and tried to open the door on her side to throw herself out.

I think I was 17 when my father gave me a small sort of yellow-beige car. Was it a Toyota? I drove around aimlessly in it. I didn’t know how to take care of it.

My older brother said: the car’s just like her.

My younger brother said: I can’t stand it when women swear while they’re driving.

When I left for university and didn’t want to take the car, he shouted angrily at me: you’re gonna be sorry you didn’t take the car. But I wouldn’t have been able to drive it safely through the mountains to Victoria. I wouldn’t have known how to take care of it when I got there.

My younger brother’s schoolmates were asking him if I was his crazy sister.

He was two and a half years younger than me, but he had the right to tell me how I was supposed to live. I didn’t dress right. I didn’t know how to talk. What’s wrong with her? It’s the fault of our mother. She didn’t teach you how to be female. The other girls get up an hour early. They put on makeup and fix their faces. Together with our father and our older brother, he would say: I don’t care about you. I care about the fact that you’re an embarrassment to me.

He was my ‘date’ for the high school graduation prom. I was 17 and he was 15. Why did that happen? He was criticizing me the whole time. I didn’t look happy. I didn’t know how to dance. I was an embarrassment and he was there because nobody else wanted to be with me.

Was it really like this? I find it hard to believe this really happened.

My mother’s eldest son, our half-brother, died in 1996 under undignified circumstances. I do not remember ever again hearing my younger brother mention him. He was another embarrassment.

I watched a video of Tony Robbins, one of the self-help gurus my younger brother followed. It was made at one of his mass meetings, and a woman in the audience had raised some objection to his doctrine. Robbins, a horse-faced giant, was aggressively poking her in the chest while telling her to ‘stop being a victim,’ in a rough grating voice that sounded like he was shouting down into a basement.

“They’re just things people say. They’re jokes.” Only the jokes were never jokes.

Little girls are trouble. That one’s gonna be trouble. They look so ugly when they’re eating. Girls shouldn’t eat. They like to be abused. It’s the ones who talk like you who want it the most. When they get to be that old, they take what they can get.

Women are devious. They cause all the evil in the world. Give them an inch, and they’ll cut the whole thing off.

Women’s suffering isn’t a part of history. I’m not saying it wasn’t horrible. Those things that happened to you—they were horrible. But somewhere, on some level, deep down inside, subconsciously, you wanted it. Women are in control of the world. So you must have wanted it. Look at how our mother abuses you. Women hate their own daughters.

There are two sides to every story. Emotions were running high. Stop festering. Be a good strong woman.

Good strong women did not protect bad weak women. Good strong women generally didn’t defend other women at all.

I was back in the town in which I had grown up, and I was going to help in in the office at our father’s auto body shop. My older brother now had control of it.

My mother helped me get a new computer. My older brother had planned to set one up for me at home, so that he could ‘remote in’ whenever he felt like it, which meant that he could spy on anything and everything I wrote, listened to or looked at, any time of the day or night. As it was, he had to settle for attacking me in every other possible way.

What did you expect? You knew what you were getting into. You gave up your right to an independent life. You have to work with your abusive older brother.

He had been waiting for this opportunity for decades. He was the star of his own reality TV show, acting out a fantasy of total control and domination over his whole family. When he heard the first sound out of my mouth, he would say DJASAYSUMN DYASAYSUMN DJASAYSUMN DJASAYSUMN until I stopped trying to say anything. He sneered at me: “Intellectual.” He repeated degrading phrases our parents had said to me long ago, especially those my mother used to say.

In the bathroom he used downstairs, I was scrubbing off the dried orange piss crusted all over the walls around the toilet. There was a big piece of dried shit inside the plunger. He had diabetes and kidney stones. He was saving the family business. I was a failure and a slave.

His new girlfriend enjoyed playing boss with him, and they indulged in all the sadistic, degrading managerial garbage they could get their hands on. The art of seduction. The art of war. The art of being a malignant abuser of your own sister.

LOOKAMI LOOKAMI LOOKAMI LOOKAMI. I was shaking like a leaf. I had told him about my work with autistic children, and how important it was to say “Look at me,” to help them learn to make eye contact.

How stupid of me to have ever told him anything; to have ever shared any information with him, ever, at any time in my life. How stupid of me to have ended up there. What did I expect?

I had been living at my father’s house for a year.

That day I did my best to keep calm and occupied, to drive the fear out of my mind. I cleaned the bathroom I shared with my mother.

My older and younger brothers planned a degrading ‘birthday party’ for me. My older brother brought along his two boys, two of my nephews. The last time they had come to dinner, he had not allowed them to talk to me.

They made a show of seating me at one end of the table, acting as though this was the most wonderful party and I should be thrilled with the attention they were giving me.

I was eating rapidly. I wanted it to be over as soon as possible. My mother brought out the cake she had baked, and my father said, we have to sing Happy Birthday. I said I didn’t want any singing. My younger brother said, Okay! No singin’! as if he was talking to a child who was about to throw a tantrum. They were making a mockery, not only of me, but also of our confused father and our frightened mother.

That was when I threw the wine glass on the table, and it shattered. The sight of the two little boys crying made me hysterical. I stood up suddenly and the chair I had been sitting on fell backwards. Leave me alone! Leave me alone!

My older brother was holding one of his sons, saying, are you okay? Did she hurt you?

They had been waiting for this. I pointed at my older brother. You sexually abused me as a child! He grinned and did a ‘come on and fight me’ gesture, saying: hit me, hit me.

My mother stood between him and me. He picked her up by the shoulders and tossed her aside. Then he was hitting me the way my father used to do, so that I had the familiar bruises up and down my arms the next day.

My younger brother was bitch-slapping me. Makacs! Szemtelen! (Stubborn! Shameless!) Things I had not heard in decades. Things he had heard my mother say when she beat me.

He dared me to touch him. I thought: this can’t be happening. I touched his arm. He said: you think I’m bluffing. He phoned the police.

He said: You’ve really done it this time. You planned it. And oh, how you enjoyed it. Diabolical. Cold and calculating. You’re not depressed! If you were depressed, you wouldn’t be able to get up in the morning! You’re like the Jews and the Communists, you don’t forgive! Some faith!

To our parents: Do you think she cares about you? She hates both of you! I know why our mother had a separate phone line put in. So she can call Dad because she’s afraid of you. When my wife and kids were here, I had to keep getting up at night to make sure my sons were okay, because you were going to attack them during the night. You were screaming and stomping around. You were slamming doors. This is a house of terror!

I’m going to have you committed.

And as if it was the final nail in my coffin: Fifty-three years old! Happy Birthday!

It was like the days when they would throw a woman in the water; if she drowned, she was innocent. If she floated or could swim, however badly, it was proof that she was a witch. Since I had successfully been made to believe so much crap about myself for so many years, why not make me believe that I was not only insane, but also dangerous and needed to be put away? More important: everyone else was going to believe it, so that I could be completely isolated. This is what you do with crazy women who have failed at life and don’t want to know their place.

He said: You got three days to make that appointment with a psychiatrist. And to give us all the details.

I had worked in psychiatric units. They couldn’t care less what I knew or what I had done.

The police officer who came said it might be a good idea to get some family counselling.

I lay awake all night shaking, with my arms around my mother. The back of my head was gripped in a vise. It was like that for seven years, even after both of my parents had died and I had left the house.

I tried to call my older brother’s wife (the mother of his kids) to apologize for what had happened. My older brother told my mother that if I didn’t stop trying to talk to his wife, he would, among other things, rip every hair out of my head.

He said: my two boys are terrified of you. But later that year, when he had his sons with him for a couple of days, he brought them to the burnt-out ruin of the auto body shop, where I was doing the grape pressing with my dad. The boys ran around playing and paid no attention to me. I went and sat in my father’s van, where I phoned my mother and waited for her to come and pick me up.

I was bombarded with abusive emails. I kept all of them. Lengthy screeds from my older brother, detailing my evil qualities, mimicking things I had written and said, urging me to admit my guilt and give myself up along with those who were ‘bolstering’ me. Ones from my younger brother, ordering me to remove myself from his presence when he came to my father’s house, warning me about divine retribution, and saying that he would nonetheless ‘remember me in his prayers.’

I went to see a psychiatrist, all right. I was able to receive two years of therapy, to help me cope with the ongoing horror of my situation. I took my brothers’ emails with me.

The leftover Ativan from my mother’s last prescription helped me to get through her funeral.

One of her former neighbours played the piano at the church, and just happened to be there at the time. She was stunned when she saw the memorial table, with photographs of my mother around the box containing her ashes. Because this neighbour happened to be there, we had music to accompany the hymns. I was not going to perform in front of my abusive brothers.

I sat apart from my them. My older brother’s girlfriend had her head on a swivel and turned it to look at me as if I was an animal in a zoo.

My Dad had trodden down the backs of his shoes so he could wear them as if they were slippers, because that was how they were comfortable. He had stiff white stubble on his face, because I couldn’t shave it all off with the electric razor. In his next abusive email, my older brother accused me of neglecting him. Later, my older brother’s wife phoned me and demanded that I apologize for my entire crazy family. She had not been told about my mother’s death, or about her funeral.

At the reception afterwards, my younger brother gave me a pained look. It was too bad I was going to hell for being so evil. Do some soul-searching, he had written in an email after they beat me up. You reap what you sow. God would punish me for my refusal to walk myself into the loony bin.

The morning after the horrific ‘birthday party,’ I had apologized to them for frightening the two little boys. They told me I was not going to be forgiven. You don’t want to be managed. Well, you’re going to be managed. Your life is gonna change. The gravy train is over.

About one year earlier, I had been attempting to write a play about unemployed women on the edge of homelessness, an effort which taught me that I was not a playwright. I had made the mistake of sending my older brother a draft of the play.

He and his girlfriend had had fun making a mockery of it. After my two brothers had told me I was not going to be forgiven, etc., she came walking up the stairs from the basement as if she was walking out of the wings, complete with theatrical throat-clearing. She was showing me what a real stage entrance looked like.

I could say more about her, and about him, and about my younger brother. But frankly, it’s beneath me.

Why did you let these things happen to you? What did you expect? You chose the whole thing, right from when you first decided to be a victim.

Other people had worse things happen to them. You had shoes on your feet and a roof over your head. You just wanted to be a victim.

You didn’t want to get over it, because it was an excuse to be lazy.

Maybe you really are what they said you are.

Maybe you should kill yourself.

One day in my mid-thirties, I became conscious of myself as human. I understood that I was not a fraud and not an imposter, even if most of the time I felt that way. My worst feelings about myself could not destroy who I was. It was the beginning of a long process of healing, a journey that involved a lot of two-steps-forward and one-step-back.

I would have a recurring dream in which I had killed someone. There were times when I went through an entire day with the nagging feeling that I had forgotten who it was I had killed, and when and where it had happened. I was like a ghost haunting my own karma, tortured by the memory of those long stretches of time when I was a complete stranger to myself.

Sometimes I’ve said things to myself like: “Okay, you were found guilty, and you have been executed for your crimes. Now you can start life over again.”

I peeled away layers like an onion. I was always there, but so far inside I couldn’t access myself. In those moments when I was aware of my own dignity, it was like the memory of a genuine, expansive, real existence I had forgotten about. It was my future self visiting me. Or it was the self I had forgotten before memory began.

The Machine Stops

No one confessed the machine was out of hand. Year by year it was served with increased efficiency and decreased intelligence. The better a man knew his own duties upon it, the less he understood the duties of his neighbour, and in all the world there was not one who understood the monster as a whole.

E. M. Forster’s novella, The Machine Stops, was published in 1909. It is set in the distant future. The human race lives underground in pod-like dwellings, their lives mediated by what we would now recognize as a kind of Internet of Things. The history of the world is constantly refalsified, and the main occupation of the populace is the cultivation of ‘ideas,’ which has replaced all previous forms of human endeavour. A Central Committee oversees the entire system. There is a tiny minority of isolated dissenters who have held on to the memory of the world as it was long ago, but they are considered outcasts and live in danger of punishment, the worst being death by exposure to the toxic air at the surface of the earth.

Scene from Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS (1927).

Our Virtual Reality.

In the early days of moving pictures, there were commentators who remarked on the artificiality of the phenomenon: a two-dimensional thing, a shadow play compared with the live theatre. Parking a camera in front of the action resulted in a static image, even if the actors were moving around in it. Gradually it became apparent that the camera itself could be made to move around, like a kind of artificial brain-behind-the-eye, a reflection of the visionary motion human beings experience in their memories and dreams. Techniques of editing evolved to help enhance this effect. As the art of film developed, it was presented with live music, ranging from a piano player or parlour-organist in the smaller theatres, up to full orchestras performing original scores in the great movie palaces of the 1920s.

Now we have technology that makes all extant film heritage easily available to us. Some of it is cleaned up and restored to a high-resolution, carefully curated ideal version of what it may originally have been like. Moving pictures are a wonderful art. But no matter how high the quality of the technologically manipulated image and sound, it is not the same as the living reality of theatre, where the audience breathes together with the souls on the stage. Many people can’t even connect with a live performance. The ‘live’ shows they attend often simulate digitized screen entertainment, as though real human beings using their own bodies and voices is somehow too embarrassing or boring, and needs to be camouflaged with special effects.

The memory of the development of things is forgotten, distorted and belittled. Or it is pillaged for its half-remembered echo of the past, and commodified by the corporate powers that now control the ‘entertainment industry.’ Historical continuity is lost. No wonder some people believe that famous actors and other celebrities are the tools of some kind of shadowy ‘Illuminati.’

As the electronic devices that rule our lives have steadily become more technologically advanced and compact, our souls seem to have shrunk. Analog, the rounded, fully connected flow of recorded sound and image, is digitally translated into discrete bits, a fragmented and incomplete experience that has its origins in binary computer language.

Human beings are also binary. But not in the same way as computers.

Rainbows and Unicorns.

In the early 1970s, there was an influential television program and book called Free to Be…You and Me. Its intent was to encourage parents to help their children become healthy human beings and fulfill their potential in life, which included freedom from stereotypes of gender. There was a growing recognition that a child who was encouraged to love him- or herself might grow up to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, masculine or feminine, and that all of these things could be healthy forms of self-expression.

Apparently we are not Free to Be anymore.

Young woman with ‘gender dysphoria’ has her healthy female breasts amputated.

Social and familial pressures or abuse (sexual, physical, psychological) can result in a young person growing up with a sense of disconnection from his or her own body. This is not a new phenomenon, but it is now being treated as though it were an indication of something wrong with the child’s body rather than with their environment. Adolescent girls, dismayed at the way their bodies are scrutinized and degraded in a pornified society, want to opt out of being female. Boys who fear they will not be accepted as gay or effeminate are encouraged to believe that they are really girls. Almost overnight, gender reassignment has spread like a social contagion among children and young adults. Many seem to be feeling that they are ‘in the wrong body.’

And it doesn’t stop with feeling. It carries right on into drugging with synthetic hormones, sterilization and physical mutilation. Preadolescent children of both sexes are being ‘transed’ by their parents, who at the first sign of gender non-conformity rush to turn their offspring into a grotesque parody of the opposite sex, with little apparent concern for the long-term consequences. If your male child ‘identifies’ as a girl, he must be one.

But is this ‘identity’ really the child’s own idea?

Young woman’s arm is mutilated for a phalloplasty.

Dissociation from the physical reality of one’s body, or any part of it, used to be recognized as a form of mental illness. Eccentric behaviour such as crossdressing in males was regarded as a more or less harmless fetish. Today ‘identities’ are proliferating, and they are publicly enforced and policed. Men declare themselves to be women, say that they always were women, and are rewarded with stylish photos of themselves on the covers of women’s fashion magazines. They may undergo chemical and surgical interventions that aim to create a ‘female’ body. But whether it is a male or a female body that is being tampered with, the manufactured pseudoparts do not work anything like the real ones. And Mother Nature recognizes them as wounds, and is constantly trying to heal them.

Trauma can drive us to take refuge in alternative, self-created worlds. It’s hard to cope with life in a society ruled by elites whose interests are served by keeping the masses in a state of confusion and anxiety, so that the latent possibilities of individual lives are not allowed to manifest. It’s easy to see why individual ‘identity’ has become a way of regaining some sense of power and control. Many of us know what it’s like to be confused and dissociated from our bodies. But the job of those who can help a person in such a state is to support them in healing from their trauma, to learn to love the body they have, and to reconnect and interact with their real environment. Instead, the whole world is expected to conform to the dictates of a mass delusion.

We are supposed to forget the historical record of what life has been like for women, and the real reasons they have to fear the invasion of male-bodied persons into their sex-specific spaces. Many of the sex-based rights and protections that women struggled for decades and even centuries to establish are now being annihilated with astonishing rapidity, as men and boys can declare themselves to be female, often without undergoing any form of body modification. Any suggestion that the danger to women and girls is real is likely to be met with accusations of bigotry or worse.

If you say so.

Four Legs Good! Two Legs Better!”

Let’s take a look at what is happening to language.

“Impactful.” A word we hear every day, again and again. What does it signify? A terrible accident, or winning the lottery?

Another one: “resilience.” It describes the quality we are supposed to cultivate in the face of everything that creates trauma, including sexual abuse, grinding poverty, unbearable working conditions, earthquakes and wars. “Resilience” replaces every other possible response, especially any that would call into question the motives of those who demand that we must be always “resilient.”

Over the last quarter century or so, the word “sex” has become interchangeable with, and for the most part eclipsed by, the word “gender,” even though they do not mean the same thing. Sex is either male or female. Gender is identity, role play, and a word used to designate nouns in languages that specify some words as masculine, feminine, or neuter. But on personal identification documents, census forms, and in common discourse, “sex” has been replaced with “gender.” This has implications for our perception of reality.

Here is the classical definition of the word ‘homosexual’: a human being whose sexual orientation is towards other human beings of the same sex. This definition applies regardless of what clothes you prefer to wear, how masculine or feminine you feel, or what you ‘identify’ as. According to the latest version of gender doctrine, however, a human being can not only ‘identify’ as the opposite sex, but such self-identification automatically entitles that person to demand that everyone else recognize them as such.

The rapid rise of ‘personal pronouns’ has occurred simultaneously with the generation of a myriad of ‘gender identities.’ But pronouns belong to language, not to the individuals using them. Aside from honorifics attached to royalty, the military, clergy, and some other groups in society, your pronouns are to be found in a common language related to your sex.

Crop circles?

The word “transgender” is now part of an acronym which also encompasses “gay” and “lesbian,” so that there appears to be some kind of homogeneous community of LGBTQ+2 etc, etc, (plus whatever letters or numbers are added this week). We hear references to one or another “LGBTQ” person, as though a single human being could be all of these things at the same time. We are supposed to believe there is such a thing as a ‘non-binary’ individual. And when heterosexual people are calling themselves ‘queer,’ we have to ask whether language is still functioning as a coherent form of human communication.

They couldn’t put him back together again.

It is no longer acceptable to believe our eyes, or the testimony of medical science, when it comes to the sex of a human being at birth. In order to avoid the trauma of being arbitrarily ‘assigned’ to the wrong gender, children are to be born as neither male nor female. Doctors and other health care professionals are supposed to ignore the evidence of their senses, to use ‘gender neutral’ words for what are clearly male and female body parts, or to pretend that the person they are treating is the opposite sex of the sex they actually are, if that is how they ‘identify’ themselves.

Organizations that used to represent women and mothers now refer to ‘menstruators,’ ‘uterus havers,’ and ‘birthing persons’. Women’s vaginas are called ‘front holes.’ It’s not breastfeeding, it’s ‘chestfeeding’.

Mothers are ‘inclusived’ into oblivion.

But the sex of the body you were born into is not assigned; it is observed. It is not a disease, or a congenital defect like a club foot or a cleft palate, which can be corrected or improved. Even people who are born “intersex” are born with an anomaly of either a male or a female body. And regardless of what happened to you, or to me, or to anyone else over the course of our lives, or how it has affected us, a human being cannot change sex.

Ed Wood’s masterpiece,
circa 1953 B.C. (Before ‘Cis.’)

History is blatantly falsified. Individuals who engaged in gender non-conforming behaviour are now regularly described as having been transgender. Women who wore ‘male’ clothing in order to survive in a hostile environment, or to follow a career that would otherwise have been closed to them, were “transmen.” Are we supposed to endorse the fate of such as Alan Turing, who was forcibly injected with artificial female hormones in an attempt to ‘cure’ him of his homosexuality?

I am told that I belong to a newly minted class of oppressors: the ‘cis,’ who enjoy some kind of privilege because they recognize that the sex they were born as is the sex they are. But I am not a ‘cis.’ My mother was not a ‘cis.’ My grandmothers were not ‘cis.’ There is no such thing as a ‘cis.’

Public criticism of these developments was permitted by the mass media for the equivalent of a nanosecond, and rapidly quashed around the time we were all told to call Bruce “Caitlyn.” One has to assume that the managers of the big media outlets got the memo from their bankrollers. And who are in the overwhelming majority of those now censored, banned from social media, ‘deplatformed,’ losing their friends and even their livelihoods, because they dissent from the new gender doctrine? Women. Actual, real women. Women who refuse to talk in UnicornRainbow Newspeak are doubleplusungood.

Transhumanism.

Did this profound disconnection from physical reality, this commodification of ‘identities’ along with the interventions required to maintain them, supported by giant pharmaceutical corporations and funded by billionaires, officially sanctioned and promoted on a massive scale, just arise spontaneously? Was it a natural outgrowth of other long-established movements such as feminism, or the decades of activism which led to a general acceptance of homosexuality as normal? Was there a sudden moment of mass enlightenment, coming at the end of a long struggle for acceptance?

Read the fine print.

It is important to be careful in making connections between different things that are occurring at the same time. Humans are kind of like engines of meaning, creating structures and relationships out of what may be unrelated developments. That is how we get tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories about reptiles who live at the centre of the earth and run the world, along with other wacky notions. But if you can get masses of people to believe that human beings can change sex, and that this is the way of the future, why not also have them believe that life can be perfected by turning human beings into machines? The names of the major characters involved in the ‘transhumanist’ movement–and the corporate entities they have founded and preside over–are easy to find, and it doesn’t take long to notice that they are also in the forefront of those promoting transgender doctrine.

Great deceivers have always known that the big lie is more effective than the little lies, because the big lie reaches into the depths of our being and manipulates the values we hold most dear–such as the liberal values of kindness, tolerance, acceptance and belief in progress. The feelings associated with these concepts retain a powerful hold over people’s minds.

Running parallel with liberal values, and somehow managing to work hand in hand with them, another way of interpreting reality has offered freedom from the restrictions of the past. The old ‘grand narratives’ that used to make sense of history are now seen as constricting and irrelevant. Even attempts to salvage marginalized narratives (the lives of women, slaves, other oppressed or silenced groups) are removed from their historical context and distorted to suit contemporary fashion. Postmodernism, which had appeared to be just an academic fad, was recognized as having immense potential as an instrument of control. Translated and vulgarized for mass consumption, it took over popular culture, along with those remnants of higher intellectual life still considered useful to furthering the agenda of the financial and technocratic elites. It is easier to control people if you can convince them that history is just a jumble of stuff, all interpretations are valid, and we no longer need to try to understand the past.

Our human bodies, too, are just a jumble of parts, mix and match as you wish. We are told that those born male will give birth. How? Through womb transplants (and where will the uteri come from?) or artificial wombs—ignoring the entire matrix that is a mother’s body. Are human bodies in fact becoming obsolete? They used to be experienced as the vehicle in which our souls travelled over the course of our physical existence on earth. But proponents of transhumanism believe that the contents of the brain can be downloaded and stored for personal earthly immortality. Like ‘cissexism,’ ‘fleshism’ is another mental defect we are supposed to overcome.

Before you transform people into machines, you have to get the masses to believe that machines hold the key to their survival and salvation. We see television commercials that show how robots are teaching people to be more compassionate and caring. There are now robots who care for the aged, otherwise neglected in long term care facilities. There are robot pets and robot sex dolls, including ones that simulate children.

Some assembly required.

What kind of world will be populated by humans who have forgotten that their souls ever existed? Will the elites have some sort of soul sanctuary refuges? Like posh fortified resorts where they can gloat over the gullibility of the masses, who have been led to believe that their struggle for day-to-day survival is all about creating a robotic paradise where everyone will be immortal? There has to be a way to train us for obedience while the bugs in the system are being worked out.

Postmodern Serfdom.

Human Value Chain. ROI: ‘Return on Investment.’

The covid virus lockdown has led to an explosion in the use of virtual on-screen reality, as life went online and data mining increased. For many, living online is easier than trying to move through the minefield of restrictions that now complicate life in the real world.

Going out in public is increasingly problematic. We are supposed to wear masks and relate to each other through screens, without touching. The arrows on the floor in Walmart show us which way to go, to avoid bumping into other humans. Self-checkouts, debit or credit only, are constantly sanitized by a handful of attendants who have replaced real cashiers. The Amazon ‘fulfilment centres’ buzz like massive hives full of worker bees, and the trucks deliver endless packages to people who can afford to shop without leaving home. Those now “working from home” have their computers connected to remote managers, who can monitor their online activity on and off the job. The 24 hour surveillance state, “a digital Panopticon,” is now one’s workplace. Having microchips implanted into our bodies is no longer just an plot device in a science fiction dystopia.

As we transition to a cashless economy, and more of our public and private life is recorded through online activity, every one of us creates a footprint, and it is a record that never disappears. It’s supposed to be secure, because only the right pieces, the ones that belong, are allowed to fit into the puzzle. And we are to believe that this is the ultimate freedom, since ‘no one is in charge.’ It’s as though whoever thought this one up had never heard of viruses.

“Impact investing” shows us how the poor and the marginalized are already being ‘nudged’ through life. (Naturally, it’s dressed in the language of personal responsibility, resilience, and caring.) “Pay-for-success” projects replace publicly funded social programs. Helping the vulnerable, the broken, or the environment is no longer a laudable end in itself. Aid is now sponsored by private investors, with specific goals and deadlines which must be met in order for funding to continue. Pressure is put on those who used to be known as ‘social workers,’ for example, to meet assigned objectives efficiently and within precise financial parameters. Those who are ‘helped’ become their benefactors’ customers-for-life. ‘Smart schools’ plug young children into the system, to be monitored online (starting with kindergarten play tables that are connected to a network) and steered into jobs deemed suitable for their economic status and ‘skill sets.’ (We do have to wonder how this is supposed to work, when the future of work itself seems to be very ambiguous.) With the use of behaviour modification apps, mothers living in poverty are rewarded or punished according to their degree of obedience to compulsory tracking (for example, whether or not they are purchasing the correct food items). In Human Capital Markets, the disadvantaged and dispossessed are going to be among the first owned by the “peopleonaires.”

The souls of those who are not able to participate in the posthuman dream will go on suffering, even while people are encouraged to believe that seven billion unique personal pronouns will somehow save us from the ‘gender binary,’ a manufactured conflict which is a distraction from the bigger picture of where we are going.

It is a fantasy that leads nowhere–unless you believe that we were meant to sacrifice our souls to an ever self-perfecting machine. In that case, no price is too high to buy the possibility for some of us to live forever in virtual reality–not the rejection of a common language, not ignoring our biological reality, not forgetting history, not even the destruction of our current planet.

For those who can afford it.

The technologically sophisticated shadow play in which we are supposed to believe is less real than the dreams made visible in the early days of cinema. Transgenderism regards the human body, male and female, as the raw material of gender fantasies. Transhumanism turns the human body into a machine, and equates the measurable activity of the human brain with the human soul. Both are heavily promoted as a substitute for freedom, the kind of freedom that would enable human beings to fulfil their potential on earth.

When the fantasies of gender and of machine-humans both fail, where will the soul be? It is there, even if everyone forgets about it, in each individual and behind the universal human experience. Those who refuse to abandon reality will be here to pick up the pieces when the soul-denying dream dies.

But he hasn’t got anything on,” a little child said.
“Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?” said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, “He hasn’t anything on. A child says he hasn’t anything on.”
“But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last.

The Wooden Spoon

She was a good friend to me. She took care of me.

1.

A year and a half after her cancer operation, my mother’s health began to fail. She was declining rapidly, but I hoped she would last until Christmas when my little brother would be with us.

Our doctor made arrangements for palliative care at home. A hospital bed was brought into her bedroom, along with other supplies and medications that might help her to be comfortable. I slept beside her on her own bed, and injected her with Hydromorphone and Ativan every 4 hours, 24 hours a day.

I called my little brother and a few of her close friends, to talk with her on the phone. I sat down with her and helped her draw up a will that could be witnessed as soon as possible. I decorated the top of her dresser with a little tree and other ornaments. There was a bird feeder outside the window, and she could listen to the little juncos when they came to feed.

It was the middle of December and the health care system was understaffed. There were a couple of days when only one care aide could come in to help me change, turn and clean her.

“How long will I be here?” she asked me.

In one of our last conversations, my mother said she wanted to apologize to my older brother for the way she had beaten him as a child, ‘because of all the tablets I was taking.’ Over the years, doctors had filled many prescriptions for her. Some were anti-anxiety medications (they used to be called tranquilizers), some were for cholesterol, some for pain, others for I wasn’t sure what. She kept filling prescriptions and getting new ones, without using up the ones she already had. After she died, I filled an extra-large ziplock bag with pills of various shapes and colours, and returned it to the pharmacy for disposal.

My mother received the last rites of the Catholic Church. Later on the same day, my older brother forced his way into the house. The police came again, and one of them was Hungarian. My mother was able to listen some articulate Hungarian spoken to her before she died, in contrast to the execrable attempts at Hungarian of my older brother, who after the police left reminded my father that I was dangerous and that the two of them must go see his lawyer right away.

Soon after, my younger brother was emailing us both in his 1943 Horthy-fascist-cult Hungarian, letting my older brother and me know that we were both shame of the earth, etc, etc. The two of them…they couldn’t stand each other, but it was like ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ They had agreed that I was crazy and should have been eliminated a long time ago.

The following day, my mother was calm and bright-eyed. I set up a radio near her, and she listened to a program about traditions of comfort food at Christmas time.

I was suffering from shock and guilt after the events of the previous day. For years, I would be torturing myself with the thought that I could have prevented things from happening the way they did. But my mother smiled at me, and nodded that she was okay.

I fed her canned cream of chicken and celery soup. She drank it with a straw, as she could no longer eat from a spoon.

I gave her a drink of water, and asked her if she wanted anything else. No, she said.

Later, she lost consciousness. I kept talking to her, and when I stroked her face, her breathing changed for a moment, because she was listening.

When it was getting dark, a single care aide came, a cheerful girl in a toque which she kept on her head while we turned and cleaned my mother. I let her out of the house, and as she walked down the icy driveway to her car, the nurse was walking up, and when we re-entered the bedroom my mother had passed.

My father was in the living room watching The Sound of Music. The nurse asked him to come in and say goodbye to my mother while her body was still warm. My father came in and cried; then he turned off the television and went to bed.

I had a fan on in the room, to circulate the air and help with her breathing during the last days. I sprayed Coco Chanel into the moving blades, so that the perfume blew over her. Then I lay awake in bed waiting for the arrival of the hearse in the morning.

2.

It was a comfort for her to cook and bake.

We stood at the stove, and she made me taste hot foods. Hold the spoon. Blow on it, so it doesn’t burn your mouth!

Stir the gravy, keep the spoon moving on the bottom of the saucepan. Don’t stop, don’t let the bottom burn.

There were many wooden spoons in the kitchen drawers. Big hefty ones, for moving cabbage rolls into their places in a cavernous pot. Little ones for making roux of flour, and for stirring saucepans of gravy.

There were ones that smelled like flour and butter, reserved for making cakes.

There were some that were never used. Their white wood never soaked in onions or fat.

There were a few fancy painted and lacquered ones that were supposed to be hanging on the wall, but never made it out of a drawer in the china cabinet.

There was one that was used for decades. It stirred onions cooking in fat. It lifted food from the bottom of a blackened pot.

She would make goulash, chicken paprikás, cabbage rolls, pot roasts and pork filled with spears of garlic. Big pots of bone soup, stewing hens or turkey necks, would simmer for hours. With a wooden spoon she pushed the meat back down to the bottom of the pot, and spooned out the foaming debris from the bones and excess fat, leaving the clear and fragrant golden broth. She would eat the boiled chicken feet afterwards.

There were times when cooking and baking failed to alleviate the pain of our family life. My mother would turn to convenience foods like Hamburger Helper, or boxed ‘paper soup’ with frozen vegetables added. She would go on strike, and stay in bed. Then she would tell me to take items out of the deep freeze: pork steaks, frozen peas and carrots, and frozen hash browns as a substitute for mashed potatoes. I would pour safflower oil into a pot, empty the frozen bag of potatoes over it, and scrape them from the bottom of the pot with the blackened spoon.

Then she would feel better again, and take the time to prepare traditional foods.

3.

When I was eight years old, I was noisy and playful. I liked to be silly. I was too rambunctious in school.

The Grade Three teacher frowned at my antics. She looked like Veronica from the Archie comics, with shiny black bouffant hair, a ribbon hairband and a tiny bow on top of her head.

One day she sent me home with an envelope containing a letter for my mother. I was afraid, and I slid the letter under the car in the garage.

The next day the teacher asked if I had given the letter to my mother. I smiled and said, “What letter?” Her shiny black eyebrows became very prominent.

When I arrived at home, my mother was on the phone talking with the teacher, who said to her: “you should step on her toes a little.”

That was the beginning of my being completely bad. My mother would step on my toes, whip the soles of my feet, and stomp on them. By my fifteenth birthday, I was expelled from school. I had been skipping out entire days. I would walk on the railroad tracks. I would sit all day in the cold park. I would go to the public library and read books I barely understood.

I couldn’t stand the bullies, and I couldn’t pay attention to the lessons. I had no friends. I had stopped asking for help, and I had stopped doing my homework.

She broke wooden spoons on me. When I tried to get away from her, she poked and jabbed at me with the broken jagged end.

I’m going to beat you until you forget your name.

4.

During the last years we lived with my father, and many of the old sources of stress returned, because he had not evolved.

My mother had much more patience with him than I did. And she patiently endured my anger at everything that went on during those years, even while she endured her cancer treatments.

In the final months before she died, she kept cooking and baking. It was a comfort again.

She brought many wooden spoons with her to the house, including the old charred one. I used them all indiscriminately, until she reminded me that she needed at least one that was only for baking. I selected a nice big white spoon and put a piece of masking tape around the end of the handle, with “Cake” written on it in black felt pen.

There were reverse milestones. Like growing backwards, all the way down to helpless babyhood.

The last time she prepared hamburgers for the barbeque. They were sloppy and falling through the grill, because she made them with too much bread and egg,

The last time we went out to shop together. The last time she used her walker. The last time she went to the toilet by herself

She burned the chopped onions in the pot. The charred wooden spoon stood in the fat, cooking down some more.

The wood of that spoon had gradually disintegrated and become part of the food. When I inherited it, there was half a spoon at the end of the wooden shaft. It retained the smell of everything my mother had cooked.

Game of Delusions

Facebook content moderator at work.

We do not have to acquire humility. There is humility in us—only we humiliate ourselves before false gods.

Simone Weil

1.

In 1944, when the Jews of Hungary were being rounded up for deportation to Auschwitz, my grandmother took my mother to the sort of holding pen in which the starving Jews of their town were being held, and they tossed bread into the pen for them to eat. The guards told them to stop, or they would be thrown in as well.

It wasn’t that long ago! Just a few decades.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the first Gulf War was presented to us on television as if it were a video game. Who remembers?

We are all familiar with the Jane Austen industry, as her novels are constantly recycled into new movies and television series. While the physical trappings (country houses, period costumes, etc.) have become more accurate over the decades, the screenwriters seem to have abandoned any attempt to reproduce with any accuracy the social realities of the era in which the stories were written.

It appears to be necessary to update the heroines, as though being true to the way women really had to live two hundred years ago is seen as somehow ‘victimizing’ them. For example, adaptations of Mansfield Park have avoided portraying the heroine, Fanny, as the authentically (and understandably) timid character she is—thereby missing the whole point of the story. As a charity case, sent to live with wealthy cousins, she cannot but be ‘retiring’ if she wants to survive. Gradually, she discovers her own power and ability to influence the people and events around her. It’s an extraordinary achievement—and one that seems to go over the heads of audiences today.

If Fanny can’t be portrayed with any kind of faithfulness, what about the lives of most of the women who have ever lived? Is their experience too embarrassing to chronicle in historical fiction? How on earth did they manage to produce all the subsequent generations of human beings, anyway?

Recently, a woman in her early twenties explained to me that she couldn’t watch programs about “straight history.” Any story that was set in the past had to have “a fantasy element.”

In addition to dragons, which some young adults seem to believe really existed, many shows feature female warrior types who wear improbable medieval jump suits and impractical armour, as they swing swords and generally go around kicking asses and busting butts. Heaven forbid that any woman should be portrayed as anything but a superhero (‘heroine’ is another word we are not supposed to use)—unless we are expected to despise her as a ‘victim.’

Apparently, history no longer presents us with the task of salvaging the truth from the past. That would entail an effort to dig through the clues and riddles hidden in surviving records, to shine more light on the way things really were. Instead, the past is cannibalized for images that have some vague reference to contemporary ‘pop culture.’ It looks familiar but it isn’t real. Like fake meat, manufactured and sold to us by corporations, we are supposed to believe it is superior to the real thing.

History is replaced by fashion. The fashion is fantasy. It serves the needs of power.

2.

The pervading monotony and anxiety of everyday life, as most working people are living it today, presents a striking contrast when compared with the outrageous and often violent fantasies that make up the daily diet of entertainment.

When we are not imprisoned in the cage of ‘work,’ or struggling to find ‘work’ in order to survive, we have the ‘freedom’ of a somewhat bigger cage, full of distractions. It’s no coincidence that the rise of electronic dominance over our lives has gone hand in hand with the rise of dependence on electronic addictions, including an explosion of increasingly violent pornography.

It’s all about what fantasy you can sell people, and what you can persuade them to believe.

There are ‘talent’ competitions on television. These have nothing to do with nurturing art. Their format is dictated by the context in which they are presented, which is the all-pervasive technological domination that surrounds us. They are aimed at a passive audience of consumers, and have no relationship to the traditions or disciplines of any human art.

And yet, the technological advancements that produced the miracle of personal computers, internet and cell phones, came about through the real work of many anonymous individuals.

There even was a time, not long ago, when we were supposed to be concerned about the overabundance of ‘leisure’ that would result from the takeover of mundane tasks by modern technology (again, who remembers?).

Billionaires in their twenties, who have made fortunes selling fantasy, are lauded as brilliant entrepreneurs and role models for young people to emulate. Commercials portray hip and industrious young people at work, all having fun in ‘teams,’ with nary a sadistic micromanager in sight.

In reality, we are obediently following dictates that have been around for a long time. The only difference is the modern technology and jargon.

Anyone who has been subjected to deskilling ‘modules,’ implemented through contemporary management systems, has experienced their damaging effect. They are all about killing imagination, blocking out creative thought, and eliminating even the space to think or talk about what is happening to one’s self.

To disguise the suffering caused by an oppressive economic system, controlled by gigantic entities (corporations), the pain of individuals is filtered through demographic manipulation (which ‘generation’ are you?) and identity politics. So, ‘passion’ is channeled into lifestyle choices, a proliferation of genders and ethnic identities, ‘diversity’ and political correctness, which do not really honour our subjective experiences. They are part of the arsenal of management, and they are leading to dictatorship, as individuals’ concern over the fate of the natural world itself is handed over to private corporations in the name of ‘climate activism.’

3.

At the end of James Joyce’s story The Dead, the main character Gabriel experiences an epiphany—a sudden moment of awareness—as he finds himself lifted out of the temporal realm, into a consciousness of the unity of human experience throughout time. Earlier in the story, he delivered a carefully worded after-dinner speech which has left him with a nagging sense of being a fraud. His wife’s simple and sincere recollection of the great lost love of her youth awakens him to the spiritual truth he was unable to express in his speech.

We are here for a short while in the space-time continuum, but each individual life is an opportunity to experience the whole of human existence from a unique point of view. We have the ability to influence the subsequent development of human consciousness by our engagement with history.

Regardless of our spiritual beliefs, we are all sleeper cells on earth. We have the ability to act on our blueprint, our mission for this life, as it unfolds. But we can only act on it if we have a connection to the truth of it.

We can also forget, and allow oppressive power to have control over historical memory and use it to keep us in darkness.

Who is your generation? It is all the people who are alive on earth at the same time as you. Along with all the generations that ever were, and those that will succeed you.

Heirlooms

My mother left Hungary in November 1956, on the feast day of St. Catherine. The only luggage she took with her was a laundry basket into which she had packed a baby surrounded by diapers.

Her cohort of escapees were helped onto a train by soldiers who would lead them into Austria. When the train arrived at a village close to the frontier, they were instructed to disembark and disperse among the houses, as if they were seeking the familiar homes of friends and family.

At the door of one of the houses, my mother was greeted by her hosts: “Come in, the table is set and the soup is ready.” She ate with the family, and then she was put to bed to rest with the baby until it was dark outside.

Then her group was led out into the darkness, over a plowed-up field of rough frozen stubble that threatened to trip them up with every step. The baby was crying. The others told her to leave it in the field, because its crying would give them all away to the hostile border patrols and they would be captured or shot. She refused. Her group made it across the border and into Austria.

She crossed the Atlantic on a ship with spartan accommodations. The baby was sick, she was seasick, and drunks vomited and fought in the neighbouring cabins. She never after could stand the smell of Ivory soap.

The Cross-eyed Lady.

It’s a copy of this painting by Pál Szinyei Merse, Lady in Violet (1874).

The lady in the copy is noticeably cross-eyed. Otherwise, it’s a pretty good facsimile of the original.

My mother acquired it while we were in Hungary in 1980 or 1981, and brought it back rolled up in her suitcase. She had it framed and mounted high on the wall at the front entrance of the house.

My mother suffered from an unrequited need for beauty, femininity, and elegance. She kept buying things, as if that would make everything all right. As if it would stop the hurt, the anger, the psychosis, the effects of trauma. She tried to hide reality from us and from herself.

It was hard for her, suddenly transplanted to a foreign country, not knowing a word of the language, facing the suspicion of strangers. And leaving my father, with or without her children, was not within the range of possibilities in her mind.

After my father left, she came into herself more. She had some good times over the next two decades. Some of the clothes she bought for herself were expensive and beautiful, and she saved most of them, along with clothes I remember her wearing in the 1970s.

My parents found a rapport again in the 2000s, and in 2012, after my father had separated from his second wife, we ended up together in the house he had built.

It was a big house, sparsely furnished with items he had bought twenty years before. Now they were rickety hand-me-downs. I called a local charity and they took most of it away, to make room for the furnishings my mother brought with her.

She wanted it to be a beautiful home. She thought we would all sit together in harmony at the new dining table she bought, part of a heavy suite that included fancy leather chairs and a huge china cabinet filled with figurines and teacups, cheap utensils mixed with expensive ones that were used once or twice, or never.

My mother was a wonderful cook, and she knew it. She kept on cooking and baking, even after her cancer returned. In the last year of her life she prepared balls of dough for a traditional walnut pastry she had always baked for us. I never learned that recipe. This, her last baking, was in the freezer after she died, along with the last stuffed peppers she had made.

For many months following her death, I would put my face into the tightly packed clothes hanging in her closet. I could smell her odour, mixed with Coco Chanel, and I felt like she was giving me a hug.

The Dolls.

They are similar to these. I took them with me when I left home, and they sat on my bed.

My mother kept sending me things. Clothes, utensils, furniture, an upright piano. Surviving somehow through confused studies and precarious employment, I was surrounded by things she gave me, even when I could barely pay my rent. It was her way of trying to help me.

The Grandfather Clock.

In the house where we grew up the clocks were all set at different times, and each one was always set the same way. One was ten minutes fast; another was two minutes late. It was as if my mother needed to be able to stretch time forwards or backwards, for whatever appointments she intended to keep. Still, we were usually late for everything.

When my parents first lived together, they had a half-sized grandfather clock they called The Dwarf. The full-sized one appeared around the time of their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

My mother named the new clock Benny, because to her it was a minature version of London’s Big Ben. Its chiming kept her company over the years. She put on white gloves to wind it up. After she moved everything into my father’s house it didn’t chime any more, and she stopped winding it a few weeks before she died.

The Lourdes Souvenirs.

I know of only one photograph of my maternal grandmother. It is of her on her deathbed, after she had passed away, with family all around her.

In her youth she worked as a governess for the offspring of an upper-class lady, an operetta star who toured Europe. One of their stops was at the shrine of Lourdes, where my grandmother acquired a souvenir porcelain Virgin and three angels. Her mistress wanted her to stay and study singing with her, but her parents thought that was immoral and married her to my mother’s father.

The Pfaff Sewing Machine.

My mother repaired and remodelled fur coats, and she made collars, stoles, vests and pillbox hats out of fur. There was always a lot of fur in the house.

Back when everyone still wore real fur, she had several offers from local businesses to work for them, but she turned them down because she was able to make more money on her own. She had a business license which she renewed every year.

She often worked late into the night, sitting at her sewing machine in the basement, wearing a brown apron made out of the shiny satin fabric used to line fur coats.

The machine in this photo is like the first one I remember. Every few years she would replace it with a new model, trading in the old one to offset the cost.

The Brooch.

It’s from Czechoslovakia, as it was known then. Made of cheap milk glass, it was a nice piece of costume jewelry. It was given to my grandmother on one of her travels with the operetta star. My mother is wearing it in this photo from the early 1950s.

It lives behind my computer, in a little blue Birks box.

The Box for Photos.

There is a photo of my parents’ reunion in Regina, Saskatchewan, with the baby between them, taken for the local newspaper late in 1956.

There are pictures of their early years in Canada, and many family shots with me and my brothers as children and adolescents. There are a lot of pictures from our trips to California, Hungary and elsewhere. There are also photos of my half brother from my mother’s first marriage, and his family.

I don’t know if my mother ever had her picture taken as a child or adolescent. As far as I know, no such photos of her exist. There are plenty of other ones. She usually prepared a pose, as she didn’t like to be taken by surprise. But the ‘candid camera’ shots of her are among the best.

In 2012 I was at my mother’s apartment in Hamilton, Ontario, helping her sort out her things for the move back to Kelowna.

The drawers in all her furniture were full, and some had historical layers of stuff, with the bottom layer containing things I remembered from my childhood.

I found photos all over the place, mixed up with old receipts, letters, magazines and trash.

At my father’s house, I talked with her about sorting out the piles of photos I had salvaged. We were going to sit down one day, go through them all, and arrange a selection neatly in this box.

After the cremation of her remains, I put her ashes into the box, and made a nice display on her dresser. We never did get around to sorting out all the photos.

The Cane.

I left the house and moved into a one bedroom apartment. I wasn’t able to take a lot of stuff with me.

Among the things I have with me are the brooch, and two of the Lourdes angels. I have selected photos.

I have a lock of my mother’s hair that I cut from her head after she died. I was afraid to cut too much, because I thought she might tell me I was messing up her hair, or someone else would notice what I had done and reprimand me. The lock of hair is in a little plastic container. When I touch it, it smells like the dry spray shampoo I tried to clean her head with during the last week of her life. It feels more certain than her ashes, because I know it was part of her.

I have her cane.

My little brother bought it for her in the early 2000s. When she came to stay with me, we would walk to the end of the block and back, or even farther, and I was used to the sound of her cane tapping on the sidewalks, on the floors, everywhere she went.

There were a couple of extra rubber caps for the bottom end, and I asked if I could replace the old one, but she said no, it was not worn out yet.

I keep the cane at the door of my apartment. Before I go out, I often tap it on the floor, making the sound she used to make.

The Tyranny of “Choice”

For my understanding of many of the issues I want to address in this blog, I owe a great debt to the British psychotherapist David Smail (1938-2014). When I discovered his books in the late 1990s, it seemed like he was articulating my own thoughts and feelings about the impact of oppressive power. His environmental approach to psychological distress was of paramount importance in helping me begin to reconstruct my life. For several years he led an extraordinary discussion on his website, and I continue to treasure the personal emails he shared with me.

Drama Free Ladies

There are advertisements in the back pages of local newspapers, both online and in print, seeking to recruit young women to work for escort services. They are always “Now Hiring.” The words “drama-free” will often appear in the ad copy, such as “Drama-free ladies wanted,” “We are a drama-free environment,” etc.

Does this mean that the “ladies” who sign up for these jobs will be protected from “drama?” No, it is a warning to them that no “drama” on their part will be tolerated.

Don’t be a drama queen. You knew what you were getting into. Stop being hysterical.

It’s “drama” when it’s someone else’s pain. It’s “drama” when it’s the pain of someone for whom you want to show contempt.

The word “drama,” as it is used here, ignores and negates the effect that renting out one’s body for sexual abuse has on the owner of that body. Prostitution is a job like any other. You don’t create “drama” on the bosses’ time.

A few weeks ago, I finished reading Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov’s masterpiece, for the first time. I was thrilled by the richness of Nabokov’s writing, and by his ability to see into the mind of a sociopathic, self-justifying abuser. I also had a nagging memory of a book by Robertson Davies, called A Voice From The Attic, published in 1960. Its theme is literacy in general, and in it he has some words to say about Nabokov’s novel. According to Davies, Lolita is about “not the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child. This is no pretty theme, but it is one with which social workers, magistrates and psychiatrists are familiar.” Reading that quote again was like going into a time machine, back to the good old days when females of all ages knew what they were getting into, and no one was expected to believe otherwise. Relatively few people openly rejected the received wisdom.

They used to say, “Some women were born that way.” Now, they are “making choices.”

Vulnerable children, and the adults they eventually become, are regularly groomed into believing that they are choosing the abuse that is being inflicted on them. The language of “self-empowerment” is well rehearsed by predators.

Often, the abused live for years, or their whole lives, with the self blame and guilt that was engineered into them. Jeffrey Epstein’s victims are only the latest to be accused of being “complicit victims.”

In spite of circumstances (financial constraint, fear of losing their own children, fear of retaliation) that keep them tied to abusive relationships, victims will still feel that they somehow deserve what is happening to them.

Choice” as social control.

Maintaining the fiction of ‘choice’ is big business.

The system exploits trauma.

We can’t put a finger on the place where the pain lives that we are trying to run away from.

What if we are taught to ignore our deepest pain, so that when it manifests as ‘irresponsible’ behaviour, we torture ourselves with shame?

There’s big business in managing all that guilt and shame.

It is now well known that the opioid crisis was manufactured by the pharmaceutical giants. The big drug companies agreed to cooperate in overproducing and overmarketing their ‘painkillers,’ thereby creating mass addiction.

Gambling, promoted by the state that also profits from it, creates countless addicts and destroys lives every day. State-funded professional therapists are available to help the victims cope with their addiction.

Other experts are employed in addiction treatment centres, homeless shelters, and various forms of policing. An army of therapists is needed to cope with the masses of human souls broken by a system that regards them as little more than machines to generate profit.

How is it even possible to continue to believe that we are ‘choosing’ to be anything other than material for the agencies of social control?

There is no such thing as ‘will power.’”

Most people do have a deeply established sense of responsibility. There are very few real psychopaths among us (and almost certainly a much higher percentage among the elites).

But what is it that we are responsible for?

Most of us have been effectively programmed to believe that we have “choice” always, in everything we do, and that virtually everything that happens to us is somehow a result of choices we have made. We’re always making choices that create our reality.

At the same time, we are supposed to be “resilient.” What does “resilient” mean? It means that change, any kind of change, is a wonderful opportunity to “grow.” We’re even expected to believe in and celebrate something called “post-traumatic growth.”

And yet, the idea of “resilience” implies that we’re not actually in control of everything that happens to us.

All right, so we’re not in control of everything that happens to us. But we are in control of how we react to everything, aren’t we? And when we continue to react in ways that keep us in a negative state, we feel that we have failed. And that feeling of failure leads to behaviour that creates more shame.

We may know what it is we want to change, but feel we are somehow are prevented.

It’s not necessary to manufacture false memories. Our actual memories are covered with seemingly impenetrable layers of shame, fear, anger and guilt.

Those who have suffered abuse are often confused and angry, and do behave in ways that are strange to themselves. Their feelings of guilt and shame are mercilessly exploited.

We have been taught to believe that circumstances are irrelevant. But the ability to bring about meaningful change in our lives depends on circumstances that can provide us with the resources we need to enable us to change.

This is why ‘positive affirmations’ are so confusing. Because there is truth in them. Our thoughts do influence our actions, and our actions influence our world, and can go some way to change the quality of our lives.

‘Positive self-talk’ is really a form of practising for a state you want to be in, but aren’t in at the present time. It’s like practising a musical instrument, or studying a new language. You don’t expect someone to be instantaneously fluent, nor even after months of study and practise. When the source of psychic pain is so deeply buried that you can’t access it, it’s even more difficult. And when the environment does not encourage the change you are trying to create, it can be well-nigh impossible.

Gaining perspective on one’s life entails feeling all the pain one has been trying to run away from through addiction and other self-destructive behaviour. In order to be able to feel, process and release that pain, we have to be in a relatively safe and secure environment.

Having the minimum of material resources needed to free oneself from unbearable circumstances is a prerequisite for being able to make meaningful choices. Another requirement is some kind of recognition and support from other people, even if it’s only one friend who respects your truth. And then we need to have faith, a “rational faith” that our life has value, and that truth exists, even if it is hidden from sight.

The evil spell can be broken. It can seem to dissolve in a moment. But you may be unaware of much of the process that brought you to that moment.

The real world exists outside of our subjective experience of it.

The indelible impress of power we receive early in life never really goes away. It affects our psyches in ways that no amount of “choice” can erase.

We continue to turn towards power, “as sunflowers turn towards the sun.” We can’t help it.

This doesn’t mean we’re not in control of anything we do. In order to be responsible human beings, we need to behave as though we had free will, because that is the moral way to behave.

We need to behave according to the highest conception of truth and justice that we can be conscious of. But a society that keeps hiding the truth, or anything that even approaches the truth, makes it hard to behave morally.

We can’t make meaningful decisions without a minimum level of insight, enough to permit us to act in ways that are not wholly dictated by the amnesia induced by oppressive power. But however much we will it from the inside out, ultimately there has to be a change in the power structures of our whole society.

The only long-term way to get rid of oppression is to change the form of power we allow to be exercised over our lives.

To believe that ‘all power corrupts’ is to abdicate from any form of benign power we could exercise over our world. We have to teach ourselves how to make power work for us, rather than against us. It’s an endeavour that can’t succeed without an affirmative echo outside ourselves.

The window of time during which this might be possible is rapidly closing. Oppressive power has been coming up with some brilliant strategies to guarantee not only its survival, but its ultimate triumph over truth.

Rather than appearing as a boot in the face of humanity, oppressive power now paints itself in rainbow colours, replacing truth with fantasy—not creative imagination, but an escape into unreal worlds, fertile ground for creating conflict and deflecting attention from those who are really controlling our world.

One of the most effective channels through which it now operates is the proliferation of myriad forms of ‘identity politics,’ all of them heavily promoted and policed. Real injustices concerning race, religion and sex compete with newly invented forms of prejudice. Instead of honouring the unique, individual take of each person on their situation in a real world, we are expected to believe that there are as many ‘worlds’ as there are human beings. Instead of supporting the right of individual human beings to personal self-expression, we are told to deny the evidence of our senses where biology is concerned, and to consent to the mutilation and fragmentation of a common language (everyone is entitled to their ‘own’ pronouns, etc.). Those who exercise power over our lives through the media (controlled by their corporate owners and advertisers), political figures (basically front men and women for the financial elites) etc., watch as the masses turn on each other in a war over ‘identity.’

Then there is the corporate sponsorship, takeover and financialization of all forms of activism connected with preserving our planetary environment. When governments and their corporate handlers sponsor “strikes” to save the planet, while continuing to oppress workers, invade and destroy countries, starve and enslave populations, and create masses of desperate refugees, something is not making sense.

Meanwhile, our ability to pay attention to and do something about the real sources of oppression is severely compromised.

We don’t want to go back to the days when ‘everyone’ accepted forms of oppression that most of us now recognize as unjust. But meaningful choices that lead to real emancipation from tyranny can only be made in a world that enables individuals to locate themselves, and their unique subjective experience of life, within a common experience that is recognized as real for everyone. We need to have faith that truth exists, even if we are not sure where it is, and in spite of the efforts of oppressive power to keep it hidden from sight.

Father’s Day

“Be comforted, good madam. The great rage,

You see, is killed in him. And yet it is danger

To make him even o’er the time he has lost.”

–William Shakespeare, King Lear

1.

On Thursday, May 3, 2018, at about half-past six in the evening, I found my father dead on the back patio. He was eighty-nine years old.

He had planted two tomato seedlings, and he left the long handled weeder-hoe on the earth near them. On his way back to the house, he lost his footing and fell head first into the concrete.

He had fallen many times during the past several years. Usually I was able to get him braced against something—a chair, a wall—while I levered him up. Twice, I had called paramedics for help. Doing the same repetitive movements, out in the vineyard and at work on his other tasks, had made him stiff as a block of wood. He couldn’t open his palms flat, or reach his arms up over his head. Exercise was for lazy people who didn’t work the way he did.

This time he was lying with his wide-brimmed straw hat under his face, in a pool of blood. His walking stick was under one arm, and beside him, the bit of carpet he used to sit on the low retaining wall that held the vegetable garden.

I put my hand on his shoulder and cried to him, but I knew he was gone. I phoned 911, and called the people next door, who came running, together with other neighbours. Two of them knew CPR well, and they tried to bring him back.

A couple of years earlier, before my mother’s final illness, I was seeing a therapist. I told him I hoped to God my mom wouldn’t die first, because I didn’t want to be left alone with Dad. But that was what happened.

My parents died at opposite ends of the house; she in the bedroom she had furnished, and my father in the back yard where he had spent so much of his time.

My mother’s decline had been rapid after her cancer came back. She died before Christmas 2015, but I had begun mourning her weeks before her physical death. My father—I couldn’t believe he would ever die.

It had become too dangerous to leave his dinner in the refrigerator with a microwave cover on the plate, as he couldn’t safely carry the hot plate to the table. I could still leave his crustless toasted sandwich on the table under light plastic wrap, when I left for church choir on Sunday mornings. His dark green mug, with a bit of cream in it, was positioned under the coffee machine, so that he could press the On button and make his own coffee.

There was cold water in several plastic cups with lids and straws, set at the table and next to his recliner chair in the living room.

He could still change his Depends and put the soiled ones into a garbage bag each day. He could wash himself. When he was no longer able to do these things, I knew it would be time for me to give up trying to care for him alone.

When I came into the house from the garage after returning from choir rehearsal on Thursday nights, I would turn on the light in the hallway, so he wouldn’t be startled on hearing my voice in the dark as he sat watching the news on TV. Supper was at 9:30 pm. He waited for me to come home to eat with him, then he went to bed.

He went out to work his grapes and garden, and spent most of the rest of the day watching TV. He could no longer follow movies well, or understand the details of the newscast. His favourite programs were cooking competitions on the Food Channel.

That morning at late breakfast, he asked if I could make two servings of semolina pudding for him daily, instead of just one. He thought it would help alleviate his chronic constipation.

He’d had a shower a day or two before. When he stepped out of the shower, there was a grab pole with soft padded shelf liner I’d duct-taped around it, to keep his wet hands from slipping on the pole as he steadied himself.

I had clipped his hair and tidied his head. I washed his feet. I tried to give tooth medicine for his sore tooth with a cotton swab, and dropped the cotton swab. It was lost somewhere in the joints of the recliner chair my mother had bought for him. He swore, and I swore.

I had checked my email before I went to take my shower. There was one from my little brother, saying that he was on the road. His holiday had started, and he was arriving early. I told my father that his youngest son might arrive soon. He said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” He often said things like that.

He insisted on going downstairs and out into the back yard to plant some tomato seedlings. I told him it was too early, the weather wasn’t warm enough. The seedlings would die. “I don’t care if they die,” he said. I reminded him that there was one hour before I needed to leave for choir rehearsal. He said, “All right, don’t preach me a sermon.” He used the walker he had inherited from my mother to walk himself to the top of the stairs. The carpet had scuff marks where he would put his feet as he descended, gripping the banister with his right hand, his left hand on the railing my little brother had installed so that he could make it up and down.

I was feeling more than a little fed up with him.

While I was having my shower, I kept repeating, “Thanks Dad,” to calm myself, to not be angry, to remember the good things he had done for me in spite of himself.

When I finished my shower it was almost half past six. By this time he would be back upstairs, sitting in his recliner chair. I needed to get him settled, so I wouldn’t be late to choir rehearsal.

He would cry a bit when my little brother arrived. That would be a nice surprise for him, and a diversion for me, as the heavy and oppressive atmosphere of the house would be lifted somewhat.

When I went downstairs, the back door was ajar. Through the window I saw him lying face down on the concrete, in front of the white plastic table with his tools spread on it. There were the clippers I had modified with two pieces of white PVC tubing, to make long handles so he wouldn’t have to bend over or reach up high to use them. There were old tools I remembered from my childhood. There was the battered old tote bag with the big roll of twine that had lasted for years, until he used it up not long ago, tying the grapevines for the last time. The hooked twine cutter blade he held on one finger, like a ring. Once when I was helping him tie the vines, he tried to make me use it instead of scissors to cut the twine, and my hand hurt for days afterwards. I understood why his hands were like claws and he couldn’t open them any more.

There was the grey plastic chair where he used to sit, looking at the grapevines in their rows. The tomatoes, yellow banana peppers and squash were crowded together along one side of the yard, in soil held in place by a low retaining wall. He sat out there together with my mother, before it became too difficult for her to go downstairs.

2.

My dad was born in a village in western Hungary. His father was an alcoholic, traumatized by his experiences in the first world war. His father’s ‘friends’ would get him drunk in the local tavern, and persuade him to sell off pieces of his land for a pittance.

My father’s mother was hard, wiry and set on survival, and raised the children herself even before her husband died in 1944.

She would set a pot of milk soup on the table, and tell the children that that was what they had to eat for the day. There was a weekly ration of bread, and my father was beaten for taking more than his share.

His mother would pick up her hoe and go out to cultivate the bit of land they had, and the neighbours’ land, for a little money. Some of it would have been the same land her husband had lost in the tavern. She would show up at the school with a broomstick, intimidate the teacher, and beat my father out of the classroom, because he was not supposed to waste his time in school when he could be helping her to earn some money.

She raised a pig, and when it was time to take it to market, she rode into town on a cart together with my father and the pig. She bought some pork crackling and shared it with him, and he thought that was the greatest thing in the world.

She was the only grandparent I ever met, in 1975, and I found her terrifying. She had one tooth in the front of her mouth. She spoke to me about the hardships of her life, and how she had fought to keep the little bit of land I could see from her bedroom window. Her family was also afraid of her, and tried to keep her appeased and comfortable. My father bought her a lounge chair so she could sit outside, and all kinds of other presents, before saying goodbye to her for the last time.

My father was angry during that trip in 1975. He couldn’t cope with his family, or with his pain. His family was a burden and a nuisance. One day we ate in a basement restaurant in Budapest, and as we were leaving I looked back down the stairwell. At the bottom of the stairs, an old man was seated at one of the tables. He had just finished his meal and was unable to pay his bill. The waiter was telling him that he would not be allowed to get away with this again. It is one of the saddest things I have ever seen.

When he was fourteen, my father was apprenticed to a blacksmith. His mother said she would no longer provide him with food, as he was now working and his employer should feed him. He ate woody pears that had fallen from a tree. He slept in a dark, scary old mill.

His older sister would bring him boiled eggs. Once he broke one open and there was a half-formed chicken inside. Near the end, when I was caring for him, he asked me not to give him boiled eggs because of the memory.

When he was fifteen, he was forced into the army, like many other young boys. He was captured in Germany by the American 45th army on April 30, 1945, the day after the liberation of Dachau. It was one of the happiest days of his life.

After the war, he worked for a while for a man in Germany, then he returned to Hungary.

Food was scarce and people had to stand in line for their rations. One day he stepped out of line while waiting for bread, and someone hit him in the upper arm. For the rest of his life, he would periodically wince and gasp when he felt the pain.

Around the time he met my mother, he had a mental breakdown, and spent some time under psychiatric care. He rejected my mother’s son from her previous marriage, and the child was left to be raised by her sister. When his own son was born, he found the crying intolerable. He kept shouting at her to make the baby shut up, and one day it obligingly died on the couch in their home.

In October 1956, he was working at the Ibusz bus factory in Budapest, which manufactured buses for countries in eastern Europe and beyond. At the time of the uprising against the Soviet occupation, he was a member of one of the workers’ councils, which were worker-run groupings outside of the officially sanctioned trade unions. When the attempted revolution was defeated, my father was among those whose lives were in danger. He fled the country, and my mother, holding a new baby, followed him to Canada. The train bearing their cohort of refugees arrived in Regina, Saskatchewan, where they received an official welcome from Tommy Douglas, the premier of that province. My mother remembered the impression Douglas made on them, like a little bantam rooster speaking through a translator. My parents instinctively understood that the socialism Douglas represented was a kind they could believe in. Still, their experiences were exploited as Cold War propaganda.

They couldn’t speak a word of English, and it was a long time before they were able to use the language with any kind of facility.

Xenophobia was rampant. We were called all kinds of names. My father was mercilessly bullied at his job, which he once told us had driven him near to getting a gun and killing his family and himself. He changed his mind and we survived.

Later, he started an auto body repair business with a partner.

In 2010 I went with him to Hungary. It was his last visit to the country of his birth. He was 81.

We arrived a few weeks after his older brother had died. My father’s sole surviving sibling, my aunt Mariska, made potato pancakes for us. They reminisced about their mother and the milk soup.

As he drove the rental car, he pointed things out to me. Here was a village that had been so remote, it was cut off from the rest of the world. Now it was just off the highway. Here was a brick shed his mother had built, now on land owned by someone else. Here was the old house into which they had packed all the Jews before they took them to Auschwitz in 1944. They were dying of thirst, and my father was one of those who secretly brought them water and handed it in through a window.

I hadn’t driven a car for years. I kept a vigilant eye on the traffic, told him when to pass into the other lane, and where to turn a corner. He was all right on the highway, but he had difficulty negotiating traffic signals, driveways and parking lots in the cities.

Walking was more problematic than driving. He would have been hit by a car more than once if I had not restrained him from crossing the street on a red light. He was wearing the wrong shoes, and had a painful corn on one of his toes. One day in Budapest, he was walking slowly and painfully across the street from the big public market, the Vásárcsarnok. The light had changed, and a young male driver, impatient with the old man’s slowness, snarled at him to get out of the way already. I wondered what he would have thought if he could have seen my dad in 1956.

My father and mother had become friends again, after having been separated for nearly two decades. They would sit together on the back upper deck of the house, and they called each other Mami and Papa.

Most of my father’s wealth and property, including a substantial vineyard, was lost during his second marriage. The divorce from his second wife was finally settled two months before my mother died. She had enjoyed helping with the mountains of paperwork: lists of numbers, costs and inventories. My father was tired of lawyers and litigation, and no longer had any desire to follow the process, or deal with the bills. When it all ended, my mother was visibly happy; I knew she felt she had been vindicated.

One night they drove out into a blizzard to have dinner with two of my brothers. A couple of hours later, he called me from a cell phone lent to him by a young couple who had been parked at the lookout, some distance away from the house. He had left my mother with my brothers at the casino, and on the return drive he lost the way and slammed his van into a concrete barrier. When I arrived there in a taxi, the air bag was deflated inside the cab of the van, and he was in a state of shock. That was the last time he drove.

After he was cremated, my older brother tried to seize his ashes at the funeral home. They were taken to his lawyer’s office.

3.

In Canada in the 1950s and 60s, if you wanted to drink alcohol anywhere but at home (or in a licensed restaurant), you went to the beer parlour, This was a bare-bones establishment, designed to make patrons feel what they were doing was slightly furtive and disreputable. My parents did go to one in Saskatoon, and at home we had some of the beer glasses for ladies, big enough to hold a few ounces poured from the men’s bottles.

My father made wine, both white and red. He ordered California grape juice from a dealer, as did other home winemakers. Later, he had his own vineyard.

When he jingled the change in his pocket, I would always ask for deer money. Deer money (quarters) was worth more than boat money (dimes), and definitely more than mouse money (the beaver on the nickel).

My father brought home a box of BC Apples at Christmas. Each apple was individually wrapped in green paper and nestled in its own little hollow of cardboard. They smelled like heaven.

Riding in the back seat of the family car, I would gaze at the oceans of wheat. They blew in waves, and I thought I could drown in them. In winter we played outside in the extreme cold, and made snow forts with multiple rooms connected by tunnels. There was flooding in the spring, and a brief, intensely hot summer.

When I was eight, we moved to Kelowna, British Columbia. As we drove through the mountains of the Rockies, I was afraid they would fall down on me. We stopped at an orchard and my father picked a sweet apple straight off a tree.

My father was one of the Hungarians who clandestinely imported paprika seeds through the mail from relatives, and so the yellow banana peppers, sweet and hot, began to be cultivated in the Okanagan.

My mother went to Hungary with my little brother in 1973. I didn’t know she had told my father she might not come back. He put a passport-sized photograph of her on the pillow beside him on his bed.

Her first husband committed suicide. My half brother, my mother’s son from her first marriage, the one my father had rejected, died in an apparent drunken brawl in 1996.

While my mother was away in 1973, I tried to cook for him, but I couldn’t do anything right. I was supposed to cook and clean the house, but I was no good at it, in spite of the fact that I was already thirteen. He would eat a little of what I made, and throw his napkin into what was left on the plate. Once I was having a shower, and he needed to come into the bathroom to get something. “Oh,” he said. “A nude girl.” I was often reminded that I was female.

He would talk about the dumb girls at the bank, who didn’t understand anything about his business. “Dumb woman,” he would say, and look at me for my reaction. I was supposed to accept that it was a joke, and that it was meant to hurt, and that I was supposed to accept the pain.

I believed that what he and my mother had experienced was so awful, anything they did to me in comparison was nothing. I couldn’t take it, so I was nothing.

Dad’s fists raining down on me. He would demand that I take off my glasses so that he could discipline me properly. When I no longer obeyed his demand, they would fly off my face, and the lenses dropped out of the bent frames. I would end up cowering in the corner, covering my face, the blows coming down on my arms. His rage like he was tearing himself apart. I always had three crops of bruises on my arms: the fresh ones, the ones that were very colourful, and the ones that were halfway healed.

Dragging me down the stairs by one leg. Because I was hiding in my room reading a book, instead of sitting with them in the living room watching TV.

I would be standing or sitting, and there would be a sudden heavy blow on my back, sending me flying. He would lull me by speaking gently, telling he wouldn’t hurt me, until I got close enough, then the slap on the face or another part of my body. When I said, “Please stop,” it was like a red rag to a bull. He would beat me harder, yelling, “What is please? What do you mean please? Tell me what please means.”

Once I locked myself in the bathroom to get away from him, and he kicked a hole in the door. I opened it and he pulled me out for a beating. The hole stayed in the door for years.

After the Hungarian Society Mother’s Day celebration, where I didn’t know how to dress or speak. He and my mother tossing me back and forth between them, as they alternately berated me and each other, shouting “What is wrong with her? What is wrong with you? Why don’t you know how to raise her?”

My father threw the library book I had been reading against the wall, so that the spine broke. “This one cares about nothing but the stinking books! What is in books?”

I wouldn’t stand up straight, so he jerked me upright and pointed at my breasts.“What’s wrong with these? Why don’t you stand up straight? They’re nothing to be ashamed of! Your time has come and you still don’t know how to be a woman!” I had begun menstruating. Neither of them knew what to do with me. Females didn’t have rights. Their rights were between their legs. I couldn’t understand that. I was defective. I had no friends, and it wasn’t their job to find me any. By the time I reached the age of fourteen, it had become apparent that I was going to be an embarrassment.

At the dinner table, he would yell about how worthless we all were, with variations based on our apparent merit or value. I was lazy, so he didn’t understand why I was allowed to eat. I kept on eating. I could never eat enough. I would steal food even though I had already eaten too much.

I am supposed to learn how to work in an office, at my father’s auto body repair shop. “Soft core” porn covered the walls. I couldn’t talk to the men. I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do. By this time I was completely lost in a fantasy world. I cannot envision a future. I stop doing my homework.

He wanted me to work in the vineyard with my shirt off, because that was what the men liked to see. I was no good at working for him or for anyone else.

During the years that I was taking care of him, he sometimes still threatened to hit me.

4.

My father was lying dead on the back patio, covered with a hospital blanket the paramedic had draped over him. My little brother had arrived. The neighbours brought wine, and we sat there, next to my father’s body, drinking wine and talking about him, while we waited for the coroner’s van.

During the last years, when he was no longer physically able to do it, I had taken over making the wine from the dozens of vines of Gewürtztraminer.

He was afraid of dying. He cried about the crematorium that awaited him. He said, “The music is over.” He had become, in many ways, very childlike.

After all the years in Canada, both my parents would still lower their voices at times, when they were talking about things they didn’t want the neighbours, who might be spies for the authorities, to hear. It was a habit so deeply embedded that they never completely lost it.

I thought I ruled the world. But it was my pain and fear that ruled me.