Where Dreams Are Born


Parsippany, 1966…

The boy lay on his bed, reading. He turned and looked up at the sky through the window at the bright near-twilight moon. He sighed; his daily dread overcame him as he got up and walked slowly downstairs and into the kitchen.

“Where is everybody?” Donny asked as he plopped down one of the hard wooden chairs; scaring Tempest, the family’s plump tortoiseshell cat, who had fallen asleep on the chair next to him. She jumped down and ran past him into the dining room and up the stairs.

“He’s out bowling with Pete and your Uncle Frank,’ his mother Betty said as she looked over her shoulder away from stirring some tomato sauce. He grabbed a spoon from the dish drain and sampled the sauce; a mildly spicy rendition of a Mexican recipe added to potatoes and hot dogs. Everyone’s favorite meal, the kids would say since it was a joke than anything they could afford was their favorite meal.

“Your sister went over to Lorraine’s. It’s just you and me.”

Donny had given up trying to please his father; yet the idea still seemed to grab onto him even though he could never have satisfied the man who practically despised his presence. Laboring at his job at the plant all day and the frequent nights out to do plumbing work did nothing to abate the resentment the father had for the extra child. And that was the best part of their relationship.

“Can you run up to Freddie’s and get me some cigarettes?” She didn’t wait for an answer and handed him a fist full of change for the machine.

“Get me a coke and whatever you want, okay?” He nodded at her as he stepped out.

* * * * *

The walk took about seven or so minutes to the Texaco station on the corner. After peering through the garage windows at the T-Bird locked away, Donny stepped on the thick slab of walkway in front of the station and put in dime and a quarter; the clunk of the handle was followed by the appearance of a pack of Chesterfields. He reached in and grabbed the pack; putting them in his shirt pocket. Some guys in his class would feel proud to sport any pack of cigarettes rolled on their sleeve. Donny shook his head; Betty was already coughing every morning and he worried over just what he could say to help her quit.

Donny stepped over to the soda machine. A few moments later he held two cans of Coca-Cola. He shifted one can to his other hand and reached into his pocket; pulling out the remaining change. Two dimes and a penny; not enough to buy a bag of chips. He dropped one of the dimes as he went to put the change back into his pocket.

The sun had almost completely set and the lights in the station were off save for a bright lamp on the work table in the back of the garage. It bathed the T-Bird in an eerie glow, leaving it looking like a poor man’s version of the Batmobile. Donny opened one of the cans of Coke and took a swig before walking down the hill. A few minutes later he was back home.

“We can dine in the living room,” his mother grinned at him as he walked in the kitchen, pointing through the living room doorway to the metal TV tables by the sofa and the worn-out rocker sitting catty-corner to the television. After a bit of silent dining his mother spoke.

“Mary Martin is on tonight. You don’t mind, do you?”

Donny had given up on any pretense of watching boy’s programs. He did like some of the detective series and that new Space show on channel 4, but mostly it was art and gourmet cooking on public tv most weeknights on the small GE in his room and movies all day Saturday with his mother if his father wasn’t around, which was pretty typical of family life on weekends.

His brother Pete spent most of his time with his girlfriend or hanging out with his girlfriend’s brother. And Lisa spent almost all of her time away from home on weeknights and even the more-than-occasional sleepover at her girlfriend’s place. Lorraine’s seemed to serve as a haven for the girl; a ritual that both relieved and saddened Donny.

“Can you get me a beer while you’re up,” Betty said with a silly grin. Donny got up and came back with a can of Pabst. He dutifully removed the empty Coke can and took their bowls into the kitchen. After washing the dishes in the sink he returned to the living room, only to find his mother passed out on the couch. He only just then noticed several empty beer cans on the floor. He sighed and walked over to the TV; since he was basically alone now, he figured he’d just go up in his room and read, but the program had already started, and the familiar strains of NBC buzzed softly through the cheap speaker of the Motorola.

It was almost funny to hear the announcer talk about how the program was ‘in living color,’ when the bulky Motorola was a nearly ten year old black and white set. It wasn’t even the program he remembered but a variety show including songs from the woman’s Broadway successes. It never felt special when he had heard the music the first time even longer ago than that; the music left him feeling awkward and even alone. The song was playing during the opening credits without singing in the background, but he heard the words in his head; one of those things we ‘memorize’ without even thinking since we heard it so many times.

I have a place where dreams are born,
And time is never planned.
It's not on any chart,
You must find it with your heart.
Never Never Land.

He sat through nearly a half-hour of the program; constantly looking through to the kitchen at the door. His father and brother wouldn’t be back from bowling until well after ten, since they always went to the tavern afterward. Miller on tap for his dad and his uncle and a couple of birch beers for Pete and their cousin Mikey. He looked at the screen and swallowed. The program got more and more intrusive as he grew uncomfortable at the appearance of the star, appearing in costume as she had appeared on stage and in the original television production.

Mary Martin; a woman with a lovely singing voice who had been successful on stage but nothing so odd as portraying Peter Pan; pretending to be a boy. But her appearance looked exactly as it probably was intended; hardly sexually ambiguous. She was dressed in a shirt and short pants; far from boyish. Her legs were clad in tights and she wore what almost looked to be slippers. The whole outfit was probably green; more like a girlish pixie than an adventurous boy.

It might be miles beyond the moon,
Or right there where you stand.
Just keep an open mind,
And then suddenly you'll find
Never Never Land.

Donny looked down and stared at his legs. Even clad in worn jeans, he could almost ‘feel’ the soft caress of tights, having borrowed his mother’s discarded pantyhose on more than one occasion. He’d already taken off his Keds and the pretend slippers wrapped his feet. A few moments later he found himself singing along with Mary; matching her almost note for note with an alto that came from God knows where.

Even as the song progressed, the words seemed to prod and poke him rudely. A quick glance at the clock revealed that both the end of the program and the feared return of his father and brother were soon to arrive. That they were nearly fifteen miles away did nothing to abate his shame and he found himself blubbering the last few bars of the song….

You'll have a treasure if you stay there,
More precious far than gold.
For once you have found your way there,
You can never, never grow old.

When he was younger, he and Lisa went through things that would make any kid desperate for the end of childhood. Never feeling valued while feeling used; they both dreamed in so many ways for a place of worth. When they lived across town, it was so much easier to avoid his father’s immediate presence as the soft rocky sound of tire on gravel announced his arrival. Cement pads and soft grass dulled any noise at this house, and he kept singing until he heard the kitchen door open abruptly. He wiped the tears from his eyes and changed the channel just in time to find his sister walking in.

“Hey,” was all she said as she passed her glance back and forth between their mother and him and the pile of empty beer cans on the floor. She shook her head and walked back into the kitchen.

“Lorraine and I are going back over to her house,” Lisa said as she grabbed a textbook off the kitchen table. Her face turned red until she realized she and Donny were alone; Lorraine and her mother were waiting in the car outside. Donny nodded; a signal that was both comforting and sad at the same time. It would have been a secret kept safely between them if no one else knew.

Pete had his own issues with home life as his father’s designated punching bag. But Lisa and Donny shared a secret that wasn’t a secret at all to their father and was a plain, tragic fact completely ignored by their mother. Donny would have loved to transport his sister away from all that but for the fact that he had no resources and hardly any strength of his own as a fifteen-year-old boy with shameful dreams and hopes.

“Tell Mommy that Lorraine asked me to stay over, okay?”

She probably had asked Lorraine; no secrets between best friends even if neither could speak to Lorraine’s parents about the horror that dwelt in Lisa’s home. Donny nodded as Lisa kissed him on the top of the head; a playful gesture since they rarely if ever displayed affection. They had learned all too late to try to fly under their father’s radar, and both found themselves hiding in plain sight. Donny was a geek and Lisa was just plain old fat Lisa. Mercifully never again to be desired or wanted or needed in a way that had already destroyed what little good their childhood had held. She ran out the door with a ‘bye,’ as Donny went to change the channel again.

And that's my home where dreams are born,
And time is never planned.
Just think of lovely things.
And your heart will fly on wings,
Forever in Never Never Land.

Better to be sight-unseen than a convenient target; there seemed to be nothing to do about his father’s anger. He dropped his gaze to his body and sighed. It wasn’t his fault that he was made the way he was; a target of too many vices and a very present reminder of just how bad his father was to him and his sister, even if the attention had ceased months before; at least for him.

He stood up and went to turn off the TV. Better to leave it on and tuned to something harmless. He switched the channel to Million Dollar Movie; that same comfort had also been a trusty deflection, since it often displayed westerns and war movies; once each night and three times all day Saturday and Sunday. God help him if a musical was on when his father came home; worse if he was found singing along. He walked to the couch and kissed his mother on the cheek before trudging upstairs.

You'll have a treasure if you stay there,
More precious far than gold.
For once you have found your way there,
You can never, never grow old.

* * * * *

As he passed the large clothes closet in the hallway, he stared at the door and breathed out a sigh. It was almost as if he could see through the door to the contents inside; soft and pretty clothes long abandoned by a tired woman with little self-esteem remaining and a sad desire to look unattractive. Everyone seemed to have their protection in place; Pete being the only one without any armor , but he was able to run quickly down the street from his father.

“Just you and me, right?” Donny asked the cat as he grabbed the book from the top of his dresser. He opened it and tried to read, but his heart wasn’t into it after an awkward feeling of belonging from watching the woman on the screen. He plopped down next to the cat on his bed and reached under his pillow. Purloined clothing from the forbidden closet that taunted him with feelings that confused and provided solace at the same time. He went to strip off his jeans; a quick change from rough cotton to soft satin to be followed by sweatpants and socks was hastily abandoned as he heard his brother march up the stairs.

“You should have been there,” Pete said as he walked into the bedroom; late enough for him to miss the movement of Donny’s pillow as he covered the shameful garment.

“Dad bowled a 243! We stopped off at Narcise’s…. “His voice trailed off as he looked out the bedroom door; as if he could see downstairs at their father, likely already sitting in front of the TV to watch the end of the war movie already blaring through the house. Their mother would likely remain oblivious and would quickly be joined in slumber as their father passed out before the end of the movie.

“We didn’t bring anything pizza home. Sorry.” Pete seemed genuinely disappointed; likely wanting to include Donny but also having exercised the better part of valor by not reminding their father to pick up some for everybody else.

“We had hot dogs and potatoes. There’s a lot left if you’re still hungry.” Donny said.

“Yeah…thanks!” Pete said as he walked out of the room and hurried down the stairs. Donny stared at the banister before turning back to the bed.

“Just you and me,” he repeated as the cat jumped up onto his lap. He lay back on the pillow and stared at the ceiling. The music in his head shoved the loud movie downstairs aside; the feelings of awkward shame returning as he thought of the handsome woman in the green tights. She wasn’t a boy at all, but it pained him as he remembered once again that he wasn’t a boy either. The person inside wanted so much to fly freely, but she was unable to think of anything other than a painful, hopeless future. She sighed deeply and turned her head sideways into the pillow and began to cry….

And that's my home where dreams are born,
And time is never planned.
Just think of lovely things.
And your heart will fly on wings,
Forever in Never Never Land.

Never Never Land
from the stage and televisison
production of Peter Pan
Words by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Music by Jule Styne
As performed by Miss Mary Martin

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