A sequel to Where Dreams are Born
Parsippany, New Jersey, a Monday night in 1967...
The boy quickly leafed to another page of the magazine as his mother knocked on the frame of the open door.
“Would you mind feeding the dog?” She didn’t have to add that she wasn’t feeling well. He nodded his head and jumped up quickly. She usually wasn’t feeling well. He wondered what the cause was, since no one seemed to know why she was so tired. But then he and his sibs almost always attributed it to the several beers she had the night before. She drank at home while their father drank at the tavern or elsewhere. One day they might have understood, since she was most likely chronically depressed, but today wasn’t the day for understanding; just as much sympathy he could muster in the midst of his own pain.
“Your sister is eating over at Lana’s and Petey is probably just out doing whatever he does until sundown."
At eleven years old, he was likely playing Wiffle ball or riding his bike, but either way he was gone until bedtime. Both sibs spent a great deal of time off somewhere else. And the oldest boy was in Germany; thankfully out of the way of the continued mayhem while serving his country and following in their parent’s footsteps, so to speak, by consuming his fair share of beer when he wasn’t doing mountain patrol to deal with Airmen such as himself. Men who were not as smart or at least as fearful as Jackie; forgetting not to drive after a night of drinking in the village below the base.
Which left Donny once again alone at home; probably for the evening as he and his mother watched TV with tray tables holding Banquet boil-in-the-bag Beef and Peppers and a can of Mountain Dew or Pepsi. He sighed as he walked out to the side of the house and plopped a can’s worth of Alpo in Bootsie’s dish. Thankfully, it was early October and the ice cream truck was gone for the season; leaving the dog reasonably sane unless a raccoon wandered out of the woods across the street. Bootsie barked a bit and then dove into his dish; probably more glad for the evening meal than Donny was for his.
“I feel like laughing,” his mother said as he walked into the living room. A change of menu brightened the trays with bowls filled with Beefaroni. He sat down in the worn chair across from the sofa. His mother had already begun and stopped eating, and had retrieved a can of Schaefer from the fridge. He wanted to throw the beer in the sink, but as much as he feared his father’s temper, he dreaded facing his mother when she was drinking. Daddy was predicable but Mommy was something else entirely; weeping one moment and picking up dishes to throw at the boy in a heartbeat. Between her lack of aim and being drunk, she never did succeed in hitting him, and the bone china had long been replaced with Melamine plates and cups made in a factory only a couple of miles away.
The music began as a marginally interested man announced in a voice over, “In Living Color,” which was ironic; viewed on a black and white console television. Only a few moments later the raucous theme was replaced with canned laughter as the hosts walked out and began a trilogue between each other and the audience. Recorded applause signaled a brief grouping of silly jokes sandwiched around a young woman dancing on state; nearly nude and gyrating but with a pixie-like haircut that seem to belie and confuse the sexual message on the screen.
Donny turned to ask his mother a question, but she was already curled up on the couch asleep. He got up and took her plate and nearly full can of beer into the kitchen. A quick look see indicated it was the only beer she had begun all day; she never hid her drinking so no empties meant her quick drift into slumber was more likely another bout with disappointment over her feelings of failure. At forty-two, she was a survivor of her own abuse as a child and had gravitated toward a bad relationship to escape her home. So her kids grew up in a worse place than she did, but hardly by much.
“I’m going to bed, Mom.” Donny pulled the blanket over her sleeping figure; a wool-like blend with a huge picture of a cat covered the blanket. He kissed her forehead; wishing that somehow she’d be imbued by god or whoever with the capacity to reciprocate. The phone rang. He walked calmly to the end table and picked up the receiver.
“Hi, Lisa.” He said reflexively. Pete never called, but since it was dark already, he was probably down the block sleeping at Joey’s house or would just sneak in at midnight. And his father never called.
“Yeah…she’s asleep already… no…..” He paused and looked over at his mother’s sleeping figure. He felt like he was the star in his own sitcom, but with no laugh track and no applause.
“I’ll let her know.” He hung up the phone and half-frowned. His father wouldn’t care if Lisa slept over and his mother would wake up sometime between three and seven the next morning; completely oblivious to whom was home or not.
He trudged up the stairs to his bedroom. Leaving the door ajar to keep track of who might actually come home, he plopped on the bed and opened the magazine he had been reading earlier. A bounty of odds and ends of confusion in each magazine his grandmother had given him. Life Magazines from the early 40’s until only a few years ago; each contained pictures of women; scantily clad in lingerie or dressed in classic fashion. His buddies might have drooled over the women, but he was torn between the women and the clothes they wore. It wasn’t a fetish, per se although it presented itself as such for a long time.
He looked at the pictures in the magazine on his bed; almost luring and repulsive at the same time, the women in the pictures were from the city and not women at all. Not just unladylike. In fact, some of them looked positively classy and attractive. But a seventeen year old boy dressed in a woman’s designer outfit or even Capri pants and a shell might be attractive to a fifteen year old boy. And that isn't at all comfortable if you're the boy growing up in New Jersey in the sixties.
“No,” he said as he closed the magazine and shoved it off the bed onto the floor. But the magazine underneath caught his eye. The cover featured the very same girl he had viewed on the TV only a short while ago. Unlike the view on the black and white television, the picture was indeed in color; living or otherwise. The girl had orange-ish hair; short and sassy as some might say. Boyish, in fact, which only contributed to the confusion the boy felt. He stared at the magazine; lost in a daydream cum nightmare as the girl on the cover seemed to more closely resemble him; or so he wished.
“No…” he said, but he was unable to tear himself away from the cover. The girl as an object of desire pulled him closer in a way even as the girl as someone to emulate throttled him.
“Judy Carne,” the small caption read. That she was small and boyish was too much to take in. That he was not so small but felt girlish finished the job the first magazine had started as he fell flat on the bed and wept.
He never once understood just what it meant to long to be the girl in the magazine until it was all too far away from acting upon the need. To be Judy Carne would have been great. To be a girl in 1967 after being born as a boy in 1951 might have bee wonderful and but still completely unobtainable. As his therapist would remind him years later, if his father was willing to beat him and his sister enough to bloody and bruise their legs just for throwing eggs at the shed, what would he have done to the boy had he ever let that part of him be known?
“Daddy? Mommy? I’m not sure I want to go to college” he would say only a few years later; the only act of defiance quickly dispatched with a glare by his father and tears by his mother. What would they have done if he had said,
“Daddy? Mommy? I ….I think …. It feels like…?” If he had said that while pointing awkwardly to the mini-dress borrowed from the girl down the street, his father would likely have ended up in prison for god knows what.
So he remained silent. But that part of him…her… would forever be connected to the girl on the screen. And as sad as it might seem, that would always be a good thing.
1939 to 2015
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