I completed the essay titled "Dot" that I began yesterday. 4500 words in all. It's a powerful work. I need to exercise now. But here is a final excerpt:
Dot had a way of making bad things you did, that you might not have done, become a self-fulfilling prophesy. She was at our house one time in the Boston suburbs, and I noticed her eyeing me pretty hard, wherever I went. This can’t be good, I thought. I was a small boy at the time, and as I made my way to the bathroom, Dot followed me, a Gollum-y bloodhound. When I got in there, I reached up to scratch my nose and pick it a little—I might have been six—because I wasn’t keen on using the toilet now that my pursuer had me cornered, but it felt like I should do something, having made the trip and all. “There it is!” Dot exclaimed. ‘We never do this, never never,” she said, pulling my hand from my nose. “You will bleed!” She landed so hard on that verb that it felt both Biblical and sourced from some horrific real-life gore scene she had once witnessed, a cruel blood-letting of some other child’s nostrils. And what was it with these older people and their damningly idiosyncratic pronouncements centered on blood?
That was a little jarring. And even though I was young, I recall wondering what this woman’s deal was. My own mother knew something of jarring. She grew up in a small house on a place called Buckingham Street. That name became a fraught linguistic symbol, throughout my mother’s life, for extreme poverty. A number of things have kept my mother and myself apart over the years, but the specter of her Buckingham Street memories are certainly one of them, when you couple it with my own present poverty. Alas, I live in a worse, lower way now than she did then, and to think of her son that way is to go back into her own past, which causes a shutdown.
She was also adopted. Grammie was married to a man named Freddie, who used to knock her around. Her father—and a man that Dot could not have revered more—was named Pepe, as classic a French-Canadian patriarch as you could imagine. He wasn’t in the organized crime business exactly, but if someone told you he was, you’d not have argued the point. It was he who dashed out the nefarious Freddie upon his ear, not long after my mother was born. I wear an eight-paneled hat in winter that my mother used to hate. Irish motoring cap, I think it’s billed in the catalogue. When my mom was in her early teens, she was riding the T—the Boston subway—with Grammie. This was a much flintier Grammie than the Grammie I would know, with the Claus-ian eye-twinkle. By this point, Grammie was like a human sinew. A lot of gristle to Grammie. Tough, wiry, no-nonsense, badass, not your modern helicopter parent. She and my mom were standing at the window of the trolley as it pulled out of the underground station. There was a man sitting on a bench wearing an eight-paneled hat. “That is your father,” Grammie said, pointing. Not a word more. Conversation over, forever. My mother had never laid eyes on the man before as someone who could understand who he was. She never would again. The train pulled away.
That was a different time, wasn’t it? Grammie eventually married a man named Mike who was considerably older than she was. Grandpa Mike adopted my mom and her brother Gerard, and three other brothers followed. My mom, older by then, was left to her own devices, expected to find large parts of her own way. In other words, she wasn’t lavished as the newcomers would be. She was alone a lot. She read voraciously. She didn’t have much. The impecunity persisted. Grammie expected her to make things work, while she tended to her new marriage, and younger kids.
It was after Pepe died that Dot, meanwhile, really seemed to come into her own as the child-policing warden who, to be fair, went after everyone equally. She used to have me walk Pepe, in his late nineties, into the woods behind our house. He didn’t speak any English, I didn’t speak any French, but there we would be, he with his cane, sometimes taking my arm or my shoulder, me looking at slugs and snails upon the ground and wondering who would get the better of this race.