Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

At the beach you could fall in the sand

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | December 06, 2007 7:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: agatha christie, alcohol, benneton, childhood development, gay youth, growing up, incest, lgbt youth, new order, queer youth, recovery, Washington D.C.

When the baby was born I was scared. I was scared for the baby I was scared I was scared I was scared. Probably I'd always been scared, always is a long time, a long time to be scared.

The baby, Lauren, was so small -- I wanted to teach her things. To build another house with legos, we could live in it. Except when we were done we were still on the same rug. I taught her to read, it was early, in my memory she was only three, that meant I was five but maybe really it was later, I just remember adults were shocked it was so early -- I remember that, everyone said so. They said: Matthew’s a good teacher. But they didn't want me to be a teacher, teachers didn't make money.

Starting around five I didn't want to do anything except read, reading and math problems -- I liked math problems too. Anything where it was just me, not me against someone I didn't like being against. That's what my father liked -- in the new house he taught me chess like we were fighting. The clearing between trees in the back yard, we called it Three Sisters -- the three trees; me and my sister and the trees. Oh, how I wanted to live in that clearing, or the one in the front of the house where sometimes there was a rabbit. I knew these things were impossible, all I could do was stare outside.

It's hard to stay alive when everything around you is rage except sometimes a trip to Wheaton Gardens oh the flowers the flowers the flowers, just not the roses because they smell too strong I'm allergic. Let's watch the goldfish in the water, they go under but reemerge for food. But they could live without air.

Your mother was somewhere, somewhere else. Maybe she was with my sister. I was with Dad, Daddy still then. My father screaming at my mother: Karin, how could you be so stupid? I memorized the names of all the wines. What was the word they exchanged, exchanged in the psychiatrist’s house? Pathological, conceited, dramatic, pathetic, sociopathic, immature, stuck -- I can't remember it, something that meant all those things together.

My sister was enraged like my father, yelling at my parents: fuck fuck fuck you fuckers I'm going to chop you up and put you in the frying pan. This was common, I was the one who tried to soothe everything over, to make everyone hug or hold hands I wanted my sister and I to have our own world too, a world where we could keep things for each other, secrets. I wanted us to be a forcefield. Our parents didn't like this, loyalty meant we were against them. My sister always turned against me, every secret a weapon until I knew I could never trust.

If I stopped breathing then I’d never need. I wanted them to get divorced, this arguing they said meant they loved each other, my mother was always threatening to leave him, I wanted that too maybe then something would be okay. I read all the Hardy Boys, the Nancy Drews when no one was looking, the Hornblower books, Watership Down in third grade because it was the longest book at the school book fair, all the Agatha Christie's by the end of fifth.

My sister wanted them to stay together, she would cry every time they argued, or my father running naked through the hallway we would scream. My sister was still like my father, she'd push and push until you'd explode except I could only implode. So when my father would stare right through him like he could shoot me in the face with a gun and I would just keep staring, later I’d yell into the pillow or shake so much like crying. He'd unlock the bathroom door to come in when I was taking a shower. I would try to cover -- he always got piss on the rug later the rug I would press my face into the rug, remembering what I couldn't remember or else.

Nighttime meant my sister would scream HELP ME HELP ME HELP!!! My mother would wake up to soothe her back to sleep. I would dream of being smothered to death in shit, this was masturbation. Sometimes I’d get dragged off the bed and down to the floor, eyes in the walls the monsters, always monsters I didn't know what was real.

Anything she could tell them she would, anything that would hurt me. I wanted it to be us against them, us against the world but that would all change as soon as she wanted something else. I can't remember a single one of those secrets anymore, it was so hard to forget. I wanted to be a good brother, I wanted to be perfect but sometimes I'd snap in silence and rage, the ballerina on my sister's jewelry box on fire when she left the room, it must have been the mirrors conducting the heat from the sun; the glass on her boombox broken, it must have been defective; urine in one of her facial products, it was just rotten -- no one knew who did these things. This was when I wanted everything Lauren had that I couldn't: Body Shop cosmetics, Benetton sweaters, acne medication, cut-off jeans with fishnets, makeup, friends who talked about boys.

Later, Lauren and I switched -- this was puberty. She became the good one, better than me because she wanted my parents’ dreams. I wanted them to die, or just disappear and then I could learn to live without so much pain I didn't know anything else I did all my school work I mean I did more than all my school work I was always at school, sometimes later than my parents went to bed then I could breathe -- I did everything and I did more I was a success and this meant I didn't need them. They couldn't tell me what to do because I'd already done all of it, this meant I could get away, I mean I got away -- pitcher after pitcher of margaritas, bars were the best or even better clubs or warehouse parties where the music became my body into the floor when I wasn't flying yes the floor and laughing cocktails and pot, I always drank more than everyone else if someone couldn't finish, oh I'll take that. When drinking stopped working I needed to add something that said WARNING DO NOT TAKE WITH ALCOHOL, then everything became okay for a while.

The beach was the best place for Lauren and I, the best place for our relationship. I remember standing on the balcony above the cement leading to ocean, playing New Order Technique my own dance moves Lauren said what are you doing? I'm dancing, this is how people dance at clubs and then we were both dancing the sky, usually we couldn't see that I mean feel. Another year I was reading Sartre and thinking about freedom, we’d climb out the windows to drink together with other teenagers -- they thought I was cool because I wasn’t interested in controlling my sister, she could make out with guys I'd keep drinking. I'd never been cool to people like this before, guys who said are you gay? I mean guys who no one said that to. Laughing -- this was the key -- at the beach, you could fall in the sand and it didn't hurt.

Mattilda blogs at nobodypasses.blogspot.com. Her homepage recently moved to mattildabernsteinsycamore.com


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Ah, the wonders a dysfunctional family does to our writing, eh? Thanks for sharing this personal story; one could tell that you were agitated when writing this. I still have to wonder why the best and most interesting pieces of writing often come from individuals with a fringe perspective.

Thanks for posting this, Mattilda.

Lucrece, you're so right about the wonders of a dysfunctional family in the writing process :)

And Alex, thank you!

Love --
mattilda