The look on my face in the photo above is virtually a dead ringer to one in a photo from when I was fourteen sitting on the top deck of a boat cruising down the Hudson River on the cool evening of October 6th, 1994.
The man taking the photograph was my father (whom I shall dub “Clyde Krebbs”). Below our feet were members of the … well, let’s call them the Hellman and McDermott families for sake of privacy.
It was a night I do not have fond memories of. In fact, they pain me as much emotionally as the foot wound suffered by Lieutenant John Dunbar in Dances with Wolves did him physically; and writing about it for me is as difficult as his pulling a boot on over his wound. Nevertheless, here is the story:
We were in the Empire State for a wedding at West Point; the boat cruise was a party held after the wedding rehearsal, though my family did not take part in that. Instead, we had drove south to Nanuet, New Jersey to get the present mom and Clyde were giving the bride and groom. Soon after we’d hit the road out of the Newburgh, New York, Holiday Inn, Clyde started a fight between him and mom which sizzled and burnt until it sputtered out by the time we’d gotten back to the Holiday Inn we were camped out at, but not before mom swore she was divorcing Clyde, much to the joy of my younger brother and my own shell-shocked astonishment.
But the night’s toll on our souls was not over yet. Hell no. In fact, Clyde was just getting warmed up.
After a feeble attempt at playing the good father when a young couple at the Holiday Inn made light of my wearing shorts on a chilly evening (“Just ignore them,” he said in a wan, almost detached tone that did not make me feel better) he started another fight by exclaiming “Which way do I go?” as he we drove to West Point for the post-rehearsal cruise. Mom let him have it with both barrels because both of the white arrows showed you could get to West Point. Even an idiot, you think, would have gotten that. But he did it out of retaliation over mom’s divorce decree, the swine. “Me, me, always about me,” was the motto of that bully, and God forbid if anyone else in the family had a say in things.
By the time we got on the boat, however, the fighting had ceased, and not even my grandma quietly observing to mom before we boarded that she and Clyde had been arguing brought the truth to the surface. And the matter was moot by the time the lines were cast off and the boat headed south along the majestic Hudson River with the party atmosphere revving up until it was in full swing by the time we reached our turnaround point beneath the majestic Bear Mountain bridge; in fact, it was about this time things turned uproarious below decks with a jolly “Welcome to the family” ceremony for the groom consisting of a stunt right out of a screwball comedy: a pie with whipped cream right in the kisser.
But I wasn’t there, In fact, I was only below decks once where I snatched a piece of cheese and ham (or maybe two; my memory is dim) before promptly fleeing back up top. Being a highly sensitive person, I was in no mood to party after all the vile crap Clyde had been pulling all day, and, truth be told, the news passed furtively from word-to-mouth amongst the younger people aboard about the pie-in-the-face ceremony did not help my mood either.
I realized with alarm that the resultant roars of laughter and other rowdy noises made by the packed humanity below would only drive me bonkers, not warm my heart, thanks to a genetic quirk of super-sharp hearing that, when flooded with loud noises of any type, causes sensory overload to take place. So up on the top deck I huddled with fingers jamming earplugs deep into my ears to drown out the noise from below as the madcap ceremony took place.
I wish I could paint the sounds of joy I heard with a more vivid pen in this memoir experiment, but the memory pains me so bad I cannot see past it because I was up there suffering while all those jokers below were having a good time, damn them! Sure, sure, they are innocent because they did not know, but my resentment remains like an embedded bullet.
Back to that photograph Clyde took of me. He did it right before the pie ceremony. Even the shell-shocked look on my face did not faze him, however. He was just fine from the moment he got out of our Suburban, the skilled (but hopeless) liar that he was. Not even my shell-shocked behavior concerned him, the SOB. What if I embarrassed myself in front of the whole family by suddenly (but justifiably) flipping out in front of one and all over some harmless remark made by somebody who didn’t know me (or did know me, for that matter), or, worse, attacking him in front of one and all? I already was a massive lad even at fourteen, standing 6’4 inches tall in my bare feet with a natural brawn to match. I easily could have kicked him in the ass or nuts but good.
I swear there are times I wish I had done just that in retaliation for Clyde causing my misery on the Hudson.