The arrival of the man intended
May 5, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
Mom always told me that I was the happiest baby and toddler she’d ever seen. To be frank, I have no memory of being happy. Today, however, I announce the arrival of the man intended. He showed up after fifty-one years. You might find it hard to accept why I’m now truly, permanently happy; the reason is the book I’m writing.
First, some background.
My earliest extended memory is walking through the jungle with my father. He carried a red gas can that we still have.
We came to a stream, and he told me we had to cross it. There were clumps of algae that looked like turds. I didn’t want to go into that filthy water, but Dad’s orders had to be followed, regardless. So I tiptoed across the stream, the warm water covering my feet up to my ankles and soaking my shoes. At a tin shack, Dad bought some gasoline from an Indian wearing a white wifebeater. Then we went back to the car and poured in the gas.
Dad had a quirk: He always insisted that when a car’s gas gauge read “Empty,” there were several gallons left. As a result we ran out of gas more than any family in the history of the human race. I hated cars because they were unreliable. They could conk out at any time, forcing me to walk through sewage in the jungle.
So I don’t remember being happy. Here’s how I remember feeling, all the time.
That’s me in the fifth grade at Rice Elementary School, Tyler, Texas, in 1973. I was eleven and flunking. During that period I had high blood pressure and millions of nervous tics. Dad would sometimes shout at me, “STOP BLINKING!” Or “STOP SNIFFING!” Or “STOP FIDGETING!” His was the psychology of Cut It Out, one of his favorite phrases.
I wasn’t a happy adult either, except from 1989 to 1992. Here’s an unusual image: I took this in the middle of an automotive suicide attempt, on November 28, 2000.
Neither hand was on the steering wheel as I held my camera at arm’s length. The photo shows me during my drive from New England to Los Angeles. I did it in three days, stopping only for gas. As far as I remember, I ate fast-food burgers twice. At night I’d take both hands off the wheel, close my eyes, and count to ten. It’s a testament to the Chevy Blazer’s workmanship that I never veered to either side during those moments of thanatoid histrionics.
My pity was for both myself and the young woman I’d just left. Her hideous life and her rejection of me caused such pain that I craved oblivion. I figured that if I died in a car accident, nobody would know that I’d deliberately bought the farm.
Pathetic. I shot thirty-eight mopey self-portraits like the one above. The cops would immediately go, “Yup. Killed himself over a girl.” Also, the second I arrived home, Tim ripped me a new you-know-what for pulling such an idiotic stunt.
“Don’t you ever do anything like that again!” he snarled. “Do you hear me?”
Though I was never tempted to do anything like that again, I still wasn’t happy until October 7, 2011, when I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease. All my rage fell away almost overnight. I wrote Ghosts and Ballyhoo, and I knew—knew—that it was going to be a success.
Well, what happened was that the publisher’s marketing director didn’t lift a finger because she was angry at me for daring to question her nonexistent expertise, my parents fell ill, and I hooked up with the fake book publicists Mike Albee, Lura Dold, and Becca Pilkington. Since books can be publicized for only a year, Ghosts died of neglect. Actually, the way it works is that reviewers want copies before the book is published. Why?
To this day, people commenting on Websites still write, “First!” as the first comment. Reviewers are the same. You have to grovel in multiple ways before they agree to sprinkle their fairy dust on your titanically unimportant effort. When you make it big, you then turn around and make them grovel. It’s not dysfunctional in the slightest.
Ghosts and Ballyhoo was supposed to be a success, but incompetent poseurs, chance, and awful choices on my part made it a failure. My happiness took a terrible beating in 2013. In fact I came within a month of being institutionalized. I’ll miss the doctor who saved me. He’s being forced into retirement. Neither his well-being nor mine are considerations under the new health-care law.
While chance and new laws will remain risks, I’m going to be much more careful with the novel I’m currently writing. For example, I won’t publish it until after I’ve hired a publicist, so then we can send out the book to reviewers and let them all write, “First!”
The subject matter of my novel is very intense. A lot of people will think it’s depressing. The reason I’m happy and excited to write this completely fictitious story is that everything now makes sense. All questions have been answered. I found a secret doorway, opened it, and learned the meaning of (my) life. For pretend, of course.
This is my real family, Christmas of 1980.
On the hideous sofa are Paul, me, and Pat. My mother, Tim, Carrie, and Nuisance sit on the floor. Eric was in the Netherlands with his mother. The hideous sofa was a replacement sent by Texans with no taste, after our furniture rotted for two years in a flooded warehouse.
The novel I’m writing is not about my family. As evidence of this assertion, there are only two offspring—not six—in the story. Everything will be made up.
Lies, all lies!
But I’m really, really gratified that I’ve begun this book. I can proudly say that nobody’s done anything quite like it. If I’m smart and lucky, it’ll put me on the literary map. And son of a gun, yesterday I found photos of me when I was ten months and then sixteen months old. Mom was right: I was a happy baby.
Dad took these pictures.
Not a trace of the dread and sorrow I remember from my childhood.
The baby has finally become the man he should’ve been. And that’s good.
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