I have memories of horses even though I grew up in Elmont, on Hunnewell Avenue, in a Cape Cod with a carport on a fifty-by-a-hundred sandlot. In a row of identical homes, with the odd Ranch thrown in, like a blackened tooth in a dead man's mouth. Lots of normal bad shite went down in that house, fights and screams, worries and recriminations, cigarettes and booze, loud music and humid nights of sentimental, ineffectual sex. My father smacking his mother-in-law so hard she was lifted out of her chair and tossed sideways onto an end table scattering the candy jar, doily, and reading lamp over the living room floor. She cursed him in German as he stood there, grinding his jaw, biting his lip. Großmutter, grandma, gross mother. Upended, I stared at her long underpants and her orthopedic stockings, and the white flabby flesh between the two. Her fiery red cheek and bloody lip. The witch.
Everything was normal. No irony intended. Family fights are the most murderous. I dreamed of killing him, my father, with a pillow, with a gun, with an axe. And afterwards, I was overwhelmed with guilt. I punched my hand through the glass pane in the back door and sliced my left ring finger in half. I am telling you, this was effin normal. You too have stories just like it. One day I ran out and across the street to get in line at the Mister Softee truck. I wanted a vanilla cone with sprinkles. I didn't see the car coming down the street from the other direction. Brakes squealed, someone screamed, I panicked and froze on the spot. Merciful fate: the big car stopped just inches from where I stood. It was a lady driver. Her face was white. You could smell the burning brakes. My father came running out of the house, ran and grabbed me, picked me up and hugged me to his chest. "You could've been killed." He nodded to the shook-up lady driver and carried me back to our property. He put me down in our driveway. Then he beat me.
This was only one incident in a lifetime of growing up. He was scared, I was scared. He didn't know what the hell to do except be violent. It was unpremeditated and it never happened again. Just like I never ran across the street again. Much later, he told me stories about how his mother had bragged to the neighbors how she would tie a string around his thumb to keep him close by. He's such a good boy, all it takes is a single string. His mother died when I was ten. Mostly I remember her little hands, terribly deformed by arthritis, the fingers bent backward at the second joint. She was only comfortable in the kitchen and in the sickbed, in her floral smock and yellow housecoat. Her hair in a net, her false teeth too painful to keep in for long. I guess that's why she never smiled.
When I was five, she got me a rocking horse for Christmas. A palomino with a golden mane hanging in a slider frame on heavy springs. I called it Jock. I could ride for an hour and go nowhere. Having fun, laughing. My father and mother laughing along, taking pictures. Tinsel. The evergreen smell. And Stubby barking like crazy as Jock and I galloped back and forth. A normal household. In my teens I would ride a real horse out in Wading River, on a trail above the Sound, looking for those red rocks the Indians used to make war paint. Coming across the odd shark's tooth in the sand. Watching out for low branches in the piney woods. Walking, not galloping. On a big bay gelding used to nervous boys.
Tell me, poot, isn't it perfectly normal to sit here and remember how happy I was in those days? The poet asks, "the past, when will it end?" I don't think it ever does. I grew up two-and-a-half miles from Belmont Park, the fabled track where the one-and-a-half mile stakes are held each June. You could call in sick and watch the horses train in the morning, or cut class after lunch and place two dollar bets on the late races. Tommy was the only one of us who looked old enough to fool the guy at the window. He'd collect our cash and play our picks. We never made any money, but we never got caught either. Hah -- pretty much the story of my life.