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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Shark / Analysis

I have a short, extraordinary discovery (for me, I guess) I want to share right now. My brother has emailed me some old photos and a few of them I do not remember. One in particular has popped. Here it is, taken in 1977 at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. I was eight. I am the boy on the right, without the cap. Take a good look at my pose and my facial expression (you may be able to click on the image to make it bigger):

The timeliness of this image is stunning. If you have not read my earlier blog entry "Creativity" (click on it on the left side of this web page) please do so first.

As I have said, anything in this blog is something I write spontaneously, with a sudden urgency that I MUST write about it. I don't know why I felt the urge to write about "my favorite piece of art right now", which is the Damien Hirst "shark piece," but I did. (Seems quite odd. Why did I title it "Creativity"?)

The blogs after that, my Mexico memories, were extremely emotional days. I wrote about the two defining moments of my early life—until now unspoken and completely private—which ended my "innocence":

1) Witnessing the graphic shooting of a dog from a very close vantage point.
2) Learning of the death of my nanny, and—in so many words—misinterpreting an already miscalculated explanation where I came away with the impression her death was "my fault."

The more I go through my own thoughts, the more I meditate during my period of convalescence following the tumor removal on my own private memories, my own private feelings, my own private reasoning of things, stripping away what the outside world kept telling me I was "supposed to" be thinking and feeling, I am now sure of this: I can safely (and now openly on this blog) make the statement that my childhood ended when I was either 3, 4 or 5 years old, depending on when I heard the news about Eloy, my nanny.

From the moment I heard about Eloy I considered myself tainted, forever altered by that trauma. I never thought of myself as innocent at different ages growing up after that, and what I perceived at 10, 11, 12, 13 seems about the same to me as what I perceived at 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. Ages 4-13 feels, in essence, like one long awkward year in the life of an adult.

Take a look at the picture again. If you can, zoom in on my whole body, my pose, my face, and compare that to what I am posing next to, an enormous shark. Stepping outside myself, I can tell you this is an eight-year-old boy who, about five years ago, wanted to help a dog struggling out of a ditch but a "policeman" (an authority figure who "protects" people from being "hurt") stepped in and shot the dog instead, right in front of this 2-year old. This 8-year-old in the photo thinks of this image all the time, every day, doesn't "know" what it is and never asks anyone—("I wanted to help that dog, but the 'people who protect me' did the unthinkable"). Also, this 8-year-old feels he is the reason behind his beloved nanny's death about four years before this photo, and he thinks of that "event" all the time too, every day, but never tells anyone—("I made her want to make someone like me because she loved me, and therefore because of me she is dead.")

Graphically violent trauma caused by a presupposed "protector" (policeman). Immeasurable guilt caused by a miscalculated explanation by a "nurturer" (which I now remember was two separate explanations by both my mother and my paternal grandmother).

Violent trauma where this boy thought he would be protected. Unthinkable guilt where this boy thought he would be nurtured.

Trauma. Guilt. Right at this boy's most vulnerable moments.

This 8-year-old boy has known for a while he needs to fend for himself. This is a picture of a little adult, pretending to be a child in order to blend in with the world around him.

Though a little silly, take a close look again. My brother is just standing there, but I am leaning against the comically oversized shark, taking full credit for the kill. Left hand confidently on my hips, right hand doing an "aw, shucks" way of patting myself on my back. My face is smiling, confident, triumphant, but I also see a hint of something else (and only because I know myself so well). I am indeed beaming with pride, but there is also the awareness that my photo is being taken and that it is critical I get this photo just right. It looks to me that perhaps I had been holding that smile—holding, holding, holding, c'mon Dad!—determined to hold it just like that as my father snapped the photo. I saw the shark, probably ran up to it ("Dad! Take my picture here please, PLEASE!") My brother is less certain, but there is no mistaking that I wanted to be IN THAT PICTURE, to show the world, and that I was already plotting how to get it as the official family photo for our Christmas card. (I failed.)

The one quick thing I want to add is this:

THE DOG. The "holy terror" which apparently I was at 2 or 3 in Mexico—the boy prone to extremely violent temper-tantrums (that I have no memory of myself)—is possibly me "play-acting" a reaction to seeing the rabid dog running around violently. I don't remember SEEING the dog doing this, but my father confirms I was THERE. So I don't recall the temper-tantrums and I don't recall the dog going beserk. Both are true yet I have no memory of either.

But I clearly remember the SHOOTING of the dog (standing next to it as the dog took bullets, came back, took more bullets, came back again using only front legs, and took more bullets). That is crystal clear. So . . . perhaps . . . I became "the dog" on these violent temper-tantrums, trying to make myself into the dog, trying to bring him back to life since I felt guilty that I could not stop the dog from being shot when he wanted ME—and no one else around me—to help.

How am I doing, Dr. Freud?


  1. Could your temper-tantrums perhaps have preceded the shooting incident? Perhaps you surmised that the dog's fate awaited little boys who also ran around violently and, therefore, surpressed both the behavior as well as any memories of that behavior.

  2. That's an interesting thought, and I really wish I could put an exact date on the dog shooting, and compare that to when my temper-tantrums began and ended. Still, it nags me that I have so many memories of Mexico but not one memory of throwing fits. I never even felt frustrated, unhappy, angry, not once. I will continue to think on this, and if any family want to add comments on what my "holy terror" period was like, please let me know (either here or by private message). Ale