Shogun

It was just another Friday night in Lincoln Park for me in 1984. Around ten o'clock at night. I didn’t have a curfew.

I stood outside the front door, inside the vestibule, of our grey stone building’s duplex down apartment and began to smell that smell – a familiar smell, unsuccessfully buried beneath burning Patchouli incense and a few Winston cigarettes…Marijuana. Oh no.

I heard the familiar voices of John, Paul, George and Ringo and some deceptive giggles.

It was flashback time. And I would be walking into the thick of it.

I told myself I would walk as fast as I could to my back bedroom and close the door. I wouldn’t look up or make eye contact because that was asking for trouble. Just like they tell you not to make eye contact with a beggar or a gypsy, I wouldn’t make eye contact with my mother. She was drunk and stoned and the last thing I wanted to have was any kind of a conversation - a no-win conversation. A no-win conversation where merely the inflection of my twelve year old voice would be found guilty of some type of disloyalty and subject to a significant verbal smack down. I would hold my pee in until my mother fell asleep downstairs, I told myself, as I couldn’t risk walking into the bathroom as it would only give my mother a few minutes of creative time to acknowledge that I was home and to find something completely devastating to say to me. She was more vulnerable when I caught her off-guard like this, and was forced to be spontaneous. Let’s just make my heart murmur, more, I thought.

Please let Johnny Carson be on, please let Johnny Carson be on was all I kept telling myself over and over again. I had to take my shoes off at the door, and I just hoped my laces weren’t double tied.

I kept replaying the number sequence of eight-eight-seven over and over and started to use sign language with my hands. I had learned sign language at St. Clements in the sixth grade and it was the perfect addition to my OCD repertory. I would sign (with my right hand) all of my angry and painful thoughts such as “I hate you,” “Please go away,” and, most commonly “Please leave me alone.” The only relief from signing with my right hand was sleep, and I almost always fell asleep to the television in my room or my record player. As many buffers as possible keeping me deep within the cocoon I called my bedroom, the better.

Luckily enough I entered the house to dancing and I glanced a nearly empty bottle of Bolla red wine on the glass dining room table. I had perfected the art of looking straight ahead with my right eye, while leering lightly and undetectably with my left one. She was entertaining, I thought, relieved, and quickly ripped my Tretorns off and ran into the bathroom. I would gamble tonight, I thought. The music was so loud that I couldn’t even hear myself peeing. I stood up, washed my hands quickly and speed walked into my rear bedroom (running would have been noticed immediately.)

I closed my thin, pine wood door to my bedroom - the floor was freezing even in my socks - and I quickly took my clothes off and jumped into my bed. The room had two windows and sliding glass doors which made the room the coldest in the house. I started rubbing my hands over my skin under the covers of my blanket to warm up as I turned on Johnny Carson and disappeared into his monologue. I intermittently made a fist with my right hand as I tried desperately not to use sign language with my right hand, but instead kept signing my number sequence over and over again – eight eight seven – until half way through Johnny’s talk with Ed McMahon I fell asleep.

It wasn’t much later that I heard my door being opened.

Please go away,” “Please leave me alone,” I began to sign as I awoke.

I heard hiccups and my mother sat at the edge of my bed with a plastic cup filled with beer. Her eyes were red and glazed over. I knew it, even though I kept my own eyes closed in the dark. She was waiting for me to react and I couldn’t react, or I would be up all night being yelled at and hearing doors and cabinets slam…

Eight-eight-seven I continued to sign with my cramped and cold right hand.

“Your friends will always leave you for a man” she began, hiccupping.

Eight-eight-seven.

“Without a man, you have no one.” She continued.

Eight-eight-seven.

“Don’t ever fall in love” she finished.

Eight-eight-seven

Please go away,” “Please leave me alone” I signed again, hoping it would work this time.

“You hate me, don’t you?” my mother asked, “You hate me” she said again, almost laughing.

I didn’t say a word back to her. I wanted her to think I was in such a deep sleep that I didn’t hear her. I wanted to be a professional actor and I was putting all of those acting lessons to good use.

If she thought I was awake, she might go on like this for at least an hour. Maybe even sleep at the edge of my bed in her expensive pink silk kimono. The one she wore to an upper crusty Halloween party a few years back when my father and her went as the couple from James Clavell's "Shogun." They were big fans of the book, and the Shogun mini-series, of course. My mother even wore a black wig and slippers to the party and had pancake white makeup on that night. My father wore a black kimono, and a black wig - also slippers – and a sword. They had the best costume at a party where they stood in a room full of advertising executives who created images for a living. And my parents trumped them all.

I don’t hate you” I signed with my right hand, under the covers.

There must have been something magical in that last sign, because my mother gave up on waking me up which would allow some human being, any human being, to witness her suffering. The only human being she could ever find, it felt like back then, was me, her daughter. How much longer would this go on? I kept asking the universe. She wasn’t even forty yet, and still beautiful, I thought - the envy of our little Lincoln Park liberal enclave. Only her music was old.

She closed the light wood door behind her. I sat up a little under the covers .If it wasn’t for the dark, I could see my breath in that room, it was that cold.

I hate men” I signed with my right hand, slowly.

I hate men,” “I will never love a man.” I signed again, debating whether or not to turn Carson back on without the sound this time.

And I hate hippies.”

And then I made a fist.