It Was Mother

It Was Past

It Was Past
Wayras Olivier

P AST A CERTAIN AGE, I was no longer allowed to ask my parents what a word meant. Instead, I was directed to look up its definition in the dictionary. I can’t recall the precise age that this occurred—I was old enough no longer to find value in children’s programs, but too young to find value in current affairs. It was around this age that I first saw a black and white film about likening the human being to property, David Lynch’s The Elephant Man. At the time, not knowing what I didn’t know, it was, perhaps for the better, the first story to introduce me to the evils of the master/slave dynamic without any mention of race as cause.

In the film, Proteus syndrome sufferer, Joseph Merrick, has but one economic value to his slave owner in nineteenth century England, that of side show freak. Merrick is manumitted from this demoralizing arrangement by one Dr. Frederick Treves and purposed for study by the sciences. In an especially vivid scene, Merrick, no longer owned by a puppet-master, sobs, “I’m not an animal, I’m a human being!” His making contact with dignity, a birthright, was especially moving.

After this age, came another, in which, to me, certain adult TV shows came across as slightly callow. For example, undeterred by God watching his every move, the bathetic Jimmy Swaggart entered a prostitute. The evangelist knew never again would he be able to exit without being “seen.” So, on TV he immediately went, sobbing on cue, to exchange shame for forgiveness, pulling each naïve string on adult shows as children often do.

However, guileless, in contrast, were children’s shows about political animals: for instance, Ms. Piggy, who, unaware of nature’s bias for segregated crossbreeding, remained—with her choice of mate—unapologetically racy. Kermit, I was particularly unsettled by him, who, acceded to the mating ritual of being upstaged by the very female who was getting him off. Much later, when I turned teen I examined why the frog was never able to look his bully in the eye and make the leap. The reason was in season, which made it that more hot and cold. It was called sexual tension.

Around this time, in current affairs, out broke a “he said, she said” between two black folks: Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, who I gleaned was his employee. It was about sex, and there was tension. She claimed that the former considered her an object. I myself inaccurately used two words interchangeably, confusing harasser with pervert, when describing the accused. Indeed, the same thing the two words are not, nor was Thomas convicted of being either. Years later, Mr. Bill Clinton was exposed for being both. Here, however, was the most contemptible thing: he screwed his Rubenesque intern—Ms. Lewinsky—by claiming it was she who did the importuning. His hope was that the public would grill her, not him, for being the well-heeled pig.

Also, the most powerful man in the world was separated by twenty-seven years in age from his intern. To say nothing about Aphrodisia and the especially twisted mindset that it braids between—“Daddy” and ingénue. I was made aware of this complex years earlier, when, of age in 1993 I saw a brilliant film on VHS about the unscrupulous and poorly mannered, Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas. Absent was the said age gap but it was based on a true story and did include a scene about sexual misconduct followed by a scene about the pornography of street justice. Its beauty is straight but a kink makes it difficult to get out of one’s hair.

The scene: Karen, a doll from Long Island, is mistaken for a blow-up and mishandled in her friend’s car. Instead of going to the police, punctured and humiliated, she breaks news of her assault to her boyfriend, who seeks retribution with a gun. In effect, playing the role of courtroom judge on her harasser—foregoing gavel pounding for repeated face pounding. Karen is triggered by her boyfriend’s brutal ruling and for the audience she opens her mouth, “I know there are women, like my best friends, who would have gotten out of there the minute their boyfriend gave them a gun to hide. But I didn’t. I got to admit the truth—it turned me on.”

Another film by Scorsese is The Age of Innocence, which I later saw. About a lady and a gentleman who know, that in nineteenth century New York, sex itself is something that has to be worked out. Not necessarily because of this film, but soon after exorcising it, I looked up “dictionary” in the dictionary. A not so obvious study: one’s own definition can be nothing other than self-made, an obvious study: the things between people that should and shouldn’t take shape.