Thomas Wictor

Have we turned a corner?

Have we turned a corner?

My father was a complex man. He had an astonishing intellect, a streak of brutality, great artistic skill, indestructible narcissism, bursts of amazing compassion, the total inability to admit when he was wrong, an urge to do the right thing, an adamant refusal to do the right thing, and secrets buried so deeply inside that he himself may not have been aware of them. Since he died all hell has broken loose in our houses. But have we turned a corner?

Most people don’t believe in what they call the paranormal. I’ve seen and experienced enough that I no longer use the term paranormal. It’s all part of reality. Since Dad died, Tim and I have been subjected to some pretty amazing things. Poltergeist activity, I guess you’d call it. We’ve heard his voice, nocturnal typing, and—most disconcertingly—massive crashes with no source.

This is what it’s been like.

Once there was loud tapping inside my wall. It sounded like someone rapping on the other side of the drywall with their knuckles, but when I put my palm on it, I felt no impacts. Things have also flown across the room or fallen over, and we’ve seen both white sheet-shapes and black bat-shapes passing in front of the lights. And the floors in both my house and Tim’s have been pushed up from underneath, the way the door bulges in that clip from The Haunting.

Tim and I aren’t afraid. It’s more annoying than anything else, like a bratty kid having tantrums and showing off.

We don’t think it’s Dad per se, but the part of him that made such bad choices. Where that part came from, who’s to say? At any rate the disturbances are tapering off. Did someone intercede? A few days ago, we found what I take to be indisputable evidence that my mother—and maybe some reinforcements—paid us a visit. Tim put it very well.

“Maybe someone picked up on distress pings we were sending out.”

Whether you believe any of this or not, Dad frightened me my entire life. He was an imposing, uncompromising figure. This photo of him captures his essence.

By the time I was in college, I was no longer physically afraid of him, but his inscrutability and unpredictability unnerved me. He could turn on you without warning. Simply asking him how he was could cause an argument.

He was unknowable, which is what he wanted. Yet he also raised a family and tried in some ways to be a good father. Last night I found some photos I’ve never seen before. Dad took them in Caripito, Venezuela, in 1964.

Here I am eating cake on my second birthday, August 6, 1964. Paul is in the foreground, agog at that big cake.

It’s hard to tell in the photo, but it had strawberry frosting. I remember this birthday perfectly.

Here I am with Paul and Tim.

Genetics are weird, aren’t they? A blond German, a Mexican, and a redheaded Irishman, all from the same mother and father. Soon after this photo was taken, Tim and Paul painted me dark green. With enamel house paint. Mom and Dad hired some Venezuelans paint the trim, the porch, and a picnic table, and they’d left the lids off the cans of paint as they took their long lunch.

So Tim and Paul used their hands to paint me green. They avoided my eyes and my diaper, but all the rest of me—including my hair—was this color.

I remember that too. The paint felt really good. It was warm from the sun and slippery. When it started to dry, it was like I had a second skin, which was also fun. Touching my arms was really weird. I imagined that I’d become a plastic army man.

When Mom and our Venezuelan maid Delia found us, they panicked. Mom called Dad, and he came home and told her to use baby oil and hand soap. I was oiled and washed several times until I was clean. Nobody got spanked or even yelled at, as I recall. The painters were fired, though, and Delia screamed them off our property.

Here are Tim, Paul, and me in a sandbox Dad built.

We always had sandboxes. It’s strange how fun they are. And we were happy with sticks and cups. From the beginning Paul liked to wear work gloves. He later became a mechanical engineer.

Mom and Dad already knew what my future held.

It was just a joke, for God’s sake! Lighten up. I remember that Halloween costume. The paper ruff was fascinating and strange. I think Mom made the costume herself. She had this nightmarish electric sewing machine that would go, “dug, dug, dug, dug-dug-dug-dug-dug, dugdugdugdugdugDUGDUGDUGDUGDUG!” It sped up until it sounded as if it were going to leap off the little table and chase me.

Mom looking very hip and un-mommy-ish.

Though she was a clothes horse, I didn’t inherit her fashion sense. For years I wore the ugliest outfits anybody had ever seen. I was always asked why I wore such horrible shirts. The answer is that I utterly lack a clothing aesthetic. Think of it as a birth defect, like my three kidneys. I’ve worn only T-shirts and shorts for twenty-one years. However, even those weren’t safe. People used to tell me every day that my shorts were hideously ugly. Now I buy shorts that are one solid color, and I wear mostly black T-shirts.

Since my lack of sartorial sense makes people laugh at me anyway, I’m thinking of switching to terrycloth playsuits, like Sean Connery wore in Goldfinger. If you can’t hide it, paint it red. Or dark green.

One thing I did inherit from my father was a love of sunsets.

I didn’t know until last night. That’s one secret revealed.

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