Bedtime Story

entry_193Of my parents I remember precious little, and the memories I do hold are frustratingly elusive. The very act of reminiscing would seem to change my memories over time, and I find myself doubtful of details that I was once sure about. The trick, I’ve found, is to keep these memories far enough away to avoid tampering, but close enough to consciousness to keep from forgetting them completely. I take satisfaction in trusting that they’re there. That’s what I’ve told myself.

The cell I grew up in is but a memory now, but one that’s not likely to fade. For, while the details of my formative world are no longer what they once were, I can remember with great clarity how my cell’s stone walls would sweat on Spring nights. And on windy days, how the chill air would low as it wound its way down the wood plank steps of the cellar.

Were I asked why it was that I came to be locked away in a cell I would have to confess ignorance. Emotionally my adolescence was a tricky period for me, but not for the reasons one might suspect. I didn’t know any better, you see, and so had no context with which to understand my situation. No, the feelings I remember were limited to the most immediate aspect of my confinement: I missed my toys. Of course, now I reminisce and can make out only a small collection of colored objects, so how important could they have been at last? Still, the vision is iconic and tugs at me as I summon it.

My family’s new home–for we’d moved in only recently–was a spacious farm house in a secluded country dale. I was young, and not a particularly curious child, most often occupied by solitary play. A favorite pastime was to watch the dust motes dance in the sun coming through the porch window. I would lose myself in it.

I was quite young when my parents escorted me to the place I would come to know as my room. In truth I’d never been to this room before, but that wasn’t unusual in itself. I had no fear of the unknown, nor an interest in it, and my father took advantage of that on this day. The memory of my father sitting me on his lap has grown diaphanous, but though I’ve lost his words, I do recall a calmness to his voice. When he departed, and I was left alone, I simply waited to see what would happen next.
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entry_192It is Los Angeles, 1997, and before the gathered crowd I find my attention consumed by a single thought. In my mind the vision is clear: my hand reaching out and touching Steven Spielberg’s head. What troubles me most about the thought is that I’m currently standing just a few feet from the man himself. Clearly this is as close as I might hope to come to touching Spielberg’s head, which makes the temptation–as irrational as it may be–all the more seductive.

The alternative? The knowledge that I once had the opportunity to touch Steven Spielberg’s head, but didn’t. I work for a small technology company, and we’ve affiliated ourselves with Spielberg’s Starbright Foundation to demonstrate how our product can engage sick children as they participate in virtual communities. During the program’s commencement ceremony I find myself, along with the rest of my team, standing in an impromptu receiving line around the dais, and there is Spielberg working his way down the line.

The desire to touch Spielberg’s head is new. In fact, even now the thought is laced with lightning bolt warnings of conscience. “You mustn’t do it,” my mind tells me. “You mustn’t even think it!” Because the thought, I cannot deny, grows more delicious by the second. The very wrongness of it adds zest.

And yet how can something so wrong be so very easy to do? Shouldn’t verboten acts be extraordinarily difficult to accomplish? Otherwise, a simple change in the direction of the winds of impulse may be enough to turn a passing thought into a dark deed. Yet there he is, Spielberg, growing closer with each moment. Now I can see the pores in his nose, he is so close.

The crux of the problem is that people’s heads are restricted zones among strangers, such that even something as innocent as a touch would be viewed as a violation, and socially unredeemable. Meanwhile, here we are about to shake hands.

He’s now standing one person away, and I’m in a state of self-arrest, my enthusiasm momentarily bridled, yet wild still. Perhaps I can release some of the pent up energy by making a sudden confession to him right here. But even my telling him about this would probably not serve to establish any kind of healthy bond between us. “Hi, Steven. Um, I don’t want you to be alarmed, but I was just thinking about touching your head.” Then I would put my hands up in innocence to show him I meant no harm. “I won’t do it though, so don’t worry.”

Oh, there’s no way I could undo that. The time it would take to win his trust wouldn’t even be worth the effort, and he would quickly move on to the next line member, and I would be left forever branded: weirdo.

But I consider the thought anyway: What if I said that, and couldn’t retract it, and was forced to just power through? How would I manage that?

I imagine grabbing Spielberg in a bear hug, and his bodyguards tear toward me from across the stage. “Don’t do it,” I say. “Don’t do it!” And they pause, just long enough, their eyes darting over the dais to better gauge the most effective way to tear my arms from their sockets.

Spielberg, surprisingly docile, says, “You’re not going to do something silly?”

I laugh. “I know this seems rash, or crazy even.” Tactical error–I shouldn’t have used that word. It’s almost impossible to recover once you’ve uttered it, like shrieking, “I’ve got a bomb,” as you sprint through the airport. “Scratch that,” I say. “What I mean to say is that I see what you’re thinking. I mean–no, that sounds crazy too, and it’s not what I meant. I mean I know how this seems to you. So just know that I wouldn’t do this unless I had a plan. I know what I’m doing, and what I must do. I have it all worked out, and by the end of this you’ll realize that I’m harmless, and a friend, really.” I will bring us all the way back around to polite civility if I have to threaten everyone in the auditorium to do it.

Thus is my mind tormented, and I’m horrified by the thoughts I’ve conjured, the inescapable, unrelenting doom of the scenario. So why do I put myself through this? Because I am fascinated–absolutely obsessed–by the thin membrane between those brief moments in time that pass unnoticed and absolute mayhem. It doesn’t take much to go from one to the other, so why is it so difficult to bring order back from chaos? Because chaos is where it’s all headed, baby, that’s why. And, this in mind, it is clear that I should not be in charge of my actions, because that moment-to-moment choice to color within the lines is too great a responsibility.

By the time the director’s eyes finally flick up to mine in greeting–he’s a short guy it turns out–my face is a mask of trauma. Fortunately he takes this for stage fright, touches my arm as he shakes my hand, and leans in. “Don’t worry,” he says, “they’re all thinking of the children.”

I’m quite sure the audience is thinking about the children, but thanks only to the strength of my will.