The Crucifixion

By Irene Zion

Memoir

It happened when
she was five.
She went to a convent school
in Italy.  
Her teachers were nuns,
shrouded in black habits
with white wimples.

It must have been a holiday. 
Her brother was home 
from school in Switzerland. 
He was eight and a half. 
Her father was home too
and that was rare.

Her mother was there,
but she didn’t see her very much.
The little girl ate meals inside
and went to school,
but otherwise, she stayed in the yard
outside with her dog.
She was not allowed inside
during the day;

her mother was cleaning.

She was asleep when the

screaming awakened her.

Her daddy was yelling and
her brother was howling.
She opened her bedroom door
and crawled out to see
what was happening.
She had learned to keep down low
and be quiet
so she wouldn’t be noticed.

Her father was beating her brother.
Her brother was mewling
and trying to get away,
but he couldn’t.
Her daddy was extra strong
when he was angry.

She saw the figure of a cross
leaning against the wall
in the dark shadows.

Her daddy was going to crucify
her brother on the landing
of the staircase between
the ground floor and the next.

It only surprised her a little.
She expected such things.

She crawled back to her room
and slipped into bed. 
She never thought of going for help.
What happened, just happened.
There was nothing anyone could do
to change things. 
All things were predetermined,
inevitable.

She covered her head
with the sheet and the blanket
and she sang songs to herself
to muffle her brother’s screams
until she went to sleep.

She woke up in the morning
and remembered with a
jolt
that her brother was dead.

She went downstairs and saw
when she passed the landing
that the cross had been removed,
all evidence cleaned up.

She was an only child now.

She walked into the kitchen and saw
her dead brother sitting at the table.

She stared at him.
Her brother did not look at her,
nor did he speak to her.
He simply sat at the table.

He was a holy ghost.

She touched him,
and she could feel him
with the tips of her fingers.
She was surprised that
she could feel a holy ghost.

Sitting down at the table,
she studied her brother.

If he were a holy ghost,
that was one thing,
but
if he had come back from the dead,
that was
momentous.

Now she was thrilled.

She waited to discover
which it would turn out to be.

TAGS: , , , , , , , ,

IRENE ZION has been married to the same curmudgeon for 40 years. She has 5 children, none of whom sufficiently appreciates her. The one you probably know is Lenore, who frequently gives her mother hives. Irene paints oil portraits and makes her own frames. She has been described as an outsider artist. Most of her paintings creep people out, especially her family. She finds this to be greatly satisfying. She writes non-fiction for TNB and loves every minute of it. She is writing fiction now too, but is too chicken to show it to anyone. She has two golden retrievers who will inherit anything of worth she leaves behind. Her kids will delight in dividing up her famous cork collection and her notorious stockpile of bubble wrap.

148 responses to “The Crucifixion”

  1. Melissa (Irene's friend) says:

    I am so sorry for baby Irene. What an awful thing to witness.

    Hugs
    Melissa

  2. ksw says:

    a change
    in style
    by the author
    sometimes
    makes it hard
    to know
    what’s up

    • Irene Zion says:

      ksw,

      I think perhaps one has to know more about Catholicism to make sense of this.

      • Christine Walling says:

        Ah, good old Catholic guilt!

        • Irene Zion says:

          Christine,

          Oh, I didn’t have any guilt yet,
          these were just the glasses
          through which I saw everything
          at the time.

          (I have plenty of guilt now, though,
          meandering, sneaky guilt,
          hiding behind every cranny
          humming nasty tunes in the dark.)

          (Best not get me started on guilt.)

        • Melissa (Irene's friend) says:

          I thought you had to be Jewish to have guilt.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Oh Grasshopper,
          You have so much to learn!

      • Irene Zion says:

        ksw,

        Now I understand.

        You were writing as I wrote.
        You know plenty about everything,
        how silly of me to be fooled!
        I’m putting on my dunce cap right now
        and putting my chair in the corner.

  3. Uche Ogbuji says:

    The subject matter is dark and heartbreaking, yet the telling is stark, true and gripping. You’ve posted some real jewels, Irene, but for me, this tops them all.

  4. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    Fantastic, Irene. Horrific matter to the too-knowing child in me yet hilarious perspective to the childlike adult. It’s incredible the way children process things, such black-and-white decisions based on evidence that’s pure speculation. Dad always speaks the truth so, when he says brother is to be crucified, he will be. Such a fate ends in death so, therefore, brother is dead. Seeing brother the next morning can only mean he is post-death. Makes perfect sense.

    Was there actually a cross as prop or was it lightplay combined with the verbal expression from your father? My mother still refers to harsh treatment/punishment as “crucifying” so I’m curious.

    And, of course, I am sorry you went through such stuff but… things are what they are, aren’t they? We should, I don’t know, compare notes via email some day ;).

  5. George says:

    You took that very well. You thought your father killed your brother and then he rose from the dead.

  6. Irene Zion says:

    Exactly.
    Smart man, George!

  7. Richard Cox says:

    It’s so easy to forget what it’s like to look through the eyes of a child. I guess for small children the world is simple and yet full of meaning everywhere as their new minds are gobbling up information, forming themselves.

    I mean, it’s one thing to lie in bed at night and imagine you see monsters everywhere in the dark. It’s something quite different to imagine a cross in shadows, and because of your binary world of convent school and your father’s violence, to so confidently and gravely deduce your brother is going to be crucified.

    That makes me sad.

    The world outside can be a scary place for a child. The home ought to be a sanctuary of safety and peace.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Richard,

      I certainly ought to be, and usually it is.
      I work with my dogs at a place that services the needs of sexually-abused children.
      Sometimes, the home is a horrible place.

  8. A truly powerful piece, Irene, that does an amazing job of combining horror and wonder. Even if I wasn’t a sucker these days for anything told from a child’s perspective, I’d still say this is excellent writing.

  9. Lorna says:

    What saddens me about this is the absence of the Mother’s protection of her children. My reasoning leads me to suspect the Mother also suffered some type of abuse from either the husband or was raised in an abusive family and therefore taught her children what she was taught – this is just the way it is, deal with it. And the way that children deal with these types of things is to go deep within their imaginations for escape.

    • Irene Zion says:

      You are very insightful, Lorna.
      You really are.
      I have written some about my mother, but as yet, nothing about the reasons behind her bizarre behavior.
      She is such a force, even dead as she is, in my life.
      I can only write a piece at a time and I’m wrung out so dry I’m like a dishrag in the sun.
      Going deep inside my head was exactly my mode of escape.

      • Lorna says:

        Irene,

        I am only insightful in my adulthood after beginning to work through some abandonment issues of my own. There are a few instances in my life where I look back as a grown woman and want to rescue the little girl from her circumstances. For me, it wasn’t until I had children of my own that I began to struggle with the events that I felt I should have been protected from. It becomes difficult to feel compassion for the person who failed to protect you.

        This was vulnerable, but it is only through brave pieces like this that we can begin to heal.

        And lucky for us you brought that childhood imagination into your adulthood for all of us to enjoy.

        Hugs,
        Lorna

        • Irene Zion says:

          It’s funny, Lorna, when I was a child
          I thought I lived a normal life.
          I didn’t know mine was different.

          It was the same for me,
          when I had kids, I became a bear,
          and I didn’t even know why for a long time.
          Kids change you.

          My imagination is what kept me going
          in my childhood.
          I wasn’t about to lose my lifeline.

          This piece is brave only insofar as I was
          shaking
          when I clicked on “Post.”

          I, myself, am far from brave.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          @Lorna: I don’t want in any way to co-opt Irene’s space here but I know exactly what you mean about “it wasn’t until I had children of my own that I began to struggle with the events that I felt I should have been protected from.” I’ve been going through quite a bit of that myself of late. You don’t *have* to feel compassion for those who fail you. You don’t. Period. But, when you are able, spare a few cycles to contemplate what they went through to make them that way. Some folks truly are born pure mean. Others… catch it like a virus. It doesn’t change your experiences and they still need to be held accountable… but it’s tempered some of my pain and anger. Made it easier to ask forgiveness for my own crimes, too, but I’ve blathered enough about all that already.

          Purely subjective, just offered in commiseration.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Irene, I have often told my daughter that bravery is not action in absence of fear, it is action in spite of fear. Whether you accept it or not, you most certainly are brave.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Anon,

          I never thought of it that way.
          Let me mull that over for awhile.

        • Cheryl says:

          To jump in on this… Anon, I tell my daughter the same thing almost every day. The idea of “being brave” as removed from fear is unobtainable and a barrier to accomplishing anything. I only wish I had learned that lesson myself as a child (:

          When my daughter says, “I don’t feel brave”, I tell her, “That’s when you are being the bravest.” I hope it sticks.

        • Zara Potts says:

          I agree…
          I am terrifed of flying, just absolutely hate it.
          My ex used to get incredibly mad with me and make me feel silly for being scared every time we flew.
          I remember telling him that I was actually incredibly brave – that if he had any idea how terrifed I was to get on a plane – which I did despite my fear, then he would give me a medal.
          I tell you – it’s hard to feel anything other than horribly nervous on a 12 hour flight to the States, but when I land, I always feel like the bravest person ever!

        • Irene Zion says:

          Cheryl,

          I never even thought of bravery as “action in spite of fear” as Anon commented. I’ve been pondering that all weekend, and I don’t understand why I never thought of that.

          Anon is quite brilliant, I think.

          You, Cheryl, say you wish you had learned it as a child, I, on the other hand, wish it didn’t take me 62 years to start to see something so sensible.

          Your daughter is a lucky one to have you as a mother!

        • Irene Zion says:

          @Zara,

          See? Now you knew this too, and you’re barely legal.
          This is making me feel like an extremely slow learner.

  10. jmblaine says:

    This is different for you..
    Vulnerable in a new way.
    We are knowing what makes Irene tick
    a bit

    When you’ve walked through hell
    you long to carry others through

    • Irene Zion says:

      It is so easy for me
      to write things that are funny.

      The poison stories
      have to be pulled out
      by handfuls of sinews
      and bone and blood.

      But the hardest thing of all
      is to hit
      “publish!”
      because then
      anyone can see
      my insides
      and there is
      nothing
      to laugh about.

      I do think I’ve passed through hell
      enough times that
      I have it mapped out
      so I can help
      show other people the way
      out.

  11. ksw says:

    Having met your brother I am not so sure which he turns out to be. A little glimmer for the masses as to the pain , beauty and magic of my friend.Beyond the horror of the verbal/physical abuse the dark little box they were trying to fit you into as a glorious 5 year old…bleek.. you are very brave caw

    • Irene Zion says:

      caw,

      That is a very good point. I, too, am not sure which he turned out to be.
      Thank you for thinking I am brave. I do not think I am brave at all.
      (But I like it that you think so.)

  12. Zara Potts says:

    Lovely piece, Irene.
    I like your sparse writing style. Few words often tell more than lingering sentences. Lovely. Lovely.

    Children see things so differently to adults. I’ve told this before -but I remember when my mother was diagnosed with Diabetes when I was about five or six. The only thing I understood about that was the first syllable of the word. Die.

    Children are so very literal.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Oh Zara,

      What a horrible memory! How stark and perfectly remembered.

      Children are different, they are literal,
      I agree completely,
      and because of this what they see is often quite different from what adults see as reality.
      And yet it is their reality.

  13. Jude says:

    Beautiful writing Irene. A very sad topic but the technique you have used, portrays the ugliness and the brutality in a way that long-winded prose could never do.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Thank you, Jude.
      You are very kind.

      (Did you know Zara had this memory?)

      • Jude says:

        Yes I did know… and could understand exactly from her child’s perspective, how frightening that must have been. When she first came to see me in hospital, her face showed such anguish and fear. There was a lot of cuddling and reassuring words at that point and thereafter.

        Your story also provoked a memory that I have carried for all of my life. When I was 5, I had to go to hospital for a heart operation. Back in those days hospitals were pretty grim and the one I went to, was certainly one of those. The outer admitting office had stone floors, walls painted with dull colours, and every noise made seemed to echo in the cavernous hallways. There were a few strange people passing by – men and women. The men wore white coats while the women wore these strange white things on their heads, and they too were dressed in white.

        My mother and father told me because I was ‘sick and needed an operation to make me better’ (what’s an operation, and what had I done that I needed to be made ‘better’?), I had to stay in this strange place. I couldn’t understand it; thought I was being punished and that this must be some kind of jail.

        To make matters worse, a little boy in a wheelchair came to say hello… and he was blue! Turns out he had a massive hole in his heart. What strange place was I being left at?

        Took me years and some pretty large abandonment issues to work through, before I could let it go. However I think because of this experience I have always been able to understand from a child’s perspective.

        • Zara Potts says:

          Awww. You poor old sausage, Mama!!

        • Irene Zion says:

          Oh Jude!
          Your parents made the assumption that you understood what an operation was, which, at five, was not really reasonable.
          How frightened you must have been,
          to be there in that awful place,
          to think it were your fault,
          to not understand what needed to be made better,
          Oh
          and a blue boy in a wheel chair?
          Holy Toledo!

          Somehow you worked this horror out to be a better mother than any could be to Zara.
          Good for you, Jude!

          @Zara,
          You just called your mother a sausage!
          What does that mean in your weird New Zealander language?

        • Zara Potts says:

          A sausage is a term of endearment.

          ‘poor old sausage’ – means you poor darling.

          ‘you silly sausage’ – means you are cute and funny.

          ‘You’re a clever sausage’ – means you are very talented.

        • Irene Zion says:

          I like those phrases!
          Now I understand.
          I’m going to start using them here and see what happens.
          (I might get a black eye, but I think it’ll be worth it.)

        • Zara Potts says:

          If you get a black eye, Irene – then I wiull ring you up and say: “Oh! You poor little sausage!!”

        • Jude says:

          Zara – you are such a silly sausage…

        • Irene Zion says:

          Then, Zara and Jude,
          it will all have been worth it!

  14. Like Lorna, I, too, read this feeling the palpable absence of Mother: not just for the little boy being beaten, but for the five-year-old Irene who thought there was no recourse, nobody who could or would make any attempt to save her brother’s life. Because although the brother was not, of course, killed, the world view of a child is often dead on in terms of whether or not there are people who would try to save them if the time came. And no matter what else a child has to endure, to live in a world where nobody would try to save you is a pain that’s unlike any other kind of pain. This child-Irene not only believed her father capable of murder, but also believed her mother mainly uninvested in whether or not she and her sibling lived or died. I’m so sorry for that little baby girl.

    We were just talking about strength. The way you love your children and your husband, after a childhood like this, is ferocious. You are a mother lion. Your love is instinctual and core, not practiced and learned. You are one of the truly gifted in that regard.

    You are a damn fine writer, too.

  15. Oh, and this is stunning. This is worthy of Plath or Sexton. I want to tape it inside a box, burnt at the edges, like a relic:

    I do think I’ve passed through hell
    enough times that
    I have it mapped out
    so I can help
    show other people the way
    out.

  16. Irene Zion says:

    Oh yes, Gina,
    there was always an absence of Mother.
    There was no recourse.

    I consciously molded myself to be the opposite of my mother.
    I watched myself carefully.
    My method was to pretend there was a TV camera on me at all times.
    I had to be perfect because “the world” could be watching.
    That kept me on my toes.

    The worst thing anyone could ever say to me is:
    “You are just like your mother.”
    I dissolve at those words.
    I’m not, I know it, but just to hear it tears me apart.

    I’m taking your last line
    and wrapping it in silk
    and placing it under my pillow
    forever.

  17. jmblaine says:

    Can I say
    Thank God
    my mostly
    Catholic upbringing
    was neurosis-free?
    The more Catholics
    I talk to
    the more I appreciate
    our kind old German priest
    who was a good man.

  18. Irene Zion says:

    Funny,
    I didn’t get any guilt
    in the Catholic convent in Italy,
    but back in Brooklyn
    in the Episcopal Church,
    Boys, did they do a job
    on me.

    You gotta get a good priest
    a good teacher
    a good mother and father
    a good husband or wife
    a good dog
    Any of that gets messed up,
    you’re toast.

  19. I embrace embracing
    Non-prose Irene
    A first time for me
    Your memoir poetry
    Crosses all around
    Fingers and legs
    and metaphors
    Nailed to the wall.

  20. Irene Zion says:

    Sean!

    That is simply beautiful!
    You should write poetry as well as prose!
    Look what you did at the drop of a hat.
    Amazing.

    (And Thank You, very much, sweet purple Sean.)

  21. Don Mitchell says:

    Irene, this is very powerful (as everybody’s been saying).

    “Mewling” made it come alive for me. You used a word the the girl may or may not have known to describe sounds that she must have known well. I like it very much when the author reminds me that she is in control of the narrative, but is subtle about it.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Thank you Don,

      It’s funny you should say that
      because I did wrestle with that word,
      (as I am wont to do,)
      but it was perfect for what I wanted,
      so I just went with it.

  22. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Moving and remarkable, Irene. I had a visceral response to this essay. The images made me cringe. Your gift in telling this story will no doubt help heal the wounds of others.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Ronlyn,

      I do so wish that were so.
      It would be turning a bad thing into a good one.

      Much like the Christian cross started out as evil as a thing could be,
      but has become the symbol of hope across the Christian world.

  23. Judy Prince says:

    I felt so impotent throughout reading this, Irene, wanting to rescue the boy and his sister, to stand between him and his father, and then to take the boy and girl to a safe warm happy place with flowers and fireplaces and comfy furnishings. We would read books, love the illustrations, and cry at the sad places. Then we’d make pizza in the kitchen, laugh at our “mistakes” and drink hot chocolate from white mugs. I would tuck the boy and girl into their beds, ruffle their hair and hug and kiss them, and tell them that I love them.

    And now I am crying for you.

    Thanks to our darling, sweet Zara, I can say to you:

    ‘poor old sausage’ – means you poor darling.

    ‘you silly sausage’ – means you are cute and funny.

    ‘You’re a clever sausage’ – means you are very talented.

    Peace,

    Judy

    • Judy Prince says:

      Rodent reminds me that Baldrick (from the Black Adder series) once wrote a novel. In its entirety, it read:

      “There once was a sausage named Baldrick.”

      😉

      • Irene Zion says:

        Judy and Rodent,

        There is so much I need to learn that is British.
        I don’t know how to catch up.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Irene, there is sooo much I need to learn that is British, too. I don’t know *how* to catch up, either!!!! So I just ask and ask and read and read and hoot and object and tell Rodent what he doesn’t know about the USA. It’s sometimes frustrating, most times a brave goofy adventure.

          I haven’t yet watched the Black Adder series, but Rodent says that it’s the only tv series that all generations of his family enjoyed. When I’ve seen it, I’ll report back to you. Prolly other TNBers from the UK, such as Steven Sparshott and David Wills, would know of it. Dunno of it made it to the USA, as so many humour shows did, such as Fawlty Towers, Monty Python, As Time Goes By (Judi Dench), Hyacinth Bouquet (I forgot the series name!), and even that old goof Benny Hill.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Judy,

          I’m sure we had the Black Adder Series here.
          I think my kids watched it, but it was a time when I had NO time for television at all.
          If they didn’t play it here, they must have rented them at Blockbuster, which is what they did at the time on those clunky black tapes that came before DVDs.

          My son Ben and his friends used to watch the Monty Python movies and recite them by heart together. It was so gloriously nerdy. I adored it!

          I know Fawlty Towers was here, but I just never watched much TV at that time. Perhaps I should look for these things now. We have BBC America here on our TV.

          (Boy, these comments are all in a wacky order!)

    • Irene Zion says:

      But Judy!

      This is where I learned to be a mother,
      here in this cauldron.
      This is where I learned to be other
      than my mother.
      I’m sure I made mistakes a plenty,
      but my kids were loved
      and they knew it.
      I think they still do.
      We read, we sang, we drew, we made pizza,
      all of it.
      It is my proudest achievement.
      I was forged in the fire
      and am stronger for it.

      • Judy Prince says:

        I know you learned to be a mother by being other than your mother, Irene.

        Most folks I know have learned how NOT to be by noting what their parents were that was devastating to them and to others. However, most folks I know did not have to endure the savagery and tragedy that you did. You say it made you stronger, and I understand what you mean. My own mother experienced the things you experienced and other probably similar sad things. It made her strong, too.

        Only recently, long after my mother had died, did I realise that her upbeat, ebullient, smiling, content self was largely a result of having a life with her husband, my father, that was the opposite of her own parents’ ugly, angry, turbulent home.

        But, Irene, I do so wish that you and my mum would have had the joy of a sweet childhood instead of the torture of a spiritually and physically disordered one.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Most folks do learn what not to do, through bad experiences.
          My mother learned, perversely, how to perfectly duplicate her own mother in herself.
          She was damaged so completely, that she didn’t have a chance.
          I can only write about her in short spurts.
          I have a lifetime of stories to tell.

          How wonderful for your mother to have found safety and comfort with the love of her life.
          It happens too rarely, but she certainly deserved it, after the childhood she endured.

        • Judy Prince says:

          So chilling, Irene, to know of your mother’s not having a chance to choose NOT to be like her mother. It’s like parent-child cannibalism, the parents gobbling up their children, hobbling them, preventing their being autonomous, individual, unique.

          My parents’ fathers beat their wives and male children. It was accepted—-even expected—-by many families in that era.

          My father determined that he would never physically abuse his wife or children because he had suffered so much from his father’s actions, and indeed he never did. Incredibly—-though weirdly understandably—-my mother’s mother told her not to marry dad. She said: “He’s Hungarian, so he will beat you!”

        • Irene Zion says:

          Judy,

          My mother was Mary Poppins compared to her mother.
          I’m not exaggerating.

          When I was young, parents could beat their kids with impunity.
          Some did, some didn’t, but it was never questioned.
          It was a parent’s prerogative.
          It was just how things were.

          I’m glad your mother didn’t listen, though I’m sure your grandmother had her best interests at heart, even though she was wrong.
          (Now you have me thinking of Hungarian Goulash for dinner! I’m starving!)

        • Judy Prince says:

          Ah, so there actually was an improvement, generationally, in the mothers, Irene. Something to be grateful for.

          Until I told you about my gramma telling my mom not to marry my dad, it hadn’t occurred to me that she was trying to prevent her daughter getting beaten up like she herself had been beaten by her husband. But, then, I heard the story when I was a little kid, and I just thought gramma was a nutter since I knew my dad never beat mom or us, though I knew that he had been beaten. I always thought that being in America instead of Hungary was the main reason parents stopped beating each other and their kids. But I could be incorrect in that conclusion for lotsa reasons, one which is that my maternal gramma was from Canada.

          Hungarian goulash! Oh, Irene, if you have a good recipe for it, I’d be soooo pleased to have it. Had some goulash in Hungary, and it was very bad. The country was (and is) going through economic bad times, and the goulash was watery, the meat tough, and the flavpouring nil. I do love csirke paprikas (chicken with sour cream and paprika), and of course retes (cheese and jam-filled pastry that’s stretched thin atop a table and spread with the cheese and jams then rolled and cut into individual pieces, I think. Been a long time since watching it being made and eating it.)

          Reminds me I won’t have time to make and decorate Rodent’s and my wedding cake! So I ordered a couple pretty boxed cakes (one white-icing’ed with sugar rosebuds on the edges; the other chocolate and made to resemble a British football; i.e., soccer ball, especially for the grandboys age 7).

          Maybe I’ll make and decorate a first anniversary cake. 😉

        • Irene Zion says:

          Okay, Judy,

          Yeah. People have reasons for what they say and what they do, they just don’t always make sense.

          I can do a pretty fair Hungarian Goulash, and although I don’t know the Hungarian term, Chicken with sour cream and paprika, but the pastries I don’t know.
          Victor never liked anything sweet, so I never learned.
          I have a friend, Ruthie, who can make anything!
          I’ll ask her and get back to you.
          When she hears the description, she’ll hunt the recipe down, I promise!

          You shouldn’t make your own wedding cakes anyhow.
          Someone should wait on you, hand and foot!
          (You’d better take pictures, cause I’m pretty sure I can’t be there….)

        • Judy Prince says:

          “Yeah. People have reasons for what they say and what they do, they just don’t always make sense.”

          HA! Irene, you keep me happy and relatively sane with your wonderful humour.

          Don’t worry about having Ruthie dig up the “retes! (pronounced RAY-tesh) recipe. It’s pretty easy, if time-consuming, and I’ll need to wait ’til I have a nice gob of folks in the kitchen to help. That’s the joy I remember when we all watched a Hungarian couple make the retes in our kitchen so many years ago.

          I actually WANTED to make the wedding cake(s), but we’ll only be back home a couple days before the wedding when we’ll be loaded with houseguests, furniture deliveries, grocery deliveries, rehearsal dinners, feeding folks (all the stuff you love and are good at, but I’m not well practiced with). I could make the cakes now in this week before moving to the new house, but it’d be past its sell-by date by the wedding dinner.

          If we can persuade little 7 yr old Langston to take photos of us, then we’ll have photos to post. Surely, we’ll want to capture the singing vicar on video! Not to mention radiant Rodent! And Langston is a genius at any photography, still or moving. He most is fascinated, re the wedding, by thoughts of eating the wedding cake, bless his little heart (or, rather, stomach).

        • Judy Prince says:

          Forgot to say, Irene—-please do give me your Hungarian Goulash (“gulyas”) and Chicken Paprika recipes!

        • Irene Zion says:

          My kitchen has been renovated.
          Let me try out my recipes and then I’ll send them to you.
          Everything is different in there now, I can’t find a thing!

  24. Marcia (former next-door neighbor in Illinois and frequent visitor to Florida) says:

    I was just thinking about how wonderful dogs are and what they do for children, the lonely, the sick, old, etc. I can see now how you were drawn to using your own dogs to help other people.

    • Irene Zion says:

      My dog, Trixie, in Italy,
      was not allowed inside.
      She was my best friend.
      If anyone came outside
      planning to punish me,
      my Trixie would bite them.
      I only had to get outside
      and I was safe!
      I had a best friend and
      a bodyguard, all in one.

  25. Marcia (former next-door neighbor in Illinois and frequent visitor to Florida) says:

    Re Black Adder, it has been on in the US many times but I think the best Brit import ever was Hamish Macbeth with Robert Carlyle. And, it has a wonderful dog.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Apologies to Irene for the following comments-hijacking.

      To Marcia, I love Hamish Macbeth, too—-Robert Carlyle is a mesmerising actor, can do comedy and tragedy equally well.

      Usually I don’t like blood and gore and murder mystery fare, but found “McTaggart” the exception. It’s fully “rounded”characters, plots and understandings are beyond even the best of its kind. Here’s a lovefilm.com blurb description of its classic series:

      “Mark McManus is DCI Jim Taggart in a series of three gripping detective stories packed full of twists and turns. Set against a Glasgow landscape, Taggart and his team investigate a veritable gorefest of shootings, stabbings, poisonings and drownings.”

      Don’t know if it made it to the USA or not, either.

      • Judy Prince says:

        Oh dear, another hi-jacking, Irene; sorry.

        Marcia, Rodent reminds me, and laughs, that the Glasgow-set series is titled “Taggart”—-not “McTaggart”! He doesn’t think anybody in Scotland is named McTaggart.

    • Irene Zion says:

      I know I should have asked you, Marcia!
      You know all the British shows!
      You even lent me the most wonderful series with Robert Carlyle in it that took place in the countryside. That British actress who is in everything was in it.
      Now you’re going to have to help me!
      Oh, also the one in the store! That was a funny one.

    • Judy Prince says:

      One more hijack, Irene—-sorry!

      To Marcia, in response to your b/c about BBC/and UK films, and tv series available in the USA, I’m not up-to-date as you are because I don’t have a tv.

      Michael Kitchen, I agree, is fantastic! Foyle’s on my lovefilm.com rental queue, really eager to see it. First saw him in “Reckless” with Francesca Annis and Robson Green. I think you’d love it; it’s a well written complex love triangle with Kitchen playing the (wandering, but offended) cuckolded husband, with lots of plot twists, laughs and fantastic acting all around.

      Further, Rodent says “Z Cars” (pronounced, as you know, “Zed Cars” in the UK), which in 1971 had Kitchen as Ray Hall in a couple episodes, was the prototype for the USA tv series “Hill Street Blues,” and Steven Bochco made sure his actors watched Z Cars. Z cars (2-partnered marked police cars), themselves, were a new thing in the UK at the time.

      Kitchen has done several Shakespeare roles for BBC, and he’s in the film “Enchanted April.”

  26. Ursula says:

    The story is very dark, the style intriguing. It feels like there should be a sequence.

  27. This is mesmerizing and breathtaking, Irene.

  28. Irene Zion says:

    Ursula,

    I know. This is as dark as they come.
    Sometimes I don’t write the funny things people are used to.
    The style is just how the piece wrote itself.
    I can’t explain it.

    If by sequence, you mean that there should be a reason
    that my brother was getting a beating,
    I know there must have been,
    but I never knew what it was.

    Thanks so much for reading!

  29. carldagostino says:

    Flash backs to 2 and 3 years old. Trying to explain events, people, actions without the words, the facts, the realities, without the vocabulary and understanding. Restricted to “little world” and trying to make sense of it all in a child’s limited mind. Irony is now almost sixty years later I’m not doing much better at figuring out this present world despite adulthood’s alleged knowledge.

  30. Amy says:

    It’s amazing you came out pretty “normal”. If there is such a thing!

    • Irene Zion says:

      Amy,

      I think that “pretty normal” is about as far as I could get on the spectrum!
      See you at the buttcrack of dawn on Monday!

  31. Irene Zion says:

    Carl,

    I read somewhere that before we had language, we cannot process experiences and put them in their proper place.
    At two and three there is limited language, therefore, limited understanding of whatever events happened then that still haunt you.
    Hard to acknowledge that, but, it’s better to know that you’ll probably never know now.
    Not fair at all, but then, fair isn’t anyone’s promise on this earth.

  32. Sung J. Woo says:

    Brutally beautiful, beautifully brutal. I think we’ve all seen our share of horror, some more than others. Good for you for putting it down, Irene — it’s always an act of courage. I don’t know if it makes it better or worse, this act — but what is done is done, and all one can ever do is process those memories.

    – Sung

    • Irene Zion says:

      I don’t think anyone escapes childhood without bruises of one kind or another.
      Writing it down is processing it, Sung.
      You’re right, of course.

      For me the processing of the memory alters it.
      It was one thing and now it is a poem.
      It takes the ache away by disconnecting it from me.

      My hope is that someone reading it might relate
      and pare his unique pain from his soul.

  33. Tim says:

    This kind of shit gives me the creeps.

  34. Irene Zion says:

    Yeah.
    I know.
    I’m sorry.
    I just have to tell my stories.
    I kind of want you all to know me better.
    There’s more inside me than you know.
    Ordinary would be easier for all of you,
    but I’m not.
    Understand?

  35. Joe Daly says:

    Phew.

    Very difficult read, but very well done.

    Here’s hoping the exercise of writing wrung out some of the bad energy that might have been stored up over the years.

    Sadly beautiful.

  36. Irene Zion says:

    Thank you, Joe.

    Writing always does,
    wrings out the bitter
    and settles it on the page.

  37. angela says:

    a powerful piece, irene. i think these images will stay with me for a long time.

  38. Irene Zion says:

    I appreciate your kind words, Angela.
    I really do.

  39. How on earth did I almost miss this? The poetic style reminds me of one of my favorite poet’s, Naomi Shihab Nye’s. You share the same accessible, seemingly effortless way of unpacking singular (and painful) moments.

    Also, I instantly thought of a little girl I once saw in an interview discussing a machete blow to the head she survived. She spoke of herself only in past tense and about the incident as her death. Heartbreaking.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Cynthia,

      I am embarrassed to say I do not know Naomi Shihab Nye, but now I will look her up. Thank you for bringing her to my attention.

      Thank you for your kind words.

      Without seeing that interview, just from your description, I can see it now. Lucky for me that I didn’t watch the real thing. Harrowing.

  40. Sorry I’m so late to comment, Irene. I’ve not been reading much lately.

    This was powerful and intriguing… I’m always interested in the minds of children and also in those memories people seem to have of childhood. I’m still young but I barely remember my childhood – just pictures like postcards of beaches and random glimpses of the outdoors.

    • Irene Zion says:

      David,

      You always have an excuse, since you’re forever in a tsunami or earthquake or prison or mud slide somewhere on the other side of the world.

      Perhaps you only have picture postcard childhood memories because they were so good.
      That would be so satisfying.

      • It’s was a good one, as far as I’m aware.

        These past two weeks have actually been remarkably unremarkable. I have been involved in no calamities or disasters, and have actually been busy just being content. It’s an odd feeling.

        Oh, and I fed a hippo.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Hijacker Judy again, Irene! This time to, doubtless, echo your feelings of relief that David is content and has fed a hippo. He didn’t need that arm anyway.

          And to piggyback-hijack to Marcia whom I join in the Michael Kitchen fan club, to say, simply, Tom Selleck was one of the few USA male actors to engage his audiences with charm, that little bit of acknowledged vulnerability, fine humour and gorgeousness. He’d do wonderfully in the Magnum film. I wonder, though, if they’d cast female actors the same age as Selleck.

        • Irene Zion says:

          @David:

          What did you feed the hippo?
          Why did you feed a hippo?
          Is it your hippo?
          I need more information about this, David.

        • Irene Zion says:

          @Judy,

          Not a chance that Tom Selleck’s love interest will approach his age. Not in Hollywood.

          He’s on a TV show here now and his girlfriend in the beginning of the show was a hot, young blond, tops 40, probably younger. It was absurd.

        • I fed the hippo an Oreo because apparently in China that’s what they think constitutes suitable hippo food. The hippo, in fairness, seemed to like it. It’s not as nutritious as the canoes they usually eat, but still…

          I fed it because I was asked to. White people are asked to do a lot of things in China, and sometimes you have to step up and feed a hippo and Oreo.

          No, I don’t own the hippo, although I get the impression that I could probably have taken it home by signing a couple of autographs and taking a few more photos. These people love foreigners. Of course, I would be silly to take a hippo home. I have my two cats arriving on Monday and they’re already able to eat me out of house and home.

        • Irene Zion says:

          David,

          It sounds like you are in a more congenial country now. That makes me feel much better about your wanderings.

          They have Oreos in China? Are they the real thing, or a Chinese version?

          If you could just explain what a canoe is? Here they are narrow little boats that you paddle and easily tip over. I’m quite sure that there it must mean Hippo food, but I’ve never heard a canoe referred to in this way.

          I’m amazed that you are able to have your cats sent to you. Pets crossing boarders are usually a huge problem. I’m glad you were able to bring your friends, for some touch of home.

        • Yeah, they have Oreos here. The real kind and the fake kind. I bought some of the fake kind and won’t be making that mistake again. Tasted like a piece of paper between two pieces of cardboard.

          Canoes are indeed little boats. It’s a well publicised fact that hippos are one of the deadliest animals in the world, and there’s always been an image in my head of them snapping canoes in half, which, apparently, they do with a startling frequency.

          China is apparently one of the easiest places to get your pets to. That’s why I left Taiwan – it was a fucking nightmare. It’s bad in Europe, too, and many other countries. I couldn’t live anywhere without them. Even though they’re demon bastard cats.

        • Irene Zion says:

          David,

          We were warned about that in Africa. The hippos look so lazy and sweet, but they can run like hell and really are dangerous.
          I still don’t understand. Are the little canoes hippo food? Why would they make the food in the shape of a canoe?

          I couldn’t live without my children either, even though they are demon bastard children too, so I understand.

        • It was just a little joke, because hippos occasionally do eat canoes. I doubt they actually make hippo food out of canoes. Although that would make a good version of Hungry Hungry Hippos…

        • Irene Zion says:

          Well David,

          You caught me again in my all-encompassing gullibility.

          That would be the adult version of “Hungry, Hungry Hippos!”

        • Judy Prince says:

          “Not a chance that Tom Selleck’s love interest will approach his age. Not in Hollywood.”

          “He’s on a TV show here now and his girlfriend in the beginning of the show was a hot, young blond, tops 40, probably younger. It was absurd.”

          Well, Irene, there you are, then. I do sense a difference in the films and tv series here in the UK. There’s not the cult of the young, but rather a continual presenting of experienced actors such as Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Vanessa Redgrave. It’s a wonderful, powerful reinforcement for girls and women. Further, there’s not the cosmetic surgery of these experienced actors that is ubiquitous in the USA film industry.

        • Irene Zion says:

          I notice that when I watch BBC America. The people look pretty much normal.
          Of course there the exception of that nice looking guy on Luther, who no one knew was British when he was on “The Wire.”
          Have you seen that series?
          It’s one of the best series ever on TV.
          Everyone loves it, but you must watch it from the beginning or you won’t know what’s going on. I think there are four or five seasons.
          Some of the actors here, male and female, have had so much surgery that they are downright scary.

  41. Marcia, still in Illinois says:

    Back to the hijacking– I bet Michael Kitchen was REALLY hot back in 1971. I hope I can find Z Cars somewhere. Hill Street Blues is one of my all time favorites so I’m pretty sure I’ll love it. Also, does anyone else want to start a campaign to demand that Tom Selleck play Magnum in the new movie that they’re thinking of making? He wants to but the movie people think he’s too old.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Hijack number 4 or 5, Irene!

      Just occurs to me, Marcia, when thinking of Selleck’s acting and presence and age, I recently watched the Scot, Sean Connery, act alongside Audrey Hepburn, both of them well beyond the usual H’Wood sell-by date, in the magnificently written/directed/filmed “Robin and Marian.” I had never appreciated Connery in his Bond incarnation, but he shone, as did Hepburn, in the film.

  42. Marcia, still in Illinois says:

    Robin and Marian is one of my all-time favorites. I didn’t think Sean Connery was all that good until he was about 50. He always seemed very wooden as Bond. I like Daniel Craig, though; I think he’s the best Bond yet. I’m also very fond of Michael Caine. Educating Rita is on my list of all-time favorites.

    • Judy Prince says:

      And a (p’raps) final hijack, Irene, with (by now undoubtedly perceived as insincere) apologies:

      To Marcia, still in Illinois:

      Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

  43. Cheryl says:

    What a beautiful, spare and moving piece of poetry, Irene. Thank you for sharing it. I read in a comment above where you said something about it being much easier to post humor pieces than something personal like this. Also, I chimed in on Anon’s comment about bravery – you are a very brave woman, who grew up from a very brave child.

    So much more to say – about motherhood, about generational differences in parenting, about bravery, and the memories we leave with our children. Like so many, I also struggle to come to terms with harm that came to me as a child while my mother wasn’t looking, or choosing to acknowledge it. After having my daughter all those memories, so carefully packed away, came tumbling out again, and I had to pick each one up, again, and study it. No easy task.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Cheryl,

      Isn’t it amazing how a person can hide such things within the sulci and gyri for years and years and then POOF! you’re a mother, and it’s all there front and center to be dealt with.
      Stuff you were “finished with” so long before, you haven’t even begun to address.
      Children change everything.
      Thank God for children.

  44. Gloria says:

    How did I miss this? Where have I been?

    Oh, man, Irene. The sick feeling in my gut. The need to cry. When we experience this ourselves, we can be so easily retraumatized. Thank god for my grown up mind that can tell me that was long ago and that I’m safe now. And for your child mind that could, somehow, come up with a beautiful context into which it could fit the ugly and the horrible.

    The final stanza is beautiful.

    I love you.

  45. Irene Zion says:

    Oh Gloria, I’m so glad you read this,
    I was hoping you would.

    I think that fitting the ugly inside the beautiful, is a good way of seeing it.

    Thank you for that.

    I love you, too.

  46. Gregory Messina says:

    Hi Irene,

    Sure, absolutely, what you wrote is heartbreaking and eloquent. I’m sure that’s what the 100 comments are all about and who could disagree? But what’s wonderful about your writing is that you so easily transition from stories of this weight to ones about fuckerware parties and make people laugh. That’s impressive talent.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Oh my relaxed, comfortable friend, Gregory!

      It’s always so nice to hear from you.
      You were especially kind today.
      I’m just going to imagine a visit with you, because a real one may be far, far off.
      It would make you laugh to hear the High School French of a 62 year old!

  47. Simon Smithson says:

    Sorry I’m late, Irene! I think it was Twain who said that courage is not the absence of fear, it is the denial, the rejection of fear. After all, we wouldn’t call someone brave who didn’t care what happened. Someone who is terrified and moves forward anyway – now, that’s courage.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Simon,

      You always look so care-free and happy-go-lucky, but I can see inside that façade.
      You are smarter than you want people to know. I wonder why that is?

      I have learned a great deal from these comments about bravery and courage. Things I just didn’t know before, never even thought about.
      (And anyone who quotes or refers to Mark Twain is thenceforth my best friend.)

  48. Marcia (former next-door neighbor in Illinois and frequent visitor to Florida) says:

    Irene, I know how much you enjoy movies (they’re almost as good as dogs!) so I don’t feel guilty at all about going off on a movie tangent.

    Love, Marcia

  49. Erika Rae says:

    This was so very beautiful and horrific, Irene. What a perspective. I am chilled to the bone for you and your brother. It is good you are here. This is the sort of post that pushes me to be a better writer.

  50. Irene Zion says:

    Oh Erika Rae,
    Now that you’ve gotten “the sign,”
    your words have an appreciable heft!
    (Have you noticed?)

    (Thank you, sweet Erika Rae.)

  51. D.R. Haney says:

    I read a comment on David’s post to the effect that someone attacked you out of the blue, Irene, but I can’t find the comment here. I checked because I can’t stand the thought of it happening to you. WhyIoughta…

    • Irene Zion says:

      Duke you are so gallant!
      I’ve been in New Orleans and I’ve missed this whole dust-up.
      I’ll catch up tomorrow when I have had some sleep.

  52. Stephanie says:

    The imagination of a child is amazingly wild , especially when you have some sort of religious background like Catholicism/Christianity, which involves ressurection. I used to have 15 or more pet rabbits (originally there were two, a boy named Thumper and a girl named Sassy) and when a new litter was born and some would not survive, and I firmly believed that at any given night they would wake up from the dead in the back yard and come get me, because they were angry they were not alive.
    True story.
    Irene, your stories always make my day, sorry it took me a while to read this one. So busy with school I had to hold it off until I had time to read and reply !

    • Irene Zion says:

      How old were you, Stephanie, when this happened?
      I wonder because I think the age of a child is important to what she remembers,
      and how she remembers it.

      (And thank you for your sweet words.)

  53. Stephanie says:

    I believe i was about five or six, but always had fear of things rising from the dead, when i lived in Texas there was a cemetery in the neighbor hood and I would always hide my face before getting to the block that it was on….cause I was just scared they would be walking around or something….

  54. Irene Zion says:

    Stephanie,

    I think at five, a kid only knows what she’s been taught and those things about which she makes assumptions. Those assumptions are based on what she’s been taught and has seen, but are frequently not logical. That does remove in any way the fear that those assumptions produce in the mind of the five year old.

    As a parent, it is difficult to know what your child is afraid of, if it doesn’t make sense to you. The kid just believes things, but the parent has no way of knowing this is what she thinks. It’s difficult.

  55. Lisa B. says:

    Don’t forget to join the poetry circle at Books and Books in Coral Gables….. You should perform this one.

  56. Irene Zion says:

    Lisa,
    We need to get together and you can tell me what-all it’s about.
    I just got a GPS, so as soon as I break the cellophane on the box and read the directions, I may actually be able to get somewhere on my own without panicking.
    (Like to Coral Gables.)

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