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Velcro Part Six: Velcro

Velcro Part Six: Velcro

The first time I visited Aunt Strigga in New York City, my dad, brothers, and I sat in the driveway, in our dad’s car in the central suburbs of New Jersey. The eldest was in the passenger seat, I sat behind him, and the middle child was to my left, behind our dad. I'm quite young at the time, maybe not even six years old. It's the seventies and my parents aren't divorced yet. I have on brand new sneakers with velcro closures that I was completely smitten with in the way that kids are hyper fond of things they actually own and no one else can use. There's very little territory to gain when you're the youngest. Either you wake up earlier than everyone else to watch your favorite cartoons alone on the brown shag rug, or you get up at the same time as two domineering adolescent males and watch what they are watching. The sneakers were bought for me, mine, not hand-me-downs, and that was enthralling.

But the mood of the car felt weird, even for my family. There were whisper conversations happening between my dad and brothers. They were whispering in a car because they didn't want me to hear. Because it doesn't occur to them that whispering near a child is probably the best way to get them to listen. Sentences were short and clipped. I caught pieces of the conversation while admiring my shoes and generally excited for the trip. I remember being excited and then I remember feeling like something negative was being discussed. They were talking about someone Aunt Strigga knew, who we'll call Elizabeth or Eli. Later in life I would find out Eli and Aunt Strigga met in 1973, while Striggy was working at a furrier across the street from Macy’s Department store on 34th. Eli was a seller who came in one day. Eli and Aunt Strigga were now living together in an apartment near Madison Square Garden, that very same apartment. That's the conversation that was transpiring, how to explain this scenario to me. Why this planning didn't happen prior to all of us being in the car falls in line with the stellar communication skills my father was passing down to his three children.

My brother in the backseat was snickering, making himself laugh, using words to describe Aunt Strigga that made our dad increasingly angry and defensive. He did not like those words used to describe his sister and we were instructed not to say them. They were now bad words. I already had a list of bad words my mom didn't like that I sometimes used and would get my mouth washed out with soap for. Our mother abhorred cursing, not for the way it made her children sound like the yutzes we were at times, but for the lack of creativity. Grades she could care less about, but if we could't tell a story, describe a situation, or express ourselves without the lazy effort of bad language, there was a disappointment in her that cut deep. Salty language was to be used the same as salt, sparingly, not all recipes, not all retells, called for it. I didn't understand what the words my brother was using meant but I got the idea Aunt Strigga and this Eli lady were doing something that was definitely something I didn't know about and that something was associated with words we were now not allowed to use. Aunt Strigga was doing something bad, and so was Eli. This would be the first time I recall ever hearing "gay," "lesbian," and "partner" (outside of grabbing a friend for a crafts project in school). I had on brand new white unblemished sneakers like a bad metaphor for innocence.

Even if you don't explain it to a child, they will still feel the energy of what you're not saying. In the backseat, occasionally looking out the window, helpless and frustrated with others controlling my time, I began feeling not great about something, like an intuition alarm going off, but I was too young to understand what I felt. I'm looking at my sneakers for entertainment and to pass the time, lifting a leg, admiring one shoe, then dropping it down and lifting the other leg. The car is starting to feel claustrophobic, which isn't the only phobia. The brother in the back seat is saying things about Aunt Strigga to try our father’s patience. I soak up my dad’s shame and hold onto it for him. My brother in the front seat takes our father's defensiveness and puts it on his shoulders, where he'll hold it there like padding, for when I need protection later on. But my brother next to me doesn't stop, he never stops, he is loving having this hold over his aunt, over his dad, and later his own sister, me.

There were more rules to the visit. We were not to ask questions about Elizabeth. We were not to discuss their living arrangement. We were also not allowed to bring up Elizabeth or Aunt Strigga with our mother. There was a known tension between Aunt Strigga and my mother that in the car became connected in my head with the relationship Aunt Strigga had with this Eli woman. This was another new understanding, along with the new bad words, that there was a version of being that my mom would not like and the child version of me, once excited for this trip to New York City, developed a fear she could not understand. An ultimatum was given by our father using an angry threat; its silencing tension began the drive. This is how a lot of family trips left the driveway, with ultimatums, as if it were a tradition that we could not leave until each one of us was properly yelled at or withdrawn and sullen. Mood set, we headed North to the Turnpike. This is how I would feel about New York City, it was North, upwards, out of reach in the way the good stuff is on the higher shelves, away from kids.

(To Be Continued ... Velcro Part Seven: Slivers of Light, Friday, March 29th)


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