At the tender age of five, Erik has learned how to use his genius mind and musical abilities to get what he needs from his mother. For reasons of her own, she’s been unable to give Erik the attention and emotional support that any young child needs. However, when there's music, they have a special connection. About a year earlier, he discovered his violent temper, and, with his father's help, has been trying to learn how to control it. But there are times when all his abilities, good and bad, come together at the same time and explode violently. The following scene is an example of one of those times.
Whenever I felt a need for her attention, which began happening more often, I would sing while at the piano and wait for her to appear. Before long, her enchanting voice would be harmonizing with mine. Those moments came with a downside though; it made my overwhelming desire to have her hold me and tell me she loved me grow.
When I could see the softer side of her, it made me need her all the more, and to resist the temptation to run into her arms at those times became extremely painful. But I feared her rejection much too much to allow that to happen, or at least that’s what I told myself.
I was watching her beautiful face one day while we were singing, and, as the last of the plaintive notes faded, I believed I saw tears in her lamenting eyes. I then felt a compelling need to comfort her as well as the need for comfort. Therefore, as if I were trying to sneak up on a frightened deer, I slowly turned on the bench and slid down.
With her eyes locked on mine, I cautiously moved across the room and approached her until we were eye to eye. I was so close to her I could hear her soft breathing, but then I made a grave mistake. I dared to reach for her face and gently brush her soft cheek with my hungry fingers, cherishing the moment. My heart was pounding so hard I could barely breathe, and I wanted to scream out in my childish excitement. I could hardly believe she was allowing me to touch her cheek, and she wasn’t crying or running away.
I slowly moved closer and wrapped my arms around her. Then I closed my eyes and laid my head on her shoulder; her soft, warm, and sweet-scented shoulder. She felt so different from Papa. His shoulders and muscles were strong and hard, while Mama’s felt soft, like my feather pillow that I wrapped my arms around at night.
Taking a slow and deep breath, I filled my lungs with her soft scent. What a feeling! What a wonderful, comforting, and safe feeling! Then, something totally unbelievable happened; she gently wrapped her arms around my back and laid her head against mine. As her fingers began to stroke my arm softly, tears of unexpected joy filled my eyes.
I soaked up her love like a lost puppy; then, out of the silence, she whispered into my hair, “Oh, my precious Erik.”
I took a deep breath, and the small five-year-old boy inside me faintly responded to his mother’s loving attention. “I love you, Mama.”
I’m not certain what happened next, but, within the next second, the cherished moments of being permitted to feel her warmth were gone. They evaporated and became nothing more than a childish fantasy. As she shoved me away, she rebuked me strongly.
“Erik, what do you think you’re doing?”
I stumbled backwards, as the pain I so feared tore through my heart, and the appearance of her face turned from one of pleasantness to one of disdain. Then, the crushing ache in my chest also changed from one of pain to tempestuous anger as I began my unbridled assault.
“Why, Mama? Why do you hate me so much? Why can’t you love me? Why, Mama, why? Do you hate me because of this?” I tore the mask from my face and flung it at here. I charged at her, getting my face as close to hers as I physically could. “Do you hate me because of my face, Mama? Do you? I didn’t make this face, Mama! Why do you hate me for it? Why?”
I was out of control and screaming at her, and my breathing increased and my throat tightened so much I had to gasp for air.
“Why can’t you just love me, Mama?”
She jumped to her feet and grabbed me by the shoulders, shaking me strongly and screaming back at me, “Don’t you talk to me that way, you wicked boy! How dare you speak to me in that tone!”
She wrapped her fingers tightly around my upper arm and started dragging me toward the back door while shrieking, “You can spend the rest of the day outside until you learn how to behave!”
My world became a confusion of words and actions. Then something deep within me exploded that caused me to turn on her unexpectedly with great force. Shocked and caught off guard, she lost control of my arm and almost fell before she caught her balance with the aid of a dining chair.
Then I started screaming back at her, “No, Mama! I won’t go outside until you answer me!” Taken by surprise again, she took a few slow steps back from me, and I closed the space instantly, which made her retreat even farther and faster. “Why can’t you love me, Mama? You care for other things around here, like these pillows.”
I picked up the pillows in her chair and one by one began throwing them at her. I continued to advance on her, grabbing everything I could lift. I picked up her blue and white sewing basket by her chair and held it up between us, shrieking.
“And this basket that sits on your lap so often when I can’t. Why, Mama?”
I hurled it as hard as I could across the room, watching as it smashed against the dining room table and emptied its contents all the way into the kitchen. Mama’s face had run the gauntlet of expressions, from contentment with our music, to disgust and anger over my attempt to receive love from her, and then to one of surprise as I began tearing the room apart on a steady path toward her.
“Erik, stop!” she demanded.
“Not until you tell me why you can’t love me, Mama,” I growled.
With clenched fists, I took my anger out on anything she would have touched. Even the table lamp didn’t escape my wrath. Fortunately, it wasn’t lit or I would have succeeded in burning our home down as it flew across the room and smashed against the stairs. The photograph of her and Papa found itself at her feet—after I smashed it several times against the hearth. Her Bible, which sat on the side table by her chair, I ripped apart and then threw it at the window. Thankfully, there wasn’t enough of it left to cause the window damage. When I couldn’t find anything else to throw, I turned my clenched fists on her, lashing out and connecting with her several times.
“I hate you!” I screamed. “I hate you!”
By then her expression changed from surprise to genuine fear, and I could feel my eyes narrow with the sensation of a smile on my lips. Yes, to see her fear me was much better than to see her angry rejection.
I looked around the room for something else to destroy until I spotted her beautiful crystal vase, holding multicolored flowers on the dining table. Quickly, I headed for it, while picturing it smashed on the floor at her feet. But my steps came to a sudden halt when I heard the front door slam against the wall behind me. I turned just in time to see her blurry figure flying through it. Out into the yard she ran, with me close behind her like a shadow she couldn’t escape.
All the while I screamed at her, “Why, Mama, why?”
She ran down the path, through the gate, and then down the street with me in hot pursuit. I’d never gone beyond the gate before, but right then my anger was so strong it prevented me from even seeing the gate. I continued to follow her, shrieking at the top of my voice, demanding an answer.
She also began to cry out. “Celeste!—Celeste!”
Then, almost instantly, a woman appeared out of a house and started running toward her until they met. Then they both turned and looked at me, holding their ground while holding each other. I stopped short, my heart pounding inside my throat, my breathing fast, my hands still clenched at my sides, and my jaws clamped so tightly they ached.
“I hate you,” I bellowed as she clung to the other woman. “I hate you!”
I was turning to head home when I became aware of the other people in the street; silent, motionless, and staring at me in shocked horror. All their faces were the same. Their hands covered their open mouths, and their eyes were wide and gawking. My whole body stiffened, and my hands clasped even tighter, while my aching jaw locked in place. I felt my eyes become slits as I returned their stares with a hateful glare of my own.
I measured time by the amount of pain and anger within me and not by the movement of the sun across the sky. Once the pressure in my chest became too great, I broke the standoff.
“I hate all of you!” I screamed.
I singled out one elderly man and lunged at him, swinging with all my might, but he caught my wrists before I could land a blow. I started kicking at him as I growled louder and louder, but he had me held fast, so my struggle proved in vain.
“Let me go!” I screeched while glaring up into his horrified face.
Then, the horror in his eyes mirrored back into mine, and I realized I was without my mask. As if my anger and pain wasn’t enough, I felt panic seize my mind like a vise, and I froze with my head hung low in dread and shame. Then, somehow, hatred’s anger spurred me on, and I broke away from him, running as fast as I could back toward what should have been my safe haven—my home. I covered my face with my hands but not before I heard a child’s cry from behind me.
“Look, Mother! The monster boy is running away!”
The anguish from those words and the look on all the faces twisted and turned inside my tortured mind and heart; then they exploded into unimaginable anger and even greater unimaginable anguish. I kept running—empowered by the child’s voice continually echoing in my ears and the sight of all the faces in the street—Mama’s included.
If only I could run fast enough and far enough, then the pain would stop; the anger would stop. If only I could run far enough. As my feet pounded the ground, my heart throbbed faster in my ears, and I promised myself I would never do anything to please Mama again.
I ran back through our gate and around the house, heading for the woods in the distance and hoping to find solace and an escape from the horrible faces and cries of horror in the street. I climbed through our white fence and kept running all the way across the pasture. I jumped over the little creek, through the next fence, and then finally reached my goal in the greenery of the woodland beyond. I kept running, not knowing to where—and not caring either.
The branches reached out to me and gouged the flesh on my arms and face, but the pain in my heart was still greater than anything they could do to me, and it alone pushed me on even farther. I ran until all my muscles burned and breathing became impossible. When I could run no more, I fell to my knees, sobbing, with the vision of the faces in the street still vivid and unwilling to leave me.
That child’s cry to his mother pressed in on me, haunting me. Why? Why? I just didn’t understand any of what was happening to me. Why? Why did he call me a monster? I’m not a monster! I’m not! I collapsed in the tall, cool grass, weeping until there were no more tears, and I was completely spent. Then there was nothing; nothing but the slight sound of a breeze as it gently moved the branches hanging high above me.
Like giant fans, they sent cool air down to soothe my burning flesh, but they were incapable of calming the anger and pain that continued to grow inside my soul. I rolled over on my back and looked up at the part of the blue sky that was visible through the thick canopy of trees. Normally, I would use such an opportunity to examine and explore with wonder and awe, but I had nothing inside me at that moment; nothing but physical exhaustion and emotional pain beyond compare.
My eyes closed and I listened to my almost silent surroundings; the peaceful silence with no more harsh voices and no more frightening faces. With my body tense beyond imagination, I made myself a promise. I would never ask anyone to hold me again. I would never ask anyone to love me—never—especially my mother. The rejection was simply too painful, and I was too tired of the pain. I didn’t want any more pain. I only wanted to sleep and never wake up.
But, as usual, my mind, that vigilant task-master, wouldn’t allow me the pleasure of sweet slumber when I wanted or needed it. I only wanted to sleep! Instead, I remained there like someone struck dumb, watching the world above me change with the descending sun.
Gradually, the light began to fade, causing the sky to move from blue, to dark gray, to purple, and then to black. Once the sun finished its journey through the sky, which at one time I’d held in awe, stark darkness and silence completely surrounded me.
In my child’s tortured mind I reasoned, maybe some big wild beast will come along and eat me. After all, Papa told me some wild animals needed to eat other animals. Perhaps it will eat me all up, and then my life—my horrible existence—would be over. Then, and only then, I would have peace. Peace with no more distorted faces, no more cries of fear, no more pain of heart, no more tears of sorrow mixed with hatred’s anger. Then I could become like the baby chicks—non-existent.
I waited, not-so-patiently, for a frightful beast to appear and eat me for dinner, but it never did. Perhaps I was destined to live with my gruesome face for yet another day. The wait for a hungry beast allowed time for my anger and frustration to calm down enough for me to realize that I had no idea where I was. Not only had I never been that far into the woods before, but also I wasn’t sure what direction I’d come from.
I sat up and leaned against a tree while I began to wonder what I should do in the darkness. I searched the sky, but the thick canopy of trees prevented me from seeing enough stars to use what I knew of them to determine what direction would lead me home. Turning in circles, I tried to see a speck of light that might guide me back to my Papa, but I saw only quiet darkness.
I was beginning to have a change of heart about being eaten. Rapidly, uneasiness crept through me as I thought of how many hungry beasts there might be lurking in the forest, looking for their evening meal. My anger began to turn inward when I realized my unbridled temper was responsible for my predicament. What am I to do now? I wondered. I tried to convince myself that Papa would surely come looking for me soon. All I have to do is be patient and Papa will come; I know he’ll come.
The coastal breeze became stronger and found its way through the thick underbrush, making it move in eerie waves that signaled my heart to pick up a beat. I again looked above me to the ebony sky only to find the night fog sending its icy fingers to blanket the forest. Along with the fog came a chill that sent shivers through my growing anxiety.
When I sat back down, I began rubbing my arms trying to ward off the crisp night air. Then I became aware that my arms and face were stinging from the many cuts and scrapes I’d received on my wild run through the woods. I curled under a bush, trying to stay as warm as I could. I listened intently for Papa’s voice to call me home to warmth and safety. But no reassuring voice guided me that night. The only sound to be heard was the repetitive rustle of the leaves as the breeze became stronger, and I became colder, and my fear of a wild beast became more real.
At some point I must have fallen asleep because I woke with a startling sensation that something was watching me. Slowly turning my head, I found two shining eyes intently fixed on my face. I gasped and moved back even farther under the small bush, causing some branches to puncture my back. The eyes remained focused on me as they shone a ghostly yellow in what little moonlight there was. Then the hungry creature, in one quick movement, raised its head to reveal long white fangs as it let out a blood-curdling howl at the invisible moon.
My heart began to pound frantically in my chest as I thought: Oh no!—This is it!—I’m going to be eaten for sure!
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Father and son