|Morgan James Publishing
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CUTTING THE CORD
Cary County Hospital was warm on my birth night, while Cary Island, lashed by a below-zero wind chill down from Canada, froze outside. Its grassy bedrock was wrapped with a hard coat of snow. My birth mother Maureen heard the wind's shrill moan while she herself moaned in pain. My arrival came on a moonless starry night, late, January 31, minutes shy of February.
Her cervix was open, her back aching. My father wasn't there to help her, to rub her back and comfort her, to talk with her, or pray with her. She didn't know which of the twenty or so men she'd embraced that month nine months earlier was my father.
passed and Mommy was wheeled into the delivery room where all those vital provisions were.
"Not much longer," Dr. Cohen said.
Jill the kind nurse on duty helped prop her up in that big chair so her muscles could push me out easier.
"Your first baby, Ms. Dillon?" she said. Her youthful energy moved about the room, working as she spoke.
"So you're a veteran. That's great!"
"I guess." Maureen winced.
"How old is your other child?"
Maureen didn't reply.
"So he'll have a brother to play with."
"He's gone," she said.
"Gone?" Jill briefly made eye contact while she kept stepping about the room, tucking, sliding, pulling, working.
Maureen groaned in agony, shouting with a contraction. Sweat beads erupted on her forehead, descending, collapsing down her cheeks. "Had to give him up." Tears erupted from her eyes, descending, sinking with suddenness, dripping, mixing with her sweat. "For adoption." She looked across the room avoiding both of their eyes.
Dr. Cohen listened, scrubbing his hands.
"Must have been very hard to do, Ms. Dillon." This young nurse didn't pause from working. "Sometimes it's the most loving though." She wiped Maureen's face with a damp cloth, tenderly, now avoiding talking, not wanting to bring other pain.
"I try not to think about it. I hope he's good. I try not to think about him much." She breathed heavily. "It bothers me." She breathed with concentration, rhythm.
Silence — only the sterile clinks and thin echoes of the delivery room, a cough from Dr. Cohen. Maureen braced against another contraction, breathing, straining, hollering. Water broke, gushing like tide. Her loud hollering embraced the room, seizing everything. It would be soon.
"He's in Connecticut I think. In the country — a quiet town somewhere." Maureen stared at the blackness of the window as though looking toward Connecticut, out at the black color of glass, at the darkened reflection of the room on glass.
She felt that compelling pressure, suddenly an urge to push, and she hated this arduous work. She screamed; she cursed. My head moved down in the typical, little by little way with each contraction, down the narrow passage, from the warm world of the safe womb, to the astonishing opening where this shocking, offensive world is.
"Push, Maureen! Breathe! Okay. Easy now," Jill held Maureen's hand, because she'd no husband there to hold it.
"What kind of night is it?" Maureen squeezed this out amid her pushing.
Jill looked baffled.
Maureen breathed. "The weather?"
Jill didn't want Mommy's thoughts to digress too much now. She wanted her to focus. "Well, it's cold. Temperature dropped. It's windy. Hear it?" Maureen nodded. She could hear the wind.
Outside, on the other side of the large, dark, reflecting window, the cold gripping wind swirled across the starry, winter-sweetened coast. The falling tide roared, squeezing and thrashing and white-capped, bloated between Cary Island and the mainland, surging swollen, rushing reluctantly and pushed under the two-mile bridge, through the deep, ice-banked, narrow strait out from New York Harbor into the cold, hostile Atlantic. This strong watery gush, governed by the clockwork of the veiled moon, shouldered its way with the force that once pushed aside the land, reshaping even its firm bedrock foundation.
"Here's the head," Dr. Cohen said, clasping my head and frame with firm and gentle palms, with sensitive, reactive fingers.
A minute later I slid out, big and blue and shining. I began to cry, screaming out loud in the normal way. I was held and shown to my mother. "A boy," Jill said.
Mommy did not smile. The doctor cut the umbilical cord — that huge detaching stride away from my mother. There was no pain.
I altered into the lovely, soft pink, and I was wrapped in a warm, white towel. Maureen didn't reach her arms for me. She was tired. There was no dad to walk me around in his arms, to kiss me and talk to me. But this tender nurse Jill held me and talked to me for a few minutes, and she kissed my small head. Then I calmed and rested.
I slept for a long time in one of those little glass beds where all the other newborns slept the same way, and I was fed from one of those little bottles like the others. There in that county hospital I was treated like any other brand-new human being. I was special because I was a human being, different from other creatures.
No one lied to me yet.
The next day Maureen held me for an hour, and she fed me. I loved that. I loved her. Her voice sounded similar, yet dissimilar from the way it sounded when I lived inside of her. It was clearer, closer. "Silas. Silas," she kept saying. She named me Silas, which means "to borrow." She tried hard to make contact with my eyes. She named me after her grandfather, Silas Rosenberg — a tough, hardy, hardened Jew who'd come to New York from Europe, whom she could only faintly recall from her own hard, untidy childhood.
"Silas. Silas," she kept saying. I wanted to linger here, to remain close to her, but something troubled her. She was restless.
She kept shaking, rising, pacing, standing by and staring out the window. She was sweating, clutching her fingers, folding her arms. Sometimes she held her hair in her fists. She cursed. She cried, biting her nails, her knuckles. That gnawing, narcotic craving in her mortality had plainly become a colossal, gripping incubus which refused to release her.
On the second day, she got herself dressed, signed papers with the foster care agency, and left me. She hastily paced out of the warm hospital into the sunny, long-shadowed winter suburbia of Cary County, deserting me, cutting the cord of our bond more deeply, scarcely glancing back. She thought to herself that it would be temporary. I lay, without knowing what I waited for.CHAPTER 2
Like most of the houses on this island, this one was tall and slender, packed tightly like canned sardines, separated from the neighbors by narrow driveways — confined, crowded — the same way Cary Island itself was hemmed in in New York Bay. Like the others it was a hundred years old. It was owned by a vinyl siding installer, ironically cedar shingled, painted forsythia-yellow, with forest-green trim and front door, and with a steep, eight-stepped stoop. Mature, motley barked sycamore trunks lined the street, their elbowed limbs shading even the roofs; their firm roots lifting the concrete walks. This was where I was placed for an undefined march of time. It was in this house, under these trees.
Of course at that time I didn't understand all the things that were happening to me. I never wondered what the people in charge with my life were doing to me. I never wondered where the good people were, why the people who were supposed to help me along weren't. I just sort of congenitally went for the ride, sucked my bottle, wet my diaper, ate, cried, slept, and trusted. I had no questions. I didn't wonder what was to be done with me. I had no understanding of my situation, had no others' to compare with, to provoke me to coveting, wanting, or gloating over what I had or didn't have. But I needed love, and I innately felt that need. I didn't cognize that I needed it; but there was a yearning, a deep aching, a concrete feeling need; and I was at the mercy of my temporary caretaker for it.
This lower middle class vinyl siding installer, Earl Madden, was my first foster father, a fifty-year-old father of two grown married daughters who were then living out of state. Earl was small in stature, with red, wrinkled, weathered complexion; he'd a wiry build, balding, graying, with thick black eyebrows, with hard hands and thick fingers — hands that had held a hundred hammers, always with a cigar in his mouth. Chronically angry, especially pent-up when business was slow, "Go to sleep!" he'd shout from the first floor up the stairs, into the corridor, through a closed door, into my crib, into my tiny ears, penetrating beyond my blaring baby-wailing. He had a furious scraping voice. "Shut up!" he'd roar, as though I understood. He'd curse, click open cans of beer, and raise the television's volume — a ballgame, the news, an old movie, smothering my cries.
My placement into Earl's custody, into one of his bedrooms, was a slight — yet secure — expansion to Earl's irregular income. Earl unenlightenedly felt he was retrieving his tax money from the county. When work was steady for him, baby life was nicer for me.
I spent a lot of hours alone in the crib. My diaper was changed often enough to avoid detrimental cases of diaper rash. I did get a sense of being cherished often enough to survive, though. I felt a bit treasured when I was held by Mommy Sophia (Mrs. Madden) as she fed me with the formula bottle. She'd hold me, rock me a little as she hunkered her large, loose, turnip shaped body on the couch to watch the succession of sitcoms, drifting lost in other worlds of episodes, smoking menthol cigarettes, coughing, hacking, chewing sandwiches, often scolding Joseph, another ward of Cary County, their four-year-old foster child. "Joseph, stop that! Joseph, get down here! Joseph, don't touch that! Joseph, eat your lunch! Joseph, be quiet! Joseph, get off that! Joseph, watch out for the baby! Joseph, not now! Joseph, what's wrong with you!" It was almost poetic, almost comic.
I was placed on the floor in a little reclining seat. I'd sleep long naps or gaze around, making sounds with my mouth and involuntary jerks with my limbs. Sometimes I was left in a room this way, alone with Joseph, at Joseph's mercy, for minutes at a time. Joseph would pull at my arms, sit on me, twist my nose, press toys against, drop them and slam them on me, play with me like I were a toy or like a pet, make me laugh, cause me pain, frighten me, and make me scream. I still have a dent-like scar on my skull from Joseph. Joseph didn't know better. There was something raging within him too, a hunger for warmth that he couldn't control.
At this juncture in Mommy Sophia's life of employment, her options were either these doldrums of around the clock childcare, or back to the horror of working around the corner at the drycleaners or the supermarket as a cashier or some other place like these on the boulevard. But she couldn't punch out at the time clock and call it a day with me and Joseph. We brought in less money than a job, but "caring" for us was easier.
Once on a weekday afternoon of one of Earl's jobless weeks, while Earl sat in his recliner drinking beer from a can, as I sat placidly in my reclining seat on the couch, as Joseph played with blocks on the floor, and Sophia sat beside me watching one of those vulgar weekday talk shows, the two of them conversed, which didn't happen too often.
"Soon's the ballgame starts I'm turnin' this bull off!"
She ignored him, her attention charmed by the television.
"What?" She didn't look at him.
"The ballgame's comin' on. I'm turnin' this bull off!" His voice raised. Joseph glanced at the screen, but immediately returned his attention to his tower of blocks.
She made no reply.
"I can't believe people get on television like this with all their horse hockey!" He sipped his beer, slid a fresh cigar out of his top pocket, peeled off the cellophane, inserted it into his mouth, tucked it deeply into his jaw, struck a match, and puffed.
"Look Mommy. Look Mommy!" Joseph wanted Mommy Sophia to see his proud tower. She wouldn't look as the television screen seemed to absorb her.
"Look Mommy. Look at my tower! Look at what I made!"
"Okay. Okay. Good Joseph. Good!"
The female talk show host engaged a studio audience with their comments and questions — bracketed by her directives — to a married couple on stage who were on the threshold of divorce, who had two small children, who vehemently argued with each other over each of their attachments to their parents and each of their parents' involvement in their personal and family affairs. The combative, sarcastic, bitter tones — somewhat fake for effect — continued in time slices between commercial breaks, regressing, deteriorating, producing nothing salubrious whatsoever except to mesmerize, entertain, and enslave idle people like Sophia in their living rooms. At one climactic heated moment, the enraged wife vaulted to her feet shouting and pointing at her husband, shoving him once as he snickered, exacerbating her. Part of the audience laughed, part cheered. If this was real, then their marriage was ruined.
"This is droppings!" Earl commented again, but he kept watching, keeping the channel, holding the remote, puffing. "You always watch this horse hockey?"
She ignored him.
After a little while I began to fuss, hungry and crying.
"What the heck's he want now?"
"I don't know. I just fed him." Sophia remained fixed on television.
I hadn't drunk from my bottle for three hours.
"Give him his pacifier!"
"You give it to him," she replied. "I don't know where it is. Why don't you get up for once! I just sat down!"
The pacifier was hidden underneath me.
Sophia had been seated on that misshapen couch for twenty minutes. "I'm not gettin' up. You get up for a change!" Her halting voice and jolting body threatened, as though she'd physically conquer her small framed husband.
He rose, scowled down at her with a wolfish glance, grimacing as though he smelled something rotten. She visually seemed to melt, flattening slightly from this higher perspective, making her width apparently wider, making her appear — in his semi-intoxication — in her immense brown house dress, immersed in the couch's motley brownness, becoming part of the couch as her slouching, fluid wideness sank it.
Earl entered the kitchen but couldn't find a pacifier; so he took a half-filled bottle from the counter, marched back, and handed it to Mommy Sophia. My eyes brightened, happy to see this milk. Earl swallowed another long sip of beer and then let out a tremendous belch. She stuck the bottle in my mouth and situated a small blanket so that the bottle would prop up and she wouldn't have to hold it for me.
Once I finished, my stomach hurt, so I started to fuss again, and more so. I cried, and I cried loud. After about five minutes of this, the Yankee game came on. Earl raised the volume so he could hear the commentator over this howling of mine. More minutes advanced, and now I was screaming in panic. I needed to be burped, I needed to release the gas in my belly, but no one would pick me up and do it. My face grew red.
"Shut up kid!" Earl growled.
I kept screaming. A prolonged minute passed.
Earl now stood, leaned, putting his glassy-eyed, weathered, unshaven face almost against mine, shouting, "I said shut up, kid!"
This only made me cry louder, harder, more afraid.
Joseph stopped his block piling to look. He looked scared, afraid he'd be yelled at next; but then he yelled at me, mimicking Earl virtually comically.
Earl turned to Sophia, who finally moved to pick me up. "Can't you do anything with this kid? His voice is goin' right through me!"
"He's just a baby! What the devil's the matter with you?"
"Put him in his crib or something."
She patted my back a few times, but not enough to help. She walked to the stairway and heaved her enormity upward, ascending slowly. Each stair creaked. The banister tottered, rocked.
Upstairs she plunked me into my crib, wound up my whirling mobile of airplanes, and closed the door, muting my screams which continued another ten minutes, until relief finally came to my stomach, without assistance, naturally bursting in burps like Earl's. Awhile later I fell to sleep as tears dried on my face.
I was at the mercy of my caretakers. They never played with me, never smiled at me. They plainly neglected my life. I wasn't a full person. Within me remained an uneasy, insecure, unsafe feeling. Sometimes it felt thicker than at others. It sat in an instinctual way, like a squatting frog, as in a swamp, deep in the recesses of my senses. It hurt like pain. I cried and hated waking from sleep. My stomach and the muscles around my ribs sometimes ached from so much crying. Sometimes I felt like I'd completely shut down. Fear, grasping me from the deep cryptic structure of my existence, became a gnawing, cranky ache--a spasm of agony and a weighty vacancy of serenity that seemed to have an ever-present personality. It was an emptiness with substance. I wish I'd known words then.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Silas Dillon Of Cary County"
Copyright © 2017 Clifford Schrage.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PROLOGUE THE VIEW FROM HERE,
ONE CUTTING THE CORD,
THREE NOW CLOUDS,
FOUR APPLE BOUGHS,
EIGHT WILD CHERRIES AND YELLOW-JACKETS,
NINE THE CHANNEL,
TEN THE HOLLOW,
ELEVEN THE ASCENT,
TWELVE THE HILLCREST,
THIRTEEN THE DESCENT,
FIFTEEN TWELVE SEASONS,
SIXTEEN TWELVE NIGHTS,
SEVENTEEN TWELVE MOONS,
EIGHTEEN SUNBEAMS ABOVE THE BURROW,
EPILOGUE THE LOOKOUT TOWER,