Anne Frank is someone I think about nearly every day. Perhaps this is because I live in an attic and my bedroom itself, more than any other room here resembles an annex, but I think not. Actually I think Anne Frank is someone who’s occupied my thoughts on a regular basis since I first learned of her. Also, having grown up gay in a fairly hostile society, most likely adds to my sense of identification. I was, after all, about her age, not even aware of what my sexual orientation was, when others began hurling the word “faggot” at me.
I remember that what constituted for fairly decent school days were the ones where I was not spit upon or struck, the ones where I was called faggot less than ten times. Odd how I kept track. It became a blessing to mention while saying bed time prayers, and also a plea to try and ward off a continuation of the harassment. In other words if I could be grateful that I was harassed only ten times maybe the following day it would happen even less. Like Anne Frank, like many today and throughout history, apparently I’d been born into a world whose viciousness was provoked by something larger than my grasp. To get a handle on that scope, to no longer be a victim to it or victimize anyone else as a result, has taken up a large part of my life ever since.
When I first moved in here, I still had a month of paid rent on my prior apartment; thus I could move in at some leisure. Painting was one of the initial things I did. Luckily there was a can of indoor latex white left behind. Kismet, I thought, immediately starting on the trim around the window. I was painting by the shadows of dusk, the electricity not yet turned on, and so I didn’t notice until the light of the following day that the satiny smooth latex must have been fairly old and no longer really white at all. To be precise, it was more of a clay rose but, fortunately, since there hadn’t been a full can, I’d only painted the inverted U part of the room and its opposite wall. There was a warm, shell-protective effect created, and I remember thinking if Anne Frank had been able to hide away in a room such as this, then perhaps she would have been OK.
Absolute nonsense of course, for if someone, anyone, is to morph and become a lynch mob or militia, what closet would be deep enough, what bed big enough, under which to take cover?
How odd as a species we humans are. What other kind attacks its own with such heinous and ingenious methods? Is it a genetic trait, pack mentality against pack mentality? But, aside from squabbling over burrows, food sharing or mates, most other species don’t seem to prey on themselves. To my knowledge, rams may butt at rams, but not to the death and not with sub machine guns. The predator is Other; therefore, could it be, in some evolutionary descent out of an H. P. Lovecraft tale that we picked up traits of natural adversaries?
Certainly one could argue that the cruelties of children are connected to some sort of pecking order and thinning of the gene pool, an aggression straight out of “Lord Of The Flies” to achieve Survival of The Fittest, yet what of the innately gentle children, the ones not destined to be future sociopaths? When the last great Ice Age hit apparently Mother Earth did not distinguish between herbivore and carnivore or what one-celled life forms would be the meek to inherit. Also, once adulthood has been reached, what’s the excuse for genocidal tendencies then, especially when every technologically advanced society now knows the horror of it, whether via print, news footage, or first-hand experience?
If there was some way we could give the murderous tyrants of the world some peaceful time out, some corner to sit in and think about their actions while wearing a “Does Not Play Well With Others” t shirt, would that help, or does such pigeonholing, whether a truth or a false label, only add to the missiles flying? Yes, how often I have wished that there was some large parental figure from the universe that had the wherewithal to send fighting factions back to their rooms and not come out until they were ready to shake hands, but the disturbing fact is that the murderous do not rise to power over night or without backing. No, the tide is not stemmed, and the crests of other waves come to help the tsunami build until entire societies can become sociopathic ones, and some of us, the slaves in the cargo hold, the Anne Franks lead to the gas chambers.
As a child I was not aware of this, not even when I became an object for prejudice myself. Like many kids of my time and place, I believed Columbus actually did discover America. We did oral book reports on the topic, and school plays, along with plays about Pilgrims and Indians sitting down together in Thanksgiving. So why were there so many cowboy movies where the good guys were the ones with the rifles?
Another time my family went to the drive-ins, and in addition to some Walt Disney film, a WW II drama was shown as the second feature. Perhaps some masochist ran the place, for that film opened with an entire village having to march into the center of town. They were then systematically shot by a firing squad. I remember crying so vociferously that my Mom forced my protesting Dad into driving us home, my older siblings too, groaning over what a big baby I was. Boo hoo and so be it.
My poor family, what were they supposed to do with a kid as hypersensitive as me, and asthmatic to boot? It was as if one night during my prepubescent years some miniature version of Munch’s “Scream” took over both my psyche and my flesh. Furthermore, having learned in church that to turn the other cheek is what Jesus did, really helped pacifism become a martyr complex. Very rarely did I fight back. In fact, I even had fantasies where I would try to reason with those who shoved me around. If I could only summon the compassion to decipher what misery and hurt made them so persecuting of others, then all would be well. We would shake hands and swap lunches just like in an episode out of “Leave It to Beaver”.
Of course, small mercy, a crippling shyness and fear of being impaled on sharpened twigs, helped me from ever playing this adolescent St. Sebastian meets Freud. On the other hand, imagining I had telekinetic powers and could zap my foes to dust was also a nice alternative to all the suicidal times spent in tears. It is fortunate I had creative outlets, maligned or misunderstood as they often were, for the duality of trying to be so pure, forgiving and good, mixed with the terror of becoming a homicidal powder keg, wasn’t exactly a healthy way to exist.
Still, I suppose it did help prepare me for the equally harsh aspects of adulthood. In a sense the maxim is true, that what does not kill you does make you stronger, but I’ve also come to believe that what doesn’t try to kill you in the first place, what supports not only healing but growth, difference and tolerance, creates a happier character of strength from the get-go.
Looking back, I’m amazed I’ve thus far survived, neither entirely a fury of complications nor an Anne Frank who struggles to believe, at heart, people are basically good. Some are, certainly. Some might be if bribed with enough empathy. Others: “forget about it”. Be on your guard and, when all else fails, as they say in Monty Python and The Holy Grail, “Run away! Run away!”
In truly by-the-book Feng Shui, for inner security and refortification, it is the placement of the bedroom which counts the most. Mine, naturally, is in the entirely wrong spot, not in the back left hand corner of the house, away from noise and farthest from the dangerous entrance. No, mine is right up front facing a busy street. And so it goes for many-a-renter. Still, to the best of my ability, I’ve tried to ameliorate this situation.
Feng Shui is great because it gives you loopholes or “cures”. For example, rather than dynamiting my bedroom and calling in a construction team to build it onto the rear, I have cranberry curtains over the cross beamed front windows. These are actually light enough so that in the summer, using adhesive hooks, they can be placed just outside the inner screen, maintaining privacy without blocking air flow. Most mornings, before I leave for work, the rising sun casts the room in pale yellow with streaks of mauve. It reminds me of a water color half in dissolve and half taking shape.
A makeshift work table running half way along one wall amplifies that opalescence. Covered in green and white marbled contact paper, the old door which serves as desk is evocative in itself, glistening with jars of scissors, pens, and other trade tools. At the very end, on a stack of canvas cushions, stands a stuffed wizard. His robe is purple, his white eyebrows and whiskers, full, and there is a gold star in his hat’s tall black cone.
Cushions, on the whole, are a very large part of the room. The bed is heaped with them to form a sofa during the day and replicate another presence, lengthwise, while I sleep. Two of these have been in the family for years, an inheritance from a Great Aunt after her house was sold and her son moved her into a Nursing Facility. One of these pillows is saffron satin, diamond shaped, and the other is a teal green woven in plush crushed velvet of feathery design. From both I’ve learned not only the difficulty of trying to duplicate fabric in paint studies, but the scythe of time’s thievery.
My Great Aunt, whom I always recall as the most gentle of souls, was later reported as being combative by the institution where she was placed. Having worked in Nursing Homes myself, and recalling their, at times, Stalag 17 atmospheres, I wouldn’t blame my Great Aunt if she did happen to get combative. One too many chastisements for incontinence when one’s bladder has seen better days, and I’d be tempted to make violent use of a walker myself.
Directly diagonal from the bed is an old chocolate brown filing cabinet with four tan drawers. To the fronts of these I’ve glued the flaps of cut red folders and tied forest green ribbons to each handle. The top is covered with a Monet patterned paisley scarf a chum of mine left behind when she camped out here one spring. In its corner a vase of lavender tipped fake lilies greets the curve of the ceiling. Nearby is situated a small paper lantern of pressed flowers. This reminds me of the old art of preserving them in scripture pages. Before that, lamp stands a fountain my partner made in celebration of our first Christmas.
The bowl the water flows in, over a collection of bubbling marbles, is black and deep, appearing to be fed by an endless invisible source.
On the wall beside that is an archway shaped mirror with a small shelf. An alabaster-carved Ganesh, the elephant God and remover of obstacles, centers this altar along with a pair of fake ivory hands holding a heart of polished agate. These too were gifts from my partner, in addition to a dream catcher at the end of my bed. I know. Again the placement is wrong, but the ceiling is too low for it where my head is, and I like to keep it out of the cats’ reach. Hand-molded with a sinew web and pink quartz at its core, the bent twig frame extends with garnet and topaz beaded filaments, three striped hawk feathers at each end.
So far my tendency for nightmares has not ceased, but I still like having it there, giving Nike flight to my ankles. I can also still picture my partner’s large strong hands, his fingers so painstakingly shaping the fragile thing. I can see it reflected in the lenses of his glasses like some jeweler’s strange stereopticon: dreams meeting dreams.
Despite the odd declinations to the ceiling, there’s still a great sense of airiness in the room. In the summer, of course, a couple of veteran metal fans add to the circulation, their clattering becoming white noise to help navigate my slumber. Also, from the ceiling’s apex, hanging from rainbow yarn, is an inflatable globe.
This sphere has contained the breath of one of my oldest friends for over two decades now. Sometimes, by the light of the moon and street lamps, I can feel it glowing way beyond my insomnia. It’s as if the multi-colored continents themselves also were breathing, spinning ever top-like in the minute respiration of their surrounding oceans. These are mint green in shade now, their blue more faded than jeans. At the axis on the globe’s base, a series of clocks tell of time zones world-wide. With each breath of the globe, they seem to tick and tick.
How many are awake right now, aware of this planet’s inhalations and exhalations? How like a body it is, the fire in its belly bringing oxygen up and out for us all. How many travelers we are over its surface, our backpacks, our belongings, carried the way insects carry bits of leaves, stems and nourishment. How many of us are immigrants, really, and which earthly possessions will be allowed to carry over what checkpoints? Which will we have to let go of?
Package string, tape and brown paper.
Museums, garage sales and antique road shows…
Hovering over this life, the mad attic dweller, self-cloistered to a fault, I wonder what will become of us, our species, and our generations to come.
At my feet is a throw rug, woven in shades of pale blue, rust and cream. In the Orient, carpet makers deliberately weave into their designs an undetectable flaw. This is to show that nothing human made is ever quite perfect. Furthermore, it is said to be a symbol through which a person’s soul can go away and return unnoticed.
The soles of my own feet find solace on this carpet’s pattern.
A decision is at hand.
My partner of five years would like me to leave here and for us to set up a home. For both of us, in the past, such moves did not pan out well with others.
Will these feet, this carpet, commit to another voyage, its cloudy fringe waving as if through cerulean?
As I wonder I look up at the balloon globe.
Small room, small world, Anne Frank, good night for now.
Stephen Mead is an Outsider multi-media artist and writer. Since the 1990s he's been grateful to many editors for publishing his work in print zines and eventually online. He is also grateful to have managed to keep various day jobs for the Health Insurance. In 2014 he created a site: Poetry on the Line, Stephen Mead to provide links to his online published work. Currently he is artist/curator for an online museum focusing on artistic depictions of international historical LGBTQI figures/organizations etc., predominantly before Stonewall, https://thestephenmeadchromamuseum.weebly.com. Support Stephen's work via PayPal: firstname.lastname@example.org