It’s been a while since I’ve done Mystery Author. In this feature, I type up a chapter (or more) from a famous book or other source for your reading pleasure. The fun part is you don’t find out who the author is until the end. This one is incredibly special. Consequently, it’s much longer than any other Mystery Author episode.
This author’s writing has an excessive amount of ellipses… (now I know where I picked up this habit from!). I was tempted to edit them out, but I’m leaving them in. The writing still flows just fine.
“To this day I still don’t know the exact reasons why my mom was committed to a mental hospital…all anyone ever said to me about it was that she had taken “too many diet pills” while trying to lose some weight and flipped out…I wasn’t around when whatever happened ‘happened’…she was held for over 2 months, until she dramatically escaped by jumping a fence and running away (no doctors ever came to get her and take her back)… no one ever told me at the time what was happening, or explained why my mother was gone.
I recently found some of my mom’s writings from when she was in the hospital…there were some diary entries, and much to my surprise, a few poems. Finding her writings on the eve of publishing my own poetry book was an funny, unexpected discovery… all this hit me kinda strange, because I had never viewed her as an artist type…my dad was the talented one, and he carried the mysterious persona that goes with someone who has a gift…my mom was straightforward to a fault, but didn’t strike me as a failed dreamer…but looking now, I think life was all too much for her, and any outward spark that she had in her died along the way and was buried deep down below…I now understand where both of those faces in me come from, the restless magician and the sad, longing soul.
My father reappears one fine afternoon out of the blue, and without explanation, takes me to live with him…I have had no clue as to where he was, what he was doing, or that he had gotten re-married, so it was all a big shock to me…after living in almost near bliss with my great-grandmother and grandfather for a year, he yanks me out without ceremony, giving me little time to pack or honorably say goodbye to them.
As we drive, he gives me a very basic ‘here’s how it’s going to be’ speech (because he is uncomfortable with any damage he might have caused me, and sees the very act of mentioning it as a sign that he is guilty)…he never really puts into context why he disappeared, made no contact with me in that time, or what had happened to my mom…it was as if someone just shows up one day and changes the channel on your life, and you are supposed to play the same character you were playing on the other show, exactly as if it was the same reality you had been living in all along.
It is still light out when we pull up to the trailer park, and all the snow on the ground gives each motorhome the gentle appearance that they are quaint country cabins…walking in, I notice right away that everything seems much colder…I meet my father’s second wife, my step-mother, for the first time…she is small, around 5 feet tall just like my mother, but more petite…however, where my mother’s features are soft and dark, her features are angular and straight…she speaks in a clipped, overly affected tone, which on the surface one without a keen ear would easily mistake for graciousness, but secretly underneath hums the lower bell of controlled chaos…my welcome from her is neither welcoming or dismissive, but I can see straight away she is not happy I am here…I am also re-introduced to my brother, who is grown now into a cherubic, golden-locked boy of 3…last I saw him he was still a toddling babe, but now moves through the space with the confidence of an only child, for it is his…I am shown the lay of the land, and directed as to where to find my bed, which is the bunk that straddles the top of the driving cab…and that is it, life moves on.
My dad leaves almost every evening to play gigs, leaving me to sit in silence with these 2 hostile strangers…my step-mother is a totally different person when my father is not around, speaking in a cold monotone and exhibiting little patience for any questions I might have…the entire message is clear—’we don’t want you here, but we have no choice’…my brother sees me as his competition for my father’s affections, because he has grown so used to him all to himself…(this sadly sets up a self-defeating competition between us that would last for 20+ years)…but my sibling does not concern himself over my relationship to our step-mother, because he is her only son now, and she his only mother…he calls her mom, a sound I find strange…my father informs me that I must call her mom as well, even though the thought repulses me…if I try to retreat to my bunk to find solace, I am told by my step-mother that I am not allowed to be up there unless I am going to bed…naps are not allowed, so I sit uncomfortably in the booth seats that also serve as an ad-hoc breakfast table and try to keep busy…there are no toys or books of my own, so I go out and play in the snow a lot.
Day by day, I begin to detach slowly from the past, as the memory of living with my mother and my grandparents fades into the distance, and a dawning reality grows that this situation I am now in is not to be temporary like the others…I wish I could go somewhere, but I couldn’t tell you where…anywhere but here, I suppose…the entire time we are in Cicero, I do not see my mom or her relatives at all…and as is the custom, I am not allowed to speak of her.
As time has passed, my role in the family has settles in…I act essentially as an independent entity (think unwanted adopted child and you will get the picture)…my father lavishes praise on my brother, and my step-mother treats him as her own…I am tolerated, but it is made clear I must earn my position in the family, particularly by my step-mother…I must sweep the floors while my brother plays…I must clean up for the family after dinner because food is expensive…every move I make, everything I do is given an assigned value against what I am costing the family…my father is distant, unable to deal with his prior abandoning of me…unable to deal with his own guilt, he treats me more like a buddy…it breaks my heart when he sends my brother hand drawn pictures from exotic locales and doesn’t even mention me in his letters…I feel invisible, but I cannot hide enough…everything I do is to not be seen, although there is nothing I want more in the world to be seen…school will soon will start, and I look forward to going every day to relieve living in this pressure cooker…I share a room with my brother, and spend a lot of time up there reading my new favorite book, “The Jungle Book”, by Rudyard Kipling…I want to close the door, but I am not allowed to by my step-mother (no explanation is given)…but when I read, I escape into a world without step-mothers and absent fathers and fairy tale mommies.
I am often given bathroom duty, being expected to clean the toilet and the shower to a military level of cleanliness…I must get my step-mother to come in when I am done cleaning so that she may inspect the work herself, standing there awkwardly as she looks closely at the areas around the toilet, sink, and bath…if I have missed anything, she tells me I must clean for another long period of time (like another half-hour), and not to bother calling her until I am positive the area is perfect.
Because the bathroom itself has already been cleaned once, I spend a few minutes re-cleaning the area, and then just sit and wait the appropriate time in silence before calling her back…the first time that she comes into my room screaming in the middle of the night (my father isn’t home normally until 5am) involves something that has displeased her about the bathroom’s lack of cleanliness, and she drags me out of bed by my hair all the way to the bathroom down the hall…she shoves my face into the base of the toilet, so close that I can smell the odd mixture of cleaning solvents and urine, asking me if I feel that this area is clean…not knowing how to answer, she insists that the toilet is filthy, and makes me clean it all again in the middle of the night.
Her frequent night attacks, which involve being woken up suddenly with her standing over me screaming at the top of her lungs also include beatings and the occasional shove down the stairs…being thrown down the stairs usually involves something to do with cleaning up the kitchen…the terror of all of this gives me a terminal case of insomnia, and makes me a very light sleeper (I still suffer with insomnia at times, but it has gotten a bit better—it was very terrible for almost 25 years or so)…when my father comes home, I lay in bed awake listening to her prepare him food…I dread these sounds, the sounds of pots and pans and cooking, because it means I will have to do the cleaning up later.
I start wetting the bed almost every night…the first few times, my step-mother takes the wet sheets off wordlessly…after the first few incidents, she starts to get very angry…if my father is aware there is a problem, he doesn’t show it…my bed wetting seems to send her into overdrive, and she compounds the problem by telling me that something is wrong with me, that if I was normal like all the other boys and girls I wouldn’t be having this problem…I am terrified of her, so I start trying to hide the evidence as it were if I have wet the bed…I get away with this a few times, but she takes to checking the bed every morning, often before I get up…if she finds that I have wet the bed, she makes me stay in it for hours, as punishment for what I have done…I just lay underneath the wet covers and ask God to please kill her for me because I hate her so much…this is the time that the real violence of my life begins, becoming intertwined with all that I do and all that I am.
On a particular cool night, I am making my usual trek to the liquor store to buy my step-mother cigarettes…she has given me a $20 bill, which to my 7 year old mind is a tremendous amount of money…the moon is full, and as always when it is, I feel the call of the wild in my bones…the clean air fills my head, and for the first time in my life I consider running away…of course, there is nowhere to go, no one to see…I imagine I can live for a little while on the 20 bucks, but of course will have no way to get any more money once it runs out…I figure the best place to live would be under an overpass bridge, but I will have to figure out where to get some blankets…I walk particularly slow, weighing each aspect of my decision with each step I take…the situation at home is so utterly toxic to my nerves that I cannot possibly stand another night…it is a rare moment where I only think of myself, leaving my younger brother and anyone else I love completely out of the question…there is no one to be seen on my walk thru the back alley behind the stores, it’s just me and the possibility of leaving for good…I come to figure that I will probably be caught, and will only get beat worse when I do…I have come to be used to the beatings, they are fairly regular now, it is just the waiting for the beatings that drives me insane…the pregnant pause between the release of the impacted energy thru violence and the long sweep of the tide out, till all is still…then, a faint rumble as it heads back into my direction, and the numb roar that comes up thru the floor, until fists meets temple, and the cycle is complete.
I have learned the fine art now of judging what is expected of me when I am being beat…it takes a keen ear to detect if the desired result is one of the following: submission, capitulation, confession, or negation…sometimes when I am being beaten down, the desired result appears to be tears, a bleating “no more, no more”, until the monster is satisfied…in stark opposition, sometimes the desired result appears to be to stop me crying, until a numb pall falls over the scene…as she beats me, she repeats over and over again “stop crying, stop crying you piece of shit”, and the formula reads that once you do the beating will stop…I learn the fine art of giving her whatever she desires, if only to feel that I am the one ultimately in control…
On a visit to my maternal grandmothers, I am up in my aunt’s apartment, sitting on my haunches in the corner, staring at a curio case full of porcelain figures…I think calmly through the things that plague me, which at this age are that I hate cigarette smoke, and I don’t like anyone to see me cry…I make two decisions in that moment I remain faithful to till this day…one, I will never smoke cigarettes, such is my hatred of the smell (I have still never smoked a cigarette in my life)…and two, that I will never cry for any reason (I would estimate that I have cried just 6 or 7 times in my entire life since that moment, the circumstances usually so overwhelming that I cannot override the feeling.
So when I am beat now, if the desire seems to be to make me cry, I learn a sort of fake sob, dramatized to heighten the necessary effect…she doesn’t seem to notice the difference between the fake version and the real deal, so this passes muster and therefore I never need to cry at all…
My father spends most evenings getting stoned and watching TV…this becomes our time together, the most effective way to be in his presence is to learn to enjoy what he enjoys…for my father has little interest in what I am interested in…any attempt to get him to watch a baseball game perhaps results in a waving of the hand and a dismissal of the game as “boring”…fortunately for me, my dad likes to watch things like “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and “The Midnight Special”, which was a program that featured live music from new bands…this was in many ways my first exposure to international rock music not covered by our local radio.
I am standing in the kitchen, talking to my father…about the past, about the future, about whatever is going on with us…my father is sweet person, who means well, that is until you do or say something that crosses one of his many emotional boundaries and then it’s everybody for themselves…living with my dad the way I do, in the wake of having returned home from Florida a complete and utter failure, has finally settled into a peaceful routine that feels equitable…I am not reliant on him beyond the roof over my head, and he doesn’t ask much from me beyond us getting along and me doing the dishes regularly…the place is such a dump that the concept of ‘clean’ is a kind of surreal subjective notion that involves the appearance of frugal, stark order, but everywhere you look are signs of creeping oblivion.
Having left us to live and essentially fend for ourselves with our step-mother around 8-11 years ago (it depends on who’s counting), I am finally feeling secure enough in my relationship with my dad to open up about some of the things that happened at home when he wasn’t around…I have come to rely more on my real mother to be the filter of all that has happened, for she is more consistent and doesn’t end up laying the blame at my feet…her position is one of good friend or confidant…she listens, points out who she believes was at fault (usually my father, but she hates my step-mother too), and reminds me that those things are over with now, etc.…if there is any fault in my mother’s position about the past, it is that she has never fully come to grips with the fact that she abandoned us as well…in her eyes, she has never fully ‘left’, but consistently been in our lives the whole time…which is true to a fault…my father, on the other hand, cannot deal with the damage of his own decisions, generally taking a “well if it hurt you, it hurt me even worse” position, which renders any talk or argument about the past dead on arrival…so this is something new, to try to reach out to him in this way, to find some empathy in his heart and heal some of the still raw wounds.
We are talking about whatever when it suddenly takes a sharp left and we go into talking about the very real abuses of my past…as is his custom, my father talks about how he was abused as well…I counter by offering up some abuses that he was not aware of, and he gets quiet as my emotions rise…I am not blaming him, rather I am just letting him into a space that I have never asked him to come into before…feeling overly confident, I don’t hold back, because there is no longer anything to hold back for…I am off and running now, going into detail and over the cliff as I am prone to do…he is calmly leaning in the doorway to the middle room…the front door is open, and the sun is coming through…it is a beautiful day, and this is a moment that I have waited for a very long time, because I finally have a pathway from my heart to my father’s ear…
He stops me, and repeats something that I have heard from my grandmother many times (his mother—in other contexts), a basic soliloquy about how life is tough and the only way you can survive is to forget about these things and move on…it is a fairly sophisticated nullifying argument, a means to an end that once served a whole generation though world war and nuclear terror, and he robots it back to me almost verbatim…I tell him he doesn’t realize what he is saying, which is if you essentially bury it, IT will go away…which is not true, because one only needs to look at the drug abuse in his life, the chaos surrounding him, and the trail of tears in his wake to realize that this has not been an effective strategy…I don’t want to bury it, I want to dig the bodies up and properly and honorably bury them with dignity…this is not a call for sympathy, this is a call to action, because I do not want to die, or live in the shadow of symbolic death, which for me is to live but not really be alive…
I lose my cool with my father for the first time in my life, and drop the mask that I have learned to wear, which is the one of the dutiful son, who endures and protects him from reality even if the walls are falling down around my ears…my voice rises, and I chastise him for looking the other way…I tell him in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t there, that he doesn’t know what happened, he has no clue what was asked of me…and he is only now making it worse by telling me his version of events, which gives major credence to what he went though at the time, and no credit to the sacrifices of his children…it is a moment that all children must inevitably go though, the moment when the parental edifice comes toppling down…they can no longer save you, for you are on your own, and maybe you always have been…my father is stunned, for he has never seen this kind of emotion from me…he is used to me being emotional, but I have always refused to break down in front of him…the emotions wash over me, and I cannot control my mixture of rage, anguish, betrayal, and sadness…I break down in tears and leave him standing there, cursing that I bothered to tell him anything at all.
My real name is William Patrick Corgan, and I was born at Columbus Hospital (just across from beautiful Lincoln Park which straddles Lake Michigan) in Chicago at 5:41 pm on March 17, 1967…most know me as Billy Corgan, but “he” didn’t arrive until age 18…my father was Billy, and I was known to the family as “little” Bill.
I am the architect of the “Billy Corgan” that you know and love, or hate, or don’t give 2 cares about.
I created him, and at times have loved him, feared him, and despised him more than you could possibly dream up…it is the author of this being that wants to tell you this story…depending on how you look at it, it is the brutal truth or a sad sob story…a tale of glory and failure or the fictional scrapings of a madman and has-been…the author is ok with however you take it, because it happened TO ME…the closets are thrown open, and the sweet mist of a life blown by come spilling out…there are dead bodies and old pictures and pornographic gasps and ghosts so shy they are the ghosts of ghosts…but all the voices are here, and they want to talk to you…in fact, there is a fight as to who goes first! But it’s all the same, cause in my mind all is happening at all times…backwards and forwards, we can survey what has happened and what is yet to come, and have a laugh and a cry…but in the end, it is my wish that there will be no more secrets worth keeping, and no more fear worth running from…all that should remain is the clear heart and a vibrant joy, and of course, music.
Normally I would only do two chapters at most. Because typically I type from a kindle. The length of this thing is explained by the fact that you can find the entries above right here. (And much more, it was challenging not to paste all his friggin’ posts from the 1992-1993 tags, trust me).
It’s not enough that he became the most talented and prolific songwriter of the 1990’s, he also just had to be a pretty good blogger too.
“Quiet, I am sleeping, in here we need a little hope
For years I’ve been sleeping, helpless, couldn’t tell a soul
Be ashamed of the mess you’ve made
My eyes never forget, you see, behind me
Silent metal mercies castrate boys to the bone
Jesus, are you listening? Up there to anyone at all?
We are the fossils, the relics of our time
We mutilate the meanings, so they’re easy to deny
Be ashamed of the mess you’ve made
My eyes never forget, you see behind me
Quiet, I am sleeping
Quiet, I am sleeping
Quiet, I don’t trust you
Shut up, shut up, I can’t hear you now
Be ashamed of the mess you’ve made
My eyes never forget, you see behind me
Behind me, the grace of falling snow
Cover up everything you know
Come save me from the awful sound of nothing.”
-Quiet, The Smashing Pumpkins
If you liked this, you might enjoy the (much shorter) Mystery Author 1.