The Shower

Jay Edson

I am about eight or nine years old, in Peoria:

The basement is divided into two parts with a doorway between them. To my right as I come down the stairs I see Mom's washing machine and dryer. At the other end of this part of the basement there is a little room that is perhaps four feet by four feet, with cement walls. My father installed a shower there, because we have no shower upstairs. It's a bit primitive, but it works.

I recall taking a shower with my father:

I feel a little self-conscious, but I am fascinated by his hairiness and am excited to be naked with him.

At times my parents wanted me to shower down there by myself:

I take my clothes off outside the shower and look into the other section of the basement. I can see out a window there. I think it is possible that neighbors—maybe even girls—might be out there trying to catch a glimpse of me. They might see my penis.

I recall finding something terrible in the more distant section of the cellar:

In this part of the cellar there is a shelf formed by the walls of the foundation of the house. I am rummaging through some of the junk that is stored on this shelf. I find some pictures that my dad has stored down there. As I examine them I see something that horrifies me. It's a picture of a gnarled tree. Hanging from the tree are three dead men. One has had his arms and head severed from his body. His arms are hanging from the tree and his head is impaled on an upright limb. I know that this picture belongs to my father. I cannot understand why he would have such a picture. I cannot believe that people ever did such things as this picture portrayed.

I am about the age when I went down in the cellar to find that terrible drawing. I am having a nightmare:

I see a blimp-like airplane falling out of the sky into the empty lot next to our house. Then I see it shrivel down into something very small. I think that the pilot may be injured or even dead, and I am worried about him. I go out into the empty lot and I search through the grass for the shriveled remains of this airplane. Then I see it, and can see the pilot. He seems to be injured, but not yet dead. I want to help him but he takes a hold of one of my testicles and begins to pinch it. It hurts terribly.

At another time, when I was about the same age, I remember looking through a bunch of pulp mysteries that my mother stored on the bottom two shelves of bookcases we had in the living room:

I am pulling small stacks of them out of the shelf, and looking at the covers of these books. I see pictures of skulls, bleeding hearts, daggers dripping with blood, people with knives stuck in them, and the like. With a combination of horror and fascination I study these various book covers. I am trying to understand why my mother would want to read about the kinds of things that are portrayed on these covers.

These memories of pictures associated with my father and my mother left me with three questions. Do these pictures represent things that people actually do to other people? Why would they do such things? Why would my parents have such interests? I now know that, yes, people really do things like that. The other two questions I still wonder about.

I have learned a lot since I discovered that picture in the cellar. Much later in my life I recognized a Goya print as being the one that my father had. While I still have no firm conclusions about why people do such things, and why my parents had these interests, I do have some tentative speculations. I think that for my father, it was his way of meditating on the same questions that puzzle me. He also was horrified. And then perhaps it became too much to meditate on, so he put the picture down in the cellar. And the pulp mysteries that my mother collected and read? She was a very civilized and decent human being. Why would she have an interest in such ugly things? When I first saw them, I don't think I had reading skills that were sufficient to actually read one of these mysteries.

I recall a time that must have been a few years later:

The novels are still there on the bottom shelf. I pick one up and I begin to read it. It's a Mickey Spillane novel. Its full of violence and craziness. I come away from it more puzzled than ever.

I've read a lot since then. I read Kessler's "Reflections On Hanging". Descriptions of the Holocaust. A book on the genocides of the 20th century. Foucault's "Discipline and Punishment." A lot of Freud. Still my questions are not answered. The obvious answer as to why we do such thing to each other is, of course, that we are killer apes. It's our nature to be violent. Only severe super ego figures can keep the lid on. Only by violence can violence be checked. In our heart of hearts we are Id, and Id is treacherous, ruthless and bloodthirsty. Perhaps. But if so, what is there to hope for? If the most we can do is to protect ourselves from our innermost natures, will it be such a tragedy if our species destroys itself?

A few days ago a saw the picture of an Afgan girl of maybe seven or eight:

I cannot see her face clearly -- just her arms and her dress. She is dead. One of our drones. Remarkable feats those things perform. Technology is amazing. No need to put American boys and girls at risk. Collateral damage of course. Too bad, but.... but... well, you know. Too bad. Collateraldamagecoll... ateraldamagecolla... teraldamagecol... damagecollateraldam... I try to soothe her with these words to wipe her forehead with them but I can't see it very well collateraldamage please collateraldamage but she won't be soothed.

I am sitting in a barber's chair in Peoria:

I am so short that the barber has to put a board across the arms of the chair for me to sit on. I love having the barber mess with my hair. A tingly feeling comes over my whole body. It is almost an ecstasy.

My father is cutting my hair:

He has gotten rid of those old hand clippers that kept pulling my hair when he cut it. Now he has a new electric set. It feels very good -- like when the professional barber does it. My father has me sit in a tall chair so that he can reach my hair easily. The same tingly feeling pulses through my body -- like a gentle current of happy electricity. Then, as he moves around me to do my sides, my front and my back, he brushes up against me. I can feel his penis through his pants and my shirt. It frightens me a little bit.

I go into a barbershop in Indianapolis:

I hope the barber will not put a board across the arms of the chair to prop me up. I am small for my age, but I am in the seventh grade. It would be embarrassing. He has me sit in the chair just like an adult would. I like the feeling of the haircut. Then he squares off my side-burns with a straight razor. I feel very proud. That must mean that I am getting older, even though I have no hint of any facial or body hair yet.

But what if the super ego is the cause of our violence, rather than its solution? I'm reading a book now called the "History of Corporal Punishment." It's by George Ryley Scott. It's not a great book. He doesn't seem to know much about anthropology. His image of hunting gathering societies is uninformed at best. But he offers a lot of information about the sadomasochistic practices of punishment through the ages. His thesis seems to be that it is specifically sexual repression that creates the sadistic impulse. Certainly this seems to be the case in many situations. I quote from the back cover of the book:

The renunciation of sex by those joining holy orders ensured its inevitable return in another form. The beating of the penitent nuns and monks of cloistered sects—often before bishops and aristocrats—established a powerful link between sexuality and corporal punishment.

In front of bishops and aristocrats, yes. Are economic exploitation and sexual repression the warp and woof of a single fabric, the fabric of war? The Germans stripped Bonhoffer naked before hanging him. Can one generalize from this to say that our whole society is built upon sadomasochistic dynamics—that we are programed, every one of us, to love the one who represses us? Could we even go so far as to suggest that in the innermost core of who we are, we want nothing more than to love and be loved, and to express this in physical as well as emotional and verbal ways? From Mark Russel's blog we read:

As the nation reels from the latest war atrocity, articles like "Robert Bales, Afgan Killing Suspect, Plagued by Money And Job Strife" attempt to explain why on March 11, 2012, 17 Afghanistan civilians, nine of whom were children, were allegedly murdered in the sanctity of their homes by U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a decorated 38-year-old, married father of two young children with 10 years of honorable service

Job Strife. Hmmm. Or could it have been deep rooted problems in his love life? It's an interesting thought. In some ways it's a frightening thought. But it would it really have been so terrible had my father picked me up, and held me close, and kissed me while we were showering together?

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