This week I received a prompt from Ariana at The Blogging Lounge. The prompt is, "Who am I?" From the moment I saw the prompt, I heard Luke responding to my question. So, I'm going to see what else he has to say. Join me...
"Who am I?" asked the woman in the tie-dyed peasant blouse. She was just inches from my face and smelled like Juicy Fruit gum.
"That's right! Star! And what's your name?"
"Woog?!" Star laughed. "Now what kind of a silly name is that?" I doubt that Star knew that my name was Luke. It's my understanding that the whole kidnapping was a spur of the moment type of thing. "No, Honey. Your name is James. You're my Sweet Baby James."
"Zaimz! Sea beebeep Zaimz!"
Star swept me into a hug and kissed the top of my head.
I remember that. A psychologist once told me that there was no way I could remember it, that two and a half years old is too young for such a defined memory. Here's where I give you a diatribe about shrinks being bullshit factories and panaceas for the masses. I'm sure there are good and worthy shrinks out there, but by and large? In the humble opinion of yours truly, they just like to have someone pay them to spout their own feeble theories. In my book, "Here's a good coping skill to learn" really means, "You're doing it wrong. Try it my way." Sure, it's under the guise of helpfulness, but asking someone how they feel and then telling them how not to feel it? That just turns me into a whole different color of stubborn donkey.
All that is to say, I remember that conversation with Star. I'm certain of it. I don't remember them taking me and I don't remember the drive down to California, and a lot of those years of my childhood are just a blur of books that I read. But I remember that. Maybe something in my young brain blew a whistle and said, "Hey. Remember this. Someone is telling you you're not who you think you are. Someone is telling you who to be." Sure, those are thoughts too big for a toddler, but you want to know what I think? I think, no matter how old, when your innocence is robbed, or in this case kidnapped, it leaves a marker. It leaves some sort of Here's-Where-It-Happened Notice.
She never asked me to call her Mommy or Mom. She insisted I call her Star. I think it was her way of skirting the kidnapping issue, her way of ignoring the illegality of it all. She wasn't trying to be my mother, she was just taking care of me for a while. For a nine-fucking-years while. Let's face it, she didn't keep me in that basement for any other reason than to protect herself and Dwight.
Dwight was Star's husband. He's the one who pulled me from the playground when my mother looked away for a moment. He did it for no other reason than one would buy a bouquet of flowers. I was a gift for the lady - such pity that she wasn't simply hungry for an ice cream cone that day. I can almost hear the conversation between them. "Dwight? Dwight, Honey? I want a baby. I'd love to have a baby boy to hold and sing to and read to. Oh, Dwight. Wouldn't a baby just be sweet to have?" Dwight, never big on discussions or long answers, and a firm believer in the misogynistic Keep-Her-Happy-and-She'll-Shut-Up Theory, would have answered, "I'll gitchya one."
For a long time, I thought maybe Dwight was the one who insisted I never leave the basement, but I've since come to terms with the fact that it was just as much Star's idea. I was her secret treasure. She wanted me to herself, didn't want anyone else giving me time and attention. It was probably a boon that I didn't know any better. I had no real memory of any world beyond those walls. My world was made of books. It is to Star's credit that she taught me to read. I was a voracious reader. I didn't question that there were people out there in the world writing them, much less that there were people living those experiences. Star made it clear that they were all fiction, which meant pretend. "They're just for fun, James. They're like your dreams. You can imagine all you want, but they're not real."
When I was 11 years old and was found and brought back to my parents, I had a difficult time thinking of it as real. It felt like one of those pretend stories. It felt so pretend that I couldn't talk for about a week. I mean, who talks out loud to books? It took a little while before I felt safe enough, no, connected enough to my surroundings before I would speak. I'd like to tell you that it was my parents and their love and attention that pulled me into this particular reality. I'd like to tell you that, but I can't. What connected me was the thumping rhythm of my Dad's rock n' roll songs and the first time I felt the rain. That low bass thump spread up through my toes and tied around my ankles and tethered me to the ground in such a comforting way. The rain? That was nature's way of baptizing me, of claiming me as her own. That was when I began to realize that I was no longer James. I was Luke. I had returned to the land where Luke existed.
Not long ago I started dating this terrific woman. We met on the side of the road, both of us trying to rescue a stray dog before it came to harm. At the time I was wearing an old shabby flannel shirt over a threadbare t-shirt, and a pair of jeans that had seen better days. So when I showed up at her place a couple of days later, clean shaven, wearing a sport coat and carrying flowers, her eyes lit up with amusement and she sort of laughed as she asked, "Who are you?!" "Who am I? Why, purdy lady, folks in these here parts call me Luke. But once upon a time I was Sea Beebeep Zaimz. Come to dinner with me and I'll tell you all about it."