Tuesday, March 8, 2016


When I was seventeen, I went through a crisis from which I don’t think I ever recovered.

Dr. Brané later told me I was the sanest person he’d ever met - I had to be, he said, to have survived what I did – but survival is not enough. I knew I wasn’t insane (about that he was right), but neither was I sane. I wasn’t what I should be; but back in those days psychiatry did not yet have a diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder to describe what I was.

When I was a child, I resigned myself to the fact that I probably wouldn't live to see my twelfth birthday. One day my grandfather would attack me in a drunken rage, my mother wouldn’t be there to fight him, and he'd kill me. But my twelfth birthday came and went, and I was still alive.

When I was sixteen, it finally happened. He attacked me when she was working late.

I was older now, bigger and stronger; and I fought back. I hit him over the head with my drawing board. It split in two and he fell, blood gushing from the gash in his head.

I knelt beside him, to see whether he was dead or just unconscious. 

I hoped he was dead. I was ready to go to prison, but I couldn’t go on living like this.

To my surprise and disappointment, he was still alive. I'd hit him hard enough to split the board in two, but it wasn’t hard enough. 

As I watched the blood flow into his eyes, wondering what I could use to hit him harder, I saw him blink. I was astonished. It’s logical for someone to blink when blood is flowing into his eyes, but I’d never known my grandfather to do anything logical.

As his eyes filled with blood, mine filled with tears for him. I'd tried to save him many times before I finally gave up and tried to kill him. Perhaps it wasn't too late, after all.

I called an ambulance, and they took him to the hospital. I went with him. 

To my surprise, he told the emergency room doctor that he had accidentally fallen and hit his head. 

I'd finally stood up to him, and he respected me for it. Things were going to be different between us now, better. Or so I thought. 

He never again attacked me. Now he followed me from room to room, telling me I must now stop pretending to be better than he was. I was a killer, just as he was. 

For years I’d wondered whether he'd been involved in the killings. Now I knew.

Everyone knew uncle Alec had killed cousin Eparty and his half brother Andre, but everyone pretended not to know, just as they pretended not to know that Alec had raped my mother. She rescued me, but there was no one to rescue her. Certainly not her father, who was in thrall to Alec.

When I was a child, I wondered what hold my uncle Alec had over my grandfather. When he grew tired of one of his mistresses, Alec passed her on to my grandfather; but that didn't explain why my grandfather was in thrall to Alec, because neither of them cared much for women. They used them and cast them aside. Sharing women didn't create a bond between Alec and my grandfather. It strengthened a bond that already existed between them, a bond I suspected was homosexual.  

Alec was cold and ruthless. He killed only for money, never out of passion. To everyone, and I’m sure to him as well, Alec seemed a Nietzschean superman. Everyone was in awe of him, and feared him; everyone except my mother and me.

She loathed him, of course. I pretended to loathe him, too, for her sake; but I didn’t. I’m still not sure, after all these years, what I thought of Alec.

He seemed to like me. I’m sure he would have killed me if uncle Andre had left me the money, as he said he would; but fortunately for me Andre’s will was never found, so Alec had no reason to kill me. No reason to like me, either. 

I wondered if he liked me because I was his son. He had, after all, raped my mother. 

Perhaps he liked me because we were alike. Both killers. My grandfather told him, as he told everyone, what I'd done.

I thought then, and still do, that Alec involved my grandfather in the killings not in order to strengthen his hold over my grandfather, but merely to amuse himself. And despite the guilt that tormented my grandfather, I was sure he was only an accomplice, not an actual killer. I doubted even Alec could have made my grandfather kill someone. My grandfather was too weak to kill someone, and too weak not to confess if he did. But I wasn't.

I did what needed to be done, and keep silent about it. I  kept all their secrets.

I thought things would change between my grandfather and me after I tried to kill him, and they did. For the worse. He tormented me, daring me to finish the job and kill him. 

For years I'd tried to save him, but he was determined to destroy himself. He was destroying my mother and me as well, so I gave up trying to save him and tried to kill him instead, to prevent him from destroying us. But again I failed, so I went to bed and lay there for a year. I don’t remember eating anything, although I must have; but I ate so little that my clothes would no longer stay on my body. 

One night Alec came to our house and insisted on seeing me alone.

I’d lain in a stupor for a year, but I came out of my bedroom now because I heard Alec outside my door and he was obviously afraid. I'd never seen him anything but supremely self-confident, and I was intrigued.

He confessed everything, of course. They always did, although usually they waited until they were dying to do so. But Alec thought he was dying. Or rather, he thought Sam was going to kill him. 

I knew my grandfather had been only an accomplice because if Alec had wanted someone to kill for him, my cousin Sam was willing and available. Sam had always done everything Alec told him, and Alec had rewarded him by giving him some of the money he’d inherited from uncle Andre. 

Sam had never had a wife or a mistress (I assumed his and Alec's relationship was also homosexual), but now that he was rich he was attractive to women; at least to women who were attracted by money. 

Sam had married, Alec told me; and his wife completely dominated him just as Alec used to dominate him. Alec said Sam had told his wife that he'd killed Andre on Alec's orders, and she'd persuaded Sam to kill Alec as well so together they'd have all Andre's money, not just the part that Alec had deigned to give Sam. 

To protect himself, Alec told me, he'd made out a will in which he left all the money to me. It was only right, he said, because I had been the sole beneficiary of Andre’s will (which Alec admitted he’d destroyed). He'd shown the will to Sam and his wife, so they knew they would inherit nothing if Alec died; and now he was giving the will to me. He said that as long as Sam and his wife didn’t know where the will was, they couldn’t destroy it, as he had destroyed Andre’s will.

I took Alec’s will and promised him I'd keep it safe, even though I knew it was worthless unless registered with a lawyer. 

I thought of telling Alec to take his will to a lawyer instead of giving it to me. That would prevent Sam and his wife from killing him for the money. It would also ensure that I would inherit the money when Alec died. But I didn’t want the money. Too many people had died for it. I also didn’t care whether or not Sam and his wife killed Alec. He deserved to die.

And he did.

Less than two weeks later, my mother and I were summoned to Alec's house. I was amused by how vividly Sam, the sole witness to Alec's fatal 'accident', described it to the policeman. Alec had taught him well. Or perhaps the policeman, who had a bad cold and was sniffling and coughing constantly, was too sick to care.

A month later it was Sam’s turn to die.

I was alone in the house when I heard banging on the front door, and Sam's voice yelling my name. My clothes no longer fit me, so I wrapped a towel around my waist and opened the door.
He lay on the porch, begging me to help him. As I knelt beside him, the towel fell off. Fortunately it was night, too dark for anyone to see me.

Sam made the same confession they all made to me when they were dying, telling me what I already knew, what I assumed everyone knew. He said he'd killed Eparty and Andre on Alec's orders, and then he'd killed Alec on his wife's orders. Now Sam's wife and her lover had poisoned him.

I later told the coroner what Sam had told me. It may be true, he said, but there was no way to prove Sam had been poisoned. He'd been a drug addict, and had so many drugs in his body that he had in effect poisoned himself.

Later, when I was visiting Dr. Lansky, he asked if I was related to another of his patients, who had recently died, because his last name was the same as mine. It was Sam.

Lansky said he knew things about my cousin that I couldn’t imagine, things that would shock me if I knew. But, he said, smiling coyly, he couldn’t tell me what those things were because of doctor/patient confidentiality.

I smiled, too.

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