When I was born my mother divorced from my father, who was fighting in World War II, and moved us from North Carolina to Texas. It appears as if she was running from something since all her family lived in North Carolina. In Texas, we stayed in many places; most of them awful but the memories most clear occurred in a medium-sized white house in San Antonio when I was about three years old. I remember wide streets, trolley cars chugging back and forth and playing in the Alamo.
The chain-link fence and two white dogs, perhaps chows, are clear. The layout of the house is embedded in my memory. The front door opened into a side-by-side living room; steps led upstairs to bedrooms, and the kitchen was off to the back of the house. The dining room was converted into a bedroom for my mother and me, and held a double bed, a dresser and a lamp on the nightstand by the bed.
One night something awakened me. I noticed my mother was not in bed with me. Wearing a nightshirt, I got up and ran into the living room searching for her. As I tore into the room I saw a heavyset man sitting in an overstuffed chair; smiling, beckoning me to come to him. I ran toward him, then stopped and froze. He was covered in what looked like bloody stripes. I screamed and ran back into the bedroom, jumped on the bed and crawled under the covers; in spite of the steamy summer night.
I told my mother the next day and many years afterwards, but she maintained it was only a bad dream. It was not a dream — it was a real memory that haunted my childhood. Growing to adulthood the memory continued to torment me. Once, I hypnotized myself as taught by a therapist. In a deep state of meditation I was able to reach the room, excited to at long last see what really happened that fearsome night when I was three.
The moment I tried to enter the living room, a huge invisible door slammed down in front of me preventing my entrance. I decided then that if my subconscious acted so strongly to protect me then perhaps I was not meant to relive that memory. What could have happened? Child abuse to myself? Did I catch my mother with this stranger in a compromising situation? Whatever horror had implanted itself in my psyche; something protected me from its discovery.
My mother died of a massive heart attack at the age of 69 carrying two secrets to her grave. One was the identity of my birth father and the other was the man in red. Her few belongings were mailed to me by her cousin who cared for her in her later years. There was some jewelry and a large envelope of photographs. Shuffling through the photos of people I may have known but no longer recognized, I came across an 8 x 10 photograph, signed ‘Jesse and Mama’. I gasped and shuddered. Jesse with his sinister smile was the man in red. Now I had a name for the man who terrified me as a child but still no memory of what happened that night so long ago. At least I now knew it was not a dream.
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