The Man in Red By Micki Peluso

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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39 thoughts on “The Man in Red By Micki Peluso

  1. Kenneth Weene

    As a shrink, I was always amazed at how much lying parents did, most often to make believe that their sexual behavior didn’t exist. “It was just a bad dream.” “You just imagined it.” “Don’t be silly; he’s just a good friend.”
    Thanks, Micki, for opening this topic for discussion.

    Reply
  2. Cherrye S. Vasquez

    Micki,

    Regardless of the incident, whether reality or a dream, your dear Mom thought to protect you from what she thought might emotionally harm, or scar you. Some dreams can be frightening. If the latter, she still sounds like a protective Mom who loved her little girl. Some things aren’t meant for us to know and best taken to the grave.

    Whatever the real answer, YOU are an awesome mother, and an awesome writer, too, I might add.
    I can’t wait to finish reading your book, so I can post my review.

    Peace — Be Still!

    Reply
  3. Monica Brinkman

    Micki,

    Enjoyed your piece. It left the reader with so many possibilities – a dream – a mothers’ lover – a figment of imagination – and then ending with such mystery when the photo was found. Excellent work.

    Reply
  4. Jon Magee

    Thank you for sharing this item with us here Mick. Life is full of may mysteries, and some never have any answers revealed. However, whatever may be in the past whats important is how you learn for the future. Clearly you have as you have shown in your writings how important it is to you to be a mother that cares for her family.

    Reply
  5. Linda Hales

    I can just imagine the questions that ran through your mind. What year was the photo taken and would knowing be a revelation of sorts? Was he so significant in your Mother’s life that this photo was hidden in a treasured location? My first question would likely have been about those bloody stripes, followed by the first two. Do you really want to know? Well, that’s me. I always have more questions than answers and I suppose we can all use a little spicy mystery in our lives.

    Reply
    1. Micki Peluso

      Linda, I too am curious, because my mother ran from NC to Texas with me, an infant, claiming my grandmother wanted to take me from her. Her husband of three years was in the Army in Iceland, claiming not to be my father. There is much mystery, but most who could talk are dead–might make a good fiction story though. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

      Micki

      Reply
      1. Diane Piron-Gelman

        Is it weird of me to have had the same thought–that this piece makes a perfect seed for a mystery/suspense novel? The secret from the past that erupts into the present in some way is a rich vein for fiction, especially mystery fiction.

        Thank you for sharing this. It’s not always easy to bring out early memories and other flotsam hanging around in our brains, particularly frightening or traumatic ones.

        Reply
  6. Martha Love

    Micki, I certainly enjoyed reading about your feelings and experience. I think you bring up a very important point about how secrets kept from children (particularly children who have witnessed an event that is then denied) are stressors in our mental health, for both the parent and child. It is interesting that you were driven to uncover this secret and kept it in your mental awareness until you at least found some resolution that the man was real (finding picture).

    As a counselor, having reflected on gut feelings to assist hundreds of people in reassessing issues from their past, my experience is that once people become aware in their somatic feeling of buried experiences then they are often able to see them in a new light with the wisdom of adulthood and resolve these issues. As a small child, coming across a sexual scene between mom and a complete stranger in the middle of the night could be viewed as frightening and even violent, particularly if it was never talked about, denied by the parent and kept secret.

    I think you make another very important point here that the person who has these “hauntings” from ones past needs to be the one to be in control of how far to explore them. You are very wise to listen to your feelings and explore this issue as you feel the need to do so.

    Reply
    1. Micki Peluso

      Martha, thank for your information on this. It’s good to have a few psychologists here. :)
      I was actually sexually, physically and emotionally abused from the time I was born. Some I remember, others not so much–just a ‘knowing’ that bad things happened. But this ‘dream’ stuck in my mind more than the rest because I associated the red stripes as blood. More puzzle, fewer solutions.

      Thanks for offering new insights,
      Micki

      Reply
  7. Raani York

    This was a very well written and interesting blog post. I have to say, I seem to have such a peaceful and fantastic childhood that memories like this to me seems to me more like a “story” than anything else.
    You are such a wonderful person, Micki. And a very sensitive one! Thanks for sharing this!

    Reply
  8. Patricia Yeager

    Micki, I love learning about you. When I read your stories, I realize there are others who experience unspoken things. It doesn’t make me feel better, however it gives credence to my own experiences. I remember hearing the age old quote “Shhhh, little pictures have big ears,” from my mother and my older siblings. I was an adult when I learned it’s meaning and although it is old fashioned, it is so true. We hear everything as a child. Some of us take it in, while others are able to shut it out. Like you Micki, I never had my memories verified. I know what I saw and I know what happened to me. I think for parents back in the day, it was easier to lie to protect us, even the perpetrator, than to tell us the truth and help us deal with it. Then, there’s always the shame and denial a parent faces.

    My mother never shared anything with me about her life, whatever happened to her parents, when they died, where they lived, nothing. I was fifteen years old before I found out my father was not dead. I never knew him or saw him, not even a picture.

    You are so brave to write about your pain and it is well written.
    Pat

    Reply
  9. Delinda

    You raise some good questions. My curiosity would drive me to try to find out who the man was especially since you don’t know your father.

    Reply
  10. patgarcia

    Hi,
    What an interesting opening to the story of your childhood. I personally believe that the memory of a child at three years of age can reveal much about his or her growth into becoming an adult.

    It is interesting to see that when you tried to open the door during your self hypnosis, that it refused to open, and that was in my opinion, a protective measure from your psyche. If it had opened how would you have dealt with what you had seen?

    I am not a psychiatrist, but I do believe a warning went off in you at that time from deep within, and this warning signal may have protected you in later years from encountering circumstances that would have been unhealthy for you.

    We will never understand everything that happens to us, and I don’t know if it is healthy to do so, so we all come to a point ,I believe, where we have to also learn to accept the things we cannot change and acquire the ability to know the difference from what we can or cannot change.

    But at least, Micki, you know that it wasn’t a bad dream. Your childhood instinct caused you to scream and run from the man, which means you felt you were in danger, and you probably were. Speaking from a point of faith, you were protected that night and your flight into the bed with your covers over your head was your hiding place. It protected you from the unknown, and I am glad it did.

    Shalom,
    Patti

    Reply
    1. Micki Peluso

      Pat, all good points. I had to come to the decision to just ‘let it go’. I’m sure the psyche never really lets anything go, but I don’t dwell on it anymore. I’ll always have a hole in my stomach where my birth father belongs, but it it what it is.
      Micki Peluso

      Reply
  11. Karen Hosein

    You have shared an amazing, personal, and what seemed to be an extremely stunning and baffling experience for you, even at the tender age of three. Your memory of the events are indeed real, not a “dream”, and have remained with you…for life, I imagine. Oftentimes, we are protected by our mothers from what would seemingly harm, hurt, or offend us. At three years old, your mother obviously thought you probably would have no recollection of that night but, on the contrary, these experiences remain with toddlers/youngsters for a very, very long time, leaving a negative impact which can affect thought processes and behavior, resulting in trust issues. I am not a counselor, but I have done extensive reading and research on psychological aspects of life and behavioral patterns. I know finding that photo have somehow put some degree of closure on the issues you have been harboring, but I know the questions still linger in the depths of your soul. Breathe easy, my friend, and know that you are continuing on your mission here on earth and have done exceptionally well, thus far….so much more to do, Micki, and you are doing a fine job at reaching out to people, at sharing your personal life, where we all can grasp your insights and lessons. This is what life is about….and you have soared! My love always….and much, much continuous healing light. KAREN

    Reply
  12. James L. Secor

    One commenter mentioned that this might have affected the rest of your life? Has it?
    You mentioned a story: one that goes all through your life, “revisiting” you in the end?
    I wonder what Maggie Tideswell would make of this?
    This is amazing. But I wonder, will the adult explanation actually ameliorate the child experience? We think differently as adults; connections are, thus, missed or passed by or…would the mechanical explanation ruin the wonder and fright (negatively)?
    Have you had further experiences that drew up this experience as you grew?

    Reply
    1. Micki Peluso

      Yes, James, this and other abuses affected my entire life in a negative sense. I was lucky in that I decided to be the opposite of those that harmed me, in my own relationships with family and loved ones. So at least there is that.

      Micki

      Reply
  13. Tabitha

    This is fascinating. I often find myself wondering at what age accurate memories are retained. There are so many bits from my childhood that surface now and again. Most of them are simple snapshots or strong emotions. When I bring them up, people usually tell me that children cannot remember things clearly before a “certain age” and that I’m probably just recalling a story or a photograph.

    There are so many questions surrounding this particular memory. Who was the man? What happened that night? Did you see him more than once? He must have been around enough for the photo to be taken. If you ever take further steps to find out any details, it would make a fascinating read. Like you say in one of the comments, maybe a fictionalized version. It may help you deal with the emotional issues surrounding the memory.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  14. Sharla

    Micki, what a compelling life event! Parents so often try to ‘protect’ children not realizing the haunting effects later on in life. At least you are able to now discern the ‘dream’ was actually reality even though complete closure has not been achieved. Each of us have our own childhood memories – some beautiful filled with laughter and others horrific nightmares.

    Reply
  15. Marion Lovato

    That is truly frightening. I could see not wanting to know if that memory is buried so deep. I can also see wanting to finally find out the truth. I don’t know which one I would decide. Maybe one of these days that memory will finally surface. Bless your heart!

    Reply
  16. Peggi Tustan

    Hi Micki,

    What an interesting and well told story. I enjoyed hearing your description of the Texas of your childhood, like “playing in the Alamo.” How cool is that?

    I am glad that you found the picture of Jesse. At least you know it is a memory and not a dream. I am glad that sinister Jesse didn’t play a bigger role in your life story, just a mysterious memory.

    There are a great many things I’d like to ask my dad. Unfortunately, at 94, his memory is pretty spotty. I am glad he still knows who I am. :) I wish I had been more interested in his history when I was younger. Oh well. I am grateful for his old pictures and documents that help me understand parts of his story.

    Reply
  17. Pamela Testerman

    Very thought provoking. We all have memories that we are not sure really happened, this brings it all back. Great story…loved it!!

    Reply
  18. Rosemary "Mamie" Adkins

    Thank you to The Write Room for having such interesting posts.

    I loved this story as it certainly makes ones mind wonder if this is fact or fiction. The unknown is sometimes so frightening and yet the answers can be even more confusing.

    I think this could be a great fiction with the gracious way your write and the mystery that exist between then and now especially filtering in the photo. The possibility that as a child it may have been a dream that felt so real yet unproven for years leaving you wanting for more. Yes, I do believe this would indeed make a best selling mystery. One has to wonder about the protectiveness of a mother and where the balance lies between truth and remaining in the dark. I’m too curious to leave it without an answer.
    Thank you for another great read.

    Reply
  19. Bryan Murphy

    A captivating piece, Micki. Memory is such a weird and wonderful thing, whose fallibility has led to many an injustice in courts of law. Given the uncertain and unresolved nature of the incident that became the memory, I wonder why you label it as “abuse”. Maybe, as I hope, it was something far more innocent.

    Reply
  20. Micki Peluso

    Bryan, because I had suffered other emotional, abandonment and sexual abuse during that period of time which I do remember. You’re right about memory. My own kids complain to me of things that they say happened to them in the past that just didn’t happen that way since I was there. A child’s mind can interpret things differently and then alter them to fit the adult mind.
    Thanks for the comment.

    Micki

    Reply
  21. Marta Merajver-Kurlat

    Micki, your story, besides the fact of its truth, is a lesson in narrative composition. My esteemed colleagues in the psy field have said enough about the workings of the unconscious mind, so I will refrain from adding to their observations. Still, I’d like to say that much of our creative material draws on repressed episodes or memories. As long as they become compelling reads, they should be welcome. Even intolerable suffering triggered by the unknown can be channeled into forms of art, which is what you’ve done here. Thank for yet another remarkable piece!

    Reply
  22. Micki Peluso

    Hi Marta, as always, thank your for your wise words. The only reason I would pursue this as truth at this point in time is that so much psychological hidden emotional debris tends to cause physical problems and I have enough of them.

    Thanks, Micki

    Reply
  23. James L. Secor

    The abuse I suffered is still with me, too, kind hanging around the edges and getting in the way. I don’t know if I deal with this in my satires, especially the absurdism, but after defining myself via “not being like,” I began finding a more positive image. I never thought of the relationship of psychological trauma at this age affecting health (aside from the manic-depression both parents bequeathed me). Your comment about your children’s interpretation of events and your’s was most enlightening. You’re braver than I: I did not choose to post the most recent events to hit me square between the eyes (mine post is not coming up til Oct, I understand). You’re making us all think, I think. . .

    Reply
  24. Linnea Larsen

    Suspenseful and mysterious, leaving the reader unsatisfied and wanting more. I agree with Cherrye, that your mom was probably protecting you from information she didn’t want you to have. She didn’t realize that sometimes our imaginations can be more dangerous than the truth, and that a simple answer is always better than a lie. Yes, I can see you developing this story further and I hope you do.

    Reply
  25. Penelope Silvers

    Hi Micki,

    Thank you for sharing your story! This is so fascinating that even as a small girl of three, it appears that you were protected from reliving that memory. Not only that, the memory that haunted you, was so very real to you and you knew it was, even after being told something different by your mother.

    Secrets, it seems, abound in all families. Sad, but true. There is a big one in our family that everyone knows the truth about, but the only person who can confirm it has denied it, and will probably also take it to her grave. Truth is actually very freeing to everyone involved; it is very sad how it is usually relegated to take a back seat.

    I really enjoy your writing, Micki. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  26. Micki Peluso

    Hi Penelope,
    Your words are so true and insightful. Childhood memories can be easily distorted but this one stayed with me all my life and while I’ll never know what happened and if it was to me or someone else, at least finding the picture proved to me that something did happen. Perhaps one day on another realm, I’ll know the answer.
    Micki

    Reply
  27. Peggy Strack

    Thank you for sharing such a personal experience that had an impact on your life. Kids are more vulnerable than we think and parents need to be careful of their behaviors when it comes to their children. As a teacher, I am amazed at the stories kids come in with about their home life.

    Reply
  28. Anne Sweazy-Kulju

    Oooooh, creepy! I loved it, Micki. Of course it’s going to bug me that you don’t know the whole story, because now we can’t know the story, either. “The man in Red,” even sounds ominous. You have a great tension pace; it built up beautifully. Nice writing style. I must read more!

    Reply
  29. Josephine Edley

    Micki,
    This was very interesting and I know we all at times seem to have dreams but then they are real and we finally get to see the truth when it can be many years. Very well written!

    Reply
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