Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois has had over six hundred of his poems and fictions appear in literary magazines in the US and abroad. He has been nominated several times for the Pushcart Prize. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition.
Your Own Kind
My parents were napping in the bedroom. A fan spun lazily above them in the afternoon dimness. They thought I was napping too, on the day bed on the screened porch, but a fly landed on my forehead and woke me. The fly meant to wake me. He was not a messenger, but an usher.
I was two, nearly three. I waited to remember my basic identity, then swung my legs out and slid off the thin mattress. I pushed against the screen door until it opened and I slipped out. I toddled down the narrow street of the bungalow park. It was nineteen-fifty-five, a round-sounding year. The sun cast dappled shadows through the maple trees. Little pebbles under my feet hurt me, so I picked my way around them.
At the pool, the gate was open. No one was swimming or lounging. Someone had left a beach towel on a lounge chair and, next to it, pair of sunglasses. I put them on. They bobbled on my head and gave me odd visual effects. I sat down at the edge of the pool and put my bare feet in the cool water. I looked down to the bottom at an unidentified round thing. The sun shone on the pool’s surface.
A huge mass of possibilities began to coalesce, and I felt certainty begin its approach, an
unprecedented feeling. No one had yet asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, a silly question for a two-year-old, but I had a sense of the future looming. I was on the brink of knowing who I was meant to be. I sensed the importance of the moment. My identity was at the tip of my tongue. At the level that a two-year-old can, I realized that this trip to the pool provided a shortcut through years of uncertainty and struggle. I sat patiently waiting for the answer. I felt alternatively big and small, another feeling I’d never had and didn’t understand.
Then my mother, whose approach I had not heard, grabbed my arm and pulled me to my feet. She knelt and hugged me. You could have drowned, she cried, you could have drowned. Her anxious tears anointed me.
That was the theme for the rest of the day and the rest of our stay in the bungalow camp. You could have drowned. But didn’t she understand? I didn’t drown, but the critical moment had been interrupted. The future that had been about to reveal itself slipped away. The moment of enlightenment passed and never returned. So I didn’t die, but I didn’t get to live either.
Three years later, we were driving home from the theater. I was in the back seat of my father’s VW Bug. He asked me: What was the moral of that movie?
We’d just seen West Side Story. I was only five, close to six, but knew what a moral was, the lesson to be taken. I wracked my brain, but all I had in it was a lyric from the most comic song:
Office Krupke, we’re very upset
We never got the love that every kid oughta get
So I almost said: Love your kid, but knew that was the wrong thing to say. My father puffed on a cigarette, then crushed it into the ashtray. After a while, he revealed the answer: Stick to your own kind.
When I became a teenager I began to ridicule my father for all kinds of things, including that message and, when I married, it was to a non-Jew, an olive-dark Sicilian, who sometimes reverted to objectionable table manners.
Now my son has brought home a woman for Thanksgiving, a Roma, also known as Gypsy. The Roma, I understand, stick to their own kind, but not her. I feel in my bones that she will steal from my son and break his heart. I want to say: Stick to your own kind, but no longer know what kind that is.