A memoir in sonnets would be a great thing. While I’ve written sonnets, both Petrarchan and Shakespearean (in form, not talent), 14 lines seems too short to explain a decision to leave a job I loved to live in a tiny white box, much less a marriage, its slow demise and its aftermath. Hell, I can barely clear my throat in 14 lines. A memoir in novel form would be a great thing – except the temptation would be too great to make the protagonist a great hero (tough in my case) or a great villain, instead of an entertaining bozo on the bus. Instead, I am using the genre of the fairy tale to present my memoir, beginning today with the retelling of the story of how I destroyed my sister’s Chatty Cathy doll and left it in a toilet.
NOTE: It is the fairy-tale format that determines the material, not vice-versa.
Once upon a time, long, long ago, before television cost money or people held little boxes to talk into on the street, there lived a boy and a girl. The boy was very, very good and the girl was okay most of the time, except when she was cranky, which was quite often, but that’s not really part of the story.
The little girl’s room was like a toy store, filled with toys that she hadn’t even bothered to take out of the box. Her closet overflowed with toys she had begged for, then grown tired of. She was a very demanding little girl, and her parents had to work overtime to keep her from throwing tantrums, much less keep her happy. She would beg for new toys every day, screaming, “Buy me that!” every time a toy commercial came on.
The little boy, on the other hand, never asked for anything, and his room was smaller than his sister’s closet. He had only one toy, a piece of string he had found in the schoolyard. Still, he was happy tying and untying the string. His only dream was that someday he would find a stringless yo-yo, and then he’d be the happiest boy in the world.
Although I’ve said that the little girl ordered her parents to buy her more, more, more and then a little bit more, there was one toy with which she was well pleased. Chatty Cathy was a doll with a string in her back and a ring on the string. When the little girl pulled the ring, Chatty Cathy would say things. “Change me. I’m wet,” was one of the things. “I love you, Mommy!” was another of the things. “We’ll need another battalion to retake that hill,” was not one of those things, because this was Chatty Cathy, not Chatty G.I. Joe. The little girl would pull the ring for minutes at a time, listening to Chatty Cathy babble away.
One day, the little girl saw her brother playing with his piece of string, happily tying and untying it. Hard as it may be to believe, with her room bursting with begged-for toys, she was jealous.
“Give me that!” she demanded.
“It’s my only toy,” said her brother.
“I don’t care,” she shouted. “Mom! Make him give it to me!”
Their mother’s tired voice drifted in from the next room.
“If it will make her happy, just give it to her.”
“Nyah, nyah, nyah,” said the little girl, taking the string from her brother’s hand.
For the first time in his life, the little boy thought of what the word “fair” means. Before this, he had accepted that his sister got all the presents, while he got all the chores. At that very moment, though, the little boy missed his string so much that he did something dark. He did something mean. He did two wrong things, for the first time in his life.
He went into his sister’s room, found her Chatty Cathy doll and tore the string out of its back. Her last words were, “Hold me, Mommy.” Because he had never done anything wrong before, he didn’t recognize the feeling in his stomach. That feeling was guilt, and it made him do his second wrong thing. Not wanting to taste trouble, he tried to hide what he had done, by taking the Chatty Cathy doll into the bathroom. He took the piece of string and tied it around her right foot. He tied the other end around the toilet flusher. Then he dropped Chatty Cathy so that she hung upside down, her head in the toilet bowl. He wanted to make it appear she had killed herself.
Of course, because the little boy had never done anything wrong before, he was not very good at hiding his guilt. His sister demanded a new Chatty Cathy doll, which her parents bought her right away. The little boy was of course punished very harshly, so that he would never do wrong again.
And I haven’t.
About the author: Keith Howard used to be a homeless drunk veteran. Then he got sober and, eventually, became director of Liberty House in Manchester, a housing program for formerly homeless veterans. There, he had a number of well-publicized experiences – walking away from federal funds in order to keep Liberty House clean and sober, a contretemps with a presidential candidate and a $100,000 donation, a year spent living in a converted cargo trailer in Raymond. Today, he lives in a six-by 12-foot trailer in Pittsburg, NH, a few miles from the Canadian border with his dog, Sam. There, Howard maintains tinywhitebox.com, his website, works on a memoir, and a couple of novels while plotting the next phase of his improbable life.