To say WB. Jr. and I didn’t cotton to each other doesn’t cover all the bases. To say we didn’t see eye to eye doesn’t do the trick either. And then when you stuck him together with Joan the situation would get impossible. I would call and get Joan usually and then I would hear him start swearing in the background, maybe because Joan was on the phone too long, or maybe he wanted her to do something, or maybe she was hogging the phone, or maybe he was swearing up a storm because I didn’t call frequently enough. The two were joined at the hip in some sort of hellish psychological dance macabre.
The same when we visited if only for a few hours or part of an afternoon. Over the years I began to assume a distance in those visits. There was no point in talking about anything meaningful since there was no telling where such a conversation might lead: to him swearing or Joan crying or most likely both. But even the non-conversation visits didn’t work. Sure, there were no bizarre outbursts but afterwards I would still feel down, blue and murderous for a week or more. It was as if being around them I caught a psychological flu. Somewhere Freud speaks of a psychological contagion. That’s what it felt like. A contagion.
I don’t know how many sessions I spent with my shrink going round and round about these visits and phone conversations. I was trying to figure out what I was feeling and also really I was considering breaking off all connections to the two of them completely. But my shrink said she had seen people do this and it hadn’t really helped. It meant giving up all hope, and while, she said, I probably should have no hope that my parents would ever change breaking off all connections meant giving up even the possibility of hope. Something like that.
Still, I worked at it. WB would tell stories about his childhood. They didn’t make much sense to tell the truth, but I wanted to find out what I could that made him tick and act the way he did, and maybe his childhood would shed some light on that. Also I have always been interested in history and in the South, so I hit on this idea of having him tape record some of his stories for posterity as it were. I bought a little cassette tape recorder and took it down on one of the visits and said I would appreciate it if he talked into the machine now and then with some of his stories.
He seemed to like the idea, but nothing happened. I didn’t hear back, and finally—I don’t know how long it was—it came out he had been unable to operate the buttons on the machine maybe because his sight was starting to go, and had gotten frustrated, as he easily did with mechanical things that he didn’t understand, and thrown it across the room and broken it to pieces. And somehow or other Joan made it seem my fault that I had not gotten a machine he could work. I could have said, well, screw it, but instead I went and bought a big machine with big buttons on it, and stuck a cassette in it, and I labeled the “play” button “push here.” So when he pushed it, the tape would play and he would hear the instructions on the tape for how to operate the machine.
Finally I got maybe 40 minutes of tape out of him. And going through papers, as part of our ongoing cleanup, I came across ten typed pages that I wrote 10 or more years ago describing WB’s childhood as he had described it on the tapes. I don’t remember having written it, or what my intentions in writing it were exactly. It’s just the sort of thing I do.
In any case, I scanned in the pages and have stuck them up on the Tingle Territory web page. It’s an easy read and a bit interesting.