The Prisoner’s Diet

I believe that the psychological metabolism of a person is pretty well established by the time he is two.  Basic set points have been installed about such things as one’s ability to love or to accept love, to trust or to accept trust, to idealize and to accept idealization.  The thermostat tolerance levels for anxiety, fear, and rage are also established.  I developed the metabolism of a starving person; or at least a person on very short rations.  I learned to get the minimum daily requirement of nutrition out of the poison I was fed.

I have a hard time finding an answer when I look around in amazement and ask myself why I am not already dead and buried or locked up in a loony bin.  One answer might be nature; I was brought up in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees, and bushes and birds, and I was able to spend a lot of time outdoors.  One of my brothers describes our stay in South Carolina as idyllic.  I don’t think so, but whatever of the idyllic there might have been perhaps helped to sustain me.

But most important—I am now convinced—was my Aunt Addie.  She lived those days 100 yards away in her mother’s house.  During my first five years in SC, she was a teenager, and a mother in training.  She spent time with me; read to me; and talked with me.  I won’t say it was love at first sight.  But she was a decent young woman who liked me. I was always smiling, she said, polite, and endlessly curious; and I was happy to see a person who looked at me welcomingly and called out my name with excitement.

 The misery of this for me is that I don’t remember a damn bit of it.  I feel sad that I can’t remember if she held my hand while she read or ruffled my hair or hugged me goodbye.  But anxiety is a memory killer and I was in a perpetual state of inward anxiety.  Still, when I returned to SC after having been away for 35 years, as soon as I saw Aunt Addie, I knew I knew this person and that I liked her.  So while I can’t remember, I am certain she played a central part in keeping me on the sane side of the sanity-insanity spectrum.  This point was hammered home for me when I happened to look and see that my wife and my Aunt were two peas in a pod in height and weight.  So, I thought, I married my Aunt and not my Mother, and that was a good thing.

I think people want to grow and to change.  Some souls are so stomped into submission that they are fated to endure life only or to give up entirely.  We are all sort of like potatoes forgotten in a dark drawer, sending out pale sprouts, looking for light.  The lucky have light aplenty; the unfortunately very little.  But even a little, at the right time, can mean a great deal.  My Aunt was for me this little light.

I must have taken it in as a kind of promise that I would not always be lost in the dark.