“You wrote this back in 1972?” she asked, still holding the thick book open and reaching for the bright red mug.
“Yes, ” he said.
“How old were you then?” she asked. The text seemed serendipitously appropriate to her right now.
“In 1972 I was 17.”
“I like it. You’re a journal keeper?”
“Four volumes only. I started when I was ten for a specific reason, but the one you are holding is the second of the four. The rest of my writing is scattered on envelopes, tablets and backs of things. I’m not very organized. But it seems as though words roll off my pen even to my own astonishment.”
Elaine nodded appreciatively. “Nice. I like to write on occasion. I think the two purposes of reading and writing are self-expression and identifying with other human beings.” She thought of the piece she wrote yesterday and left on the counter, forgetting to put it in her folder upstairs. It was self-expression, all right, but she didn’t want to share it with Dave. “Mostly I write letters.” She drew a careful sip from the steaming cup. “Mind if I look at another one?”
“Take your pick. Really, feel free to look through any of them.”
So she chose to read from one of the two he had not selected from his shelf. Volume One. She was curious about what he referred to as beginning to write because of a ‘specific reason.’ She wanted to know that reason. Now only Volume Four was left on the shelf. Camp waited quietly, seated in his chair seemingly relaxed in her company and enjoying his tea. When he saw her open the cover and begin his Volume One, his brows came together in the middle and a flickering soberness washed away the comfort. But he sat still and silent, watching her.
The date was written in black ink, not the blue of the text. “Written July 9, 1965; event happened July 1, 1965
Larry came to me with my baseball bat. He didn’t want to play ball. He was mad. He said I told Mom that he cheated on her and that I was bad to do that. He shouted, “You told your mom you saw me kissing that woman, didn’t you? Damned your little butt, DIDN’T YOU?” I started to run away. His face was red and twisted. He yelled at me, “COME BACK HERE YOU LITTLE SHIT! “ and then he swung the bat at my legs. I looked back over my shoulder as I tried to run as fast as I could. I saw Larry swing again with all his weight. Then I felt like an explosion and I went down with my face in the gravel and dirt. I screamed because my leg exploded and was on fire, burning, burning. I screamed my life out of my lungs. Then my mother’s face was there. She was crying in a terrible voice. Her face was a scream face. Her mouth was wide open. I could barely see through my crying myself. Mom yelled at Larry to “GET THE HELL OUT OF OUR LIVES,” and “GO TO HELL!!” I remember her yelling at him because she was holding my head in her lap so she was hurting my ears with her squeezing and yelling and crying. Then she said, “oh my God, your leg,” but in a quieter strange voice. I tried to scoot around to my side to sit up, but I couldn’t for some reason, so I stretched my neck to look at my leg. It was all backwards. It looked like someone else’s leg. Like I was wrestling and it was someone else’s leg. I remember crying and staring at my bent backwards leg and shaking like I was freezing cold. I kept saying over and over, “I wet my pants, Mamma, I wet my pants…” And she kept saying, “it’s okay,” and rocking my head in her lap. Then Mom tells me I fainted.
I HATE Larry. Larry went away forever, but I will hate him always wherever he goes.
P.S. That was a week ago. I had surgery on July 2nd to plate my leg bones together and now I have to write this because the doctor, Dr. H, said I have to. Not only that, but I have to write more pages. About my feelings. So not only am I in a whole leg cast and will have to have more surgeries because of LARRY, I have to be punished into thinking about what happened and about “other things” too. Mrs. H (I can’t spell Hewber) says I need to write in these red empty books about myself, too. Why? I didn’t do anything bad. I’m just a kid.
Later, Campbell Dougherty”
Elaine brought her hand to her cheek in a swamping queeziness from the account of this child’s experience, which explained what happened to Camps leg. “Oh. God, this is horrible. I…..” she stammered, “I’m sorry.” She hesitated a second. “I don’t think I should be reading this; it’s too personal.”
“No, the only reason you shouldn’t read it is if you do not want to . . . it was horrible, but I got over it…..very well, actually. I like who I am now more because of it. But it is certainly not too personal. You are a person, and all people are personal.”
She thought that was a strange response. But here he sat, not uncomfortable at all about his past.
“No, I’m okay. I just don’t want to . . . . “
“It’s all right, Elaine. All of it is all right.”
She smiled weakly and began to read on.
“July 12, 1965
Mrs. H says I need to write something in my book every day. Okay.
“July 12, 1965
by Campbell Dougherty”
“July 13, 1965
“July 14, 1965
"July 15, 1965
Mother sent Larry to Hell.
Campbell James Dougherty”
“July 16, 1965
Mother looks more broken than me. Like she should be in this bed instead.
Campbell J. Dougherty”
Elaine breezed through many pages that didn’t have much more than hideous fanged, horned stick figures labeled LARRY and arrows pointing to the image and arrows piercing through the figure. The pages also held large printed words and fragments about Camp not liking his crybaby room mate in the hospital, the stupid applesaucey food they wanted him to eat, the awful mediciney smell all the time, his mother looking sad and fussy in the chair next to his bed, him hating the nights alone in the room and having to listen to the crybaby.
“July 20, 1965
It is too quiet like a library in here at night after Mom goes home. Sometimes she stays overnight in a cot next to me and I like that because she can see for herself what a horrible place this is. The buzzer and beeper sounds out in the hallway are creepy, and so are the squeaks of another hospital bed rolling somewhere, and the nurses with their doctor talk language. When Mom isn’t here I don’t have anyone to talk to in the middle of the night when the crybaby starts up again. Why doesn’t HIS mother stay with him? Jeez! And he’s older than me! Mrs. H doesn’t know I skipped days in the Big Bad Red Book of Horror.
There were entries about games his mother brought him and played with him on the rolling adjustable bed table. His mother would tell him about her work day at J.C. Penney Co., selling undergarments to women. He made comments about how disgusting the talk of women’s undergarments was to him, but he didn’t want his mom not to have her form of share and tell. Visits from Mrs. H and his refusing to write any more than a couple words in the Big Red Book. Things like: Wish I was in school. Even that is better than THIS!”
“August 18, 1965
I had my second surgery fifteen days ago. It wasn’t so bad. Mostly because I did it before and already and knew about the throwing up part and everything. Now I have screws in my bone. Wonder if magnets will stick to my leg! ha! ha! Not funny. My leg hurts all the time. The bad guy LARRY disappeared and is leaving us alone. I hope he dies a horrid death. Real soon.
She read the very next entry, noticing that ten days passed without Campbell writing anything in his book.
“Monday, August 28, 1965
Dear Little Red Doctor Book:
Okay, so now I finally got to come back home. It has been eight weeks that I’ve been in one cast or another, and I am not even walking on crutches yet, so I’m pretty bored. Mrs. H comes to my house and asks me: “How are we today, little man?” I don’t like being called little man. Next time I’m going to tell her that. Or let her read this book. She’s the one who seems to want it anyway, even though she hasn’t asked to actually see it. She says I should feel it is a safe place for my feelings. Yeah, I’ll give her this book and say I finished ahead of schedule. All done.
“August 30, 1965
Dear Way More Than Half Empty Big Red Book:
Mrs. H didn’t like my early turn in. She’s weird. Teachers at school like early turn in. She also gave me this book back when I showed it to her, and said it isn’t quite finished. Crapola! She asked me to write about my mom.
About Mom: by C. Dougherty, as in Campbell
Mom drives me crazy sometimes.
Mom is trying to make up for what happened to me at the hands of her evil ex-husband. Well, she can’t ever do that so she should save her breath for a different rainy day. She spends lots of time in my room reading to me and having me read to her. We watch TV and play G.I. Joe together. She’s lousy at it. She doesn’t want to battle me and hunt me down with the weapons of her choice because she says I’m her son and that it reminds her of what happened to me. Then she cried! Jeez! It’s just a game. Anyway, at night she sits with me on my bed for longer than I need her sitting there. She says she loves me all the time now, more than she did before…..and calls me her Wounded Angel. I’m really a fallen soldier.
That’s about it about my Mom……..Mrs. H !
Campbell J. Dougherty”
“September 5, 1965
Who am I, little tiny me, in this great big, spilling-over world?
“September 8, 1965
School just started today, and I didn’t get to be there. My friends are great. Greg down the block came by after school to give me my homework. He likes the job because he says we always have better after-school snacks than at his house. Cool. Jenn and Eric have been coming over some, too. They say they missed me for the first day of school. My cast is signed by all my friends who came to see me this summer, and looks nice and grubby. But it itches and I am sick of it! Mrs. H says I should try to write my feelings about the evil ex-husband. That’s easy: I HATE HIM!!!!
“September 10, 1965
Dear Deep Red Book of Campbell’s Secrets That Aren’t Very Secret,
Mrs. H asked me if I’m mad at my Mom. Answer: No. Mrs. H asked me if there were things I like about Mom to go along with NOT liking her not being good at G.I. Joe, and her calling me her Wounded Angel.
I like the way my Mom listens to me and talks to me like I’m a real important person. She did that before what happened, happened. That should be just about enough good stuff to tell about Mom.
Elaine knew what it felt like to be a mother…..even if it was only those first ‘mother feelings’ where she promised her unborn child that she’d never let anything happen to her. Promised…..and yet…her child died and there was nothing she could do about it. It happened again and then once more. Camp’s mother couldn’t stop her child from being harmed. Elaine over-identified with that fact so much that she could bearly stand the thought of it now.
“September 18, 1965
Dear Red Book,
I got to go back to school today. It is good because I missed my friends, but it is bad because everyone stares at me.
Anyway, Mrs. H says we’re doing good. Yeah, SHE is. She can walk. I have been in a cast since this happened two and a half months ago. Still will be, and now I’m called “gimp boy” at school by the brat pack. Who cares about them, right? I do.
All for now,
“October 2, 1965
So, here I am, three months after ‘what happened’ and it turns out I only needed the two surgeries. So I’m done now. Sorta. Still have to learn to walk again. I don’t get my cast off for one more week, then I wear a brace for a couple years. It’s okay, though, because at first they said I might never be able to use my leg. Now I will. So Mom feels lots better and so do I. We have dinner together every night and say grace. I don’t too much believe in GRACE because I think God should have striked Larry dead with my unswung bat still in his hand. But God didn’t save me so I’m pretty mad at him. Mrs. H said that’s normal. Mom’s job is good for her. She’s making new friends. So am I. My new friends don’t leave me out just because I can’t run or win. I can still play.
P.S. – Thank you, Big Red Book, for being my friend, too. Thanks. You never scold or make fun of me or embarrass me. It looks like the doctors say my leg will never be straight – it curves out like a parenthasee. . .and probably will be shorter than my right leg the rest of my life.”
* * *
Joan Wagner dialed up her friend Elsie, someone who generously tolerated Joan’s eccentricities and dished out plenty of her own. They got along famously, being nearly the same age and both embracing what that age entails, a license to be a bona fide busybody, mature glamour, and unlimited special rights and privileges for elderly women. “Elsie, guess what?”
“Let’s see, ah….Sassy horked a furball on your new gold brocade sofa toss?” Elsie guessed and giggled.
“Come one, bigger….juicier!”
“Right person, wrong happening.” Joan coaxed her friend on.
“Uh….wait, don’t tell me….umm…they’re getting divorced?”
“Then what? I give up.”
“What is she missing?”
“She’s not missing anything, she herself is missing – disappeared. Poof!” Joan announced.
“You don’t say!” breathed Elsie. Joan could just picture Elsie’s mouth gaping open.
“Oh yes!” gushed Joan. She ran away and her husband came right to my door asking if I’d seen her, can you imagine?”
“Well, well, tsk…tsk…tsk,” Elsie clucked her tongue like grandmas do to small children who’ve been naughty.
Joan cozied into providing details. “Now Susan and the brood are staying with Dave while the search party goes on. Carl Johnson got in on it. I saw him tooling Dave around in his boat. Sheriff’s been here, the whole shebang. I went over just a little bit ago and Dave was all of a sudden real jumpity and short with me, wouldn’t let me sit with those poor darling kids always being shooed by their hen pecky mother…”
“Sakes alive!….” was all Elsie could wedge in.
“…..and you know, Elsie, how those kids love coming over to play with my Sassy and have something healthy like my famous bee honey yogurt instead of all that sweetsy stuff their mother gives them constantly, well no wonder they’re bouncing off the walls half the time…”
Elsie skipped in one little, “ah ha….”
“….plugged into TV incessantly and what not, why I’d have those children doing something meaningful to enrich their little lives like helping plant flowers and doing some art work and such…..”
“You said it,” encouraged Elsie.
“……who knows but what those poor kids are subjected to soap operas for pete’s sake with all the open door nude fornicating going on it’s a sin to even think about. Susan’s such an odd duck…..”
“Odd…..” parroted Elsie.
“……and Elaine’s not right, either, you know, fretting over those babies rest their souls in peace, and her standing at the rail staring out over the water on and on like she was on a widow’s watch, seems a little deranged given the fact she’s got a husband still to look after and all his household needs and things, all wrapped up in herself well what about him they were his too but you don’t see him in a vapor over it, no. But, far be it from me to meddle in their affairs, pardon the pun…”
“Of course not,” put in Elsie.
“……even though I just can’t help but see how brashly they display physical affection right there in the kitchen with the blinds open, well what can I do? our kitchen windows face each other, stop doing my dishes?”
“Hardly,” Elsie volleyed.
“I should say not. I’m not the violator in that particular situation……”
“Not.” voted Elsie.
“So what I say is she could be a little hotty from that brash behavior she displays in her window and maybe feeling good ol’ Dave failed her in the baby department so I guess I wouldn’t be too deeply startled to learn she’s run off with another man!”
“Oh Mercy! the Tart!” snapped Elsie. Then she switched her tone of voice abruptly. “Joan honey?……” she began.
“Is there any other news going on there? Elsie asked gingerly.
“Well!” Joan said, taken aback. The first occurrence of silence opened one eye. “I think not.”
“Well then, I have a little scoop for you,” continued Elsie, obviously excited by the idea she could now say something.
“Oh? And what would that be?” asked Joan, in a voice filled with astonishment that her turn could be over so abruptly.
“Remember the last bit about Alex’s wife next door, well she’s back.” Elsie put it out there like it was a sacred offering.
“Oh Elsie, I just heard someone knocking – how about we continue this conversation later?”
“Oh….I can wait until…..”
Joan interrupted obsequiously, “ I can’t wait to hear the rest, thanks so much, buzz you soon!….” Joan made a kiss sound into the phone and hung up. She didn’t go to the door because there hadn’t been any knock.
* * *