Sunday, February 18, 2018

How The West Was Lost

Originally read at The FREE ASSOCIATION Reading Series
on February 18th, 2018 
at Alphabet City, Pittsburgh, PA

BY THE MID-1970s, my little family had already registered considerable mileage migrating around Pittsburgh, living in various neighborhoods. I remember when my mother, younger sister, and I moved into the two-story, two bedroom house on Lyric Street in East Liberty. It was rented to our mother by her sister, in an effort to provide a measure of stability for the three of us. Later, this became four, when my youngest sister was born in the living room. Sometimes the head count grew to five, when our father would come to live with us for a while, though this was always temporary. All told, I was a happy kid.

However, even at six years old, I knew innately that something was off with our family. Specifically, something wasn’t quite right with my mother’s skewed perspective of the world. She loved her children with a ferocious volatility, but would turn on friends and loved ones at the barest provocation. Sometimes even we weren’t spared her wrath, which could be terrifying to the uninitiated, and tiresome to those who were. We weren’t so much a nuclear family as a family that was prone to going nuclear for the most mundane of reasons. Still, we kids were very close to our mother, even when her behavior was unstable, which was frequent.

Like most six-year old boys, I also looked up to our father, even though he typically wasn’t in the picture; he was a photographer so he preferred to instead take most of the pictures. That’s more than a metaphor: He wasn’t built for helping to maintain much day-to-day familial structure, so he existed at the periphery of our world, observing but not guiding. Sometimes he’d live with us for a week or month or so, otherwise he lived with his own mother in the Hill District. He was usually on-call as a special visitor more than anything else, and I looked forward to his visits. To make up for his absences, he frequently came bearing gifts. This was how I became exposed to comic books, which would chart my path through everything that was to come. Other times, he brought us toys.