Lots of things happen to some people between the ages of eight and nine. Some things end up haunting them for the rest of their lives, while others end up being positive facets that they are known by ‘til the end. Sometimes, these things coincide with a particular event, such as a summer vacation, or birthday, and sometimes they coincide with simply being in their third year in school.
Just to set the stage a little, to give some background, this kid was a love child; his very presence in his mother’s womb guaranteed she would be married to his father—something they both wanted more than life—something they were both told must not happen. This kid then, helped two other kids make a dramatic and forever life changing choice. Their marriage persists even today, although how this was achieved is the stuff of several other stories. But this kid, the child of two other kids, was the catalyst of a lifetime of suffering, of paying for mistakes, and the object of his father’s wrath.
He was the third; third in a line, a blood line, the lineage of which had been fraught with frustrations, failure, and grief. Grandpa was a bona fide maestro, trained in a fine Italian conservatory. At thirty with a bright career begun and ahead of him, he seduced an aspiring pianist, ended up marrying the fifteen-year-old student and beginning life again with a new career on the railroad as a brakeman. Dad was Grandpa’s last attempt to continue the line, sixth in a series with five beautiful sisters. Over the years, Dad never seemed to be able to please Grandpa enough, life was rough and Dad learned how to be angry. Dad was fashioned to be aggressively violent, beaten, playing both sides of the football, golden-gloves, he was dashing and known for starting and finishing fights. And Mom loved him… So when this kid came along, the third, the minor third, for an instant there was peace.
His earliest memories were of screaming; Mom screaming, Dad screaming, jarring pain and the heat of it, the flash of a huge black loop arcing toward him and the searing bite. The screaming was words, but he was way too young to understand them and as the years went on, he simply shut them out, became numb, displaced himself and then he was suddenly in the third year in school.
So, by this time the kid had two little brothers and three little sisters. Dad had a decent job, worked a lot of overtime and barely kept the family fed. He had a lot of others to mete out his vengeance to, but there was a special place for the kid. The third was the first, and as such should have been so much more like his Dad, so much more. Not such a disappointment, not such a wimpy little cowering blob. Dad rained blows with the belt, with the cords, with whatever he could get his hands on, and often when he failed to find anything, with his bare hands. It was a daily occurrence like taking medicine three times a day, or as needed to cure being a child…
Now that you’ve got the stage set, we’ll get on with the story.
Somewhere very close to the start of the school year, all the kids in the third year were rounded up and brought to the assembly area and the orchestra teacher Mr. Main gave a demonstration of playing a violin, viola, cello, and bass. This year was the first year that third year students could join the orchestra. Normally, one had to be in the fifth year but that rule had changed. “Would anyone be interested in playing any of these in our school orchestra?” For reasons he’ll never know, the kid’s hand shot up. Mr. Main went to him and looked at his hands and said “You’ll make a fine violinist!” A note went home with him that day and a seed was planted.
The kid’s third year teacher was named Mrs. Hagness. She was every bit the picture of the word her last name describes. She was tall; taller still because of the inevitable bee-hive hairdo she constantly wore. She was as old as Grandma. She wore horn-rimmed eyeglasses, black and having a distinct horizontal line through each lens. Her ever dark-grey woolen skirt never showed her knees and her black shoes were always very shiny. She had long bony fingers, a wrinkly neck, and a hard face that never smiled. She was the quintessential school teacher.
One day early on, his class was doing a social studies assignment. Mrs. Hagness had passed out mimeographed copies of various line drawn pictures of people of different nationalities. They were fairly stereotypical; Dutch girl with flowers and a windmill, Rice paddy with fat-jolly Asian man in a conical straw hat, American Indian Chief with tomahawk and buckskins, on and on ad nausea. The kid got the Asian scene.
Now all of his crayons were broken bits, halves and smaller none of which had their jackets on, so, the names of the colors were missing. No matter, he knew how to make swatches with the various colors, so he went through several candidates looking for just the right shade of yellow… Not to bright, because that might mean the person was sick, or just get him laughed at. No, it had to be just the right shade. And finally he found it.
He colored very carefully, kept all the strokes within the lines, and even was able to make it seem like the skin of the person he colored was a smooth unbroken color, no streaking. No little flaky bits of crayon stuck to the paper from too hard a hand—he loved to color. Last to finish, he handed it in and blasted out to recess filled with pride that he had done such a great job of coloring in his assignment. Too soon the bell rang ending recess and he joined his classmates back in the classroom for the last session of the day.
All of a sudden, everyone around him started to giggle, then to laugh. He had no idea what for, and as he followed one little girl’s outstretched arm and finger pointing to…
His colored paper was being dangled and shown side to side for all the class. Now, Mrs. Hagness booms out:
“Class!!! This is NOT how I want you to complete your assignments for me ever!”
“I wanted to see a Chinese, and I got some sort of Martian!”
The class roared and every single classmate was pointing at him and calling names and having a great laugh. Even being only in his third year, the third, the minor third knew that this behavior was wrong. He was mortified and that day sparked a rebellion inside him. A gnawing knife edged mistrust of authority and persons with it.
The rest of the events of that school year are only vague shadows, nearly nothing can he remember of the classroom, its inhabitants, or Mrs. Hagness beyond that day. However, he did begin to play the violin.
In fact, he quickly found out that when he played his violin in his room, Dad would leave him alone. There was a period of time when he no longer needed to carry the fear of Dad pouncing on a spare moment to inflict some sort of pain. Dad’s need to inflict pain had begun to transcend the physical, so the third, the minor third, at times became an expression of a major third, hours of fear-free, pain-free existence. Eventually Dad had to threaten to beat him just to get him to come to the dinner table. The kid had stumbled onto escapism and addictive behavior at the tender age of nine.