“For he counteracts the powers of darkness
by his electrical skin & glaring eyes.”
Christopher Smart, My Cat Jeoffry


12

Counteracting the Powers of Darkness

Whenever my mother spoke of me as an infant, her story began the same way: “He was born with impetigo.” She said this with a wrinkling of the nose and shake of the head, eyes closing against the awful vision. “Blisters!” she would whisper, still shocked at the memory, “Rings of them all over his inner thigh. A contaminated baby. Can you imagine?”

My childhood was marked for her from the very outset by filth. “It took weeks to get him cleaned up.” Of course, the fact that a fetus contracts impetigo's staphylococcus bacterium from its mother was never considered relevant. All that mattered was that I emerged polluted by germs and was permanently tainted in her eyes, one more agent of the powers of darkness.

It would be difficult to overstate my mother's loathing of stain, grime, infection, disease, or any other manifestation of what she considered Dirt. She was hyperconscious of the stigma associated with uncleanliness and its echoes of the ghetto, of the lower classes. Her fear of pestilence was like a tormenting memory of epidemics and quarantines that she never actually endured. Maybe it was a genetic inheritance, since nowadays so many oddball behaviors are viewed as gene induced. For sure, the sight or stench of rot was

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In the Shadow of Memory
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • In the Shadow of Memory *
  • Contents *
  • Preface *
  • Acknowledgments *
  • 1 - Gray Area *
  • 1 - Gray Area: Thinking with a Damaged Brain *
  • 2 - Wild in the Woods: Confessions of a Demented Man *
  • 3 - In the Shadow of Memory *
  • 4 - Reeling Through the World: Thoughts on the Loss of Balance *
  • 5 - Living Memory *
  • 2 - The Family Story *
  • 6 - The Painstaking Historian *
  • 7 - Zip *
  • 8 - Dating Slapsie *
  • 9 - The Family Story *
  • 10 - The Year of the 49-Star Flag *
  • 3 - A Measure of Acceptance *
  • 11 - Kismet *
  • 12 - Counteracting the Powers of Darkness *
  • 13 - What is This and What Do I Do with It? *
  • 14 - A Measure of Acceptance *
  • 15 - Jangled Bells: Meditations on Hamlet and the Power to Know *
  • 16 - The Watery Labyrinth 218
  • 17 - Tomorrow Will Be Today *
  • In the American Lives Series *
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