Tag Archives: nanowrimo novel chapters

Chapter Six: Ship-coffin on Fire

Swords of flame waved at the morbid sky, burning embers floated and squelched on the abyssal waters of Lake Superior.  We were adrift on a rowboat watching my father’s body and boat burn in the haunting night.  Dazzles of green light waved on the flat horizon of the lake, the magical blanket of the northern lights fed the fiery funerary boat.

My mother was singing in Old Norse.  I was pounding a deerskin drum to the rhythm of my heart.  My brother Fetu was there.  He was playing the panpipes.  I was the only one crying.  My mother had been crying for the last three days and was dried up.  Fetu didn’t cry.  The last time he cried was when his father Afi, my father’s best friend, died in Namibia.  He didn’t even cry when his grandmother died and he had to move from Samoa and come stay with us.

He was sad but only showed it with his body language.  He paused from the playing the panpipes to lay a hand on my shoulder.

My mother’s Old Norse was horribly mispronounced, but it didn’t matter.  This is what my father requested of us on his deathbed.  So she had only three days to memorize the verses (on top of being blitzkrieg drunk mind you).

I peered through tears into the distorted flames of the Frigga, the first Viking longboat my father built with the assistance of his best friend Afi, his Samoan comrade and co-owner of the mercenary outfit Human Conditions Inc.

The ship was a third of the size of the ones used in the Dark Ages, but it was built for this exact occasion though we never knew it.  Every boat we built after that one was modern.  He had plans for his funeral long before we ever knew.

“He is with us, Baldur, and my father too.  They’ll always be with us.”  Fetu said.  I was trying to stop crying, I was such a crybaby.

Usually I would respond with some smart-alecky comment about ‘nothing consciously existing after death.’  But I knew he would respond with something about people existing in the living conscious of our own heads.  And then I would agree with him and say he is right.

“They are here.”  I said.  “We are here.”

***

Fetu was Samoan.  His mother had died at an early age in a diabetic coma, so he was raised by his father and his grandmother.

His father, Afi, was gone on business half of the time, just like my father.  And he was always with my father.  They were tied to the hip as far as soldiers go.

A few years before my father met my mother in Angola, he was introduced to Afi who had just got done with three tours in Vietnam as a Recon Marine.  Afi, like my father, had tasted blood several times and liked it.  He was proud to be a fighting warrior, though the Samoan culture still harbored this warrior aspect, he felt that something was missing, the danger and the delivery of death.  He didn’t have to be drafted to go to Vietnam, he enlisted when he was seventeen.  He couldn’t wait to taste blood.

The Vietnam War was coming to a close and he was honorably discharged with many decorations from combat.  He loved his home, the islands of Samoa.  He took a year off and met Fetu’s mother, Moana.  Afi, again like my father, was an avid sailor and traditionalist.  So naturally, my brother Fetu, was also conceived on a boat like me, but he was born in a hospital while Afi was away in Africa.  Fetu’s mother Moana hated him for that.  On top of being pregnant and all the suffering that goes with that, she was in a constant state of worry that her newfound lover was dead and being cooked on a spit somewhere in the wicked jungles of the Congo.

Afi came home untouched, but it didn’t matter to Moana.  She was passed suffering, she couldn’t bring herself to even kiss Afi.

The baby seemed to be grief-stricken also.  Fetu was a serious human from the start.  It is fabled that he didn’t even cry when he was born and the doctors spanked his bottom.  Moana said that she had taken all the crying from Fetu all those months that Afi was away.  “I took all of his tears.”  She told Afi.  “He won’t be crying for you Afi.”

“One less thing I have to teach him then.”  Afi said.

Moana was perpetually depressed after that.  Her family and friends didn’t know how to deal with it.  She kept gaining weight by eating junk food, far from the traditional diet she was reared on.  She died from diabetes when Fetu was three years old.  He did not cry then.

Fetu confessed that when he cried when his father died, he wasn’t grieving for his father’s death.  It was a warrior’s death, a good death for a Samoan.  He cried for his mother, someone he could barely remember but felt so much pain for.  “My mother died of grief.”  Fetu had said after Father Odin’s funeral rite.  “She grieves still.”  If he ever had ever cried again, he would be thinking of his sullen mother eating junk food watching TV detached from her family and friends.

His grandmother became the caretaker when Afi was away in Africa, and she eventually died of diabetes too.  She ate much modern food.  After her death, Fetu refused to eat any type of processed food until he joined the Marines where he had no choice but to eat the MRE rations or whatever was fed to him in the mess hall.  If Fetu had an opinion about anything, it was diet.  He was obsessed with the evils of the modern food industry, and considering the deaths of his mother and grandmother, understandably so.

Fetu was fourteen when his grandmother died, and Afi had already been dead for more than a year.  His relatives wanted him to stay on the islands, but Fetu had other plans.  He wrote my father a letter.

It read:

Odin,

                May I come live with you?

                Fetu

Fetu and I had met several times before he came to live with us.  Afi and Fetu always vacationed with us.  I always talked his ear off and tried to get him to drink alcohol with me.  He always refused.  He didn’t care for alcohol.

I felt like I annoyed him when we were kids, and when I’d ask him he’d say:  “I don’t get annoyed.”  He was always nice and never got angry or irritated.  He was the kind of guy that you want to give a big hug to.  He was a big muscular guy, just like our fathers.  He never showed it, but he cared.

“Teach me Samoan.”  I’d say.  “Come on Fetu, teach me some Samoan.”  When I got a grip on my native languages (and my second and third), I became obsessed.  I was a raven about languages, to the point of annoyance.

Fetu had a great many talents and skills, like our fathers.  I was too much of a bookworm to learn half of it.  He was a far better sailor than I, he could navigate by the stars without any equipment.

He had a major flaw after his years of soldiery.  He was addicted to stimulants.  Methamphetamines were his favorite.

He spent the three days of my father’s funeral rite high on meth while my mother and I were drunk as skunks and crying.

We were on two different planes of existence, his far faster and clearer than ours.  We danced and sang and yelled and fell around the column-fire.

Fetu danced with fireknives through the night, he spun wheels of fire around a central pillar of flame.

***

“I wrote you all a list requests for my funerary rites.”  Father Odin said.

He was on one of his two death beds.  He said this on his outdoor one, a webbed hammock strung between two pine trees.

“Fetu will do the things that will bother you, Baldur.”  He said.

My father was dying.  I had refused to accept it.  This man was the epitome of strength in my world, he couldn’t simply die off in my eyes.  But my mother had sent for our doctor friend, a medic whom my parents had met and been friends with ever since their time spent in Angola.  “His heart is going to burst, literally.  If he wants to live, we have to get him to a hospital.  I can’t treat him out here in the woods, on this island.  Apparently, we can’t convince him to do that.  He’s prepared to die.”  Dr. Johnson said.  He was right, and I had to accept the fact that papa was going to die here on Our Island.

My mother and Dr. Johnson went on and on with loads of medical jargon which I considered hocus-pocus.  (In my head, it was hocus-Pocus right down to the etymology. Possibly metathesis of the Latin hoc est corpus.)  They may have well been magicians to me saying “here is the body”.

Just like when Father Odin was healthy and doing everything under the sun, he only went to his indoor deathbed except for that last night.  He refused to go inside.  He wanted to christen the new boat we had built.

We had been working on this boat for the last two years on our mainland property right on the coastline of Lake Superior.  My father named it Hringhorni, after the ship that the mythical Baldur was ceremonially burned on after his death.  Fetu and papa did most of the work, I only helped in the summer because of school.

“We haven’t properly christen Hringhorni yet.  Take me sailing for one last time boys.”  Father said.

I wanted to cry so bad, but I didn’t want to be selfish.  I knew my dad wanted this to be a happy moment.

“Are you coming with Nas?”  He said, waving at my mother.  She was slumped up against a tree.  She nodded and watched us help him of his death hammock.

Papa grabbed me up once he got to his feet.  He had aged quickly.  Twenty years in the last months.  I hugged him and was choking on my urge to cry.

“Papa.”  I said.  I stuttered like a struggling boat motor.  I hadn’t been drinking since I got to Our Island.  I had just started my fall semester of teaching and dissertation work when my mother called and begged me to come home.  “Papa is ready to leave this world.”  She said.  “He’s going to God soon.  Please come home.”

“That’s my brave boy.”  He said, in Swedish.  “Fetu, could you grab some bottles of mead for all of us.”  In English.  “The wind is nice.”  He looked to the sky with a great breath.

We all had to help him walk, he didn’t mind.  Years prior, no one was allowed to help the man.  But he had become so wise and humble that he welcomed our assistance.

We tromped through the trees to Our Dock.  Hringhorni rocked as if impatient to sail.  She was beautiful, built with the fine shipwright craftsmanship of papa and Fetu.  A perfect paradigm of lagom, the traditional wonder of the ancient ancestors melded with the efficient genius of modernity.  A Viking longship as a keelboat yacht.

“You break the bottle, Baldur.”  Papa said.

In that moment I was happy, though on the verge of having the dams break in my lachrymal ducts.

I broke the bottle of the golden nectar of our ancestors, /skáldskapar mjaðar/ The Mead of Poetry, my father’s delicious honeywine.  Wine and glass trickled down the stern.

“Let us sail.”  I said, in Old Norse.

We helped him aboard, seated him at the helm.

My father had told us for years to create our own rituals, because we had none in this modern age.  “If we don’t have it, let’s make it ourselves and give it importance.”  He often told us in one way or another.

“I wrote down a list of ceremonial tasks for my corpse.”  He said and handed me a parchment of handwritten rules.  “Drink some mead and read it aloud.”

I swallowed strong on the bottle, the dry bite of mead squelched my throat.  I hated stuttering.  I had to be away with it.

***

The Funeral Rite for the Odin of the Clan Ankarsvard

Nastasia-Give me Last Rites

I know you are not ordained to do so, but I know how you feel about the Church.  And you know how I feel.  I will be Christian for you in my death, it is the least I can do for you.  I want you to die peacefully knowing that you will see me in your afterlife.  My convictions are not strong enough to deny you this, and I love you to death.  I always told you that I would do anything for you.  This will be my last deed.

Baldur-Recite the Völuspá

When my heart stops, read this over me.  Never forget that when you need me, I will support your courage.  I will always be in your head whenever you need me. 

I know you have that poem nearly memorized in the old tongue.  Read it off the parchment you made for me when you were twelve if you must.  It is with the rest of my sentiments in my chest. 

Put it back in the chest when you’re done.  The chest will be burned on Frigga along with the other offerings and my body.

Fetu-Remove My Sentimental Anatomy

This is a task that only you can stomach.  You know how queasy Baldur gets when he guts a fish.  And my wife will be bereaving.  Take my eye out and burn it with some Ash-wood then give the ashes to my wife for she is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.    

Take two braids of my hair and give one to Baldur and one to yourself.

Remove my exploded heart and burn it with Ash-wood.  Take the ashes and make ink.  Give Baldur a tattoo after he crosses the equator, the sea turtle in Samoan style and tradition.

All-Leave my Body for Three Days

Let my body sit for three days before you wrap it in oil-soaked cloth and cast me aboard Frigga.  Drink and be merry.  Dance and Sing.  Realize Death.  Live.

***

I read the requests without stuttering or crying.  Fetu was tacking the mainsail.  Mama sat snuggled up by papa as he held the tiller.

This was our last time together with papa, on the gently cresting lake in the brisk wind of October.  He had a swan song.  It was silence, peaceful.

But a word echoed in my head from his parchment.

Live.

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Chapter 4: The Warrior Poet

In the beginning of 1975, a broad shouldered and handsome young man docked a small rented sailboat in the port of Luanda, the capital of Angola.  The sunset was brilliant, a bursting cornucopia of pinks and oranges washed in blue.

He had drunk the day away on the sea casually tacking the sailboat in the zephyrs.  Smiling and singing along the coast, sailing was his absolute favorite thing to do.  His second favorite thing was his job, and he was finally going back to work.  Business was going to be picking up.  He could feel worth something to someone again.

My father, Odin Ankarsvard, was thirty years old the year he met my mom.  He was still delusional about what it was to be a man, to be a warrior.  He owned and worked for a mercenary outfit called Human Conditions Inc. that operated out of South Africa.  The proverbial poop was about to hit the fan in Angola, and his outfit would be one of many blades in that fan.

He walked through the sultry Luandan night.  He sang a ballad in Old Norse.  It was about warriors that didn’t keep homes and fought for riches and glory.  He had plenty of riches, but no glory yet.  Glory would be something he would never find in battle and not for lack of valor or might.

His hotel was next a night club that attracted tourists and locals alike.  The women there were fancy-free and in love with tourists or anybody with a pocketful of cash.  But Odin had had his share with loose women for the week.  He wanted a woman to he could talk to, one he could hold.

Not long after perusing the smoky dim-lit nightclub, he had a small gaggle of girls huddled around him at the bar.  Same scene, he was tired of it.  He had already spent more money than he wanted waiting around for someone to let him know what was going on.

Odin was a nice guy though, he couldn’t tell them to shove off.  So, he told them stories and was as witty as he could.  They giggled and touch his arm, some didn’t even understand him.  He didn’t speak Portuguese either, so there wasn’t much two-way conversation.

A petite and pretty blond woman glared from across the bar the money-hungry strumpets surrounding this handsome Norseman.  She was angry and drunk and had been shooing off all the dogs looking for a good time with blond girl.

A man, whom she had just fallen in love with, had left her high and dry.  She in turn went on a three day bender to pickle herself into a coma.  She was regretting ever coming back into the city.

My father noticed her.  My mother was a wreck.  She had been drinking and crying and yelling for two days straight.  She was also low on money and was considering whoring herself out for the night, that was until she met my dad.

My father approached her.  The music was loud, a mixture of disco and African drums.

“May I buy you a drink?” Odin asked in English.

“What?”  Nastasia asked in Polish.

“What?” He asked.  “Oh, I don’t speak Polish.”

“But you understand it?”  In Polish again.

“What?”  He asked.

“What did you ask me the first time?”  Nastasia, in English.

“May I buy you a drink?”  Odin said.  He leaned over to her ear.

“Yes, yes.  You have to speak up.  And do you speak anything else besides English?”  Nastasia said.

“Swedish, German, and Afrikaans.”  He said.

“Never speak to me in German.  I may as well feel the same about the Dutch.”  She said.  “So I guess English will have to do, just like everywhere else in the world.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, unless you are German, but I assume you’re a Swede.  And don’t be so shy.  All you Vikings are the same, really loud and strong when you’re fighting or drunk, but you turn soft when you talk to women.”

Odin shook his head.

“So you are looking for some vagina for the night?”  She used the word pussy. I can’t call it the p-word, because in Polish there is a p-word like the English f-word (the p-word has more uses if you can believe it).

“No”.  Odin said.  He shook his head waving at the bartender.  He was hiding his blush.  He had plenty of vagina all week.

“Yes you are.  Be honest.  And stop being so shy.”  She said.

“I am being honest.  There are plenty of girls here for just that.”  He said.

“So you just want someone to talk to?  I doubt that.  You’re a man.”  She said.  “I’ll take a triple of vodka.  He knows what kind.  They don’t even sell Polish vodka here.”

“I don’t want to talk.  But I want someone see me off when I leave.”  He said.

***

My father came from a long line of soldiers that had been fighting for whoever wherever they could or wanted.  Sweden hadn’t been involved in a war since 1814, and naturally there are some men like to use knowledge that they’ve gained, Sweden no exception.  This goes for my father, his father, and his father and so on.

Some men are uncomfortable with peace.

My grandfather’s heroics were in World War II.  He was always proud of helping the Finnish defend themselves against the Russians, but he never talked about fighting for the Germans.  If he ever was, he never expressed it to anyone.  My father didn’t think he was embarrassed at all but could never be sure.

What my father did know was that no one else talked about grandpa’s involvement in WWII because most of the family was embarrassed.  Grandpa left his neutral Sweden to go fight for the Waffen SS out of Norway.

The Nazi’s cared so much about blue eyes and blond hair that they had developed foreign military sections for that specific type.

My grandfather, Gustav Ankarsvard, cared nothing for blue eyes or blond hair, but what he did care for was reviving the Viking culture of old, before Christianity.  What this meant was that he denounced Christianity and took up believing in the gods and myths of old.  He also took up sword fighting and boat building.  He could also smelt and blacksmith in the ancient tradition and beekeeping.

Around the time of the rape of my grandma Adamczyk, the Soviet Union invaded Finland.  Gustav was leaving the Swedish military at the time Hitler and his army invaded Poland.   He believed that it was a perfect opportunity for him to be a real warrior, one who actually fights and dies on the battlefield.

He had taken up believing in the religion of his ancestors.  So in order for him to stand in his version of Paradise, Valhalla (or Folkvagnr which some Norse revivalists have no interest in), he would have to die in battle with courage.

And he tried.  He volunteered with several of his friends to help their Finnish neighbors with the Russians.

He proved his valor in what is called the Winter War.  If he was proud of anything he had ever done as a soldier, it was fighting in the Winter War.  Not only did he shoot some Russian soldiers, but he survived in a brutal climate, and all for a good cause.

But what was a Swedish soldier to do after that, wait for something to happen, wait for an invasion?  He had tasted blood and wanted more, a feeling he’d regret later in life.

He didn’t care about any of the politics, my father had said about grandpa.  “I was the same way.”  My father told me on his deathbed.  “He gave up any of his opinions, just to have an enemy and a war.  He found it.”

He joined the Waffen SS with a bunch of his comrades from the Winter War.  The Nazi’s created a special division for Scandinavians like my grandfather, the Wiking SS Division, his being the Nordland Regiment.  That is all that was known about my grandfather’s involvement as a Waffen SS soldier.

My father was born the year that World War II ended.  America dropped a couple atom bombs on Japan, some papers were signed, and some bandages were handed out then it was back to business as usual, making better weapons for the next war.

Odin was the only child that took to his Nordic revivalism, and he was the only one with a non-Christian name.  My grandmother Ankarsvard hated it, she had my father baptized as an infant with a Christian name.  She loved her heritage and history but would never give up Christ.  My aunts and uncles became the same way.

I had only met them once, and I knew it would be the last time.  It was my grandpa’s funeral.  If it was anyone else, we wouldn’t have gone.  Father wouldn’t have risked it, most of Europe wanted him arrested.

Grandma showed me no interest, and I couldn’t talk anyhow (she probably though I was retarded too).  There was nothing wrong with his siblings, but my father didn’t have anything to say them.  He had his reasons to not want to keep in contact with your siblings (even though they aren’t very good ones).

He felt that they treated my grandpa poorly in life.  My dad was the only one that would do ancient stuff with him.  The rest of them hated it.  His brothers stopped helping him smelt iron ore.  They said “no”, when he asked.  His sisters stopped helping him harvest honey, and though they learned to knit with their mom, they did care much for that either.  They hated living in the country and moved to the city as soon as they were able.

My father felt that they loved the modern times too much, and he believed that this created a void between grandpa and himself.  He once said that my grandma would have divorced grandpa if she wasn’t such a devout Christian and that she wouldn’t have liked him at all if she would have known that he had fought on the side of the Germans.  She didn’t find this out until after my father was born.

She forgave him, but they weren’t a cheery couple.  She wasn’t a cheery person at least from what I could tell when I met her.  But of course, she couldn’t understand a lick of what I said when I greeted her in Swedish.

My father did have great experiences either.  “She treated me differently.  I was too much like my dad for her to like me.  She loved me as a son.  But she did not like me.  She wouldn’t call me Odin.  She called me Johan.  I was too much like my father and she didn’t like that.  And I can’t blame her, now.”  Father said once.

She loved my grandpa for (what she believed) the wrong reasons.  He was handsome and charming.  She felt that he was a wicked man after getting to know him, and not because he had killed people but because he did not believe in Christ and would never be forgiven until he did.

And he never did.

***

Odin Ankarsvard had made it just in time to go fight in the Congo Conflict.  Sweden hadn’t been involved in a war since Napoleon and they had troops involved in one of the many bloody conflicts in Africa after colonialism.  Though the Swedish casualties were small in comparison, there was still blood spilled.  Blood spills there still.

My dad got the chance that my grandfather had to go to another country to find.  He got to go fight and be a warrior.  He got to taste blood, and like his dad before him, he liked it.  For a while, at least.

“Then you meet a person…that changes your entire life.”  My dad said, we were sailing one day.  He wasn’t talking about my mother.  He was talking about Sarbagya, the man that got him into mercenary work.  “Then you meet another person that wants to change it back.”  That was my mother.

***

“Do you want to go to my boat?”  Odin asked Nastasia.

“Yes.”  She said.  “Do you have booze on your boat?”

“Yes, of course.”

That was the night I was conceived, though my father really had no intention for vaginaHe really wanted someone to “see him off”.  He was going off to do inhuman things and needed to do something humanlike before he left.

Then he did, and they made me.  On a boat.

I was conceived and born on a boat.

Almost died and probably will die on a boat.

And most certainly my body will be ceremonially burned with a boat.

Tagged

Chapter 2: Ankyloglossia

As I said before, my mother cursed perfectly in English.  The streets of New York City were not kind to her.  Life was not kind to her, until she met my dad.

Every swearword blasted out of her petite mouth.  And before her fists could do the same, my father grasped her shoulder and said.  “Nastasia.  It’s fine.”

The principal contained a chuckle.

“He’s not retarded, you idiots.  Haven’t you tested him for reading and writing?  You’re the ones who are retarded.”  Mom said (some f-words in there.)

The principal was spooked.  “You must leave or I’ll call the authorities.”  He said.

I’ll call the authorities.  Something is wrong with this school.  This isn’t how it should be.  Something is wrong with this whole town.”  Mom said.  (F-words were used where ever they could be, as participle adjectives and adverbs using –ing(and even adverbial proper noun intensifier that didn’t use the –ing marker e.g. “the f-word wrong.”)

We left the principal’s office.  My mother was swearing under her breath.

One of my Special Ed teachers, the not-so-nice one, decided to be brave and say something to my mother.

“Your son is definitely retarded Mrs. Ankarsvard.  And you and your family should seek professional help.”  The teacher said.

Too quick for me to follow, Mom punched her in the face, the nose to be exact.  Blood spurted downward.

Screams and screeching from the office ladies filled the room.  The principal yelled about calling the police.  My dad grabbed mom with one arm around her waist while she kicked and screamed more swears, this time in Polish.

***

Before the police came to take my mom to the station, my parents had the biggest fight I can remember.

I didn’t bother with playing with my wooden toys in the living room, I went to my room and listened to their jumble of English and Polish and Swedish.

“Odin.”  My mother said.  Her voice loud and thick.  “You mustn’t go.”

Yes.  My father’s name was Odin.  His father, Gustaf Ankarsvard, was even more fanatic about the Norse cultural revival.  My grandpa wanted his son to be a leader of gods and men.  Lo and behold, he sired his own god amongst men, my father.

“Nas.”  Father said.  This was his endearment name for mother (always an s-sound at the end, unlike the z-sound that the men from the streets of New York City called her, Nasty Naz to be exact.)

“Nas.  I have to.  This is the last time.”  Odin said.

“No you don’t.  We’ve saved so much money.”  Nas said.

“I know.  But I promised them one last run.”  Odin said.

“I can’t live like this anymore.”

“Like what?”  He said.

“Like I’ll never see you again.”  She said.

“I always come back.”

“What if this is your last time?  What the hell am I supposed to do then.  Your son needs you, now more than ever.  I need you.  And if you go there to that land of death, you may not make it back and you know it.  You know it more than anyone.”

“I have to.  There’s no more argument.”  He said.

“Says who?  You?  Why is there no more argument?  Why don’t I have a say in how you risk your life?  A life that is your family depends on.”  She said.

“There is much money saved.  You’re taken care of.”

“I don’t care about the money.”  She said (f-word +ing before money).

Mama yelled more and more in Polish with a mix of English swears (and a few Swedish ones too).  Papa stopped talking.  Mama was yelling so loud that I put my head under my pillow.  I heard mama throw a dish then something else that smashed then some pounding on something hollowish, probably papa’s chest.  I started to cry.

The racket calmed.  The police had arrived.

Mama came into my room and lifted my pillow gently and kissed my head.  “I’ll be home soon Bozhi.  I love you.”

The police hauled her off without handcuffs.  Mama had calmed, and the police must’ve thought she wasn’t a risk.  Lucky for everyone, she had calmed herself down.

“Papa.”  I said.

“Yes son.”  Papa Odin said.  He was sitting at the kitchen table with a hand on his chin (he didn’t wear a beard back then).  He passed me a notebook.

                How long will mom be gone?  I wrote.

“She’ll be back soon.  They’re just bringing her down to the station to write her a ticket.”

Am I going to another school?  I wrote.

“Yes son.  We are going to teach you at home.  We are going to fix these speech problems of yours, no matter what it takes.  I’m retiring from my business in three months.  And we’re going to move to Our Island.”  He said.

***

For years there was talk of Our Island.  My father had been saving all of his money from his business in order to buy an island in Lake Superior.  He had his heart set on a different one in the Baltic Sea, until he became on bad terms with his homeland Sweden (and the whole of Europe for that matter).

Father settled on a new one in Lake Superior, Little Tree Island.  But he never called it that.  It was either Our Island or Yggdrasil Island.  He also named the biggest tree on Our Island, Yggdrasil, the World Tree in Norse mythology.

Father was gone for the three months that he had been contracted for.  Mother and I spent those three months in a motel far enough away from our old town where nobody would recognize us.

My mother was persistent if anything.  What she wasn’t though was a speech pathologist or a teacher.  She earned a nursing degree in New York, so she could take care of me if I got hurt, but she didn’t know how to help me get over my speech deficiencies.  But she knew where to start, the university library.

We were staying in a motel just outside of Marquette in Upper Michigan.  Northern Michigan University had a library with the books my mother needed.

“I need to make it up to you Bozhi.”  She said, shuffling through a card catalogue.

We were standing in front the stacks, a labyrinth of books.  I was surprised that they were on shelves, because when mother kept saying “got to go to the stacks and find some speech books”, I thought that the library would have literal stacks of books.

“I can help you Bozhi.  I know I can.  I’ve been neglecting you for all this time.  I was so worried about making up for my sins that I forgot to help you with the thing you needed most, talking.  And you had to suffer because of my hatred of people and this world.”  She said.  She marched me by the hand down the stacks, huge shelf after shelf.

She put too much blame on herself, till the day she died.  She nurtured me more than anyone I have ever met.  She never forgave herself for her lack of communication with my school and that she didn’t give me speech therapy early on.  I never blamed her for anything, and I always made sure that she knew that.

I learned soon after her death in one of her journals that she was paying penance for the years on the streets in New York City when she was selling herself sexually to survive and get through school.  She wrote about how she hated herself for those years regardless of how much my father didn’t care in the least.  It was her issue with God and herself, and even with God’s forgiveness, she would never forgive herself.

The time I spent in school, she volunteered helping sick and old people at a Protestant church.  She wasn’t fond of the Protestant faith, being Roman Catholic and all, but she had even had issues with the Catholic Church.  She could sniff out hypocrites and liars anywhere, especially a clergyman.

I stood next her in the silence of the stacks.  She fingered through a medical tome.  “I can do this.”  She put it back and marched me to another stack.

She pulled out three books side by side.  “Forgive me father.”  She said (in Polish).  She genuflected and the books into her handbag.  “Now let’s go see what we can do about your tongue.”

On the way out, she put a wad of money on at the book checkout counter.  “For the books.”  She said to the woman.

***

“First off, you have ankyloglossia.  You’re tongue-tied, literally.  Stick your tongue out.”

Mom had a splay of medical supplies on the motel desk and a couple bottles of vodka.

“I should have known this was a problem.  You were terrible at suckling as a baby.”  She said.  “Stick your tongue out.”

I was trying, I couldn’t.  She touched the web of my tongue and the tongue itself.  “This has been hurting your speech.  Bozhi, understand?  I have to fix it.”  She said, in her endearing Polish accent.

She was prepping me for what physicians call a lingual frenectomy.  A minor procedure where the frenelum of the tongue is snipped.

She poured some vodka in a small paper cup.  It was Polish vodka, I was familiar with it.  My parents raved about how supreme is was to vodkas anywhere, especially Russia.

I smelled the rim of the cup.  It was awful and burned my nostrils.

“Just shoot it down.  Don’t think about it.  Close your eyes, pour it down your throat and think of fire.”  She said.

I closed my eyes and shot it back.  Fire.  Numb.

“How do you feel?  Little dizzy?  Not yet.  Have another.”  She said.

This wasn’t my first experience with alcohol, my parents gave me a beer or wine on holidays.  This was the first time for liquor.

I shot another back.  It burned less.  My vision changed like the times I tried wine.

“Good?”  She said.

“More.”  I said (sounded like /mo/).

“One more Bozhi and that’s it.  I can’t have you passing out on me.”  She said.

I was fine, no, great.  I had no fear of what was coming.

She raised the scalpel and held my chin with her powdery rubber-gloved hand.

Blood and saliva trickled down my chin.  I felt like I could embrace the world.

Mother finished up and took a moment to stare at me.

“We’ll get you talking in no time my dear boy.”

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Chapter 1: Retard

Call me retard. That’s what they called me in the only school I ever attended.  Boy, those kids were mean.  They didn’t care, even when I cried from all the beatings and the nasty name calling.

Call me retard. Because that is what the world calls me now, outside of calling me a trickster, a phony or fake, a false prophet, a drunk – a dipso. But I never told a lie, the world’s perception of me was the lie, told by no one but themselves.

The mean kids at my grade school called me “retard”, because I couldn’t speak well. I was put with children that had mental retardation.

‘Retard’ was the frequent noun form of their insults, whereas ‘mental’ was the adjective form for them to describe how I was retarded.  These were the clipped words that came from the popular medical term used in those times, someone who suffered from mental retardation was mentally retarded.  In the case of those kids that made fun of me because I couldn’t talk well, they considered me a ‘mental’ ‘retard’.

For years, I believed I was retarded.  My basic understanding of what it meant to be retarded led me to think that those kids were right in calling me a retard.  I didn’t know it was offensive to call a person with mental retardation a ‘retard’.

I had terrible speech problems as a child.  So bad, that you couldn’t fault those kids for thinking I was retarded (of course they didn’t have to be so mean about it.)  I was barely understood by anyone but my mother who had spent the most time with me.  My father couldn’t even understand me, because he was away on “business” half of the time during those early years.  He had me write things out.  I started writing very early.

If you can think of every kid that you have ever met who had a speech disorder, and put all those disorders and dysfunctions into one measly little child, you’d have me.

Remember the kid who stuttered?  That was me.

The kid who had a lisp?  Me.

The kid, who even at seven years old, made his t-sounds like k-sounds?  Me again.

I was also that kid that mixed up English with the other languages from his household, so even without my lisp or stuttering, you wouldn’t understand my childhood Pigeon language.

My mother spoke Polish and my father spoke Swedish as their native tongues.  Although they spoke to me in English directly (only my father spoke it well), I was still in a lost hope in the ways of speech.  If anyone could decipher what I was saying and knew Polish and Swedish, they would have heard this little brat swearing a whole bunch.  They fought a lot in those early years, mainly about my father’s “business”, so I picked up some swearwords.

Once I found out what I was saying, I was embarrassed and stopped using any swears immediately.

My mother often yelled in her native Polish at my father, and he yelled back at her in Swedish.  Whenever they got angry to the point of yelling, only their native languages came out.  They made several attempts at carrying an argument out in English, but this usually only lasted a few minutes.  My mom would get upset first and start swearing and yelling in Polish then my dad would puff out his chest and glare at her with his crazy one eye and responded in Swedish.  And I would be watching and listening while I pretended to play with my wooden toys (all my toys were ancient, my father did not approve of anything modern).

If you could imagine, this little pipsqueak stuttering and stammering his way through four years of primary school, mixing up his /t/’s and his /k/’s or making /r/ like a /w/,  also with a lisp and a stutter.  And if you could get through the mess of disorders, you’d hear a Polish or Swedish swearword here and there.

It was no surprise that even my dear mother, who spoke my special idiot language, didn’t understand me (and to no fault of her own) for those years I came home saying “kewawg, ge taw ne kewawg”-Translation-> /Retard, de (they) call me retard/.  If I could only have dropped some of those speech disorders and managed a simple “wetawd”, it would have sufficed.  My mother could have understood me saying “wetawd” and figured out earlier what was going on at school.  Or if I would have wrote it down for her.  My writing was impeccable and the school didn’t know it.  I still believed I was retarded anyway.

She finally found out that they thought me retarded.  She was outraged.  My teachers had been trying to tell her for years, but she would have nothing to do with them.  She always pretended like she didn’t speak English, simply because she disliked and distrusted most people and hated speaking English to anyone but me or my father anyhow.

The school’s principal also gave in too quickly when it came to dealing with my mom.  He came from the era where the school was allowed to make decisions.  He made the ultimate decision to put me in with the other mentally retarded children.

My mom didn’t know that I was in a ‘special needs’ class, what they called “Special Education”, until the last and final episode before she pulled me out of school.

***

It was the end of a usually harsh winter, piles of dirty snow melted making trickling streams of water everywhere.    We lived in Upper Michigan, much snow was common in the winter months.

The rivers of melt water flowed like my eyes.  I was crying, walking home with my head down.  After four years of abuse from the kids at my school, I still wasn’t used to it.  “Retard” and “You’re mental, you idiot” wasn’t the only things that came out of these devilish children while they pushed me down and washed my face in the snow.  They called me other dirty taboo words that I didn’t know until later in life.

“Stupid retard pussyface.”  A bully said.

Kot ip kweeze” Translation -> /Stop it please/.  I said.

They’d get five minutes of harassment in before the Special Ed teachers would come to my rescue.

Don’t have pity on me though, my ‘special needs’ friends got it far worse at times.

The leader of those bullies, all four of those dreadful years, was named Edward.  The only name I can remember, the only face.  I’ll never forget that face, especially after out last time seeing each other.  That last view of his face was the opposite of every time before.  He was always scowling, even when smiling or cackling.  He was demonic until our very last meeting, and then his face was a bloodied and broken helpless heap of child’s, no longer a demon.

I walked home that winter’s day and fell into my mother’s embrace.  She always let me walk all the way home by myself and greet me at the door.  She didn’t think me retarded.

I cried in her arms.  “Oh Bozhi.”  She said.

My name is Baldur (my Swedish father picked it out, he was a Norse revivalist).  My mother liked to call me Bozhidar, a Polish name, which means ‘divine gift’, I was her “divine gift” she’d often say.

“Oh Bozhi.  What did they do to you?”  She said.  Her Polish accent was rich.  She learned English during her teenage years in the streets of New York City (probably why she could swear perfectly).

“Mama.”  I said.  The only words I could say correctly were ‘mama’ and ‘papa’.  I cried some more.

“They called me retarded and pushed me down and kicked me.” (I’ll save your eyes the trouble of reading the phonics of what I said).

My mother had understood everything of what I said except for ‘retarded’, she couldn’t ever make out the word ‘kewawg’ or in this case “kewawgeg”.  Then something in her head clicked, maybe by ways of her learning my special little version of language.

“Retarded.”  She said.  Her face twisted with the defensive evil that got her through much of her awful life.  She changed herself back to comfort me and kiss me on the head several times.  She sighed, I cried.

My father was watching us from the driveway.  He was holding a shovel in both hands with a blank look on his face, his one functioning eye squinting in the sun.  I finally noticed him.  He walked as quietly as he was big.  He looked like a Viking, was from Viking lineage, and was damned proud of it.

“Papa.”  I said.  I tried to clear my tears as fast as I could.  My father didn’t like crying in those days.

“Who did this to you?”  He said.  “You don’t have to talk.  You can write it to me.”

What the school never tried to find out, and what I never tried to assert, was that I knew written language perfectly.  My parents knew I wasn’t retarded at all.  Of course they were concerned with my speech, but my parents were old, from a different age.  They let things work themselves out.

My father had commanded it into a law of our household.  “He’s fine.  His tongue will work itself out.  This hardship will make him smarter and stronger than ever.”  He said.

He was right.

***

For several weeks after that day I came home crying, my father was home on “business” leave.  And every day after, he taught me how to fight.  Out of the thousands of skills my father had, this was the one that he knew how to do really well.

“I wanted to wait until you were turning into a man, twelve or thirteen, but now is your time.  Your trial.”  He said.

“Your fists and arms.  Your feet and legs.  Your head and chest.  Fight fair,  if the fighting is fair, but if you are in mortal danger, use anything you have.  Even your teeth and nails if you have to, if it’s till the death.”  My dad said.

This was half of my dad, the other half was gentle and fun if you can believe it.

He held my arms in front of me, turned my body slightly, and moved my feet apart.  “You must have a solid base.”  He said.  He jerked me, checking my balance.

In the melting snow of our backyard, every day after school, until my fists were aching and feet frozen, he trained me in different types of hand-to-hand combat.  A mixture of things he had learned over the past twenty years the military business.

“They’ll never tease you again after you stand up to them.”  He said.  “You’ll be brave.  Bold.  That is your name Baldur.  The Bold One.”

At eight years old, I was Baldur, The Divine Gift of Courage, at least to my parents.  Not at all to myself.

That last day of school is often in my daydreams, vivid as yesterday.

The snow had melted.  Mud and dead leaves blotched the streets and sidewalks which were as dry and gray as the sky.

My Special Ed class went about our usual business, playing games and wandering the halls until lunchtime.  After our meals, all the kids went outside onto the playground for recess.

I had been avoiding Edward and his band of snot-nosed tyrants since the last bullying session.  This wasn’t too difficult to do, I just stayed near our Special Ed teachers.  But that day I wandered with intent.  As far as I could, out of sight of my teachers.  My father said I was ready.

Edward was predictable.  He could not help but stalk in on a helpless ‘retard’ sheep whom had strayed too far from the shepherd, and most of us couldn’t tell on him.

I waited in a muddy patch just out of view of my teachers.

Edward and his gang came quickly to get their free licks in.

But I was waiting, in the pose that my father had taught me.

“Look at this.  The stupid wetawd pussyface wants to fight.”  Edward said.

He came over with his hand forward, ready to flick me in the face.

I unloaded my fists, unchildlike pistons.  One after another, nose mouth eye mouth nose, until I was too close then I tackled him and straddled him then started punching him again, in his ribs, his belly.

His friends were kicking me and pounding on my back.  I couldn’t feel it.  I wasn’t there.  My biggest fear of violence is not being there.

I stopped punching, grabbed Edward’s collar, and started slamming the crown of my skull into his nose and mouth and brow.   I felt teeth prick my forehead.  Edward’s friends stopped hitting and started screaming for help.

“Help, Help.”  In the distance.

Blood and mud melded—more red than brown upon my fists and forehead and upon Edward’s face.

I felt the teacher’s hands pull at me.  I stopped, panting.  I looked down at Edward.  His eyes were swollen almost shut, I could barely see his beady eyes, no longer wolfish but sheepish.

His poor little face, a mangle mess of broken facial bones and skin and teeth.

I started to cry.  I still cry today about his face.

I never fought again after that until my life was truly in danger, and that was near the end of life as I knew it.

They called my parents in for a talk.  An ambulance came to take Edward away.

The school nurse was afraid to wipe the blood off me.  She wished the ambulance would’ve taken me also.

I sat in the principal’s office alone waiting for my parents to get there.

“Sometimes retards possess inhuman strength.”  The principal said.  He was looking at my mother.  My father was too much for him to even glance at.

My mother’s face went wicked.  She took an eternal minute before speaking.

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