father was born in 1916 to Annie and Harry Herman - born in Montreal, the city
with the mountain. As an adult he was known as Ted Allan, but his given name was
beginnings he wrote: "I
have an early memory when I must have been just under a year old, lying between
my mother and my father on a mattress in the back room of a drygoods store on
Notre Dame Street East. The walls were covered with pink roses and green leaves.
My crib was painted white and stood next to the mattress on the floor, but I am
not in it. I am greedily sucking at my mother's breasts. The milk is warm and
sweet. She is looking at me with adoration. I feel the same way about her.
The 29-year-old man lying next to us is not enchanted
by the scene. My mother, who is only nineteen, is laughing and crooning, "He's
so beautiful!" feeding my father's growing jealousy. When I am finally sated
she hugs me and covers every inch of my body with kisses.
spoiling him!" snaps my father.
before I was a year old, that my life with women was going to be wonderful."
It was. Ted was constantly
falling in love. Even into his seventies he was a magnet for young women. In the
first half of his life he was an anxious and compulsive lover, but later on, either
through therapy or simply through experience he matured into - I laugh as I think
to write "God's gift."
relationships with men filtered not only through the acrimony with his father
but also through the love of his Zaida (Grandfather). Both relationships are celebrated
in "Lies My Father Told Me", which he wrote first as a short
story and later developed, as with so many of his pieces, through several medias,
finally into a motion picture. Ted said he smoothed out, humorised his father's
character. "If I had portrayed Harry as I remember him the intensity and
negativity would have alienated the audience."
movie was an important piece of Canadiana, though I find the musical score tasteless
and intrusive. I have heard that Glenn Gould offered to do the sound tract, but
that the distributors wanted a Hollywood-like product and so insisted on Canadian
"Lies..." was in some sense
a peak in Ted's career. It brought him an Academy Award nomination, and a little
bit of fame. (There were many peaks in his hilly career.)
celebrates Ted's grandfather, his Zaida, Mr. Elias. In his unfinished autobiography
Grandfather died before I reached the age of five, but he has never left me. He
appears at near-fatal moments of my life smiling and saying, "No need to
hurry. I'll be here a long time. I'll wait for you." He was there when I
was twenty-one and a tank almost tore my leg off. He came when I was dying of
typhoid nine years later, and when I had a serious heart attack in my early sixties.
But as I near my eightieth birthday he appears more often. He is standing in front
of me still smiling.
In his youth, I
was told, Grandpa had been something of a wild man, drinking and playing with
the village wenches until my Grandmother took him in hand. In his old age, when
I knew him, he had become a very religious man, praying three times a day on week
days and all day on Saturdays. In between prayers he rode around on a wagon which,
as I look back, rolled on despite all the laws of mechanics. Its four wheels always
seemed to be going in every direction but forwards. The horse that pulled the
wagon was called Ferdeleh. He was my pet and it was only much later when I had
seen many other horses that I realised that Ferdeleh was not everything a horse
could have been. His belly hung very low, almost touching the street when he walked.
His head went back and forth in jerky motions in complete disharmony with the
rest of him. He moved slowly as if he was capable of only one speed and determined
to go no faster or slower than the rate he had established some time back. Next
to my Zaida I loved Ferdelah best, with the possible exception of God, or my mother
when she bought me candy.
On Sundays when it
didn't rain, Grandpa, Ferdeleh and I would go riding through the back lanes of
...Often we would ride out of the
back lanes and ride up the mountain road. We couldn't go too far up because it
was a strain on Ferdeleh. As far as we went, surrounded on each side by tall poplars,
chestnuts and evergreens, Grandpa would tell me about the "old country",
about the rivers and the farms, and sometimes he'd get off the wagon and pick
up some black earth in his hands. He'd squat, letting the earth fall between his
fingers, and I'd squat beside him doing the same thing.
* * *
when Grandpa and I rose a little after daybreak and said our morning prayer, I
would mimic his sing-song lamentations, sounding as if my heart was breaking,
and wondering why we both had to sound so sad. I must have put everything I had
into these laments because he assured me that one day I'd become a great cantor
and leader of the Hebrews. "You will sing so that the ocean will open up
a path before you and you will lead our people to a new Jerusalem."
was four years old then and he was the only man I understood even when I didn't
understand his words...
At the synagogue on
Saturday his old white-bearded friends would surround me and ask questions. Grandpa
would stand by and burst with pride. I strutted like a peacock.
is David?" an old man would ask.
the man with the beard, the man with the bearded words." And they laughed.
"And who is God?" they would ask me.
"King and creator of the Universe, the all-powerful
one, the Almighty One, more powerful than even Grandpa." They laughed again
and I though I was pretty smart. So did my Grandfather. So did my Grandmother
and my mother. So did everyone except my father. I didn't like my father. He said
things to me like, "For God's sake you're smart, but not as smart as you
think. Nobody is that smart." He was jealous of me and he told me lies. He
told me lies about Ferdeleh. "Ferdeleh is one part horse, one part camel
and one part chicken," he told me.
told me that was a lie. Ferdeleh was all horse. "If he's part anything he
is part human," said Grandpa. I agreed with him. Ferdeleh understood everything
we said to him. And no matter what part of the city he was in, he could find his
way home, even in the dark.
going to collapse one day in a heap," my father said. "Ferdeleh is carrying
twins." "Ferdeleh is going to keel over on the street one day and die."
"He should be shot. We should put him to good use and let them make glue
out of him," and other stupid lies like that.
is Papa such a terrible liar?" I once asked Grandpa.
must never call your father a liar," he replied.
you call him a liar!" I protested.
is not, thank God, my father," answered Grandpa.
* * *
One Sunday the
sun shone brightly and I ran to the kitchen to say my prayers with grandpa, but
he wasn't there. I found my grandmother there instead - weeping. Zaida was in
his room, ill. He had a sickness they called pneumonia and at that time the only
thing you could do about pneumonia was weep. I fed Ferdeleh and soothed him because
I knew how disappointed he was.
That week I
was taken to an aunt of mine. There was no explanation given. My parents thought
I was too young to need any explanation.
Saturday, a couple of weeks later, I was brought home, too late to see Grandpa
that evening, but I felt good knowing that I would be spending the next day with
him and Ferdeleh again.
When I came to the kitchen
Sunday morning, Grandpa was not there. I ran into the back yard. Ferdeleh was
not in the stable. I thought they were playing a joke on me so I rushed to the
front of the house sure that Grandpa would be sitting atop the wagon waiting for
But there wasn't any wagon. My father came
up behind me and put his hand on my head. I looked up questioningly and he said,
"Grandpa and Ferdeleh have gone to heaven."
he told me they were never coming back I moved away from him and went to my room.
I lay down on my bed and cried, not for Grandpa and Ferdeleh, because I knew they
would never leave without saying goodbye, but for my father, because he had told
me such a horrible lie.
... Grandpa and Ferdeleh never came back, and I stopped going to the window to
look for them."
his Zaida's death Ted fell from grace, losing that protection from his father.
But life held compensations. Ted was perennially falling in love. When he was
in his late sixties one of his grand daughters met a school friend who told her
that Ted was the sexiest man she had ever dated.
a draft of his biography Ted wrote:
was six and a half years old when I had my first love affair... Yvette was nine
or ten, small for her age, very pretty, with long brown hair that fell to her
waist. I was tall for my age. We almost stood shoulder to shoulder. I fell in
love the first time I saw her playing hockey on the street with her five older
brothers. She was goalie. Yvette spoke very little English. I spoke no French.
We understood each other perfectly.
whom I called Bubba, lived with us when we moved from my Grandparent's house after
Zaida's death. Bubba was ailing and went to bed very early, so we needed a baby-sitter
when my parents went out. Zaida had left my mother a lot of money (twenty thousand
dollars, a fortune in 1921) and, feeling financially secure for the first time
in their lives, they went out a lot. I didn't mind. Guess who got to baby-sit?
Although Yvette was only ten, my mother felt confident about leaving us in her
care because her mother, who was a widow, and loved children, was right next door.
Yvette and I would wait for my Grandmother, sister
Sadie and baby brother George to fall asleep. Then we would cuddle up on the sofa.
My eyes close with rapture at the memory of her scent - a mixture of girl smell,
Ivory soap, and fried bacon. We were madly in love.
evening, with a full moon shining through the living room window, the two of us,
hugging on the sofa, giggling with pleasure, were catapulted into the air shrieking
at the sight of an apparition that appeared out of nowhere. A gaunt, ghostly,
witch-like creature, totally bald and toothless, with deep sunk eyes, in a long
white night-gown, wagging a forefinger, bent sharply inwards making it look like
a claw, was unleashing a torrent of screaming invective. It took me a full minute
to recognise Bubba. Until that moment I hadn't known she wore a wig and had false
Grandma, Bubba, was ringing her hands
and screaming in Yiddish, "Mein Gott! Mein Gott! Ashawnda! Ashawnda!"
(My God! Shame on you!) My frightened, shamed babysitter ran to the front door
only to meet my parents who, as fate would have it, were returning earlier than
usual. Grandma didn't lose a second detailing the "scandalous" scene
she'd walked in on, before they'd even taken off their coats. My father dealt
with the criticism in his usual manner, disappearing into his room.
was tense as she suggested Bubba go back to bed. "I'll attend to this myself."
Grandmother took her leave. Ma, standing in front of the door, blocking any escape,
faced Yvette. "What kind of animal are you?" she flung at the trembling
girl. "You call this baby-sitting?" In a flash I realised that she was
crazed with jealousy. I'd seen her lose her temper before, but nothing had ever
provoked her to carry on like this. "Your father will give you the thrashing
of your life when he hears what you did!" she continued.
quietly reminded her that Yvette's father was dead.
This stopped her for a
"Your mother will kill you for
this! How can you do such a thing with a six year old child?"
six and a half," I reminded her.
keep your mouth shut! I'll get to you in a minute." She turned again on Yvette.
"Here's your fifty cents for baby-sitting,"
she spat out with cruel sarcasm. Yvette refused, shaking her head, just wanting
to get away. Under the impression that Priests meted out hellish punishment my
mother extracted a promise that Yvette would go to Confession. Only then was she
allowed to leave, glancing at me piteously.
was now my turn. "I blame her more than I blame you because she's so much
older than you..." Ma began.
going to be seven in January," I reminded her.
interrupt me!" snapped my mother. "You must never, never do that with
any girl until you grow up and get married."
sounded like a reasonable solution to the problem. "We'll get married now,"
his later years Ted spent much time in therapy. He sent me to a therapist when
I was twelve years old because, he said, I was beginning to stutter, but really
he was looking for a surrogate parent for his son, he having begun to think seriously
about leaving my mother, Kate. And he was also testing the water. He ended up
in therapy with my therapist's therapist, a dark haired woman with rich Viennese
accent, Clare Russell. It was almost certainly in the context of psychotherapy
that Ted explored early memories of his mother sexualising him.
I was fourteen years old," he told me (two or three times), "my mother
got into bed with me, and thinking that I was asleep, rubbed her crotch against
my arm. Masturbating against me." Having said this, on one occasion Ted became
pensive and added, "That wasn't healthy. Was it?"
Herman, Ted's father, wasn't healthy either. A paranoid schizophrenic, he was
in and out of hospital continuously. Ted recalls riding with him on a streetcar,
Harry in his delirium shouting, "We're not the Jews! The Negroes, they're
could not handle money. Money slipped through his fingers," Ted wrote. "Pa
had been relatively "well" for a spell which meant that he had again
been able to borrow more money from relatives and friends and open up a small
vest factory on St. Catherine Street, east of St. Denis. I was eleven then.
Rent was cheap in the basement apartment we had
moved into. The three children, myself, my sister Sadie, my brother George, were
going to Alfred Joyce School and were able to boast that we lived in Outremont
which was where the French Canadian wealthier middle-class lived, interspersed
with an ever growing influx of richer middle-class Jews.
was at this juncture that Uncle Benny gave me a ticket for a McGill-Toronto University
Vanier Cup championship football game. I was in heaven. Most of the boys around
my age and older in school and in the neighbourhood looked upon McGill as our
University, where we hoped to end up after high school.
big day arrived, a Saturday afternoon. I'd hardly slept that night. Two of my
schoolfriends were meeting me outside the apartment building a couple of hours
before the game. We didn't want to be late.
could barely swallow my breakfast, and my mother eased into the bad news slowly.
"I'm taking Sadie to Auntie Katie's."
what's the big news about that?"
"Georgie wants to go to the football game with you. Here's the money to buy
him a ticket."
Georgie had been eating
quietly during the exchange. I jumped up from my chair. "No! No! He's always
hanging around me and my friends! He's eight years old, Mama, for godsakes! We
don't want kids hanging around with us!"
a sweater on," Mama said to Georgie, ignoring my outburst. "And sit
next to Alan. I'll make sandwiches and hot cocoa for your thermos." Then
she turned and put on her most seductive smile. "Please, darling, take him
with you. He's dying to go to that game. Do it for me, darling." She bent
forward and tickled me. "Be a darling."
don't make me take him! Please!" I begged.
it for me, sweetness," she cooed.
"Put your sweater and coat on.
He'll take you," she said to Georgie. He looked at me, his big black eyes
an extra quarter to buy hot dogs and sodas."
No! No!" I kept screaming, but I was powerless against her.
I hardly spoke to him on the way, or at the stadium. Every time our eyes met,
I'd sneer at him. But he sat there beside me and I instantly forgot him as I became
lost in the game. What running, what passing, what screams of joy. We won fifteen
to six. My friends and I skipped all the way home recalling and miming all the
important plays. What a game! We parted at my apartment building. I entered the
flat, flushed and excited. "We won!" I shouted. My mother looked behind
me and asked, "Where's Georgie?"
looked behind me too. No Georgie. I opened the door and looked into the hallway.
I ran down stairs and looked up the street.
had lost my kid brother. I remembered him at the game on the seat beside me. I
also remembered that when we got up to go, he did too. We had walked out thinking
he was following. I didn't recall seeing him after that.
came back to our apartment and assured my mother that Georgie was undoubtedly
sitting in the McGill Stadium waiting for me to come back for him.
asked my mother, her face becoming pale, "could you not notice he wasn't
with you? How could you not notice your baby brother?"
father listened silently, then spoke with a new voice of authority. "Go..."
he paused dramatically, "and find him."
rushed out and ran all the way to the stadium at the foot of Mt. Royal. The stadium
was closed and there was no sign of Georgie. I phoned home. Maybe he'd arrived
home by now. My mother was hysterical. A neighbour had seen George on a truck
heading north. "He's been kidnapped!" my mother screamed. "Where
did you lose your brother?" Mama keened and cried.
father got on the phone. "I've telephoned the police," he said with
his new take-charge manner. "You get yourself home right away."
I held back my tears. I liked my kid brother.
When I got home a policeman was taking Georgie's
description. My mother was sitting on a chair rocking to an fro. Her face was
bloodless. Deep low moans crooned through the room at intervals. "Oi!"
Sadie kept saying that Georgie had probably found some friend and gone to his
house, but it was now eight-thirty in the evening. My mother didn't look at me,
but my father kept giving me funny looks.
does a person lose a brother?" my mother muttered. She fixed me with a crazy
look. "How does a person lose a brother?"
went into my room and prayed. I promised I'd give George my ice-skates, my hockey
stick, all the things he wanted, if only God would bring him back. Time passed.
I nodded off. Much later I was alerted by a shriek. When my mother screamed it
was difficult to know whether the news was tragic or triumphant, but this time
God had answered my prayers. Georgie was back. He'd turned up around ten o'clock
grinning and eating an apple. Mama started whacking him around the head in fury
and relief. Georgie had met a classmate whose father had a truck. They had invited
him to go to the Laurentians with them to pick up some produce. He had called
out to me, but I hadn't heard him.
this my father had maintained an unnerving silence. My mother said she was too
nervous to sleep and was going to visit her sister Kate. As she got to the door
she turned and looked at me. "You should be punished for this." Then
she turned to my father. "Are you going to let him get away with this? Are
you not going to punish him for this?" she asked, and left.
all slept in the same room in that apartment, Sadie on a single bed, Georgie and
me in a double. We had barely gotten under the covers when my father came into
the room holding his belt in his hand. "Turn over," he said. "I
have to punish you." He pulled the covers down. "Turn over!"
I turned, expecting one or two hard whacks which
I figured I deserved.
Whack! came the strap.
I started to turn over, but he pushed
me back. "Say you're sorry!" he shouted, whacking me with the buckle.
Sadie started crying. "Papa, don't! Papa, don't!"
Georgie joined the cry, "Papa! Stop! Stop!"
you're sorry," Papa kept saying, breathing strenuously. "Damn you, cry!
Say you're sorry."
But I wouldn't say I
was sorry. And I wouldn't cry. I clenched my fists knowing I would rather die.
He kept swinging that belt. I lay there until he'd torn through my pyjama bottoms
and into my flesh. The bed soaked in blood. "Say you're sorry," he kept
muttering. I kept my teeth clenched shut.
and Georgie had jumped out of bed and tried to pull my father away, but to no
avail. Finally he stopped from exhaustion. Then, on seeing what he had done, he
hurried to the phone to call a doctor.
my mother came home and saw me smeared with blood she almost fainted. By then
my father was in shock. "I didn't mean to hit him like that," he said.
"I had a blackout."
The doctor arrived
and bandaged me. My mother told him I'd been in a street fight, but he knew she
The moment the doctor left my mother
pounced on my father. "Shouldn't you commit yourself? You almost killed him!
I told you to punish him, not kill him!"
had a blackout," he repeated. With a broken shuffling gait he came back into
our room. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you like that. I had a blackout."
I stared at him. His eyes drifted. He rolled his eyes up towards the ceiling,
a signal that he was not really there. I found this very weird and scary, this
man who was and wasn't there. His eyes focused again. He looked at me, and blinked.
"I'm sorry," he said. We both knew that things would never be the same.
Life would be much simpler if people
were more consistent. Scattered in his writings, Ted gives his hated father the
funniest lines. Ted brings us Harry as a man of some wit, and not without charm.
"Such a beautiful boy. Such a beautiful boy," Ted remembered his father
crooning to him.
me that sometimes as he was walking along a street he would experience a slight
snap in reality. A little jump, as though a moment were missing. Later, during
the Spanish Civil War, digging in the rubble after the bombardment of Albacete,
he unearthed the mangled body of a child. A young boy. He cradled the body to
him, and thought, "Something happened to me once and I wonder what it was."
This thought, this phrase, became an occasional but recurrent puzzle which he
associated with those little glitches in the flow of time. Much later he recalled
an early memory:
awakened from sleep, climb out of my crib and stand outside the doorway of my
room to see my father with one foot over the window ledge. He has one foot out
of the window and my mother screaming (she did a lot of screaming). My cousins,
Elmo and Sam, are holding him by the arm. My mother had told him she was calling
the doctor to get him into a mental hospital and he went berserk. He threatened
to jump out of the window. My little sister, Sadie, is lying in bed beside my
mother who is still screaming. (If Sadie is six months, I would be two years old.)
Finally my cousins pull Harry away from the
window. I remember staring at my feet and thinking, "He doesn't love us.
He wants to leave us."
I returned to my
crib, climbed in, stuck my thumb in my mouth and pulled the blanket over my head.
was it, the slip in time.
"Something happened once, and I wonder what
later incident, Ted writes: "We
were living on Waverly Street, near St. Viateur, a typical Montreal street of
exterior stairways and balconies, when my father had another of his breakdowns,
this one more violent and frightening than usual. I slept in an alcove off the
living-room. Sadie and Georgie shared a bedroom off the hallway, just before the
kitchen, and my parents' bedroom was in the back off the kitchen.
awoke one middle of the night and he was standing at the foot on my bed, in his
winter underwear, holding a hammer in his hand. Light from the street showed his
face, not distorted or angry, but quiet, calm.
this hammer, boy?" he said, swinging the hammer in front of him. "I
can take this hammer and bash your skull in and all they'll do to me is put me
back in the nuthouse. Understand that?"
"Don't ever forget it," he
said. I never turned my back on him from that moment on. That was when I started
walking in my sleep.
By the time I turned sixteen
I was taller and stronger than he was. We lived on St. Lawrence Blvd then. Sadie
was sleeping in an alcove now. Georgie had his own room and I, being the breadwinner,
had the living room transformed into my own bedroom. I was awakened again in the
middle of the night, and again he was standing at the foot of my bed in his winter
underwear, a hammer in his hand. He started the same refrain. "Do you know
that because I have been in the nuthouse so many times I can bash your skull in
with a hammer and all they'd do to me is put me back in the nuthouse? Did you
I got out of bed, walked towards
him, pulled the hammer from his hand. "Do you know," I said, "that
because you've been in the nuthouse so many times, I can bash your head in and
they wouldn't do a thing to me? Did you know that?"
jabbed me in the chest gently and said, "Good thinking, boy," and returned
to his room.
of us the early years are crucial in the formation of character. With Ted, his
childhood and youth also became the ongoing inspiration of his work, which prompted
his father to ask, "Don't you know anybody else?" Ted would use this
quote as the title for a collection of short stories.
In his last months Ted asked me to work with him on his autobiography. It was
always a moot point who would write his biography, he or I. On this occasion he
asked me to transpose into prose some of the tales from his script, "Eight
Tales of Annie."
Ted was fourteen (we wrote) he became very ill, deathly ill with an infected mastoid.
The mastoids are those little bumps at the base of the skull behind and below
the ears. When mastoids become infected it's serious business. Before the days
of antibiotics it was often fatal. As we mentioned, whenever Ted was close to
death, an image of his grandfather would visited him. As he lay semi-comatose
in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal his Zaida came to his bedside. "It's
not your time yet," said Zaida. "Don't hurry on my account. I'll wait,"
family, my Mama, didn't have Grandpa's reassurance. In my mind's eye I can see
my Mama sitting in the hospital grounds hysterical with worry. "Dear God
in heaven," she beseeched and screeched, "Don't let him die." I
see her tilt her head back to the heavens, open her eyes and confess to the skies,
"I know I have sinned. I've been lazy about meat and milk dishes, but I swear
I will never sin like that again." She paused, bit her lip. "I will
go to temple every week. What are you punishing me for? I did steal the underwear...
Is that why you're punishing me?" Tears rolled from her eyes. "Please
don't let my baby die."
I was fourteen!)
Mama's moods swung easily.
I see her lecturing the Lord. "Yes, I've sinned, but were they such terrible
sins? If we come down to it, do my sins compare with Yours?" It occurs to
me that God, who hears everything, had no choice in the matter, but must listen
to Mama's harangue as she worked herself up in to a rage. "You! You allow
millions of children to die of hunger! Now You allow Hitler!"
calmed down, but then almost immediately she began to feel uneasy. "Don't
be angry with me. I just lost my temper for a moment. Please, dear God,"
she pleaded, "do this for me. Make him well again."
Mama alternated between conferences with the Almighty and vigils by my bedside.
I drifted in and out of coma in dramatic style. Dr. Balland explained to Mama
that they had done everything that they could. The infection was deep. The next
few days would tell, he said. Then Dr. Balland squirmed uncomfortably transfixed
my Mama's knife-life stare. Dr. Balland remembered that he was the doctor and
Luckily we were blessed with a
considerate and intelligent nurse. Nurse Helen, a pretty young woman in her mid
twenties, took a special interest in me, and I in her. "He'll pull out of
it," said Nurse Helen coming to the assistance of my Mama stranded there
in the doctors wake. "He's going to be alright."
think so?" Mama asked eagerly.
pulse is better today. His blood pressure is better today."
didn't Dr. Balland tell me? Why is he saying the next few days will tell?"
Nurse Helen, looking around, screwed up her face
in an ambiguous commentary. She led Mama away from the bed and down the hall towards
the elevators. "Try and get some sleep, Mrs. Herman. Alan is going to be
had a very special relationship with God. She talked to him every day. As Mama
left the hospital I know she would be looking heavenwards screaming something
like, "Don't play games with me anymore."
At home Mama set about of placating the Almighty. She arranged two candles burning
on the dining room table. She set out one set of dishes on the table, went back
to the kitchen, washed her hands thoroughly before lifting another pile of plates
and cutlery. She returned to the dining room and placed the second set beside
the first. "There. Two complete sets. Milk dishes. Meat dishes. And I'll
never mix them up again," she told God. "The same with my pots and pans.
And the cat gets one bowl for milk and one for meat."
put a shawl over her head and started to pray, waving her hands once, twice, over
the lit candles. "Baruch Adenoih..." She hesitated. Her Hebrew was not
strong and wouldn't take her far. "Do us all a favour and stop giving us
heart failure. He's getting better. Thank You. Amen
Meanwhile I was indeed recovering. They took me out of the oxygen tent. I sat
up in bed and took an interest in what was going on around me. I savoured being
washed by Nurse Helen. I dreamt of romance. Mama saw Nurse Helen both as a rival
and as a Jezebel. Mama visited me with an amazing frequency.
recall Mama visiting one morning at breakfast. I was sitting up in bed eating
bacon and eggs. Mama gave out a gasp of disbelief. She rushed to my bed. "Is
that bacon they gave you? Ech!"
enthusiastically with my mouth full.
the bed tray and it's contents to the floor. "Bacon! Bacon? That is the worse
sin we can commit! Who gave him bacon?" The noise of the bed tray, breaking
plates, and her howls brought two nurses running. One was my Nurse Helen. I blushed
with embarrassment. "Who gave him bacon?" demanded Mama.
Balland ordered he get bacon and eggs every morning with his milk," Nurse
Helen informed her calmly.
Mama was white, near
apoplectic. Her eyes fluttered a little. She was obviously feeling faint, and
her voice became soft, gasping. "Dr. Balland knows we're not supposed to
eat bacon. Why would he order bacon?"
needs the extra protein," Nurse Helen explained with white-coated authority.
"Dr. Balland feels he'll get better faster if he eats bacon and eggs every
refutation was possible. Mama looked at the nurse. Mama looked at me. Her mind
raced and slipped gears. She came to the only conclusion possible with the welfare
of her child so scientifically prescribed.
Let him have bacon, but I won't be able to stand here and watch. I'll be back
in an hour. Finish your breakfast."
a whole year Mama strove to keep a Kosher house, with bacon. Each morning I was
pampered with my Canadian breakfast - bacon, eggs, toast, milk, orange juice.
Meanwhile Mama would scrub the frying pan with soap and steel wool, with the windows
open and her nose wrinkled in distaste. Her eyes looking heavenward she would
continue her monologue haranguing the Lord of Hosts. "So now I have four
sets of dishes for You. One for milk, one for meat, one for the cat, and one for
my father was away in the Loony Bin, life at home was bearable, but not without
problems. Mama didn't approve of me writing. A waste of time. Rather then confront
Mama I would take my typewriter down to the basement and work on my short stories
and poems in underground peace."
was in these years, too, that Ted began to take an interest in politics...
"Everyone on the street knew that
the Ostrovsky's were Communists and didn't believe in God. I had just had my Bar
Mitzvah and felt very Jewish and God conscious. Sydney Ostrovasky was my age and
he laughed when I asked if he'd had his Bar Mitzvah. "We don't believe in
such primitive rituals," he said in his well-enunciated style. Syd was my
idea of handsome. He had blond hair, thin lips and a thin aquiline nose, as did
all the family.
Sydney would later change his
name to Sydney Gordon. It was to Sydney I would later turn for help in organising
the Bethune material for the "Scalpel the Sword". For his extensive
and essential editorial assistance I would give him a co-authorship, after which
he would go on to become one of the banes of my life. A royal pain in the butt.
Way back then, though, Sydney and I were in the same class in our first year High
at Baron Byng. He lived next door, and we became fast friends. His family, being
atheist and communist, fascinated me. They kept inviting me to dinner and Sunday
lunches. I saw a lot of them. I had no idea I was being proselytised, "recruited".
I argued with them about the existence of God. How could a person not believe
in God? Mr. Ostrovsky was a successful hotel keeper. He and Sydney introduced
me to the nuances of left wing thought. Mr. Ostrovsky and Sydney were extensively
well read. That impressed me. Sydney's brother, Harry, was more of an athlete
than an intellectual. Harry, too, impressed me, for I was still obsessed with
sports, and had made both the Junior hockey and soccer teams of our High School."
Ted joined the YCL and became very actively
involved in their activities. He wrote about this in humorous fashion in his Leacock
Award winning novel, "Love is a Long Shot".(2)
When Ted was sixteen he started to try
his hand at poetry. A large part of his motivation came out of the fact that Sydney
Ostrovsky (Gordon), Charles Lapitsky and Victor Bychowski (who would go on to
become Charles Lapin and Victor Byers) met every second Sunday to read their poetry
to each other. Charlie and Victor were going to McGill and, with Sydney, were
the acknowledged intellectuals, writers and poets of the Young Communist League.
Ted longed to be a part of this elite. He had been working on a particular poem.
When he knew it was ready he asked if he might read to them. They agreed.
Sunday came. Sydney, Charlie and Victor took turns
reading their new poems. Ted was not impressed. But the elite effusively expressed
their approval for one another. Finally they turned to Ted. "Okay, Comrade
Alan, let's hear your poem."
ghostly faces with eyes sunk deep are staring
far into nothingness
With mouths tight-lipped,
A silence that screams.
Weak, weary hands with new found strength are closing,
Closing slowly into a fist
fist that is a symbol as well as a prophecy."
Ted's anthem was greeted with a few moments of silence, then with ridicule. "You
are a good friend and comrade," said Victor, "but..."
interrupted, "You haven't got a clue, for Christsake!"
something you're born with," said Charlie. "You either have it, or you
Ted took this criticism as a challenge,
and two weeks later brought back another offering...
little noises wake me from my sleep
sound over one another leap
And I wake with
And rub my drowsy weary eyes
wonder why I cannot sleep
I cannot sleep I cannot
too, was received with derision, except by Victor who, taking pity, explained
to Ted that his meter didn't work, that it was not just a matter of making things
rhyme, that you needed a gift to write poetry,
was unsubdued. Two weeks later he was back. This time he read, as his own, a poem
of Heinriche Heine. Again the offering was disparaged. The following fortnight
he read something of Robert Browning's. Again he was scorned. He sprung his trap.
Announcing that Heine and Browning were the exulted authors of his last two offerings,
he denounced the group, "None of you knows a goddamn thing about poetry!"
Triumphantly he left and went dancing down St. Laurence Boulevard, redeemed in
his own esteem.
life in childhood and adolescence were at once both grim and colourful. The colour
came from many sources, not least the eccentricity of his mother. Ted wrote in
"Eight Tales of Annie":
recall walking home in the winter. Everything is grey, almost a blur. The trees
denuded. Inside I felt like the city: depressed. Slush and snow on the street.
The houses dull, grim. I was sixteen and I was the family bread winner. I worked
in a hardware shop and dreamed of escape. I entered the family home through the
back door into the kitchen. My mother, Annie, was in her mid-thirties. She was
still young, but filling out. As I came in I found her kneeling on the kitchen
floor with her head in the gas stove oven. I stopped in my tracks. I sniffed.
There was no smell of gas.
"Why have you
got your head in the oven?"
her head and stood. She gave me a look as though talking to a fool. "Your
father's in the Loony Bin again; you had to quit high school to get a job so we
could eat; I'm making dresses all day for next to nothing; I don't know if we're
going to make next month's rent; and it makes me feel better when I put my head
in the oven."
Mama knelt again and calmly
put her head back into the oven. My family, at times, embarrassed me. This tableau
- Mama communing with the oven - became familiar. I tried to ignore it. I found
it amusing in some degree, but even more so I found it annoying. Extremely annoying.
Entering the house on the fourth day to the sight of my mother's posterior and
the open oven door, I crossed to the stove and turned on the gas.
Mama pulled her head back out from the oven and stared at me in shock. "What
are you doing!" she asked at last.
am tired of finding you everyday with your head in the oven. If you're going to
do it, do it. Get it over with."
to laugh. She laughed fit to burst. She hurried to the phone screeching in mirth
to dial Auntie Kate. It was hard for her to speak, to stifle her laughter. She
spluttered, "Alan just came home... saw me with my head in the oven... and
turned on the gas!"
I heard shrieks of
contagious hilarity from the other end of the phone, while Mama repeated Aunt
Kate's responses. "She says that's so funny! She says she loves you!"
When Ted was in his
teens The Great Depression was a feature of the landscape. Ted wrote:
When Papa came home The Depression
was deep. When Papa came home the house was too small. Papa is on his way home
again, and I have to leave. My heavy duffel bag is packed by the door. I'm on
my way out. Mama sits on the sofa. Sadie, my younger sister, who adores me, depends
upon me, is standing in the middle of the room. She's on the verge of panic. Georgie,
my kid brother stands behind her in a state of shock. We all totter on hysteria.
(I hate these memories.)
"I can not live
in the same house with him anymore or I'll go crazy."
he's well enough to come home now," says Mama. "They wouldn't let him
out if he wasn't well."
He's in a state of depression, so he's no immediate threat to anybody. They need
the space. They're anxious to get their patients out. You know that!"
Mama pleads, "Please, please, don't go. I need
"I am moving out this minute!"
Sadie is crying, "Take me with you." Georgie
echoes her distress and his own.
too small," I tell them. "There's no room."
sleep on the floor," Sadie pleads. "Don't leave me here."
catching the underlying hysteria, is whimpering.
minute I make enough money to rent a house or another room, I swear I'll take
you in. You too Georgie."
"Please don't go, darling. I need you here." I cross the room to pick
up my duffel bag. Mama pushes between me and the bag. With this movement her anger
releases. She yells, her voice breaking into a falsetto screech. "You can't
leave now! You're only seventeen. You're too young to live on your own. You're
still my responsibility."
give you half my salary."
the money! I need you here. Your sister needs you here," she screams.
"Don't bring him back here! Don't let him live
with us! The Rabbi said you should divorce him."
so unhappy. He says they beat him. If you saw him you'd feel pity. He's a good
man when he's well." Mama is rationalising. "He only gets funny when
he's sick. Where would he go? Who'll take care of him?"
I flip. I begin to go berserk. "I'll go crazy like him if I spend another
minute with him. I'll go crazy! I'll go crazy!" My eyes start to roll as
I scream, and I feel as though I'm about to have an epileptic fit.
is shocked and frightened, and she instantly retreats. "You're right. Go!
Go. Just keep in touch. Go. You're right."
a daze I pick up my duffel bag. I turn to Sadie. "I swear I'll get you out
of here before another year is over, even if I have to hold up a bank."
Mama sits on the couch sobbing quietly. Sadie and
Georgie follow me to the door. "My God," gasps Sadie, "don't leave
"We'll see each other at
nights, on week-ends," I offer weakly, as though this could help. Sadie's
pretty teenage face is shocked, devastated. I will never forget this image. I
will carry it with me. I carry it out the door that day with my duffel bag over
my shoulder. I carried it down the stairs into the street, and then the spring
city air washed it away. It would return, but at that instant I was free. I was
exhilarated. Suddenly everything looked wonderful. The trees had begun to bud.
Flower were blooming in garden plots. Houses seemed newly painted. The world looked
good. I walked off into my adulthood.
Behind me I had left despair."
him he left Sadie, and Georgie. Sadie was a year and a half younger than Ted.
In childhood they were very close: adored one another. "No brother and sister
were ever closer," Sadie said in one account Ted wrote. Ted's play "I've
Seen You Cut Lemons" is about their relationship. It was produced at
the Fortune Theatre in London in 1969, directed by Sean Connery, starring Sean's
then wife, Diane Cilento. Later Ted rewrote "Lemons..." under
the title "Anyone Else a Stranger." Then, in the late seventies,
early eighties, when he worked closely with his friend John Casavettes, together
they reworked "Lemons..." (and "Stranger...")
as a new play, "Love Streams". Casavettes directed "Love
Streams" as a play in Los Angeles in 1982, and as a film in 1984. "Love
Streams" takes the Ted and Sadie of "I've Seen You Cut Lemons"
and "Everyone Else a Stranger" and retells that story as if Johnny
Casavettes were Ted and John's wife, Gena Rowlands, was Sadie. It's a fascinating
transposition, to see Ted and Sadie's story rewritten in the character of John
and Gena; and its a wonderful film. Love Streams won the Berlin Film Festival
Golden Bear, but like all of Casavettes films, while important to the European
and Japanese cinema cognisantes, it was not a box office success in North America.
Ted and Sadie, as children, were close, close as lovers, so the story goes. In
their teens they discovered Solomon's Song of Songs, and read it to each other
with avid delight. "Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth... lie all
night betwixt my breasts... breasts like two young roes that are twins."
Mama sometimes overheard them. Mama was scandalised. Then Sadie started to flip
out. Ted wrote of this also in a second theatre play, "The Third Day Comes"
(this too was produced and directed on stage by Casavettes in L.A. in 1982 (3)).
"The Third Day Comes" was reworked as "The Wedding Band".
In this last work (and elsewhere in his later writings) Ted speculated that his
father may have molested Sadie...
though, that the following words may have come out of my head, my pen (not Ted's):
"I don't know whether Papa, Harry, actually incested my sister Sadie. I know
there was a lot of sexual tension. We both desired Sadie, probable Georgie did
too: that would only be natural."
and I used to be very close. I loved her. She adored me. I remember the time we
discovered Solomon's Song Of Songs: it excited us, confused us, fed our unconscious
incestuous love. 'Sister, kiss me with the kiss of your lips.'"
I left home, Sadie began to unravel..."
In "The Wedding Band" Ted dramatises the tensions in the family
during the period of Sadie's breakdown. The scene is set in an "Interior...
Rundown House. Annie is in the kitchen sewing buttons on a blouse; Sadie is in
her 'sleeping space' doing her homework; Alan (Ted) is in his bedroom preparing
notes for a speech: Uncle Benny helps Harry in the front door.
(In this version Ted is still living
at home. It is not quiet clear in his writings exactly when and how he left. Did
he ever truly leave?)
"Uncle Benny comes into the house walking backwards helping Harry in. Harry
is holding his crotch with one hand, a walking stick in the other. Harry is concerned
about his health. He fears that his hernia is coming back and that he will have
to give up the job he has just found.
comes out (from the curtained-off area that serves at this time as her room) to
view the commotion. She is disturb by her father's gesture: his holding his balls.
"I can't stand the way he touches himself," she murmurs.
limps off to his room, but just glances in. Then he goes to look into my room,
Alan's room, then into the alcove that is now Sadie's. He returns to the kitchen.
"Clean," he pronounces.
to talk enthusiastically about a new "invention" that will earn lots
of money: light-weight dumbbells, so people can feel that they are strong. He
starts clowning around with his hat as though it were the weights, the dumbbell.
Harry staggers under the weight of his hat. He tries to involve Sadie in his antics.
"Daddy, please!" Sadie grimaces.
notices that his wife, Annie, has put on her coat. He asks where she's going,
puzzled. Annie continues moving towards the door. "I work Sundays,"
she tells Harry as she would to a small child, and then she speaks to her daughter,
Sadie, as to an adult. "Can you make some dinner? Some soup. There's a marrow
bone in the fridge."
Harry limps to his
room still holding his crotch, still ranting softly about his inventions. He'd
be a rich man but for the conspiracies against him.
Benny leaves with Annie.
Uncle Benny spent
a lot of time at our house. He preferred our madness to the craziness in his own
home. Today he is our chauffeur. He has brought Harry home. Now he will take Annie,
his sister, off to work.
Alan and Sadie are
left alone in the kitchen. "I don't know if he's batty or if he's Hamlet
feigning madness," says Alan, "but it's my guess he'll never work again.
I'll probably be supporting him for the rest of his life."
think I love you," says Sadie to Alan, "because you're the only one
"I hate him," says
"Me?" Harry's voice questions
through the walls from his room. Harry returns to the kitchen door. Stands there
holding his groin. "You referring to me, kiddo? You hate me?"
"You used to be such a beautiful
boy. When did you get so ugly?" Harry turns to Sadie. "I used to look
at you when you were a little girl. Your little legs would turn into your ass.
And your thin ribs and thin arms made me want to make toys."
nuttier than a fruit cake," Alan grumbles.
now the buds are blooming. The little breasts of the little girl have popped out
along with her feet."
"Do you even
know what the hell you're saying," Alan barks.
third day comes for all of us," Harry tells his son. With this his thoughts
start to ramble and in this jumble, if he's talking to anyone in particular (which
he may not be), he is talking to his daughter, rather than to Alan. "Does
your groin hurt? It's a hole where my testicles join my intestines. Harry Hernia
is my name. My testicles are unemployed. One out of every four workers is unemployed.
I keep seeing women with marvellous tits."
screams at him, "Can nothing shut you up?"
don't have marvellous tits, Sadie, so you don't have to worry," Harry snickers.
"Christ!" gasps Alan.
"And they keep letting him out."
mother has marvellous tits," Harry continues. "I didn't mean to say
tits because tits are spelled "teats" which is a very funny anyway you
want to think of it. Know what I think? I think your mother is a man."
"You should go back to the hospital, man!"
says Alan. "You're scaring Sadie."
both scare me," says Sadie, and turns to go to her room.
night Alan pushes aside the curtains that separate Sadie's alcove from the sitting
room. Sadie is lying on her bed, sleeping. Alan enters her alcove and touches
her head. In the act of waking Sadie turns and swings her arm catching Alan a
good shot on the nose. Alan holds his nose. For a moment sister and brother are
"Why did you do that?" asks
"I thought it was Dad." Sadie
falls to the bed and begins sobbing.
suddenly standing by the opened curtain like some ghost. He turns and runs back
to the kitchen. Annie has long since returned from work and is busy in the kitchen.
"They're in there again," Harry tells Annie, agitated and distracted.
"What are you talking about," asks Annie,
while Alan, in Sadie's alcove, asks "What's the matter?"
our father," Sadie answers.
listen further, but runs to the kitchen. Infuriated he confronts Harry. "What
did you do to her?" Harry stares balefully at him, not answering.
do you mean, what did he do to her?" Mama asks.
asking him what he did to her that she got this way. Why is she afraid of him?"
Sadie, in a dressing gown, comes into the kitchen
shaking her head. Annie asks her, "Are you afraid of your father?"
"She's frightened of him," Alan insists.
"Is that true?" Annie asks of Sadie, then
of Alan, "Why do you keep asking what he did to her? Did you tell Alan Daddy
did something to you."
"He's done something to her and she's
afraid to tell us."
Sadie. "It's just the way he talks. The way he keeps calling me Angel."
Angel was Harry's first wife. Not a
good girl. Broke Harry's heart. Never mended.
is Georgie, the kid brother? How did he sleep through all this? He didn't. We
are in a simplified fiction, and over the next two pages (in synopsis here) Alan
is going to leave home again; Annie is going to try to hospitalise Harry, then
change her mind; some weeks will pass, and Alan will return to the house concerned
about his sister, Sadie, who had missed a couple of rendezvous with him.
"Interior, Improved Herman
Rundown House. Two Weeks Later...
Annie leads Alan into the kitchen where Harry sits. Neither Alan nor Harry acknowledges
the other. Harry turns the pages of a notebook, scanning each blank page as if
something is written on it.
doing?" Alan asks.
"He's writing poetry
with his eyes," Annie answers. Alan stares. Annie feels it necessary to explain
further. "He doesn't use a pen or a pencil."
do not choose to share," says Harry.
continues writing with his eyes.
away from him. "I want to talk to Sadie."
broken out into pimples and doesn't want you to see her," Annie explains.
"She started wetting her bed again."
for Chrissake!" Alan splutters.
up. "I have to paint the dresses and the suits with polka dots. I had a polka
dots tie," Harry explains. "They look like soup spots. Suit spots. Polka
dot suits! Never have to be cleaned. What a day! Up and down that staircase. Polka
dot cloths gonna sweep the country." Harry is wearing an overcoat, and nothing
else. He gets a brush and a can of paint, and begins dabbing one of his jackets.
"This can't miss."
"That's just what the worlds
is waiting for Harry," Annie comments. "Hey," she raises her eyebrows,
turns to Alan, "Who knows? It could start a new craze."
and Alan walk to Sadie's alcove. Annie opens the curtain. Alan stands by the curtain,
and just watches. Sadie lies on her bed, all the clothes out of her closet crumpled
and heaped beneath her, her arms and legs straddling them protectively.
says her mother, Annie, tentatively.
can't" says Sadie.
"You can't what?
You've stopped going to school. You can't work? you can't sew? you can't cook?
What can you do, Sadie?" Annie, pained for Sadie as well as herself, can't
stop herself. "I hold down two jobs and have to come home and cook. Your
father's crazy, right. But he's your father." Sadie doesn't react. "Get
out of the bed. Ugh. You're wet. Let me make your bed."
gets to her knees and climbs to the floor. Annie gets clean sheets. She quickly
makes the bed. Then she starts hanging up Sadie's cloths in the closet.
wants to paint polka dots on my cloths," says Sadie.
what? Give him a dress or a blouse. Let him enjoy himself."
sorry, Mama. I want to be a good girl."
Back in the kitchen Annie places the dirty linen in a clothes basket. She looks
at Harry's polka-dotted jacket. She looks at Harry, who sits, brush still in hand,
staring out of the window, his mind far away. In this light he looks to her like
his former self: healthy, handsome. Annie sighs. "I'm tired," she tell
Alan. "I'm just tired. I can manage your father. But I can't manage your
sister at the same time. I can't live with the guilt. I called the hospital today.
She didn't want to go."
of a hospital?" Alan asks in alarm. "What are you saying?"
"A mental hospital"
"Someone has to feed
her and bathe her. I can't take care of her. I haven't the strength."
"Oh Christ, Mom! Which hospital?"
"Not that bad one. The better one.""
The story goes, as I recall, the doctors
convinced Annie that Sadie needed to be hospitalised, and Annie convinced Ted,
Alan, that he must take her. The doctor provided them with a sedative. Sadie was
doped. Ted told Sadie to pack her things because he was going to take her to a
party in the Laurentians.
A friend drove them.
Ted remembered the windscreen wipers. It was raining. Sadie was drowsy, but relieved;
gratified to be with the brother she so loved. Ted sang to her.
they arrived at the hospital, white-uniformed staff came to help them from the
car. Sadie looked at them with slowly dawning comprehension and horror. They led
The next day Ted returned to visit
"Your brother is here to see
"This man is not my brother,"
Sadie said. "This man is an impostor!"
In his autobiographical writings Ted wrote of a "dream" in which he
debates this history with Sadie:
and I love each other like no brother and sister have ever loved before,"
says Sadie. "How could you do that to me, the one you loved so much? How
could you trick me and run away!"
to defend myself. "The doctor said you had to be treated in a mental hospital.
At least four doctors said so. You refused to go voluntarily, and I didn't want
the police to force you. I was eighteen years old! We believed it was best for
"Four doctors? Ha! You were
terrified, that's true, but not by my "insanity". You were terrified
by your feelings for me. That's what you were terrified about. And Mama wanted
me out of the way because I embarrassed her, using dirty words, shocking the neighbours,
so you both put me away!"
raving through the streets, undressing. You were holding out bloodied sanitary
napkins, talking about the sanctity of menstrual blood. You were frightening everybody.
We didn't know what to do with you."
was rebelling," Sadie shouts back. "I was protesting the gynocide. The
blood was from a nosebleed. I told everybody it was menstrual blood to make a
"You made your point. You
proved you were stark raving mad."
sexuality terrified you. So you doped me and put me in that concentration camp,
the padded cell, the electric shock treatment like you wouldn't treat a dog!"
"I was only eighteen. Mama gave me the responsibility
for getting you to the hospital. We were doing what was best for you."
"You're a liar!" Her face is distorted,
bluish with anger. "You never once gave a thought about what was best for
me. You were an asshole then and you are an asshole now!"
am angry, and frightened by her, and yet I love this fat middle-aged woman, this
young beautiful girl. "At least admit you had to be hospitalised," I
She rages at me. "I need you to
suffer. To be humiliated and beaten as I was."
suffer enough because of you, damn it!"
glares at me. "I could be cured this instant. Do you hear that?"
"How?" I ask, in part derisive, in part
"If you told me you'd take
care of me, devote yourself to me for three lousy weeks, maybe four at the most.
You owe it to me. If you cared for me enough to do that, I'd be cured. It's as
simple as that."
is trying to wake me up. ... "
Sadie asked Ted this, and they played out this "thirty days" cure. It
is the premise for Ted's play "I've Seen You Cut Lemons", later revised
as "Love Streams".
Meanwhile, later, in the 1990s, Ted in his seventies felt the need for more "therapy".
"Therapy" was important to Ted. He'd tried them all, but at this point
in time he had no particular therapist. By this time we, he and I, had established
a relationship of healer and patient - I am a practitioner of alternative medicine
- and we spent several months where I acted as his surrogate therapist. I recall
a session in which Ted went back in depth into the Sadie saga
of her. Ted, a white haired patriarch, sobbed like a baby, wretched, deep, heart-rendering.
Ted had never fully forgiven himself that betrayal of his sister. Never fully
trusted himself after that.
I recall when I was four my father would lie in bed and sing me songs. "A
hunter did a hunting go, and under his cloak he carried a bow, all for to shoot
at a merry merry doe, among the leaves so green oh..."
not trust anyone," my father, Ted, counselled me at four years old. "Not
time of the "therapy", Sadie had been dead ten years or so. Ted had
tucked away on a shelve in his apartment an urn with Sadie's ashes. Sadie had
asked that her ashes be brought back to Canada. She wanted to be buried with Ted.
Ted once asked me what he should do with the
ashes. Did I think it would be alright if he scattered them?
cleanse them. Then scatter them," I said.
was a darkness, a physical darkness, a dimness, in some corners of Ted's Tennis
Crescent apartment where he lived while in Toronto in the late nineteen eighties
and nineties. There was a long narrow corridor which led to the bedroom. It was
further narrowed with floor to ceiling bookshelves down one wall. Books. Books.
This is not the shelf that housed the urn. Where was that? Tucked away on a shelf
in the study. No, but the claustrophobic flavour of dim light and close quarters
of the apartment return to me when I think of carrying the ashes to the front
room to "cleanse" them.
to the ashes; held the urn to my body and closed my eyes. It was as though I could
hear and sense her lostness. There was a query... a "why?" Not about
anything in particular. Just a lostness and a question.
smudged the urn with cedar in the manner of the native Americans, and asked "the
ancestors" to take her into their care, to guide her to where she needed
to go, to help her to do what she needed to do.
listened again to the urn. It felt calm, peaceful: empty.
was a big deal, for me, this cleansing. And while Ted never attributed any particular
significance to my ritual interventions, which chagrined me a little, he seemed
more at ease with the ashes after this. Indeed, soon after, Ted took the ashes
down to the beaches on a windy night, with all the family in attendance (myself,
my then wife, and cousins, Ted and Sadie's nieces and nephews and their significant
others: a large party). Here in the wind Ted emptied the urn. The wind blew the
ashes back onto Ted, and this he found significant. He spoke of it with some wonder;
"She didn't want to leave."
In the sessions we had together Ted worked with deep material. Needing more than
a surrogate therapist (for we cannot do true "therapy" with friends
or family; lacking detachment), Ted followed up on a referral from his then "girl
friend", Bee, and did some work with Madeleine Byrnes. Ted wrote:
"I had a breakthrough as a result
of the drama therapy. I realised that above and beyond all the other reasons I
have faced, doping Sadie and telling her I was taking her to a party and taking
her to the Verdun Mental Hospital instead, was because I was ashamed! I felt humiliated
having a crazy sister roaming and raving through the streets of Montreal as I'd
been humiliated by father roaming and raving though the streets of Montreal.
I never faced this before that moment with Madeleine:
that I was a rising star and I feared having a crazy sister roaming the streets
would hurt my status as a rising star. I have never faced this before but it is
clear that unconsciously I knew there was something I was ashamed of and hadn't
There's still more. I can still
feel a tightness in my throat and chest related to Sadie... I had to leave the
house. To leave I had to break with Sadie. She was my bond and my bind. So was
my mother. So was Georgie in ways I have yet to figure out.
is why I have kept berating myself all my life, putting myself down. (Not just)
because of my shame about putting Sadie away, but putting her away because I wanted
her out of the way, because she was affecting (in my mind) my status as a star,
a rising star.
Rising star. Sparkling star.
Plunging star. Dying star.
Ted finally come to terms with himself about his "betrayal" of his sister?
Humans are full of love and full of shit, bullshit - contradictions. When we were
doing "therapeutic work" together Ted had a moment high on the ubiquity
of ambivalence: "Everyone loves and hates. You love me. You hate me. Paul
loves me and hates me. It is the human condition to be full of contradiction."
Ted loved himself, forgave himself, and carried
the wound forever.