Since I was Little Charlie. Since a teacher gave me a copy of Walt Whitman», Leaves of Grass. I was hooked. Do you mind if I tell you the whole story real fast?
The real fast is not necessary. I have hours.
I didn’t really have a father – “Vietnam fucked him up!” my grandmother once told me—looking me straight in the face. “Nothing was your fault, Charlie Boy.” That’s what she called me—Charlie Boy—when she was telling me something important. My grandmother loved me.
Anyway, my dad was literally crazy. Like, Vietnam combat vet crazy. Like, in country the same year as My Lai—1967—guilt-ridden, violently crazy.
Dad was a fucking mess. He used to talk about his necklace of human ears, how they made him leave it in Vietnam. Horror movie shit.
So I latched on to Walt Whitman: “I celebrate myself and sing myself…” I always read that as my loners mantra. As in, I will celebrate my life all by myself—because y’all are too fucking crazy. I still like that: Lonely Joy.
…on dad… so sorry for him and you…
I accepted the reality of the situation in 2002—when dad accused me of being a covert agent from the United States Army. His paranoia got frightening after 9/11. But thank you for the empathy. It’s very kind of you.
Back to Walt Whitman! In the fourth grade my teacher was a poet: ”Of all the things a tree could do the willow chose to cry.” Mr. Palefsky. He gave us prizes for memorizing poems. So I started memorizing poems. Eventually I got beat up for always winning, but I didn’t care: I got drunk on poetry in the fourth grade.
Then, in the fifth grade, there was Mrs. Hunt.
Sang Lee is Dead: memoirs in fragments
By Charles Bivona
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