Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

Three Children’s Dreams

on 1994 November 23

Three children were born at exactly the same time. One was Stefan Schmidt, of long-time Viennese ancestors. Stefan was from the family of royal musicians, but the times had changed and the Austrian kings and queens had been forgotten by everyone outside of his family. Stefan’s father built violins, and his father built violins, and as far as anyone knew, the fathers’ fathers had always built violins. They were the best fiddlers this side of the Donau.

Just as Stefan was taking his first breath, Katya Svyetlanya came to be on a farm in the middle of Ukraine, where her six brothers and sisters, parents, grandparents, and one great grandmother all worked and watched as the earth produced beautiful beets, onions, wheat, and cherries.

At that very same time, Kayteebee Lee Carson saw the first glare of lights in a well-respected Trenton, New Jersey hospital for the first time. Her mother had recently been promoted to the Customer Specialist Department Group Assistant Manager position at the All-U-Want store district offices. A convenient commute, child support payments, and a crime watch program in their suburban development all contributed to the high regard with which this mother and daughter looked into the future.

As expected, Stefan Schmidt grew into a decent and respectful child. His musical talent charmed the family’s many visitors. He succeeded in school. His two friends, Hans Wolf and Stefan Braun, were both from the same parish and both from equal standing in the community as Stefan Schmidt. The three families were well interconnected. They were so well interconnected that it was not possible to determine with accuracy whether Hans was Stefan’s cousin, Stefan was Stefan’s uncle, or Stefan was Hans’s second cousin twice removed. Besides the tactful fellowship entailed by this situation, Stefan’s father had certain financial arrangements making continued polite relations among these three families vital.

Stefan and his two friends were perfectly free to play together in any of the three apartments after lessons, music practice, homework, and family obligations, until their eight o’clock bedtime.

As he fell asleep at night, Stefan knew that he was special, not ordinary, and he considered deeply how extensively the whole family was laying the foundation for his future success.

Katya loved summer because then she was healthy and could wander around the farm and watch the bees and squirrels. She was thoughtful and spiritually active at a young age. Often she sang to herself and invented games. When there was a good harvest, they would have a feast. The whole family would pile around the table, and somehow always even find room for their aging neighbors who didn’t have enough to eat.

In the winter, Katya could listen to the family’s important discussions about the vast world while she drew pictures, wove a doll’s rug, or carved wooden sculptures that expressed her feelings.

Kayteebee Carson had everything a little girl could want, and then some. The safety margin covered her in the event of a change of interests, which happened frequently. Kayteebee soon developed an astonishing level of leadership ability by virtue of an irresistible smile and the drive to organize everything. By the time she was in third grade she had so many friends that at least one of them was bound to have a birthday party every weekend. She could instantly adapt to any home, and loved staying over night with friends as much as her mother would allow.

Kayteebee lived in her own independent social sphere. To her the circumstances of the world were fluid and would never entrap her. She flew through childhood, noted by all as a winner in each of her quick endeavors.

Time progressed with equal measure in all places. The three children moved on into the age of reason and dissatisfaction.

Dissatisfaction first struck Stefan Schmidt in the form of a secret. He would have told all of Vienna his private thoughts, but he couldn’t think of who to tell. He didn’t want to keep this idea all to himself. It was stuck in his head, constantly bothering him. But he couldn’t tell, and he couldn’t even say why he couldn’t tell. Once while practicing the flute, he considered telling his parents the secret, but the thought made him so tense that the flute wouldn’t play a note, and his teacher became enraged at his inattention. The violin wasn’t fun anymore, and he forgot to practice one day. During that evening’s prayers, his father asked Jesus to correct the boy’s behavior. After that, Stefan calculated that it was too risky to tell the secret to his parents. To tell Hans would be to tell his parents. To tell Stefan would be to tell Hans. There wasn’t anyone else.

The shame of deceit grew larger and interrupted his sleep and his studies. Even in the midst of his compounding failures, the family never lost hope in Stefan, never eased their high expectations.

His one original secret multiplied in the nights and every desire in his body became a monster in his mind. He stopped sleeping, stopped washing himself, and still no one noticed that he had something to say.

“Are you trying to bring this family to shame, or what? What are we supposed to tell Herr Müller when you don’t even show up for your lesson?” his mother demanded while she walked into the laundry room and closed the door. Stefan wanted to kick the door open and yell at her, but instead he clutched the banister nervously and felt sick.

This fatigued mother experienced a surprise a few days later. On her way out the front door to buy new curtains for the library, she saw her son asleep on the steps. “What’s wrong with you!?” she shot out automatically. “Is there something wrong?” she repeated with sudden sympathy. Stefan shivered and felt stupid, for he had come home the night before and was unable to ring the bell and admit that he had lost the key. He went inside silently. His mother called after him: “We’ll just try to forget this, OK? Did anyone see you?” She went to get curtains.

But she didn’t forget. She made an agreement with Herr Braun, Hans’s father. He was a psychotherapist, and he would fix Stefan. “We’ll keep this quiet for your sake because we don’t want anyone thinking there’s anything wrong… Herr Braun is someone we know and trust, and I just want to make sure,” she sang with poorly improvised triviality as she adjusted the dining room ornaments.

In time, Stefan adapted to the life of fear. Daily, he concocted new strategies of escape. These were sufficiently impossible, so as not to scare himself that he might actually try. Still, they offered a diversion from the depressing walled-in secrets. In his sessions with Herr Braun, Stefan pretended to improve by steady increments. To do otherwise would be to disrupt the complex interrelations that his parents worked carefully to maintain, and the consequences of this disruption would fall as a punishment against himself. He feared the punishment most of all because its form would be an open assault on his already damaged and fragile image.

Later, when he would perfect the adaptation, nothing more would ever be said of the sessions. Stefan always kept freedom as his dearest secret. He dared never take one single step toward realizing this secret for fear of having to admit it to others, but just the thought of freedom was enough for himself. The thought of someday being able to do whatever he wanted kept him alive.

Dissatisfaction first struck Katya Svyetlanya when she realized that she was weak and that she had been hurt by strong people. Katya was usually sick and could not walk far. Some of her brothers and sisters were a little sick too, but not like her. In the wintertime she stayed still and could not see. She could not work along with the rest of her family. No one knew how to help. There was one doctor near the village, but he could not do anything, because they didn’t have any money.

Once a Finnish woman drove into the village in a car and talked to the people about a “waste dump” that was nearby. Some scientists had put evil things there that poisoned all the babies. The only problem with the Finnish woman was that she didn’t offer any solutions. She said to leave, but there was nowhere to go. She said not to eat the vegetables grown there, but then there would be nothing to eat.

Katya learned that in some countries, the people all get together and protest evil things like this. They are strong enough to protect themselves. And they have doctors who work for free. But there, they could not do anything. They didn’t know how to protest, or who to protest to. They held together and kept right on working right in the dangerous shadow of the “waste dump.”

Katya prayed constantly that some day she would go with her family to a protected country, a country where the people make the rules themselves, and she would be cured and have strong children.

Meanwhile in New Jersey, Kayteebee Carson was taking driver’s education at the age of fourteen. With a license, she could have total freedom: she could go to the mall. But the mall is where she was first struck with total dissatisfaction. It was totally boring. She walked up and down the corridors with twelve of her best friends looking for anything. “These people are idiots,” Kayteebee suddenly thought to herself. “And I hate them. I’m going to the shore.”

So she got back into her car and drove two hours to the beach. That was better, but then she got tired of it and went back to the mall. Her ex-friends were sitting around a fountain drinking Slurpies, staring at an electric train going in circles. With one single glance, she reconfirmed that she didn’t want to have anything to do with these people, and she went to New York City. She called up her mother and left a message not to worry because she would be home the next day. In New York she made some friends in order to get invited to dinner and dancing, then to get a place to stay and breakfast. They all had street names, so she picked one too. “Cat.” They all laughed. “OK, how about Majestica.” Silence. Approved. Drugs – new experience. Felt sick, finally looked at the clock, then out the window, and still couldn’t get a hold of what day it was. She called a radio station for advice. “Yeah, this is Majestica Carson. Uh, what day is it?” They aired the question and Trenton Middle School laughed because they all recognized her voice.

Kayteebee suddenly abandoned everything in New York and drove home a day late to get some more cash. The answering machine was still blinking, meaning her mother had never been home in the meantime, so she erased the message and pretended nothing had happened. For the rest of the week, she went to school for social reasons. “Boring as hell, though,” she said, reflecting on the experience.

“You know,” Kayteebee said one day to her pretend boyfriend in the bathroom mirror. “There must be more to life. I would just kill myself if I could be bothered to figure out how. I guess if I had parents who cared a goddamned bit, that would make a difference. Hell, I’ve never even met my father, the jerk.” Kayteebee resolved to find her father and give him a piece of her mind, not because this was a particularly important thing to do, but merely because it was the only thing she could think of to do. “He probably molested me and caused irreversibly repressed guilt feelings, and that’s why he left,” she mused with the air of a detective to the mirror. She enjoyed the presentation, but since she didn’t seem to have any irreversibly repressed guilt feelings, it wasn’t convincing.

“You don’t have a father, silly girl,” said her mother absently. Kayteebee was well used to this vacant feeling she associated with her mother, but she was finally getting sick of it.

The girl drove off in search of her father. She decided not to give him a piece of her mind after all, but maybe to say she loved him. “No, maybe I’ll just say ‘I am interested in getting to know you as a person.’ – Hell no, that sounds dumb.” At last she decided to wait and see if he actually was a jerk or not before saying anything final. Thirty-five miles down the turnpike, she stopped and called her mother at work to find out what her father’s name was, and if she knew which state he lived in.

From there she continued West. She liked to pick up hitchhikers – she was a good judge of character – and pretend to be a completely different person to each one of them. Her search was not seeded by a great deal of information, and so was inefficient, but this gave her time to think. She established that she was lonely. When she saw people together who looked like they cared and had been together for a long time, she wanted to be them, to have someone too. Not a hundred people, just one, and then have a family some day. She was always dreaming about stopping and being connected to other people, but she kept moving, isolated inside her car.

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