The real color of fake blood

Now the big maple leaves are copper colored and scattered across the trails. Some have spots, most are matted together. They will combine down into a tapestry of debris and then recombine with the earth. The scent and sight of it makes the season feel restorative in that bittersweet way of finishing a good book. The sense that all good things must come to an end, but there will be another. It evokes the feeling of past falls as I think about going back to my home town and my memories recombine too.

I will go back soon to a favorite fall trail of mine, a place with an odd native American name, Bake Oven Knob. It’s a special place where I have one of my favorite memories with my parents, a fall day we went for a walk and took pictures with our Polaroid. There’s a photo of me wearing the most ridiculous plaid pants and a brown velour sweater leaning against a tree, posing with a walking stick on my shoulder. I have blond hair and a big smile. It is perhaps the first time I realize how beautiful fall can be and I’m just six or seven.

We would drive home in our red Volkswagen bug with me in the backseat and mom and dad up front. We’d get to the apartment and maybe light a candle and mom would fix dinner. I would sit at the kitchen table warming my hands on the candle holder with mom cautioning me not to get too close. It is hard for me to access these memories, it’s like hovering around a candle myself. There aren’t many photos from this timeframe and the ones I do have are like pieces from a jigsaw puzzle that form a sense of what the time was like but leave a lot of space in between. It is hard to tell if the missing pieces have been taken by time, obscured by parts of my brain now fogged-over, or if these memories are just locked up in a box for reasons I’m unaware of. Like to protect myself from the pain I felt after my parents divorced. I am trying to go back and remember what I can.

One of the pictures is with me and my friends at a Halloween party we threw in the late 70s. Because it’s a Polaroid, we all have that bleached-out look as the color tones are now compromised with age. But because it’s Halloween, it’s possible we were wearing make-up. I had three other friends named Bill, which is remarkable as together we made four. We were the only Bills in class and somehow got along. A black kid named Bill (Billy Carson), another Bill of Pennsylvania Dutch stock (Billy Holler) and a third Bill with a bowl cut and religious upbringing named Billy Martin. When someone said the name Bill we’d all look up at the same time and giggle. There were no odd friend dynamics or schisms, we were just chums.

And that year my dad got involved in the Halloween party as the main attraction. We converted our small two-bedroom apartment into a haunted house by turning off the lights and putting on a record of scary music. There was a table of body parts laid out for each party goer to put their hands into (basically, bowls of food used to mimic the feel of organs: black olives for eye balls, cold pasta for intestines and so on). But the main attraction was in my bedroom, the sound of someone imprisoned in there (or something).

Dad found industrial-grade, nautical-looking chains he used as part of a role he played as Crazed Locked-up Madman, a role that wasn’t much of a stretch from his daily persona. He did this on my bed, which made unsettling squeaking sounds from the metal springs when he convulsed or thrashed about with his chains, thumping the walls beside my bed like a kick drum. Dad exploited the sound of the rattling chains and the squeak of the bed to his advantage and mom acted as if she didn’t really have control over the situation, which she didn’t.

Knowing dad, there would have been a lot of fake blood involved too. Blood used strategically, smeared in the coarse edges of his black beard, emphasis around the mouth. Crazed, abandoned glaring — exaggerated eye rolls. Dad took it to a level 10. Back then fake blood came in white tubes with garish printing, the font itself oozing with its own cartoonish blood. It wasn’t the realistic color of blood, the tawny sort you’d find in Spanish Port, but more of an orange, ruddy blood. The color of fried turmeric when it combines with cooked chicken fat oil, truly vile.

Dad appeared to be bolted down to my bed but prone to escape, that was the premise, as the other Bills and I entered the room at the coaxing of my mom. And there was a lot of girlish giggling and delight in being scared, the ridiculousness of it all, dad taking it right up to the edge and sometimes overboard.

I only have one photo from that night with us, the four Bills, looking bleached-out but exhilarated. In the background, just over our shoulders, you can catch a glimpse of the apartment’s furnishings: the pattern of the sofa fabric, a part of the bookshelf, a small wooden sculpture dad carved in the resemblance of Abraham Lincoln (a figure whose profile inspired many a great amateur woodcarver). Photos like this become a portal to far-off places and the sense memories they trigger. And in this way, the photos themselves are alive. They light up parts of our brain gone dormant.

And it’s this timeframe I tried to access with a guided, hypnotic therapy session one time where I described what it was like to return to that apartment many years later and imagine what it felt like to walk down the hallway into my old bedroom. How the surface of the bed springs felt, the dimensions of the closet, the style of the windows, and so on. All this is maybe 40 years in the past, so it’s hard to pin down.

We went into the session with a premise though, that there were problems with that time period. Like there is a shadow over this we need to suss out. I probably said there was and that’s why my therapist thought so. But we came out of it with a hypothesis that now frames the way I’m told I should go back and try to revise those memories. Like doing touch up, editing a photo. And it’s a weird sensation, to employ someone else as a kind of private investigator to help you track down what happened and where things went wrong so you can try to fix them. The notion is, we can hold unexpressed negative emotions our whole lives. It is something to root out if you can find it, but terribly hard to do so.

I have come to my favorite part of the trail now with the tall cottonwoods. It slopes down, here the leaves are gold and striking against the deep green ferns and the forest undergrowth. It is the smells here that make me feel alive. The leaves recombined in a way that’s inspiring, to think I’m made of the same fabric myself.

The cycle of the seasons is the same ride we take ourselves, a kind of carousel spinning us through life. You can go back in time and climb on the horse of your choosing. It goes in both directions, forward and back. The ride costs nothing, though no one knows when it will stop.

Categories: Memoir, writing

Tags: ,

10 replies

  1. I hope.

    An interesting excerpt of boyhood, thanks for sharing it Bill. And for bringing it into the present. It makes me want to climb the 1000 steps side trail. But I’ll have to wait six months to do it again with those smells.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I work for a blood bank and it’s darker in a bag than a drop or two on your finger.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Tony! Thanks for reading and sharing that. It’s mystifying to me, the color, but must be old hat to you if that’s your work. Cool line of business, thanks for reading and following for so long, appreciate that. Be well!


  3. Interesting memoir snippet, well written.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Employing a hypnotist as an interior private eye and then revising the memories that surface sounds fascinating and a bit scary. Sometime the past year or two, I read somewhere that all those old-time paintings in the art galleries, no matter how light- and climate-controlled, will change over time, like your Polaroids, as chemical reactions continue to creep along, under the skin of the paint. So I guess that Portrait of Dorian Gray thing wouldn’t have worked long-term. But you sure have maintained or re-created some vivid memories in this piece!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is fascinating and a bit scary Robert! Thanks. And it’s cool to think how those paintings change over time, a reminder they’re organic like us. Perhaps some might even improve, ha. Under the skin of the paint is a cool phrase. Hat tip to you this fine Sunday morning. Enjoy the day.


Leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: