"Toby, the reasons you're in here - the alcoholism, and hitting the little Rockwell girl - your mother and I can't help but think that we're to blame for so much of it."
"No. We failed you, growing up."
"Look, as much as I'd like to blame you for the miserable shit hole my life has become, what's wrong with me is inside me. I own it, and either I have to control it or it will control me..." "Works of Mercy"
These are some of the events that were told to me as I grew up, things about me and my family. We always had a lot of family pictures around showing how we all looked at the time, but some of the things I really don't remember. I ought to though.
Finally! She was awake and feeling surprisingly refreshed and comfortable, considering the circumstances. As the nurse entered the hospital suite with her newborn baby, she knew this was the moment she had looked forward to for so many years, especially after the miscarriages she had suffered through. This was one of her dreams come true, a dream she'd had since she was a little girl, playing house with her sisters but this was no doll she could put aside for a few days and forget. This was real.
The baby was gently placed in her arms while the nurse stood by, making sure Mrs. Beecher was at ease in her new role as Mother.
"Toby... Hello there little one, I'm your mommy. Oh Toby, you're finally here my little baby," she cooed at him. She removed his little diaper; her need to hold him skin on skin was so strong, so instinctive, she was instantaneously in love. She placed her son beside her on his little flannel receiving blanket and counted ten fingers ten toes, one little penis and a large set of balls. She remembered her friends saying a surge in hormones were responsible for this anomaly; he would be normal soon. Secretly she hoped he would always have 'a set of balls' to help him out in life. The baby's eyes didn't quite focus but she knew he could see her and recognize the sound of her voice; her index finger lightly stroked his little button nose, it was just as cute as she saw it in her dreams.
Harrison hadn't seen the baby yet but she knew her husband would be happy. Not only had she given him a healthy baby, she'd given him a son. A son!! Now they truly were a family.
The new father was finally allowed to see his wife and son, and as he quietly entered the room, the scene before his eyes took his breath away; his wife was nursing his child and his heart simply melted. He kissed her and placed a hand on his baby's head; it was so small in comparison.
"He's so little."
"Not really dear, he's just an infant he'll grow up to be big and tall. But right now I like him just the way he is." "He doesn't have any hair!"
"Yes he does, it's just soft down, feel it." They petted his head together. "It's light blond but in the light you can see some red; that's from your side of the family."
Harrison rubbed the soft skin on his sons' hand and the baby grabbed hold of his finger. "He's got a tight grip; he's strong for a baby isn't he?"
And then his powerful little lungs inhaled some fresh air, and Tobias started crying, his little chin quivering, his flailing limbs connecting with his fathers face, his cries getting louder as if to say, I'll show you how strong and tough I can be!
"Is he ok? His face is all red?"
"He's quite all right, dear. I think he just needs his diaper changed." She rubbed his forehead and noticed a prominent little vein appear when he cried.
"Oh, we got our first baby gift; it's from the Guenzel's." He handed her a small blue box with a white bow. Tiffany & Co. was printed on the top.
"Well, it's true I guess," she smiled as she rubbed her fingers over Tobias's first present. "He has been born with a silver spoon in his mouth."
Tobias Beecher. Harrison said the name over and over again as he handed out blue-banded cigars to his friends and associates who stopped by the hospital to congratulate him on the birth of his son. They all congregated in the waiting room-- it was not permissible to enter Victoria's hospital room; family only and rules were rules. But it was customary to stand outside the glass window of the nursery and stare at the newborn swaddled in his blue blanket in his little baby box lined up with the other infants each with their pink or blue cards indicating sex, last name, weight, and length. Tobias Beecher. Their first-born son was now in the system, just one more statistic among many added that day. His name was published in the newspaper just like it was supposed to be, three times during your life: birth, marriage, and death.
1970-5 yrs old
"I can open my presents now, right?" The youngster was bouncing in anticipation.
"No son, you can't open your presents now, you'll have to wait until tomorrow." His mother told him as she looked through a house-decorating magazine.
"It's my birthday daddy, I always get to do what I want to on my birthday, so where's my presents?"
"Toby, the correct way to say that is 'where are my presents'?" His father was trying to teach him proper English; he had read that children at this stage of brain development had the ability to learn language concepts, or even foreign languages, easier than at an older age. "What makes you think you have any presents? Just because it's your birthday doesn't mean that..."
"Yes it does. I always get presents. Mother, remember I asked for that bike that looks like a motorcycle?"
"This isn't Christmas, Tobias. You don't get to sit on someone's lap and ask for toys and then when you wake up in the morning there they are under the tree."
"No buts about it young man. Go upstairs and get ready for bed. And make sure you brush you teeth."
"But why do I ..."
"Because I'm your mother . . . that's why!!!"
"Harrison, I don't like his behavior lately. He's turning into a spoiled brat."
"Well, we're not totally to blame for that. Your parents keep giving him things he doesn't need and mine continually tell him he's the greatest kid in the world, and now he thinks the world revolves around him. I've noticed it too. Why don't you make us a couple of martinis and let's figure out how we're going to handle this."
The next day at his birthday party, he eyed the present from his parents; he'd been expecting a much larger sized box. "What's this?" Toby asked them as he ripped off the paper; he looked inside the box, then threw it against the wall. His face turned red with anger, he pursed his lips together in a pout and in his childlike voice whined. "A candy bar is not a present."
"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, Tobias!" His father said stooping down to face his child eye to eye and gently holding Toby's arms.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Toby asked. Even at this age, he already knew this was another unwritten lesson from his father, meant to teach him about life.
"It means you questioned the value of a gift. When you're old enough to buy your own things, then you can get whatever you want. Until then, when you receive a gift you say thank you. Do you understand it now?" Harrison asked with hope written all over his face.
He exhaled very loudly, and then said, "No!"
"Well, Toby, hopefully when you're older you'll understand the meaning of it, and then you'll recognize it's one of the many lessons in life that you'll need to learn in order to succeed."
Sometimes the father heard the echoes of his own father telling him the same things when he was young.
1973- 8 yrs old
The morning seemed to take forever; when was the afternoon going to get here? Earlier Grandmother had helped Toby choose the right outfit to wear for the new family pictures. He had this thing about the camera; he was a ham, unlike other children. He'd learned 'the clothes make the man', or so his father said, many times over, but he didn't always pick out things that 'went together' very well... he didn't quite have the hang of it yet, but he did know men wearing colorful plaid belonged on the golf course.
Toby was deep in thought as he waited for something to happen. Grandmother opened the drapes, allowing streaks of golden sunlight to warm the room; patiently he waited and waited and waited. His father had told him 'good things come to those who wait'; that lesson was easy.
Toby twitched his head to the left... did he hear something? Then to the right, yes, he heard something; it was their car pulling up the curved drive. His father opened the door for his mother and helped her walk into the house, not wanting her to slip on the icy walkway.
Life as the young man knew it would never be the same.
"Are you ready to hold him?"
"Ready?" he snorted, sounding just like his father. "Sure I'm ready, I've been ready all morning." "Ok, here he is. You got him?"
"I got him. He feels like a sack of potatoes." His parents smiled. "Hi. I'm your big brother Toby. To-bee, you call me Toby, got that? Not Tobias, you better never call me Tobias. Mother, why did you name him Angus? I don't like it, can't I call my brother something different?" "Angus is his name. Do you want to give him a nickname?" "Hmm... Let me think a minute. Gus! Yeah, is it ok if I call him Gus?" He kissed his new brother on the cheek and rubbed his soft little hand. "Gus... you like that better, don't you? See, I knew he would," he convincingly told his parents.
Harrison put his arm around his wife, and she looked into his eyes. They had talked and wondered about how Toby would react to his new brother, and they were right; he wasn't wasting any time, welcoming him into the family.
1975- 10 yrs old
New Year's Eve, the end of the holiday season, was a special time in the Beecher household; it was the end of the holiday season; a time to see the old year out and welcome the New Year in. What better way to do it than to have a big party for friends and family, which had been a Beecher family tradition for generations.
Last year Toby and his friends had shared in the celebration, but his mother made a big faux pas when she called it a slumber party. "Girls have slumber parties and boys have sleep overs!" he'd said, huffing and snorting and now his latest expression... rolling his eyes. This year was no different; he'd have his friends spend the night.
The boys partied in Toby's bedroom and had special snacks and punch prepared by the caterers just for them. They played games and talked about things 10-year-old boys talk about, and this year they felt they were 'old enough' to stay up till midnight. They told each other that anyone who fell asleep would get knocked in the head, just so they could see what was so unique about "seeing the New Year in."
At 11:45 pm Toby pulled the special green bottle out from underneath his bed; since he'd seen his father open plenty of champagne bottles he was pretty sure he could do it by himself, especially since he felt he was pretty clever to hide the bottle from his parents in the first place. His fingers unwrapped the wires and with a little effort the cork popped out along with some of the bubbly. The kids held their glasses out; Toby filled them up and tried to make everyone's amount 'even'. They smelled it and looked at each other then suddenly they heard noises from downstairs. "Happy New Year!" And then came the song that made his mother cry every time she heard it, 'Old Lane Sign'; he could never understand what they were singing, the words didn't make any sense.
"I don't feel anything different with the New Year," said one of the boys.
"That's because it's next year already and we were just talking in last year. Don't you get it? A year just passed right by us." Toby giggled, raised his arm with glass in hand. "Cheers."
Plastic cups held high... everyone clinked each other's. "Down the hatch!"
Toby tasted the champagne and wrinkled his nose, he'd heard his parents describe the flavor, but this was kink of yucky! One of the boys started coughing and another one took a tissue to wipe off his tongue, but Toby and two other boys drank all of theirs and then drained the bottle; they wanted to feel like the grownups.
About a half hour later one of the daring young boys threw up all over Toby's down comforter, which sort of put a damper on the silliness. He knew he had to go downstairs and find his mother; immediately she smelled the alcohol on his breath.
"Tobias, it's time to get up now, we're having a big New Year's Day family breakfast." His father sat on the bed and tried to wake his son up.
"Too tired. Don't feel good. My head's going to pop open."
"Son, it's time to get out of bed; now scoot and into the shower, you'll feel better, trust me."
"I think I'm gonna puke." And puke he did, but Harrison being the wiser of the two had the small trashcan ready and waiting.
"I'm sorry dad, I made a mistake by drinking the champagne. It really didn't taste very good." "Son, there are no mistakes only lessons to learn. You're the only one who can determine if you've learned a lesson from this. But it's also a very mature thing to do." "What is? Drinking?"
"No, not drinking. Saying you were wrong. It takes a big man to admit that to himself... and to his father." "I don't feel very big right now."
1979- Toby 14 yrs old Angus 6 years old
"What is that noise? It can't be Tobias and Angus making all that racket could it?" Olivia Guenzel sarcastically asked as she rolled her eyes to the ceiling.
Victoria took in a deep breath then sighed, trying to decide if she should let them play upstairs or if she should send them out to play, even though there was a slight chill in the air. Was there any harm in letting boys be boys? She had to agree that yes, they were very noisy today, even after she had asked them to play some quiet games and no rough housing while her guests were in the house. There were some social rules even children needed to learn. They were never too you young to learn proper etiquette.
Instead of answering right away she just offered a tray of cucumber, egg and tuna salad sandwiches to her friends, and then walked over to the beautiful wood Norfolk chest for another pitcher of iced tea. She also offered refills of Tom Collins.
"I'm surprised that Tobias plays with Angus I mean, considering the age difference."
"They're brothers. Of course they should play together, why wouldn't they?" asked a young woman who had just been accepted into their social circle. She was pregnant with her first child and this was the first invitation that had been extended to her.
"Wait till you have children born years apart, then you'll learn the meaning of sibling rivalry and how they don't play well with each other." Olivia then whispered to her, "Didn't anyone tell you Angus is an 'oops' baby?"
"I heard that! Angus was planned, just like his brother was; we always wanted two children," she said, defending her family's honor and trying to avoid any embarrassment from her social peers. "Now, please pass the sandwiches to me and let's play. Whose turn is it?"
Later she said goodbye to her friends and proceeded up the stairs to see what the boys were up to.
"No jumping on the bed, Angus. It looks like a tornado hit this room. Do I look like a maid, Tobias?"
Victoria picked up 3 dirty socks and one smelly tennis shoe, what did they do with the other ones? If I find that shoe in the middle of the floor just one more time, it's going to disappear forever.
"Didn't I tell you boys no roughhousing in the house today?"
Toby looked at her like he'd never heard anyone say that statement in his entire life; then his mischievous grin began to envelop his face.
"Keep laughing Tobias, and I'll give you something to cry about, just wait till your father gets home. You're older than Angus and we expect you to set a good example for him, why do you think I have gray hairs? Just wait, one day you'll have kids of your own..."
1981- 16 yrs old
"Can I show Mother now?" Toby just about flew out of the Lincoln Town Car and raced into the house.
He stood in the kitchen, proudly extending his arms, prized possession in hand. "Look. Just look at it!"
"That's nice, honey, you passed the test, didn't you? I'm so proud of you." She was trying to convince herself, not her son. She'd been dreading this moment; her eldest child, the first to suckle at her breast, was another step closer to leaving her nest.
He now had his driving permit.
"Toby, please promise me something, ok?"
"Sure, anything Mother."
"Please make sure every time you get into the car to drive, make sure you wear clean underwear, in case you're in an accident."
Toby and his friends started sneaking out of the house regularly on Friday nights, late enough for the rest of the household to be asleep. They all went to the football games, their usual routine. Their parents usually did their socializing on Saturday nights so they would be home asleep. If they were able to get back by 4:30 am without getting caught they knew they could get away with it again and again; tonight it was Toby's turn. If they were able to get back by 4:30 am without getting caught they knew they could get away with it again and again; tonight it was Toby's turn. His friends pushed the Beecher car down the drive; even in neutral it was hard to get it going, but once they got the momentum it was a breeze. At the end of the driveway Toby started the car and they were off to their secret hide-a-way. Beer and vodka had already been stocked in an ice chest filled with dry ice; this time one of the kids had scored some Thai sticks. He concealed it very carefully; wrapped the small package in aluminum foil, then double wrapped it in a plastic bag and placed it in an empty beer can, which made look like it had been tossed in a corner.
So far their timing was on schedule. The liquid refreshments had been partially consumed, porn magazines ogled over and now it was time to light up the cannabis. This would be the first time they got "high". They'd heard stories from the other braggarts, and listened to them explain how to inhale and hold your breath.
They passed the joint around a few times, each of them saying, "Are you high yet?"
Time sure flies when you're having fun.
"Oh man! We're dead meat, look at the time. We're busted for sure, we'll never make it home in time."
"Toby, you better pull over; there's a cop behind us and his siren's blaring. Don't you hear it?"
Harrison Beecher met his son at the police station. He had called in a couple of favors so his son would not be arrested for DUI and possession of an illegal substance. Admission to Harvard did not exclude one for arrests, but Harrison couldn't take the chance with Toby's future. Driving home Harrison glanced at his son from time to time but Toby had fallen asleep from the lull of the car.
After letting Toby sleep a few hours, the Beecher's had a talk with their son regarding his behavior.
"You've done this before?"
"Yeah, plenty of times; but this time it was my turn to take the car and drive." "Toby, if someone told you to jump off a bridge would you do that too?" "Of course not! But I'm not the only one who's done it, we all have; I just happen to be the one who got caught. It could have happened to any of the others." "But it didn't happen to the others. You could have killed yourself, your friends or someone else. Son, your alcohol level was over the limit and mixing it with marijuana! What were you thinking? What's wrong with you lately? You've become withdrawn; you don't have your friends over any more. You know you can talk to us, don't you?"
Yeah, right, talk to my parents. I could have a conversation with them on just about any topic, debate my dad on political issues. We had heated discussions on the Vietnam War, President Nixon, Watergate, the hostages held in Iran. We had different viewpoints on what was right and wrong, and it was fun actually, to get my point across. We talked about the value of one's life, no matter who it was. Life was a gift, it was something too precious to waste or at least I thought that way, shit, I'm not sure anymore. But it became a game in a long line of other games, which I mastered.
But talk to them about me, my inner feelings? Not hardly! How could I tell them I didn't feel like I belonged or fit in like everyone else did? I hated wearing glasses. I hated the way my skin didn't tan like the other guys, I always got sunburned no one else did. Fuck, I was afraid to make mistakes, yet I took chances and risks trying to sabotage myself. I see that now. They used to say I was sharp and I was. I think I still am. In order to fit in I was like an attack dog, I'd snap back with a funny quip or cut you down at the knees.
I never wanted to go to Harvard and become an attorney. I was programmed to follow in the family's traditional occupation. When I grew up I really wanted to ... hmpf, I don't know what career I would have chosen for myself. I never thought about it, my life was mapped out for me before I was born. I did want to travel, I mean we did travel as a family, but I wanted to hitchhike across France and Italy, maybe even Spain; take a year off after high school, but they told me I was too young. And after I received my BA I thought I could do it then, it would be my last chance before my law career started and I knew I'd be married and have kids; that was part of their plan too.
They strongly encouraged me to date girls from the right families, the ones with the right social connections, the right pedigree. Gen and I loved each other but it wasn't what I expected real married love to be like. Sex with her was good but there were never any bells or whistles. It wasn't that she didn't like sex- she did; we just didn't talk about it. There was a lot we didn't talk about. I don't know if that's why I drank so much or my drinking so much caused us not to talk. Gen was high maintenance; she'd leave me alone with the kids a couple of Saturdays a month for her charity events. It's not that I don't love my kids, I do and I'll miss Gary till the day I die, but it put me under so much pressure. I didn't have any friends, well not any close friends to hang out with; Gen and I had social friends, though. I mean, I know guys don't talk to each other the way women do, but still, my only outlet was alcohol. I really started drinking excessively, passed out a few times, some memory lapses, but I could pull it together when I had to... well, all but once.
There were times when I was very jealous of my brother; he got to do things I couldn't do, like travel all around Europe before he started Harvard. He married a woman he truly loved from a good, respectable family in Italy, where he met her. Wait, don't get me wrong; I love Gus, I don't blame him for what happened to me.
I've done a lot of reading recently, about research being done on the developing brains of adolescents; it was really quite interesting and there ain't a shit load else to do around here. One of the parts in the brain still developing in the teen years is the prefrontal lobe; it's the part responsible for making sound judgments, setting goals, planning and organizing. It also said another area of the brain not fully developed is the amygdala, where emotions are stored in the brain. Part of the conclusion was that this might explain why teenagers react too emotionally and why they read emotions incorrectly. When it comes to teen brains, there's still much for them to learn. But- and I agree with this- adolescence is no time for parents to have a hands-off philosophy. Kids are not capable of making the best decisions. It's the parents' job to have open communication and work with them, setting boundaries and limits and following through with it. Really be involved in their lives. It's the worst time to be hands-off.
What's going to happen to my kids? How are they going to be as adults? What the fuck have I done to them? Will they blame their mother and me for screwing up their lives?
Sister Pete gave me this questionnaire to think about:
So, the bottom line is: do I own what's wrong with me or does it control me? Do I blame my life on my parents who should have set up higher boundaries and enforce them? I don't know, they probably did what they thought was right. What about the things going on in the world while I was growing up? Do I take that into consideration? Do I blame a gene that predisposes me to alcohol and drug addiction? Blame Judge Lema? And what about the one thing that was the most real experience of my life, do I blame Chris Keller for loving me? For really loving me? I don't know, man, I just don't know.