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message 1: by caleb j (new)

caleb j | 4 comments Title: Jacob(and then came me)
Author: Caleb Tolman (me)
Genre: Memoir

Abstract: It is a tribute to an older brother who I feel I have supplanted, (but not surpassed). In this memoir, I retell parts of my life as an indirect means of introducing my brother, Jacob. The theme of the book is nostalgia for 'things as they aught to be', and the struggle one has with one's own unique personality--as this personality dictates much of what our relationships will become.

Current State: Unfinished, 35% of first draft completed.

Request in posting: please criticize; please say which paragraphs of which chapter were ambiguous, confusing, boring, or must-keep great.

Note: "(work in progress)" is my indication that I have not finished that chapter.

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BEGIN OF BOOK:___________________________________
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Jacob
(and then came me)

Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated’ -- Romans 9:13


1.
Afterward His Brother Came

“Afterward [his brother:] came forth, and his [brother’s:] hand had taken hold of [his:] heel” -- Genesis 25:26

They say I didn’t cry. I can only imagine. There I was, dangling by a leg, the other three limbs equally limp, a purple bloated belly, fingers dripping the fluid that covers from the thigh and butt to the arm and elbow, high in the palm of a physician who spanks me—repeatedly. My body must have been reminiscent of the frogs you dissect in school, with my tiny toes on meaty bow legs pointed outward and askew, and with the way the doctor strenuouslessly lifted my oversized head above his, baffling between blows—oh the horror of my mother who lay spread on the bed before me, watching, probably didn’t see the bright blue eyes squinting back to see her.

So, there I was, receiving the first spanking of my life.

I was fine, I just forgot to scream when they hold you upside-down and spank you.

As I was squat in the tub, my chest breathing full and my heart beating content, they washed me. First in the water: a scoopful slid down the forehead onto the shoulders and into the pool my lowers were sitting in. The nurse held my back and head to keep them upright, and repeated until all was washed and none was missed. And then put in a bowl of olive oil: a cupful poured down from the crown and smoothed over with their fingertips the ears and neck until all was fully covered. Only lastly to be wrapped in a fresh white robe and returned to my mother.

She thanked them, anxious to have her child again. “Grazie” is probably what she said, as we were in Italy when I was born. Trieste. In an academic hospital on a forest hill overlooking the port abutting the Mediterranean—we were there for my father to work on his post-doctorate. She was good at Italian by then—as we had been there a while—though I’m sure there were words she didn’t know that wished she did. “Epidural” is one that comes to mind. I did not know any (still don’t), as I, well, could not speak at all. I hardly made noise. Sometimes when I was hungry I was known to let out a diaphragm “hu” or “mu”, but only one or two—like a customer ringing the bell in a hotel lobby—yet that worked fine for me.

Even though our family was plenty able, we were still the “American” family, which seemed to command some higher level of service and was a seemingly open invitation to locals looking to unload their need to show care and adoration to tend and look after our far-off family. They loved to share recovery concoctions—squid ink and egg? –and advice, love, and what not. (Who “they” are I don’t think my mother remembers.) But mostly it was chocolate. Lots of chocolate. One can imagine how a pregnancy and a post-pregnancy would blend seamlessly together when woven by strong thread of daily cocoa—what was once intended to be a load-and-fire process became more like a crescendo-decrescendo one.

And the babysitting help was no different. If chocolate was Italy’s delicacy, then children were their rarity. Trieste was (and is) a difficult place to live with high rent and limited space and just enough to get by. Most people (probably including my parents) really couldn’t afford an extra bed and mouth. So those who didn’t have any babies wanted one. And those who did wanted someone else’s to play with it. My parents had two—my brother Jacob and me. Jacob and I were in high demand. A neighbor would come and take Jacob to the courtyard to play with their kid and they would roam through trees and archways, out some neighbor’s back door and into another’s front. And he had a way of getting into things—cupboards, closets, whatever—that made him a favorite to bored children and busy housewives. I was the newest, and hence littlest, one you could find on the block. The American blonde babe with chubby cheeks—that made me look like a koala bear—with a name you couldn’t pronounce (“Kha?-lev?”), I was always under the watchful eyes of one “babysitter” or whatever “helper” wanted a babydoll to hold or pinch or wait ‘til it grew a little so they could feed it chocolate. This, though, was the first company my mother had had since she arrived.

I don’t remember those years, but I’ve looked at the pictures. We were happy. Matching sweaters. Family walks in the park. Building snowmen. My dad with his manly awesome “camping” beard. My poor exhausted mother, with her “perfect” handsome boys in arm. Christmas with our new teddy bears.

I don’t know why people associate Italy with me more than my brother. True, I was born there, and he was born in Texas years earlier. But he grew there. I don’t remember it. Italy, really, was his big heyday. Those were the times when candy was manna, stairways were mountainsides to explore, hallways were bowling alleys, strangers were friends eager to give attention, and shouting, playing, and smashing were the mighty expeditions of a 3-yr old. This alien certainly was at home.

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End of Chapter 1
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--thanks,
caleb j tolman


message 2: by caleb j (new)

caleb j | 4 comments Title: Jacob(and then came me)


..Continuation from Chapter 1



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BEGIN OF CHAPTER 2
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2.
He Was a Peaceful Man

“[He:] was a peaceful man, living in tents. – Genesis 25:27

Before long we were in America. In Italy my father had found a scientific conclusion, but here he had a job: an assistant professorship at a prestigious university (University of Texas), with ample pay, job security, and benefits—a relief, no doubt, for my mother. Here, we had our own duplex apartment with neat technological appliances and time to spend with our mother and father. Our apartment was small and worn, but to me it was huge. And, yet, of all things available to do, I was content—even most content—watching and learning. When I was very little (say 1_1/2) I would stare at the wallpaper—even with the new toys mom and dad put in the bed I still wanted the figure on the wall—trying to learn its mystery. And as I got bigger wallpaper became mommy doing housework, followed by Jacob’s adventures—what was he doing, and why?

I remember one night looking out our big front living room window, and realizing that while the glare from the inside light clashed with the outside darkness on the surface of the glass to make it look like a force-field, the outside world was right there, just a few steps on the other side—so many lights that meant something to someone else who I didn’t know. Patio lights, street lights, windows with their lights on with people’s shadows inside—I didn’t know them either, and beyond those big commercial lights like from the big mart shopping center and the skylights from the highway nearby. I had never been in these places. I was in a world I did not know, and could never know.

Nights as I brush my teeth I would stare out that window and imagine how a “robber” would travel from the far away blackness around some corner and through some lot over to our house. I would trace with my eyes the path he would take, focusing my eyes on the minute details he would encounter—the sparse gravel on that broken sidewalk he would walk on, the nook in that building he could hide in if someone saw him. He knew this world; somebody knew it, and that was the somebody I was imagining, and if I became him then I would know too. Every night it was a new path, and the man was different from the night before. And every sleep in bed was a new nightmare of how he had gotten to me. But I didn’t tell anyone. My Dad was a man who knew—he knew everything—and somehow he would protect us.

But for Jacob, this was a small world. Not that he didn’t think the world outside the window was scary—he did—or that he didn’t need protection—he did—but because his world was what places to which he could go—what he could touch, take apart—and from more world he didn’t want protection. This new house was bigger, yes. But it didn’t have any hallways to go bowling in, no mountainous stairways to perch upon or ramps to roll balls (or yourself) down, your friends didn’t visit you from next door, and—therefore—no candy fell from the skies; in fact, they locked it in high cabinets, which wouldn’t be a problem except that when you got some you were reprimanded for it, and when you were given some you couldn’t have more and were sternly told so if you asked; the closets, counters, and cabinets were filled with neat devices that did more than clank, smash, or push; they had buttons and sounds and powerful effects, but when you got them in your hands, they would take them away and tell you to stay away, which only made you want them more. Really the only friend, and only device whose buttons he could push, was me. And at that age I was not much of a friend. Give and take was more like him giving—something he’d found, which I’d hold—and then him wrenching it trying to take it back, after I’d held and not let go of it for what must have been forever for him. And then somehow, he’d end up in trouble for it all—and by trouble I mean a scolding. As for a device, I couldn’t really do much. Not that I wasn’t capable—what he learned to do, I quickly learned how to do and eventually could do it on my own— but that what I was doing was watching what he was doing, and if I was doing something on my own it was what he had just finished doing on his own. How horrible to watch someone watching you.

This is the age my parents say he would bite me on the ear—and then they would feed him salsa for punishment; I don’t remember that. Even with a biting brother in my own world, the man outside who knew me was still scarier.

//
END OF CHAPTER 2
//

--thanks,
caleb j tolman




message 3: by caleb j (new)

caleb j | 4 comments Title: Jacob(and then came me)

3.
His Brother Became a Cunning Hunter

“[His brother:] became a cunning hunter, a man of the field” –Genesis 25:27

A new home. We moved, again. There was something about this new home. Maybe it was that it was so big. Or that the ground in front of the front window and behind the back window (and even a little by each side window) was ours—these yards were a sort of lookout base from which you could go and see your surroundings without leaving the property. Our surroundings were a small cul-de-sac: house followed fence, followed by more fence; fence and house and fence and fence and house and fence paralleling a thick asphalt street on all sides made an L-shaped pocket from the end of the street up past our front yard and all the way up to the round street end on the hill and all the way back down the people on the other side’s front yards down to the street end that started it. I liked it. It was our neighborhood. And it had a definite beginning and end. Stay on the street, like mother said, and you were “safe”. Mostly the reason, though, I think I felt so safe to wander was seeing the way Jacob did. He would open the door, yell out ‘mom I’m going outside’, and go wherever his ball or training bike led him.

My journey started in the side yard. This was my first up-close interaction with nature, ever. If you saw me then—picking apart flower buds and fruits and overturning rotten logs and ant-hills—you would think I was feeding some curiosity for biology. And many of my uncles were in medicine, so you wouldn’t be far from right. But it wasn’t how life was sustained—how the stamen fit into the perianth or what cave pattern ants built their homes with their mandibles—but the why and when that held me: Why when I picked the blossom off the stem did it wilt?–where did the magic that was in it go? What did the bugs do when I overturned (and hence destroyed) their home?—where did they go, and were they determined to die now too? And why did ants know one grasshopper had arrived, but the grasshopper couldn’t realize he was visitor to thousands of them?

The cumulation of this exploration was a glass mason jar filled with the collected remnants of life, floating in water inside—flowers, insects, seeds, pods, and a few late critters. An oily film covered the topmost surface, and the two inches below that were where the items floated in a dense ring; the bottom-most inches were just murky white water. Water healed, I had learned (except ants who slowly drowned in it), and it kept these bottle participants preserved—or at least their form—but with all that life their mixed together in it, I never saw any creation.

***

Nobody warned me about school. In childhood, ignorance need not be sustained by denial or avoidance; how could I even begin to anticipate the experience of school—being dropped off in a foreign place with other unknown children to be tended by a stranger—when those concepts (abandonment, meeting new people, and individual growth) were not available to me? Having Jacob as a brother did not help prepare me; sure he disappeared and then mom called this event “school”, but how this was different from the other disappearings—“playing outside”, “timeout”, “doctor”—was not understood. And without these concepts as a base, facts like that Jacob and Mom were not together at school were questions too elusive to even ask: when Jacob went to school Mom always went too, and when he returned she did too, and the time in the middle—well—that must not be “school”, because I wouldn’t understand that.

I didn’t like going—abandonment left me helpless to know how to interact with new people. Yet, I loved the idea—I could see from the moment they seated me in an assigned seat that this was a place where I was my own boy, and from here I would become my very own man. The concept of tutelage I understood—it stemmed naturally from a sense of entitlement I had been born with and that my mother had (somewhat reluctantly at first) cultivated in me. I did not wonder ‘who made this room and brought this teacher person to coach me’ for long. I knew that inside of me were unique gifts and truths that made me valuable, and the idea that someone would seek after them, with my purchased cooperation, was merely a logical deduction—even if the intermediary logical steps and the details of implementation weren’t evident. I would go as often as I could, even if it meant figuring out how to interact with the others sometime (somehow) later.

This was a revolution for me. Before, curiosity was an itch that felt satisfying to scratch. Now it was an enterprise. Information now had an immeasurable importance attached. What information was most important I did not know; so answering and analyzing every question that came to mind was the way to guarantee I was at least doing all that I could. And of course, since questions had no schedule to keep them between 11 and 2 (not to mention that the strangeness at school bounded the free wanderings of the imagination), then help at home was needed. It turns out Dad is—surprisingly—even better than the teacher at school. He knew everything! (Well, except for the stuff nobody knew yet—‘maybe I could figure it out’) He only seemed to complain about the “why does this…” question that I most recently had asked—and not the ones previous to the last—so I never hesitated to tug the pants one more time even if he fussed about it. Some questions about people, some about history, but mostly about physics. I thought, then, that I just asked the questions as they were given, but—looking back—I realize that I probably asked mostly about physics because those got the most illustrative answers (he being a physicist and all).

***

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...CHAPTER 3 TO BE CONTINUED
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message 4: by caleb j (new)

caleb j | 4 comments Title: Jacob(and then came me)


..Continuation from Chapters 1, 2, and the first half of 3.



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CHAPTER 3 CONTINUED
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Sometime after joining Hill Elementary with my brother, he started to invite me around the neighborhood with him after school—well, maybe not invited but some way I ended up following him. So, I find out, there’s a creek behind the bushes in the backyard. Our neighbors, Logan and Drew, and Jacob had (already) found it in their backyard (their yard didn’t have big bushes blocking the view—or a back fence). Up by their house the creek is dry, but you can see where the water is supposed to be in the shape of the cracking dirt and smooth rocks. So we followed the cleft (they had already done this) as it grew, behind our big bushes to the foresty area behind our other neighbor’s backyard—he didn’t have a back fence or bushes either so we could see all his big oaks and his blacked windows above the backyard red deck—the whole place was dim.
The creek water started between behind our yard and behind his—the air was damp, and we had to walk around the pools, which meant stepping over the mud onto rocks and around the edges of the trench. And as the pools got joined and deeper, that got harder to do. I stepped deliberately. Finally, the whole depression was full and we climbed up the (now very steep) side flanking the creek. It was pretty cool. There were these waterbugs with four stick-legs that did jumping jacks to glide across the surface of the water. It was a deep pond that overflowed the trench sides and ended by stopping abruptly against a cement wall—this wall was the foundation of the road, the road itself fifteen feet above us. And there were fish, little but real fish. The wall had a rectangular tunnel going through it under the road: 3 feet wide by 6 feet tall. The pond level was exactly the level of the bottom of the tunnel and the opening of the tunnel was near the shore—the right shore (the one near our backyards)—so we learned we could jump (or extend or legs and pull ourselves over) from the shore into the tunnel without wading. This would give us a perfect ledge to crouch on and see the deepest part where the fish were.

Over the years we would go there together. We got our hands on Dad’s tackle box and figured out how to rig a line with hot dogs and catch fish. We eventually learned that the tunnel conducted the excess water (when it rained) to the other side of the road where there was a symmetric pond. That one had less fish, but at the shallow tail of the pond there were a population of black crawdads hiding under the rocks. They were even more fun to catch; they would grasp the hot dog (or anything food really) and hold on as long as you pulled slowly enough—they were fascinating distempered creatures to catch, and you didn’t have to unhook them.

Past the shallow tail of the second pond the water thinned. The ground was solid flat rock with scattered large stones, and the water carved a little crooked path through it. It is here that Jacob would return when he was a teenager to go snake hunting—the water moccasins liked those holy stones. And it’s just past there that the little path of puddles drops off an algae slime covered trickling waterfall. When we were bigger little kids, one day we decided to follow the creek until it ended and see it all: underneath that waterfall was a huge circular pond; the water had eroded its two limestone walls and made a cave—you could hop down the waterfall three feet (remember its only trickling, no real water flow, though its slimy) and walk into the cave. Just imagine half a cherry pie. Then take out the cherries. That was the shape; it was 3-5 feet tall so we had to bend over when we walked or else you’d hit your head on the leaking ceiling. The open side faced the pond. On the left end was the waterfall (our way back), and on the right end the cave abruptly ended and the water tailed off again. We went to the cave a few times after. We would sit Indian-style and look into the water, and hang out. The water was perfectly clear (like glass) and the depth was deepest and sank immediately at the edge, so we looked for creatures hiding in this bank while we sat. (It was there I learned that this world had been designed for each life force to feed off the others, and that somewhere in each one transience there was meaning in having been here). That time we wanted to trace the whole length of the creek, we went further past this third pond, the land just got flatter and it never seemed to drop off into any more ponds again. I don’t remember exactly how that journey ended—it must have gotten dark early. (I was determined to find meaning in this life which included not letting somebody or some misfortune eat me out of it).

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END OF CHAPTER 3; BEGIN OF THE OUTLINES OF CHAPTERS 4-6
//

4.
Father Loved His Brother

“And [Father:] loved [his brother:], because he did eat of his [brother’s:] venison”—Genesis 25:28


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(work in progress)
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5.
But Mother Loved Him
“…But [Mother:] loved [him:]”—Genesis 25:28

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(work in progress)
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6.
And His Brother Sold His Birthright unto Him

"And [he:] sod pottage: and [his brother:] came from the field, and was faint; and [his brother:] said to [him:]: 'Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint.'

And [he:] said: 'Sell me this day thy birthright.'

And [his brother:] said: 'Behold, I am at the point to die; and what profit shall this birthright do to me?'

And [he:] said: 'Swear to me this day'; and [his brother:] sware unto him: and [his brother:] sold his birthright unto [him:].

Then [he:] gave [his brother:] bread and pottage of lentils; and [his brother:] did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus [his brother:] despised his [own:] birthright."--Genesis 25:29-34

//
(work in progress)
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//
END OF INCOMPLETE WORK
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--many thanks,
caleb j tolman



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