Monday, April 9, 2012

Shame or scorn, there would need to be some haven

for many reasons, including that it reminds
me of the boyhood home of Laurent in Malle's
immortal Le souffle au coeur (1971), while
the steps and vegetation are so like those
along the Presidio wall in San Francisco, 
and the crest of Telegraph Hill. But I love
this painting for suggesting the mysteries
as much as the laughter in a house in the
sweetest settings.

In the boyhood home I grew up in, protected 
in leafiest oblivion of place, my 11-year-
old brother was departing one afternoon for 
a dressy party hosted by one of his friends, 
when my mother, remarking on how well he 
looked, bestowed on him an approving kiss
in well wishes for a nice time. Watching 
this, at age 6 or 7, I stepped forward to 
do the same, as I might have done, any old 
time in a variety of circumstances.  

I was restrained and offered my first pretense
of shock, that such a gesture could have enter-
ed my mind. It came from my mother, announcing
that it would be inappropriate for me to kiss
my brother. A bright flicker of something ter-
rible flashed in her tone and her manner, as
if something wrong in me did not belong in the
house, and I recoiled into a furious search in-
to myself for what that could be. I can still
hear myself saying, I want to kiss Davy, too.

This was my initiation into what I would come
very soon to perceive as a grinding but unpre-
dictable interrogation through the years of my
youth, into whether or not I were experiencing
this bad thing that dwelt within me. It was, I
promise the reader, my earliest comprehension of
the need for some externality of shielding - in
my mind, in those days, no doubt simply a fairer
god - against a simmering and ferociously bitter
uproar in the one very closest to me, of scorn 
for something I simply had no idea of existing.
But what, too, remained to be done, to tranform
me into an angry and predatory bully? 

I applaud the estimable Blue Remembered Hills
blog for devoting an Easter posting to the mat-
ter of familial homophobia. I have found it to
be pervasive and sometimes immeasurably devas-
tating to people of my friendship, from coast
to coast and of every variety of background or
means. I had an easy time of it, although one
can never forget astonishment with its first
appearance. I honour the memory of my mother
utterly, with deep admiration and gratitude. 
She had recently lost her young half-brother, 
an uncle of whom I've written more than once, 
to what was explained to us all as an acciden-
tal death. She simply never could distance 
herself from anguish and an irrational guilt
in that loss, except through kindly Episcopal
counselling, blaming his death on his sin. And
he and I had been on terms, my god, of family
trust. We drew animals together, with crayons,
and he helped me to laugh through orthodontia.

Elisabeth's lovely painting haunts me with a
warmth and gaiety with which a house can shel-
ter a family. All my little torments have ex-
pired. We meet in the present, do we not, be-
cause there are people we love, to be looked

Elisabeth Baysset
Les Enclauses


  1. this posting,will haunt Me for some time. I was the "baby" as they say in the SOUTH. My brother-3 years older "the middle child" was my keeper. we spoke our own language, what were we saying? I feel sure it was all about who we were in past lives-knowing as brother and sister in this one, our roles and genders were reversed in what came before. our parents let us chatter with no understanding but always embracing us for our uniqueness-but Yes, we were questioning all the time. Stunning really to come upon this house today.

    1. Your rapport with your brother and with your parents sounds just wonderfully positive; and I do love hearing stories of this kind. Moreover, in my small reading at LA, I've seen you writing very well about your family.

      I think people should try. I recommend waiting a good deal of time for perspective to improve, but I do recommend trying. These are writings that I think people need to see, and do think, we really should let them.

      I take the occasion once again to admire this picture; and I thank you for visiting this house today.