PRISM, Volume 1, Part 12
PRISM, Volume 1, Part 12
Dangerous Dwarf Proudly Presents
George C. Chesbro's
PRISM: A Memoir as Fiction
Volume One: "Dark Engine"

Published by Apache Beach Publications

Click here to purchase Prism

Copyright © 2001 by George C. Chesbro. All rights reserved.
Reprinted here with by permission of the author.

Installment #12

On Friday of my second week of teaching I get my first new student. The patient's name is Matthew. He is 16 years old, a handsome boy with brown eyes and brown hair with an Axis I diagnosis of Conduct Disorder. Matthew's primary disorderly conduct is running away. He is a serious runner, and runners, like DFY referrals, automatically come directly to Shangri La without passing Go or stopping in the regular program. Placed in a foster home at the age of 7 after the death of his parents, and subsequently placed in a host of other foster and group homes, Matthew has run away a total of twenty three times.

Matthew, who does not pose a threat to himself or others and who, aside from being a chronic runaway, is not even much of a behavior problem, is not happy about being placed in my program. I sympathize with him, and suggest that he talk to his therapist about being given the chance to be placed in the regular program. I am not optimistic about his chances, and so I reassure him that he and I will get along just fine, and that the time he spends in Shangri La while the doctors decide just what to do with him shouldn't be all that bad.

I ask Matthew why he runs away all the time, and Matthew replies that it is because he doesn't like the places he is sent to. That seems reasonable enough to me, I suggest, except for the fact that, by now, he should have come to realize that he's always going to get caught and sent back to the place he ran from, or some other like it, or - as in the present case - to a psychiatric hospital. Matthew shrugs and answers that there's always a chance that he'll like the next place he's sent to. In the meantime, when he runs away he has a chance to enjoy some decent pizza, go to a few movies, and hang out with friends until he is found, usually in a day or two.

I can't argue with that reasoning, and I tell him so. I like the boy. I know he'll run again as soon as he gets the opportunity, be caught and sent someplace, and then run again. I know he will never find a placement he likes, because running away has become a habit with its own inherent thrills and pleasures that outweigh the ephemeral security and comfort he might find in a home where he would stay put. He will keep running until his eighteenth birthday when he will look back over his shoulder and, perhaps to his surprise and considerable disappointment, find nobody running after him. I wonder how he's going to adjust to that new reality, when his age of maturity finally permits him to escape from whomever or whatever he is running from and he must then become the pursuer of his own life.

Helma remains on the cottage, in isolation while she undergoes intensive therapy. Jessica the Mumbler, reportedly a real problem, has still not made an appearance in class, and poor, psychotic Pedro is still on Special Precautions on his cottage, strapped to his bed and sleeping up to twenty hours a day while his doctors struggle to brew a proper potion of psychotropic drugs that will calm his demons and allow him to function to some degree, minimizing the risk that he will once again try to kill somebody, so that he might come up to the school and join my merry band.

When classes are over and the Therapy Aides and I have escorted my students back to their cottages, I retreat to my classroom, thoroughly exhausted as usual, to wait until it is time to walk to my bus and try to gather my thoughts and enough energy to make some notes in my journal. In order to have any hope of making my writing project work I must record, in detail, the events of the day, but instead I find my mind drifting to thoughts of my fictional dwarf private investigator to whom I owe so much.

I'm such a very long way from even beginning this massive project, and yet already I've got a problem that could probably be characterized as personal rather than technical, conceptual or structural. Right now the notion of using this teaching experience as a kind of prism through which to examine my life is just a seed I'm trying to water with thought and sketchy notes, which most of the time I'm too tired to do properly. But, if the seed does take root and grow into the sort of imagination tree that has borne my previous works, eventually I am going to come to a point - out on a limb, in a manner of speaking - where I'm going to have to decide whether to present this work as a stunty memoir or as a kind of experimental novel where time is constantly folded in on itself. I much prefer to present it as a novel, for I think I would be hopelessly self-conscious trying to write a "memoir." And I would hurt too many people, especially Alan, who, in his early 40's and sitting in a prison cell, still does not know the full truth of the circumstances of his birth and early childhood. Alan, of course, has never been free of, first, his demons, then his drugs, and finally, always, his mother; now, thanks to proper psychotropic medication, his demons are resting, if not asleep, he is drug free, but, even in a penitentiary, he remains physically as well as emotionally tethered to his mother, and he has no more hope of escaping from her than he does of scaling the walls that contain him.

I have no wish to embarrass Dora, who has changed so much and is now living a fulfilled, stable life stained only by the incarceration of her son in a maximum security prison that is only a ten-minute drive from her home. Nor do I want to hurt or embarrass my father, that tireless, neurotic collector of money who has no real use for it. Yet these stories are essential to the truth of how I became a writer, which is the story I really want to tell.

And what am I to do with the dwarf? The dwarf is the key to any success I have had as a writer, and it seems to me I should bear witness to that fact, but if I write about him it is immediately going to become clear to a considerable number of readers that I am almost certainly writing about my own life. I could use a pen name, and most likely will, but writing about the dwarf will immediately give away the anonymity game and those same readers will know who I really am. Yet I can't think of a better example of how a single idea, no matter how absurd and steadfastly pursued against all odds, can lead a fiction writer to a level of achievement and recognition he or she could never have reached without the challenge of that idea. I suppose I could make up some substitute "handicapped" detective, but that almost seems to me like betrayal of the great man I have already created. Any recognition I have enjoyed is inseparable from the dwarf, and the idea of dwarfism resonates too strongly as a metaphor in my thinking to be replaced by something else.

As I leave the children's hospital and begin the walk up to Big Ark to catch my bus, I decide to put off a final decision on whether or not to include the dwarf in my prism project to the time when I am actually sitting down and writing something. But I am leaning toward omitting any mention of him altogether, since to do otherwise could lead to too many personal conflicts in the unlikely event the work is ever finished and read by those close to me, even after my death, and in the even unlikelier event it is published and perused by an unknown number of strangers who would see me stripped naked. I have already written and spoken about the dwarf at length in other forums where I neither needed nor sought the spiritual camouflage of anonymity.

But then I will be left with the uncomfortable question of whether or not I have the courage to tell the truth. What I have said and written about the dwarf in the past is all well and good, and even true, but I have always kept pieces of him cloaked in shadow. I have never confessed to my strong suspicion that the dwarf's birth, this Perverse Notion that would not be aborted, was midwifed by my own strong feelings of being crushed, thus "dwarfed," first by the needs that led to my trials by fire with Dora and her mother, and later in the face of the awesome task of trying to become a published writer. The dwarf always seemed to me a metaphor for my own feelings of smallness and inadequacy, first when it appeared that I had destroyed my future, and then as I tramped around in the puny foothills of what seemed to me at the time as a great, towering mountain of an unscaleable goal. My fears and the smallness of my soul that birthed the dwarf is the reason I work so well with these crazy children. I understand how they feel, and they seem to sense this.

I can't help but wonder if the dwarf does not owe a good part of his commercial success to the fact that he might strike a similar chord in many readers, for it is the rare person who does not on occasion feel like a dwarf on a planet of giant things - giant people who press upon and threaten us in one way or another, giant problems that threaten to crush our spirits, the giant indifference of the world. Perhaps the dwarf, with his disdain for his "handicap" and his indomitable will not only to survive but to make the most of his talents and succeed, holds out to others the hope that, with courage, they too can not only survive but prevail in the very large, intimidating, occasionally cold and hostile environment that is their lives.

And so I will have to give some more thought to what to do about the dwarf. What's probably going to happen is that the dwarf will be no more willing to accept exclusion from this piece of work than he was to accept banishment and extinction when I first imagined him.

Read the next installment.

Copyright © 2018, Hunter Goatley. All rights reserved.
Last updated 25-MAR-2018 21:42:49.93.