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Confessions of an Itinerant Batik Artist

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Meanwhile there was a major schism at the house with Boo and Drummy keeping their food in their room and living a completely independent life. The situation was swiftly developing into an intolerable one for me. I should have forced open new lines of communication and got a dialogue going. But I had my own problems and let the situation slide. I could see that Boo and Drummy were both disappointed in me and scared by Susan's unpredictability but I didn't have time or energy for them during that difficult period. Our friendship was seriously eroding away. We had some bad arguments but I made no effort to smooth things over or to work on our friendship and pretty soon feelings around the little bungalow were strong and unfriendly. One day I tried to confront them with the situation and asked them to think about leaving but they refused, said they had no money and that I was letting them down terribly. The situation suddenly shifted into high gear around the house with Susan and I living in the main portion of the house and the others virtually shut off in their room with the door locked all the time. What had started as a communication breakdown was deteriorating suddenly into a nightmare for me. I was in a situation over which I had no control. Drummy was showing more and more signs of violence, was shouting in his room and throwing things around. I started to feel afraid at this point, couldn't talk to either of the others and felt that I'd gone as close to the edge of serious trouble as I wanted to. Then Drummy started to carry a machete with him whenever he left his room and I was seriously scared for our safety. I've no idea what his mental state was at this time but he was obviously angry and potentially violent. Susan and I were both very frightened. Boo told me tightly that she had no control over Drummy. While keeping their bedroom door locked all the time, the other two would deliberately leave the front door unlocked whenever they went out which worried me a lot. Nancy, the youngest sister, was staying with us at the time too and my responsibility for the house and everyone in it weighed heavily on me. Perhaps I could still have defused the situation even at that late stage but I think that I was helplessly fascinated by the potential violence and hypnotized into immobility just as one might be by a swaying cobra snake. The possibility of being killed definitely entered into my mind. I reflected on how badly I'd handled the scene at the house and how sordid an item our massacre by a crazed Jamaican would make in the local Miami paper. It would rate one of those small items at the bottom of page twenty-seven. What a waste of my life and promise, slashed to death at thirty-eight with all that Batik still unpainted. What about my fantasies of World domination? Some survivor I was turning out to be. If I died, everyone would be upset for a little while and then reflect that they weren't really surprised that this had happened to me. The guy should never have gotten into Reggae! I had pushed things just a little too far this time.

This situation obviously couldn't be maintained for very long. Drummy was a naked menacing Rasta who'd forgotten his rasta biblical platitudes for the time being and who waved his machete whenever he saw us. Boo stayed in their room most of the time and probably felt that she was under siege. I actually called up the Police and described the situation but they said that they could do nothing in a case like this even though I insisted that I was afraid of serious violence.

It all came suddenly to a head in early Spring. Susan must have become very upset during the night. She started to collect anything she could find belonging to Boo and Drummy and throwing it up against their door. I was fast asleep in our room, which was empty except for the blanket that we slept on and my boombox stereo that was lying on the floor next to me. I was abruptly woken up by Drummy who kicked our bedroom door open, screamed something at me about controlling my crazy lady and then kicked the boombox straight into my face. I was barely awake, certainly uncomprehending and the boombox smashed hard into my face and forehead. Such was the force of the blow that the boombox broken into pieces and I was horribly cut and bruised. Susan, terrified, called the Police and they came round straight away. But once again they refused to become involved in what was technically a domestic dispute even though I was covered in blood and quite badly hurt. They took me to the Emergency Room at the local hospital where I had thirty-two stitches in my head and was released in the morning. When we got back to the house, Boo and Drummy were locked in their room. Susan and I grabbed a few possessions, abandoned the house for the time being and drove up to the Grove and safe haven at Kay's. That was as close to the edge as I wanted to get.

I called Pamela in Oregon and told her what had happened. Considering that I had involved her daughter in all of this, she took it very well. She thought that she had found someone to buy the house and told us to get Boo and Drummy out by any means I could. Boo and Drummy, having realized at this point that they'd gone too far, left the following week, owing months of utility money and leaving a pigsty of a room behind them. They also stole a radio which I had a hard time justifying. We had one other bitter altercation a few days later when we met at some Mall and they refused pointblank to pay me a penny. I never saw Drummy again. I somehow reopened a dialogue with Boo years later and had got over my anger for her. She and Drummy had had a daughter together in New York but he had eventually left her to live in Japan where his latest band, "Redemption Posse", was very popular. He now has a Japanese wife and has no contact with Boo or his daughter. I've seen Boo a couple of times since and we've talked about the whole experience. But we have never truly recaptured the great friendship that we had during my year of reggae madness. Like Reggae, I guess I feel comfortable to just let it go.


We stayed up in the Grove for a week. Our friends were very supportive but thought that we'd been stupid to get involved with Drummy in the first place. Mary Ann's comment echoed what the Police sergeant, whom I'd called to the house, had said to me. "What do you expect if you live with a black and white couple?" My co-worker Glen said "I'd have killed him if he'd done that to me". Finally we went back to Perrine to find the others gone. We cleaned up the house, changed all the locks, and reclaimed our territory. It felt good to have the house to ourselves but I had very low energy and lay out by the pool nursing the wounds on my forehead while reflecting on all that had happened. What had that whole episode been about and what had I done wrong? At the same time as I felt that it was a unique experience to have got involved with the reggae band in New York, I could see that Reggae didn't mean the same thing to me as it did to Drummy. For me it had been an opportunity to go, it sometimes felt, where no white man had been before but for Drummy, it was his life. When things didn't work out for me in New York, I walked away from it all. Or at least I tried to. Drummy would be already getting a new band together and getting back to work. I had been merely very curious. I knew from experience that I could suddenly get very interested in and attracted to a person that I met. I had a tendency to, as it were, pick someone up for awhile and give him or her a thorough going over before dropping them again. It could be a very cruel thing to do for most people responded immediately to that kind of attention and then couldn’t understand what happened when I moved on. Perhaps that's what I'd done with Drummy and with the world of Reggae and therefore shouldn't have been too surprised when it all literally blew back into my face. I had to be ultra-careful in my dealings with people in the future. I also had to take care that I was prepared to follow through with any commitments that I took on.


So life more or less returned to normal. I went back to the Chain Gang at Cauley Square and spent long days up long ladders in the sun painting little houses. On my thirty-ninth birthday, a flock of North American robins suddenly descended on Cauley Square having fled the cold winter in the North. I was still quite content with that work although if Bill the Carpenter said "just like we knew what we was doin'", just one more time I might have screamed. Or if Glen made his little joke again about being the master of what used to be called "nigger-rigged" carpentry but was now known as "afro-engineered", I couldn't have been held responsible for my actions. I had developed "carpenter's elbow" which was very painful but a tribute to the work I'd put in and was a disability I could bear proudly.

At home there was a chasm of silence and alienation between Susan and I. She was increasingly depressed and dependent upon me and I didn't have the strength to carry her right then. She had given up smoking cigarettes and had gone on a diet I remember and was very hard to be around. She had also decided to try some therapy and went to see a hypnotherapist that I had been to but who hadn't helped me much. Susan came home in a very good mood from her first session but it didn't last long and after a few more sessions, she didn't go back. She went on to join a Health Club which was a good idea but she lacked the discipline to stick with her exercises. OverEaters Anonymous came next but she didn't like that too much. Some days being near to her was like being near to an disemboweled animal and I could feel her agony. But I had my own private agonies to deal with and needed lots of space to try and figure out where I was going. As poor Susan started to wind up and go into the next phase of her manic-depressive cycle, I found myself becoming more and more disciplined in my own life, working hard at Cauley Square, exercising a lot and feeling very fit. I was generally feeling better about myself and my own life. Life on the Chain Gang was beginning to feel like life at a Health Farm as I spent my days climbing up and down ladders, working on new houses, banging nails and scraping off old paint in the Florida sun. Or perhaps I was anaesthetizing myself on hard work and a healthy lifestyle for I think I knew that the situation couldn't be maintained for very much longer. Something had to give. Susan and I still had good times together after work when we'd go for long walks around the nearby lake and spend quiet nights together sitting out by the pool. But I found myself oscillating between great love and compassion for Susan and her predicament and incredible irritation when she just could not or would not climb out of the holes that she continually dug for herself. We were bickering a lot and I saw myself behaving like some paternal Svengali and she like my idiot daughter on some days. But I didn't know how to break out of that loop even though I knew it wasn't a very healthy situation. I felt that she needed me more than ever and I suppose I needed her too. I sold a couple of my new batiks to friends locally and felt better for that. It was a signal for me to get back to the Batik table and start some new wall hangings and I knew that in my work lay my salvation always.

But it wasn't to be as easy as that. Susan was suddenly getting very angry and aggressive, shouting and swearing a lot. One evening I walked into our bedroom and found her standing in front of the big mirror that covered one entire wall. She had taken her clothes off and had made cuts all over her thighs with a razor blade. She stood there with blood pouring down her legs and looked at me with a brilliant ghastly smile on her face that I will never forget.

On the last day of March, Susan was clearly going into her paranoid manic mode and couldn't keep still. She paced around the house alternately muttering and shouting and took off in her car in the evening. I remember being very upset and not a little frightened and called her father to talk about her with him that evening. She came crashing back into the house at three in the morning with stories of almost being raped in Miami but was quite unable to tell me what was going on. The next day, we ate out with Kay and friends in Coral Gables and what started out as a pleasant supper turned into something out of "The Naked Lunch" with Susan being angry and aggressive and accusing us all of conspiring to destroy her.

The next day I drove her to Jackson Memorial Hospital where she signed herself into care. It was a really grueling day and when I went back to the hospital in the evening at her request, bringing her some clothes and food, I found her asleep under heavy sedation. She spent ten days in the Hospital and Pamela came to visit from the Ranch for a week. I kept my job going at Cauley Square, visited Susan every day and watched her become steadily more coherent and quiet. I even made my peace with Pamela. I brought Susan home eventually and she went back to her teaching assistant job at school but was sacked on the second day. I've no idea what happened but I wasn't at all surprised. She started to get paranoid again but had a long talk on the phone with Patch Adams which calmed her down a bit.


The next day she brought a friend called Gloria home and insisted that she come to live with us. I wasn't too happy about that and after ten days of Gloria, a poor damned soul, living in the spare room, making angry scenes and throwing things around at night, I asked her to leave. At night we could hear her screaming in her room " You Bastards! Abused me! No respect! Sexual object!" I felt terribly sorry for her and bad about asking her to move out but Susan wasn't around much and at that point, it was either she or I. Pamela called to say that the house had finally sold and that we would have to leave by July. Some decisions were going to have to be made soon.

Meanwhile as the summer heat mounted, I was beginning to burnout at work. In a way, hard physical work was a great escape from the pressures of home life and home relationships but with a big push on to finish painting the latest houses at Cauley Square, I knew that I was slowing down and getting very tired. Summer storms every afternoon started to cut into my work hours and that brought me some blessed relief. On the same day that I celebrated five years of living in the U.S.A. as a very illegal alien, Mary Ann laid me off. I actually felt very relieved and that I was due a holiday.

We spent our last month in Miami on the River living in a fabulous houseboat belonging to Charlie, a family friend of Pamela's. The houseboat was huge, full of gorgeous ethnic masks and art and sculptures and was very comfortable. I spent days in a chair next to a big window, watching the life on the river pass me by. It was a time for reflection and a time to lick my wounds and contemplate the unknowable future. I would sit in my big armchair and watch the boat across the river from us slowly fill up with rainwater and think about what we were going to do, where we should go next and what our options were. It rained a lot that summer, I remember, and I would look through the sheets of rain to the tumultuously boiling river and dream of long sea cruises or at least of escape to faraway places. Susan got a job at nights working as a cocktail waitress in some uptown Miami bar and I got a commission to do a batik portrait of the assistant D.A. of Miami Beach. We spent some good times on the River and were able to get over a lot of the stress of the last six months in Perrine together.

Then, out of the blue, Jeffrey called from San Francisco to tell me that he had bought a piece of land in the Sierra Nevada and was I interested in coming over to start our long planned family commune? Was I interested! Thanking the Gods that be once more, Susan and I packed up a few things, shipped more possessions on to California and had a yard sale at the Perrine house before flying to San Francisco. Susan's car had recently seized up on her for lack of oil and I left the poor old tired horse of a Torino car to Carlos. We arrived with only a couple of bags and a good stereo to start a new chapter on the West Coast.


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