“Writing is healing,” says Sylvia Fraser. Born in 1935 in Hamilton, Ontario, Fraser by the 1980s had become an award-winning journalist and the author of five novels (Pandora, 1972; The Candy Factory, 1975; A Casual Affair, 1978; The Emperor’s Virgin, 1980; and Berlin Solstice, 1984). But signs of trouble had also appeared. Her seemingly happy marriage had falled apart. Her fiction grew darker in vision and increasingly filled with sexual violence. Then the dam brake. Psychotherapy uncovered what Fraser’s “other self” had known for decades: that from her kindergarten year until almost the end of high school, her father had abused her sexually. Now it was clear how her novel Berlin Solstice had acquired its intimate and chilling insight into Nazi Germany. As Fraser put it, “Being victimized and essentially tortured by my father, I identified with the Jews.In trying to understand how the Germans could have done what they did, I was trying to understand my father – and I was preparing myself for my own truth” (The Globe and Mail, June 4, 1988). The memoir that followed, My Father’s House (1987), startled both the critics and the public with its honesty, clarity of style and emotional force. The book not only helped to “heal” its author, but ignited public debate on a hidden social problem, comes out selection, which dramatizes the victin’s “other self” trying to emerge. In 1995 My Father’s House was adopted for theater and performed in Toronto. Then in 1996 Fraser publised two more books, The Quest for the Fourth Monkey, and examination of spiritual and paranormal events in her life, and Ancestral Suitcase, anovel.
1 The ice at Gage Park is best in the morning when it’s flint-hard and glass-smooth.
All is possible. You carve out circles and eights, and nothing exists until you put it there. Sometimes you just race around the rink, your legs sliding like they’re on elastic bands, with your breath whistling through your teeth like steam from a locomotive, faster and faster.
2 Soon it’s noon. The rink fills with kids in red and blue parkas playing tag or crack the whip.
3 “Hi!” It’s Joe Baker from school. ” Wanna skate?”
4 I prefer to paly tag, but I don’t want to hurt Joe’s feelings and besides, if I say no to him, maybe Perry Lord won’t ask me. Such delicate weights and balances are the stuff of predating, as I am coming to know it. Giving my hand to Joe with a bright paste-on smile, I slow my racing pace to his stodgy rhythm. The sound system squawks out “Oh, How We Danced on the Night We Were Wed” as we skate around and around, like the needle on the record. Joe’s silence rattles me. I make chattery conversation. “Did you see The Thing from the Deep?”
5 By bad luck, the record never ends. The needle hits a crack, repeats ” we vowed our true love we vowed our true love we vowed our true love,” the jerks into “Don’t Fence Me In.” Now Joe links arms, forcing my to even greater intimacy and an ever slower beat, and making my other self very, very nervous. She cannot bear to be held or confined. The game of tag is breaking up. Joe speaks his only sentence, and it is a lethal one. ” Can I ah take you home if ah you’re not doing anything?”
6 At the word “home” a cold shiver passes through me.
I ransack my head for an explanation for the unpleasant way I am feeling and, failing that, an excure. ” I’ll check with Arlene. We came together.”
7 The clubhouse is crowded and noisy and steamy, as always, We jostle for a place on the splintery benches closest to the wood stove. The air stinks of charred wood – someone’s icy mittens left too long on top. Joe helps me off with my stakes, then unlaces his own while I inform Arlene. “Joe wants to take me home.”
8 “He’s cute. You have all the luck.”
9 I study Joe through the lens of Arlene’s enthusiasm: brown cowlick in wet spikes form his cap, earnest face bent over the task of knotting skate laces. Cute? Now that I know how I’m supposed to feel, I am reassured. Well, maybe.
10 We leave the rink just as the gang takes off in a gossipy pinwheel for the Kozy Korner. I think about suggesting we go too, but I’m afraid Joe doesn’t have any money and I don’t want to seem like a gold digger. Perry Lord tosses a snowball at Cooky Castle but hits Arlene instead. Tonya Philpott zings one back overhand, the way a boy would. I yearn to take up the challenge, but being with a boy obliges me to comform to more ladylike standards. Trapped, I stick my fists in my pockets.
11 Crunch crunch crunch. Stakes knotted over Joe’s shoulder, we trudge through the chalky snow. I’ve already told Joe the plot of The Thing from the Deep, and since I saw it uptown it wasn’t a double feature. The silence lengthens with the shadows. Joe doesn’t seem to mind. I do.
12 “Arlene says you got a hundred in arithmetic.”
13 “Yeah, So did you.”
14 “Yeah. But our test was easier.”
15 I make the mistake of taking my hand out of my pocket to brush a snowflake. Joe commandeers it. My other self panics. How long before I can brush another snowfalke and get it back without seeming rude? As I am working out the etiquette of this, two dogs rush the season by attempting to “do it” on the path in front of us. My other self slips toward hysteria. I burst into giggles. The blood rises up Joe’s protruding ears. He fumbles with his backside:” Are you laughing at the rip in my skipants?”
16 “No, it isn’t that.” But I can’t stop giggling.
17 “Joker Nash cut it with his skate.”
18 “Honest, I didn’t even notice.” I stifle more giggles in a sneeze. “Ah-choo!”
19 We are approaching my house. The giggles stop. Now my anxiety grows so intense I’m afraid I’ll faint. Snatching my hand from Joe’s, I pick up a stick and drag it ping ping ping along the fence around St.Cecilia’s Home the way I used to as a kid, pretending this is the most important thing in th world. How can I let you hold my hand when I am busy doing this?
20 We turn the corner. Now I see it — a sour-cream frame listing with snow like a milk bottle with the cap frozen off. Home. I stop, rooted to the spot. For reasons I can’t explain, it’s essential that Joe go on farther. I reach for my skates. “I live only a couple of doors away.”
21 “I don’t mind. I’ll carry them to the –“
22 “No!” I yank the skates from Joe’s neck, almost beheading him. “I’ve got to go — by myself.”
23 Again Joe blushed from his neck through his ears. “Is it bacause of the rip in my ski pants? You don’t want your parents to see –“
24 “No!” Then more humanely:” Honest. It has nothing to do with you.” Pushing past him, I sprint for my father’s house, clearing the steps in a single bound. As I open the storm door, the wind catches it.
25 “Don’t slam the door!” roars my father from his armchair.
26 My other self bursts into hysterical weeping.
27 “What’s wrong?” asks my mother.
28 Again, I find myself oversome by an emotion for which I must find a reason. Hurling my skates at her feet, I shout:” Why do I have to wear these old things? They hurt my feet.”
29 Wiping her hands 9on her apron, my mother rallies. “Those skates were new last winter.”
30 “Secondhand from Amity. You said I could have new skates for Christmas.”
31 “You needed other things.” BY now I’m racked with weeping I can’t control. Not about the skates, though I hear a voice I hardly recognize go on and on about them. “I hate these skates.” Rage pours out of me like lava, devastating everything in its path. It flows around my father, implacable in his asbestos armchair.
32 It’s a relief to be sent upstairs without supper. Flinging myself onto my bed, I pound the pillow till my body is seized with convulsions, releasing the rage my other self can no longer control.