For the first time ever, get a sneak peek of the newly discovered, Christopher’s secret diary, before it is published.
When I was twelve-years-old, I read "The Diary of Anne Frank." First, I was interested in it because it was written as a diary and when someone writes a diary, he or she usually doesn’t expect anyone else will read it. A diary is like a best friend, someone with whom you could confide your deepest, secret thoughts safely. I really didn’t have a best friend. This would be it. I thought that whatever is in a diary has to be the most honest words anyone could write about him or herself and about the people he or she loved and the people he or she met.
How do you lie in a diary?
Years later, I would remember "The Diary of Anne Frank" for another reason, a more dramatic reason. Just as Anne Frank was forced to hide in an attic, my sister Cathy, our twin brother and sister, Cory and Carrie, and I were forced to hide in our grandparents’ attic. We weren’t hiding from Nazis, of course, but from the way our mother described her father and from the way our grandmother Olivia treated us, we probably didn’t feel any less afraid than poor Anne Frank.
She died in a concentration camp. We lost our brother Cory in a horrible way, too. Anne Frank’s father had her diary published. He wanted the world to know her story, their story. Everyone sees the same story in a different way. My sister saw our story one way and I saw it another. When I began writing this, I didn’t do it because I thought it was so important to tell it from my eyes and ears and my memories. But now I do. So I’ll be more careful about what I continue to write.
There are times now when I think back to what our lives were like in the mid-Fifties and remember it all the way you might remember a dream. Often, with dreams that are so vivid, you’re not sure how much of it was fantasy and how much of it was real. There is so much of it that I want to be true, but I’m not the kind of person who is comfortable fooling himself.
I’ve always had a lot to think about so it’s not really so unusual for me to have decided to keep a diary. My thoughts are very important to me. This diary will be a way of keeping my history, our history authentically. Nothing Momma has said; nothing Cathy has said and nothing Daddy has said will be as easy to recall later on when I’m much older if I don’t remember to write down what was important as soon as I can.
I didn’t do this right away. I kept telling myself diaries are something girls keep, not boys. Then, I read about some famous diaries in literature, all written by men and I thought, this is silly. There’s nothing absolutely feminine about writing your thoughts down, about capturing your feelings. I just wouldn’t do something silly like write, Dear Diary. I’ll just write everything as it happens and be as accurate as I can.
I bought this diary myself with my allowance, but I never told anyone I had, not even my father who was interested in everything I did and thought. It seemed to me that the whole point of a keeping a diary is keeping that secret until it‘s time to let others read it, if that was your purpose. And it’s no good if it’s done cryptically so that people have to figure out what I meant here and what I meant there. That’s why I have to be as honest as I can about what I saw, what I heard, and especially what I felt.
Like Otto Frank, I think it’s important that more people know what really happened to us before and afterward. Cathy used to call us flowers in the attic, withering away. It helped her to think of us that way. But we weren’t flowers. We were young, beautiful children who trusted that those who loved us would always protect us even better than we could protect ourselves.
Besides, I can’t ever think of us in any symbolic way. We weren’t the creations of someone’s imagination. We were real flesh and blood children. We were locked away, not only by selfish greed, but by cruel hearts that used the Bible like a club to pound out the love we carried in our innocent hearts. How that happened and what became of us is too important to just let disappear in dying memories of those who lived it.
Cathy likes to think of us as regular middleclass people living ordinary lives in the small city of Gladstone, Pennsylvania. She bases this on the fact that our house isn’t any larger or much smaller than any other house on our street and that our father drives a modest Chevy. I don’t know why it’s so important for her to think of us as ordinary. I will never think of myself that way.
When I told her that today, she looked at me strangely. She even seemed a little angry about it. I think she believes being ordinary makes her safe or something. I know she thinks all the kids from wealthy families are snobs, especially Lucille Tompkins whose father owns four jewelry stores. One of her girlfriends told her what the word snob means and she is worried that someone might call her that. I have the feeling someone told her I was a snob and she didn‘t know what to say or how to defend me.
She remembers that we weren’t the first to get a television set and acts as if that’s something to be proud of, but we did get one about the same time our neighbors, the Milestones, got one, and Mr. Milestone was manager of the closest supermarket. Actually, Cathy’s the one growing into a snob. She thinks we’re better than rich people even though we don‘t have as much because rich people don‘t love each as much. I told her that was ridiculous and she told me I was the “diculous one.” I don’t know why I even bother explaining things to her now. Her brain isn’t developed enough to comprehend serious or complicated thoughts. Actually, I can sympathize with why she’s always so confused about us.
Momma doesn’t have an expensive fur coat, but she has very nice fashionable clothes, often saving whatever she can to buy herself something in style.
In fact, Cathy doesn’t know this, but I have seen Momma search through Daddy’s pants and jacket pockets often looking for money he had forgotten was in there. I even know where she hides it in a shoe box at the bottom of her closet. If Daddy notices her thievery, he doesn’t say anything as far as I know. Of course, I wondered why she didn’t just ask him for the money. Maybe he would think the things she wanted to buy were silly. Or maybe she just feels guilty about spending money on anything other than necessities. She can rationalize it if she steals the money because it was in his pocket and looks like small change. I wouldn’t say this to her face, but Mommy rationalizes often. When I learned what that meant, I nodded to myself. It’s like saying white lies, making excuses, but doing it to tell yourself you’re protecting someone else, keeping someone from being hurt, often mostly yourself. Daddy works so hard for what we have. She would feel bad if she believed she was taking advantage of his trust.
No one wants to look average, especially our mother. I would agree that she had a modest engagement and marriage ring, but over the years, Daddy did buy her some fairly expensive necklaces and earrings and bracelets, probably even when we couldn‘t afford it. Maybe he got good deals from Lucille Tompkins’s father. The jewelry however was nothing that would make her look ostentatious. My father has a very good sense of taste.
He often told us that something didn’t have to be big to be beautiful or outstanding. I remember him recently telling Cathy and me, “Subtly is as effective in life as it is in advertising, children.”
He should know, I thought. Daddy is in public relations for a startup computer manufacturer that needs a great deal of promotion.
Cathy’s too young to understand what he meant by subtly. Afterward, I tried to explain it to her, but she shook her head and told me that I use too many big words and if I keep filling my head with bigger and more words, it will explode. I don’t know where she gets these idiotic ideas. She watches too much television and hates to read. I think she hates doing anything alone and that’s why she doesn’t read much.
She’s two years younger than I am, but I’m confident I could have understood what I was telling her when I was her age. I am and always was an avid reader and with the exception of one B in fifth grade history last quarter unfairly given to me by Mr. Firth, a stuffy man with sagging cheeks and a belly that looked like he had swallowed a whole watermelon. Otherwise, I have always been an A-plus student. Mr. Firth has corn yellow teeth from smoking every chance he gets. I see him rush into the faculty room between classes or during lunch to light up. He always has redness around his eyes that I recently diagnosed as Ocula Rosacea, a chronic condition that had many possible causes.
My father gave me a Merck manual this year and I devoured it. He bought it for me because even at this young age, I was asking questions about diseases, illnesses, and surgeries neighbors had.
“We’ve got a potential doctor in our midst, Corrine,” he declared at dinner one night and then produced the manual. It looked used, but that doesn’t matter to me. Books can get wet and crinkle and old book pages can turn yellow, but the words don’t disappear for a very long time. Daddy said, “A good book is like good wine. Its wisdom ages and becomes more valuable with time.” He winked at me when he said it because he knew I believed that, too. Mommy just shook her head as if Daddy and I lived in our own world, and Cathy grimaced and said, “Ugh. Old books smell.”
I know that other boys my age get ecstatic over new bikes, erector sets, electric trains, new sleds, and baseball gloves, but this manual is the most exciting gift Daddy has ever gotten me and it is and will be my most prized possession. He even wrote inside the cover.
To our future Doctor Dollanganger. Heal and protect those in pain. Love, Dad.
I read and reread that dedication almost every night. For me it’s sort of a prayer. Probably, the man I respect the most next to my father is our family doctor, Dr. Bloom. He has an office in his home and lives with his mother. He’s not an old man, but he’s older than most men are when they get married. I don’t think it’s because he doesn’t like girls or anything. I think it’s because he’s too devoted to his sacred work of healing. He just hasn’t found the right woman yet, the woman who will tolerate his rushing out to make hospital calls all times of the night and leaving parties to care for someone who‘s suddenly very ill.
Dr. Bloom looked at my hands once and said, “You’ve got a doctor’s hands, Christopher, strong fingers. You could be a great surgeon someday.”
I don’t think anything anyone ever said to me made me feel any better about myself. I told Daddy and Momma at dinner that night and Cathy gave us her usual “Ugh,” when she understood that surgeons put their hands inside people’s bodies.
“Get an appendix attack and you’ll be happy to have a doctor do it,” I said. Her eyes nearly popped.
“Don’t frighten her, Christopher,” Mommy said.
“People do get appendix attacks, Mom.”
Cathy had tears of fear in her eyes.
“Now, now,” Daddy told her, embracing her quickly. “You won’t have an appendix attack.”
He gave me a look that said, “Be careful, Christopher. She’s just a little girl.”
He was right. I had to control my tongue and think harder first before I spoke.
Doctor’s especially have to know how to do that. You have to learn to keep certain things secret for the patient’s own benefit.
CathyOur lives are full of secrets. Cathy likes to think love was what floats about the most in our home. She thinks this way because she listens in on our parents’ talking to each other whenever she can. I see how she does it. She pretends to be busy with something and not be paying attention, but she’s hanging on their every word, especially the way they express how much they love each other. I know when she comes running into my room to tell me about something they’ve said that she is probably exaggerating.
Cathy can be very dramatic. I think she believes we live in a movie or something and our mother and father are famous stars because Daddy is so handsome and Momma is so beautiful.
She came running in this afternoon to tell me that Daddy practically “swooned over Mommy when he saw her.” I had the feeling that she got the word swooned from our mother, who probably has told her that Daddy swooned over this or that she did with her hair or clothes. Cathy would never have come up with a word like that on her own.
Our mother had gone to the beauty salon earlier today and had her nails done. Mother permits Cathy to go into her bathroom when she’s taking a bath in her perfumed bubble water sometimes. They leave the door open so I can see them. Momma isn’t shy about being naked in front of us. I know she is very proud of her figure which is a figure most women envy, but she also knows I try to think of the human body the way a doctor should. There have been times and still are times when she’ll ask me to wash her back for her. Cathy stands to the side watching enviously so I have to let her do it, too. Now Cathy often sits on the edge of the tub and listens to our mother go on and on about beauty tips so that when she‘s old enough, she‘ll be ready. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen Cathy imitating her, luxuriating in her own bath and then pretending to put on makeup the way Mother does. She comes into my room when she does her hair and puts on a dress to ask me how she looks. Twice this week, she asked me to wash her back the way I would wash Momma’s. Usually, I do it too quickly and she complains.
“Am I as beautiful as our mother?” she always wants to know.
“No,” I tell her. “Not yet. You’re too young to be beautiful like our mother.”
She hates my answers.
“You’re so correct all the time, Christopher. Ugh,” she cries, frustrated, and charges out to complain about me.
I am correct. It’s important to me to be correct and I don’t want to live in some fantasy, some movie. Facts are more important than dreams.
Cathy’s a girl. She may never believe that facts are more important. Although, I do know some women who do, especially some of my teachers like Miss Rober who teaches math and taps the blackboard so hard to make a decimal point she often breaks the chalk.
Miss Rober is fifty something and has never been married.
But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t wish she was.
Last week I told Momma that and she looked at me funny and asked, “How do you know she does? Some women don‘t you know.”
“She’s not a nun, Momma. She wears her clothes to attract men, very tight sweaters and skirts. She likes to show cleavage.”
“Christopher Dollanganger! I do believe you’re getting too old for your age,” she said which at first I thought was just funny, but later understood.
Maybe she won’t be asking me to wash her back as much or close her door whenever she gets dressed. She won’t come in on me when I bathe and avoid looking at me when I get dressed.
There will be something between us that has never been: embarrassment.
I hope it doesn’t come to that, but then again I know it’s as inevitable as face hair and my shaving.
My father’s job takes him away from home for up to five days sometimes. Whenever this happens, Momma tells me I am the man of the family until my father comes home. She brushes my hair back, smiles and kisses my cheek and tells me, “As long as I have you, Christopher, I’ll always have a man around the house. Like I told you, some women don’t need men, but I’m not one of them.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Cathy watching us. She wasn’t smiling. She looked almost angry about it. If I told her to do something afterward, she’d say, “You’re not my father, Christopher.” But in the end, she’d do it. That’s Cathy.
She is always the first to greet Daddy when he does come home. She bursts ahead of me as soon as she hears him call out to us when he enters. I know that is important to her, so I always let her get to him first. He winks at me and lifts her and covers her face with kisses, describing how much he has missed her. She always glances back at me with that superior, self-satisfied look to show me Daddy loves her more.
How childish, I would think but I never said. Dad would hug me, too, but he always shook my hand as well.
“Everything okay here, Christopher?” he would ask me with that slightly tilted head, his eyes a little narrow. Of course, Cathy was afraid I’d mention something bad she had done, some request of Momma’s she didn’t follow, but I never do. I didn’t have to. Dad understood. We almost had telepathy. I once told that to Cathy and she squinted and raised her nose at me as if it was something that smelled. If I tried to explain it, she’d wave me off and tell me she had something important to do, which she didn’t. She’s getting to be more and more like that, fleeing from anything she sees as complicated or in her eyes unpleasant.
While Dad greets us and gives us whatever little gifts he has brought back, Momma waits behind us. Sometimes, she is smiling, basking in the love Dad shows us, but lately I notice that she looks annoyed at how much time Daddy is spending on Cathy especially. I think Daddy knows or feels this, too. Yesterday, when he put Cathy down and went to embrace our mother, he held her like he had thought he might never have been able to again.
Momma always knows exactly when he will return and she is always perfectly made up, even though he swears aloud that she doesn’t need makeup or pretends to be surprised when he finds out she is wearing any. She’s always wearing something special like a dress he had brought back from a previous trip or something he had given her on her last birthday. If she’s wearing something new that she had bought with money she had secretly collected, Daddy never complains or asks her how or when she bought it. He simply compliments her.
I don’t know if there is any wife anywhere who knows how to please her husband as well as Momma knows how to please Daddy. I guess I would want to have a wife like that, too. She wouldn’t have to be as intelligent as I am. Momma isn’t as smart as Daddy, but I know how much she pleases him and I suppose a man needs that sort of comfort. It’s a form of security to know who and what is waiting for you at home.
“You get more beautiful every day, Corrine,” he told her today. “Seeing you makes me think I was in dark, cloudy weather the whole time I lived without you.”
I could never think of things like that to tell a girl. I’m not romantic enough. I don’t know if I will ever be. I guess I’m hoping that the girl I find to marry won’t need me to be that romantic.
Maybe there is no such girl.
When Daddy said she was more beautiful every day, Momma’s face brightened and the glow was so great, it was like sunshine for us all.
Well, maybe not as much for Cathy. I’ve watched her carefully during Daddy’s homecomings. I know all about Electra complexes and sibling rivalries. Whenever I read something new about child psychology or something medical, I would watch for symptoms. It seems to me that the older Cathy gets, the more she seemed jealous of our father’s dedicated love of our mother. It’s as if she wants to absorb all his love, capture all that he was capable of giving to anyone, even our mother.
And yet, Cathy will always be the first one to tell me or anyone else how beautiful our mother is. If there is one thing she wants to be in her life, it is surely to be as beautiful as our mother. Whenever Momma does anything to enhance her looks or her hair, Cathy is there listening, watching and learning. “Beauty isn’t something you can create with makeup, you know,” I told her yesterday when she was pretending in front of her mirror. “You can improve it, maybe, but don’t think it comes in some powder or lipstick.”
“Yes it does!” she fired back at me with her eyes on fire. “Momma says a plain woman could look very attractive if someone showed her how to put on makeup and do her hair right. But she said I’m not plain,” she added.
I smiled at her.
“Beauty is a matter of opinion sometimes,” I said.
She squinted and cringed her nose.
“It is not. You don’t know anything about it. You’re just too…smart,” she said and ran to Momma to complain about me.
Cathy can whine and cry better than anyone I know. When she returned to her room, I told her she would win the whining and crying Olympics.
Later, she brought Momma into the living room to tell me I was wrong, but I knew Momma was just trying to get her to stop complaining.
“The man of the house doesn’t tease his women,” she said. She tried to look angry at me, but I could see she wasn’t doing it too well.
Cathy stood there with her arms folded, nodding at me. I knew Momma was really depending on me to be the man of the house and keep any childish behavior at a minimum. When she looked at me like that, even pretending, I did feel guilty.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to tease you, Cathy. Momma knows a lot more than I’ll ever know when it comes to being beautiful.”
“Or handsome,” Momma said, smiling at me. “And I have the most beautiful children. How could I not with a father as handsome as yours?”
Cathy was beaming. Her mood quickly changed. She complains about me correcting her all the time and proving I’m right about things because she loves to be right even more than I do. I know winning was very important to her and more often than not, when we play a game, I will let her win. I do it well. She really believes she has won. Whenever I do this, I glance at Momma who is usually watching us and I see that soft, angelic smile on her lips and I know she loves me more than she could love anyone or anything.
I remember that when Daddy gave me the medical books, Momma said, “There’s no doubt. We’ll have a famous and wonderful doctor in our family. He’ll take care of us when we’re old and feeble and he’ll never let his sister get too sick, even when she’s married and has a family of her own.”
Cathy squinted and looked like she would regurgitate. She was still too young to think of herself as a married woman with children of her own, especially when I took her aside and explained how children really come to be, not just children of animals, but people, too.
“You’re making it up and you’re as disgusting as poop,“ she said and ran off.
Maybe I was wrong to explain it to her while she was still so young. I’m making that mistake often with her and with other kids my age. I just assumed they are as ready as I am to learn what is real and what is fantasy. I can’t help it I guess. I feel I have an obligation to protect Cathy and protecting her means teaching her important things. What is more important than knowing about sex?
Sometimes…sometimes I think Cathy believes we’ll never change; we’ll never get older, we’ll never be anything more than the Dollanganger children.
I would never tell anyone this, but writing it in the diary right now is all right.
Sometimes I go to sleep fantasizing about that, imagining us forever and ever, the perfect little family who couldn’t be changed by time, by bad weather, by sickness or by anything for that matter.
But almost as soon as I do this, I snap myself back to reality and berate myself.
“You can’t be a child, Christopher, not now, not ever.”
Was that good or bad?
I’m still not sure.
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