Saturday, March 13, 2010


"Hello," I said, taking a deep breath. "My name is Matt. My father was an alcoholic circus clown who used to beat me with his oversize shoes."

I closed my own eyes and kept going, immediately realizing what a mistake I'd made. There was no way this story was going to fly. But there was no turning back.

"He'd be sitting there in his costume, sucking down a beer and watching television," I heard myself saying. "And then sometimes, even if I just walked in front of the TV, he'd pull off one of those big shoes and just, you know — whap!"

I managed to tie up my confession with a tale about turning into a drug addict in my midtwenties — at least that much was true — and being startled into sobriety and religion after learning of my estranged clown father's passing from cirrhosis.

So it began. Our meetings were a prolonged, cyclical course of group-directed confession and healing that began on Friday evening and continued almost without interruption through Sunday afternoon. The basic gist of our group exercises was this: We were each supposed to reveal to one another what our great childhood wounds were, then write a series of essays and letters on the wound theme, taking time after the writing of each to read our work aloud. The written assignments began with an autobiography, then moved on to a letter written to our "offenders" (i.e., those who had caused our wounds), then a letter written to Jesus confessing our failure to forgive our tormentors.

Unfortunately, my one fleeting error of judgment about my circus-clown dad had left me shackled to a rank character absurdity for the rest of my stay in Texas. I soon found myself reading aloud a passage from my "autobiography" describing a period of my father's life when he quit clowning to hand out fliers in a Fudgie the Whale costume outside a Carvel ice cream store:
I laugh about it now, but once he chased me, drunk, in his Fudgie the Whale costume. He chased me into the bathroom, laid me across the toilet seat and hit me with his fins, which underneath were still a man's hands.

Again no reaction from the group, aside from an affirming nod from José at the last part — his eyes said to me, I know what you mean about those fins.

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