The Boombox and the Towel Monkey / by padhia hutton

My mom would take your soul and shred it like a block of Parmesan in her cheese grater, letting particulate fly everywhere… high on your pain and laughing all the while grinding harder and harder. And, a moment later cry with such heartfelt passion for what we did to the Indians and how we tricked them and slaughtered them. She would torture you with a rage that you would have to forgive and actually pity, as the only explanation could be she was possessed by pure evil – and then moments lay down on the sidewalk and try to comfort a beetle she had accidentally stepped on.

Her favorite hobby was trying to crawl inside my mind and rewire it for her own personal benefit. I let her think she was successful, yet my terrible secret that I felt extreme guilt over most of my childhood, was that she only entered the reception area of my mind. I had falsely decorated it to her liking for the purpose of containing her. There are rooms far beneath the surface that she never suspected existed and that is where I stored my self, waiting for a day that I feared might never come. I knew early on I had to store my version of reality, opinions and thoughts somewhere safe, somewhere that this could not probe. I am the only one who escaped her experience with my soul which is a pretty incredible feat considering I was born into this and it was all I had ever known, and the rest of the victims entered as adults.

The work on my subconscious was not all evil, sometimes it was for my benefit. One day she dragged me into the city to buy this rare old boom box that played 6 cassette tapes front and back in a row. It had a big metal draw that automatically came out and an arm extended as it switched the tapes into the player slot. And so she would load me up on Barry Konikov, Louise Hay, and Jack Canfield. Topics like overcoming shyness, expressing love, self esteem, and feeling fear and doing shit anyway . The first sides of a lot of the tapes were lecture and the backsides were subliminal messages playing (supposedly) underneath the sounds of the ocean. This strange contraption provided the soundtrack of my life for hours all day and all night long for many years. (If you want to see me lose my shit, put on a track of the ocean waves and I will go Hiroshima on your face…)

I thought of it like mechanical parenting because this went on while she spent day after day in bed in a dark room that was often locked. The incessant talking was something I was not used to as an only child living in an isolated environment, but in the end, I became grateful to have a companion and someone saying encouraging things to me. The little mechanical arm always did as was expected and this was a comfort to me amidst the chaos.

One day I was climbing through piles in the basement and I came across a picture in a frame of a baby monkey snuggled up to a wooden post wrapped in a towel with eye balls sewn on it. I asked my mom about it. She said it was one of her favorite photos, because there was just something so strikingly sad about that baby monkey snuggled up to the fake monkey mom, the only comfort he had in this world. As she spoke I thought of myself snuggled up to my boom box, pressing my cheek against its cold metal speaker until I could feel its vibrations… like some kind of mechanical pulse. I wondered if I was the only one who could see myself.