I remember as a child reading a myth in which a hero was on a quest to pick a golden apple from a whole tree of golden apples. At the beginning of the story, the hero was a thief, so he entered the garden where the tree grew at night. And as he approached, each of the apples on the tree cried out to him pick me, pick me, pick me with the same small voice, the same gleaming skin tucked among the darkened leaves. Sight is useless with regards to the identical, so the thief, who at this point in the tale was on the threshold of becoming a hero, had to make his choice blindly; because the truth was there was actually only one apple on the tree; all of the others were fakes. I seem to remember that an unspoken death awaited the hero if he picked the wrong fruit, though in the end of course he didn't. He picked his apple, which was the only apple, and presented it to I forget whom in order to get I forget what.
What I do remember is that I always wondered how the hero succeeded in making the right choice and thus surviving. The story never said; but I surmised the answer was that the hero himself was the right choice, that like a key he could open the moment and pass through it unharmed, the golden apple being proof of his wholeness—incorruptible sustenance ad infinitum. Which of course then made my child's thought fly to all the wrong people—the ones who had preceded him. Each like the false fruit in their way, like the opposite of a key, becoming, in fact, with their unspoken fates, part of the door that separated the true apple from the world.
I became a writer because of this myth. The lesson my child-self took from the story was that for every human situation, every human trauma, there existed a key that could release you; and I determined that this key must be made of words. I believed that to be a writer, was to be a hero in the garden approaching with a blind faith: that you will be the right person in the right moment, to speak the gold, pull it from its stem, magically unharmed. I've since found out that the myth that I remembered is actually an apocryphal amalgamation of several stories, and never actually existed at all.
When people tell me everything will be OK these days, I think of your grandfather's gold wristwatch that we keep like a shrouded heart in a metal safe in [End Page 141] the closet. Its rounded heft a weight on the spindly platitudes I tell myself about surety, infallibility, stability. Those nights when I sleep and my heart watches, I can hear, behind the smooth, shiny face of your grandfather's American origin story, behind his auric deliverance from the war, like a seething of tiny teethed gears, trauma, now reduced to slight gleamings of horror passed down through the family: the babies screaming pitched out of windows, the executions, the years lived underground hiding like animals. In the thrall of the terror, everything that your grandfather owned had to be converted into a currency that would hold value in a new world. Anything he wanted to bring had to be changed to a weight that could be borne as he was born from one life into another. Gold serves both of these purposes.
Modern psychology has us trace the lines of trauma back like breadcrumbs to the site of the original wound, which is what trauma means in Greek. But sometimes the wounds run wider than the river of one lifetime, sometimes they cross many, and present themselves like a form of currency that has changed itself to be used anew. What do we do then? Must we spend it?
Someday, I will have to tell you about my time in that dark and filthy garden. How I wanted to go there, how I was not forced, and how one day I found myself cast out and...