It was after 8 at night. I was in bed, my PJs on, my top sheet pulled up to my chin, my blankets at my feet. It was too hot for blankets that night. The night before fifth grade. The night it was born. The night my mind broke, once again, to form the one we would all call Smear Lord of Ire.
The night opens up in a great surge of raucous roaring, as music, horrible and mesmerizing, fills the world. At first, I think I have fallen asleep and am dreaming, some inexplicable nightmare, but when my brother starts screaming I know this is not my feverish mind fighting to make sense of my world in a dream state. This is real. The world is pounding. The sky is ripping.
As the guitar wails, as the singer screams, and as the crow flies, County Stadium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is a mile away, and Pink Floyd is in town. They are opening their epic tale of drugs, abuse, and insanity. The Wall has come to my bedroom. And I have never heard anything like it.
I leap up and run into the living room, where my mother and stepfather are out of their chairs looking up as if the very ceiling is screaming at them.
“What is that?” I yell. I put my hands to my ears, for it is loud. Way too loud to be a radio, way too loud to make sense.
“Get back to bed,” Mumble yells at me. “It must be a concert. I have no idea of what.”
“That is just noise!” my mother cries as the air shreds again, and this time we hear a massive plane soaring over the house. The music soars with it and, in my pajamas, I run out to the balcony, positive a falling plane will crush the house. Then the music pounds again, like a rampaging heart that has a tale to tell, like a rampaging heart with a scream to its voice.
So ya, thought ya, might like to, go to the show.
To feel the warm thrill of confusion and space cadet glow.
I run back into the house and my mother has cotton balls. She pulls one apart and stuffs the two halves in my ears. She tells me again to go to bed, and within a few moments, the lights are out. The dark has come again. I am back on the top bunk staring wide-eyed at the ceiling not five feet above me as the voice of insanity, the very voice of horror, plays itself out again. No cotton ball is going to block this out. No stuffing my head under a pillow, no crawling under a bed. This song, this voice, rules everything in my house, in my world, and in my mind as the concert ramps up and The Wall becomes real.
A warm voice, an echoing voice churns out the lyrics:
Daddy’s flown across the ocean, leaving just a memory.
A snapshot in the family album.
Daddy, what else did you leave for me?
Daddy, what’d ya leave behind for me?
My mind is with Less now. My mind is in that living room. I see my father’s face snarling. I feel his fists on my body. I can hear his voice screaming and the air around me won’t let me escape it. It is pregnant with the sound of words. Nowhere to go. All I can do is stare as my body begins to shut down and the world continues to spin out of control.
…Exposing every weakness however carefully hidden by the kids.
And to follow this line, the howling maniacal laughter of a lunatic bent by a life of hell. This laugh is straight out of a nightmare, less than real, more than horrifying. And now I am thinking about my school and how, no matter how I try to hide my fear, they always smell it. No matter how hard I try to hold myself back, I am always exposed. I am going back. Tomorrow, after this nightmare is over, 20th Street School will have me again.
If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding!
How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat!
The music has no rules. It is not doing what music usually does. It is not rhythmic. It is not predictable. It is a flailing thing, on fire and screaming as it runs through the streets. It is a wild thing they can’t bind to the table. It is everywhere, and it is horrified. I am locked in its horror. Then, as furious as it is, as hideous and wild, as out of control as it is, it fails and drops to sanity.
Hush now baby, baby, don’t you cry.
Momma’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true.
Momma’s gonna put all of her fears into you.
I can’t be hearing this right. I pull out the cotton balls. I strain to hear more. No mother would turn on her child. No mother would do this. But I have seen the spurts of rage. I have seen the seething eyes of my mother. I have seen and heard her when she loses her mind and, for just the briefest of moments, is unhinged from the world, flying off into violence and hate. I have seen the wrath of a mother unleashed.
Is more coming? Does the air around me understand? Is this horror trying to warn me? Protect me?
I can’t take this anymore. I have been gritting my teeth for what seems like hours. The world makes no sense. The horrors are all real. Guardian can’t protect me from this. Assassin has no answer. Pain can’t take this. Servant is weeping. We have no way of coping with this nightmare as it brings itself back and forth over our bed, wails into our room, and looks down over us with contemplating mind, with dark knowledge it can’t possibly have, and with a way of looking into my life. It is telling all my secrets. It is hurting me, even as it hurts itself. Because, make no mistake, this monstrosity is in pain.
Look mama, there’s an airplane up in the sky.
And that is when it cracks. That is when it breaks. When all the screaming, when the keening guitar and the maniacal laughter vanishes as if smoke on the wind, and the voice of a tiny baby, a child no more than three, calls out to the airplane in the sky. My shattered mind cannot handle any more. Too much fear. Too much looking in on itself and not understanding. Too much of all of it, and once again I snap off a piece and I feel it rise above me.
How should I fill the final places?
How should I complete the Wall?
This new entity looks around, sees the boy in the bed, his eyes wide, his arms spread as he fights to hold onto anything. His fingers dig into the frame of his mattress as he stares wide-eyed and weeping at the ceiling. This new entity begins to try to make sense of it all.
Run to the bedroom, in the suitcase on the left,
You’ll find my favorite axe!
That screaming voice is not sane. That voice is out of control and it has a weapon. This boy knows it. This ten-year-old boy has seen blades before. He has seen insanity and violence. He knows that sound. He knows that timbre.
Why are you running away?
The new one can see the boy retreating. The boy can hide. The boy can go away and when he does, a new child arrives. This one is even more scared. This one is even more confused. This is a child who knows nothing but pain and he weeps as the song changes again.
I don’t need no arms around me.
I don’t need no drugs to calm me.
I have seen the writing on the wall.
Don’t think I need anything at all.
The new entity stares at this whipping boy and shakes its head. It slowly shoves its way into the body and eases the broken one away. As the child of pain drifts back, as if in answer to his leaving, this new entity hears the world around him say,
Don’t help them to bury the light.
Don’t give in without a fight.
It looks inside as a new song plays.
Standing in the road always doing what you’re told, can you help me?
And it knows the one who answers that call is named Servant. So it keeps calling.
“Hey you, out there with a blade, and a gun, ready to break and bend, can you help me?” It has sensed Assassin, and calls him out.
“Hey you, the one down on the ground taking horrors in silence, can you hear me?” Shush lifts his head up, and this new one can see him now. This is a very abused little boy. This is a very broken mind. A child on the edge of darkness, of killing himself or the ones around him. This boy is almost hopeless. And in that moment, it knows its purpose.
Open your heart,
I’m coming home.
Hey you, don’t tell me there’s no hope at all.
Together we stand, divided we fall.
It knows its purpose now. The darkness in this child’s life is too horrible to be handled in this world. It must make for the boy another. It must create a world of magic to distract this young, fragile mind.
This is the moment Artist is born. This is the moment our lives are saved. For when the trials get too hard, and the road flames under this boy’s feet, Artist will carry him away. Artist will create a new reality.
I have wild staring eyes,
And I have a strong urge to fly.
But I have nowhere to fly to.
Artist pulls the boy forward and the ceiling above the bed rips off. The sky is visible. The stars are diamonds in the night and nearby, a moon.
The boy feels terror, and deep within his mind there is a creature drinking that terror.
The boy grips the stuffed animal he is too big for, a tiny, filthy tiger he has had for years as marching drums erupt in the sky and before this boy’s eyes, a winged creature hovers. It is tall and black with butterfly wings striped like a tiger’s fur. Its body, black and furry, smears into the night sky.
I can ease your pain, get you on your feet again.
Relax, I need some information first.
Just the basic facts, can you show me where it hurts?
The Artist is suddenly filled with every horror the boy and his alters have suffered. It knows now that in order for this young boy to keep his sanity, he will have to walk a world filled with magic.
The music is so angry. It is filled with fury. The Wall is reaching its zenith now, and the air is vibrating and trembling with the rage of the music.
“Name me,” the black-furred butterfly man says to the boy gripping his mattress in fear.
“Will you hurt me?” the boy says.
“I will show you things that will keep you pure. I will give you visions and fantasy to live with. I will never hurt you. I will make your life less real,” Artist says.
And the boy weeps in relief. He cries because he knows he has a new friend.
“Can I call you Smear Lord of Anger?”
“The sky you fly in is so filled with fury.”
“You can call me Smear Lord of Ire. I am your friend. Come with me.”
In ways I can never explain, that boy never came back.