Monday, April 30, 2012

4-30-12 Pictures of Tommy - a memoirist’s blog #1

Well, I cracked: couldn’t keep up my starter job blogs because of too many other pressing demands at the moment. . . with first of all my current survival jobs keeping me occupied  (waitressing, subbing, etc.) with the Amalgamated Muck CD coming out, important gigs to prepare for & play, Finding Bliss on the radio (WESU-fm).  Yikes!  I’m just ga-ga (and no lady).  Not to mention my paid writing work for INK magazine, Shore Line Times, Yourlegacywriter.com and photography to boot. 

But, I started a memoir writing class with Lary Bloom & Sue Levine (at the FloGris) and after long and hard thought, I’m going to switch gears for a month or so and just devote my blogging to what I’m trying to accomplish in the memoir writing class, something I’m going to call

“Pictures of Tommy”

Here we go:

We see my 12-year-old brother, Tommy, on a family summer vacation with his sisters, Carrie and me, in Washington, D.C.  Outdoors, by a tree, Tom is standing on the left, arms crossed, a wristwatch on his right wrist.  He doesn’t touch anybody.  His medium-brown hair is crew cut.  A handsome boy, he is smiling, showing a little teeth, gazing into the camera with four eyes – heavy-framed eyeglasses.  Tommy wears a madras plaid short-sleeved button-down shirt tucked into khakis cinched with a nice belt. 

The following year, the shy, strange, awkward but academically precocious Thomas Agnelli (who was skipped a grade at Saint Anastasia’s Catholic grammar school) entered Manhattan’s prestigious Saint Francis Xavier Academy for boys -- a military/Jesuit school where our dad excelled and had graduated from twenty years earlier.

As a 14 ½-year-old sophomore at Xavier, home from school, he just lost it one night.  I dimly remember brother Tommy’s fury and strangeness, as I cowered under the kitchen table, watching him run around the house after my dad, with a knife.  I can sometimes chuckle about it now, as it seems almost comical these days of uncloseted secrets and “TMI” (“too-much-information”).  But back then it was so scary, I nearly blotted out that memory: an event that nearly destroyed our family.

No, make that a hallmark event: our family before Tommy cracked up (BC), our family after the deed (AD), huge to our identity as a family: the “happy” family, versus the shattered one.

From the age of 14 ½ onwards, Tom Agnelli was in and out of psychiatric hospitals, suffering from various brands of psychosis.  Schizo-affective disorder was his last diagnosis.  His I.Q. had been measured – as a boy in grammar school – to be quite high, in the genius range.  He was lonely, bright and angry, with musical and poetic talent. Tom grew big, about six-foot-one. Late in life, he grew a huge belly. His skin was scarred, deeply lined, his eyes haunted, his teeth all rotted out, his voice hollow-sounding, like it was swallowing itself.  He walked, shuffling like Frankenstein.  Most people --including me -- were scared of him.

Tommy was born on July 3, 1954. Tom died July 29, 2011 -- exactly 37 years after our father died, broken-hearted. 

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