My father always reminded me of Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited.
His aloofness, detachment, even the extended trip to Central America to sketch
and paint the Mayan architecture and coastal landscapes.
My father had his blond Sebastian, too, but it was a fully realized passionate, lengthy homosexual union. Even a cold, cruel father was in the picture. My Arkansas grandfather, the gruff, unhappy cotton farmer, the son of an alcoholic, relentlessly exerted his destructive influence over the emotional component of my father’s personality.
Robert seldom mentioned his childhood, but on one rare occasion—the only time he ever visited me alone in New York, he was en route to London to meet a client—he stated matter-of-factly, “My father did everything possible to destroy my self- confidence.”
It was the only personal conversation that we ever had. We were sitting in Mme. Romaine de Lyon’s restaurant and eating asparagus omelettes by a window with white lace curtains.
Was he aware that he and my mother flawlessly performed the same act upon me?
He also described a recurring dream that he had: He and my mother were standing in the yard of his childhood home in Cotton Fields, Arkansas.
“We’ve killed someone,” he calmly stated to my mother.
I guess he felt guilty about his treatment of me, or rather his infinite indifference. It was his way to apologize, the best that he could do, under his steely emotional armor.
My father made the decision—from the beginning—to sacrifice me, in order to save himself.
There was a truly pagan element of masochism, sadism, and self-destruction to the family dance of the Smiths.
This model gave me an uncanny ability to adapt to all the selfish monsters that would confront me, want to maintain a relationship with me, or exploit me.
Another time, in August, Robert pretended to crack the ice in the backyard birdbath, as my mother watched from a window. He wanted her to take him to a psychiatric hospital.
But it was all a trick; he wanted to get her into the looney bin! They never made it there. On the way to the hospital, she grabbed the steering wheel and wrecked the car.
So my father retreated once again into his basement office with the sawhorses, pigeon holes for blueprints, and shelves lined with art books and Gore Vidal novels. He began planning his next extended escape to Monhegan island, off the coast of Maine.