At age six, I had quite an imagination. I had a passion for making up stories, but because I often attempted to pass these stories off as truth (i.e., I lied), I was labeled a “liar.” Damn labels. I credit this skill set to my father. Nature might have equipped me with a creative personality, but it was the nurturing of my loving father, or more specifically, his inability to speak the truth that he inadvertently passed on to me by his example. To this day, I have no idea which of my father’s stories even have a basis in fact. Given that I was my father’s son, I had little credibility in the Bennett household. This made my reporting of an unbelievable truth… unbelievable.
One summer afternoon in 1978, I was in my Easton, Connecticut backyard doing whatever five-year-olds did back then. We lived on a three-acre wooded lot surrounded by trees and deer. In fact, Lyme disease was so common that before I could say “Connecticut” I could say “doxycycline” and “amoxicillin.” I remember running into the house in terror that day and telling my mom that I saw a big monkey in the tree. Being a good mom and perhaps encouraging my creative side, my mom asked me enthusiastically all about the monkey: what color it was, how big it was, if it was wearing a suit, what it said to me, and other questions that became increasingly patronizing, even to a six-year-old. Given that my mom had no problem believing in fairies, chakras, the Loch Ness monster, and other similar ideas and creatures she read about in her then favorite news source, Weekly World News, I didn’t think a monkey in a tree would be such a stretch, but apparently, I was wrong.
Several days had passed, and I didn’t shut up about the monkey, and my parents and siblings didn’t stop teasing me about it. Most kids make crap up, but very few (sane) kids have the persistence to keep the story going despite its irrationality. My dad took out a map of the world and showed me where we lived, then he pointed to where monkeys live. Although he pointed to Northern Canada, I understood the point he was trying to make: monkeys didn’t live anywhere near us. Even my mom, who had no problem with a half-human, half-ape wondering about in the Pacific Northwest somewhere, was starting to grow tired of my outlandish “monkey in the tree” story. Fortunately, there was one person who did believe me, or would have had he been familiar with my primate tale: the anchorman from the local channel five news team.
While my parents, siblings, and I were are all sitting down at dinner not saying a word to each other, glued to the TV set watching the evening news, the anchorman came on and reported:
Now for an update on Mitch, the monkey who escaped from Beardsley Park Zoo in Bridgeport this Monday. Mitch has been found in Easton, a neighboring town, by a resident who was outside mowing his lawn. He called the town animal control, and the animal control, who was contacted earlier by the Zoo, immediately called Mitch’s handlers who were able to get Mitch down from the tree and back into the care of the Zoo. We are happy to report that Mitch is now safe and back home. (Turning to his co-anchor) It seems like Mitch had enough monkeying around (both awkwardly force a laugh).
I will never forget the look of shock on my family members’ faces combined with pity and perhaps a dash of remorse. That was the first time I experienced vindication, and it felt good.
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What is a “normal childhood?” Does it include almost being murdered by your sister with an ax? Speeding around town in the back of a station wagon because your mom is chasing an “alien spaceship”? Being busted by the police for intent to light a pond on fire? Tackling your mom to the ground and wrestling a knife out of her hand because she was trying to kill your dad? While my stories may be unique, readers will be able to relate to the broader themes are part of a normal childhood such as sibling rivalry, eccentric parents, doing stupid things, and frequently preventing one’s parents from literally murdering each other.
Although some of the subject matter is not something one would generally laugh at, you have my permission to laugh. Social rules don’t apply here; my rules do. It works for me, and who knows, after reading the stories from my past, you might be inspired to see your own screwed up past in a more humorous light.
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