MY MIND was still full of the image of the bird boy from If I Had the Wings by Helen Klonaris when I read the large front-page headline “Boy chops off mom’s hand.”
I had not recovered from the visceral effect of reading those stories by the Bahamian writer whose prose is crafted to stir the senses. The stories had already stirred my emotions, perhaps because they speak of real experience and imagined gateways. Now I had to contend with the reality of a 15-year-old boy so incensed with rage at having his cellphone taken from him that he could be driven to chop off his mother’s hand.
“It isn’t as if he is a down-and-out,” I could hear the people cry. “I mean Presentation is a prestige school so he must have passed his SEA with flying colours.” His mother, I am pretty sure, sent him to school every Monday morning in sparkling clean clothes and pressed pants. “But what make the boy do that?” His mother is a nurse, so he comes from a respectable family. Initial reactions suggest he might have been on drugs or that he is a “troubled” lad.
Some four weeks ago a medical student destroyed a statue in a Catholic church. He too would have been a successful SEA student and done well in secondary school and as such, I imagine, would have been held up as a symbol of success. But, as we have heard, he may be suffering from some form of psychiatric illness.
The 17-year-old who allegedly killed a baby a few days ago is also under psychiatric review.
Somehow between it all there is rage and bewilderment.
It is possible that these events speak to a rising wave of mental illness among the young. But there must be a cause. I no longer subscribe to theories of generational trauma. I feel the issue is now.
But the kind of anger that we read of in this instance of a son chopping a mother spoke to something else. It reverberated with the same dysfunction that Klonaris had chronicled. Admittedly there seems little connection between a young man or woman disowned and villified by leaders of society because of her sexuality, which is what Klonaris talks about in most of the stories in her debut collection.
And no. I am not suggesting that homosexuality has anything to do with any of the three incidents in Trinidad. Nor indeed am I suggesting that sexual abuse is the cause, as is the case with the imagined retribution of a young girl abused by her father in Klonaris’ title story, “If I had the wings.” But there is an echo in TT of a young boy or girl coming of age in a society where intolerance and violence are permitted and hidden under a veneer of morality.
For what is the difference? If a society keeps one image of itself to the forefront of its consciousness and behaves in a completely different way in its words and attitudes and actions, then something will fall asunder. We need only reference Freud and his ideas of repression. Those who give vent to the deep-seated anger so well hidden by that cloak of tolerance and equanimity that we pretend is Trinidad are the sign of our illness and breakdown.
The hatred that I felt pour over the nation and that exploded in TT over the judgment handed down by Justice Devindra Rampersad are also signs. The surface is cracking. As we remember the state of emergency of 1970, perhaps this is something we should think about.
The suffering caused by the desire to be allowed to be different that suffuses the pages of Klonaris’s collection moves towards a fantasy of freedom. It climaxes in the apparent submission of the bird boy/girl of “The Dreamers,” who offers him/herself to the crowd in apparent martyrdom. The horrors that he/she seeks to refute come from the inability of society to see anyone else’s point of view and the sanctimonious attitudes that accompany this. What this story seeks to offer is a vision of potential freedom. But oddly this idea is hidden in a prophesy of impending destruction.
Is the growing violence of the young linked to intolerance and hypocrisy within our society? We no longer send clear signals to our children about what is right and wrong. We can attack people who are homosexual and deny them their right to privacy and a life. We can pollute the airwaves with messages of hate publicised in huge headlines. All the while we pretend to be urbane. Leaders advocate closed-mindedness and seem only to become aware of their incitement to hatred when someone like the President of the nation calls them to account. There is very little self-censorship or self-awareness.
Throughout her collection Klonaris maintains a commentary on how leaders of communities influence the young and the public at large. There is a sustained thread that says that people are gullible and in constant need of sensation. She could be talking about Trinidad.