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  The Ishmael Community: After Dachau

Excerpts from After Dachau
Up to About After Dachau Ahead to Chapter 2

    1

    All children of the rich and famous grow up believing they were switched at birth for the infants their parents really wanted, and I'm no exception. I'm Jason Tull -- but not the rich and famous one, obviously. That's my father.

    Had my parents been given the infant they wanted, he would have grown up behaving exactly like a rightful heir, which is a thing I understand perfectly well but have never been able to do (and have rarely seen anyone else do). Perhaps it's something genetic. Rightful heirs have special genes that kick in and take over at age five or six, and the rest of us don't.

    Naturally Mom and Dad assured me that nothing at all was expected of me just because I happened to be their son. They loved me for myself, and so on. But as one nears the end of school life (in my case, in the year 1992), the people close to you begin to hold their breath -- to see if you're possibly going to begin acting like a rightful heir after all. I didn't, and before long everyone began to breathe normally again.

    Instead of behaving like the rightful heir, I conceived an eccentric interest. This was the way my relatives perceived it, not the way I perceived it. Having nothing else in particular to live for, I found a hobby (they must have thought) -- and an eccentric one to boot, just to prove I'm special. It irked me that they thought about it this way, but I know I might think the same in their place.

    In my sophomore year at prep school I spent spring vacation with another son of rich and famous parents. My friend's mother was a gaunt and melancholy person who whiled away her days reading. Mornings she spent in the morning room. After lunch she moved to one of several rooms that counted as living rooms. When the sun began its decline, she donned a sweater and moved to a shady spot by the pool. In the evening, before taking her book to bed, she seemed to feel obliged to spend an hour or two with the young master and his friend -- a period that was painful to get through, as she was so clearly bored to stupefaction by the two of us.

    All this leads up to the fact that I took a fancy to one of her books, which she'd left unguarded for a moment on the arm of a chair. I only had time to read the dust-jacket notes, which heightened my interest, and I began to wonder how I could get hold of it when she was done. She was the sort of person who would think it an impertinence to suggest that I might read the same books as she. A sort of sumptuary thing, like only kings wearing purple. She somehow gave the impression that the books she read had been written on commission for her exclusive use.

    It was an impertinence even to ask what I actually asked, which was (in a very offhand way), "What do you do with all the books you read? Do you keep them somewhere here or donate them to a library or what?"

    She was instantly on her guard -- against what, I can't guess.

    She explained that her maid took them to a used-book dealer who evidently had the royal entitlement to resell all her paper castoffs. The rich mostly know very well how to pinch a penny.

    The next day I angled in on the maid. You never know. Some servants are even haughtier than the people they serve, but I was lucky with this one, and a few hours later the book was delivered into my hands. It didn't occur to me at the time that this book (or any book) was going to shape the direction of my life. At this age I didn't even know that lives can have a direction.

Up to About After Dachau Ahead to Chapter 2


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