I remember our wonderful Miss Loewen telling us in September of 1963, “Class, apart from all you will learn this year to prepare you for junior high, the real world has plenty in store for you before you finish Grade Six. In a couple of months, President Kennedy will be shot and killed, and then shortly after Christmas some English boys named Beatles will appear on Ed Sullivan and change your lives. A couple of weeks after that, Cassius Clay will become Heavyweight Champion of the World. He will have a minor chart hit with a passable semi-sung rendition of Stand By Me, and then he’ll convert to Islam—something you’ve almost certainly never heard of—and change his name to Muhammad Ali. A few weeks later Billy Noble will go on his first date, a double, but not with the girl of his dreams. Not this time and not ever.”
I also remember my father explaining solipsism to me, but I don’t remember why. My best guess is that he’d noticed I was more guilty of it than any eleven year-old ought to be, perhaps even more guilty than was he himself. Half a century later I still can not claim to be free of solipsism, but I do have my moments.
Half a century later and ten thousand miles away, in my annual JFK reverie, I picked up a small Twilight journal book from beside the kerb at my bus stop. Inside the front cover I was informed that its owner was Olivia, also eleven years old. There was no address or school mentioned, but there was a phone number which I decided it would be best not to call; I would leave this task to the bus company’s lost property office. This was not a diary as such, though there were some jottings in pencil here and there in amongst glued-in pictures of animals such as dolphins and chimpanzees. The handwriting was tidy, the spelling will improve, and I learned that Olivia’s best friend (forever) Ella is pretty much indispensable. There was no gushiness about this, nor any self-pity in the short passage I memorized before giving the little book to the driver. Olivia wrote, “In three sleeps and two days I will be going up to Cloverdale House [not its real name] which is a place where kids can go for a few days for some peace and quiet and so their parents can sort things out. It’s fun there and they let you stay up late. I can’t wait.”
So now, November 22 is the day each year when I will think for a while not only about JFK and Jackie in Dallas and in Camelot, but also about Olivia. I’ll hope that Ella stayed constant, and that Cloverdale House was all the outside help Olivia needed while she waited to be free. I’ll hope she didn’t lose her journal on purpose, only to be haunted by its mysterious and unwelcome return.
Before I knew exactly how this little piece would go, I gave it the title Dropsy simply because I’ve always loved the word; it was a letdown to find it refers to a pretty prosaic malady involving excess accumulation of fluid in various regions of the body. I would prefer dropsy to be some gothic prank that Olivia and Ella and maybe two or three others might play at school to scare the hell out of their teachers, and then write about in their matching black journals. Whatever. The title stays.