By Wayne Koestenbaum
I’m trying to figure out why — or how — or if — I became intellectual.
One place to begin: the time my mother “pulled a knife” on my father.
The expression “pulled a knife” — is it correct?
I think a kitchen knife.
Certainly a knife from the kitchen drawer.
Probably not a steak knife.
Perhaps a bread knife.
Just a soft-edged, relatively harmless butter knife.
Let’s say she was making a statement.
Her performance had two direct witnesses.
One, my father. He saw her “pull the knife.”
Two, my father’s aunt, Alice.
Seated in a black chair, she was waiting for my father to drive her home.
My father and his Aunt Alice often spoke together in German.
My mother didn’t understand German.
I imagine that she “pulled the knife” as a performance directly aimed at the aunt.
The act — “pulling a knife” — had two other indirect witnesses.
My sister saw it. I saw it. We were standing in the hallway. Later, we talked about the incident.
It has become, for us, a touchstone.
“The time Mom pulled a knife on Dad”: that scene is a card we sometimes play; a trick we pull out of our hat; a piece of evidence.
[From “Heidegger’s Mistress,” Guilt and Pleasure, Issue 2, Spring 2006]
What is a childhood experience that became a touchstone for you?
Wayne Koestenbaum is an American poet and critic whose works include The Queen's Threat and Jackie Under My Skin.