It’s taken the death of my mom to realize that our childhoods belong to our parents. Those moments spent in their care are made into memories much vaster than the collection of images and feelings one may retain from when a person was three-years-old. Sometimes, it feels as if my childhood happened to another person as the remove seems so great, as I’ve revised and edited my memories into a version that fits with who I am today. But, those are the memories of adolescence and teen, not those of a toddler.
I remember breaking my arm at three-years-old. Sledding with my brothers and disobeying them. Going down the big hill. Hitting a tree. Walking home in tears. Arm bent at an unnatural angle.
I remember that Christmas. Opening a present that contained cars and a track. I’m not sure if I remember wearing the red, cowboy hat or just the memory of the pictures from that time: me with a bruised face, arm in a cast, smiling from the joy of Christmas, beneath a red, felt cowboy hat with white piping.
I have a memory that feels more like a feeling as if there is an after-image on the inside of my skull. It’s my brothers and me in the back of our dad’s white, Mercedes convertible with the scratchy bench seat. It’s of autumn leaves with the top down. Him taking sharp turns. Us asking him to. And our bodies pushing into one another. Pulled by a force outside the car.
I vaguely remember making my mom cry. Cutting all of the leaves off her plants in the greenhouse. She loved plants. It was her favorite room in the house. I don’t know if our dad was dead or alive then, or if the tension between my parents and his disinterest in family were at play.
I can’t ask for clarification.
The keeper of those memories is gone. I’m left with these holes and questions that must remain. Or, I’ll need to revise and edit on my own. Create a truth or accept ambiguity.
There is the memory of a birthday party, a friend’s party, and ketchup being poured on the boy’s head, by accident, as his mom tried to get the ketchup to come out faster, patting the bottom of the bottle, pounding it, until tears, a party ruined with laughter and embarrassment.
Memories from when I was five or six, before my dad died, of me and a neighbor friend hiding in the ditch and throwing rocks at cars as they drove by. Someone stopped. They got out. They chased us. I ran all the way home. Hid in the cabinet underneath a bathroom sink. My dad found me. Or maybe it was my mom. Maybe it is both of them separately, yet unified, both versions being correct.
I remember parts of our move to Traverse City. I think we looked at a house that had a playhouse in the basement, but that we all thought was creepy and possibly haunted. But, that could have been another move, the one from East Lansing to Haslett. What I do remember is holding my brother’s hand as we walked to school. I was in first grade. Some boys whom we would dislike from that day forward yelled faggot at us and threw snowballs.
Now that I’m a parent, I try not to take for granted the role I have in my children’s lives. They won’t remember the determination with which they approached crawling. How they used to call blueberries, bluebrees or bounce to Diana Ross. My own adult memory is not so great, but it will be there as a back up, a clarification if needed.
Was it you or Mom who took me to the emergency room late at night? I remember wearing my pajamas, you might say.
It was me. We drove there with the windows down. Your sister was a baby. Mom needed to stay home with her until your uncle came over. We were so scared. Your breathing sounded terrible. Your mom arrived before we went back to the hospital room. You laid on my chest in the hospital bed. You were upset they didn’t give you a popsicle. I can’t remember if they gave you a shot or not. They did an x-ray. You cried when the board that was propped behind you fell down and bumped your head. We took you home. You were better. You can ask your mom what else happened.
It was me. It wasn’t me. If we both wanted to hold you tight, does it matter who did?
Tears. Driving with the windows down. The sound of the wind in the car. My mom or dad holding me close. I wanted a popsicle, but maybe they didn’t have any? Strawberry was my favorite.