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What is real and what can be imagined

June 21, 2007

My earliest memories are of our townhouse where we lived at the top of a horseshoe road and once when I was skating in my clip on skates with the metal wheels that went over my tennis shoes I found a box turtle ambling down the sidewalk. I scooped him up and took him but wasn’t allowed to keep him. I already had a parakeet I named Harold. I wanted to name him Big Bird (I was just about 2) and was told I could not. I can see my parents back-lit by the large sliding glass door in our kitchen shaking there heads and trying to explain that, “Well, Peanut, you can’t name him Big Bird because he is just a little bird.” I moaned and complained and cried and finally when I realized they would not relent I said, I am told, “Harold. Fine. I will call him Harold.” I don’t remember a fondness for this animal in any way. I remember a blizzard that came in ferociously one winter night before I was 5 (so, between 1972-1976) that laid snow down on top of my world and it covered almost up to the tops of the cars. I remember waking up early and the dawn sunlight reflected off the new snow through the heavy gray and dark clouds and I thought how scared I was because maybe we were trapped. Trapped by the snow and if the cars were covered we would never be able to go any where. Maybe the whole world was covered in snow and I wondered if my grandparents were okay. I remember throwing up in a blue bucket. Well, first I threw up in my bed and my mom and dad were running around getting ready and changing my sheets and it was early and my mom put the bucket by the bathroom door and my dad who is mostly blind–even back then–stepped in it and was really mad. My mom laughed because it was funny and he was just mad. My mom had that blue bucket for years. I think until I was maybe in my teens. Stupidly and sentimentally I wish I still had that bucket. I remember my dads apartment with the stone patio and ivy and wrought iron furniture. That weird little step up to the bathroom. Pancakes in his tiny kitchen. Drawing pictures of myself with small markers at his desk that had a desk lamp that had the  brightest light that made my hand feel warm if I pulled it too close while drawing. Waiting for the bus to go to bible camp or Sunday school or something. I would get dressed by myself and wait for the bus because my mom liked to sleep in. I could eat pop tarts cold and wait for the bus so I could sit with children I did not know and sing “If you are happy and you know it clap your hands” and “Jesus loves me”. I felt so afraid to get up by myself at 6 and get ready and leave without my mom even waking up. Watching Tarzan, Jerry Lewis and Doris Day movies early in the morning when the cartoons went off because my mom liked to sleep late. Riding my bike with the wind in my face holding my feet off my pedals and almost wiping out when I flew into a swarm of gnats. My nanny making me friend eggs and ham for breakfast at her store. There dark and 70’s looking bathroom where I took a bath when the pony dragged me almost to my death. The small bottle of iodine my dad put on my back. Walks in the woods in the winter. Walks in the woods in spring. Walking on the rocks and almost sitting on a water moccasin. “Finding” that deer antler and wishing I stil had  it. Going to the circus with my dad because my mom was allergic to it. Sugar cookies with my grandmother and my favorite cookie cutter was always the cowboy. She would get mad because she would have a hundred cowboys if it were up to me. Slurpees with my grandfather and swimming in Miss Helens pool watching my Poppy squeeze his fists and shoot water 3 feet in the air. Miss Helens basement filled with the most amazing 1950’s furniture and decorations. I coveted her butterfly chairs and wanted her collection of poodle statues. Trying on all my grandmothers gloves and jewelery. Sitting on the floor next to her chair and eating red apples with a little salt on them shaken from the large tupperware shakers. Sitting in that same spot learning to crochet and making yards long chains watching Mike Douglas and Guiding Light. Watching my Poppy make Pink Squirrels for my great grandmother Piggy. Singing “I’ve been working on the railroad” while he made his martini’s. The little stack of pennies he used to count his miles when he road his stationary bike. Driving around with my grandfather in CA while he went on his sales rounds when he sold janitorial supplies and looking at all the beautiful houses in the ritzy neighborhoods. Playing the organ and making lots of noise as my Nanny praised my talents. Strumming the strings while my stepfather Tom played “Here comes the sun” on his guitar while we sat by the fire watching the cats Sassafras and Duster bake themselves with the heat from the hearth. Watching our cats fight over asparagus and french fries. Playing with my little brother and kissing him while my dad hung him upside down and he laughed and laughed. Being so disgusted that he peed on me when I changed his diaper but laughing because of the great aim and to the insistence from our dad that it was good luck. Sleeping next to my Aunt Amy and listening to her snore but feeling safe next to Amy. Playing cards with my family–both sides. Trips to Mexico to camp on the beach, the crooked floor and that big fish and the blow hole off the cliff. School plays, school shows, proms, dances and ice skating. A lot of eye shadow. A lot of hair spray. A lot of clothes–mostly my grandfathers for a few years so suspenders were needed.

There are all these things swirling around in my brain. I have a great memory for things. It is one of the traits that some of my friends despise most–I think I have said this before? But along side of these amazing things, happy times, life altering moments filled with joy and ordinariness are all these other things. These horrible things that no one wants to talk about. No one will say they happened. My mother dying closed  a giant door to my past. It slammed shut as that damned monitor flatlined and then poof! it was gone.

The continuity of love and caring was gone and I am left with a parent who only dabbles at fatherhood when it comes to me. If it is convenient. If it suits him. He puts himself into these precarious situations that make it almost, but not entirely, impossible to do the right thing but he chose to be there so that is that. I have felt always that the bad things he has done or the mean or the thoughtless or the cold hearted or the ignorant acts were simply the fate of his situation. He can’t help it. He doesn’t mean it so I can’t be angry. It can’t hurt me because I am just taking it wrong. Remembering this incorrectly. Not seeing it from his point of view.

But what makes me curious is how can I remember all the precious moments, the lovely sunlit experiences with such an accurate eye but the things that hurt me are just completely wrong?  That isn’t the way it happened. Or I am wrong to be upset because it couldn’t be helped?

When are you responsible for the choices you make in your life? When is it time to say that where you are in life because you walked there every step of the way. No one magically dropped you into anything and your life is not some mirage you just happen to stumble upon. Your life is always right where you think you left it. Like dirty socks you take off at night and mean to put in the hamper and a week goes by and you wonder how did your room get so untidy?

To be denied your past except for the perfect bits makes your life seem fake. Unreal and meaningless. Life is messy. Sad. Confusing. Hard. All those things. Gloriously it is. All of those attributes are what makes you a real person with a real life. You don’t need to create a life  for yourself you just have to live the one you’ve got.

So, stick that in your fortune cookie and eat it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 21, 2007 5:49 am

    Love this post, Cole. Love it. So necessary for me right now. And so wise…

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