One of the obvious problems with growing older is the tendency to begin using phrases you always detested when young: “back in the day,” and it’s equivalents maddened you in your youth and are now a common element of your vernacular.
Worse still is the knowledge that the days which you seem to lovingly recall weren’t all that good as you lived them, rendered less so, you then believed, by your parents’ endless references to the good old days, when you knew that days were fixed periods, an astronomical phenomenon, and there was nothing the least bit good or bad about them.
But you stop and take solace that the grimaces of your grandchildren’s faces when you use the expression will one day, soon enough, be given over to their use.
I have to stop and wonder if there is a parent alive who hasn’t gently pulled on the toes of achild too young to object and recited “this little piggy.” And of course most children giggle but not for the reason the parents suspect or hope, but at the sight of a large person turning into a somewhat ridiculous child. If they could comprehend just what was said in that always slightly squeaky voice parents adopted for the verse, they would point out that they got strained peas and peaches and such, and that no good pig, or toe for that matter, ever ate roast beef, for they prefer a much sloppier meal.
Chi-Chi was a cute peke in a very “runt of the litter” sort of way, cuddly but hardly the show dog her breeders had intended. I asked why she was called Chi-Chi and my father searched and showed me her AKC papers, with the full name that would’ve made those of Spanish royalty pause to consider the brevity of their seemingly endless names. She was a simple joy, followed me around like a furry ankle bracelet. She loved most everyone, she was loved in return, save for the always angry neighbor and for him she transmuted into a true lion dog of China guarding the gates of the palace.
Death has an uncanny knack for turning normalcy on its head. My mother was never ready at the time my parents had to leave either selecting outfits or jewelry, the right shoes, as my father stood by fidgeting and looking at his watch, knowing better than to say anything. Yet she left without notice, no delays at all, just suddenly gone so unlike her to make a simple exit. And he, the man who was always punctual, who left at the exact moment planned save for her issues, he lingered, a slow departure by inches, fading away, until only a shell of the man remained and that, too, finally slipped away.
No child, no youth wants to imagine the moment of his or her conception. Now, that is the moment of personhood in some places, a moment when two cells become one and is a life of its own, but it isn’t the convergence of sperm and ovum we avoid, but the act leading to it. When you are an adoptee and only later in life discover your now dead birthparents that moment, that scene is a small void in your life among larger voids you want to, but cannot ever, seem to fill, so it is left to your imagination of time, place, circumstances and ultimately action, but you ensure that scene ends moments before conception.
I cannot say for certain which day I became the familial isotope, but I know my parents began accreting neutrons not long after their marriage, bound to their mutual core, unbound from me, adopted into the family, and I then became the isotope of the family but remote, easily enough forgotten, when I was not present. That is, I suppose, one possible fate for an isotope, it’s familial half-life up and then forgotten.
But perhaps it was just that I was the family’s Schrödinger’s cat, finally put in a box into which no one chose to look.
There was a ghost or two for a short while, that lived under my bed when I was three or four.
My mother said they were not real, she couldn’t see them when she looked, so they were all in my mind.
I had to tell her that you don’t ever actually see ghosts, you just know they are there because you sense their presence.
Mother’s ghost visited me last night in my dreams, but I reminded her that she didn’t believe ghosts exist, and returned to the dream she interrupted and she . . . oh I don’t know what she did, but she wasn’t there and I suspect will not return, which is entirely fine by me.
It is 1952, April, and I am handed to the woman. I am wrapped in a thin blanket, the tall man is standing beside her. I do not recall this, but this is how it must have happened, she finally a mother, he a father despite infertility. I do not recall her, the woman who perhaps never held me once I exited her body, who hid me for nine months. I mourn her now, knowing she acted out of love, with hope for me, but only the headstone is her touch on my hand.
First appeared in Constellations: A Journal of Poetry and Fiction, Volume 12, Fall 2022
I still marvel at the way the mind can rewrite the narrative arc of memories, taking away sharp edges, eroding or erasing some too painful to relive, and bringing others out from deep storage, some largely forgotten, to be battled with in dreams, demons wrestled to submission.
In my dreams I have had a final conversation with my step-sibling, who told me of my father’s death in a text message, who never delivered my nominal share of either parents estate, who made it clear I did not matter, and in the dream I pronounced him dead to me and buried him in a place my memory can and will not visit.