(written for Tokoni, 05/08/2009)

So I’ve decided to dig back into the depths of “Remember When”, back past the abuse issues, pulling up the few dregs of memory from my earliest past . . . the stuff that I remember from before I was three or four. Just scatterings of memory; snapshots, still frames, and broken bits of film of times gone by. . .

Snapshot: I’m in a kitchen sink, getting a bath. I’m happy as a clam, looking towards the room. Sorta dark; not much light, but it feels . . . happy and friendly. I’m giggly happy. Age? Unknown.

Film Frag: In an airplane. We are landing. The only time this could of occurred is when we were coming back from Germany. I could not of been much more than one year old. My mom entertains me while we land with “Alley” the alligator, a Steiff handpuppet, and “Leo” (my favorite), a lion puppet. Alley belongs to my brother, Leo to me. My mom still has those puppets; I know. She was wanting to sell them a while back. They are old and in great shape (we took care of our toys) – and still bring back fond memories.

Film Frag: New Jersey. We are driving through the darkness in what I think now was the old Rambler. Parents up front, my brother in the back. Sudden hard thump; dad cursing, brakes applying, car skewing around. We get out and watch my dad put the dog he hit into the trunk. It turns out he knows this dog; it is his friends. We load back up, more somber than before, and drive on . . .

Film Frag: New Jersey. My dad’s friend comes over. He gives me and my brother each a pheasant feather. They seem HUGE. He also gives me and my brother each a matchbox car. It is so cool – mine is a small off green, looks like a Mercedes sedan – and the doors open. I play with it on the floor, fascinated. I’ve never owned a cool toy like this . . .

Film Frag: We are . . . where? Maybe New Jersey, but the place really reminds me of my great-aunt’s house in Iowa – large garden with an alley further on behind the house. My brother and I have been playing in the back yard. We come in. I have a balloon I’ve been blowing up and letting go, laughing at it’s ‘pffftt!’ sound and watching it fly around. My mom is sitting in a chair across the room – or maybe two rooms, because it seems like I’m in the kitchen looking into the living room, which would be consistent with my great-aunt’s house. My mom, sitting in the living room with her back to us is reading something (I think). I blow up the balloon and let it fly. It goes soaring through the room, high in the air, and as it goes over her head – she reaches up and claps her hands. Amazingly, she claps it right on the balloon, exploding it.

I burst into tears. She is not sorry. She laughs, says we deserved it.

Accident or not, I was devastated I guess, which is why I still remember it.

Texas. I’m 2 or 3. We watch cartoons on an old huge console TV. I remember that. We weren’t allowed to watch long; just an hour. But we look forward to it every Saturday morning.

Texas. It’s early morning, my dad is going to work at the Army base (he’s a soldier). We go out to the garage. On my tricycle there is something new; something I’ve never seen before. It’s a white substance. Cold. My dad tells me it’s frost. He wipes it off the seat for me with his gloved hand.

Texas. Snapshot. I am on my tricycle, riding in the driveway, ’round and ’round in little circles. It is hot. I am smoking a cigar someone dropped. I get into trouble; someone takes it away from me. I don’t mind. I just want to ride my trike.

Texas. We have a mean little white and tan dog. A very mean dog. Half coyote, half something else, it howls at the moon and the neighbors litter our yard with tin cans at night, thrown in an attempt to shut the beast up. The only person that dog won’t bite or attack is my mom. My mom has a picture of the three of us and that dog. In it, me and my brother are dressed in cowboy boots and hats. We are all sitting down on the ground in the barren yard. My mom is to the far right, me and my brother to the left. In the photo the dog is frozen in a lunging slash across my momma’s lap, its face a frozen snarl of rage as it leaps towards me and my brother.

Texas. Still 3, maybe 4? There’s a kid across the road throwing rocks at me. I’m not allowed to cross the road, so I throw rocks back. I can’t throw as far as he, but it doesn’t matter. I’m not going to let him throw rocks at me and get by with it.

Texas. I must be four, because my brother is going to kindergarten for his first time. I throw a fit – one of those screaming children’s tantrums where you lay on the floor, face screwed up in rage, kicking hands and feet. I want to go, too. My mom stands there, calmly watching and laughing, and telling me I can’t go. I don’t remember ever throwing a tantrum again.

Texas. 3. My uncle, only about a two years older, has come over to play. The dog goes after him. I watch him run, and climbing over the fence, he tears his pants. He is madder than mad, and blames me for it for some reason. (This uncle will come up again, in later stories.)

Texas. Four? It is twilight, and the moon, huge and red, is rising on the eastern horizon. Other members of the family are there; the grownups are doing a barbecue or something. Us kids are playing on one of those cool merry-go-rounds which has four seats, and you pump the handles to make it go around. Faster and faster we go, swinging through the growing darkness as the huge red moon rises above the horizon.

Unknown, but probably Texas. We are at a huge family reunion. Lots of kids and grownups, and what seems a huge old house. There is an uncle there. He has only one eye. Where his other eye was is a hollow pit extending back into his head. He lets us kids pile into his lap and stick our fingers in the hole. It is weird feeling, and I feel . . . weird doing it. But that doesn’t stop me. He is laughing, friendly, seems to like us kids, and doesn’t seem to mind our interest in his deformity at all.

Same place, same reunion. I am riding a trike in the back yard. There is a little girl in a print dress, my age. I’m not sure, but I think she wanted the tricycle. She is following alongside me. I spot a bumblebee on a flower in the grass. I know bees can hurt you. I point out the bee to her. She doesn’t know. She picks it up; I can see it in her palm, and it stings her, dead center there. She goes running, crying to the house and the grownups, and I follow her, wanting to see what their reaction will be; how they treat bee stings. I don’t know, but I get the distinct feeling I got scolded for telling her to pick it up. But I’ll never forget seeing that bee in her small hand; right there in the center of her palm, digging its stinger in.

Iowa. I know its Iowa because I’ve discussed this memory with my mom (amazing her). I’m three; we have come from Texas to visit my aunt. She lives in a trailer. The grownups are setting up a picnic table in the front yard. A dark line of clouds begins creeping over the sky; the wind picks up. The line grows closer and the wind gets stronger. Suddenly it starts to gust. The grownup scurry around as if they are afraid, pulling the food off the table, taking things inside. Just before they grab us kids I see that heavy old picnic table turning over in the wind, flipping towards the trailer. We go inside. The windows get dark; the trailer rocks like a ship in a storm; there is a huge, huge amount of noise, and occasionally one of the grownups will go to the side of the window and lift the shaking curtains there. I can see the sky is full of clouds; billowing puff, dark and angry. The trailer shakes so hard it tips; everyone is screaming and yelling but me – because I haven’t a clue as to what is going on. Instead of fear, I feel only curiosity, and would like to see what is going on outside.

Later we take a ride. We pass through trailer parks and housing developments. Nothing is left. Nothing except small square structures. I ask what they are. It is explained to me that they are the closets inside the houses where people hid from the tornado that passed through. I am amazed at how flat everything looks. Nothing left at all.

Why do I list this stuff? Because it reminds me that before – before the bad memories really kick in – I had a fairly normal childhood. I was being raised ‘right’. Mom was cool. Dad was fine*. And the ‘stuff’ hadn’t started kicking in.

I don’t know what happened to change that. Maybe it was moving away from her family set my momma off on her long road to . . . to I guess what some would say it was madness. At least when she had extended family around, she had somewhere to leave us kids, give herself a break. But once we moved to New Jersey . . . things started to change.

* click the link: you’ll see how this works . . . because from what I’ve heard – it was SNAFU.