(as part of an on-going project with my wife – me trading stories for her for cigarettes – I did this one.  It is a part of the time “pre-Mikie” – a time in our lives when we were just being formed.  Hope you enjoy.  Or not.)

 

Pearls in Time: New Jersey

 

I guess we arrived in New Jersey when I was a little bit over a year old – probably in November. That’s when we usually moved; November. I can remember being in a plane with my mom; we are sitting in those cramped economy seats, I am next to the aisle. She has bags in her lap and perhaps on the floor, and I get the feeling we are going down and that she is a little bit nervous about landing. After all, she knows, being a military wife and all, landings are what pilots term “controlled crashes”. I ‘know’ this feels like a plane, and that we are landing and that she’s a tad nervous and frayed. She turns to me and asks what puppet I want to play with – there are three high quality Steiffs to choose from – and I tell her. I can remember how hard it was to say the words, stumbling over them, trying really hard to say them. “Ally” our alligator puppet and “Leo” the lion. Those were my favorite two. She pulls them from a bag between her knees and puts them on her hands – Ally on her left, and Leo the Lion (always my favorite and best of the two) on her right. They are super soft, fuzzy, and very well made, and she begins playing with them, having them attack each other and nuzzle me. I am a happy kid and really love seeing my puppets. I love all my stuffed animals, they are my very best friends. Memory fades to gray as the plane comes down . . . and perhaps there is some dim recollection or impression of later standing around surrounded by really tall (mountainous, Sequoia-like) people, ghostly luggage or boxy suitcases scattered around . . .

 

You know how it is – memories are like bubbles; pearls floating in time. They float in the darkness like a chain of events, each bubble leading to the next one. In some areas (for me), they are foam – hard to pick exactly when this one happened or that one did. But as I go back the bubbles become a chain strung in darkness – milky white with pearlescent skin, shining, radiant. But that swirling opalescent cloak can’t quite conceal the contents within. It shifts and swirls; providing glimpses and glimmers into these things – the past. When I ‘enter’ one – I can’t see beyond it. It’s like each is constrained within its own time line – it begins and ends at a certain rate, and each in a certain way. Some end like a ‘snap!’ – into mysterious darkness – others fade to gray – just like they begin. Some are just snapshots; others video clips in my head – movies from different times and places.

But it makes sense – after all, who remembers each day in their lives? Very few. The psychologists say we all do; that there’s a ‘recorder’ in our minds – one that keeps track of events and things. It’s called your subconscious. But even it can be affected by perception and time. Even it can forget things, change things, or make up things up. That’s why I don’t trust memory, and may be wrong on some things. However, as the philosophers have often said: what is reality but your own – and how your mind perceives it? So I’ll continue to stick with what I know – and make you, the reader aware when I’m not quite sure . . .

Things I’ve remembered forever . . .

 

The Dog

It is night, and we are traveling down a dark road. My brother and I are seated in the back of this cavernous car; I can barely see the bright arc of headlights on the snow covered road ahead. My daddy tells me to sit down. I do. It is cold, except for me and my brother are warm. The night is surrounded by darkness, there are hardly any lights at all. My brother and I each have a coat on; the night is warm in the car. I guess my father has his heater on.

My momma sits beside him. They are not talking or I do not think they are. I want to keep standing up and looking out the car; seeing where it is going.

There is a soft bump and my dad curses and cusses as he brakes the car. We come to a stop. It has stopped snowing. The night is frigid and dark.

He gets out of the car, and then we all get out and stand by him. He is standing beside and behind the car and there is a dark form in the snow. It is like a dark shadow. There are red lights gleaming from the car; they are like demon’s eyes for they are red and round.

“Is it a dog?” somebody is asking and I think it is I. My daddy says it is; he has killed his best friend’s dog (or at least someone he knows) – and my momma is helping him by opening the trunk. It must be a heavy dog and my feet are getting cold and the night is really dark. There is the stark black and white shadows up ahead where the headlights are glowing; there are trees there in my mind; twisted and gray with veins and lines of snow over-scoring their darkness. My daddy lifts the dog up – I think he is in a blanket; he got a blanket out of the car and has wrapped the dog up in it – folding him up like a taco sandwich – and placing him in the car, in the back of the trunk. Then we all have to get in and we start driving.

He is on the way to his friend’s house – I guess it is not far – and I can almost feel this dead thing in the back of the car, but I’m not caring. I’m with my ‘friend’ inside of my mind.

So we go to this house; I can remember it pretty good: it was white on the front, had two glowing windows, one on each side of this not real long porch, but it was pretty wide, meaning inside in, meaning pretty deep. About a square, come to think of it, and it had four stone (brick like) steps leading up to it, and all the trim board was painted black and there were two black shutters on each side of each window on the front of the house. So my dad goes up there with this dog; his whole family is trailing; we are walking up the steps with him; he’s got this dog cradled in this blanket in his arms (it’s deader than shit; no doubt, that’s obvious; it’s just like a limp black rag) – and we (meaning me) step off to one side of him (would have been his left) – and he rings the doorbell and the guy opens up . . .

There’s some long excuses and things; sad story but everything is okay; he’s okay with the guy and the guy with him I guess and he goes down those long (meaning wide) endless (meaning about three or four) steps – out through the snow, get back in our car, and we are going home.

Some things were said I think; questions we were asking – about the dog and his friendship with them, but I’m not quite sure what the answers is. Apparently it was sad and sorta tragic he ‘found’ him by hitting him – who knows.

Memories are like that. Sometimes they turn all frayed and fuzzy, and where ‘we’ fell down on recording them – and where we drop the ball. I have learned that chasing them leads into endless possibilities; looking at some too hard is not a good thing to do . . . and sometimes? A rose is a rose is a rose – no matter how you twist and turn it. Sometimes things aren’t ‘bad’ or ‘glad’ or ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ – they just are. No matter how you twist and turn it. So we leave them alone.

 

Then there is this one.

 

The Red Balloon

I don’t know where we were. But we were young, and it was either spring or summer. This could have taken place at my Aunts’ Nelle and Lizzie’s house – judging by the memory I have of the gardens, it was. There’s a narrow back alley running behind this place, and a tall old wooden fence – vertical slats, gray and weathered. And the garden in the back yard – the garden! – it is a wonderful thing.

For one thing, it’s full of flowers – beds of them, acres of them in my young mind and legs as I run down the narrow paths. There is a gate that leads to the alley out back – not much of an alley, its more of a trail, with two narrow and (perhaps) sandy ruts. There are trash cans (I think) in the alley – I’m not sure. I am running with my brother and we are not allowed to go into the back alley. I don’t know why – it’s not dangerous there – but I think it’s because my mom wants to kind of keep an eye and me and my brother.

We are running around – pretty much have fun like all little boys do – and I think I may have gathered some flowers and taken them to the brightly lit room where my mom was sitting1. Because I can remember so clearly: leaning around the edge of that open rickety gate and peeping down the alley – knowing I am in ‘forbidden territory’ while currently eyeing even more (and wanting to go down there and explore!). But even more strong is the memory and picture of those flowers – beds of them; a beautiful display – everywhere we looked, there were flowers. Such a wonderful show, and we delighted being around in them – running up and down the path, squealing in delight and play – my brother chasing I and I my brother, ’round and ’round – pausing and daring sometimes to go look beyond that forbidden gate into the hidden realm of the outside world hidden behind that all too tall fence.

And then it happens.

I don’t know what happened; how we got hold of the thing, but we either found one, or were given one to play with. A toy balloon – a little rubber one, and a real one to boot! – without any holes in it. And we soon found we could blow up the thing – and then letting it go, watch it go sputtering around the yard. But after a few times of nearly losing it in the flowers – and with a particular game in mind – we go sneaking inside.

There sits my mom, her back to us. My brother has followed me in; stands a few hesitant steps behind me. He’s learned: this is one of the advantages of having a younger brother. He can be braver than you – because he’s more stupid than you. You can talk him into doing things that you have learned are risky. And messing with mom – well, that’s risky behavior at the best, and if you find you’ve gone dancing with the she-devil – well, it’s your own fault for barking at a dozing dog. With fangs.

So – just for fun – I already have the balloon pinched between my fingers – I take aim and launch the balloon at her.

It flies – sputtering and hissing – across the room, in a curving line. Because I’m not real tall, I couldn’t release it high – and as I watch, my mom – without even looking up from the magazine she was reading! – claps her hands above her head and bursts my toy balloon . . .

and I burst out crying.

And there again, this memory frays to dim . . . perhaps some dim recollection of her standing there over me – scolding me for playing with my balloon indoors – and releasing it at all – as well as saying she’s sorry; that she just got lucky, it was a chance thing . . .

and I never knew whether or not to believe her. I do know that my brother and I were convinced after then – she had ‘eyes’ in back of her head. That she could do things and we would not even be aware of it – wouldn’t even see it coming sometimes – just out of the darkness and the blue . . .

 

Kinda like these memories of mine.

 

The Pheasant Feather

 

We were living at our house in New Jersey, not that I can remember much about that house except it was fairly barren in regards to décor. After all: why decorate and make a house a home when you’re not going to be living there long? Just put out enough for the beginning; to get you by – not much else. After all: anything you put up has to be taken down, and depending upon the landlord, you’re gonna have some holes to patch up and paint. So best not even to go there; best not to even get started pounding new holes in your life to create – when you leave some place you’ve loved, and managed to make some home. Best not to even go there in the first place – because there is no place like home. Never has been, never will be, not in my opinion. And you can take it two ways there; what you take is on your own behalf; leave the rest behind . . .

 

We were in this new ‘house’ (I won’t hesitate to call it a home, but we didn’t live there – not for very long, anyway) – and this man comes over bearing pheasant feathers – they are beautiful and long. As a child I am fascinated by the way they wave and bend; their silky rough-soft texture, both at the same time – and the colors! My, what colors they have. My brother and I are each given a new feather by this man – I don’t recall his name, but he was a friend of my parents.

 

I think we hung onto those feathers for a long time. Or at least until the next up-coming move, whichever came first.

 

The Car

 

I believe I still have it – this old Matchbox style car, where the doors really opened, and the hood really lifted up. That same man (I think) who had brought us the feathers brought each of us a new car – one for my brother, and one for all my own. And I was fascinated. It’s either a pale green or lime gray kind of car – looking a little bit like a Mercedes. And I remember as soon as he handed it down too me – going into the kitchen to talk with my mom and my dad – I laid down on my belly and began scooting it across the floor – amazed at the little doors that would open. I kept stopping just to open and close them, and lift the tiny hood. Having my own Matchbox car was a great thing, and I hung onto it . . . well, apparently for the rest of my life! (laughing my ass off. How many things do I have like that? That old yellow trunk is probably full of them . . . as is my office, cabinets, and drawers. Each one bringing a different memory . . . I should go through them. There’s no telling what I might find – both in my memory and in those drawers and things . . . plenty of ‘time-trips back there’ . . .

 

Flakes

 

This is a very dim memory, but it could have only come from early childhood – from New Jersey, then. For it is an old one.

I am sitting in the driveway. The driveway is concrete. This is not the first time I have done this thing – what I am doing now. Picking and breaking the rust off of the bottom of daddy’s car.

It is a black on (I believe) – and the door panels are rusted at the bottom – shot through with holes and pinpricks. I am working my fingers in – peeling back the rusted layers, enjoying the feel of the fragile iron ‘dust’ as the flakes go on breaking in my hands. They are thin flakes, thin as shivers, and colored dusty red. My dad gets onto me for breaking his car, tearing these flakes off – but I keep on doing it. Every chance I can.

 

 

From here memory moves – along with me – to Texas. I assume I must have been about three years old when we left the New Jersey for the plains of Texas. I don’t remember that move. Nor can I say offhand that I remember anything more about New Jersey – but I wouldn’t be surprised if I could. I seem to have some dim memories – like faded snapshots, their last light gleaming – of winter, snow, cold, sun, driveways, roads, and an old black car. I seem to have some snapshots of my dad going off to work, or working at home during the weekend (washing said car). But I don’t know. Those snapshots have fallen off the edge of my memory into the abyss of beyond . . .

 

 

1She was in this room – it seems to be a corner room with windows on two sides. From where I am ‘standing’ in this memory, the windows are on the left hand wall and the one behind me (the one I came in). The room is bright, there appears to be another door (perhaps French) at the far end of the left hand wall leading back outside, though I may have been mistaken. I get the impression I came in through a white painted single width exterior door. There’s comfortable looking furniture in the room, and it appears comfortably lived in and well appointed. From where I am standing I can see the back of what appears to be a love seat is facing a coffee table – with maybe some end tables on the side. There is what appears to be a fireplace at the end of the room – I’m not sure; something big and flat against the wall – dark. There are nice decor on the walls and scattered about – really a comfortable type of ‘sun room’ for that style of house. Not sure about that flowers thing, but it seems to me I collected some and gave them to her. Still not sure where this came from . . . but it ‘feels’ like when I was in New Jersey, time and age wise. The ‘air’ (and by that I mean the actual FEEL of the air – crisp, springlike) in there (in that bubble) feels about right on this one – but it could have been Iowa, visiting the relatives. That all depends on whether or not we went and visited Aunt Nell and Aunt Lizzie back then – when we were in New Jersey.

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