The assignment, as I understood it, was to comb through the files of childhood memories—everyday, quotidian memories—pull some out, dust them off, then combine with the given template. I did the assignment (good girl, pat on the head and all that) but the results were painful. And not all that poetic.
The truth is, although I have some ordinary, everyday memories of my childhood that are, in fact, quite good memories, to pull only (or even mostly) those bright memories then make a poem would be to lie. No matter how quotidian those memories are—they were the exception rather than the rule.
As I grow up and into myself, this is one of the pieces of the work that eludes me—how do I hold the good alongside the bad. How can I speak the truth—that my childhood was a war zone—and the other truth too—that there were moments of ordinary happiness we managed to grab—even though we were at war?
This is true: every once in a while my mother emerged from both her debilitating depressions and her rage filled manias, and there was a moment of cease fire. The hostilities might break out again at any time and without warning, but even so we dared to grab the moment. And those moments that we grabbed are seared in my memory—in my heart—too.
I remember us all wrapped together on our small front porch, sitting just out of reach of the Texas downpour. The rain came down from the sky–rain and rain and more rain. The noise of it on the roof and pavement was fantastic. Then the whole sky would be lit up by a giant streak of lightening and we would cry together in giddy trembling: “one, two, three, four, five…” until a crash of thunder ended our countdown and we squealed and huddled closer together, happily terrified in the middle of the storm. A moment of everyday happiness.
I remember playing Sorry, reading Tic Tok of Oz, watching the original Star Trek and every animated Christmas special every year. I remember the letters my mom wrote me at camp. I remember our trips to the library, the museum, the symphony and the ballet. I remember my Dad tucking me in, letting me help him wash his ’66 Corvette and keep all the change I found under the seats. I remember him setting me up with homemade math problems to solve so I could hang out with him as he worked through his programmer’s code. I remember trips to the sea. I remember beach combing with dad, and wave jumping with mom. I remember hearing I love you and being held tight.
I remember it all. And yet.
All too soon the rage returned, often before bedtime that day. All too often the depression took my mother over, wrapped its arms of exhaustion around her and pinned her to her chair, with no energy for anything at all. My mother’s bi-polar disorder was the cruel despot who ruled our lives, whose extortionate taxes eventually drained our
home of light and joy and love.
And we never even saw his face or knew his name.
That despot stole so much from us; I don’t want to let him steal the good memories, too. So I return to the files of childhood memories. I look for the ones that shine in the darkness. I take them out, one by one, and I remember.
I remember that even in the midst of war, we grabbed a few moments. I will not let them go.