I have this vague notion that things don’t actually count for real until I write them down. That my experiences are just particles floating in space until I put them into words that I can see and that others can see. So if I try to ignore the past, let it go like I sometimes really want to do, it means I didn’t live it. I cannot leave these things unwritten.
My father had a high school football game in the next town over, which happened to be where my mother lived. It was the fall of 1963, in Massachusetts. My mother was at the game with friends and by some connection, was introduced to my father. They fell hard and fast for each other, a fact I am both thankful for and regretful of. Thankful because if they hadn’t met, I wouldn’t exist. Regretful of the way it unfolded.
I picture them, young high school kids, my father a tough, handsome football player, hardened by his father’s cruel and harsh treatment of him and his mother. And my mother, a sensitive redhead named Lisa from a loving, but strict Protestant family.
I’m sure that if they had known what the future would bring, if they had any idea at all what lay ahead, they never would have said hello. Or they would have run away from that first scene, the one in which they meet, like people avoiding an oncoming train. If they could have seen the wreckage, they would have run.
I would say that I wish they had just worked things out better, that after conceiving my sister Amy, and then me, I wish that they had been okay enough to skip all the trauma, but I don’t think it was possible. I don’t think there was any other way for my father and mother to be together in this world, except in tragedy. I have turned their story inside out, wringing it out in the depths of my heart, and it is the only story to tell. The one that was going to be. The one that is.
My mother Lisa grew up the oldest of four siblings in the Coburn family. Her brother Douglas is a couple years younger than her, then several years age gap before her twin sisters, Lena and Lori. I have some early memories of being at my grandma and grandpa Coburn’s home with Amy.
We would often be entertained by the twin aunts who were young teens when we were preschoolers. My memories include riding horses, me on one horse with Lori, and Amy with Lena on the other. We would ride slowly down the street of their quiet neighborhood, then back into the yard to the barn out back.
I remember watching my grandmother feed her bird that was caged in the kitchen of their white cape style home. She gave me my cough medicine with a spoonful of honey. Sleepovers and Christmas time there, but mostly ordinary days.
My grandfather comes to me in the color white. White house, white station wagon, white hair. He is goodness, a big, gentle man. After the divorce, whenever I was riding in the back of my father’s car, I would look out the window and try to find a white house that looked like my grandparents’ home. I wanted to believe that one of the houses we passed was theirs.
We lived upstairs from my other grandparents, my father’s parents, whom we called Memere and Pepere, the French-Canadian names for grandmother and grandfather. We had a big backyard, with a pear tree, a crab apple tree and a sandbox. Memere once told me that I was content to sit in the sandbox for hours, long after my neighborhood friends had left me by myself.
I viewed the happenings of our family life as if watching a dream or a movie play out. I think I was preparing to be the story teller, allowing it all to percolate inside my gut so that later I could take all the pieces and write them down.