For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to the mysterious, untouchable, the whisper in the dark, I-know-something-and-feel-it-but-can’t-touch-it side of life. Perhaps this was born from the loss of my mother. I remembered the outline of her, like a shadowy figure, unreachable but etched in my memory. She had colors, red hair, white skin, but after a while, no face. I couldn’t name her. What would I call her? My mother? My imagination?
Today my connection to the divine is something so consistent, I can tune in to it to guide me in so many areas if my life, including writing this memoir. The better I take care of myself, the clearer the guidance. I wish I’d known all my life of this power that resides within me. To be connected to it, and to take action from this place, is such a gift.
While still newly married, my father resumes his busy schedule. Having finished up his college degree, he is working two jobs. He teaches high school in the day and tends bar at night. Kate has taken her place as his wife, eager to help him erase any thoughts that another wife ever existed.
My father and Kate’s families are supportive of the new arrangement, as are neighbors and friends. Amy’s teacher is invited to our home for dinner and seems approving. In everyone else’s eyes, my father is a hero, keeping custody of his young daughters after his wife abandoned him. We had a new mother willing to take on such a huge commitment, to raise us like her own. No need to pity us now; our father had put life back together, and so quickly too. We had a clean slate, and could move on as if divorce had never touched us.
I am wearing my yellow Polly Flinders dress on the first day of Kindergarten. Kate says goodbye at the door like the other mothers. There is one mom though, that is not leaving yet. Her little girl is clinging to her and crying, screaming really, at the top of her lungs. She won’t let go of her mother and the teacher comes over and has to pry her away. This touches something in me, like a memory, but it is something out of reach. It is like a flash, or a spark, and it is gone in an instant.
The room looks huge and bright and I feel foggy, like I’m dreaming. I play with some blocks and then clay and later we line up for restrooms. Two girls from an older class come in to help walk us to the bathroom, and one of them takes my hand. When we come back we learn the pledge of allegiance. The teacher is old and nice.
When I get home I eat chicken noodle soup and watch Sesame Street, then Mr. Rogers. This becomes my routine most days after school. Afterwards, I play outside in the sandbox, or ride my bike in the driveway. Sometimes I play with my doll, putting her down for a nap in my bed, then picking her up to feed her with the pink plastic bottle, changing her, then bringing her to the living room and pretending it is Spags, the busy store we sometimes go to on Saturday.
Before supper one night, my father is holding a letter in his hands and pacing in the kitchen. He looks up from the letter and tells Amy and me that Grandpa Coburn has died. I am surprised to hear him say that. I don’t feel anything around the news of my grandfather’s death because I am mesmerized, fearful really, that my father has mentioned the past. There has been no talk at all about our mother or her parents since we last saw them, about a year ago. Was it a year? I didn’t know, really, It was another life, our old life, one I had shut off in my mind. To hear my father mention our grandfather now felt scary, like a dream; sort of like Kindergarten but without the good things in it or the nice people.
Amy and I don’t say anything. Kate keeps busy at the stove. Our father still has his teaching clothes on. It looks like he is still working, holding a school paper. He just read an answer. Grandpa Coburn has died. Now it is time for supper.
I lay still in bed that night. There is always this time between when Amy and I go to bed and before Kate and our father go to their room. I listen for their voices downstairs, to be sure they aren’t arguing. I know their arguments can turn into big fights and I’m scared of those. So I listen, and sometimes the voices get louder and I hold my breath but then they are quiet again. When that happens, they are probably just talking to each other from separate rooms, so they have to get a little bit loud.
But tonight I hear the voices getting louder and I can tell they are near each other. It is an angry-loud -voice night. I make my breath shallow, trying to turn down their voices that way. I am frozen but I force myself to pretend I can turn their volume down with my breath. Amy and I don’t talk, but we are listening. We both know the other is awake.
“Goddamn you!” Kate says loudly. Then I hear some noise, like somebody is bumping a wall or something. My hands are tingling but I don’t move them. My heart, pounding.
They are in the living room, at the bottom of the stairs. Our door is open a bit because Amy wants it that way at night.
Please stop, please stop, please stop. I chant this to myself over and over. I breath in once after the third stop. I breath out only after chanting this three more times.
It reminds me of the game that Amy and I used to play in bed. We sang “The bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain, to see what he could see”. We had to sing that as many times as we could without taking a breath.
“Let me go. Let my get by, you son-of-a-bitch”, I hear Kate saying now. Her voice is loud enough to hear, but she isn’t shouting now. Then some more noise, like scuffling. Their voices become further away, in the kitchen I think. Now it is getting louder and I go under my covers, blocking my ears, chanting, please stop, please stop, please stop. Breath in. Please stop, please stop, please stop. Breath out.
A door slams. Our father has gone out. Sometimes when he gets back there is more fighting. Other times, it is quiet. Sometimes there are flowers in the morning. I wait for my heart to stop beating so hard. I let myself breathe all way. After a while I take the covers off my head, sweating. I listen for more sounds but don’t hear any. Everything is quiet and then Amy whispers “Goodnight”.
“Goodnight”, I whisper back.