Remember when you were a kid? I remember. Grass stains on my knees. Plucking raspberries from my neighbor’s raspberry bush (my first unwitting acts of theft). Climbing the willow tree in the backyard (now a stump). Its branches bloomed with little white, fuzzy pearls that I thought were baby rabbits being born.
I remember sitting on the floor watching Saturday morning cartoons with my sister (“Your breath smells bad,” I said, plugging my nose. “William!” she said. That was when I learned about “morning breath” and also “kindness.”)
And then there was the time she and her friends were getting dressed as ballerinas, and, not wanting to be left out, I got dressed with them. We ran upstairs and showed off our outfits to my parents and everyone started laughing at me, so I went back downstairs to my sister’s room and cried and tore off my tights and my tutu and I haven’t gotten dressed as a ballerina since.
I remember. All of my words started with the letter “P.” When I played Super Nintendo with my brother, mashing buttons on a controller that I didn’t know wasn’t plugged in, calling it “Pretendo” wasn’t that far off the mark. When I was full, I was “stuffed to the puffed.” Godzilla was “puge!” When I wanted to play with my best friend Annie Neckly, I asked to play with “Annie Perneckly.” Annie Perneckly wanted to marry me (she died in a car accident when we were six years old).
(I cried when my parents told me because I didn’t know what they meant)
(I cried again when I was twenty-three, knowing what it meant as I looked at a picture of the two of us holding baby rabbits in our arms)
I remember watching my mom draw superheroes for me (“Why is his finger bent like that?” I asked. “Because it’s broken from punching a bad guy,” she said. “I don’t want it to be broken,” I said, so she pulled out another sheet of paper and started drawing again.) My dad wasn’t as good of an artist so he just drew snowmen, which I still liked. I made him draw hundreds of snowmen until he finally stuck one of them on the fridge with a magnet and I sat down on the linoleum floor and stared at it, mesmerized.
My dad. I remember watching him pace back and forth in front of his dad’s coffin. Back and forth. Back and forth.
I remember one night I dug my face into my pillow and asked God for forgiveness because I loved my brother more than I loved Him and I wasn’t so sure that was ever going to change, but could you please still forgive me God? (I haven’t prayed that prayer in a while now but I think it’s still true.)
(I think I love my whole family more than I love God)
I remember loving my mom fiercely and wondering why my older brother kept getting in fights with her (now I know: she loved him fiercely).
I remember getting in fights with my mom and wondering why I loved her fiercely.
I remember my parents yelling at each other.
I remember my parents laughing till they cried while they made dinner in the kitchen.
I remember one night when I was twenty-six years old getting beers with my friends and I asked them, “Do you guys ever think about what hanging out like this will be like when one of us is dead?” And one of them said, “Why would you ask that?” And I said, “Because one day we’re going to have to deal with it, I guess.” (I was thinking of my mom, my dad, my brother, his wife, my sister, her husband, my nieces, my nephews, and aching to see them all right then, that very second, because who knows what will happen?)
Don’t you remember?
I remember the “loving chair,” a ratty orange rocking chair that my parents would hold me in when I couldn’t fall asleep. It creaked like an old tree in the wind. Back and forth. Back and forth. My parents whispered lullabies into my ear. Their breath tickled, warm on my neck and in my hair. I didn’t mind (still wouldn’t).