I don’t remember any of the good things. My mind must be wired to only form and collect memories of the negative kind, because surely, there were good things. My parents always look offended when I recount my version of my childhood. A look of horror passes over their faces like they cannot imagine they raised such a child. We must be different creatures, my parents and I. A conversation about it might go something like this:
“Do you remember the time we stayed in that cabin for vacation?” My dad would ask.
“Yes, Mom was sick and stayed in bed the whole time, the lake smelled funny, and we left all of our cooking utensils in the drawer when we left.”
“But you had a good time. Remember, we drove out to that little store to rent movies to watch on that little TV.”
“Didn’t that TV get stolen when we were robbed? See, nothing good ever happened to us!”
“Well, what about all those days you spent at your Grandma’s pool?”
“Didn’t Christopher get a concussion there? And we were always afraid of the hornet’s nests by the side windows. And my aunts told us we would get sucked into the drain in the deep end and die. It was amazing fun.”
These aren’t the only bad things I remember. Other memories reach out and grab my attention as I search the mad filing cabinet of my mind: sleeping on a mattress on a floor with no carpet, packing all of our belongings into the minivan to go live in the hotel, having no running water for weeks at a time, seeing my mother run out the back door when the police knocked. These things turn into an ink, staining all the memories of wonderful things that must have happened too. I am angry, and I cannot stand to remember the Hanson ice-cream-cake (that probably melted) or the happy child in all those pictures. How can this little gap-toothed, shirtless three-year-old smile with the future looming in front of her?
We don’t talk about the bad bad things. According to my parents, they never happened. They didn’t matter. Everyone makes mistakes, why keep bringing it up? But I can’t seem to focus on the warmth of the sun or the cool relief of the water when the hornets are buzzing behind me and the deep-end looms dangerously before me. These events all happened as I was learning how to be me; I cannot simply leave them behind like our cooking utensils.
I still check my closet for monsters sometimes; I make sure the door is securely closed before I crawl into my bed. I’ve been known to sleep with the light on when the fear of something happening makes the shadows malicious and the random sounds turn into approaching footsteps across the carpet.
“It couldn’t have been too bad, “my mother would argue, “You have always been so happy; no one would think you were so negative about things.” And then she would try to make me feel guilty about accusing her of being a bad mother.
I’ll step back here and say that, at some point, we all accuse our parents of ruining our lives. This may just be my version, but I have a right to say it. So, how do I explain my apparent cheerful disposition in the face of such a negative view of my childhood? I don’t have all the answers, but I know that happiness is a choice, and those inky fingers haven’t quite reached out to spoil my future. Somewhere, in some vague tomorrow, I will be in control. I’ll decide what happens in my own house: the bills will be paid, the laws will be followed, and no drugs whatsoever will be present. Everything will be safe and consistent one day.
I’m still angry. I’m still hurt. I’m still waiting for the next bad surprise to come along. Will it happen tomorrow? However, my anger and hurt do not solve problems, they don’t make my family make better choices, and they certainly don’t make me a healthier person. So instead, I push them aside somewhere, allowing them to wreak havoc on my past while I work on finding happiness in the small things I see everyday.
In the past three months, I’ve had as many people offer for me to come live with them, but I stay here. I say I don’t remember any of the good things, but it must not be true, because even when I hate my parents for the choices they made, I love them even more. And I do remember that Hanson cake.