I’m not really into holidays.
Never have been. I can’t explain it without taking up too much of your time, going off on too many tangents, contradicting myself several times, exhausting your patience and goodwill. Suffice it to say that they make me sad.
My mother died when I was four.
I used to get into fights as a kid. A lot. There are many factors, but I’d say that’s near the root of it all.
I don’t know much about my mother, only what I’ve been told, and I spent a large part of my youth trying to erase all that from the record.
I have three very vague memories of my mother.
- I am sitting at the table. A kitschy, retro, ’50s diner-inspired table. Light gleaming off the chrome-plated bezel wrapped around the white composite top. Oversized, exaggerated curves. Red vinyl seat cushions with the same round, chrome seat backs and legs. There is a chip in the table-top, a small region where the surgical white gives way to a dubious brown, which in turn gives way to a much lighter, yet somehow more unsettling, tan. My older brother screams. I think it is my sister. I smell something terrible, something foul, something sickening – I learn later in life that this is the smell of burning plastic combined with mildew, but as a child it was the most horrid odor I’d encountered. I look up to see huge clouds of smoke billowing out of the dishwasher – it was actually just a bit of steam, but as a child I was sure that our house was burning down and we were all going to die horrible deaths. I start crying and screaming like Drew Barrymore in ET. My mother comes rushing into the kitchen and immediately assesses the situation and jumps into action as only a confident and capable mother can. Throwing open the dishwasher and grabbing the melting spatula off of the heating element, she triumphantly exclaims “Have no fear! Super Mom’s here!”
- I don’t know where we are. I’m told we’re in San Diego, at a museum called The Star of India. It’s a boat. I can smell salt-water and sunblock. On the car-ride here I was amazed by the thick fog occluding everything outside. I couldn’t see more than just a few feet all around us. Surreal. I’m walking with my dad, awed by the sweet smells, the majestic calls of the gulls, the crescendo of the rushing waves and the thick thunk of his shoes on the boards below our feet. I’m a little confused by the sway and roll of the wharf, but I’m comforted by the roughness of my dad’s callused hands. It’s time to get on the boat. I don’t know why. I don’t want to. I look down and see the gap between deck and dock widen, splitting with a malevolent impetus that tells me I will surely plummet to my watery grave the moment I step out onto the boat. My dad is cajoling me, beckoning to me from miles away, while pulling on my arm. I don’t want to. I don’t understand. I break down, I cry and scream and experience an existential terror. I don’t know why they want me on that terrible boat. My mother comes from seemingly nowhere and reaches down. She picks me up and brings me close. We get on the boat.
- It’s nighttime. I awaken abruptly in a fear-soaked sweat. I had been, seconds before, falling off of a rushing stagecoach that had been, moments before, happily cruising through the peaceful desert twilight. I was an important man. Tasked with the transport of a chest full of gold coins. I didn’t know from or to where I was transporting this gold, I was a child having a dream. I only knew that it was important, I was important. All of a sudden bandits rode up from the hills and beset us. There is a beautiful woman, for some reason, sitting beside me. The bandits shot her. I watched her tumble to the ground. One of them turns his gun on me and, with a grimace, pulls the trigger. I’m thrown from my perch. I flail. I awaken screaming. Panting. Gulping down air. I run down the hallway, which for some reason stretches out as if Kubrick an Escher conspired to make my nighttime excursions as painful as possible. I finally make it to my parents bed. In tears I shove my mother awake. She opens her eyes and I can see the love in them. She picks me up and wraps me in her protective embrace.
The only other memory I have of my mother isn’t really of her. The day she died I remember bouncing around from family member to family member. I think back now and it’s just a blur, a long line of sickening impressions. Sad people. Sad words. Everything was grey, dingy, sickly. My aunt was there. In order to calm me down, get me to stop crying, she told me she could count to a thousand. I don’t know if she got there, I do remember the complete awe I felt as she assured me that she could. I remember her eyes as I looked into them while she rolled past one hundred.
Sometimes I calm myself down using this memory, I try to reach out and grasp the peace that simple numbers brought to me.