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Thursday, May 7, 2009

I want to tell you about my family but unfortunately this is where the story begins


I don't have many childhood memories from before the divorce of my parents. My very first real, complex memories consisting of more than just momentary flashes of color, feeling, fleeting sensation or glimpses of fading images are those of the time right when my parents were splitting up.

Those first few memories that I retain reflect a child trying to piece together the scenario of separation with lapses of naive hopeless hope for a reconciliation. I'm thankful for the fact that my mind didn't let me keep everything that happened, only a few memories as parts of the complete narrative of my childhood.

I am six years old. I am in front of the last house that my parents lived in together. The house at the edge of the cul-de-sac, the house in front of the scary man's house with the ribs that jutted out, who always smoked cigarettes and who didn't like us playing in his yard. This was the house where my mother told my father she would never move to another house with him again. She was sick of his social ineptitude, his failed business ideas, his uprooting his family every time the wind changed, trying to make a buck off the equity. These are the things I know about, the reasons I was given later in life, the filtered data.

In my memory it's raining and I'm playing in the hot Arizona rain. I'm barefoot on the sidewalk and the sun has gone down and I look down and see giant raindrops. They are oddly huge, and they ingrain themselves into my mind and the fragrant rain melds with the smell of oil on hot asphalt.

Just over at the porch of my house my parents sit watching the rain, and I'm happy that they are sitting together on those fold-up chairs we take to the lake sometimes on Sundays. Likely they were discussing divorce minutiae such as who would call the phone company to get the line turned off and when would be a good time to go to the bank to close their joint account, when would be a good time to tell the kids.

In another memory, I come out of my bedroom in the middle of the night to find my parents calmly packing their things into separate boxes. They are talking like nothing is wrong, having accepted the way things are now and just having the task of transmitting that acceptance to their children.

My mom holds up some sort of Native American dreamcatcher and asks my dad if she can have it. He says "yeah", shrugging.

No tears right now, just the packing of separate boxes for two separate houses to distribute divided, mismatched things within; things that used to fill just one house. Most of the things belonged to my father, whose well-to-do grandmother had died allowing him to inherit some of her nice things, like a set of China and a classical oak bedroom set. Eventually he decided he didn't care about China and let my mother keep it, but he needed the bedroom furniture for his new apartment in Albuquerque. No matter that the bedroom set would never fit in his tiny bedroom. It wouldn't have fit in my mother's new tiny apartment either.

In another memory, the family is in the car on our way to a restaurant. I see my parents in the front seat. I can't see them clearly, just the shapes of their heads over the seats, but there is palpable sorrow between them and maybe they are even holding hands. My mom doesn't think we kids are paying attention and says quietly to my father that this is probably our last meal together as a family.

In the restaurant we sit at a round table. My parents pay attention to stupid things like if we are sitting in our chairs properly and if we are eating our vegetables. But tonight, for some reason, we're allowed to have another Shirley Temple and order dessert instead of waiting until we get home for Otter Pops.

In the parking lot after the kids are buckled in the back I look out the window and see my parents embracing; just the behavior that fill a six-year-old heart with that desperate, naive, and hopeless hope.

These are not memories of explosive arguments, abusive shouting, spiteful jabs of hate thrown at each other with ugly words hissed through closed teeth with clenched fists. Those things undoubtedly happened, but I don't recall them. These are just memories of two people that cared about each other but had failed at love, time and time again, and eventually gave in.

There is nothing so sad as watching your parents fail at love.

Well, except maybe watching yourself fail at it.


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23 comments:

kate May 7, 2009 at 1:40 PM  

God, you write so beautifully. I was right there with you in each scene. Gorgeous.

I was older when my parents split up (fourth grade) and I do remember some of the yucky stuff, like hearing them fight after we were in bed at night. I don't remember details like you do, though-- in fact, I remember very few details about my childhood and even young adult/adult life that is more than about a year or two ago. It makes it pretty hard to write memoir, as that kind of thing is always much better when you can remember but also reflect on the past with a new perspective. For me it seems I need to do all my reflecting in the moment because as soon as it's over, it's gone. But you do it beautifully, you lucky dog.

(and that last line is so powerful-- though I'll wait and see where it goes, without reading too much into it for now.)

And yes, now I can subscribe with GR.

formerly fun May 7, 2009 at 2:52 PM  

Feed working now so cool. This is great Blue. Reminds me why I might need to have a semi-private place somewhere, kind of like an apartment kept for a mistress. There are things I want to write about my childhood that are at the very least unflattering to my parents. It's hard for me because I have no problem with people knowing very personal things about me but I feel uneccesarily protective about hurting others feelings, even if it's the truth. Especially now that I have kids, I am so hesitant to out my parents for their screw ups.

It's odd to me to read so much of you, you were so much more tight-lipped before--I love it, it's like adding another layer to a person you know.

Blues May 7, 2009 at 4:14 PM  

@Kate - I'm usually the same way with my memory but these memories have been there forever. My previous post though, the memory about the Old man Jim, that memory was GONE and I read someone else's post and suddenly there it was clear as if it had happened yesterday. I didn't mean for the last line to sound all mysterious, just an observation more than anything.

@FF - good you're subscribed now! I felt like I couldn't really get into family stuff cause I was always worried my mom would see it and it would hurt her or someone else. I suppose I'm not as hard to find as I would like, but at least if I'm found, I'll likely not find out that I've been found. Whereas before, I told my sisters about my blog and they were always commenting to me about it in person. Now I just want that to be separate for better or for worse. If they find it and they read, I just hope they don't tell me. The worse of it is that my sister before got to read stuff and I think she enjoyed it and felt close to me that way, but I just couldn't get out of my funk over there and would never have wanted to write a post like this with her reading, I just think it might have stirred up bad feelings.

Denise May 7, 2009 at 4:38 PM  

That was lovely, with a real sense of place and the fragmented memories of childhood. Made me remember the smell of rain on hot paving slabs in London.... "failed" at the end comes as a shock - for this outsider who wasn't there, the way you write it/remember it, it sounded more like they were bowing out gracefully and sadly.

Not Afraid to Use It May 7, 2009 at 8:59 PM  

What a beautiful post. It made me sad to read it. I am glad you don't remember the yelling, but somehow the sadness is deeper in the way you describe.

neil wykes May 8, 2009 at 5:18 AM  

Five stars.
Wonderful
RSS worked a treat

Rassles May 8, 2009 at 11:21 AM  

I remember my parents arguing constantly and my dad going for secret smoke breaks to "7-11 for some pepsi." All the time. But they never divorced and they're completely obsessed with each other.

They were best friends for years before they dated and married. To this day, they seem more like best friends than lovers.

Okay, I just called my parents lovers and it irks me.

Anyway: I don't know anything about divorce, or falling in love, or falling out of it, but you're doing a gorgeous job of filling me in.

Blues May 8, 2009 at 11:36 AM  

@Denise - I guess they did bow out gracefully. Where divorce goes, I know it could have been a lot worse. But in the end the message is still the same: We didn't love each other enough. And that is difficult for a kid to handle no matter what.

@NATUI - I'm glad you liked it. It made me sad to write it.

@Neil - thanks. Glad my feed works again, thanks for your help with that.

@Rassles - Hi. So you're dad pulled the old 7-11 trick did he. My mom used to do it too with my stepdad, except it was to sneak off and smoke pot. Sometimes I wish I could have seen a bit of that best-friendness in my parents, like if they were meant to split up then at least remember some fun days. But nothing, I don't have memories. But that might be because I was six and I just don't have memories before then. It probably takes a best-friendship to make it. I don't see how it's possible unless that element is there. But I don't know what the hell I'm talking about anymore than someone who has never been in love.

flutter May 8, 2009 at 6:22 PM  

endings don't always mean failure.

Blues May 9, 2009 at 3:35 AM  

flutter - you're right, they don't. I guess what I mean is sometimes you fail and you know you are failing and it isn't about "wasn't meant to be", it's about "I'm fucking up, what's wrong with me?". In this case of my parents I think it was failure, but because I know how the story ends, with my mother having difficulties in her second marriage and recognizing that marriage number two wasn't any easier than the one she had given up on if not harder. She openly expressed regret for having left.

hereinfranklin May 9, 2009 at 7:04 AM  

"hot rain"
We had hot rain in Arkansas. I remember standing in it with a friend wondering how the hell rain could be so hot. (As usual, I let the deep thinkers comment on the meat of the post, I'll just nibble on the outer edges.)

Ellie May 9, 2009 at 8:57 AM  

(i) My parents divorced when I was, well, you're age. How interesting life would be if I couldn't precisely remember anything before then!

(ii) I completely empathise with your 'who can read my blog' dilemma. I'm on my 3rd incarnation now. My advice: you're doing the right thing. Don't let your real life people know about your blog. In my case, it completely stifled freedom.

(iii) God Bless Franklin and her nibbling on the outer edges. I know hot rain too ... but the humid hot rain of the tropics (I don't remember the hot rain of Scottsdale when I lived there ... see (i).

xx, e

Ellie May 9, 2009 at 9:18 AM  

your. not you're. whoops.

Blues May 9, 2009 at 1:17 PM  

@hereinfranklin - actually the rain was a really important part of the story, it's what draws up the memories, the smell of the hot rain mixed with oil.

@Ellie - I'm seeing we have a lot in common...wait, you used to live in Scottsdale?? You are on your 3rd blog reincarnation? Holy shit. Well, I can't keep people from finding me. I could have changed my name more drastically and I didn't. I could avoid posting pictures of myself and Luisito but I'm not going to. I really don't care who reads. It's more about (un)defining my audience.

nursemyra May 9, 2009 at 3:10 PM  

This was lovely, and very sad. Kono blogged about his parent's breakup too recently. Do you read him?

Blues May 9, 2009 at 5:35 PM  

Hi Nursemyra, No, but I'd love to check it out, what's the url?

nursemyra May 9, 2009 at 10:37 PM  

here it is.....


http://asshatlounge.blogspot.com/

Mongoliangirl May 10, 2009 at 8:43 AM  

Wow Blues. I'm so glad you got another URL. This was amazing...my heart felt all big and heavy as I was reading. Every perspective counts...I always wished my parents would get a divorce instead of doing what they've done to one another for 50+ years. At the same time, every I know whose parents did divorce does not have good memories of it (yelling or not).
Your writing is amazing. Thanks for sharing.

Gypsy May 12, 2009 at 7:11 AM  

Gorgeous. Just gorgeous. And melancholy in a way I think we can all relate to, even if our parents didn't divorce.

Have you read The Glass Castle? This reminded me of that.

Gypsy May 12, 2009 at 7:21 AM  

Driving in another country terrifies me. In Italy it was marvelous just to walk everywhere. I lost 20 lbs and was more fit than I've ever been. But now? I don't know that I could do it. I'm too Americanized again.

Driving in Phoenix is kind of all-American, isn't it? In the sense that the roads are straight and wide and on a grid.

nm May 12, 2009 at 2:43 PM  

ouch...

A Free Man May 12, 2009 at 3:47 PM  

Jesus, Blues. Thank goodness you're writing more regularly. This is just incredible. Those last couple of lines are the kind of writing that can rip out a heart.

I don't remember much about childhood at all - even up to about 16 or so. I went to a shrink for a while, in a fit of trying to find out what was 'wrong with me. (Turns out not so much.) She was convinced that I was intentionally masking bad memories from my childhood. I thought that was bullshit then and I still think its bullshit now. I just have a shit memory.

Glad I got over here first this morning, beautiful writing to start the day!

Blues May 14, 2009 at 11:02 AM  

@Mongoliangirl- funny, I always hear people say that. I wonder what my life would have been like had that stuck it out miserably.

@Gypsy - haven't read it, but I'll put it on my list.

@nm - indeed.

@AFreeman - Thank you very much. It's weird because the process of wanting to write about something and placing myself back in a place is what has brought my memories there. It was like a specific effort to remember and they came. It wasn't that the memories were there and then I wrote about them, they just started coming out in the process, which I'm going to try to exercise a bit more, because it worked for this post and the one before it.

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