My parents divorced just before my fifth birthday. Although a significant, life-changing moment, it was not necessarily a bad memory, or, at least, not the first.
A year or so earlier, following the sound of raised voices that found me standing outside a closed door, sniffling quietly, whispering Mommy, Daddy, my mother emerged, eyes red, arms bruised from hands that gripped too tightly, saying look what Daddy did.
Around the same time, I woke up from a nightnare in the middle of the night. After staring into the silent darkness with wide eyes, I slipped out of my bed and ran to my parents' room to snuggle between them.
Their bed was empty.
According to the stories I was told the next day, that night, my mother had rehearsal for a play in which she had been cast. Earlier in the evening, my father had told her he would be home in five minutes. Assuming he would come (despite knowing him well), she left. Assuming she would wait (resentful of this new pursuit that excluded him), five minutes became hours.
Standing in their doorway, I whispered, Mommy? Daddy? Silence reigned. I went to the kitchen. The bathroom. Back in the living room, I climbed up on the couch and waited.
I have no idea how long I actually sat there. Surely, one minute felt like hours to a young child alone at home in the dark. I listened to the sounds of the street, straining to hear footsteps on the concrete, or on the stairs below. A car or two passed by. One stopped in front of our building. The quiet of the night allowed the sound of whispering voices to carry to our window. I tiptoed closer to listen. I heard the rumbling sound of my daddy's laughter. I pulled a chair closer to the window, and climbed up.
"Daddy?" I shout-whispered.
The air was still for a moment and then I heard, "Baby?"
"Daddy! You come upstairs right now!"
"Coming, Baby!" he said as I heard a car door open and slam shut.
The subsequent events are a blur behind a veil of tears. The running to the door, listening to the slow plod of steps on the staircase, then the key in the door. The stoic little body shattering, being lifted up into a bear hug. The tucking in and kiss goodnight. The second late-night door opening and closing. The screaming and finger pointing. The small child huddling in her bed, hugging a stuffed animal, smothering her tears, trying not to listen to two people too young, too angry and too self-absorbed to realize that as they lashed out at each other, a little someone else was caught in the crosshairs.
Inside a Pyrex
The concrete man
lets us into
a concrete room
And isn't it comical
—like a Windex commercial—
when my small
into the display window
My father will tell me
how it caused him so much pain
to see me learn
the first time
My mother told me I was three going on four. We lived in a trailer court. Ricky lived in a real house next door separated by a three wire fence. Ricky’s family had a television set. On Saturday morning my brother, who was a year and a half older than me, had mastered the art of stepping on the second wire and swinging his leg over so not to miss Mighty Mouse.
If I stood close enough I could hear the shows through Ricky’s living room window open to let in the breeze. One day, I got brave. I tried my brother’s move but was too short, so I moved our tricycle over to the fence to use to make me taller. I stood on the seat and in trying to scale the fence slipped. My toes catching then falling in the space between the pedal and spokes. It cut in deep tearing bleeding.
I screamed out, then spanked with a belt for trying.
Im ashamed to say that I’m envious of the previous submissions for being able to recall their childhood. How sick of me to be jealous of the traumatic experiences of others. My memory escapes me when I crave them most. To feel the sharp sting of scrapping my knee as a child, or the warm hug of a loved one are memories I wish I could return to. When I go back to my childhood home I’m flooded with the faces of strangers that supposedly raised me and a language that my tongue was once accustomed to but now cannot grasp. It is a curse placed on my mind to protect me. I am grateful for the trauma that I have escaped but morn the beauty built between the lines of my childhood. Being raised in poverty by my grandparents in the Philippines, I don’t want to seem blind to the privileges I have now. This disassociation with my past has been a hole in my being since I can remember. Even my own mother and father were strangers to me as a child. I want to remember with all my heart the people that took care of me but those memories will be lost forever.
lamps in the river
earthen lamps....when edison hadn’t invent bulb, they were used to burn nights. i remember granny telling me to be careful with them. it was fascinating for me to see the light flickering under the stars but granny would be concerned for my well-being. it wasn’t that i was a pyromaniac; i loved to observe the cotton wick absorb the oil and the flame dancing with every song of wind. we celebrated festival of lights with great enthusiasm. earthen lamps lined boundaries of our house and so did our neighbours’, it felt as if the stars have come down on earth. granny would wrap me in her arms when people would start bursting crackers and i would be shivering in a corner.
the festival had passed that year. granny was still in her bed. all of my aunts and uncle were together. granny called my mum and gave her some money that she was hiding under her pillow and whispered something. mum asked me if i wanted to go with her as i hadn’t left the house since months. i agreed. it was a cold november evening. the air was slapping against our bodies. i was walking, holding my mum’s hand. at moments she would squeeze it gently to direct me in the direction to turn. we went to potter’s house. the earthen lamps were being kept under sunlight to dry. granny had asked mum to pay the potter for the lamps we had bought for the festival. we didn’t have change neither did the potter, so he gave us a lamp instead. when we reached home, i went to temple and lighted the lamp. it gave some warmth to the cold weather.
as i was about to go my granny’s room, uncle stopped me and asked to come with him. i agreed, although i wanted to stay at home. he went to doctor. i was supposed to stay out in the doctor’s garden where i found a sacred fig tree. i remembered granny and i would light an earthen lamp underneath such tree every saturday. too bad, i had already lightened the only lamp i had in the temple at home. uncle told me it wasn’t saturday, so i didn’t need to do it.
we went home to find everyone in granny’s room. she had been staying in bed for a month then but it had only been a day when she stopped talking, even with me. my aunts and uncle were standing around her bed. i was allowed to go near her in days. aunt slowly grabbed my hand and poured some holy water in granny’s mouth. i didn’t realise what was going on. i went to the temple where the wick had absorbed most of fuel, so i grabbed the bottle of oil and poured into it. Although i spilled some on the floor but the flame got alive again. i started to pray. nobody left granny’s room that night. i think nobody slept as well. every time granny would utter or try to utter a word, i would get up, so my mother sent me to the my room but i secretly walked to temple. the lamp was still burning.
i stayed there, trying to pray.....chant whatever my stupid brain had learned from granny but by the time sun rose, i was asleep. mum was sitting by my side, gently caressing my hair. i got up to see the lamp. the wick had drowned, hence the flame died. granny would be angry at me for sleeping while praying, so i ran to her room to ask for forgiveness but my uncle stopped me on my way and said, “it’s saturday! go get your lamp.”
and then i never saw granny......
i don’t know why my mom sent me on that field trip
My eyes are tight shut. My arms wrapped tightly around my 2nd grade teacher. I can hear their wings beating the air as they rush past us.
I walk blind through the course. Mrs. Hughes as my stick. We inch forward, slower than the other kids my age, laughing as they run up ahead.
My muscles are tight as I feel their small bursts of wind as they fly by. My knees nearly locked.
"Who wants a butterfly kiss?"
I open my eyes just a little to see a tour guide with a butterfly on the top of her hand. The other kids put their hand out as she lets the butterfly touch each hand.
I don't move. My muscles are frozen as I see the enclosing around me. Flying like driverless cars are hundreds of butterflies.
My brain went on overload. My ears popped. I could barely hear in one ear, and the other rang with a electrifying pain. Crying, my teacher rushed me out of the butterfly exhibit of Butterfly World.
I don't know why my mom sent me on that field trip. I wasn't joking when I told her I was afraid of butterflies.
Our Secret Language
We had once again found ourselves,
tightly wound and tight lipped,
tucking secrets in at night
Like we used to do as children.
We could see it in his eyes
when the mood had struck.
That ever glaring, empty bottle,
explosive kind of mood.
We learned to communicate
with nothing but our eyes.
A secret sister language,
as words were not always safe
or welcome within these walls.
Walls that pulsated with fear
as he approached with his fist.
We would escape in and out
through windows, locked shut,
leaving behind traces of blood.
We would wait for the sun to rise,
or some nights for the rain to stop,
letting us know the coast was clear.
I couldn't have been more than 2 years old when I felt my first touch of anxiety. I vividly remember walking into a huge grocery store. Now, I was pretty small, but I'll still swear that this store was bigger than any I've ever seen. Looming above my head was this monster. A giant spider 60 feet in the air! I'd never seen anything like it. Its sinister smile faced me and its sharp teeth glared in the yellow light. I panicked. I didn't know what to do. Could I make a run for it? I tugged at my mom's pant leg and in my smallest voice I said "Mommy, that spider is making me nervous."
It was the first time I ever saw so much blood. It covered my fingers completely.
It happened so fast. was about three. I was in kindergarten we were playing wick jumbo lego blocks. the teacher gave us a determined amount, when suddenly the boy in front of me took one of mine. Needless to say I was angry and tried to claim what was mine.
But it wouldn’t be that easy, the kid in front of me took it and then the battle for the block started, we both started pulling it and saying it was ours. Suddenly, without notice the kid says “all right, just keep it” and kinda throws it to me. I didn’t have time to process and ended up hitting myself.
It hurted so much, then came the blood. I was scared, I was young but I knew pretty well that I wasn’t supposed to be bleeding.
I don’t recall what happened next, I guess the teacher took me to the infirmary. When my mom came to pick me up I had my nose clogged with cotton and I could see she tried to hold her laugh when I told her what had happened.
Memory is a funny thing, isn't it? We like to think that our memory works like it does on TV where we watch a little movie that shows us exactly what happened. But more often than not, our memories are a jumbled mess of remembered pieces interspersed with misremembered images and stories we've heard other people tell.
I have a few such images from an incident that happened when I was two years old. I know most of the details because of my parents telling the story, but either through my own memory or my imagination that created memories after hearing the story so many times, I have a few scattered scenes in my head from that day.
I was outside with my dad and my older cousin, Matthew. I don't know where exactly, but I know it was near my grandparents' house and I can picture a field of green grass. Of course, given my size at the time, it could have simply been the backyard.
My dad was teaching Matthew to swing a golf club. I was helpfully picking up the golf balls after each was hit. As I bent down to pick up one ball that hadn't been hit very far, Matthew decided it needed to be hit again.
I don't remember the golf club hitting me. I don't remember the pain. I don't even remember crying. But I do have a clear image in my head of looking into a mirror and seeing my dad holding me in his arms in the bathroom of my grandparents' house, towel pressed to my forehead.
I don't remember the walk to the house or the drive to the hospital. I don't even remember the doctor stitching me up while my mom and the nurse apparently had to hold little two-year-old me down to keep me from squirming. Now, thirty years later, all I have of that memory is a scar just below my left eyebrow and an image in a mirror of me and my dad.