I remember the times you have abandoned me, screamed at me, kicked things off the table, smashed my fingers in car doors, elevator doors, and under prefab houses. I remember how you criticized my drawings, my singing, my way of talking, my way of walking, I remember that you threatened to have me institutionalized, that you shouted at me and demanded the sums of mathematical equations until I was in tears.
I’ll remember that you were gone for years, that you sent me to a Christian school even though you told me it was nonsense, that you told me that the children that I played with were not my friends, that I could trust no one, that I would be alone in life, that I could not play with my first schoolyard playmate because she was black. That you forced me to listen to cassettes touted as subliminal therapy meant to enhance powers of positive thinking and creativity. That you made me fill out lottery tickets for you insisting that I use my psychic ability to select the right numbers. That you asked me for my opinion and ignored it. That you lost our home and couldn’t support us.
This is what I will recollect when it suits a particular mood.
There are other moods for other moments. Then I remember you differently. I remember that you painted murals on the walls, that you took me to climb the mountain many times, that you read the Hobbit to me, that you played your guitar for me at night until I fell asleep and again in the morning when I woke up. That you brought home a puppy and orchestrated a convincing meeting with Santa. That one year you dressed as Santa yourself even though I was too old to be fooled. That when I had chickenpox and couldn’t go out you brought home a deluxe dinosaur playset that entertained me for feverish itchy weeks of confinement. That you taught me to ride a bike and zipped me up inside your sweatshirt with you when I was tiny.
Today’s memory is neutral, possibly good. I can’t imagine why, but this memory returns to me often, shifts between ages. Could it be that this thing occurred more than once? Or is it remembering it so often and in different moods which has created variations?
I am in the white pick up truck in the parking lot of Sears Lumber. The yellow fields surrounding the parking lot are empty except for the bodies of naked black trees that jut up towards a slate colored sky. Clouds are layered upon more clouds achieving different shades of gray and blue and white and black, some smooth and some lumpy with the promise of rain, of thunder, of lightning.
The smell of moist earth. A special smell that has become familiar to me through the years, a smell that comes in late autumn and in winter after the rain has wetted the dead grasses and made its way to the heart of the clods of dirt that lie exposed. I have smelled it nowhere else but there in that valley that was home. I have smelled rain and wet earth and grass in other places since, but the odor is not the same.
Far away I could see the green and gold and red leafed tops of distant trees in distant fields. A crow perched on a lamppost cawed, a sound that I have heard in other places, the harsh hallow voice of a big black bird.
The lumber store is the largest in a row of commercial buildings done in mocha hued stucco and wooden signs and beams painted dark chocolate. There is a little Mexican cantina that I have never been in, and a beauty shop, and empty shop windows where there are vacancies. All in all the strip has room for no more than five or six establishments.
The parking lot is vast and cracked and uneven, and all around it the empty fields yawn like a sea of grass interrupted only by the line of buildings in the east and Lakeshore drive in the south. Behind Lakeshore a wall of trees hides the view of La Laguna Grande, but it has not been called by that name for decades.
It is now Lake Elsinore, named for Hamlet's Castle Elsinore, and the town is named the same. The sea of grass is broken by buildings and trees off in the west, and beyond that the mountain sleeps under the soft blankets of clouds. Our house is over there, underneath the mountain, planted at its feet.
I look at the field, the clouds, the naked trees and imagine I am in some east coast village in some forgotten era. In a moment I will see a maiden in a hooded cloak rushing away from or towards some terrible danger, a basket dangling from her arm. In another moment I will be the maiden.
I have never been to the east coast, or anywhere at all other than this valley and the stretch of highway that leads to my grandparents' home in Phoenix, Arizona.
In another moment it is a European copse, in another I am gazing upon the shire. These fields are ripe with magic. You can smell it in the air. Or rather I have imposed the magic of my imagination over these empty fields, and their smell has become special by association.
I want to stay in the pick up and day dream. In one version of this memory I do. In another I go into the lumber store with you and am allowed to stand by myself looking with wonder at hardware while a pimple faced young man in jeans and a flannel helps you find whatever it is we have come here for.
In another version my little sister is here and she wears a flannel and jeans and our house is still under the mountain to the west, but it is no longer ours and we live in someone else’s house to the north.
All versions share the same sky, fields, parking lot, commercial building, and season. It is one memory which has expanded to encompass a few others for simplicity’s sake.
Memory is selective in every way. I have conjured this particular memory, or cluster of memories, on other days similar to today. On days when clouds gather and the light is exactly as it is now and I feel neutral. Some days the memories are angry, some days they are happy, others, like those arising today, are neutral, but almost all are laced with an undercurrent of sorrow and loss.
And you are always there, lending a back story to my emotional state, a conglomerate of memories that I call Father.