Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

“No, that’s not how you do it,” I remember her saying to me.

We’d play in the sand box and I’d make my GI Joes build forts and point guns.

“This is where the barbed wire will go,” I’d say and pour some of my cherry kool aid in a hole. “That’s the blood of all the dead guys.”

“No, that’s not how you do it,” she’d say again.

“But you have to have guys on the look out.”


“Then how do you do it?” I’d ask, since she knew everything.

“Set up a well,” she said. “Make them chop wood for fire to keep warm. Make that guy carry water,” and she gave him a bucket to carry.

“But what about the bad guys?” I protested.

“Oh, they’ll be doing the same thing.”

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He hadn’t remembered that he didn’t wear jogging pants that day on purpose, nor that the jeans he picked out to impress her were years old, and he had grown out of them. He hadn’t remembered the lyrics to her favorite love song that he had recopied for her by hand, listening to the song off a cassette, rewind, replay, get the next verse. He hadn’t remembered his awkwardness, nor that one walk home he got, the one where he listened when she talked and talked more, the one where she held his hand.

Rosabel’s neighborhood didn’t have addresses on the houses because the architects thought it made the houses less dignified, and Christopher didn’t remember that either. Christopher’s father delivered mail there and used to complain about the lack of addresses. He had to memorize each family’s house with their trim lawns and flowers that Christopher tried not to step in now, his shoes, hand-me-downs from his brother, still a half-size too big, clumped down and made him clumsy. The jeans, tight down to his calf, his ankles exposed, made the shoes look even bigger. He was content to listen though, his head down, as Rosabel talked about her dog, her neighbors, the weather, her favorite trees, how she doesn’t like the house across the street, about their teacher, what she had for lunch today, and her new favorite book. Christopher was content to listen and not step in the flowers.

He was impressed that she read books. Christopher was paid a penny a page by his parents for every book he read but even that was never incentive enough.

“I just finished a book on each of the State birds. Did you know the Montana state bird is the Western Meadowlark and that their song is like a flute. It’s warbled, I read, which contrasts starkly from the Eastern Meadowlark, which has a whistle-like song. Do you have a favorite birdsong?” Rosabel asked.

“M-m-m-m-me?  Well, I-I-I-I don’t know one bird song from another,” Christopher said.

“What if you had to pick one?”

“If I h-h-h-h-had to pick one?” Christopher dug his hands deeper into his pockets, his head more focused on his oversized shoes. “I suppose I’d pick the blackbird because if it’s good enough for the Beatles, it’s good enough for me.”

“Oh! You like the Beatles too!?” Rosabel was so enthralled to have come to this mutual understanding, this shared knowledge, shared enjoyment, that she jumped over and pulled Christopher’s cheek to her lips. “I’m so glad you like music. I like music. I listen to the Beatles and the…”

And she went on and Christopher listened, smiling now, his head up some. He looked around them, hoping that no one sitting on one of the many large front porches had seen them. Her house was not far from the school and Christopher knew this. He used to watch it to see if anyone would come out the front door in the few seconds his car would pass when his father drove him home from school. He wanted this short walk to last forever but he knew his father was waiting for him now as he walked Rosabel home and was worried his father would be angry. But for now, it was more important that his right cheek was still tingling and it had spread through his body like wild-fire. He felt it in his fingers and he took them out of his pockets to look at them. Rosabel grabbed one of his hands and held it, their fingers interlaced.

“Do you like any of those bands too?” she asked.

“M-m-m-m-me? I… well…”

Rosabel looked up and released his hand. “Here’s my house!” she said, and grabbed Christoper once more, quick and pulled that same cheek in close again. “This was great,” she said. “Just great. Will you walk me home again sometime? Great!” Off she went, bounding into the house, not turning around once.

Christopher stayed there and watched, his hand touching his cheek without him realizing it, his eyes wide-open, until again, he turned and looked around the block to make sure no one was watching. He took one last glance at Rosabel’s house just as the crickets started to sing, the school year almost over. The dusk air was beginning to hold some of the heat of the summer to come. Rosabel’s house was red like Christopher’s cheeks and he saw a lion on her porch next to the mailbox with a stone ribbon in its mouth.

“Heaton Residence,” it read. “1041 Fairoaks.”

“An address!” Christopher said and then, remembering his father there waiting. Christopher rain off down Fairoaks hoping to make it before his father left. Christopher ran as his shoes struggled to keep up, clumping on the ground, his knuckles digging into his palms, head up, smiling as the air rushed into his mouth. He felt the wind on his ears.

But Christopher remembered none of that. He hadn’t thought about it for many years since it happened. He never walked her home again. They both got older and Rosabel found new boys and new lovers and Christopher learned to love his books. He thought he remembered hearing a story about her years back but maybe it was someone else.

No, he hadn’t remembered any of it until a woman in a café with a familiar smell touched his shoulder and said, “Christopher. You were so important to me. I’ve wanted to tell you that.”

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“Did you hear about Hawaii?” my father says.

“What about Hawaii?” I say.  I heard all about it last week, but tango on they say. 

“Your sisters are taking your old man on a trip!”

“Oh yeah?  You’re going to Hawaii with Caroline and Margaret?”  They live in New York.   Even I admit that it will be nice to see them. 

“That’s right I am.  My dear Caroline!  My lovely Margaret!  Oh, my girls.”  My dad cut a watermelon at the kitchen table covered in the same waxy plastic tablecloth as when I was a kid.  He takes large bites and spits the seeds into the sink.

“Can you believe that?” he says.  “Me!  In Hawaii!  I wish I could tell the old guys in the warehouse about this.”

“That sure is great, pops.”  My father has been retired for over a decade.

“Just think, this time next month, I’ll be dancing the hoola with some beautiful Polynesian on my arm!”

“Quite the vision, pops.”

He finishes cutting the watermelon, placing the slices onto a plate and shoves it toward me. 

“You want some of this?”  The juice dripped down his chin onto his shirt leaving a wet mark so that his nipple almost shows. 

“No thanks, pops.”

“Just think, this time next month I’ll be sipping Sangria out of a pineapple as a cup!”

“Sangria is from Spain, pops.”

“Well, make it a Piña Colada then!” he says, getting his coat on.  “I’m going to the store.  I’m going to get something special for our arrivals.”

I know exactly what he is going to get and I feel like a kid with monsters in his closet.

It is midwinter in Chicago and the cold comes hard.  My father though, leaves without his hat and the door open behind him.  The kitchen chills quickly.  I sit and the let the cold air fill the room like someone trying to prove a point to himself.  My sadness is stronger than this cold.  I shake it and close the door.

Our parents left our childhood rooms intact.  I head upstairs.  My sisters still have old baseball posters on the wall.  They would listen to the Cubs game on the radio after school, keep stats of every inning, every pitch, and recount it back to my father when he came home.  It took them hours.  And he listened to every word.  I tried to ignore it up in my room, concentrating on schoolwork surrounded by bare walls.  My father stopped helping me with my math homework when I hit third grade.

I lie in my bed and my feet come off the end.  I used to have a dream here in this bed, a nightmare even.  My father would get home with a paper bag under his arm, glowing.  He’d call us kids into the kitchen and say that he brought presents for us: three pineapples, one each.  My sisters got beautiful ripe pineapples with green tops that pointed sky high.  My pineapple was smaller, less plump, and its green top drooped and turned brown at the edges.

I had that dream every night as a kid.  It came back again when my mother died and I started coming here every weekend.  

And here I am, staring up at the ceiling again, trying to drown out the sound of my sisters’ laughter downstairs, now on a flight over, night in Chicago, pick up a third passenger and off they’ll be. 

I wonder what my goodbye will be.

I should have at least gone to the store with him.  I grab my jacket and run out the front door, closing it as it locks behind me.  I can still catch him.  I run down the steps to see my father, half-a-block away on his way back, exposed hands turning blue, extended arms, holding two pineapples up over his head, up toward the sky.

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