I came across this old picture when I was reorganizing the attic to make more room for some of my clutter to be relocated from downstairs. One glance and I was swept right off my feet and back all those years ago. The acrid smell of an old smoky Buick tickles my nose at what used to be my favorite place in the entire world. This was my safe place, where I could go to escape my world and just let the wind flow through my hair as I went round and round.
I think about this time in my life far more frequently than I would like, the pain from those years torments my dreams to this day. I ran the two blocks from my house to get here on this day, ran as fast as my legs could carry me to get away, to escape, to just feel the wind, and block out the world. It didn’t work, I couldn’t block the world out, I couldn’t escape for even a moment today.
My father’s screams still echoed in my ears as I sat, trying to understand why he was so mad lately, trying to figure out what I had done to make him so mad. He wasn’t yelling at me, looking back I don’t think he was even yelling at my mother, he was yelling because he was scared. He was scared and he didn’t know what else to do, so he yelled. Of course this was far beyond the comprehension of my 6 year old mind, to me he was yelling because of something I did.
Admittedly even then the park had lost something for me, some of the joy had been leached out of it since my brother had gotten sick, I miss playing with him, miss him spinning me around and swinging next to me. I didn’t understand the gravity of what was happening to him, I only knew he was sick, and he didn’t get better, even after a day in bed and some of mom’s magical chicken noodle soup that always cured me when I was sick.
I still think about those days, I always seem to find ways to blame myself for what happened, tell myself he got sick, and we lost him because of that day we went out and played in the rain and mud puddles. I tell myself if I would made him eat his broccoli instead of helping him slip it to the dog that maybe he would have been stronger, maybe he could have fought harder.
I know none of that is true, know there is nothing I could have done, nothing anyone could have done, but I still blame myself.
I blame myself for my father falling apart afterwards, for failing to be a good enough daughter, failing to take his place after my brother was gone. I blame myself for his drinking, his depression, the life devouring alcoholism that claimed him only a few years later.
I’ll never understand how my mother kept going, how she put on her best fake smile for me as I got on the school bus each morning, how she went to work, kept us fed and clothed, I’ll never understand where that strength came from. I know she hurt so deeply that words could never reach the places inside where she held her pain, comfort and peace could not make that journey, the walls were too high.
It was several years later before I knew this picture even existed, a neighbor had been out bird watching, and took this picture of me. She gave it to me when I graduated high school, thinking it would remind me of my happy place, and brighten my day. She could have never know how I would break down and crumple to the floor when she handed it to me.
And here I am, crumpled on floor again, tears streaking my face as I remember this place, remember the pain, remember the loss. Faded memories that I somehow keep blowing the dust off of, keep restoring their vivid pain to my heart.