May 28, 2009…
There really is no other way to begin this, my story other than at the beginning.
What began as a series of notes, a collection of sheaves, a treasure chest of memories and dreams has become a labyrinth of undiscovered territory. Whether scribbling’s, sketches or photographs, I have cleverly collected them all and deposited them here for the entire world to see. Where they may lead, their final purpose, whether deviously plotted or sheer random chance, is yet to be determined or perceived. So I’ll leave it up to you, dear reader, to draw your own conclusions. To decide if I am merely mad or mistaken, bitter or benign, completely harmless or the worse kind of monster- And to think that it all began with the simplest of thoughts:
‘What is it about putting ones memories down on paper that makes them so real ?’
There is so much that can be said about childhood, with all its vivid imagery, conjured experiences and common themes. Are our memories real or are they Memorex? Are they true experiences or simply make believe stories that we have repeated so many times to ourselves and others, that like the mythic fable or fairy tale, we begin to believe in them ourselves?
On the other hand what is truth, that which we remember to be the truth, or how it truly was? After so many years, how can we even tell the difference?
Rest assured, that what I am about to tell you is the absolute truth- at least as far I remember it.
At the time I could not have been more than six or seven years old. It is the middle of the night. I am setting in the car with Mom. We’ve just pulled up outside a little no name diner in the middle of absolutely nowhere. The stars in the sky are diamond cut bright, brilliant little pricks to punch the velvety night.
The only other sources of light I can see are a solitary streetlamp, with its yellowish glow and cloud of insects, and the screened back door to the diner. (I think the diners closed for the night, because the parking lot in front of it is completely empty except for us.)
We finally decide to exit the car, I am holding on to my Mom’s right hand because I’m too little to be by myself. (Speaking of Mom, she’s all dolled up like a model, smells great, and is pretty much the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my life!)
With not a word spoken between us we begin our journey towards the long portal of light near the diner’s rear, its wash of yellow and clatter of noise spilling out across the night.
Arriving at the door we stop, still as can be, silent as two church mice. Hand in hand we watch Dad while he works; he’s wearing a pair of faded blue jeans, a white tee shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and one of those dorky paper hats on his head. There’s a hand rolled cigarette tucked up behind his left ear and he’s currently elbow deep in one of those ginormous stainless steel sinks, the kind you can always picture filled to the brim with suds, soap and steam all around. We stand there for what seems an eternity, but is probably no more than thirty whole seconds. The entire time I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is so cool, Dad’s busy as a bee, his forearms are slick with suds, soap and water and I can tell he’s in a hurry.’
Want to know why-
It’s because we’re here, Duh, and the last thing he wants is to be working. I know more than anything, all he wants to do is dry his arms off and rush outside to meet us. He wants to kiss Mom on the cheek, (Yuck.) and after that hold her. All Mom wants to do is fall into his arms and love him forever. In the end he’ll whisper something in her ear, while she’ll turn all red and glance my direction, if anything to see if maybe I might have overheard their ‘all too adult’ conversation. After all this she’ll wink her eye at me as if to say, ‘Shush… we are about to share the deepest darkest of secrets any man and woman can.’
The weirdest thing about this entire evening, other than the experience itself, is that I have no real recollection of how the night ends. To solve this problem I would ask my mother about this memory, this experience, years later, directly after my father’s funeral in fact. This is how I remember our conversation going-
I’m already changed, from my funeral wearing best to a pair of cutoffs and a tee shirt, mainly because I’m ready to go outside and play, ready to go on with my life. In other words, I’m ready not to be dead like my Dad. But instead of running outside to play, I end up walking into my parent’s bedroom and catching my Mom there in the midst of her despair…
She’s sitting on the bed, paler and older by far, after all, she’s just buried her husband of sixteen some years only this morning. She’s got this old shoe box out and she’s digging through its contents: pictures and old postcards, saved letters. The entire time she’s busy turning these photographs over and over, again and again, most of them are black and white, their edges curled and frayed from handling, and she’s reading the backs of them, the lines of chicken scratch penciled in ink across their backs. I ask her what and how she’s doing. She sniffles a bit, wipes her face and eyes with a couple of wadded up Kleenex’s she’s been wallowing since forever from looks, and tells me that she is ‘reliving some old memories’, going ‘back in time.’
For some unexplained reason, even to this day, that night at the diner comes up, and since it seemed to be one heck of a night, with her and him all laughing and giggling, pretty much us as a family sharing a private moment away from the eyes of the world, I bring it up- of our meeting Dad, of how pretty she looked that night with her hair cascading in long amber curls down past her shoulders, the way her dress seemed to whisper against her legs and hips as she swayed from side to side, how she pretty much looked the part of a school girl heading out for her first prom or date. And as I’m recollecting these memories she gets this look on her face, in her eyes; her lips get all pale and thin out, the lines at the corners of her mouth grow hard and serious.
Needless to say I’m confused, more by her expression then anything, and stumble to a halt.
“What in the world are you talking about?” she asks me.
“I’m talking about me and you meeting Dad,” I say, “outside the diner that night… the one he used to work at when you first met him. Why…?”
“You know exactly why,” she says. And at that moment my Mom’s gone, there’s a complete stranger setting in front of me now. One I’ve never met, nor ever intended upon meeting . “Who told you about that night? Was it your Grandma? Was she the one who’s stuck her nose in other people’s affairs?”
Now I’m really confused. For some reason she is staring at me with that look in her eyes, the same look she gave me and my brother the time we burned down our neighbor’s hay field by accident. In other words, not the world’s greatest look.
Stumbled by her sudden mood swing, I once more reiterate the events of that night. I make it a point to stress our arrival-
But once again, just like before, she interrupts me, she questions me about the car we’re driving, (It was a ’65 Ford Fairlane) the color of her dress, (A white skirt, red sweater and a bow) the time of night that it was, (had to be somewhere close to midnight). She asks me again to describe Dad, what he was wearing… pretty much everything she could think of about that night.
Here I am, thinking she’s pretty much lost her mind… that her grief over loosing my father had run too deep, that she’d run aground, or worse, that she’d forgotten. But no, she suddenly gets all the more defensive, her tone and face angrier, harsher, by the minute, until finally I give up altogether and ask her the obvious question-
“Why? Why are you so angry with me…? Excuse me for having brought it up at all. I thought it would have been good memory of you and me meeting Dad.”
But she is having none of that, my excuses or my explanations. In a voice as hard as stone, “I’m just trying to figure out why you’re lying… who you’re covering up for.” She replies. And as I begin to mumble something about how I’m not making anything up, that it actually happened just the way I had stated it, that after all I was there that night and I should know,’ she cuts me off yet again.
“There is no way in heaven you could have remembered that night .”
“But Mom, I can remember everything, down to the last detail. The way your hand felt, how hot it was that night, how light seemed to be pouring from the diner, leaking like liquid gold from the diner’s rear door…”
Shaking her head she continues, pretty much ignoring me and my answers. Her eyes are locked on a photograph she’s holding, one taken of a diner out in the middle of nowhere, it’s all black and white and blurry by now. The photo’s pretty well used up, all wrinkled and bent, a couple of its corners folded. “Hon, there’s absolutely no way that you can know about that night, you’re describing the first time I met your father… in fact it was pretty much our first time meeting ever.”
All I could do was set there and wonder why she was lying, what she could possibly be covering up… other than nothing. No matter how much I tried, her words just weren’t making any sense. ‘Wasn’t there…’ I know I was there, as sure as knew the sun would rise the next day. As sure as my father was dead and gone, lying six feet under where the worms crawl in and the worms crawl out… and all the while she continues spouting facts, her facts, until it feels like my head is going to explode.
“You see,” she continues, “I only met your father earlier that day. I promised him that I would try and stop by at the end of his shift so we could at least talk, get to know each other. The rest, as you know, is history.”
Needless to say, by this time I am even more confused than ever. However, before I can even say anything, she jumps back in and settles the score. “What I have been trying to tell you- my child -is that there is absolutely no way you could have been there holding my hand that night.” At this point she sort of blushes, but hurries on, “and the reason why you weren’t there, is because you weren’t even conceived yet!” (In fact, you weren’t even a twinkle in your old man’s eye.)
Sketchbook drawing titled, Of a Diner… 1962, location unknown.