Would not a proper memory of one’s father presuppose a proper father? I’d think so. In the memory I have there is nothing about either it or the father that qualifies as proper. Or usual. As it happens, it is my first-ever memory, one powerful enough to have lodged itself deep into the crevices of my baby brain and body, one to be carried through all the days, years and decades to follow. The thing is, until five decades on, I didn’t know for sure whether or not it was my father.
I stand holding to the rail of my crib, looking, taking it in.
Bright sunshine out the open window.
My mother dismissed this, told me I couldn’t remember back that far.
I see green.
It had to have been spring. I wouldn’t come to my first birthday for a few more months.
White sheers flutter at the window.
I feel the breeze on my face.
Not just my mother, but others have said that no one can have such a memory, so early.
I smell these things.
The smell is good.
I am no longer a baby, have lived for many decades now, but it is all there today, as if I still am that baby. In some ways, I still am, my hands gripping the crib rail. Sun warming my face. Seeing the green, the swaying. Feeling the breeze on my face. Smelling the clean smell of that quiet, halcyon morning. Without words then, somehow I knew it was good, all of it, and it still is.
In the year after my mother’s death, I described this memory to my father’s tiny, scrappy sister who, newly-found, had been long-lost to me till then. She, far into her eighties at the time, didn’t say much in response, but she agreed to travel with me to the Southern city where she and my father had been raised. A homecoming of sorts for her, and for my part I was eager to see the old family house. She’d told me my great-grandparents, my grandmother, my father and mother and I had lived there, all of us together. So on that hot, humid summer Sunday, a day after my fifty-fifth birthday, I knocked on the front door of that house still sitting on Beech Street and explained to the wondering woman our history there and our desire just to revisit it. She was gracious but didn’t invite us in, though she did welcome us to tour the yard. We walked that yard, my aunt and I, and I walked myself back in time. In the side yard I paused, felt drawn to a particular window, then stood with my back to it, looking into the yard. And I knew. Yes, my aunt said, nodding, that would have been the room where you and your mama and daddy slept.
I turn from the window.
I see the bed, two sleepers there.
I watch them.
I took pictures that day. Of the window. Of the mostly over-grown yard. Of my father’s ancient sister, his only contemporary left living. As we stood, I described the room to her. Where the door was; the flowers of the wallpaper; the vanity with the three-sided mirror, its kidney shape, the stool tucked into it; the double bed with my crib set along its foot. My rarely silent aunt looked at me, wide-eyed, nodded, said nothing.
I see outlines under a sheet.
I cannot see faces.
Those would have been your parents, she said finally.
I turn back to the window. To the sun and breeze and the stirring shirrs, to the feeling of right.
I knew from found letters that my mother soon took me away from there when I was ten months old, to live with her sister and family in another state. Where we would be safe. My father, I learned on that summer trip, had been a bombardier in World War II, sent home mid-war battle-fatigued seriously enough to require months of treatment at the Army Air Corps’ mental-health facility in St. Petersburg Florida. He struggled, my aunt had told me, with alcohol and depression and was given to sometime violence, sporadic disappearances. Months before that, buried in a box in my mother’s basement, I’d found some puzzling letters from my father’s family members and read that they’d supported her taking us away from there, from him, that it was for the best. I hadn’t understood until finding his sister.
I take the sun and green and breeze, the morning itself, inside myself. I like it.
I know I felt all that because, in the memory I’m told it’s not possible to have had, I feel it.
I am peaceful.
In memory I live it all again and again, any time I wish. Or when I need to.
My father disappeared from my life, was disappeared from me by my mother. I never saw him again. She had loved him, she told me once when I summoned the courage to ask about him, but he was a bad man. That was all; she would not, or could not, ever say more. It took finding his sister and making that summer trip with her to that city, that street, that house, that yard, that window to begin to realize that, after all, I did have a father, and a memory of him. Certainly not a proper father, and not exactly a proper memory. But an authentic one, and I know that, because I lived it, and live it still.
Laura Goodman’s writing work has appeared in a number of journals, reviews and anthologies, most recently in Fiction Southeast, the Arkansas Review, Flash Fiction, Westchester Review, Magnolia Review; a novella was the lead piece in Propertius Press’s 2020 anthology. She lives and writes in Boulder, Colorado.
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