Both my parents' parents lived near Chicago when I was little.I don't remember much from my visits here then — in fact, it frightens me sometimes how I little I remember from my childhood in general — and the things I do remember aren't memories like I have memories now, of people and emotions. They're all just fuzz and random images in my head. The details of family Christmas in the big white sunroom of my grandparents' big white house in Inverness are nil, but I do remember the little white rabbit-hair coat, with little cotton tails that cinched the hood, I got as a gift one year. And a weeping willow in the backyard. (Actually, here's a visceral recollection: Those grandparents had a sedan with two heavy doors. I don't remember why we were getting in the car, but I remember pain. My little fingers in that big passenger door, closed. And, because consumerism is the best Band-Aid, they bought me a new Skipper doll that afternoon; she was a soda-shoppe waitress, I think. I forgot my pain.) Just outside my dad's parents' house in Wilmette, where my grandma still lives, alone since my grandpa's death a few years ago, in what's now the smallest house on the block, a narrow alley. Before I understood that Chicago was built on them, I sealed the alley into my memory. And the long sofa crowding the TV room near the back of the house. And the big white house on the corner with a sloping roof and big wooden swingset. And, from the many trips between O'Hare and my grandparents' suburbs: the big, deep pink bloom on the side of the Rosemont water tower; the cloverleaf pattern of highway ramps converging and looping through one another; the pink, orange and brown of a line of swivel chairs bolted to the ground along a Dunkin' Donuts counter.
Back home in Kansas City? Still fuzzy, though at least some of them involve people. Running around the playground in first grade, playing Super Mario Bros. with two boys from school. I was the Princess. Going to see my first therapist as a third-grader because I hated my new school, even though I played on the fourth-graders' soccer team and could hop the fence to my new best friend's house and play Barbies in the basement (those Barbies didn't help me forget my pain, apparently). Wearing shiny new shoes to school and getting yelled at by my fifth-grade science teaching for clicking my heels in the hallway. In seventh grade, awful pink leggings and a matching fuzzy sweatshirt with a French phrase, flowers and ridicule all over it. (And, in that vein, my first and only perm.) I could actually spend days writing down stupid details that pop into my head; God, I can dream. Maybe someday.
And the rest of my memories are actually a construction of what I've seen in hundreds of photos and heard in stories repeated by my doting mother: jumping off the top of the fridge into my dad's arms; singing "Somewhere Out There," every word, in the car all by myself; playing with the old-fashioned water pump in a family friend's backyard in New Jersey; the yellow sweatsuit covered with little puffy TVs that I wore when we picked up my baby sister from the hospital. (And the one memory my now-almost-21-year-old sister and I won't let each other forget, even though neither of us actually remember: "Remember when you had the croup?")
I wish I could explain the hazy recollection of my childhood; it's a frustrating disconnect from my steel-trap mind today. For better or worse, it's all there now. Today, I have the random images from my childhood heaped underneath the random images from now. Plus what I had for breakfast three weeks ago Thursday, plus the smell of a barbecue across the park, plus the sound of a violinist practicing somewhere in the building. Plus, you know, all of 2008's embarrassment and heartbreak, by name and by act — except, you know. The parts I don't remember. Plus: every day of joy and revelation from these past few months. I have to wonder, though, how much of the startlingly clear recollection of the past year or two will still be so in another 20 years. Maybe now that I'm writing it down, though, my memories will be more of the stories and things worth holding onto — what I think memories ought to be. Or, if I wind up with more random fuzz in my memory, at least I'll have something on paper to remind me, maybe, that it's not so random.
To anyone who came here from my Facebook looking for "a bitterish post," I apologize. Spying pee-wee football practice in the park with "The Wanton Song" threatening to shatter my eardrums tends to dissolve the rage. Look for me on a rainier, worthier day.