One of my earliest memories is of being in the backyard of our place in Denton, Texas. I remember watching my old man digging in the yard with his shirt off and I was running around underfoot. It was a hot, sunny day. I don’t know anything about the world or what my mood was, but there was suddenly a big coiled up snake in the dirt and my dad jerked me up off the ground by my arm maybe? set me on a table or something and then raised up the shovel and brought the blade down through the snake’s body maybe once maybe a few times what I remember was he was mad and I was afraid and thrilled and sad and mad. proud of him for killing the snake and sick that he’d killed it, too. scared of the snake and scared of my father’s anger and mad he was mad at me when I’d done nothing wrong and upset that he was so upset. I think I bragged about him killing the snake to my mom but I don’t know if that’s true. Fact is, I don’t know if it even happened. I just know that I remember it, so for me it’s like it did. Like I remember him in his dark policeman’s uniform walking out to the patrol car parked in the driveway, like he was some old-timey gunslinger in the west. I remember my mom in her bee-hive hairdo and a summer dress, cat-eye glasses, the whole shebang. I don’t remember them ever saying anything to me in those days, although I’m sure they must have. What I remember is watching television in the morning before they woke up, and getting in the crib with my baby brother and probably torturing him, hoping he’d go back to wherever it was he came from. I remember dirt and sunlight and long hours of silence and being left to my own devices but who knows. I thought I was alone then and it got more like that after the divorce. My old man kind of was drawn out of my world and loomed ever larger in it because he wasn’t there. And I turned a blind eye to my mother, blamed her for his absence, set myself against her in all ways.
Now I’m an old man and I’m mistrustful of all of these memories I carry around. I am not one to dwell on the past, for me it holds little interest- but it’s unnerving to realize how little of what I have built up as the bare facts of my life ever happened at all. I have no idea what I know and what I think I remember because it’s been told to me over and over again until I swallowed it. I know I’ve layered over them again and again with new interpretations and embellishments, based upon what soothed me to believe at the time or what I felt aggrieved about. I’m still doing it. I don’t guess I’ll ever quit it altogether.
More and more my past is like flipping through the family photographs of a stranger. There’s folks in there, frozen in time, doing what they were doing once and now can’t ever stop doing, but they bear little resemblance to anyone I’d say I know now.
I don’t know if that’s sad or not.