My therapist thinks it is time I start to collect and organize my thoughts regarding my childhood a little better. She says it’s important for people to have a coherent life narrative, so they can make sense of their history and ultimately move on. She likened life to a book with many chapters where the story only makes sense and feels fulfilling when the chapters are in the right order, when all the important chapters are there and when they feel like each integrates into the rest to make up a proper narrative instead of a jumble of random pieces.
I struggle a lot with that. I have lots of forgotten memories and my life feels less like a proper story and more like a bulletin board with various snippets on it. Instead of a sequential order, everything is kind of there alongside each other. Which means that I tend to get disoriented in time, making the past feel like the present, for example. So I can see how working on a coherent life narrative is probably a good idea.
For starters my therapist suggested I focus on matter of fact things, as I remember them. So I suppose bringing the memories I have of my childhood home together to make one picture might be a good starting point.
I remember our home to be a small one story house squeezed between other houses that looked the same. It had a front and back yard and both were full of junk, stuff like a broken down car on blocks instead of tires, metal parts, dumped furniture and other large trash. Except to the front where the road was, the lot was fenced in by a tall wooden fence, much taller than I was. That’s the part that I remember well, what was outside.
Inside is trickier. I spent some time trying to put the pieces together and draw what I remember and this is what I came up with:
Where the red line is, that’s where the front door was in my memory. You stepped into the living room and it was divided into the part with the sofa and a part where a table was. Opposite the front door was a door that led to the master bedroom and my room and a bathroom.
What I remember was that the floor was light brown and somewhat speckled. I think it was a linoleum floor. In my memory there are no rugs. I don’t think there was one. My mother was obsessed with keeping things neat and clean and linoleum could be wiped down, so I suppose that was why it was there.
The sofa seated two and was green. Green corduroy, I believe, with a large white doily over the back. I remember because I used to stare at the corduroy to escape my body, in favor of getting lost in the pattern of fine lines. To this day I hate corduroy. I’m certain the doily was my mother’s doing.
The wallpaper around the entire house was blue and patterned. I believe it even was a little darker than in my picture, and I never liked it. I don’t like blue as a color.
And then there’s something that is curious and that I can’t quite understand. In my memory there were two tables. One was in the living room, right there where drew it in the picture. It had four reddish chairs with metal legs and what I believe was a grey Resopal tabletop. That table was where we ate. But then I remember a second dining table in the kitchen. That one was round and also had four chairs.
I don’t know why I remember two dining tables. Some memories make it seem like they existed at the same time, and I suppose they must have, because while I clearly remember there being a round dining table in the kitchen, I don’t remember ever sitting at it. I only remember eating at the other table. The only thing I remember my mother doing with that round table was wiping it down, actually, or sitting at it while she drank.
The kitchen was behind the brown beaded curtain. I remember it being small and off limits for me. I only entered it when I had to. If I didn’t have to, I would only ever pull the bead chains aside and peek in.
Against the wall behind the dining table that we actually used there leaned a narrow sideboard. I don’t remember what it was used for, only that there was another doily on top of it on which stood a little bowl with a lid. The bowl was where my stepfather put the money he gave my mother.
But what I remember more clearly than the sideboard is the picture that hung above it. It had geese on it and they were flying over reeds or cattail or something. The way I remember the picture it was mostly in grays. I didn’t like it. I think I was envious of the geese who could fly, but since they were frozen in mid-flight, they also annoyed me. I used to stare at the picture when we ate at night, because when my stepfather was home my place at the table was opposite the picture. Strangely, I only ever remember sitting there when he was home. When he was not I used to sit with my back to the sideboard. My mother’s place was always at the end of the table that faced the kitchen, and my stepfathers place was on the opposite end. That never changed. Only I seem to have switched places depending on whether my stepfather was home or not. I wonder what sense to make of that.
The way they had divided the table – my mother at the kitchen end and my stepfather at the other – was true of the way they divided the house, too. In my memory the kitchen was where my mom lived in the house and the sofa belonged to my stepfather.
Because of my mother, the house was always kept meticulously clean. As cluttered and messy as the front and back yard were, inside the house it was the opposity. Nothing was ever lying around. My mother allowed for no visible mess whatsoever. The only thing that always lay around was my stepfather’s pack of cigarettes. My mother smoked, too, but she kept hers in the kitchen, I don’t know where.
That is what I remember our house to have been like. The rest, the master bedroom, my room and the bathroom, I still have a much harder time remembering. I recall snippets, but somehow they don’t go together to make proper pictures yet. So for now this is all I can describe.
I must say that it feels weird and vaguely threatening to go there again, even when it is only in my memory. I can feel that there are lots of shadows lurking there, threatening shadows. I suppose they are memories of other things. Bad things. But for now I feel safe enough, so all is well. And who knows, maybe it is time I face the shadows, little by little. I want to try to.