My memory is like a basement filled with old papers:
nothing ever changes.
— Louise Glück, Fugue
These days, my mind keeps wandering back to that particular train ride in late December: myself, my dear friend, and memories of my childhood transposed between us. How did you first found out? she had asked, posing the question gently. Gosh, has it been fifteen years now? Maybe seventeen, I replied, genuinely surprised at how much time has passed since then. Still, even now, I can recreate that image of my younger self crouching by the hallway of the bedroom on the first floor; quiet as a cat, blending into the darkness of the late night. Eavesdropping.
I had no idea about anything, I said, I was just a kid after all… but the pieces wouldn’t add up together until it dawned upon me, could it be…? But it turned out… when the truth came to light, I remember thinking: I’d rather it be my version of the truth. Maybe that would’ve been easier to sink in. I gave a small laugh, breaking the tension. Maybe I shouldn’t have opened up so much; the truth, whatever versions of it, changes nothing now.
What’s past is in the past, I continued, I’ve forgiven… now that I am at the age he was back then, how much could he have known? How could he have guessed that decision he made would define an entire lifetime? He was a coward and I’m not excusing him from that, but he’s not a terrible person. He made a bad decision, but he’s not a bad person.
I confessed to another friend the other day, I have trouble writing about him. Where words generally come easy for me, especially when it’s about her – I’m tongue-tied when it comes to him. Funny that, because it’s not like we have a broken relationship; I love him dearly. I want to try writing about him, I wrote to her. Maybe I need to try harder.
These days, things are good. Real good. So good in fact, that sometimes I have to shake away the perpetual worry that clouds my thoughts. All my siblings are doing really well professionally and personally, climbing up corporate ladders and advancing forward with promotions, new pregnancies, owners of brand-new houses and vehicles… the heart of life is good. When I was younger, I didn’t think we would ever get ourselves away – never completely free, mentally or emotionally. Turns out I was wrong; they’re doing so well now that sometimes it puzzles me, even though it shouldn’t. She raised us strong and tough, after all. She raised us resilient.
Yet sometimes, sometimes… it still puzzles me. All through my formative years, I’ve defined myself through this that I think of as a tragedy; shaped, consumed, swallowed, and asphyxiated by it. I’ve shaped my being with thoughts of someday being free; a hypothetical outcome where one day I am no longer in captive, now an escapee. I obsessed over it without once, ironically, giving in to the thought that the someday I wished so desperately for, would actually arrive.
What happens when you are no longer shaped by the past?
What happens when you find that you’re now an escapee?
I stand on the other side, this side of freedom, uncertain what to make of it.
I should be happy, I tell myself. I am happy, I correct myself.
I think of my childhood a lot these days, I keep coming back to those days when many things were emotionally difficult. Back when I was younger and a lot angrier. Dramatic as always, limited by a child’s perspectives. Now those days feel like a lifetime away, galaxies apart from the present. Surreal, sometimes as if merely imaginations. Events that have shaped the person that I am now seemed so far away that shouldn’t I be happy? Of course I turned out alright; all of us did.
She raised us resilient.
I think of my childhood a lot these days, maybe because a part of me doesn’t know what to make of the present. I am whole. I am happy. I am at peace. I am free. No longer a concept, but a reality. I stand on the other side now, this side of freedom, with my palms outstretched and sweaty; nervous. Grateful to the core, but uncertain what to do.
How do I live now, no longer a concept but a living, breathing reality?
I remember my mother’s hands and I
imagine roots upon roots of shelter;
of leaves growing into small kites about to fly.
Then I imagine her lying on a hospital bed,
coughing her lonely pair of lungs out
as though her mouth is biting an exit sign,
as though her lungs is full of nothing
but secondhand cigarette smoke
since she was sixteen. My father fell in love
with her every roadside crack, they said
that she once wore red at a funeral, and
waited for a bus three blocks away
from the bus stop. I swear, she could have chewed
his heart out of his lungs if she wanted to.
My father, whose weakness were his hands holding
bottle necks, burning his throat away like coals
roasting flesh until its black and bruised. They said,
my father, who did not apologize to my mother
for losing her halfway because he swore
their love was half-full instead of half-empty.
I am shaking magnitudes every time I hear
them say it like it’s easy. It never was.
They forgot I was there, and I remember
everything else that they keep telling me
I have forgotten already.— Kharla M. Brillo,Before Going to Bed My Mother Used to Block My Ears and Tell Me Everything was Fine | pouvoires