This post is working off of a prompt from Janet Burroway’s “Writing Fiction,” a book that I am currently studying for my creative writing fiction class. The idea is to write out what I recall of the first seven years of my life, fitting into the categories of events, people, self, inner life, and characteristic things. These will then potentially provide springboards for character, plot, and scene development in future fiction endeavors. I am beginning with Events, though there is some bleeding into people thus far, which is OK because I am sure I will have other areas of focus when I come to the people category. For now, I am just letting this exercise ride and writing whatever comes to mind. Here is what I’ve got so far:
I was born on August 27, 1990. My birth certificate shows I was birthed by Theresa, but she prefers the termed “delivered,” and I use it dutifully when speaking to her about the act; it’s the least I can do for a woman who has experienced that pain four times over. I don’t know how my father feels about the term, but his name is Glen. He’s a doctor, so he probably has some fancy word for the whole ordeal and thinks of it in a way that resembles a Darwinian finch drawing, with every aspect pointed out by a very straight line and labeled with some Latin word that to anyone else would seem very remote from the idea of bringing a baby into the world. From a “Me”-project that I completed with the help of my parents around the age of six or seven, I can remember that I was born at Norwalk Hospital, about 10 minutes after midnight. From my various prodding—trying to figure out what might possibly make me interesting—I can recall being told that I was a late baby and did not cry or scream when I was born, like most healthy babies do. I simply looked around, wide-eyed, at whomever removed me from my cozy confines. I still prefer the warmth, comfort and safety of a bath, shower, or a swaddling of blankets over the company of people and the “great world” beyond. I was told that I was brought back to the hospital not long after I was released as a newborn because I was sick; I don’t remember what I was sick with, or if my silent birth was related in any way.
Though I know that I spent the first four years of my life in a house on Merrimack Drive, my recollections are all external to the interior of that house, as if my small brain knew that society valued exteriors and interpersonal relationships and the possessions of others more than the things one has and who one is inside, therefore only cataloguing memories that agreed with this system of superficiality. I can still see the exteriors of five houses in this first neighborhood of my first seven years.
The first is my own, or so I believe. I see a small, yellow house with a large lot made almost entirely of fallen leaves. A faded blacktop driveway comes equipped with an in-ground steel pole, slightly curved at the top with a worn-looking, yellowed basketball hoop and backboard. Each time I try to place the driveway in relation to the house, my mind rejects the location and distorts the image—as if I were trying to place a pre-determined piece of furniture in a video game within a space of three blocks, when the graphic needs four to stick. In this vision of my first house, there is always a large white septic tank being replaced in the ground, but I never see who is doing the work or what the process looks like.
The second house was straight across from our front door. The driveway sloped down and the lot gave their espresso and syrup-colored fortress the look of being completely buried underground (save the roof) when looking at it from my own flat lot, with its pale house. I have one memory of the inside of the house, which is dimly lit. My older brother Luke and I are riding plastic tricycles down a long stretch of hallway with AnaÍce and MattÍas, the children who lived in the exotic, chocolate house. I can barely see anyone’s face for how little light there is.
I believe the white house up on the hill to have belonged to the DaFeo’s, one of whom I remember was called Dave, a boy who played with us sometimes despite being a few years our senior. I recall being in a small bedroom of that house, like a ship cabin with a few unnaturally high and pill-shaped windows, that showcased a clear water-bed, filled with small goldfish and flanked with two, small, unvarnished light-wood nightstands. I remember disliking the motion of the bed and abandoning ship, while the other kids flailed and scrambled on it, laughing. I also associate the DaFeo’s house with a fire-truck-red, rolling tool chest. It was one of the metal ones with a number of skinny, one-pull draws lining its chest and a yellow decal plastered artfully on the front, though I can’t remember what the decal said and must have never gotten tall enough to see the top of the chest because I cannot recall it either. Perhaps I did grow tall enough but found the top of the contraption far less interesting than the rest of it, because I believe that the DaFeo family gave us this tool station and that I grew up with it in my second childhood home; I have memories of it in the garage of the house on Puritan Road, where I lived until I was thirteen.
I should mention at this point that the three houses I’m detailing last, the DaFeo’s, the Wilson’s and Emily G’s house, were not on my street exactly. They were situated on a cul-de-sac street (just beyond my house on the opposite side of the road) that had a majestic name that invoked mental images of fields and sunsets. I believe it was Goldenrod Drive or Circle or the like. We didn’t spend much time at or inside Emily’s house though she was a dear friend to me as a tot. Her house was yellow as well, and as flat-fronted as we were. Her dainty, ballerina-like bedroom had a front-facing window and a precious jewelry box on a beautiful dresser that I remember being excited to peer into. Opposing the constricted, picturesque, perfectionist nature of the G’s house was the Wilson’s, home to Morgan, MacKenzie, and Mrs. Wilson, who let us call her Andrea. I know Andrea was married but I don’t remember seeing her husband very often. I feel like he had a dark moustache, but what do I know? I know that their large house was a dark denim color with an array of burnt sienna decking out back. I remember the decking well because Luke, Emily, Morgan, MacKenzie and I used to buckle one another in to a stroller and push the stroller off the 2-5 inch deck drop-off after pushing the rider as fast as we possibly could across the stretch of smooth, painted planks. I don’t believe that we came up with this brilliant game with even a sliver of malicious intent or a shred of the thought that we could get hurt—for heaven’s sake, we even buckled the rider in! No, no. I remember clearly that we tried to explain to a very frazzled Andrea just how much FUN it was to be the rider without the vocabularical expanse to describe it; it felt like flying. The speed and the crisp whip of the air and the lack of control were invigorating. We all wanted as many turns as we could get.
There was a sturdy hammock tied up between a couple trees behind the Wilson’s house as well. Constantly searching for a rush, we three and four year-olds invented another game in which we would allow one rider to hold on for dear life as the others pushed the hammock back and forth until there was enough momentum built up to flip the rider, who would cling to the hammock like a burr to a web of shoelaces, to experience the thrill of seeing the world upside down. This was another motion-based game I recall disliking, like playing pirates on the waterbed. When I arced on the hammock, I immediately let go and allowed myself to drop to the ground, disliking the sensation of spinning. In the surprise of my impact with the ground, I had swallowed the gum I had been chewing and quickly learned from the Wilson sisters that “gum doesn’t go away for SEVEN YEARS inside you.” The thought made me so nervous that I must have gone home with a belly ache and told my Mom what happened because I remember that we had to sneak around to play the hammock game from that day on, one of us standing sentinel towards the Wilson’s second story kitchen windows, from which Andrea would check-in on us. I was a designated pusher after the incident with the gum, and as I still “suffer” from motion sickness, I’ve been the “designated”-a-lot-of-things throughout my life.
[To be continued!]