I have a photo album spread out on the floor of my mind, pictures scattered across a carpet painted with home from decades ago, and I can’t move without bumping against more images from childhood.
There I am walking out the back door to feed the ducks. I loved those birds. I still do, albeit somewhere deep in the past when we still shared life with them, a memory with vitality dimmed by age. They disappeared while we weren’t looking, sent to a place we never saw and never knew, relegated to the history of lives once cherished and all too soon tossed away by others. We were promised they would have good lives in that unnamed place. I still don’t know if I believe it. I miss them.
There I am sitting on the bed with the windows open, soft breezes gently caressing me as they pass through a room marked only in silence and tears. My face looks back from the mirror across from me, so I turn and look away. That face belonged to someone else, yet it took me many years to realize that.
There I am coming home from Colorado to find our beloved dog vanquished to our mind’s eye by a stepmother who saw him as competition and not as companion. I doubt any of us fully understood what that meant, that moment of realization when sacred became sacrifice in our absence.
There I am being stopped by store security convinced I stole something. I was too young to spell shoplifting, and they sent two adults to frisk me. My parents watched as two overbearing men searched me and came up with nothing, my pockets full of lint and hope. Innocent, I still walked away feeling I’d done something wrong.
There I am at four in the morning staring at the Christmas tree and all the gifts tucked beneath it, the only person in the house not sleeping, and I would sit there until it was safe to wake the others. I’d already checked the stockings and felt my way through all the presents in the dark. Only a sense of timing kept me from doing more than sitting, waiting. That was my tradition from as early as I could remember until the Christmas before I moved out.
There I am lying on the living room floor in a world constructed of a blanket and a pillow, and beside me, tucked beneath the covers with me, our precious Doberman snuggles against me and snores. I hardly had the strength to leave her there so I could take a picture.
There I am carrying coleslaw to the picnic table as family gathers for a barbecue. Broad tree limbs stretch out over us and shield us with verdant leaves that capture the sun and send shade in its place. Chicken turned on the grill, laughter filled the air, horseshoes thrown. I can still smell the fire as it sizzled and snapped.
There I am scared as hell while we tried to explain how the axle on my father’s truck could have been twisted in half while he was at work. I cried during and after the whipping my brother received. Too young to know better, it seemed like innocent fun before the damage was done.
There I am catching lightning bugs in the back yard, the sun below the horizon without taking its light with it, trees stretching into the sky like giants made of shadow, a simple glass jar carried with the utmost care as it glowed and flickered with each tiny luminescent monster captured. They would all be set free in a blaze of glory that filled the whole of our world with dazzling, flying lights.
There I am picking fresh peaches from the tree in the front yard. Their fuzz tickled my skin, so I’d hold them against my cheeks just to get that thrill. Mom could whip up marvelous creations with the bushels of fruit that came off that tree. And how that tree could grow. Sometimes I felt certain it would take over the whole of the lot.
There I am walking to the bus stop, first at the end of the block, then down the street. When buses no longer met our needs, I rode my bike to school. Or walked. Or rode with friends. I watched cartoons at a friend’s house along the way, stopped and had donuts at a local shop, roamed around until I was late, and made every trip an adventure.
There I am going to the local library, a small child filled with the wonder of so many books just waiting for me to discover their secrets. Later as I grew older, I stayed enamored of the written word and found that library a shrinking collection of available goodies. But I never stopped going until I felt I’d read every piece of literature it had to offer. Then I moved on to larger libraries.
There I am watching my stepsister’s car float down the road as torrential rains flooded our neighborhood. We stood on the front porch and half-laughed and half-cried as the little sedan picked up and moved while wave after wave of water pushed everything along the way.
There I am kissing the first girl I ever kissed. And the first guy. Confusion marked the very essence of me. I nearly missed the lightning that sparked in both cases simply because I was so nervous.
There I am running around the neighborhood like a wild child with three friends. The world slept around us under a blanket of the deepest night, the hour so late that we should have been in bed asleep. We caused trouble instead, invoking all manner of mayhem that young kids could cause on a summer night when nothing but opportunity rested before us.
There I am pushing my nephew around in a cardboard box on a layer of ice and snow that crippled all of Dallas. Talk about snow day. Bundled in the warmth of coats and glee, he drove while I motored, and together we slipped and slid in bitter cold on the whitest ground imaginable. Nature’s glass makes a marvelous diversion for the young of heart.
There I am lying in bed with tears streaming from my eyes as I cry myself to sleep for the umpteenth time, a habit that defined my teen years. I was lost, miserable, searching for something I wouldn’t recognize for many years, seeking answers to questions I couldn’t ask.
There I am riding to school with two friends, both of them giggling and gossiping from the front seat as I sat in back and laughed until I hurt. One drove the car that was bigger than any battleship I’d ever seen while the other navigated. And we rode in that same car to the local taco diner when, as seniors in high school, we could leave for lunch.
There I am sitting at the dining room table trying to convince my father that Tic Tacs he found in my dresser were not the drugs he thought they were. A thorough search of my room while I was at school spelled the end of my childhood. All that felt safe before then suddenly felt like a trap, and I couldn’t help but feel my home had become a cage.
There I am on the phone telling only a few what I intended but not where I headed.
There I am walking out the front door for the last time, my things gathered in a few suitcases and bags, the night stretched out before me with endless promise and angst.
I found the photo I was looking for. It was there all along, a single image tucked beneath a flood of images. It’s of a friend, a brother, a parent, a school, a pet, a book, a road, a sunset. It’s a picture of childhood that rests in the past now decades removed from this place. It’s faded, that image, yet clear and sharp when I brush away the cobwebs of time.
I miss it. I miss the places and faces. I miss the innocence. I miss it, the time in that photo, the people who lived back then.