No matter how much time passes I will always cherish the memories of my childhood. No one else speaks of it, which simply makes me hold them even tighter. I revisit them often, worried that the lack of words around the memories might someday make them fade entirely. Turning a time never spoken of to a time that never was.
I recall hours passed sitting near Father. The surface changed, sometimes a floor, sometimes grass or pavement, sometimes a chair or bench, or even a table. But he was always the same, hunched over a table, a coffee in his hand, his voice soft in discussion while the people surrounding him would argue the relative merits of various political structures, religious beliefs, historical movements, musical arrangements and philosophical ideals. In those gatherings anything was fair game and all the participants seemed to have enough of a rudimentary grasp of the concepts to aid the conversation along.
I thought of them as peaceful gods, mild-mannered gods who were the core of my world, their thoughts and words shaping all I knew. Hours upon hours I spent listening to them. Sometimes, when I was very little, they took turns holding me on their lap, each imparting me with advice well beyond my comprehension. They gave me new toys, home-made books of stapled pages full of words and drawings, songs, dreams, and funny faces. I knew Father was special, separate from the rest and special to me, but I came to know a core group of his friends as being my “grown-ups” too. They loved and cared for me as deeply as though I was their own.
They would take turns distracting me when the conversation took on higher levels of animation, when my gods moved from their soft conversations, exploding with passion and anger beyond my understanding.
I remember, in the same memories as these gods, the cold nights. Once the parks, bars, and coffee houses had closed. Huddled in my father’s arms, safe, as he snored loudly through the night. There was always a roof over our heads, often a couch under our bodies. At one point I think I recall being shown an empty room in a small empty apartment, and being told it was mine. My bag was unpacked, the precious toys and paper books were organized in careful piles along the wall. I couldn’t sleep there though, so alone, and found my way to the safety of Fathers side.
He was always writing, always a notebook and pen in reach. I saw a book once, a real book in a real store with his name on the cover. It feeds my imagination, and I envision the words shared over those tables being transferred into Father’s notebooks to be sent to the world in a book.
These men, my gods and caretakers, provided a roof for us, my fathers filled notebooks, and my drawings and scribbles. A home to our bodies, a home for our souls.
I recall the day it all ended. The day my gods, my world, came crashing down. A memory that won’t fade, no matter how little I try to think of it. A memory that stubbornly clings while other unspoken memories turn to smoke and vanish in the past. I saw, as night overtook day and reality faded far into dreams, the violent and sudden death of a god.
I was five, maybe six. Occasionally they had begun to bring me into the conversations, my childish thoughts being given the same sincere consideration as anyone else’s. I was no longer shuffled away when the intensity rose and could now watch the reactions, how varied they were. Father would visibly move, as though the thoughts fighting through him were more than could be contained by simple skin and bones. Sandy would lean back and observe the commotion, limiting his involvement to carefully chosen and carefully timed remarks, hitting hard in their simplicity and scarcity. Mitch would fluctuate, his face easily expressing the range of emotions he wandered through.
It was in one of those moments, and impassioned debate about the meaning of some arcane discovery, that it happened. Their movements, the rising of voices, seemed to ignite another man nearby, a man completely disassociated with my gods. I don’t know what happened, how it happened, but before my eyes things escalated from the standard debate to a point of confrontation. A full on fight.
One of the gods pulled me away, trying to get me out of the mix and away from it all. But he didn’t succeed, not before I saw the others pulling an unknown man away from father while others were falling at him, desperate cries for help filling my ears. They didn’t get me away before I saw the red blood soaking through his clothes.
It was these gods, my other-fathers, who held me, passing me from one to another as they had when I was a baby while we waited in the hospital. For the first time ever they were not discussing grand ideas, but simply being in silence. It was these men who held me close — one on each side, others behind me — ready to hold me if I fell as father was laid in the ground. And it was these men, these remaining gods, who sadly bid me farewell as I was handed away to people I was told were my family. A family, I had longed to argue, I had never before seen, never before heard of.
A family that didn’t see the wonder of a simple set of sticks, or understand my gods. A family that showed me pictures of a girl with red hair like mine, and sad green eyes. They told me that girl was my Mother.
I learned to listen to them, learned their ways, learned to sleep in the big bed in the room they called mine. Alone. I stored away the paper books that had been made for me, the letters and cards that came from my gods – who I learned to call men – placed with care in a trunk. Slowly, the letters stopped coming. Slowly the letters stopped coming, and I moved my memories to that quiet time before sleep. A handful of names, faded memories of faces and the seemingly dreamlike state of childhood. That was my life, before. Now I live a life after.