“Tell us about when you were a little girl,” my children want to know. And I’m afraid I’ve exhausted my supply of childhood stories appropriate for children. Is that irony? I’m never sure.
I’ve told them about lemon ices and pets and fireflies and fire hydrant sprinklers. I’ve told them about camping and Cooperstown and the smell of my father’s bread truck.
But how do I tell them that these few bright stories are memories I had to dig for? That most of my childhood was pretty dark. Not completely somebody-needs-to-go-to-jail dark, but some of it was close and it was certainly not happy. What do I tell them about divorce, extreme bullying, loneliness? What can I say about parents who “date”?
I told them about the time when five-year-old me threw my spinach off the balcony, but I didn’t tell them I was able to do that because I was alone in the apartment – my mother gone to school or work for the night and the babysitter downstairs in her own apartment. and me alone. at five. Sobbing at the sliding glass doors of that balcony, looking in the direction she’d gone – until I noticed two big boys on the street mocking me. Watching Welcome Back Kotter on a tiny t.v. on the floor outside my bedroom until I fell asleep waiting for Mommy to get home. I do sometimes cry for that child. I’m sorry for the self-pity, but it’s true.
I’ve told them that their great-grandfather was a mean man, but I certainly can’t explain how even thirty years after his death, the family still feels the effects of his sickness and cruelty, and that even though I was not a direct victim, I still suffered the trickle-down.
So, looking at the bright side is necessary for me. I seek it out. I focus on it. I hold on to it. I don’t deny the bad stuff, but I cannot dwell on it or it will suck me down.