[Part 2 in a series. Part 1 is here.]
I have erased my father from my memory. Or memories. My mother tells me that when I was a child, quite young, he was the most important thing in my life, and I in his. We were devoted to one another. I have no memory of any of this. It says horrible pop-psychology things about me, I’m sure, but all I remember is being left. There are big black holes in the past where my father used to be, like he’s been cut out of all my mental photographs.
But then, my memory plays tricks on me. I know this. I remember things that can’t possibly have happened. Things that my mother denies.
There are the crawling lessons, for instance. I remember quite definitely that my sister had a very hard time learning to crawl. Many of the particulars escape me, though, and when I last asked my mother about this incident, she denied it entirely, denied that D. had ever faltered in her hands-and-knees coordination. But like the few other flashes of my childhood that I retain, I take it as real, despite the fact that it doesn’t fit in with everything else I know.
D. couldn’t, or wouldn’t crawl. Take that as a beginning. Mom was worried about this, afraid that if D. walked before she crawled, it would produce some insurmountable developmental disorder. What this specifically boded for a child, I’m still not sure. I was six or seven at the time, and I was convinced that walking before she crawled would leave her permanently confused, without any foundational support.
This was the year that we went to New Jersey for Christmas. My parents were in the beginning stages of what was ultimately a very bitter divorce, and Mom had brought my sister and me to stay with my aunt for the holidays. She was determined to get my sister to crawl before the trip was over.
Which is where the memory begins to fall apart, as all of my memories eventually seem to. My sister was born on October 2, 1973. If this was Christmas 1974, my sister had greater problems than that potential walking-before-crawling confusion. If this was Christmas 1973… well, why would my mother be worried about a three-month-old child who wasn’t crawling yet?
Somehow two memories have gotten intertwined in my head. Maybe this was the following summer, during our usual visit. Maybe that Christmas passed uneventfully, except for the absence of my father. I can’t speculate too far on the actual events surrounding the crawling lessons. There’s no one to compare notes with since no one else remembers it at all. I have no choice but to treat the memory as whole and true, if contradictory.
I sat watching as my aunt and my mother crawled around on the floor, my pudgy little sister looking on bewilderedly. They tried everything. At one point, my mother had my sister by the wrists and my aunt had her by the ankles, and they’d alternate picking them up and putting them down, moving her around the room, hoping she’d get the idea. D. went along with it, but once they’d let go and sit back, waiting to see if she’d do it on her own… nothing. She’d sit there on her hands and knees, rocking back and forth slightly as if revving her engines, but she wouldn’t go anywhere.
Finally, either my aunt or my mother (I have no memory-sense as to which, and if I did, I’m not sure I could trust it) bought a mouse. A small grey wind-up mouse, complete with long felt tail. I don’t remember how it was introduced, whether they let her see it or touch it or anything at first. But then my aunt or my mother, whichever it was, wound up the mouse and let it go, right in front of my sister. She took off like a shot, hands and knees flying, chasing after the mouse.
That’s the moment I remember, the mouse skittering along the floor and my sister trying to catch it. I also remember thinking that she just hadn’t had anywhere important to go before that.
The rest is too slap-stick, too colored by my later knowledge of my mother, loving and wildly attentive, but always much too concerned about precisely the wrong thing. It’s too filled-in, as though my memory is creating a patch-job, hoping that I won’t notice the mismatched fabric and the holes underneath.