My brother was freaked out by the dead animals and by his former self, preserved behind our closed bedroom doors. He snatched his teddy bear and rushed downstairs, blindly grabbing a handful of photographs that my mother kept in a box in the living room.
He drove a safe distance away and then stopped and looked at the pictures. They were mostly of me: baby snaps and Christmas shots from when I was around 3 years old. There were a few of us together, when he was a baby and at Halloween when we were dressed as clowns, and none of our mom. He was too scared to return unless he knew that Mom had moved away.
The next time he went back, Andrew was in college. He drove across the ” data-disable-toolbar=”true” data-disable-return=”true”>Bay Bridge to look one last time at the place where we grew up. He parked outside and stared for a while. The house looked different; it had a paint job, and the shrubs were ” data-disable-toolbar=”true” data-disable-return=”true”>trimmed. Eventually, a woman opened the door.
“Can I help you?” she asked. Andrew told her he lived there as a child and the woman’s face went white. She asked him for his name. Andrew told her and said that he was Candy Beam’s son. The woman took a long breath. She had bought the house from Candy, she explained. “But she said both of her children were dead.”
My mother and father met in a high school chemistry class in ” data-disable-toolbar=”true” data-disable-return=”true”>Wichita, Kansas, or this was the story I heard. It was the year the Beatles released “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” My mom was smart and pretty and had a great figure from teaching swimming all summer long to neighborhood kids. I imagine she was a catch.
My parents both attended the University of Kansas; my mom was in a ” data-disable-toolbar=”true” data-disable-return=”true”>sorority. They dated all through college and then got married and had me. Fairly standard stuff, except it was the war, and everybody was busy trying to avoid going to Vietnam. My father, luckily, was stationed in Mesa, ” data-disable-toolbar=”true” data-disable-return=”true”>Arizona.
Many years later, my mother told me stories about these early days. She said I was born on a reservation, in an Army tent. That was a fantasy. She also told me, in one of her stranger moments, that she delivered me after riding on a ” data-disable-toolbar=”true” data-disable-return=”true”>camel, maybe in Arizona. The truth was this: I was born in a veteran’s hospital, a breach baby, with my father waiting right outside the door.
When the war ended, we moved to ” data-disable-toolbar=”true” data-disable-return=”true”>Minnesota, where my father got a job as a buyer for a department store and my mother stayed home to take care of me. These were good years, as I remember them; I can go back to the way I saw my world, to my kindergartner’s mind and words.
We lived in a white house with a red roof. In that white house, I watched my mom get fat; she was helping me read, and there was less and less room on her lap. Pushed to the edge of her knees, I was working on chapter books when my mom told me to sit next to her instead. There wasn’t room for me anymore.
She said there was a brother growing in there, like a doll but better, because I would be able to teach him things. My mom cooked dinners with macaroni and meat then. She didn’t have a job, so she vacuumed. When it was raining we went to the Piggly Wiggly for shopping, and she wasn’t tired very often so we also played Old Maid. I liked making Valentines, but that was only once a year, so I made coloring books for the starving children in China when I wouldn’t finish my dinner. My mom made me a Valentine with lace on it the year she got pregnant, but she wrote in cursive, so “I love you” looked like “I love yow,” and I thought a lot about how words could be more than one thing, depending on how you wrote them.
I went to the neighbors’ house on the night my dad drove my mom to the hospital. The lady was named Robin, and the man looked like Jesus, and we watched Benji movies together under a quilt that smelled like dogs. My mom didn’t come home for three days because she was bleeding, but my dad said that was OK because I had a brother who was also at the hospital. Since I didn’t have a mom anymore, my dad gave me a game called Operation: With tiny tweezers, you removed the organs from a fat man. The man looked very alarmed, and his nose buzzed if you made a mistake, but he didn’t bleed.
My mom would later talk about the incredible sacrifice of labor. A little while after my brother was born, she told me she had lost so much blood birthing us that the doctors thought she would die. We almost killed her, she said, but she loved us too much to let go. (My father, who was present at both births, claims today that these stories were patently untrue.)
One day a year or so after his difficult birth, when my brother was a toddler, my dad told me we were moving to ” data-disable-toolbar=”true” data-disable-return=”true”>California. My mom didn’t cry, not at first.
My brother was walking by then, except he walked with his feet pointing in, not out, so he wore a brace at night, which looked like baby shoes nailed to a metal bar. California was too far to walk to; we would drive in the silver car, and later, Archie the cat would fly in a plane.
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