I don’t have a lot of memories of the time before I was five. I remember lying on the floor in, I think, the living room, having just found what appeared to be some sort of gelatinous excreta, presumably from the cat. This was the first time I had ever encountered such a thing, and I found it to be bewildering, like finding a jellyfish on the beach.
I remember falling down the stairs to the basement once. That is to say, I fell down the stairs, and what I actually remember were the stairs quickly rotating around me as I got closer to the bottom. Amazingly, perhaps via some extra-sensory motherly intuition, my mom caught me before I hit the bottom. I’ve always found this memory to be perplexing as well, mainly due to the peculiarity of how I remember it.
I have another memory, of my mom carrying me quickly out of the house, my father close behind, screaming at us. I didn’t know what was going on, only that it was bad. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of dread and anxiety, which, to some degree, still lingers on most days.
My parents got divorced when I was five. I don’t remember the divorce. I don’t remember moving out of my father’s house, nor moving in to my mother’s condominium. I don’t remember the amount of time we stayed at a friend of my mom’s because she was too afraid to stay with my father anymore. It’s not blurry, it’s entirely absent.
I certainly don’t remember any kind of custody hearing. Truth be told, they rarely ever ask kids about that sort of thing. Sure, children are easily coerced or confused, but they still have opinions, and those opinions still count for something. My mother won custody. My father got visitation rights. I had to spend every other weekend and Monday evening with him.
I do remember, quite vividly, the first time I went to visit. My mom dropped me off in the driveway, I think she was still too scared to get out of the car. My father was not outside waiting for me. There was no one there to greet the scared and confused child.
I had a small plastic bag of clothes for the weekend. No toys, no books, just some shirts and underwear. I didn’t have a travel case, just one of the bags from the supermarket that my mom collected under the sink. She waited until I got inside before finally driving away.
I remember how confusing it was. I didn’t go in the front door, I went in the side door. It entered into a peculiar room that connected the entrance to the basement with the garage. It was more like a small, awkward greenhouse than a room. Everything was half-finished. There were bricks inlaid in the ground, but only covering a quarter of the floor. There were puddles and planks of woods used to walk over the puddles. It was eerie, and it was quiet.
I went in this way because for some reason that seemed like the way I was supposed to go. It seemed familiar to me, but only vaguely. I walked down the four or five cement steps to the basement door and went inside. My father was not there. It was dark, musty, and deathly quiet. I found the light switch and the basement slowly filled up with a flickering fluorescent glow.
I don’t remember where exactly my father was. He was probably watching football on TV. What I do remember was that, as a young child, he was a stranger to me. I didn’t know who he was or why I had to spend any time with him. He was only my father because my mother had told me so before bringing me there. I did not know this man. I did not recognize him.
I imagine the rest of that first weekend was largely uneventful, as I don’t recall any other details. Just the strangeness of the house, and the stranger that lived there. I wish I could say that as the years passed I got to know him, but I didn’t. He wasn’t an open person, he didn’t share himself with others. He didn’t tell stories about his family or his life. He didn’t laugh, or play, or even seem to enjoy anything. He was just the angry and bitter man who called himself my father.
I regret every moment I spent with him.