Sometimes I think of things that have happened in my life. Just mine because that is what I know. I only know my perspective on things that happened mostly though I do wonder about the people and places on the other side. How did they feel? How do they remember that moment? What were they thinking? I feel like when anyone tells a story they might both tell it from their own experience and perspective but also any story that involves an altered state should not be taken for face value. I suppose an altered stated might include childhood...
Case in point. When I was child, ten I think, I was made to go on a vacation with my parents. My sister and brother somehow maneuvered out of this vacation. It was the last attempt at a family vacation. A failed attempt in my mind. A heinous moment in my life history that I actually relive in my dreams and my mind’s eye from my ten year old perspective often to this day. Why my parents allowed my siblings to get out of this trip I will never know and why they chose to bring me still brings wonder to me ? What on earth could they have been thinking? Was it that we had no family or close friends that I could stay with? Was it that they thought I would make it less tense? Did they feel I would be happier with them? I will never ask them. It just not something I desire to do because 28 years will have changed the why and the where and it will just hurt all of us if I opened that can of worms.
We had a silver Chevy. To this day, I hate that car with a fiery passion. Whose idea was it anyway to build a four door car, with back windows that did not roll down? Like a cop car?? Dear lord help me. So the only windows that rolled down were the front two and this was WAY before cars came standard with air conditioning mind you and we lived in the heat of the valley of San Jose. The car was silver with a burgundy interior. We took several road trips in this car because it was the largest vehicle we owned. The travel car, I guess. Most of the trips in that car were hellish but really the car is just a prop in this story.
I am certain that at this point in their long relationship, my parents were no longer in love. I believe at this point they did not much care for one another after 20 years of wedded something or another, definitely not bliss. I think they were trying, trying to rekindle some earlier time in their lives and be in love for… us I guess (shrugs shoulders) or so I have been told. My family was in disarray. I do not know where my siblings even stayed for this trip. I just know that to this day I still hold a smidge to this anger that they left me with my parents to defend myself. Of course, my sister was 18 and brother was 16 so why on earth would they come. Still... So I become a part of this scene, this trip, this last attempt to pull it together is what I figure it now.
Their attempt took place on a trip to Palm Springs, with me along for the “ride”. Of course, I cannot remember exactly the sequence of events but I do know now because I can mapquest this that the trip takes over 7 hours by car. 447 miles, through the hills and valleys of California. I do know that it was tense. That I had toys in the back seat but some point I was mad that I was stuck back there in that windowless red hell. It so vague, how we actually got there.
Here’s the thing about memory. I so hate this memory, so much so that even writing it down right now makes me want to change what really happened and worse yet I guess I was too young to understand the emotion behind what really happened, the dynamic was lost on me. I do not really remember telling anyone about this trip after it all went down because it made me feel so bad. And I cannot ask my parents about what happened because they both hate this memory as much as I do. My Mom brought it up to me one time and I told her I never wanted to discuss it.
My memory of Palm Springs in the 80s was funky, eclectic. Sort of rich but not, maybe still filled with some hippies but also Hollywood wealth. The hotel we stayed at was vintage Palm Springs. The big selling point from my parents was that it had SEVEN POOLS! Whoa. For a girl who loved to swim that was heaven. I hide out in those pools a lot during the time we spent there. Again, time? I have no idea. Seven days? Four? Five? I do not remember. To me the trip is really comprised of odd timing and strange memories.
I remember walking through town and seeing a lot of stuff but not really being aware of what I was seeing. I know I wanted something, like ice cream and/or a toy. Something important to me at that age. I am sure had the trip been amazing I might remember what it was that I wanted. I just know that being in town, possibly me wanting something, set off a series of events that lead us to the point where rage overwhelmed the whole trip. Hurt feelings, alcohol, and distance all were a part of this. A fight began along the way between my parents. I remember my mother storming off with me? See again my story, my memory. I do not know any more… not even sure that any matters… It was an unhappy moment.
We all must have met up at some point and my Dad was driving and we were in the car headed back to the resort. This is 1984 so seat belts were not required. I was in the backseat and to this day like my whole childhood I felt small, disposable, unwanted and undesired. Like I was a pawn or a doll, that was being used by two people who did not much want or like me. To this day, I feel that when people pay me a compliment about how much they like me I run away. I think they are lying and I hold back because I think that they must be using me, though I do not know why. Most are not.
My mother and father were screaming, fighting. I do not remember what that fight was about nor do I care anymore, I do not think. I guess the confusion over this memory is bothersome in degrees. It is what I do to a lot of memories. I cross hair them. I made them shimmer like the sun on the desert. I can compartmentalize what happened, stuff it away and move on but I know little bits of me are left back there. To look at those memories with total clarity would risk more pain than I really want to feel these days. I have had my fair share and honestly I have no interest to wallow in that any longer.
The point of the story, the real clear memory, was my mother reached over to the steering wheel of that gray Chevy all the while screaming about how if he was going to walk away and leave that she was going to take us all down with her and we flew off the side of the road and into the desert where we jerked to a stop. She got out and walked away. I was screaming and crying and truly for me I was frozen inside. In that moment, I can remember feeling utter terror. Family terror. Hatred and anger would follow and a long succession of bizarre mistakes and stupid ideas about myself formulated in those brief moments between the fight, the wheel being grabbed, the jerky stop and the moments after when she ran away from the car. I do not even remember anyone even consoling me in through this ordeal. I just felt frozen there.
And so it went. They made up. Kissed and hugs in the pool the next day. I watched them with half my face submerged in the cool chlorine water in the heat of the shimmering desert with a question mark in my mind about why and how. No one ever really said anything about this incident. I never told my siblings what happened and if I did it was in this childish way, this way they would not understand the impact of that one moment on my whole life. I have told very few people that story in my life. Remarkably, I find myself wondering sometimes if it happened. The hotel and the pools and the hikes in Joshua Tree National Park, the whole trip. That evening moment in the desert with sun mostly set when my mother said she would kill us all rather live this life. The kiss and the pretending and the resolution that things would change but never ever did.
I did do the math. My mother announces to me every year how she quit drinking, immersed herself into AA and this year she "celebrated" 28 years of sobriety. My father left to live in China "for work" 28 years ago and stayed there for three years. Coincidentially, he came back a full blown alcoholic. Twenty-eight years later? I still sometimes feel like that ten year old in the back seat screaming and crying at these two people who were supposed to protect and love me, one of whom thought it might be worth killing all of us... worthless, I felt worthless back there. My story, my memory, my feelings.
This is my memory, not theirs but I do wonder what their version of this story might look and sound like. The why and the how, their feelings... or do they even remember that moment that has managed unwittingly to shape a huge part of who I ended up being.
At the end of the day, we all have stories, those stories might only involve a few moments, a simple family trip, but it is amazing how those few moments forever changed me. I believe that telling our stories, good, bad or otherwise, help us to let go, grow, change, become worthy, happier, free.
We need only stop and listen.