I have many memories of very early childhood. My earliest identifiable memories are from age two. On my second birthday I got a fishing pole and a doll cradle with Holly Hobby cushions in it. I had a walking doll and I colored on her face. I would hide and play under the kitchen table and I was little enough that I could stand up under it…that same table is now my sewing table.
I still remember recurring dreams that I had in that apartment. One of them was of a man with a big dog, chasing me, and each time in my dream I would hide under that table. He wore a striped shirt, like a French sailor. The dog was a collie.
My mother was in college and my father worked, so various relatives cared for me during the day. Aunts and uncles mostly, and sometimes grandparents. I still love the smell of leather sporting goods, thanks to days spent in my playpen at my uncle’s sports shop, with him and the guys. And I remember a box of Sugar Twin at eye level on an aunt’s dinette table. I knew what sugar was and I knew what a twin was, but I couldn’t figure out what a Sugar Twin was (in BIG BOLD BLUE LETTERS).
I spent my toddlerhood surrounded and loved by family. I write about my family a lot, and often the terms are not glowing…I don’t intend to create a gloomy or overly critical picture, it’s just that often the things worth blogging about are the elbows: the points of contact and conflict, the points that, when crushed, cause the most pain. As a baby I had none of these conflicts, although the roots of some of them were already forming among the gorgeous twining greeneries of family.
One of the advantages of having a family like mine, is that I did not stand out as particularly unusual in my neurochemical nature as I might have in another family. My family, in many ways, on both sides, embraces its eccentricity. It’s a “may as well” situation, really…it’s not like we have a choice. In a family, where genetics trace paths through generations, the possible fates presented by those genetics lay the groundwork for free will…but the existence of certain genes makes certain outcomes more likely.
So as a dear family member of mine always says “there’s a lot of love there”. Among the poetry and the arguments and the late night manifestations of the neuroses we struggle to hide all day, the art, the language, the curiosity, the gardens, the warm homes, the drinking, the abuses, the intelligences, the clam shells that pave our driveways, the memories we walk upon when remembering the things we’d rather forget…among them all, there’s a lot of love, and that’s what I remember from my early childhood.
When I was four years old, we moved. We left our large net of family behind to move, so that my father could work. I had never flown on an airplane before, so when my parents told me that we were leaving on an airplane and going to Uncle Dave’s house, I thought we would land in his yard, and was very confused by the arrival at the airport. Though I was confused, I do not remember being upset, or afraid. My subconscious was having a different experience however…and this process of leaving family behind sparked one of the most tenacious recurring dreams of my childhood.
In the drowning dream, I stood on the shore of a lake, wearing my favorite red dress, the one that my grandmother bought for me to fly on the plane, red, with little flowers, and smocked on the front. In photos of me in this dress, I always look happy. My grandmother most assuredly loved me.
The transition in this dream, from shore to water is not quite clear in my mind, but two things are…I begin, standing on the shore with my family, and I end up underwater, slowly, peacefully drifting downward. Unafraid, just as I was in my waking…but falling further and further from family, cartoon seaweed all around me. Sometimes an ambulance would pull up to the shore, and its lights highlighted the borders of my family’s shadows as they looked down at me, concerned, but unable to rescue me.
I truly believe that while life went on, and I saw family each summer, and I grew and changed and became who I am now…I never really recovered from that experience. The little girl in the red dress has been struggling in many ways, ever since, to surface.
Returning to this place, to live, is bittersweet. I love being surrounded again by family…but I am confronted all at once by the things that the rest of them had the luxury of accepting slowly. And because I did not grow up in the middle of it all, there are some dysfunctions I will never, ever accept.
I will always be the little girl in the red dress. In a way, that distance protected me, even as I felt lost…that distance allows me to see what is before me more broadly. Because I am often alone in that water, free of encumbrances, I have learned to swim in my own way…and sometimes, though they resist, I ask them to join me there…