SERIES: Part 4
A bare bulb illuminates the dark corner of my mother’s basement where remnants from my childhood are kept. I dig through the stacked boxes of old toys I can’t bear to get rid of, baby clothes my mother saved, and tacky art projects from years of public school. Heat from the furnace warms the smell of cement and dryer lint, almost masking the faint scent of my step-father’s cigarettes. I pull what I need from the stacks and turn off the bulb overhead, leaving only the soft grey light that glows through a tiny ground level window. Palms grimy with dust, I heft two boxes of photos up the stairs, through the kitchen, and into the living room.
My mother cozies on the love seat next to me as one by one I open each tattered envelope, exposing the memories to daylight. She oohs and aahs over the still glossy baby pictures of my much younger sister, coos over the thicker, more faded ones of me.
Looking at old photos makes me emotional; a strange mix of sweet and sad, like longing to hug and kiss someone but only being able to see them through a distant window. I resist being drawn into the memories. I’m looking for the newspaper clipping my mother gave me long ago. Over a year of internet searches, staring at the screen until my eyes burn, have not revealed my father to me. If the name of the newspaper is on there, maybe I can find a record that will give more information.
I excavate to the bottom of both boxes and the piles of photos grow around me like a nest. No clipping. I look underneath the folds of cardboard but there are only torn bits of paper and a dried out, flattened spider. I’ve kept that clipping since I was a child. So many times I’ve looked at the small, grainy image of my father and his band mates- he was the tallest of the three. I have so little of him. I feel a shaky, hollowness in my chest as I look at the empty boxes. I’ve lost the one thing that could help me find him. Feeling desperate, I turn on my mother.
“Did he tell you anything about his family?” I ask, hoping for some forgotten detail that will advance my search.
She pauses just a moment to consider.
“No…” she answers, but I keep on.
“What about his friends?” I ask again.
They are simple questions but the energy of my need to have them answered is heavy and she can feel it. Still holding photos, her hands drop to her lap. Her body shifts slightly, weight moving from one hip to the other. She doesn’t like talking about this part of her past.
“No… I’m sorry…” she says.
“Do you know where he lived?” I keep prying. “Anything…?”
She looks nervous- hoping for release from my questions that are pointed and searing.
“I’m sorry sweetheart… It wasn’t love, it was the 70’s,” she says, as if it explains everything. “I’m so sorry,” she says again, each apology more intent.
She is apologizing for her lack of answers but also for the underlying accusation: How could you think I wouldn’t need a father?!
“It’s fine.” I say, but my voice is tight and hard.
I want her to stop looking at me- to stop apologizing. I’m too angry to deal with her need for forgiveness. I feel trapped and suffocated in the over-stuffed love seat. We are close enough to touch but I make sure we don’t. Her need to release the tension, to connect with me, feels like an invasion. I am stone-faced, rage just below the surface. It radiates off my skin like a burning aura and repels her.
“I’m so sorry,” she says again, but this time her voice is quiet and strained, almost saying it to herself, her face closing up as if she wants to shrink and disappear.
I have to get out of here.
“It’s fine.” I snap, and turn away to pile the photos back into their boxes.
It’s my only escape route.