I’m here, why?

My writing prompt sent me toward family gatherings. I’m not quite sure where I’m supposed to go with that. It was really just the three of us for the most part, more often than not one of us was missing, leaving only two.

My father was missing a good bit, due to his work schedule. When I was little, I wished my mother was missing some of the time. I think I was missing all of the time, because what showed up in my child’s body was a three-dimensional image of other folks’ expectations and conditions.

When I recount that, I feel as though I am disloyal to what I know was love from my grandmother, my aunt, and the best my parents could offer. What I am feeling, though, is that I wasn’t ever who I was, only who they all believed I should be. In many ways, that’s all I was concerned with, the “should be” part of my existence. I should be obedient, I should be good, I should be quiet.

Maybe that’s not fair to them, I don’t know. But the seemingly unending discussions about my weight, and my “baby fat”, and my “sassiness” cause me to wonder about their expectations. I don’t remember them insisting on being fair, and kind but remember vividly the lectures about not talking back, not playing with boys so much, not eating so much. I suppose my insecurity came from somewhere, and I’d put money on that messaging as the source.

I had my own notions, even as a little kid, about what was fun and what felt good and what felt right. All kids do, I suppose. I don’t remember being especially mean, even then, but I was more or less a leader, I took charge of my play group most of the time. Let’s go here. Let’s go over there. No, that’s stupid, let’s do THIS. I don’t quite know where that went, that uncompromising self-confidence that requires no second thought, no rationalization, no explanation. Thought –> speech –> action.

I remember one day, a bunch of us decided to go exploring in a nearby cemetery. It wasn’t my idea, but it was fine with me. We had quite a lot of energy about doing that, and we couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8, if that. So, we chugged down the street, past the high school, and came to our intended destination. It was an old graveyard, with crumbling masonry vaults and tomb stones. To my childish perception, molded by television shows and scary movies, it was near ancient, and there were unseen figures watching as we made our way through the place.

I remember thinking it was dark, but in fact our visit most definitely in daylight hours because we weren’t allowed to be out after dark. But, the mind of a child blotted out the light, and created its own landscape. It was a dark and desolate night there were probably bats, and a cold wind….

All I remember is walking down the rows of vaults, and graves, looking at the dates on the tombstones. Many of them were in very poor condition, but we could make out the dates on some…Died 1909. Died 1899. Died 1937. So on we went, just looking, marveling at how anything could be that old. Not quite associating the names and dates with real people, or with death.

Suddenly, we came upon a dilapidated vault, with much of its structure in crumbles. The decay had left it open, nearly inviting. We kids didn’t need an invitation, so we peered inside. I pushed forward just a bit to get a better view, and my eyes locked on a coffin that had seen better days. It was fascinating, in that chilling and scary way they talk about in the vampire movies, where you’re too scared to look the scene full on, and too scared to look away. I was transfixed, and rooted to the spot.

There, in the ruined vault, amidst the remnants of a coffin, were bones. I am pretty sure they were human bones, but I was eight, so what did I know? In my eight-year old mind at that moment, though, they were human bones. Very still, just laying there amidst dust and debris of a tomb that had failed.

I guess we all saw that at the same time, because the next thing I remember was the whole bunch of us running as fast as we could out of that cemetery, back down the street, intent on getting as far away from those bones as we could, as fast as we could. We got to somebody’s house, somebody’s yard, and came to a breathless stop. Nobody spoke. Intent on catching our breath, we each had our own separate thoughts about where we’d been and what we’d seen. After a while, it seemed to be way past time for going home, even though we didn’t know what time it was. And so we did.

So, another day of exploration complete, I did what one does in the afternoon or early evening, and soon it was time for dinner. We were at my grandmother’s house, and my father was in town for the weekend. We sat down to eat, and I don’t remember too much about that in particular, but it seemed like an ordinary affair.

After dinner, dishes washed, conversation around the table went on for a while. I amused myself with a book or a puzzle or something, and then it was time for bed. My parents were having an argument about who slept where…my mother decided that my father should get the bed, since he was tired from his drive there, and she would sleep on the sofa bed in the den. Somehow, they decided I should also sleep in the bed. Which meant that I would sleep with my father. Whatever.

By the time we all went to bed, my grandmother and great aunt in other rooms, my mother in the den, I was sleepy. But when the lights went out, and the room was dark, I was immediately and inexplicably petrified. All I could see was those bones in that coffin at the cemetery, and figure whoever that had been was coming to get me. For what, I don’t know, but they were coming. To do what, I don’t know, but they were coming. I got as close to my father’s back as I could get, holding on the shirt he was wearing, trying to fit my knees into the backs of his. He squirmed. He changed position, but still I clung to him. In a few minutes, he turned on the light, and got up from the bed. He said not a word.

I was left shivering and trembling in the bed alone, still looking for those disembodied bones to come striding through the door, and then my mother came in. She didn’t say anything, just turned off the light and got into bed. I was a little confused about what happened to my father, but I was too scared to talk. I repeated the same routine as I had with him, though, clinging to her, trembling, holding on, not saying a word but my terror spoke for itself.

Somehow, I slept that night, and when I woke up the next morning, I was really happy that I wasn’t dead, hauled off to hell by some angry bunch of reconstituted bones. The morning routine went on as usual, breakfast was made, coffee was drunk. I was still feeling very uneasy, but not quite so bad as the night before. I felt queasy, but not overwhelmingly so.

My grandmother came in, and had noticed my father sleeping in the den the night before, and wondered aloud why my parents had changed their carefully negotiated plan from the night before. My mother laughingly explained my night terrors, and that my father had gotten up because he just didn’t feel comfortable sleeping all cuddled up like that with a little girl, so he decided to give up the prize of the bed and revert to the sofa-bed in the den. My grandmother chuckled, poking me on the shoulder, and they both laughed, and that was that.

It’s a strange memory to have at this point. I’ve had it for a really long time, with the main emphasis being on the part where my father leaves me alone in the bed. I’m not sure quite what to make of that. On the one hand, I’m glad he was uncomfortable with sharing a bed with a little girl, but on the other hand, I was his daughter and there was such a huge distance between us.

Maybe the more important part of that memory, for me at least, is the abandonment. I understand he was motivated by a noble impulse, but this was seemingly prophetic of a later time, when he did really abandon me. He left the house we all shared, left his marriage, and left me. I can’t say that he should have remained in the marriage, because it was definitely not a good place to be, but…he saved himself, and left me. When he got out of bed that night, he didn’t take me with him to trade places with my mother, he took only himself, made things more comfortable for himself and not me. I suppose that’s what I do hold him accountable for – he left me there to deal with her, every time. Left me there.

So much for family gatherings. They weren’t all that complex, but it’s interesting that’s the one that came to mind first when I considered the writing prompt. Perhaps this is really the root of the absolutely irrational response I have when I feel that I have been abandoned, left in favor of something more pleasant or desirable. I literally come out of my body when that happens. Totally out of it. Maybe that’s where the dissociation started as well. Origin, source, beginning…I’d like to get on with the continuing, the living. I feel like I’m done figuring out where I came from.

Humble beginnings, but here I am.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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