Memory+

My grandparents’ house has always been, and still is, my greatest place of comfort. Now it is a mere memory, one that I will never get to experience in reality again, and there are days when I feel crippled with grief because of that fact. Today was one of those days. I was standing in the shower, letting the hot water stream over my limbs – I had just gotten back from the gym and was feeling my muscles loosen up pleasantly – when I felt, for a moment, as if I were standing in the shower-stall at my grandparents’ place. They had two bathrooms, but the showers in each were identical. The water stream wasn’t very hard, but there was always hot water, no matter what. Incredibly, the same is true of my dorm.

As I stood there, I let my mind flow back through time and imagined what it would be like if I were transported back into one of my memories. I saw myself, younger, stepping out of the shower and wrapping myself up in one of the fluffy towels that had monograms stitched into them. I would then get dressed while the heater blasted loudly onto me and helped me dry quickly. I’d get a shiver when I came out of the bathroom, because the house was always air-conditioned. I would still have a hair towel resting over my shoulders so that my long hair wouldn’t get my shirt wet. I’d walk through the rooms (in this fantasy, everyone was out doing something) and find wherever I’d left my book. I’d make myself two slices of toast and spread peanut-butter thickly on them, and eat them fast while the peanut-butter was still melting into the bread. I’d then maybe take a piece of Entenmann’s chocolate fudge cake and eat it slowly. All this, you understand, while reading one of the books I’d recently purchased at Barnes & Noble.

I’d take the book into my bedroom and read, with the birds making noise outside. I might let myself fall asleep, wake up and read, fall asleep again. I would wake up to find my mother and my aunt sitting outside, by the pool, smoking and watching the sunset as they talked of everything. I’d settle next to them, maybe with a cup of hot-chocolate in the old sippy-cup that I always drank out of there, and let their words wash over me. Once in a while, I might say something clever and make them laugh.

We might take a walk down the street to see the twinkling lights of the city. Or we might be going out to dinner with my great-uncle and his family. Or perhaps we would simply stay in, play word-games or watch a film. Maybe they would do something else while I would go watch episodes of Roseanne on Nick@Nite.

I opened my eyes. I was at college, in the shower, with a limp yellow curtain instead of a glass-door beside me. I am twenty-one and have gone through five cycles of mourning – perhaps six, since I considered the sale of the house that my imagination took me to as a death in its own right. I am confused, obsessive, anxious and often depressed. These are facts that I cannot alter.

But – and this is an important “but” – I have the comfort of knowing that I will always hold memories sacredly, and will never wish to ignore the past. After all, the past can help the present feel a little bit better. As I smoothed my wet hair back and shut the water off in the shower, I felt a longing open up a hole within me, but it also exuded warmth that has kept my heart thumping all day long.

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Robin

I’m not sure that I’m ever going to do anything with this, but I’ve had this character floating around my mind for over a year now, so I finally decided to write a little introduction to her life.

At the age of twenty-four, the thing Robin loved most in the world was her house.

It was tiny, painted blue with white framework on the doors and windows. There were flowers in the three windows that faced the street, and a garden leading from the front door right down to the small white gate. There was even a lone tree in the yard, one that had grown enough to give a little shade during the long, hot summer days.

The house was on a small residential street in Studio City in Los Angeles, which was another thing that Robin loved about it. She loved being so near a happening area and yet snug in her own little space, the picture of suburbia. She had a Mr. Horns to her left in a small yellow house, with a rather large yellow Labrador named Puck, while the house to her right was empty, a big “FOR RENT” sign the only inhabitant of the fading lawn.

Robin had acquired this house in a strange set of circumstances. It had, belonged to her great-aunt Lucinda, an eccentric woman who had lived in a nursing home for the last twenty years of her life. The family was under the impression that she’d sold it years ago, but, as she wrote in her will, she’d left it empty, freshly painted and clean, ready for her great-niece, who had only just been born, to grow up and receive it. When Robin turned twenty, Lucinda passed away and the house was discovered in the will.

Robin couldn’t believe her luck. As a university student, she longed to leave the dorms behind her and live in a space all her own. She had no desire to return to the poisonous environment that was her parents’ house. She’d suffered enough hardship over the years, and having finally escaped by earning a full scholarship, she had no intention of ever going back.

Halfway through her Junior year, she moved out of the school dorms and into her new home. It had needed much airing out after twenty years of standing empty, and furniture, too. She’d scoured both the flea markets and the Internet for cheap, secondhand stuff, and she  sanded, repainted and lacquered some of the wooden pieces she’d found. In fact, she’d spent her entire winter break on making her new home as perfect as could be. This was another reason why she loved it so.

Another reason was that she was hardly ever in it. The commute to school on two buses, the time she spent in classes and in the library studying, as well as her job at one of the administrative offices kept her so busy that she would normally arrive back at her house at ten and leave the next morning at around seven. Out of those nine hours, some six were spent sleeping, and one was spent in a morning haze of coffee, toast, shower and make-up.

The two hours she had to herself every night before she fell exhausted into bed were her treasures. She didn’t allow herself to study, review material or read anything that had something to do with her major – which was history – or her minor – which was philosophy. She spent the time reading comics online, watching films or taking a long, hot bath.

It was a perfect life, really, and she often felt ridiculously lucky.

But everything changed when her brother got out of prison a week before graduation.

I Don’t Do “Everything”

I’ve just finished watching an episode of House entitled “Private Lives.” In it, there’s a character who blogs. There are some very nice points raised in the episode about the community that can be found on the Internet as well as the friendship and connection between individuals through it. Of course, this being House, there are also some bad points raised – the character writes about everything she goes through in her daily life, meaning she has no secrets and nor does her husband, who she writes about regularly.

So this is the issue I’m raising. This “everything” issue. I’ve written many blogs before: in Tapuz [an Israeli site], in Live Journal, in Open Diary [and Teen Open Diary when it was still around], in Blogspot and finally here. As opposed to all the others, I opened this blog in order to serve a purpose – practicing writing and getting feedback on it. I found friends here, and so now I occasionally dip into my personal life and write openly in from my own, real first-person point of view – just like I’m doing now.

All the other blogs I started were meant to be journals. The one I stuck with the longest – Teen Open Diary – closed down and since then, and the loss of a dear friend who I met through there, I’ve never managed to stick to a journaling blog.  It’s been almost exactly five years since then. Maybe it had to do with my friend who was killed in a car crash, maybe not. I honestly don’t know.

So I don’t do the “everything” kind of writing. And now my question is – does anyone? Many of you write about your personal lives, but you don’t tell your readers everything – you tell anecdotes, you celebrate your families, you laugh about your days, you share experiences and memories, you give opinions. But you don’t expose everything. For one, everyone needs secrets. For another, how could you remember every single thing you’ve gone through every day? And finally, and most importantly, if you’re constantly writing about your life, then when do you have time to live it?

I love journal-writing. If not online, then by hand. I have a hard time sticking with it, but when I need to write about my days, my feelings and my thoughts, there’s always a pen and a notebook there, ready for me. Now, I have a pretty tough time – a HUGELY tough time, actually – with trying to appreciate every moment and really be present in my life. But if I just tried to write about everything I experienced, I don’t know if I’d be able to experience it.

Your opinions?

Flash Fiction Thursday: The House on the Hill

There was a house on the hill. It was a run-down old thing, with shingles fallen off the roof, and the door halfway off its hinges. The windows were all boarded up, except for one round window at the top of the house. In front, there was what used to be a lawn. Over the years it had turned into an almost-meadow, high weeds and the occasional wild flowers growing wildly. Then there was the fence. It was tall and made of iron, and not one bit of it was rusted. The strangest thing was, there was no gate. Nobody remembered that there’d ever been one. It was as if someone had left the house to rot and built a fence around it afterwards.

The Hensley brothers sat with their backs against one of the big oak trees that kept their own house separate from the hill behind it.

“You think anyone’s ever been in there?” asked Tommy. He was ten, and his pajamas featured a pattern of Pokemon creatures.

“What, you mean like mom or dad or the kids at school?” answered Jake. He was barely six, and his world view encompassed only those people he knew. He was unfortunate enough to have his mom still picking out his clothing, and his pajamas featured multicolored, grinning bunnies.

“No, stupid, I mean anybody. Anybody in town. One of the older kids or the cops or someone.”

“But how? There’s no way to get in!”

“Bet I can figure out a way.” He got up and yanked Jake up off the ground.

“Tommy? Tommy, we’re not going up there, are we?” Jake’s hand was held so tightly that he was stumbling after his brother trying to keep up and not fall and be dragged on the ground. Tommy marched resolutely upwards, and when Jake started getting breathless, he picked him up gingerly and brought him the rest of the way. He stopped at the tall fence and plopped Jake onto the ground.

“Stop sniveling, Jakey! Look, we could make this place into a club-house, right?”

Jake looked up hopefully, wiping his dribbling nose with the pack of one muddied hand. “Could we? Could we really? With secret meetings and stuff?”

“You bet. Now, all we have to do is this. Look, you see my hands? They’re like a step now, right? So step on, and I’ll lift you as high as I can so you catch onto the top.”

Jake scrambled onto his brother’s cupped hands and held onto the fence rails as he was raised slowly up to the top. He reached out an arm, and caught hold of the one of the raised spiky bits with one little hand. Tommy saw this, gave a whoop and let go of Jake’s feet.

A moment later, there was a crumpled Jake on the floor clutching his leg and a very white Tommy sitting next to him. His mind was very focused on two things at the same time. The first was that he had to get Jake back home quickly because that leg was definitely broken, and the second was how was he going to explain this to Mom??

It was years before either brother went up that hill again.

A Leroy Excerpt

Leroy remembered only two things from his early childhood. Tony Boss-man has asked him about it once, to see how good his memory was. So he’d told him those two memories, like pearls in the rough and dirty shell he’d become, and he’d felt he was giving part of himself away. But then, the Boss-man always made everyone feel as if they were giving themselves away. That was part of the Boss-man’s power.

The first thing he remembered was eating cereal when he was about two years old. It had been a shabby house then, shabbier even than the next ones would be, but he had a corner that his mother had painted yellow, and his little mattress was there with his few toys. Inevitably, night after night, he’d sit in that corner and watch as his mom fought with his dad. It happened every day, as far as he could tell, and only years later did he figure out what his mom was doing and why his dad objected. The particular memory that he could see so clearly in his brain was different. It didn’t have drunken-dad and floozie-mama in it. It had been an afternoon alone, and he’d climbed up onto the counter in the kitchen with the aid of a stool, a chair and then a big heave with his puny arms. If nothing else, being inside had strengthened those skinny arms of his. No one can stay weak inside. If you do, you’ll get in trouble. But on that afternoon, he’d felt it was the biggest accomplishment of mankind that he’d gotten all the way on the counter. He’d opened the cupboards because his belly was rumbling – and there was something else, he was always hungry then, but of course he would be, why should his parents give a hoot over a two year old’s nutrition? He’d found a box of cornflakes in the cupboard, and he sat triumphantly on the counter with his small legs dangling daringly. He dug his tiny fist into the box and heaved out a handful of the dry little flakes. He put them in his lap and ate them slowly, one by one. One by one. That’s what the Boss-man always told him, too. Take ’em one by one, Leroy, taken ’em on one at a time and it won’t feel so big. As if the Boss-man, sitting in his office with his piggy little eyes knew anything about the streets.

The second memory Leroy had was from around the same age, he thought, and was just as vivid, although it had a more surreal quality to it. It was a night when Momma and Pop were settled, not fighting. They’d gone to their room for a while, and both came out smiling. Leroy remembered smiling, too, and reaching out with his arms to latch onto Pop’s leg. Momma lit a cigarette and gave it to Pop. The smell wasn’t the same as the one that already permeated the house. It was different. He’d gone over to his corner and taken a pen and stuck it into his mouth, pretending to pull something in and then blow something out. Momma and Pop laughed, so he did it again, and stood very straight with his arm bent sideways, the way Momma held her cigarettes. They laughed again, and this time Pop stooped down to him and gave him the burning roll-up in his hand. Leroy’d been afraid, but he wanted Pop to keep smiling so he took it but didn’t know what to do. Pop took it back and whispered to him that this wasn’t just that green stuff or brown stuff that your Momma has all the time. No, this was some fine quality heroine right here. So smoke up, boy, never too early to have some fun. Leroy, panicking, tried to bend his face away from the smoke that was so close, making his eyes tear up. Pop put it in his mouth and pinched his nose closed, so he’d had to inhale a bit of whatever it was Pop had. He went limp, and the last thought he remembered having before he passed out was that maybe Pop was making him a hero, he gave him hero smoke, maybe he’d be like Superman.

Leroy’d thought a lot about those memories when he was inside. When he worked out, he thought again and again about getting rid of his tiny arms, of those little things that had hauled him onto the counter. When he sat and muttered and made people think he was crazy, he wondered if that toke of heroine smoke – hero smoke, as if – had really made his wiring go wrong. Those memories had proved to Boss-man that he could do what was needed. That’s all that mattered in the end, really – Tony Boss-man approving you or not. He’d been approved and he was damn proud of it at the time. But the man – the gaping hole – the smell of gunpowder – and Tony, letting him take the fall. No, that didn’t sit well with Leroy, not one bit.

Warm Milk

When I was little, we always called it “warm milk,” even though it was really hot-chocolate. I don’t know why. Maybe “warm milk” sounds nicer, more wholesome somehow. To this day, though, I still think of it that way.

When I was little, in my grandparents’ home in Los Angeles, I had a cup with a screw-on top. It had handles, and the top was pink. I also had a yellow one, at some point, although I’m not sure which came first. The cup was clear plastic, with little drawing stenciled on it of butterflies and flowers. It was the kind of cup that adults love, because if it falls, very little can spill out of it in the time it takes for the fall to be noticed. It was the kind of cup I loved, too, because it was unique. I was the only one who drank out of it.

The taste of warm milk with chocolate Nesquick mixed into it brings me memories of that house where I used to drink out of that cup. The smell of the wooden floors in the kitchen seem to magically rise into my nostrils, as well as the smell of cleaning supplies that accompanied any late night in that kitchen, seeing as how my grandfather always cleaned the kitchen meticulously after dinner.

It is so strange, somehow, the way memories rise at such trivial moments, such as a regular Friday evening. The taste of warm milk is still in my mouth.

I Remember… (When I Was Really Little)

I remember the house we had in Los Angeles when I was really little.

I remember eating ice-cream in front of the television after nursery-school.

I remember begging my mom for cookies when she was on the phone, and bugging her until she’d give them to me just so I wouldn’t bother her.

I remember that I planned that strategy in order to get more cookies.

I remember my nursery-school teacher, Robin, and how I would get scared if I was parted with her.

I remember the red tricycle I had and the way I liked to stand on the back of it and move it forward with one leg, pretending it was a skateboard.

I remember my crib that I slept in until I was three years old.

I remember refusing to answer my father in Hebrew and only speaking to him in English until we moved to Israel and I had to speak Hebrew.

I remember rocking so hard on my little rocking chair that I unbalanced it and fell backwards, hitting my head hard.

I remember getting my first Barbie doll from my mother when she went on a vacation, and I remember that my brother got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action-figures.

I remember my friend, Ally, from nursery-school and my next-door neighbor, Gina, whose toys I was jealous of.

I remember a lot from before I turned three – I’m told it’s rather unusual. The memories are strange, though. They’re fuzzy and soft, all in pastel colors and moods and disconnected visions. Early memories are strange, but I’m glad I have them.