Imprints 4: Childhood
1. I make him promise me that morning while he brushes my hair that he won’t tell me anything when he comes to take me out of school to go to the hospital. I don’t want to know what he already knows until the moment I can learn for myself. When he sticks his head into my classroom and smiles, not saying a word, my heart flips, and I feel very solemn and important while the teacher helps me put on my coat and all the other kids watch silently, knowing where I’m going. Once we close the classroom door and are alone in the empty hallway, I let my father pick me up and carry me, something I do not normally allow him do in public, but on this day, it seems okay. As we walk underneath the school clock, I am so high up I can reach my hand out and touch the bottom of it. When we get to the hospital, though, I walk by myself up to the window, and I spot the blue sticker on his bassinet before the nurse has even wheeled him in.
2. I am not allowed to ride in the back of our neighbors’ jeep when they have the top off, even with a seatbelt, but they take it off once we get there and I am only eight and have no other way of getting home. We stop by another family’s house on the way home for the parents to visit, so my neighbor friend and I play with their son in his room until he asks us if we wanted to go swimming. I say I’m not wearing my suit, but the boys just jump right in with their clothes on, so I do too. The other boy is just a few years older than me, but he seems like he’s from another world. We swim until after dark, without the parents watching or even the pool lights on, and when it’s time to go home, I ride in the back of the jeep, the wind whipping my chlorinated hair and clothes dry. For the first time in my life, I do not tell my mother. Years later, this boy with the pool is a popular rich kid in my freshman Latin class. I recognize him from that night from my childhood a few days into the school year, but I don’t know if he remembers me. I never ask him.
3. We are in a rich suburb of Chicago, visiting my grandfather and stepgrandmother. I am their only grandchild, but aside from buying me fancy clothes, they are more interested in playing tennis and drinking gin and inviting their friends over for parties. There is nothing in the house for a child to play with but a set of bongo drums, and those are soon declared off limits. My stepgrandmother wears Cleopatra wigs and fur coats and refills my grandfather’s glass when he wordlessly shakes the ice. My grandfather lets me blow out the matches he uses to light his pipe, and introduces my father by the wrong name more than once. My mother is tense and I am tired of having to go to bed hours before everyone else, hearing them all laughing through the wall. One afternoon, my parents take me to a sunny park near the house, just us, and we’re all three running and climbing and shrieking and laughing when the Lincoln Town Car pulls up, the window rolls down, and my stepgrandmother sticks her head out and asks if we’re going to be back in time to wash up before the party. All three of us are very still, mute and interrupted, and for a minute I think we might not have to go back.