The beginning years of my life swim in a fog. Looking back, everything sits in a precarious pile of jumbled thoughts. A dark shadow casts itself over my childhood and thus, it is rarely looked upon. Recently, I have been encouraged to think more about those years. With great reluctance, I have done so.
More than anything, I remember my father’s hands. As a child, they seemed huge. It was like they could grasp a hold of anything and wield it with a frighteningly sure strength. Hands calloused and dirty with the hours of labor they engaged during the day. When he spoke, they cut through the air in sharp, quick slices to accent his words. Those gestures more meaningful than his words. It was my father’s hands that taught me not to trust a person’s eyes. Everyone says that the eyes are the window to the human soul, but this is not the case. The eyes lie and mislead. They reflect the light as if it were their own. No. Look at the hands. They show the intention. That’s were the truth is. Where the hurt is. Where the blood is spilled. A person’s hands can tell you everything. My father’s hands were strong and hard. They didn’t lie to me when his eyes did.
I was born in Rome, New York, but I have no memory of the place. My family moved away from there before I was old enough to build memories. It is just a name; a place holder in my personal history as my beginning. From there we moved to Fairbanks, Alaska. I was young and the memories of that place are little more than fragments. Metal pipes running low along the walls in the basement floor. Cold concrete beneath my bare feet as I ran across the basement; leading my little brother along by the hand. Cold and snow. Sitting at the window and staring out at the white swirl trying to catch a glimpse of my mother who had ventured outside. Stuffed animals lined up against the head-board of my bed; piled up over my pillows and often falling to the floor.
I have more fragments from Clovis, New Mexico; which is where we moved next. Shockingly hot and dry compared to the white of Alaska. When the wind blew it was dust that swirled rather than the white fluffs of snow. The houses neatly arranged in long ovals with a road marching down the middle to connect the separate courts. Every lawn neatly cut and every garden carefully planned. Everything in precise order.
Then it was to Palmyra, Maine. Back to the cold and snow. Bundling up and reluctantly trudging outdoor; following after my brothers to collect wood for the stove. Running through the tall, swaying grass and crouching down out of sight, hoping to be forever overlooked. But the call for supper would always come as the light faded from the sky. I would return and plop myself down at the table only to be shooed to the bathroom for a good washing. Clean hands and a clean face was the price of every meal.
Beneath these scenic back drop memories are smudges. A brown leather belt with a double row of grommets marching down its length hanging on a hook. A constant threat to my misbehavior. A chart clipped to the fridge, reminding me of my merits and misdeeds of each week; bearing more read marks than stickers. Looking down at the bruises splotched over my bared legs and the red slashes between them. Thinking that some how the blood was where the evil lived and bleeding would let it out. But it never left me and the cutting continued night after night, marking out a map of fear against the pale skin of my legs. Pain was the constant reminder that I existed. Despite how easily I could fade away; the pain always brought me back. A sharp reminder of life’s cruelties and injustice.