Cold feet

             My in-laws have a shoes-on house, but old habits die hard and Zachary and I usually take our shoes off anyway.  Benjamin, my little nudist, is in good shape if he’s wearing pants, so footwear is pretty much shooting for the moon.

            One evening, as J bathed the kids, I emptied the diaper pail.  We emptied it every night as a courtesy to the noses of our hosts.  I went down to the garage and stepped out onto the cold concrete floor.

            The memory was vague and elusive, yet it was as strong as it was instantaneous.  Something about that cold concrete floor came from long ago, that other time, that other house, that other life when I was the child but there were not any parents.

            That was all the memory I got that time – just the recognition of cold concrete on bare soles.

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            We are having a heat wave in Los Angeles.  My laundry, hung out at two in the afternoon, is folded and put away by four o’clock.  (That’s a lie; it sits in the basket for at least five hours, and when I put it away, I mostly shove it unfolded into drawers.  But, I pull the dry clothes in by 3:20, crisply baked from the sun.)  I keep the blinds closed and even resort to the air conditioner.

            Lilah, sniffling from the cold her grandfather shared, sleeps hard in the afternoon and then nurses with gusto.  Her brothers sound disconcertingly friendly in their play, and when I come out from feeding her, it is clear they need to get out of the house.  It is too hot for a playground, and I am not brave enough to take all three anywhere else on my own.

            The mall is three blocks away, and there is a soft play area on the third floor.  If we use the double stroller so the boys alternate riding and walking, we can make it there with little risk of dehydration.  I pack a cup just in case.

            I try to make sure Benjamin is riding and Zach is walking when we cross Pico and Overland.  Ben has a dangerous habit of looking anywhere except where he is going, and the intersection is too busy for him to be on foot unless I can grasp him firmly by the hand.  Zach, obedient child that he is, will hold onto the stroller as we cross.

            As we cross, I urge him to go faster.  The lights are quick here, and we need to make it across in time for the next light or we may all get sun stroke waiting for the next WALK signal.  His skinny legs hustle.

            This time, the memory is more detailed.  The combination of thin legs, oppressive heat, and the mother urging the little child to run faster.  I hear my stepmother on her bike, forcing me to run faster, feel the heat of the summer in my lungs, the desperation of a child who cannot go any faster but has to.

            Zachary has my body; looking at him sometimes evokes the abuses meted out on my thin limbs.  Benjamin’s body is so different from my own, and I relish the sturdiness that seems unassailable. 

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            Lilah has my sister’s eyes, and something about her sweetness reminds me of my sister.  Maybe my sister looked at our mother this way, pausing from her nursing to touch the face always just above her own.

            Looking at her, I see my sister.  I cannot decide if the emotion I feel is poignant loss or another chance.

            These are my children.  They are the next generation, touched by family tragedy but one generation removed, as if Faulkner had created a whole new batch of Quentins.

22 responses to “Cold feet

  1. this was beautiful, Emily.

  2. oh. thank you for giving them a new life, a chance of their own. and they are giving YOU another chance, I think.

  3. Sigh. I’ve not heard those echoes in your words in a long time. Your children have a good mama.

  4. What a touching post, Emily.

  5. Such a beautiful post.

  6. Loved this, Em.

  7. A generation away can be an infinite distance. I know how hard it can be at times when those memories come up.

  8. Sometimes a generation may as well be a century, and other times, it’s a as close as yesterday.

  9. Did you read The Lovely Bones? This resonates with me in the same way…sad, but so beautiful and full of hope in the same way, really. Sometimes, it is hard for me to distinguish between the now and the then. Them and me.

  10. This was beautiful, Emily. Mournful and beautiful.

  11. This was beautiful but oh so sad. This is you writing at your best. Breaking my heart and then piecing it back together.

  12. it must hurt to see your sister in lilah, but, like you said, there is hope, too…your little ones will have a childhood far more loving and safe than yours.

  13. This is a very good post. Loving the children heals the past. You connect to their bodies, flesh of your flesh, and give back what you should have had as your own birthright. There’s something deeply moving in that.

  14. Lovely and poignant post. I’m sorry that you had to experience what you did, and, now, that you have to re-experience it.

    You’re such a good mama.

  15. Sigh. What wonderful writing. Even when the subject matter is something so painful you write it so beautifully, which never ceases to amaze me.

  16. Cheeky Monkey

    “Something about that cold concrete floor came from long ago, that other time, that other house, that other life when I was the child but there were not any parents.”

    What a great line.

    It’s good to know that the ways our past defines us can be lovely and good and full of hope.

  17. i like to believe that there are things from our family histories that we can leave behind, cast from the web of legacies. i try. sometimes i can see i am winning. sometimes i fail miserably.

    i suspect the emotion you feel is both poignant loss and second chance…both are true.

  18. You write beautifully. For what it’s worth, my mom came from an abusive background. I think about her sometimes when I read these posts. She didn’t pass it on to us, but I know the memories were hard on her sometimes.

  19. Lovely. You at your best, writing about what moves you- great post.

  20. Wow, what a great post, Emily.

  21. Emily, this is so poignant and touching. Sometimes I’m flooded with bad childhood memories, too, and it makes me all the more determined to make sure I don’t repeat those mistakes for my own children.