“Well, for one thing, I don’t like that. You know what that usually means?”
I could only imagine what he was about to say, and I offered no answer to extend the conversation. He went on, as though he had been invited to answer, but he had not.
“Drugs. It usually means drugs, when people burn incense.” My memory of his face is blurred, which might mean that I could not quite make out his features beyond the swirled smoke of Nag Champa, or, more likely, that I have blocked out his image as a function of his harsh assumption. My smoke alarms were mounted, my fire plan was neatly sketched, and my escape ladder was accessible. This Fire Marshall, though, was distracted by one of my comforts. He declared my home “fire-safe” for childcare, but not without sending me spinning into a category of potential drug addicts. I was good enough, maybe because I wasn’t quite “bad” enough, but I wasn’t whole.
The thoughts come so quickly, and leave just as fast. If I don’t write them down, they may not be there when I need to let them go. I wonder where they are, the ones that have left, and what will happen if I don’t release them, or more importantly, perhaps…what will happen if I do. Once, I felt them, so I knew them, but then they were gone.
It’s fleeting, the time we have with these babies. Sometimes they are someone else’s babies, but this does not mean that they were not here at all, once they are gone, gone home, and gone from my home. Truly, they never really leave the place deep inside.
“Is that your kid, I mean your real kid? Are you his real mom?”
Does he look like a real kid? Do I look like a real person?
As I settled my little boy in for his night’s rest, I noticed the lace edge was beginning to separate from the soft blue fabric on the Peter Rabbit blanket, bought so many years before for my firstborn son. So, too, have the stitches that held the leather sole in place on the Hanna Andersson moccasins worn by nearly two decades of baby boys finally split to a state beyond repair. There’s a certain comfort in holding these treasures, treasures to no one other than me, for the safe keeping of all the memories tucked within.
There was an estate sale in town on Friday. My desire to go was greater than my anxiety at bringing two boys, so off we went to explore someone else’s history. A vintage cap gun happened to be the first thing that Ethan saw, and he was content to follow me through the tangle of vintage Pyrex, barrister bookcases, and garden hoses in exchange for the right to take it home. He wondered, but only for a moment, who lived here. I tried, though, as I always had, to figure that out. On a basement wall hung three Bauhaus posters. Two were the same, and all three were familiar, either because I had owned them during my college years, or because I had sold them at the record store where I once worked. I thought briefly of buying them. They were a bit torn at the corners but still displayed worthwhile memories from three decades past. I picked up what appeared to be three pressboard puzzle pieces with an assortment of happy animals and smiling children, probably a treasure from the 1960’s. When held together, the pieces formed a train engine with cars that displayed the name, “Jason.” Perhaps Jason had been the Bauhaus fan. I wonder where Jason holds his memories.
It was a glorious Saturday, and we had spent most of the afternoon outside. Dan was working on the chicken run, and I had been planting my carrot and kale seeds. I heard, “What’s for dinner, Mom?” at least three times before I went inside to figure that out. Just as I set the water to boil, I was drawn to the window as I saw a frantic parade of my family members running to the side yard. I wondered if one of the chickens had escaped from the tractor. “Gabe, call 9-1-1!” I knew from the urgency in Dan’s voice that this was not about a chicken.
A car had taken out a telephone pole and flipped completely upside down in the field just east of our property. As I reached the slope on our hill, I could see a young woman crawling from the wreckage, crying that her boyfriend was inside. There, at the edge of the corn field my eighteen-year-old Gabriel was on the phone with the emergency operator while Dan found courage he did not know he had to urge the driver, pinned in the remains of the car, to try to stay calm.
Within minutes our quiet country road had been transformed into a blockade of lights, sirens, and helpers in uniform. I sat huddled with my younger children, one whose own early memory of a traumatic car accident stirred her old fears through her sobs. We prayed for the man inside the car, and for all the brave helpers.
Once extracted from the vehicle, the man was able to walk to the ambulance. He was going to be okay.
The brightness of the sun, the streaks of lights on emergency vehicles, and my own destiny flashed before me late that Saturday afternoon. There are pieces of everyone…and everything…that we don’t know. Sometimes we are presented with reasons to know and understand. The feelings, and our reactions, come from the memories, from what we have lived and experienced. Scratched, dented, ripping apart, imperfect as we all are, we are pieced together from our past.
I can light incense without thinking every time of that Fire Marshall. The image of what I saw this weekend, though, but the fear and the quiet triumph, will be with me for a long while. Maybe even forever.