Monday, October 10, 2005

Melancholy Monday: Lost Love

Psychologists say that your first memory occurs between ages 3 and 7, that anything before that is lost in a sort of infantile amnesia that can never be recovered. Even initial memories that occur during this time period are said to be hazy, devoid of detail, lacking emotional context. Yet, my first memory is so vivid that I have been unable to shake it for over 15 years, it is constantly drawn to my mind with a will of its own. My first memory is of the day that my dad left.

I remember coming down the stairs from my bedroom on a Saturday morning, just as my dad was putting the last of his belongings into his pick-up truck. I think that he was surprised to see me standing at the bottom of the stairs, and to this day I wonder if hadn't woken up on my own, whether he would have told me that he was leaving. His eyes filled with tears when he saw me. "I'm sorry," he said as he stood at the door. That was the only explanation I received. I could taste the saltiness of his grief as he kissed my forehead. "I love you dad," I said. He walked out the door without a response. I remember standing on the front porch and watching him pull out of the driveway, he didn't wave goodbye, he didn't even look in the rearview mirror as he drove away.

I sat on the curb for hours, in my nightgown, with my knees pulled to my chest, and told everyone who inquired that I was waiting for my daddy to come home. My mother took a few Valium, and locked herself in her bedroom for 2 weeks. My grandmother came to take care of my brother and I, and said that I was silly for sitting out in the cold, that my dad had left us a long time ago. I went to school the next day and made up an elaborate lie about my dad being in France, and when I got home from school, returned to my post on the curb. I did this every day for a week, convinced that sitting there would make a difference, that maybe if I stayed there long enough my dad would pull back into the driveway and we would be a family again.

It didn't work, he never came back, and I felt for the first time the agony of defeat. Perhaps I should have been relieved, my parents' marriage was exceptionally abusive, their arguments would often warrant phone calls from concerned neighbors and visits from the police. But I don't remember any of this; perhaps this is the deceiving, and yet celebratory reality of infantile amnesia. The only memory that I have of my father is of him standing by the door, his eyes welling with tears, begging me to understand his actions. And when I think about this memory, I can't help but feel anything but a longing for the man who I was never given the opportunity to know. I can't help but think that I may have lost the greatest love of my life when I was six years old. And even after all these years I am still waiting for him to pull into the driveway. I want the chance to tell him that I love him; I want the chance to say it again, absolutely.