i am young young young and i am sitting in the back of my parent’s car, the nice one, old and smooth and caramel coffee colored, so it’s before we lived in the white house with the dog who chewed the seat belts out. it’s cold out but the windows are down so that my dad can smoke and my mom is driving. my mom is nearly always driving. she says she’s a good driver and i believe it because she tells me so, even if my dad seems to think otherwise. i am sitting with my baby brother and it’s almost dark but not quite and we’re only alone because the road has been empty of hitchhikers. there’s mountain air on my face and my eyelashes and everything smells like cigarettes and incense and baby powder and i will fall asleep in this car. i will wake up in this car, and this feels like my forever.
i am five and i’m sitting on a couch that’s yellowbrownorange. it matches the tiger that came in the baby cookie box that we buy for my brother that sits next to me. there’s a gap in this apartment where my father should be (but when i think about it i know he is somewhere, i can picture it, a dirty white room, laughing or talking in low voices with a skinny dirty man whose smile is sad and sincere and keeps a pet ferret on a leash). my mother’s hair is shaved short and there’s a ring in her nose that my great aunts fret over. she sings along to the cassette tape on the chunky black stereo and she kisses my brother’s face. she’s beautiful and perfect and when i look up again her face is obscured by a video camera. “erika! say hi!”
the backyard of this house is attached to a playground before it disappears off into forest and mountains. in the wintertime i get my lips stuck to the safety bar above the slide and rip the skin off, scream at the blood dripping down my chin because i was too impatient to wait for my dad to return with a warm washcloth and unthaw me. late at night my parents shake me awake and carry me to the window and all three of us watch the bears try to get into the garbage bins that line the fence until i fall asleep again.
in kitimat there are relatives that kiss me and scold my mother for taking the lord’s name in vain and a cousin with a collection of sparkling, shining bath beads. she gives me one and i keep it with me in my pocket, a secret gem i show only my mother.
and here are the gaps: an apartment with off white walls and my mother’s harshly bleached orange hair and telephone conversations that ended in shouting matches but a christmas that sparkled with poverty and love and family. my father is here in flashes only and i can’t remember my mother touching me though my visions of her are happy and bright so she must have done. was this before or after the plane?
we leave the mountains and end up here, where we walk everywhere and there are peonies in rich people’s gardens instead of sunflowers and heather plants lining the road. it’s bright blue and my mother is growing her hair out and my father plays any ball game i want with me up against the garage door, or out in the field around the corner, baseball and hockey and tennis, even, because we found an old racket somewhere. my brother and i share bunkbeds and when the fighting gets particularly bad we lie in the bottom together and i hug him to me and pretend that that means he doesn’t hear the same things i do. later they’ll both tell me details, my dad while we sit on the front step together and watch the cars go by “she tried to strangle me, pook” and my mother when i crawl into bed with her after she’s forgotten to get up again. i take a picture of both of them together on a disposable camera that my nana gives to me when she visits. my mother’s wearing her glasses that i love and my father’s hair is long the way it used to be, their clothes dark even though it’s summer and they have their arms around each other smiling, and this is how i like to remember everything. my dad draws the things out of his comic books with fantastic detail, spiderman and venom, and spawn, who i’m not allowed to read. my mother paints skeleton families and bright yellow flowers.
i’m standing in the hallway and my dad has a backpack hitched over his shoulder, dark green and yellow and red (was it mine?) and the baseball hat he’s started to wear all the time now. he’s telling me something, and then my mom is talking. he leaves and i’m used to it, by now, these gaps in my life where he leaves to work or see someone or live apart from us- they aren’t even gaps, not really. i go out to the backyard and i bring my brother with me, my best friend, and i tell him this because he’s too young to remember the gaps and i’m just old enough. if my mother is going to cry i don’t want him to see.
my dad doesn’t come back. the carpet in his basement apartment is the same yelloworangebrown as the couch in BC and an old man i don’t remember meeting but who i know is my grandfather lives above him. when i come to visit him he sits on the floor with his back against the couch and he holds onto me and he cries. there’s a picture of my mom on a shelf above the television. his friends (all skinny, dirty men with sincere sad smiles) come and go and i know most of them by name.
all of this is true.