As I begin to write my memoir in earnest, I am going back, trying to remember when I first became aware of my dissociative tendencies. There are a few, clear episodes from age nine, and this is one of them:
I am nine years old.
I’ve been summoned by my father. He holds court at the kitchen table, the remains of his lunch surrounding him on half-a-dozen dishes. I try to catch Mom’s eye as she scurries about the kitchen with exaggerated concentration. She picks up two of my father’s empty dishes and carries them to the sink before moving past me to the stove. She picks up a faded and scorched pot holder - one I made with the little loom she bought me when I was sick, a few years back – and uses it to lift the lid of a bubbling pot. Steam rises between us.
My father says, “Sit down.”
I sit, still focusing on the pot holder.
“Do you know why I called you down here?”
Mom hangs the pot holder on a hook. She comes closer, cleaning up more of my father’s lunch-mess. She replaces lids on jars, re-wraps a bit of cheese, and stacks the dishes.
“Look at me!”
I turn towards him; lift my eyes to his face which he’s moved very close to mine.
“Where are the library books?”
My shrug and the shake of my head are so slight, I wonder, in the ensuing silence, if he has even detected them.
“All right.” He presses his lips tightly together.
It is obviously not all right. Something happened yesterday, on the way home from the library, but I have no idea what. Yesterday afternoon is gone.
“We can do this the easy way or the hard way.”
He gave me a reading assignment so I could do something productive with my summer, not squander it all away. I walked to the local branch of the public library and selected two books. Somehow the books never made it home.
“Where are those books?”
Mom is washing something in the sink. The sound of running water distracts me, but I keep my eyes on my father’s face and press my useless, floating mind for the all-important answer-of-the-day.
I can almost know it... bigger kids from school…
It’s right there, so close, but I can’t pull it all the way to the surface.
Mom turns the water off and dries her hand on a well-worn towel. I’ve seen it a hundred times. I picture it in my mind, her soft, wet hands on the faded ivory linen.
The previously-undetected hum of the refrigerator stops. The clock ticks… ticks… ticks…
“Just tell me what you did with those books?”
I’m safe I’m safe I’m safe
He moves even closer. “What’s the matter with you?” He is red and shaking, and his breath, smelling of onions and blue cheese, is hot on my face. “They don’t just give those books away!”
Mom is fading, fading, fading away.
“They cost money.”
I have no words. I can’t look at his eyes. I don’t want to see the twist of his mouth as he waits for me to respond. I concentrate on the pores in the crease beside his nose.
He whispers, “Where is that money going to come from?”
The sudden softness of his voice is somehow more threatening. I burst through the mercifully thin membrane of reality, and fall away from the kitchen, the big white house on the corner, beyond this town and the whole known universe, and I’m free.
I wake in dark confusion. Something shadowy and steamy, loud and then very quiet, sits at the edge of reality. Its several breaths before I know that I’m in my bed.
I’m safe I’m safe I’m safe
I asses my body as I wrestle with flashes of truth intermingled with dream, hanging tightly to those things I can clearly know. There is no pain. Soundless night has come to my house. The whereabouts of the library books are still a mystery to me, and I’ve lost another afternoon.