There are a lot of sad things in the universe. There are a lot of beautiful and terrible sad things.
It was in May. I was three and my family was at Rich’s house. Rich was one of those guys who built anything he wanted. His house was big. I was little so this may not have actually been the case. His entire garage was used for building things. As a child I watched him lathe chair legs, table saw things into existence and weld with his mask down while I tried to look at the light for as long as I could. His kids were all smart and they had what they wanted because their dad (who wasn’t Rich) was a doctor. So they had bikes and hammocks and in their back yard was a halfpipe I suppose they used for their bikes and skateboards. There was a big trampoline and we’d all get on it at once and jump for hours while playing with the super soakers and then we’d go look at the reptiles that lived in the sunroom on the back side of the garage. In the backyard they had cookouts and they’d play games like throwing a water balloon over the volleyball net and at one of these good times we were all on the trampoline when one of Dad’s friends did a back flip onto me. I fell off the trampoline and hit my head on the ground and my ears rang for three days. The upstairs of the garage was connected to the second story of the main house by a catwalk Rich had put in above the basketball hoop. All my Dad’s friends came to Rich’s to play basketball. Growing up in Kentucky I was always around basketball and Dad played all the time but he never stayed skinny. But neither did I. Rich’s house was one of the most pleasant places for me to be as a child. There were lizards and snakes and creation and family and music and Nintendos and in the bathroom there was even this peaceful wallpaper of a rainbow going from one cloud to another, repeating pattern after pattern. It was a nice place to take a child shit.
The faces are a blur. I couldn’t tell you if anyone was in town for the graduation or not. Dad was busy all day and I got to wear my first suit and tie. It was 1990 and I was three years old. Dad had been in school for eight years and already had three children. His dream was to be a veteranarian but he had settled with an agriculture degree and had no option to further his education because of the financial and marital pressure he was under plus three very young children. But today was it. He was going to be done finally. The happiest days of his life were at the beginning of school when he met Mom and when his children were born but they had slowly transformed into a middle apartment across from Rich’s house where he hit his wife.
There’s a picture of my parents wedding where my parents are surrounded by all their family. Some of them are dead now and my parents are divorced and I don’t even know the best man (an Indian guy). But for that moment when my Mom smiles her awkward smile and Dad’s hair is really curly and the photograph is black and white, not because it’s that old, but because my 70 year old grandpa at the time took the pictures and developed them himself, I can see happiness. That’s what everyone wants.
The crazy thing is, I think about Rich’s house and how it was just so awesome being there and then I think about the last time I saw it it was in disrepair and Rich and his wife were divorced. I guess their house wasn’t that awesome to want to stay there. Happiness…
On the day of Dad’s graduation I watched all these people walk across a stage in a huge room wearing all black and everyone was happy. Especially me. My hair was hairsprayed in 1990s fashion, I was wearing the cutest little suit ever and I had a real tie on. A real clip on tie.
I don’t remember anything about being born. In fact, the only thing I can remember remotely before the age of three (we’ll get to that age later) is sitting on my butt playing a Thomas-the-Train-Engine toy and I’m not even sure I didn’t make that memory up. But I know a few things about my origins.
My Great Great Grandfather and Grandmother (My Dad’s Mom’s Dad’s Parents) are from Sweden and settled in Brooklyn where my Great Grandfather Lawrence E Wollner (the E doesn’t stand for anything) was raised. He moved to Cincinnati and that’s where my Grandma had Dad. Dad’s parents weren’t very great but he was smart so when he graduated high school at the age of sixteen he moved to Berea Kentucky were they would pay for him to go to school if he worked in their food court. He and my Mother met pretty quickly when Mom came for a visit over the summer. She liked Dad’s friend David first, but when she left for West Virginia Dad wrote her letters. By the time Mom decided to go back to Berea for school my parents had already decided to be together.
My older sister was born eight months after my parents were married at the college in a little chapel (Danforth) so my parents were pregnant before they were married without knowing. Things were rough for my parents and by the time I was born on January 26, 1987 they had lived in a plethora of small places with newborn and even bought some land and a trailer to move onto the land which fell apart as they moved it (they tried to live in the broken trailer until it was robbed; all the while I am growing slowly within Mom). This was a huge loss for them and began the money troubles that would, in addition to domestic violence, pull my parents apart.
I was born in the winter. I like to imagine it was snowing when they brought me out. I have this image that plays through my mind (who knows, it could be a memory) where Dad is carrying me through the streets of Berea in his arms while he wears a flannel jacket and I look up at him and out to the street and the wind is blowing pretty hard so occasional snowflakes hit me sideways in the fast cold air. Maybe this is why I don’t care for winter and would rather be swimming in the hot summer sun.
I grew up quickly and walked talked and basically did everything early. I had a feel for the physics of the earth and could balance easily and had an older sister to teach me the things I couldn’t learn from just existing. With this magical combination I was reading and riding bikes by the time I was three. I never used training wheels.
There are things I hope to be able to say one day, but until I gather courage toward myself, they will stay away, frightened of whatever it is that keeps them there, cowering. I’m getting better, I’m sure.