Don’t worry. I won’t forget about the snow. Every night before one of these comes out, though, I toss and turn, trying to think of the next one to write, and if I don’t agree to write the one that needs to get written next (according to my subconscious), I don’t get to sleep. Eventually I break down and agree to do what I’m supposed to do.
I mentioned the trailer house next to the old teacher’s house; we lived in there for just under a decade, I think. But in between moving back from the house of golden sunlit dust in Wyoming and that trailer house, we lived in another trailer house, a tiny one up on the hill as you drove the gravel road into the farm.
One of the earliest stories of my childhood is that when they brought my brother Matt home from the hospital, I said, “Take him back.” Yuck-yuck, laughs all around. I hated my brother and I’m a spoiled brat. Aren’t kids cute?
Nobody mentions that everything that I’d ever known had just changed.
When I was seven or eight, anytime I had to deal with my father, I would recite a saying under my breath: Do this, do that, you did it wrong. He only ever had four types of interactions with me: the fourth involved me being the butt of some kind of unpleasant practical joke or bullying. For example, he would tickle me until I wept, and then would tickle me some more, because it was funny. To this day I will physically attack anyone who tries to tickle me or poke me in the side.
I don’t remember this happening before we moved, only after. The person I apparently couldn’t wait to come home from work–Daddy!–had become someone I was shocked to find out was proud of me when I graduated college. And even then I only found out because Lee, who was sitting next to him up in the bleachers at my graduation, told me.
And suddenly Mom wasn’t a woman who was in charge of her own house anymore: there was nothing too small and insignificant that it didn’t need to be someone else’s belittling gossip, and if you were a hired hand who felt like picking on someone else’s wife, well, it was all in good fun, at least for the guy doing the picking.
Plus she had a baby to take care of. And not just a baby, a boy. You don’t give farms to girls, only boys. And if you have a boy who doesn’t want to farm, well, you better just raise him up right, that’s all.
Which is just a nice way of saying that Matt’s real personality would have to go. Just like they did with Dad. Who, for all his sense of mischief, is not a cowboy, but a mathematician and a lover of order and spreadsheets, and who became much less of a merciless tickler and bullier when we eventually left the farm.
I don’t remember telling my parents to take my brother back, but here’s my guess: we’d just moved from a golden paradise to a place where it was never warm enough in the winter or cool in the summer, my parents never had any free time that wasn’t dominated by adult family members or church, and it was all right for everyone in your community to bully you into being the kind of person that they needed you to be, in order for the community to survive in the harsh climate and shitty economic situation.
All I knew was that suddenly neither of my parents loved me anymore–neither of them protected me from bullies anymore–and neither of them smiled. (I remember being shocked the first time I saw my parents hold hands.) And suddenly there was a crying baby, and we were in a place where it was considered sheer idiocy to be nice to crying babies. Shove food in them, check the diaper, leave them to cry. Otherwise they’ll be spoiled. And yet a boy. Clearly the most important thing in the room: he’ll have to take over the farm one day, you know. You’ll just have to understand, even though we will never, ever explain it to you, because that would imply that once it had been different, and nobody must know that we aren’t amazeballs happy out here.
Take him back.
Yes, I can see myself saying that. And being laughed at for it.
I don’t remember him having a crib, but rather a small, squat bed with a rail on the side. The wood was yellowish; the rails screwed on. It had a single, thin mattress on top that sagged when any kind of weight was put on it; underneath was a metal frame with horizontal springs that coiled from small to large to small again, and that you had to be careful not to get your fingers pinched in, if you were hiding underneath the bed. We were always underneath something as kids.
I had a mattress on the floor. There wasn’t much room for space between the bed and the mattress, because the little room was so narrow. I want to say the walls were all pressboard with fake wood and the carpet was thin and colored with brown and brownish-blue stripes, but that might have been the other trailer house.
At night, every night, in the dark, I had to lay next to the space under Matt’s bed, and watch the monsters move. I had a soft, magnificently soft, small purple crocheted blanket made by my Aunt Julie, who has been known to be nice to people she doesn’t have to and who cries at funerals. It was my magic blanket–I called it a ginkie for some reason–and while I can’t say that it protected me, at least it was soft, and really sometimes that’s all you need.
What was the monster under the bed?
Now I know: everything that I sensed but couldn’t put into words (and that would have been denied up one side and down the other, had I been able to) had to go under that bed. This is not a nice place but Mom and Dad want you to love it anyway. And, eventually, I did.
But all I knew then was that things were staring at me, and they were going to attack me at some point, and I would never know when or why.
The only thing that kept me from becoming a gibbering idiot (not that I didn’t decay into gibbering idiocy on a regular basis; I cried and threw tantrums a lot as far as I can remember, although probably it was just a lot relative to other farm kids) was knowing that it was better for me to have to sleep on the floor than Matt. He was just a baby.
The monsters would get him for sure.
There’s one story that sometimes goes that my parents wouldn’t teach me how to read so that they could use it to bribe me into going to school–but sometimes it goes that I taught myself how to read when I was three so I could read books to Matt when Mom and Dad were too busy. I’ve heard both enough times that I’m not sure which was the case, if either; I can see it going either way.