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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mexico Memories

The purpose of my blog is still unclear to me.  However, in the process of trying to make sense of my head in the weeks following the procedure to remove my tumor, this blog (and the one which preceded it on Caring Bridge) has felt like the only safe place to put my thoughts. I realize there is a paradox about this—a blog is open to all, and therefore it is not a safe place. Yet my instinct and my moments of clarity compel me to write at this crossroads in my life for all the people who care to read about me.  I truly feel I have no choice, that I simply must write if I am to go on living as my new brain rewires itself and finds its bearings in the world.  The feeling is that strong—if I don't get this right, with the support of people around me—I'll be living the first half of my life all over again, not having grown one bit.

Perhaps the public nature of a blog is necessary for me because I'm too smart for my own good.  I know if I write only for myself (as in a traditional diary, pencil and paper) I would somehow find a way to lie, to convince myself I am healing—complete with a good performance of crocodile tears at a therapist's office, diary in hand—when in fact all I have done is trick myself with clever prose.

My head is still a clutter of memories and the bulk of my rehabilitation—mentally—is still being spent trying to "get a grip."  Things seem so in flux, so full of endless realities it is hard to simply stand up, walk somewhere, say hello to someone, sit down, and pretend like it was all nothing.  It takes a lot to do that, post-neurosurgery, and I'm getting better.

One thing I have always known is—compared to others—I have a good memory. Not only can I remember long stretches of things (for example, an entire symphony once when I forgot to bring my music to a concert) but my memory stretches way back to a time when I literally remember being inside a crib and wanting to get out.

When I was two years old, we moved to Mexico City.  I have a few memories before this in Michigan (running down the three steps into our sunken living room, crying in a crib, a planter box filled with kittens) but most of my narrative memory begins in Mexico when I was two and older.  A lot of it is a blur, but there are many memories that—since the removal of my tumor—have popped out vividly, almost like a "whack-a-mole."  Some of them are so frightening I cannot believe they were stored in the memory bank of a two or three-year-old—myself.  Some of these memories have literally come back to me in the past few hours, and I have never spoken of them, but I know with absolute certainty these are real.  With no particular rhyme nor reason, I can clearly recall these random flashes of being two or three years old in Mexico:

My brother balancing between two chairs, then falling off and splitting open his chin;

My insistence one time at the dinner table to have three glasses in front of me—milk, water and orange juice, the only three liquids I thought existed. (The request was granted.)

We had a small black dog named "Cutie" the whole time as well as two "sausage dogs" named "Sebastian" and "Poindexter" for a while;

The song "American Pie" was a big hit on the radio, and I repeated the words, "While the king was looking down, the jester stole his phony crown," many times to myself;

An earthquake one morning;

The empty lot next door to us—usually dry, caked dirt with patches of green grass—was one day suddenly all charred, black, and smoking;

The house next to that lot was dark and cavernous on the inside;

Screaming for my mother (I was in the kitchen and she was in another room), telling her I wanted chocolate sauce—just the sauce by itself—in a bowl, and being yelled back at. (The request was denied);

Watching a rabid dog that was loose in the neighborhood struggle to get out of a ditch;

Watching a policeman walk up to the pleading dog, draw a gun and shoot it so the dog fell back into the ditch (I was only a few feet away);

Watching the dog crawl up to the edge of the ditch again using only its front legs, yelping and pleading once again;

Watching the policeman shoot several more times (the shots sounded like "puffs" or "pops") until the dog disappeared into the ditch and I could not see it.

I have other memories of my time in Mexico too.  I remember my brother started pre-school (so now he was not with me all the time), my father was at work, and my mother was usually off at an archaeology dig during the day.  Many times I would go with her to these digs, playing in the hot, dry dirt with her, sorting pieces of broken pots into piles.  Once, on my own, I found a small clay bear digging in the dirt.  It was my first and only archaeological find, about an inch tall but definitely a bear.  It sits on a lucite stand in the center of my living room today.

Once my mother found a whole human skeleton, thousands of years old, at her dig.  We brought the bones back, sorted them in our yard, and I remember playing with the bones.  I played a silly game of peek-a-boo behind the ribcage, everything hot and dry and dusty.  And I remember my mother turning on the hose to wash away all the dirt.  My mother saved the skull, dipped it in shellac, and displayed it under a square lucite box on a wood base in our living room.  My oldest brother has the skull now.

I remember a cheerful young Mexican woman named Eloy was around the house a lot.  She was our maid, and she also acted as a nanny.  (I have since looked it up, and "Eloy" is more common as a man's name, but Eloy was indeed a woman.)  There were many times when it was just the two of us playing together.  I would get a bath sometimes.  I would blow on the soap bubbles and she would splash me with the water.

Time to come out of the bath!
Not yet, I'm going to put my head underwater to see the fish.
Did you see any fish?
No you didn't! There aren't fish in a bathtub.
You're right! I was only pretending!

(I am not "dramatizing" the above; that is a precise, extremely lucid memory.)  Eloy and I played Christmas together when we were alone. We wrapped my wood blocks with the same pieces of paper every day. I would then open them up to reveal the blocks inside, showing her a glee so pure I have never felt it since. We did this every single day, every time we were alone together when my brother was at pre-school, my father was at work, and my mother was digging in the hot, dry dust looking for pieces of pots.

I remember the Christmas before that—our first in Mexico—which got me so excited in the first place. It was the most perfect day.  A big tree was inside with lights.  Something under the tree was wrapped in a shiny paper and I had to know what was inside.  But I knew I had to wait to open it.  It was a large flat thing that had round bumps on the corners.

"What do you think that is?" my father asked me. He was sitting in his chair by the tree, reading a newspaper.
"A car!" I said, showing him the round bumps. "These are the wheels."
"But cars aren't flat," he said.
"Then it's a crazy car!" I remember saying back.
(In fact, it was a toy pinball machine and the bumps on the corners were little rounded legs.)

The major event everyone remembers about me those two years in Mexico—that I ran into the road, was hit by a car, broke one leg and fractured my skull—I have no memory of.  I do remember being driven away in someone's car (probably the person who hit me), lying on my back in the back seat, being driven to the hospital as the driver (a woman) asked me questions about myself, like how old I was.  I knew something had happened, but I was not in any pain.  That's all I remember about the whole episode.

My next memory (shortly after that, maybe the next day) was being at the dinner table, surrounded by my family, and being told that "the president" had asked my father how I was doing.  I think "the president" was probably the president of his company, or president of a division, but it could also have been the president of Mexico visiting his company that day too.  I'm not sure.  In any event, this was something I then repeated to dinner guests for a while after that: I would recount how I was hit by a car, and how "the president" had especially asked my father how I was doing.  I didn't know what "president" meant before that, but I knew from then on it was some kind of special person.  It made me feel good that a special person I didn't even know wanted to find out how I was feeling.

Eloy was here during all of this.  In fact, Eloy, my brother and I had been alone in the front yard (I think) when I wandered out of her supervision into the street.  Our street wasn't a busy street with a lot of cars.  It was quiet, as best as I can recall.  Every once in a while a car would go by, but there were never lots of cars at the same time.  As everyone dealt with the mayhem of my being hit by a car and taken to the hospital, no one told my brother what was happening, so he drew his own conclusions.  When my mother came home (I think she was at the grocery store), she knew something was not right.  Neighbors approached her, crying.  My brother simply told her, "Alexander is dead.  He just died and they took him away."

Though I don't remember any of this, my mother told me when I woke up in the hospital, the first thing I did was ask her if—considering everything that had just happened to me—I could finally get that toy I wanted.  I don't recall saying this, but I have no doubt this is accurate, and that I did get the toy I wanted.

When we moved back to the United States briefly (and before we moved to Australia, I think) my mother sat me down to tell me something about Eloy, the young woman who had spent all that time with me.  Though I knew Eloy was not my real mother, she filled that quality time with me perfectly for those many hours every afternoon where just the two of us played together while my brother was at pre-school, my father was at work and my mother dug in the dirt looking for old relics.  Every day it was the same, always the same, wrapping and opening wood blocks to make every day like Christmas, playing in the bath together, dunking my head underwater looking for fish, staying safe inside the house with her in the hot and dusty land where you saw dogs shot if you dared to go outside.

My mother told me Eloy was dead.  She explained it to me, the best way she could.

"Eloy loved you.  She loved you so much she wanted a child of her own."
"But then why is she dead?"
"She died giving birth."

"She wanted someone just like you.  You're the one who made her want to have children."

There is no way to be certain of the exact words my mother said on that day, or how exactly she did explain it to me, but that is about as precise as I can be with the many, many, many times I have replayed that conversation in my head ever since.  I can't say for sure where this conversation happened, or if it happened on different occasions, or if I simply heard about her death, asked my mother about it, and then invented the conversation entirely.  This part of my memory is more emotional and is not vivid like the time I saw the policeman shoot the dog.  I doubt anyone ever knew what I felt right away about hearing of Eloy's death and the guilt I felt, because I always like to hear bad news, pretend like it is nothing and walk away so I can figure out how I am going to feel about it later.

In any event, these are the personal things I think about when I think of our family's time in Mexico.

1 comment:

  1. beautiful and sad... and this isn't even the one that's supposed to require tissues and a stiff drink.