Attached to the inside of my grandparents’ guest toilet door the calendar was inevitably decorated with the standard flowers or birds, with the months in calligraphy. The majority of the calendar was taken up by little blocks making up the days of the year, and in one-third of these blocks, in my grandmother’s handwriting, resided the names of those who were deemed important enough to be part of this family monument.
The gravity of the word “monument” is appropriate, because as a grandmother, your family is impossibly large, the numbers of grandchildren rippling through the pond of society by the drop of your grandfather’s pebble. The calendar thus becomes a monument to the virility of the family: each name upon that chart is lovingly inscribed as it is a record, a family tree.
As a child I used to sit on the toilet and scan through the names on the chart, the comfort of the same chart with the same birds and flowers and the same names. Of course there were the intermittent additions to the list of names, but my interest in them and the other names was usually cursory. After imbibing the comfortable sameness and constancy of the chart upon the door I would scan through the dates until I reached May 15th and read the name filled into the corresponding block and it would be confirmed: I was indeed born on May 15th and I am indeed a member of this family and indeed important enough to have my name etched into this monument.
I remember the exact moment I lost my childhood very clearly. Quite appropriately it revolved around food and semantics.
It had happened often before, but on this particular evening the failure of my father to come home after work and eat the dinner I had prepared for him severed the already taut candy-floss fibres of my childhood.
I was twenty-four years old and had been playing parent and wife to my father for three years. These roles involved waiting. Waiting between the hours of my arrival home from university and the hours of his arrival home from work.
I didn’t of course at the time know I was waiting, but the hindsight of my therapised self looks upon those hours and realises that I became a character who joined Vladimir and Estragon in their waiting for something or someone who would never come because they existed only in the lexicon of a self desperately searching for a meaning outside of one’s self.
In short, the moment of my birth into adulthood was accompanied by blinding light, blood and screaming and unlike the first birth, was attended upon by my consciousness who was not wearing surgical gloves, a mask and gown and was soiled by the gurglings and oozings of this monstrous thing.
As the fish lay cooling and congealing in the oven and the broccoli swelled flaccidly, I realised that I was waiting for something that would never arrive. Yes, he would of course finally make his way home, fumbling with the keys and cursing the dogs under his beer-breath, but it was not him I was waiting for. What I was waiting for, the Daddy who held my hand as we walked through the mall, the Daddy whose legs I clung to as he sat on the edge of the pool, him smiling at me in the water, would never come home because he had been replaced by a man, a forty-eight year old man who was lonely, depressed and lost and used women and beer to forget.
“History is natural selection.” Memory is the same. We are who we choose to remember; we are the histories we choose to remember. The image of the child sitting on the toilet paying homage to a monument made out of paper. A paper family. The irony of the setting for this monument is only apparent now: she might as well have wiped her ass with those birds and flowers.
(The Letters from Selves Pas(t)sed series is drawn from writing created over 10 years ago. I’ve decided to include them as they create context for my journey. Keeping in mind where I come from helps me measure where I am and where I’m going.)