I can remember what the plastic-coated railing of my crib tasted like: flat, cool, and sometimes it pinched my tongue and made it bleed a little. I can remember what breakfast tasted like, little bowls of Apple Jacks or Cheerios, maybe milk toast awesome with butter and a dash of pepper. Sick bed days were spent on the couch in front of the tube watching Godzilla with grilled cheese and tomato soup, no guilt required.
I can remember what mornings sounded like. The awful squawk of the alarm clock that launched me from my bunk bed, headed me off to the bathroom to wash my teeth but skip my hair because I already had a bath last night, and it didn’t matter that my hair greased geometrically overnight and everyone made fun of me. Slurping down breakfast while listening to the news on the green radio Mom kept on the table. I can still smell Dad’s Old Spice and wondering where those long, thick scars on his back came from, but I knew better than to ask.
I can remember what nighttime sounded like when our bedroom lights were out but the one in my head stayed on. I heard their music playing on the stereo: The Surfaris, Sinatra, Andy Williams, Cher, Simon & Garfunkel, Johnny Cash… a soundtrack for a life still in infancy. Once I heard the crinkle of gift wrap on Christmas Eve, but I knew better than to ask.
I can remember dinners that alternated between Daddy’s home and Daddy’s not home, and it’s unfair and cruel to say which was the best, but when Daddy wasn’t home we took his special quarters and bought pizza from Regina’s and ate like there would never be anything this heavenly again in all our lives–a perfect mozzarella pizza with tiny pepperoni that perfectly cupped the oil. I can remember mom pouring oil into the electric fry pan and overcooking just about everything, things that were not meant to be soaked in hot oil. I learned to hate eggplant in that fry pan. She warmed up peas from a can, and I sat in front of them and the desiccated liver and onion thing, determined to starve and die because it was so awful, and I never gave in, a good ship Resolute.
I can remember Mom playing songs on the organ in our bedroom from a blue denim book. Many were happy and fun like “Camptown Races,” patriotic like “The Marines Hymn,” and some were “spirituals” or work songs. Mom had no idea these were offensive or hurtful because she grew up believing these were just songs. One of my Catholic school teachers taught us a slave song, and even then it felt wrong to me: “Oh lordie, pick a bale o cotton, o lordie pick a bale a day…” No. Just, no.
I can remember Mom putting black pepper in my mouth for saying something horrible about my brother. I can remember Dad making me hold a heavy box with my arms outstretched until they shook because I was a very bad girl at the store. I just closed my eyes and focused on the lamp that rained oil in the stationery store, the one I wanted so badly.
I remember pussy willow buds, so soft and silver-white that bloomed every year in the courtyard, the courtyard that Godzilla never managed to destroy in my dreams. I remember that clover tasted bitter, grass even worse, and dandelions leave the most wonderful yellow on fingertips. I remember popping open sticky maple seeds and putting them on my nose so I could be a rhinoceros or any other kind of mythical beast. I remember the prickle of sweet gum seeds that felt like porcupines underfoot.
I remember the constant sound of jets taking off or coming back to LaGuardia. One long, hot day at summer camp I got to see the Concorde flying over the tennis courts as I lay in the grass waiting to play. The sonic boom, the awesomeness of that tiny white delta shape in a perfect blue sky in a place that I hated. It was a spaceship of amazing, a spirit unbelievable. God I’ll never forget that Concorde, the mysteries and marvel of its wing.
I remember the heady fragrance of incense, but I don’t remember which resin was burning on that holy day. I can remember the swish of the priests robes and the clink of the decanter chain, whispers instead of songs. I remember the bland taste of the Eucharist and that it did not cancel out my doubts, fears, or wonders I’ve had about this life. The body of Christ tastes like something you must decipher for yourself, and for heaven’s sake don’t chew on it!
I remember growing up in a neighborhood with friends who were of different faiths. The old lady on the park bench, the fixture, always spoke to us nicely and nobody told me she was Jewish until later, and I didn’t know it mattered. The kids I went to camp with were of various faiths and nobody cared, except for that one girl who tried to own the rest of us in her braids and perfect red swimsuit, that horrible bully. Unfortunately, I lived in a neighborhood where black and brown people were looked on as dangerous or at the very least suspicious, but it was so hard for me to process that because all the kids I went to school with were different colors–a bunch of them were Vietnamese. I learned to sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in Vietnamese, and maybe that put me on the road to becoming a bleeding heart. At least I know what inclusion means and how it feels. That it looks like my son’s Vietnamese best friend who lived just across the yard, whose family invited us, including my Dad who served in Vietnam, to celebrate their sons birthdays. We came to their table and ate traditional foods flavored with chopped peanuts and fish sauce, or wrapped in rice paper. How can this happen, and how can I be so lucky? Was my whole life just one big serendip waiting to happen?
Oh god/goddess keep our senses wide open, to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch the world and love it to the fullest.