There was light dancing on the ceiling that fine February morning. I stayed in bed watching it flash there like the bellies of fish schooling in the deep ocean of the blue bedroom I shared with my younger brother. The day held promise for many reasons, the least of which was that it was the 21st and I was now officially eight. The day held promise mostly because today I would not forget.
Eight is a magical age for kids. At eight kids begin to remember events in greater detail and in a logical, coherent manner. They begin to marry acts to consequences and understand that there are worse things to fear than what’s behind the closet door.
For me, the greatest danger was probably already awake and down the hall, in the kitchen making breakfast. That February morning, my birthday, I promised myself as I always did upon waking, that today I would avoid the mistakes of yesterday, and do everything right. I wouldn’t spill my milk. I wouldn’t forget my lunch. I wouldn’t forget to say I love you on my way out the door. I wouldn’t get into trouble in school. In my house, for the three years before that day, making those mistakes was punishable by spasms of extreme violence. Today though, I would not forget.
I got up quietly, careful not to wake my three year old brother, still sleeping, one thumb planted firmly in his mouth. I watched him sleep as I put on the shirt, slacks, sweater and dress shoes that made up the formal uniform of St. Pius the Tenth. The resentment that welled up inside my chest wasn’t unusual. I felt that way often when I saw the love showered on my younger brother. That I could expect the feeling the way someone expects the sun to rise the next morning made me ache in a way that confused me. I was eight afterall, and no eight year old should have to contend with feelings of resentment. It was the first day of my life that I can, to this day, remember with perfect clarity.
Like a thief, I stole my way into the bathroom. I scrubbed my face, brushed my teeth, and flattened my hair as best I could. I knew unruly hairs would be ripped out like weeds falling to the diligence of a farmer in a garden row. Sometimes great handfuls of the weeds would be snatched out at once, but that only happened when I forgot something important. Today, I would not forget.
I made my way into the kitchen and sat at the table with a look that wasn’t too cheerful, casting my eyes down and away. Careful not to look to proudly, not too observantly for my own good. These things I knew to do. Today, I would not forget.
I ate what was placed before me. I didn’t spill my milk. I didn’t speak with my mouth full. I asked to be excused before I rose from the table. Today, I would not forget.
I went to school that morning. I listened, concentrated, and avoided the problems that would cause the nuns to send me home with a note. Notes from the nuns were not welcome at home. At recess, when my friends played in the dirt, I stood on the macadam of the playground, watching them with envy. My heavy desire to join them easily outweighed by the knowledge of what can happen when you come home with dirty knees or grime on your white collared shirt. Today I was eight, and I would not forget.
When I got home, my aunt surprised me with a small bag of candy, chocolate covered raisins, my favorite. I ate a few of them, savoring the sticky sweetness, wanting to draw it out as long as I could. I closed the bag, wanting to save them for later, and put the bag on top of my dresser in my room. I went back out to the livingroom forgetting something important, but I remembered a few minutes later. No harm done, I tell myself, as I walked back to set wrong things right.
Raisins littered the ground, surrounding my younger brother like an army setting siege to an ivory castle, his mouth covered in a dark mask of chocolate. I snatched the bag from his pudgy fingers wondering how he had managed to pull them down. He was a good climber when he wanted to be, something I had forgotten. He was also a good screamer when he wanted to be. This is also something I had forgotten. Forgetting was something that wasn’t allowed back then.
There are much worse things than the monsters that wait in the closets of children chasing dreams in the dead of night. Some of those things walk in the light of day. One of those things, my mother in fact, came rushing into the room I shared with my brother to remind me what happens when you forget.
I promised myself that night, as I cried myself to sleep, that tomorrow I wouldn’t forget. Tomorrow I would remember everything. Thirty one years later, I still haven’t forgotten.
Sometimes I stay up late at night, like tonight, wondering if I ever will.