Last spring, I was painting my daughter Abigail’s room a couple of shades of green. It was part of a general sprucing up of her room that would also include some moving around of furniture, a new TV and, eventually, a new desk.
I’ve painted a lot of rooms in this house since we moved in fifteen years ago. Every room and hallway at least once, and this room three times. Sand beige with blue trim in 1999. A kind of shocking pink with white trim when Abby moved into it in 2007 or so, and now green. It occurred to me that this could very well be the last time I’ll paint this room. Abby goes off to high school in September of this year.
I can remember painting her baby room in 2000, the room across the hallway we now use as a guest room. When I was painting her room, I didn’t know that her name was Abby, and I didn’t know that she was a girl. Our obstetrician knew she was a girl, but we had asked her not to tell us. I was painting the room yellow, a neutral color, with blue trim.
The baby was due in a few weeks, so we already had a lot of baby toys and a crib (yet to be assembled) and furniture and clothes. We had things that I didn’t even know what they were yet, like a Diaper Genie and a BabyBjorn. We had a musical mobile for the crib and a music maker that hung on a doorknob.
I wasn’t terrified, but I wasn’t calm either. We were having a child, and I kept telling myself, This is happening, you’re moving on, this is a thing people do, and it’s going to be okay. Though really, who knew? Maybe everything wouldn’t turn out okay and this was but a quiet prelude to unimaginable horror. My experience with children — anybody’s children — was very limited. Until then (and I was thirty-seven years old) I had never really even held any babies, due to a superstitious fear that the child might choose that one specific moment to break down or malfunction somehow and I would be guilty of the mishap by association. Continue reading
A few weeks ago, I visited an old friend and we watched the Eagles-Giants game together. The Giants played well and came away with a surprising victory on the road in Lincoln Financial Field. I see this guy once a year; he’s the last person I know in the town I lived in from age ten until I went away to college.
After the game, I took the long way back through town to Route 80 East, so that I might drive past the house I grew up in. The house is on a remote street in an area of densely wooded hills above the lake that gives the town its name. The short street, called a “trail,” like all the roads around it, isn’t a thoroughfare to anywhere else. If you’re driving on it, you’re visiting someone or something on the street. I drove slowly up a steep incline, saw the old house at the top, and saw, too, that the people next door were having a garage sale. This gave me an excuse to pull into my family’s former driveway, look up at the house for a moment, then back out and ease the car up to the house next door. I killed the engine and got out.
The garage sale people were a couple in their late twenties or early thirties with two kids, one on a small bicycle and the other an infant propped up in one of those ExerSaucer play centers. The wife was sitting on the steps by the front door. It was early evening, not quite 6pm, but it was September so there was still plenty of light.
“You saw one of our signs,” the woman said. “You’re one of the very few.”
Holy Communion, May, 1970
I grew up in an apartment building in Little Ferry, New Jersey. Four rooms for the five of us in a featureless, rectangular block of a building that was, frankly, kind of a community eyesore. My father labored nights and overtime for years to get us out of it. Which he did, in 1972, when I was 10.
I can still remember the powerful smell in the halls of that building, an odor comprised of institutional floor cleaner, cooking grease, and the ineradicable olfactory wallop of coal dust from the cellar. The building had been heated by a coal furnace until at least the mid-to-late ’60s and I can remember the excitement of a coal delivery, the coal truck arriving in the rear courtyard and extending a chute into a cellar window at the side of the house, the roar of the coal as it rumbled down the chute into the dark bowels of the building. That cellar was off-limits to us kids, so of course we were obsessed with it and were forever devising new sneaky ways to gain access to it. The identical apartment building next door to ours, occupied entirely by elderly people without kids, was another frequent target of our trespassing schemes.