The happiest family in the world. Can’t you tell?
I don’t know if I took a blow to the head at a young age but I hardly remember any of my childhood at all. I remember little snippets but most of it is from when I was about 11 or 12. My mum always gets irritate when I say this and says she should’ve just kept me in a dark room and saved her the stress of buying me endless Christmas presents I would never remember. My brother died when I was 15 and afterwards some doctor told me that this would maybe happen to me. Apparently, the mind can only deal with so much stress and trauma before it starts just shutting things out. My childhood was mostly my brother so this could be the reason I’m blocked most of it out, who knows.
Most of my vivid memories are from Sacramento. I lived there for 5 glorious years but it seemed like forever. My whole ‘self’ was created there and I miss that place more than I can say. Sometimes I think about it and I feel sick to my stomach from the sheer amount I miss it. I often have a spur of the moment decision that we’re moving to California but before long it hits me that Sacramento will be a different place than when I was last there.
I moved to America when I was 11. My mum was offered a nursing job and with just the four of us – Mum, Dad, Me & Chris, $1000USD and a suitcase off we jolly well went. Sacramento was a dark and rainy place at first and to a kid from Scotland who had grown up with family all over the place it fucking sucked. We felt alone and many a night suitcases were packed and we were ‘going home’. My dad was an expert of controlling these episodes my mum would have. He would take us all out for a drive or some food and we’d remember why we were there. The years we spent there made the four of us this incomparable bullet proof squad that count make it through anything.
My mum worked shifts at the hospital and my dad couldn’t find work straight away in his trade so he’d taken a job in a warehouse for a bit. He would pack stuff up and ship them out during the days and at night he earned extra money by cleaning the offices attached to the warehouses. He would take me and Chris with him and we would run around quickly emptying bins under desks and stealing sweets from the drawers and at the end my dad would get us a soda from the vending machine in the break room (I know this sounds dangerously close to child labour but we loved it, honestly!). After that, we’d go to this big record and book shop. I would grab a few books and park myself in front of one of these machines that played samples of CD’s for like 30 seconds and just kept playing songs, reading books. For hours and days and weeks I listened to Petula Clark singing ‘Downtown’, Sam Cooke singing ‘Cupid’, and Smokey Robinson singing ‘Tracks of my Tears’. I loved those songs. I could, and did listen to them for days. Chris, meanwhile would sit in the little kid’s area at the back of the shop and watch a Wallace & Gromit video, the same one over and over.
After being the worst customers that shop ever had, we would go collect my mum from work. We would listen to this radio station in the car called ‘Cool 101.9’ which played 50’s & 60’s music and I would lie on the backseat and soak everything in. She worked in an Oncology ward and I was always sure she’d seen some shit at work. She would never go into much detail but I remember she’d have sheets of paper in her uniform from shift handover with little graphs containing patients names and different abbreviations. I looked a few up online once and the accompanying images of the various things made me respect her all the more.We would go to this terrible burger place after that. The burgers weren’t great but they were $1 each and we all got two each (we would later question why we were, as a group, overweight), and home to watch Jerry Springer.
On weekends, my mum would put on country music, as loud as it would go and clean the entire house. My dad would make a pot of soup in his underwear or my mums pyjamas, whatever he reached first when he fell out of bed.
When my brother got sick we moved to North Carolina. He was getting a stem cell transplant there. That time in my life really fucking sucked. For a year it was hospital rooms, long corridors, scary words and even scarier things. Sickness and sadness and the polar opposite of what my life had been up until that point. At nights only one person could stay overnight with him. When it was my mum, me and my dad would go home. It was a one bedroom flat and he would sit on the steps outside drinking and smoke his cigar. I would sit inside on my computer, wanting to talk to him and cheer him a bit but I never wanted to disrupt his one and only time for himself. I would stay in the only bedroom by myself and when I woke up in the morning he was gone again – back to the hospital. When my dad was with Chris overnight my mum and I would shop. We would wander around Target all through the night. She was never able to sleep and I was happy just getting a chance to be with her on my own. We would go to this Italian restaurant and eat and talk. It was little glimmers of my old life in this new one that was foreign and scary.
This week hasn’t been a great one for me. I set these impossibly high goals for myself and when it doesn’t go quite right I get frustrated and angry and feel like giving up. But then I think of who I am and where I’ve come from and realise that there are times in life where we all want to give up. When Sacramento seemed like the worst place in the world to me, if we’d have quit then I would never have had all the memories I do. Some days might be shit but it will never be the worst day I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve had that day and I lived through it.
So I gathered myself. I cleaned my house, made a pot of soup and listened to some 60’s music and I realised…maybe I remember more of my childhood than I thought.