The future is the past guided by the blind, ignorant of the present.
Looking in the mirror, I see a distorted mug, eyes, vacant piss holes, cried through most of the night, a mouth that droops down to knobby knees, with a nose redder and brighter than Rudolph’s on a stormy night. I drown in nightmares jingling in my brain as they rattle and clink and make a gurgling noise deep in my bowels, nostalgic memories churning, buried deep in the composting heap of maybe were. Little haunting horrors, bite-sized morsels that I worked so hard to repress, poked through the mesh of my mind, ignoring my effort to look the other way by putting on a mask to the world, to pretend that I was okay. Ghosts were released after my mother’s death that gathered together in a wicker basket where past images lived.
I don’t want to open that cradle of family history, disturb those skeletons in the dark, but I have to discover myself in the past and crawl out a melancholy shell since losing someone precious to me. I need to find any missing links and genetic quirks in our family tree. There may be unknown relatives to notify before I lay old bones to rest.
I reluctantly opened the lid and rummaged through the photos, some I saw before when they were brought out for display, but many have stayed hidden, anonymous. I scan dour faces for any resemblance of kin in black and white, from so long ago, looking for a hint of a DNA shadow in a grim smile or a happy frown.
Packs of these portrait treasures were tied off with colorful ribbons, separated into different piles. I can only assume that there was some archaic filing system for them, but one a madman may have imagined.
These old pictures were a mystery to me. Very few had names or dates written on the backs. The clothes worn dated them somewhat, leaving me to assume the era that these people had lived. Then I came to more recent pictures in color. I knew most of the people in them and even some of the places. Some of the photos brought happy feelings, some caused ambivalence, and a few were disturbing.
And there I was. Flamboyant writing on the back said that I was four years old. I was decked out in a blue jumper over a yellow top. I smiled at my dimpled self, seeming happy, as a faint echo of that emotion punctured my grief momentarily.
I miss the good and the bad disguised as a normal upbringing. Even the ugly was done up in a cosmetic sheen of glitter and sparkle to present a beautiful image of an average life in the suburbs, the perfect family: a mother, a father, and myself.
Dad had passed away a few years before mom. I decided to stay with her. She couldn’t manage the house by herself. I didn’t have the heart to have her go to a senior’s residence. So, I filled my father’s shoes and cared for her until last week, when she quietly fell into a deep sleep at ninety-five, where snoring was not allowed, but going to Heaven was recommended. Mom peacefully left me. Alone.
These pictures are snapshots of people never noticed until they had left. Their image being spirited into memory and tossed into that wicker tomb that I opened. Photos to be looked at on a rainy day. But mostly, they lay and turned grey with dust until the memory began to decay, to erode into the circuitry of faraway thoughts, filed under a forgotten cloud waiting, waiting for a stormy day of depression and loose feelings to intrude on a nostalgic day.
The texture of scars left tears in reality, a photographic reminder of a time gone by that intermingles with a confused inner reality of longing and loss. They give a distorted image of how things were at the time, not the actuality that was being lived. The moment is preserved for interpretation unless a written account goes with it and the true story is set straight; otherwise, the truth lies to the imagination of the subjective onlooker to shroud certainty with their personal feelings and mood.
Something usually catches your notice when you lose it. Suddenly, it’s valuable, a crucial thing in the world. But you have a hard time even describing it because you took it for granted that it would always be there. It’s like losing your favorite mug when it shatters into pieces. You think of the silly picture staring up at you every morning and want to glue the bits together again, to feel safe. Looking at these pictures gave me that feeling, one of loss and sadness.
Only the passage of time can soothe the emotional distortion of sensibilities, where a replacement fills loss, and soon sadness falls away. There has been enough time since mother was laid to rest. Now I can look at these pictures of my mother clearly, even through bleary eyes moist with the love that I wish I had then. But, I have now within me the strength to give back that affection as an altered memory of how things never were to carry on my life under a delusion of happiness.
I dug deeper into the woven box of photographic memorabilia that had been hidden in the back of mom’s closet, forbidden to everyone. Now she was gone. Cobwebs needed to be brushed off. Secrets had to shake their bones out of shadows and reveal the flesh in matters of truth behind her life before and after I arrived. Secrets. Always secrets, even in the best of families. What were hers?
It was at the bottom of this wicker casket of forgotten ghosts that I came to a single envelope of snowy white wrapped in a red satin cloth. The front held a single word, written in black ink that curled into the name Jake. My name. I slowly opened it to possibly reveal a cryptic message to me from the long-ago past.
Still, that assumption was ridiculous because I was not even conceived as a possibility that long ago. As I looked down, my eyes stared at a picture of a very young woman scantily clad beside a topless hunk of a man leaning against what would be a classic motorcycle today. The eyes don’t change with age. They were mother’s eyes. I hesitantly turned the picture over to read Jake and Eileen. I let the photo slip as I shut my eyes in a confused realization. When I finally opened them, another picture floated into my vision. It was another picture with mother’s eyes in a face wearing only a sensual smile, naked and hanging limp in the muscled arms of the man, Jake, a man I never heard about, one I did not know.
Thoughts disturbed my peace of mind and twisted my guts. Turning it over, written in a flowery script, was a single word, forever. It was dated twenty-five years before I was born.
I could only imagine something now that a child never does until they are shaken to eyes wide open in shock. That their parents may have had a life before they were born. A yellowed clipping from a newspaper had fallen from between these two picturesque revelations that peered into my mother’s early life.
The thin-aged clip was from a local newspaper near where my mother lived in her late teens. I remember her telling me some of her life stories about her hometown of Loring. Attached to this clipping, I found a blue-lined note scribbled by a shaky hand that I assumed was in torment because as I read the words, I dropped a single tear beside the end dot of the final line of an elegy for love lost to time. Mom was young and in love. The newspaper article was about a motorcycle accident that took her young man away from her—a man with a name that I bore. I am a living ghost, a mnemonic reminder of a piece of my mother’s heart she lost to tragedy so long ago.
Finding out this truth at sixty-two was not kind. In a numbed state, I wandered the house until putting on clothes and heading out, just to get out, away from the revealed past. I ended up at the local pub and proceeded to drown forbidden thoughts under an ocean of beer and several shots until I found myself face down in a mattress with the sun shining in my eyes. I was somewhere unknown, holding a swirling head with a pounding brain.
I flopped like a fish onto the floor from the side of a soft bed. I was alone in a room that shone brightly, reflecting the sun streaming through a window with a panoramic vision of a majestic mountain, its beauty lost to me as I fumbled in my misery. The towels in the bathroom said, Hilton. I didn’t care how I ended up here. At least I was safe.
I slept some more and then freshened up the best I could without a change of clothes and then checked out. I was registered as Dickey Duck. I turned red as the receptionist giggled and said that I must have been out of luck the way I staggered in last night, reciting love poems. I hastily left to get outside and took a taxi home, back to the emptiness that is still in my heart.
Was father second best? Did he know? That may answer a lot of questions about our lukewarm relationship. The conundrums swirled through my head as it still pounded even after a few aspirins. I’ll never know.
What am I to do with that?
What would anyone do when living for the dead?
I opened my wallet and took out my identification, ripping it in half, saying goodbye to Jake.