About five years ago I started writing a memoir. I kept at it for a little while, writing about 1,000 words a day for a few weeks. I hadn’t yet been to therapy and there were many things I didn’t really understand about my life, but I still find the unfinished memoir to be a fascinating look into my own past. I’ve decided to post it in installments here, with only a few redactions. You can find the other sections by clicking the Memoir category.
/ / /
I remember my fatherâ€™s legs.
Heâ€™s sitting in a green easy chair next to one of those floor lamps that has a shelf midway up the lamp. Thereâ€™s a beer on the shelf, and heâ€™s reading a newspaper. I canâ€™t see his face, because I havenâ€™t seen my biological father since I was four years old. Iâ€™ve only ever seen one picture of him that I can remember, and that was a couple years ago.
The room is suffused with the sickly yellow light of the lamp, and the beer is the same color. That kind of faded yellow that you only see in houses that were last decorated in the 70â€™s, or in your mindâ€™s eye as you look back on childhood.
In this memory, I see Art, my father, lean down and offer me a sip of his beer. I take a sip. I always tell everyone that Iâ€™ve never had a drop of alcohol in my life, and I donâ€™t trust this memory enough to know whether or not thatâ€™s actually true. Iâ€™m maybe three years old. Maybe two.
In my next memory, Iâ€™m in a small kitchen with a black-and-white checkerboard floor. Thereâ€™s a little wooden table in one corner of the kitchen, and two women are sitting at the table talking. I think one of them is my mother, although I canâ€™t see them distinctly enough to remember.
I donâ€™t hear the knock on the door, but I know someoneâ€™s there, and I turn and cross the kitchen. The walls are painted hospital grey, and the door is the same color. When I open it, my father is standing there. He has brown hair and a brown mustache, though once again Iâ€™m not sure when I added those elements to the image â€“ as a child or recently. My father hands me a plastic spear, maybe three feet long, and then heâ€™s gone. He never enters the house. Itâ€™s my birthday. Iâ€™m four years old.
Now fast-forward 28 years. Iâ€™m putting my three-year-old son to bed, which means reading him two books and then laying down next to him while he falls asleep. As Iâ€™m lying there, I feel a switch flip inside me, and I know that if I go downstairs right now, I can call my father on the phone.
Iâ€™ve had his number for years, but Iâ€™ve never been able to call. Iâ€™m not sure whatâ€™s stopped me. Maybe itâ€™s not knowing what I want from the contact. Or maybe Iâ€™m still sorting out my feelings about my mother and second father, and Iâ€™m not ready to take this on, too.
But tonight, right now, I can do it. I go downstairs and find his number on the computer. Seconds later heâ€™s there on the other end of the phone.
“May I speak with Art Borders please?”
“Jason from upstate New York.”
“Oh my god. Oh my god.”
And so we launch a 90-minute conversation that includes apologies, tears, the word “son” several times, and a strange feeling like I was having this interaction with someone Iâ€™d dialed at random out of the phonebook.