Monday, November 23, 2009

So Easy a Child Can Do It

A memory from November, 1989

I began walking at seven months old. I blame it on this feat of physicality that I just stopped there, so full of my seven month old sense of accomplishment. I would never be particularly good at sports or much of anything else physical from that point on. I wish I had waited to walk until a bit later. Maybe two more months having to have someone hold my hands would have delayed the inevitable. I equate it to a first time author writing a best seller on his first go at writing. It steals something from you.

For me walking stole my ability to tie my shoes. Every morning before school at my mom's house my sister would get down on her knees and begrudgingly tie my shoe. My smile said all that was needed. I was satisfied with this arrangement. Today I would not be tweaking my motor skills on the rough white shoe laces that my sister could so easily tie for me.

It wasn't because I didn't want to learn to tie my shoes that I couldn't do it. I would spend hours in secret on the rough blue carpet in my room fiddling with the shoe strings, elating myself each time I could accomplish the first step: crossing the strings over each other. I would then grunt and whine until somehow forming little balls of knots out of my shoe strings. They may not have been the wide beautiful loops that my sister tied, but dammit, they were MY knots! I, at four years old, was again... accomplished.

Moments later my mother would look down at my shoes and tell me "Go see your sister to fix your shoe laces. That's not how you tie shoes." She broke my young artist's heart. My beautiful knots, wrought by my hands were about to be disassembled in favor of the style of the 80s, loops. I had not mastered the art of tying my shoes.

I didn't have my sister with me at my dad's house. When I would get up I would always hurry to get dressed and I'd put on my shoes, tucking the laces down inside them, only after pulling them tight of course. This system had worked for months.

One November morning I woke up to the biting cold air surrounding my face and toes. The kerosene heater had gone out during the night and I was freezing. I hurried to dress myself, pulling on the long tube socks all the way to my knees making sure the the seam line was not under my toes because it would tickle my foot all day long and I wouldn't be able to concentrate on my colors and numbers. I suppose in the cold rush I forgot to tuck my shoe laces into the sides of my shoes.

I got into the little red Ford Tracer that my dad was borrowing from my mom. His truck was broken, again. It was a horrible car, a hatchback, named after its least attractive feature. It had black mold on the floorboards and after my dad had driven it for a couple of weeks it began to smell of Montclaire lights 100s, his favorite cigarettes, and of course the strong whiffs of ass.

He had already cranked the car to warm it and to melt the ice on the windshield. I locked and shut the aluminum door on his white single wide trailer with the powdery paint that always rubbed off on my clothes. I hurried to the car and got in. My dad lit a cigarette and cracked his window.

He took off out of the trailer park and we were on the curving dirt road headed toward the curvier asphalt road. We traveled for three or four more minutes on the way to my school. I was feeling that suffocated feeling from the mix of the cigarette smoke and the heater air as he looked over and saw my shoe laces lying in the floorboard, dirty from walking in the frosty grass and from lying on the black mold.

"Tie your shoes, boy," he grumbled and I immediately began to fumble with my shoelaces. I was scared. I made the motions of tying the laces and twisted them before tucking them securely in the sides of my shoes. The soggy shoelaces shared their moisture with my warm dry socks. I despised any wet feeling on my dry clothes but it was a small, just sacrifice. I was safe now as he lit another cigarette so that my clothes would be saturated all day with a reminding smell of what would happen next.

He looked over and saw what I had done to my shoe laces and popped the breaks. He pulled over on the side of the road and snatched my seat belt off of me. "Now!" he screamed, "Tie those fuckin' shoes!" I furiously untucked the the shoelaces from inside my shoes and I began with trepidation the only thing I knew to do. I wrapped piece after piece of shoelace around the other forming the little knots that I had made sitting on the rough blue carpet at my mom's house. I thought my mom had broken my little artist's heart. My dad was about to crush my little soul.

"GOD DAMMIT!" he bellowed, "Boy, you better tie that fuckin' shoe!" My eyes were burning and this time it wasn't from the cigarette smoke. I could feel the hot tears welling up in my eyes and they began to blind me to the painful job that I was trying to complete. God PLEASE don't let me cry in front of him.

I twisted and pulled at the shoestrings for what seemed like hours all the while begging God to push my tears into my throat so that my Daddy wouldn't see them. "I know you know how to FUCKIN' TIE THOSE GOD DAMN MOTHER FUCKIN' SHOES! NOW TIE THE FUCKIN' SHOES!" One tear escaped and with it came all of its friends. The hot tears turned cold on my face as I choked for breath praying that they were only tears I could feel and that Daddy couldn't see.

"You better dry that shit up, boy," he growled my with a grimace usually reserved for use by people watching the murderer of their mother be put to death in the electric chair. He hit me in the side of the head. "TIE! TIE!" Another blow. He wasn't bruising me. He was however speeding up the production of tears to the maximum and interrupting breathing so that instead of wisps of ins and outs it sounded more like gasps and deep sighs. Tears made my daddy angrier than anything. He hated tears and for many years I thought it was me he hated.

He grabbed my feet and tied my shoes so tight that I couldn't feel my toes. He continued to berate me for what seemed like hours but I suppose it was only a few minutes because I arrived to school on time, embarrassed because of my red face and bloodshot eyes. I ran immediately to the bathroom to try to remove the evidence that I had been crying. I blew my nose and splashed cold water on my face. My breathing returned to normal. I didn't dare untie those loops that were glaring up at me from my feet. I could smell his Montclaire scented rage on my clothes all day and as soon as I got home I threw my shoes away. I dug out a pair of blue velcro shoes that had been too small for me at the beginning of the year and stuffed my feet into them every day until it was time for new shoes. I picked out blue ones, with velcro.