i don’t know what this is
My parents have been divorced since before I can remember, so it never had any truly traumatic effect on me. The only impact it really had on my life was that I had to buckle into my car seat and commute half an hour out of town every weekend to Golden Valley to hang out with my dad after spending all the boring weekdays with my mom. His house was always great. It was home, but without all the stresses of waking up early, doing my incredibly difficult kindergarten homework, and cleaning my room. He let me wear my socks inside out.
Every Saturday morning, my dad would make pancakes. I sat on the counter with my feet dangling, and helped add ingredients from ceramic animal-shaped containers. The salt was in the seal, the sugar was in the elephant, and so on. It was easy to remember.
After it was all done he’d carry me over to the bright yellow table to eat our food. I couldn’t even reach the chairs if I tried to get up there myself, and the table loomed over me if I stood and looked up at it. It was an immense wooden structure, and a completely inappropriate height for kitchen furniture. It must’ve been three times my height. It was pushed up against the windows and the sun would shine through the cheap paper blinds and onto my pancakes, making them look striped. I put stickers on the glass when my dad wasn’t looking and even when he noticed them, he left them up. We had a routine.
In the summer he’d blow up our inflatable Little Mermaid pool and I’d fill it with hose water out on the driveway, which was not flat at all. Half of the pool would be overflowing while the other side would only be up to my ankles with ice cold water. After I got too cold to stay in anymore, I’d run around the yard, grass sticking to my wet feet, and soon enough it’d be covering the carpet in the living room.
One day I had the idea to build a surfboard to use in the pool. I told my dad about it and he told me he wasn’t sure it would work, but I said I was sure it would so he smiled and let me get started anyway. I cut an oval out of an old piece of cardboard I found in the garage, and I painted it red. Once it dried I added glitter and I wrote my name on it and I confidently threw it into the pool. It sank to the bottom so I picked it back up, and it sank again. I asked my dad to hold it up while I tried to stand on it, and he did. And for a couple seconds, I surfed.
My dad got a job in Wisconsin and moved a few years later, and I didn’t live with him again until I was sixteen. It was while he was moving back into town that I came across the yellow table again, the one we’d eaten breakfast at for all those years. I stared down at it for a few moments. At first I didn’t recognize it as the same table. The off-yellow was faded and the paint was chipped and scratched. It only stood up to about my waist, and it looked like it could fall apart any moment. I pulled my dad aside and said, “Is this the one we had when I was a kid?” He nodded and I started to cry.
“I’m sorry,” I laughed, “I don’t know why I’m reacting like this. I just can’t believe it’s so small.”
A few months back, I left for school and my dad’s family moved out of state yet again. Except for Christmas, I haven’t seen them since. I haven’t seen their house, and haven’t slept in my old bed. I’ve always worried that during the process of moving across the country, they ended up getting rid of that yellow table. But the other day, when I was talking to my dad on the phone, I found out he’d thought of me and saved it, thinking I might want it someday.
(Which is good, because I do.)
Tonight I heard the sound of the rain and I crawled out to sit in my second story windowsill. The wet pavement below me reflected the light from the street lamp and water that had finally been awakened after a long winter rushed down the sides of the road. Every sound, every sight reminded me of that time. The smell of grass and the warm wind and the darkness of all the windows in the neighborhood except mine. The rain soaking the bottoms of my pajama pants.
I remember one of the many times you walked me home at four in the morning, when it was so distinctly quiet and calm and everything felt still. We stopped in the middle of the street and gazed in front of us and I think it was you who said, “Look at the world” so quietly and reverently and me who added, “It’s so much prettier without all those people in it”, but it could’ve been the other way around.
So many of my shoes were muddied, so many of my sweaters soaked. I can’t count the days of school I slept through.
(I guess times change and people change, and now is okay too, but I don’t regret a single second I stayed awake with you.)