I remember when they danced in the living room as my brother and I watched.
I remember my mother clicking her tongue to the beat, waving her arms in small circles, wrists cocked, like windshield wipers gone awry.
I remember my father smiling, biting his lower lip, chin extended outwards, hopping and bobbing to the beat.
I remember when he would ask me, “Isn’t she cute? Isn’t she adorable?” and playfully pat her on the rear.
I remember the way she said her heart went pitter-patter when he walked in the room.
I remember when she listened to talk radio as she cooked, the wire antenna taped to the underside of a cabinet so that her favorite station’s reception would be strong. Masking tape marked with surgically precise lines identified the stations she would tune to.
The radio always got turned off when he pulled in the driveway.
I remember falling asleep in the backseat of the car.
I remember waking up, startled, not realizing where I was.
I remember them twisting from the front seat to say, “Surprise! We brought you to see the panda bears at the National Zoo!”
I didn’t think life could get any better than that.
I remember the fights. The yelling. I remember newspapers on a kitchen chair, shoes on the table. I remember so much more.
I remember their wedding anniversaries on Christmas Day. Nothing open, nowhere to go, no good way to celebrate.
I remember cardboard cartons of Chinese food.
I remember the beginning of the end.
I remember their being close to the precipice once before, my relief that it went on.
I remember it finally being the end.
There is a small guest room in the house that I now call my father’s. It used to have a crib in it; now, as my three children have grown, it’s been replaced with a twin bed.
I know that in the closet there used to be a small white leather briefcase.
Inside that briefcase is a Viewmaster and two rows of dual-image slides. These are my parents’ wedding photos: three-dimensional images that get popped into the Viewmaster and looked at through light.
I haven’t looked at them in years; suddenly, it’s the only thing I want to do.
My mother’s brother, so young in those images, died in his 40s. My father’s brother, now dead too. Neither has living siblings, nor living parents. There are so few of us in the family left now.
I see the disbelief, how people are unwilling or unable to accept that something that lasted for so long is over.
It scares them.
Like cancer that recurs after a decade, it means we are vulnerable even after a seemingly safe waiting period has elapsed.
Divorce can happen after 50 years.
“They’ll get back together,” one of my doctors insists whenever I see him for an appointment.
“No,” I say, “they won’t.”
“Did you see it coming?”
“Do you think they’ll reconcile?”
“Are you surprised?”
“You’re the writer,” my mother says, “Maybe you’ll write about this.”
I took my mother’s wedding ring out of the drawer this morning.
She gave the ring to me years ago when Dad eventually bought her the diamond one he hadn’t been able to afford when they got married.
I rubbed the ring, imagining the two young people who stood exchanging vows.
Hopes. Dreams. Compromises.
A lifetime together. Their lifetimes together.
I know my mother has a receipt for that ring, 50 years old, in a file.
I know where that file was when she lived in the house.
But now she doesn’t live there anymore.
Her papers are in boxes in storage.
Somewhere in a box in my mother’s apartment building there is a receipt for the ring my father bought for her.
That paper will outlast their marriage.
I remember when that ring proudly announced to the world that my parents were happily living together.
Those days are no more.1
- The prompt “I remember” was used in Joe Brainard’s book of the same name. I first learned of this book in a seminar with writer Dani Shapiro. I like this prompt a lot and often use it as a way to get my writing started. To read about a joint exercise I did with friends after that weekend, go here [↩]